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Volume 659, Week 29 - Thursday, 19 November 2009
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Hon SIMON POWER (Deputy Leader of the House) : As members will know, when the House resumes on Tuesday, 24 November it is the Government’s intention to take urgency to pass the Climate Change Response (Moderated Emissions Trading) Amendment Bill and other bills on the Order Paper. As has been the practice this year, the Government is open to holding question time each day, notwithstanding the House being in urgency.
As members of the House may be aware, a Defence Force serviceman was killed while clearing an unexploded shell on a range at Waiōuru this morning. This tragic accident highlights the dangers our servicemen and servicewomen face at home and abroad while carrying out their duties. The Government intends to allow the House to formally extend its condolences to the family and the Defence Force next Tuesday.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Senior Whip—Labour) : The Opposition certainly associates itself with the comments of the Deputy Leader of the House, and next Tuesday we will join the Government more formally in that particular regard.
I wonder whether the Deputy Leader of the House could give us an indication as to whether we can expect to debate the third bill relating to Auckland governance in the 3 sitting weeks remaining before the end of the year, and also whether the Government will make available the suggested or indicative House sitting timetable so that members can begin their planning for the next year. We are grateful for the notice of urgency next week. We are grateful that it was not this week, as it would have been the eighth sitting week in a row under urgency, and we are concerned that a third of Parliament’s business since the election has been conducted under urgency.
Hon SIMON POWER (Deputy Leader of the House) : The shadow Leader of the House will be pleased to know that the House sitting timetable will be made available in plenty of time for plans to be made. In regard to any other bills that will be considered between now and when the House rises at the end of the year, a range of other bills will be made available, some of which will be required to be passed by the end of the year. Those matters will be described in a fuller and more specific way at the Business Committee in coming days.
Points of Order
Questions for Written Answer—Overdue Replies
Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I need some help from you in relation to questions for written answer. I lodged three written questions to the Minister of Immigration 5 weeks ago. Three weeks ago I contacted his office to ask whether any response was coming and to say that I did not wish to trouble the House by taking the matter up with the Speaker. I have still received no reply of any sort from the Minister. What am I to do?
Questions to Ministers
Alcohol Abuse—Effect on Productivity
1. RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) to the Associate Minister of Health: What value of productivity is lost to the economy as a result of the misuse of alcohol, and what strategies does the Government have to address this issue?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) : A recent report commissioned by the Ministry of Health and the Accident Compensation Corporation estimated that the cost of lost output from alcohol misuse in 2005-06 was $1.764 billion, although this figure has been challenged by others. The 2007 survey of alcohol use in New Zealand showed that over 3.2 percent of adults—that is, 84,400 people—reported having experienced the harmful effects of alcohol on their work, study, or employment in the previous 12 months. A further 11.2 percent—or 251,900 people—reported working while feeling under the influence of alcohol during that same time. The Government strategies are set out in the National Drug Policy 2007-12. In addition, the Government has requested the Law Commission to complete a comprehensive review of our liquor legislation, with the report back due in March 2010.
Rahui Katene: Does the Minister agree with the New Zealand Drug Foundation that more alcohol-related deaths were prevented in terms of non-Māori than Māori relative to the size of their populations, and how will the Government address this evident inequity?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I am certainly aware that, amongst those who drink, Māori are significantly likely or more likely to have potentially hazardous drinking patterns, compared with the total population. There are three or four broad strategies in place to deal with that. The Whānau Ora programme is a particular Ministry of Health priority addressed at removing inequalities. The community action, youth, and drugs projects come into this area, as well. I know that the Alcohol Advisory Council—ALAC—currently has a 3-year action plan for Māori. Similarly, work is being done through the inter-agency group working on the drivers of crime.
Rahui Katene: What strategies are being introduced to address the promulgation of new products, such as alcopops and ready-to-drinks—RTDs— aimed at a younger public?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The Law Commission review has identified that there could well be an issue around various types of alcohol now becoming available. It sought feedback and submissions on those issues. I am given to understand that around 2,500 submissions have already been received, and I imagine that the issue of ready-to-drinks will feature significantly among them. As I said earlier, the Government will be receiving a final report from the Law Commission next March and will be making decisions based upon it.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can the Minister explain why the Government is holding back the passage of the Sale and Supply of Liquor and Liquor Enforcement Bill, in light of the guilty plea to manslaughter last week of an individual aged 19 who did not have a full driver’s licence, who would have been prohibited from driving with any alcohol in his blood if that law had been passed?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I am not going to comment on a particular court case. But there are a number of measures floating around at the moment that are being held back pending the work of the Law Commission, and the development of a comprehensive response once the Law Commission’s final report and recommendations have been received.
Unemployment—Effect of Government Policies on Youth
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does she believe that the Government’s package to address unemployment has done enough to give youth a firm footing in the labour market?
Hon Annette King: Assuming she has read the report prepared for the OECD conference she attended in Paris recently, does she agree with its assessment that New Zealand has a group of youth who are being left behind, are at high risk of social exclusion, and are becoming a lost generation; or is Fran O’Sullivan, writing in the New Zealand Herald yesterday, correct when she said Ms “Bennett was too busy puffing her own achievements to pay much heed to the OECD’s warning.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we have seen for the first time in 2 years is 2 months of the number of those on the unemployment benefit going down for young people. I think that that is a positive achievement.
Hon Annette King: Does she really believe that her package of measures for unemployed young New Zealanders, which leaves 45,800 of them without any help or hope, is an adequate response to the rising tide of youth unemployment? Nine thousand of them will remain jobless long after the recession is over, and is this the reason that serious commentators are now saying we are likely to have a lost generation?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government is clearly focused on young people, getting them into work and further training wherever possible. We have already had 4,000 young people with opportunities through Community Max and Job Ops, and we have a lot more to go. The member quotes the household labour force survey, which, of course, is a definition of those aged 15 or over who would like to have an hour a week’s work or more. For example, it includes a young person at school who would like to have a paper run.
Todd McClay: Can the Minister give examples of regions where there has been a particular turn-round in youth unemployment figures?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. In Canterbury 114 more young people have come off the unemployment benefit and into jobs than those who signed on in August. It is projects like Ngāi Tahu’s workforce, which is employing 16 young Māori men who are restoring a historic wāhi tapu site.
Hon Annette King: When will she announce the Government’s package of support for school-leavers and tertiary students, something that she promised would be available by now; and is she aware that while she has dithered, 160,000 students have registered with Student Job Search, up by 60,000 on last year, and only 5,000 have found employment?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I am aware of is that for 2 years—and, in fact, for three consecutive quarters—under the previous Government, unemployment went up for young people, and nothing was done to help them. Yes, we have around 160,000 students who have registered with Student Job Search—at 27 October—and it is doing a good job in trying to turn them into work. I certainly make a call out to employers and individuals that now is the time to step up and get jobs for students.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked, when will she announce the Government’s package of support for school-leavers and tertiary students that she promised would be available by now; and is she aware of that number of students? The question is, when will she release the package? She did a whole rant about the previous Government, then talked about the 160,000. She did not address the primary part of the question. It was not two questions; it was one question—
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need help on it. I say to the learned member that had she stopped her question at that point, undoubtedly I would have asked the Minister to answer it. But she went on to ask whether the Minister was aware of something. The Minister responded to that part of the question, and that is perfectly within the Standing Orders. The remedy was in the member’s own hands. If she had stopped the question at that point, I would have asked the Minister to answer it.
Hon Annette King: When will she announce the Government’s package of support for school-leavers and tertiary students, which she promised would be available by now?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I made no such promise. There is no big package coming. But watch this space and we will see announcements on jobs for students.
Jacinda Ardern: Has she asked the Minister of Education to lift the cap on enrolments in tertiary education in order to give young people who cannot find work the chance to upskill, particularly given that the Department of Labour recently reported that the recession is likely to lead to a further increase in demand, with more youth returning to study or studying longer?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No.
Jacinda Ardern: Has she investigated the UK initiative mentioned by Fran O’Sullivan on tackling youth unemployment, which Labour submitted to her 5 months ago, along with a dozen other ideas, after we hosted the Youth Jobs Summit?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Nothing was done on youth unemployment for 9 long years. Now we are seeing action, and the Opposition has decided to send over a proposal.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked quite a straightforward question about whether the Minister had investigated an initiative that we submitted to her, and she did not answer that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I must confess that I could not hear the Minister’s answer at all. As I cannot rule on the matter, having not heard it, I think probably the best way to deal with the problem is to invite the member to ask her question again, without the loss of a supplementary question. But I ask members to make sure that I can hear the answer by not interjecting so much.
Jacinda Ardern: Has she investigated the UK initiative mentioned by Fran O’Sullivan on tackling youth unemployment that Labour submitted to her 5 months ago, along with a dozen other ideas, after we hosted the Youth Jobs Summit?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government is looking at a number of initiatives. What we are not doing is just talking about it in a load of rhetoric. We are actually taking action, which I know is hard for the Opposition to handle.
3. PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the economy in National’s first year in Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : The reports on economic management have been overwhelmingly positive when people contrast the current Government’s management with that of the previous Government. Some people have said that through the recession we should slash and burn services and Government spending, while others have said that we should go on a massive debt-fuelled spend-up. In the end, the Government has opted for a balanced policy that protects people in the short term from the sharp edges of recession and lays the foundation for increased economic growth and more jobs on the road to recovery.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What measures did the Government take to support the economy through the recession?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There has been a wide range of initiatives, but the main ones were the 1 April tax cuts, which kept shop doors open by putting an extra $1 billion a year into the pockets of 1.5 million workers; billions of dollars of extra investment in productive infrastructure; a $500 million tax assistance package for small businesses; a $320 million campaign to insulate 180,000 houses; and 17,000 extra job and training opportunities for young people as part of the Youth Opportunities package.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What other measures has the Government taken in its first year to strengthen the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The thing that will make the most difference to New Zealand and New Zealanders is the creation of new jobs. The Government is focusing very strongly on creating an environment that gives business the confidence to invest and create new jobs, in contrast to the previous Government, which focused very much on the Government providing all the new jobs.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What alternative approaches to managing the economy has the Minister seen?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen a particularly bizarre statement from the Leader of the Opposition today. He said that he wants to pull out of 20 years of consensus on the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act, but he has no idea what he wants to put in its place.
Economic Policy—Prime Minister’s Views
4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s views on economic policy?
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s views of his Treasury’s estimates that the fiscal costs of the Government’s emissions trading scheme is $110 billion, or 14 to 17 percent of GDP, dismissing it as nonsense; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, because it is.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can he confirm that the assumptions underlying his Treasury’s $110 billion estimate are, in fact, quite reasonable given that the $50 per tonne carbon price is in line with that used in Australia, is half the cost that Nick Smith used when criticising his opponents, and is Treasury’s mid-range scenario?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, that Treasury has trouble predicting what will happen by Christmas let alone what will happen by 2050. It made a guess on the basis of a range of highly contestable assumptions.
Hon David Cunliffe: If that is the case, how does he then reconcile his statement that Treasury’s projections and the long-term fiscal outlook “highlights the stark choices New Zealand faces if it is to avoid an explosion of public debt”, and how does that wear with the Prime Minister’s dismissal of Treasury’s long-term forecasting?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury did some long-term fiscal forecasts based largely on the policy settings left behind by the reckless previous Labour Government, which managed this economy incompetently and missed the opportunity of a generation to step up economic performance.
Hon David Cunliffe: If the Minister does not consider his department’s advice on the fiscal impacts of the emissions trading scheme to be reliable, what, then, is the advice—which the Government is relying on—that underlies the figure of $3,000 by 2030, which Mr Key gave Federated Farmers yesterday; and does it do better than the advice that Treasury’s regulatory impact assessment unit criticised as being too flimsy to support the bill before Parliament?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This Government has the capacity to make its own distinctions between good advice and bad advice. Advice we disagree with is bad advice; advice we agree with is good advice.
Child Abuse and Neglect—Preventive Initiatives
5. HEKIA PARATA (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What work is currently under way to address New Zealand’s high rates of child abuse and neglect?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : This Government is serious about reducing rates of child abuse and neglect. We have a number of initiatives under way to address this issue. We are making policy changes to ensure multi-agency involvement in identifying children who are at risk. Getting consistent reporting and data across all Government agencies would be a start. Next month we will be focusing on the “Never, ever shake a baby” campaign, and we are very excited about the Whānau Ora development.
Hekia Parata: What further work will she be undertaking in this area?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Like we have seen in the news stories this morning about 7-month-old Star Anise Waru, we are all failing our kids at some level. New cases of child abuse are bad enough, but when we see over 1,800 children abused again within 6 months, we have to do something about it. Yesterday the Opposition indicated that it was sick of hearing about this issue, but while New Zealanders keep beating and killing our babies, this Government will keep talking about it.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Has she seen the comments from the chief social worker, Dr Marie Connolly, who was recently appointed as honorary professor at the University of Auckland, that developments in child welfare in New Zealand still place us at the forefront of innovation, that other countries look to New Zealand and see our legislation as progressive, and that new systems developed here create opportunities for families and children to be effectively connected to services; if so, how can she substantiate her claim that Labour did nothing for children when it was in Government?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I most certainly have seen that research. Let us get this right: there is a lot of stuff we really do well. There is the family group conference system and the way that works. I make no apologies for saying that we are not getting it right for all of those children. It is as simple as that. It does not mean that we will not challenge ourselves to do it better and look at best practice and how we move forward.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I heard in the Minister’s answer that yesterday Labour members were saying they were sick of hearing about child abuse. I take exception to that, because it is not true.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Mr Speaker, you can look back at the transcript from yesterday. When I was talking about child abuse and neglect, words were reported from Opposition members yelling out at the time that indicated that they did not see the situation as serious.
Mr SPEAKER: I cannot really deal with this matter in any particular way, because it is not a matter where the member can justifiably take personal offence. In the past we have allowed members to believe that personal offence has been taken and to ask a Minister to withdraw something. This comment is what would be seen more as a contestable comment, I would say, rather—
Hon Annette King: A despicable comment!
Mr SPEAKER: The member should not interject while I am on my feet. I do not believe I can take this matter further. There are opportunities for further questions to question the Minister on why she made that comment, but I cannot rule on it under a point of order.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order is about the provisions in the Standing Orders that it is unparliamentary to accuse a political party of anything one could not accuse an individual member of. So any reference to a member that would be considered unparliamentary equally applies if it refers to an entire party. You have ruled on a number of occasions your desire to lift the tone of the House. I think on sensitive issues like this where every member of Parliament has exactly the same view—they want to stop this practice; everyone shares that view—to try to put that projection on to one political party causes offence and leads to disorder. The deputy leader of the Labour Party has raised that issue by saying she takes offence, as all Labour members do, just as National members would have if we had said something like that about them, which we have not done in this case.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: We do not need to take further time on this matter. I have already ruled that I considered that this was more a matter of a contestable comment. I fear that if we get too sensitive about all these things, all manner of stuff will get ruled out. I think if the members are concerned about this issue, when this kind of question comes up they should make sure that they do not interject, so that there is less chance for other members of the House to misinterpret the interjections. That often leads to this kind of situation. It was obviously interjections yesterday that caused the Minister to arrive at this conclusion, and I cannot help that. The remedy is partly in the members’ own hands.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without challenging your ruling, I seek your advice. I could be wrong, but as I understand it, when a comment is made in the House and a member takes offence to that comment, it is not for the Chair, with respect, to judge the gravity or the level of that offence. Offence has been taken. I would have thought that very few things could be more offensive than the suggestion that someone is somehow tacitly or otherwise supporting child abuse or being inactive in its opposition. The deputy leader of the Labour Party has taken personal offence to that. My understanding is that if offence is taken, you are duty-bound to call on the person to withdraw and apologise.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need to hear further on this matter. If the member thought about what he has put to me under a point of order—and I do not intend taking this matter any further—he would quickly see that members could take offence to anything. If the Speaker did not exercise some discretion on this matter, nothing could be said in this House without someone taking offence to it. Members have to be sensible and reasonable about these matters. As I said, the remedy is in members’ hands. When sensitive matters are handled by way of question, then interjections should be much more careful, otherwise impressions can be given like the one the Minister gained yesterday. That is the end of the matter. I am not taking this matter any further.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I warn the honourable member that I have ruled on the matter. There is nothing further to be dealt with.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will actually support your ruling, because— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being heard.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: As I understand it, you have said—and, with respect, I would like some clarification—that members can take offence to any matter. Is the Standing Order now that you are to be the judge as to whether the offence taken has veracity or is credible? Is it the new position that in the House you shall judge that? That is what I am asking. Or are we to revert to tradition in cases where members take offence? I would have not thought that anything could have been more offensive than what has transpired here today—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I invite the member to reflect on what he has said. He has been in this House for some years and it has always been the case that the Speaker makes judgments all the time about the seriousness of issues. The honourable member may recollect that yesterday his leader took offence over something that other members of the House did not think was particularly offensive in the way it was said. I supported the Leader of the Opposition because I believed he had some justification in feeling personally offended.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Racism is in; child abuse is out.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is testing my patience very, very severely, and I warn him to be careful.
Health Sector, Minister’s Expectations—Ability to Deliver
6. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Is he confident the health sector can deliver on his expectations?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : Despite the fact that the previous Labour Government left the new National Government with around $160 million of unfunded services and quietly stripped $150 million out of Vote Health before the last election, yes, but it may take a little longer.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member Ruth Dyson put down a question on notice for the Minister to consider. The point I make is that the Minister gave a little speech before he got on to the substance of the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being heard and it should be heard in silence. I say to the Hon Darren Hughes on a matter like this to reflect on the substantive question asked. I accept what he says—that it is a question on notice—but it is seeking an opinion. It asks: “Is he confident the health sector can deliver on his expectations?”. The Minister’s confidence is obviously being a bit qualified by some matters he mentioned in his answer, and that is the kind of answer members will get if they ask this kind of question. There are always slight dangers around seeking opinions when questions are asked.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he change his expectations of the health sector given the huge cuts in health funding, as reported on the front page of the New Zealand Herald today?
Hon TONY RYALL: There will be no cuts to the health budget. There will be more money in Vote Health next year, in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Kevin Hague: What is his response to the group of senior representatives of the health sector, OraTaiao, who brought their message to the steps of Parliament today, saying that runaway climate change is the most serious health issue this century?
Hon TONY RYALL: Climate change is an issue that needs to be taken very seriously, and I am advised that the Minister for Climate Change Issues, the Hon Dr Nick Smith, met with those doctors this afternoon.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he change his expectation of the health sector, given the huge cost-shifting currently occurring between accident compensation and health, combined with the cuts in health funding that were reported for next year?
Hon TONY RYALL: I want to be quite clear about the premise of the member’s question. There are no cuts to the health budget, and there will be more money in health next year. I have also received an assurance from the chairman of the Auckland District Health Board, one Mr Pat Snedden, who said that any savings made within the Auckland District Health Board will be ploughed back into front-line health services.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What progress is the Government making on its current expectations and priorities in the public health service?
Hon TONY RYALL: On Monday the Government will be publishing its priorities and the performance of the public health service against the priorities that the new Government has labelled. This is the first time that we are publishing for the public what is happening with front-line health services, and they will see more elective surgery, faster emergency departments, and better cancer treatment for New Zealanders. That is what they wanted and that is what they are getting.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Is he saying that senior doctors are wrong when they say that his health system will be devastating for patients, will compromise patients’ access to hospitals, will compromise quality and safety, and will end up costing more because of chronic illness and emergency admissions?
Hon TONY RYALL: Of course it would be devastating if the public health service vote were to be cut by the levels that are being talked about. The member needs to know that this Government has significantly increased the health budget this year and there will be further increases in the health budget next year. The difference between this Government and the previous Government is that the previous Government doubled the health budget, and New Zealanders got less for their health service. They are getting more under a National-led Government.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How many doctors and nurses will pack their bags and leave our country when they learn that none of his predicted savings in health will be redirected to recruitment and retention, as confirmed by his officials at the Health Committee yesterday, that they will be getting more unfunded patients turfed off the books by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), and that those doctors and nurses can expect a zero wage increase offer next year as health community support workers are getting right now?
Hon TONY RYALL: The difficulty I have is actually being able to prove whether the comments the member has made are accurate, because I saw a press release yesterday where she sought to represent comments made by the director-general about ACC and advice that I had sought, which members of the select committee did not hear the director-general say, and the director-general says he did not say.
Kevin Hague: Has he discussed with his colleague the Minister for Climate Change Issues, and conveyed to the Prime Minister, the views of a large section of the health sector that the current proposed amendments to the emissions trading scheme will be bad for the health of New Zealanders, squandering scarce public funds on subsidies to polluters instead of providing essential health services?
Hon TONY RYALL: I can say that I have numerous conversations with my bench mate the Minister for Climate Change Issues, and I must say that many people in the health sector are of the view that he is doing an excellent job for the people of New Zealand.
Kevin Hague: I seek leave of the House to table five documents. Four are papers published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. The first is from 30 October, and it is “New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme and health: wasting our opportunities”.
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.
Kevin Hague: The second is also from the New Zealand Medical Journal of 30 October: “Sign On—prescribing for climate health”.
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.
Kevin Hague: The third is from the New Zealand Medical Journal of 9 October: “Why New Zealand must rapidly halve its greenhouse gas emissions”.
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.
Kevin Hague: The fourth is from the New Zealand Medical Journal of 9 October and it is “Climate change: the health consequences of inactivity”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection on that tabling.
Kevin Hague: The fifth document is a report from the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme from 2003 entitled Climate Change and Human Health—Risks and Responses.
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.
Broadband—Private Investment Partners
7. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology: How many private partners have indicated their interest in participating in the Government’s $1.5 billion ultra-fast broadband investment initiative?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) : I am pleased to report to the House that a total of 43 groups have expressed an interest, including several significant international players and a strong selection of local companies. It shows a strong interest from the private sector to partner with the Government. The right partners will share in the Government’s vision of the transformative ability of ultra-fast broadband. They will have the credibility to step up and deliver this critical piece of infrastructure in a cost-effective manner.
Dr Jackie Blue: What is the next step for the private partners?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Interested bidders have until 29 January next year to put their best foot forward and lodge full proposals. These will be assessed by the Crown Fibre Holdings board, who are responsible for managing the Government’s investment in local fibre companies to achieve the 75 percent ultra-fast broadband target as quickly and efficiently as possible. We expect most geographic areas to be covered, but those that are not will be subject to further tender rounds at a future date when commercial interest increases.
Clare Curran: Does the Minister have a mechanism to protect local investment in fibre networks by community-owned groups, especially in rural and provincial areas that have been frustrated by under-investment by the incumbents; if so, what?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure what the member means by a means to protect those companies that make those investments. Certainly, we will be seeking partnerships from companies of all sizes, not just in the urban broadband initiative but in the rural broadband initiative as well.
Food Pricing—Consumer New Zealand Statement
8. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs: Does she agree with Consumer New Zealand Chief Executive Sue Chetwin that all consumers can do about rising food prices is “shop around”?
Hon HEATHER ROY (Minister of Consumer Affairs) : That was certainly sound advice. I would always advise consumers to shop around to find the best prices and to take advantage of specials and sales when buying food or other consumer goods; many people already do. There are a large number of television and newspaper advertisements, flyers in mailboxes, and email alerts competing for shoppers’ attention, and that makes it easier for consumers to determine where they are most likely to get the best value for money.
Carol Beaumont: Has the Minister taken any action to correct the misinformation she promoted last week that the steeply rising food prices in New Zealand were due to increases in the price of fruit and vegetables—comments labelled as extremely unhelpful and ill-advised by Horticulture New Zealand?
Hon HEATHER ROY: The comment I made last week was in fact that part of the increase in food prices was due to increases in the price of fresh fruit and vegetables. I gave a number of other reasons, and I stand by that statement.
Carol Beaumont: Is she aware that only 1 percent to 1.5 percent of food sold in supermarkets is organic; if so, does she still think that buying organics has led to the 42.5 percent increase in food prices since 2000?
Hon HEATHER ROY: The member has just reiterated the point I made in my last answer—only one of the reasons for the increase was fresh fruit and vegetables. Organics, as part of the bundle of foods, does, in fact, contribute to the prices when the food price index is investigated. Food prices fluctuate widely for a large number of reasons. One of those reasons is fuel. When fuel prices are higher it costs much more to get food to markets. That is one of the reasons. Another is seasonal variation. The member knows well that those two things contribute significantly.
Carol Beaumont: Does she still intend to take no action in response to steeply rising food prices, or will she and her colleagues finally take steps to investigate the pricing policies of the two supermarket chains that control the overwhelming share of the food retailing market?
Hon HEATHER ROY: The National - ACT Government has lit a bonfire under regulation and red tape, which will contribute. We are in the process of reducing employer compliance costs to create an environment that further fosters increased competition for the benefit of consumers. The member might like to note that the period of price increases she referred to covered the last decade and that 9 of those years were under a Labour-led Government.
Dalai Lama—Meetings with Ministers
9. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Is it Government policy that no Minister will officially meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits next month; if so, why?
Keith Locke: What advice did the Minister or his ministry provide to the Prime Minister regarding the implications for New Zealand’s relationship with China should the Prime Minister or members of his Government meet with the Dalai Lama?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: As the Prime Minister indicated yesterday, he did discuss this matter with me. He sought some advice as to what other nations’ leaders were doing in similar situations, and he also sought some advice as to foreign policy consequences that would follow from decisions that he might make. I would be happy to discuss those in more detail with the member, if he wishes.
Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think the Minister, in his reply, mentioned any specific implications. His reply was very general, and perhaps he could give at least—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister did answer the question. The member has further supplementary questions in which to dig down further. The Minister may be constrained by the public interest, but that will be his decision.
Keith Locke: In relation to his answer to my primary question, which Ministers will be meeting with the Dalai Lama, or will be allowed to meet with the Dalai Lama, when he visits New Zealand in December?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: As the Prime Minister indicated yesterday, he has made it clear that he has no need to meet with the Dalai Lama on the occasion of this visit. The Prime Minister has advised other Ministers of the decision that he has made, and, as the Prime Minister indicated yesterday, his understanding is that no other Ministers currently plan to meet the Dalai Lama.
Keith Locke: Would the Minister of Foreign Affairs be quite pleased or happy if one of the Ministers in the Government did decide to meet with the Dalai Lama when he is in New Zealand, because how can we expect China to meet the Dalai Lama and negotiate a solution to Tibetan issues unless our Government sets an example and its Ministers, or one of its Ministers at least, meets with the Dalai Lama?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: As I indicated in relation to the earlier question, the Prime Minister has made the decision that he personally sees no need for him to meet the Dalai Lama on the occasion of this visit. He has conveyed that information to Ministers and, as he indicated yesterday, it is his understanding that no Ministers currently intend to meet the Dalai Lama in the course of this visit. The Prime Minister has also indicated that he has met the Dalai Lama in the past and may choose to do so on the occasion of a future visit.
Keith Locke: How does the Minister explain the fact that last December the Prime Minister said, very clearly, to a questioner that he would meet the Dalai Lama when he visited this year, and now he has decided that he will not? Surely, in response to the Minister’s last answer, the plight of the Tibetan people has not improved, so that somehow our Prime Minister can take the pressure off by not meeting the Dalai Lama and talking about Tibetan matters and how the Chinese Government must match up?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: The Prime Minister, I understand in the past, as Leader of the Opposition, did refer to his preparedness on some future occasion to meet with the Dalai Lama, and yesterday the Prime Minister repeated that decision—that perhaps on some future occasion he might meet with the Dalai Lama on the occasion of a visit to New Zealand. Many factors contribute to the making of decisions about the priorities attached to the Prime Minister’s diary, and occasionally, of course, the Prime Minister exercises his own judgment about those priorities. He does not necessarily feel the need to explain those priorities to his Ministers or his officials. I can simply convey that outcome to the member and to the House.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table three documents. The first two are Amnesty International documents. The first one is dated 6 March 2009, is on Tibetan issues, and is headed: “A year of escalating human rights violations”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Keith Locke: The second Amnesty International document is dated 6 November 2009, and is headed: “Two Tibetan men executed” for their role in protests last year.
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.
Keith Locke: The third document is by Human Rights Watch, and is headed: “China: Ensure fair trial for Tibetan filmmaker”, who has been arrested and tortured for inciting separatism.
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.
Job Ops and Community Max Schemes—Progress
10. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What progress has there been for the Job Ops and Community Max programmes?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I am delighted to say that over 4,000 places have been created since the Job Ops and Community Max schemes began in August—that is, 4,000 already. New Zealand businesses and community groups are truly getting behind this scheme, and it is making a difference.
Tim Macindoe: How are these initiatives supporting young New Zealanders through the recession?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Just this morning at a meeting with the Mayors Task Force for Jobs the mayors were saying how much of a difference it is making in their communities and that it is truly encouraging. We have a long way to go, but the situation for youth unemployment is not as bad as some were predicting this time last year. I think that unemployment will go up again over the summer period, but we are making a positive difference, and it is all steps ahead.
Carmel Sepuloni: Does the Minister stand by the statement that National’s focus is on younger sole parents with dependent children because these are the families most likely to be in poverty; if so, why does her Community Max programme, which she has continued to trumpet, discriminate against young solo mothers, telling them that because they are on the domestic purposes benefit they cannot join that programme, even though young people of the same age on the independent youth benefit or the unemployment benefit are allowed to take part?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes.
Tim Macindoe: What outcomes has the Minister seen from the Job Ops and Community Max programmes?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We are seeing really positive outcomes. Our young people are being upskilled with real employment opportunities. They quite genuinely have a renewed sense of pride in themselves and in their community, and they are gaining skills that will help them into further employment as they move forward.
Carmel Sepuloni: Does the Minister stand by her statement: “I will back those women into work and meaningful employment every time.”; if so, does she believe it is fair that, during a time when unemployment in New Zealand has peaked, her Government will force mums back into a workforce where meaningful employment, including opportunities provided by this Government, are clearly scarce?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask members to be fair and reasonable. When Carmel Sepuloni was asking a supplementary question a moment ago, the level of interjection from the Government backbenches was too great. I ask for a little more courtesy.
Carmel Sepuloni: Is the Community Max programme in breach of the Human Rights Act on the grounds of family status and sex, in light of the fact that 16 to 24-year-old sole parents on the domestic purposes benefit are precluded from eligibility?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not have the capacity to get a legal opinion during question time, but, no, I believe not.
Carmel Sepuloni: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter, dated 19 November 2009, I sent to the Human Rights Commission, asking that the Human Rights Commission examine the Community Max programme for breaches of the Human Rights Act 1993 on the grounds of—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter to the Human Rights Commission. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Carmel Sepuloni: I seek leave to table chapters on education and economic security from a report entitled Children and Young People: Indictors of Wellbeing in New Zealand 2008, which highlights the positive impact of parental, and especially maternal, education and also the negative impact of family economic insecurity on children’s educational outcomes.
Mr SPEAKER: I did not pick up what the document was.
Carmel Sepuloni: It is from the Ministry of Social Development.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that Ministry of Social Development document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Carmel Sepuloni: I seek leave to table a report entitled The Complexity of Community and Family Influences on Children’s Achievement in New Zealand: Best EvidenceSynthesis published by the Ministry of Education, which shows that parental, and especially maternal, education has a strong impact on educational attainment for children, that children—
Mr SPEAKER: We do not need to hear the whole document. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Iwi Leadership Group—Proposal
11. JOHN BOSCAWEN (ACT) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: On what date will he be releasing the proposed deal from the Iwi Leadership Group and on what date does he expect to have concluded a deal?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Climate Change Issues) : I cannot give an exact date. Discussions are ongoing. I am hopeful that we will be in a position to announce an agreement with the Māori Party sometime in the next week.
John Boscawen: Can he confirm that the paper put forward by the Iwi Leadership Group proposed an afforestation fund, a first right of refusal for afforestation on Crown land, and guaranteed joint-venture status for any State-owned enterprise afforestation?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, I cannot confirm that. But I would also say to the member that people ask for lots of things in negotiations; that does not necessarily mean that they are agreed.
Hon Mita Ririnui: What does he say to OraTaiao, a group of more than 100 health professionals concerned about climate change, when they ask how honouring the Treaty of Waitangi in the emissions trading scheme Act will happen when many Māori families will be the hardest hit by the Government’s emissions trading scheme amendments; and how on earth did he get the Māori Party to sign up to that?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The issue of the impact on low-income families has been one of the priority issues for the Māori Party. That is why our amendments to the emissions trading scheme will halve the cost increase on households—halve the increase.
Hon David Parker: Add $110 billion to taxpayers.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, members opposite say that is untrue. Their scheme would have resulted in petrol prices going up by 8c; ours will have them go up by 3c. The existing scheme has a 10 percent increase in power prices. A further issue that the Māori Party has put on the agenda is enhancement of the home insulation scheme, which will also help low-income households.
Hon Mita Ririnui: Well, is not OraTaiao totally right when it says “… our tax contributions give powerful and vocal big emitters a licence to threaten the future for our tamariki, rangatahi, and future generations”, and when will he stop pretending that his emissions trading scheme amendments will do anything except benefit corporate interests?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I had a very cordial, constructive meeting with the group.
Hon Member: You didn’t lose your cool?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, it was. One of the points they made was that they had believed Labour’s statements that the changes were a cost to the taxpayer, rather than actually a loss in income, because Labour’s scheme would cost farmers $30,000 a year, compared with our scheme, which will cost farmers $3,000 a year.
Hekia Parata: Has the Minister received any information from Ngāi Tahu on why they believed that the previous Government had not treated them fairly in terms of their non-disclosure issue over the emissions trading scheme and their Treaty settlement?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes. The report from Ngāi Tahu states that the former administration, despite undertakings to consult with Ngāi Tahu over the terms of reference and over who would do the review, did not do so, and, in Ngāi Tahu’s view, acted in bad faith. Ngāi Tahu also claimed that in terms of the joint valuation that was done with the previous Government—and this is important, Mr Speaker—the previous Government agreed to go into negotiations with them to resolve the issue.
John Boscawen: What are the names of the foreign companies he says currently have planting rights on the Department of Conservation estate, and what rentals are they currently paying?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The details of those companies are the responsibility of the Minister of Conservation. I would be happy to find out that information and to provide it to the member, subject to any confidentiality agreements that are associated with those agreements.
Hon Mita Ririnui: I seek leave of the House to table an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal dated 9 October 2009, by Professor Hugh Montgomery, entitled “Climate change: the health consequences of inactivity”.
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 Dr NICK SMITH: I seek leave of the House to table the report provided to me by Ngāi Tahu, dated 6 August 2009, in respect of their response to the Aikman report.
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.
Immigration Policy—Rights of School-age Children
12. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Immigration: Why has immigration policy been changed so that the child of a person legally in New Zealand on a work permit under the essential skills policy will not be able to freely attend school if his or her parent or parents earn under $33,675?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Immigration) : It is completely wrong and mischievous to say that the child of a person in New Zealand under the essential skills policy will not be able to attend school if the parent earns less than $33,675. Indeed, the children of all people in New Zealand on a temporary work permit are eligible for free education. The policy changes are about ensuring that after 30 November any new applicants under the essential skills policy have an income adequate to support dependent children in New Zealand, given that people on work permits do not qualify for either free health care or income support.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Is the Minister saying that the report in the New Zealand Herald earlier this week that contains immigration officials’ advice supporting the policy is factually wrong, or is he saying that the officials are wrong?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I can say that that report is incorrect. The member might be interested to note that this change to policy was signed off by the last Labour Cabinet, of which he was a member. I quote the Cabinet minute from July 2008, which stated: “This Cabinet agrees that a minimum income threshold be introduced under the essential skills policy to ensure that temporary migrants can properly support their dependent children in New Zealand.” I ask the member, if he thought it was such a good idea then, why he thinks it is a bad idea now. Is he just too tired to really take notice any more?
Hon Pete Hodgson: Nobody on this side of the House believes that this—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Pete Hodgson: —party would ever do anything as abusive—
Mr SPEAKER: The member just lost a supplementary question. It is intolerable to yell abuse across the House when the member’s microphone is on. That is simply intolerable, and I have deducted a supplementary question for that abuse.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a couple of points to make. The first is that you appear to have deducted a supplementary question from me because of noise from other members. The second is that although I am well aware that you cannot be responsible for a Minister’s answer, when a Minister’s answer is as different from our understanding of the truth as that, it itself becomes disorderly. That is what happened.
Mr SPEAKER: The reason why I deducted a supplementary question from the member was that I was on my feet and had called for order, the member’s microphone was on, and he continued to ignore the Speaker totally. That is simply unacceptable. Members in this House will learn that when I get to my feet they will sit down and be silent—members on both sides of the House will learn that—because that is the one power the Speaker has to control this House. When I get to my feet members will sit down, and that is why I have deducted that supplementary question. Members will learn not to remain standing. It had nothing to do with other interjections or anything like that. OK, there are issues that people feel quite strongly about, and I have no problem with that, but when I get to my feet and the member’s microphone is open and he just ignores me like that, that is absolutely inexcusable. Having done that, my dilemma is that the Labour Party has already had 20—[Interruption] One more? OK.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Does he think that it is a good look for the New Zealand Government to actively and explicitly damage a child’s future because his or her parent has lost a job? What about that is not child abuse?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I will tell members what is not a good look: for that member to come in here, to not have checked his facts, and then to totally lose it in front of the House when he is embarrassed in front of all his colleagues.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may not have agreed with the question—I will not judge the quality of the question—but to simply abuse the questioner, making no attempt to answer the question, is not acceptable. If there are errors of fact in the question the Minister has the right to point those out. I have dealt very severely with the Hon Pete Hodgson, and I will deal severely with the Hon Jonathan Coleman if he does that again in the future. It is not acceptable. I ask him to answer the question in a proper manner.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I do not agree with his assertion.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that infraction by the Government member, perhaps the Labour Party could have leave to ask the question that was deducted from us.
Mr SPEAKER: I have already ruled on that matter.
Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill
Hon TARIANA TURIA (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector) on behalf of the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: I move, That the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Whanganui Iwi (Whanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill be considered by the Māori Affairs Committee, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 19 March 2010, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 191(b) and (c).
’e mihi aroha tēnei ki tō tātou kuia e takoto ana i Matahiwi. E rere kau mai te awa nui mai i te ka’ui maunga ki Tangaroa, ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au. E ngā ripo, e ngā ngaru mai i te tihi o Tongariro ki te kaihau o Kupe, W’anganui nui tonu, tēnā tātou katoa.
- [An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[This is a loving tribute to our elder lady lying in state at Matahiwi. The great river flows from the mountain region to the God of Oceans. I am the river and the river is me. Greetings to you all, eddies and waves, from the tip of Tongariro, to Kupe’s domain, to you, Whanganui at large.]
I greet the House as a uri of Ngāti Apa/Wairiki, Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and Whanganui. I claim all of my w’akapapa; our w’akapapa should never be up for debate. This statement is fundamental to an understanding of this bill.
This bill gives effect to aspects of the deed of on-account settlement signed by the Southern Whanganui Cluster/Tūpoho working party on behalf of Whanganui iwi and the Crown on 31 July 2009. In doing so, this bill protects Whanganui iwi interests in the northern part of the Wanganui Forest and the half-share in the land under the Wanganui Prison. Although the bill is focused firmly on identifying interests within tribal boundaries, the relationships with neighbouring iwi and ourselves are never far from our thoughts. Regardless of the line in the sand drawn in this process, it is my firm belief that we should not allow the passing of statutes to divide our w’akapapa relationships, because we are all of ourselves. We can be both Whanganui and Ngāti Apa/Wairiki, and we can claim all of who we are.
The agreement by the Crown to enter into an on-account settlement was an outcome of discussions between North Island Ngāti Apa and the working party to address the concerns that Whanganui iwi had with aspects of the North Island Ngāti Apa settlement. It has been good to have this bill and the Ngāti Apa bill both come up in the same week, to highlight our common interests, the areas that unite and bind us together as whanāu, hapū, and iwi. One of the more contentious features of the Treaty settlement process is the implications of decisions made in one iwi context for our families who have mixed tribal orientation. In situations where we face overlapping tribal boundaries, we have to make the choice to focus on one part of ourselves over and above another. Addressing overlapping interests is one of the key challenges in Treaty settlements. It is a difficult and a complex area, and there are no easy answers. Where groups claim an interest in sites offered to iwi in settlement negotiations, the Crown has the obligation to engage with them and consider their interests in good faith. But if I could say one thing to our people, it would be that we must not allow the process to divide us and take precedence over w’akapapa relationships with and between ourselves.
The on-account settlement with Whanganui iwi demonstrates the challenge that the Crown confronts in trying to find flexible and creative solutions to these very difficult issues of overlapping interests. But it represents also the challenge that we face as uri, to ensure that our relationships with each other are far more enduring and far more substantial. When the Crown steps out of the process, iwi will always be there, so we have to be ready to relate to each other, to respect each other, to work out our differences, and to unite on our common ground. So I stand today to acknowledge those historical relationships and strategic marriages that took place to maintain our w’akapapa. Those relationships must be at the forefront of every decision.
This deed of on-account settlement provides the working party with the opportunity to acquire a half-share in the land under the Wanganui Prison and a half-share of the Wanganui Forest not offered to Ngāti Apa. This opportunity arises only if Ngāti Apa decide to select their share of these two assets. But the right of deferred selection offered to Whanganui iwi over these properties is first subject to Ngāti Apa exercising their right of deferred selection over the land under the prison and the southern half of the Wanganui Forest. If Ngāti Apa do not purchase the half-share of the land under the Wanganui Prison or the southern half of the Wanganui Forest, the Crown will retain these properties.
The value of the assets transferred in this on-account settlement will be taken into account when the Crown makes an offer of redress for the final settlement of the Whanganui historical claims. This is the second on-account settlement offered to Whanganui iwi. The first was the transfer of the Wanganui courthouse, with a lease-back to the Crown, agreed in 2004. If such rapid progress can be achieved in these two on-account settlements, it does create confidence that perhaps the longest-running legal case in New Zealand’s history, the claims for Te Awa Tupua, may soon be close to settlement.
I will return to the point I raised earlier about the timing of this bill in the same week as the Ngāti Apa legislation. The transfer of these properties to Whanganui iwi is closely linked to provisions in the Ngāti Apa (North Island) Claims Settlement Bill to transfer the land under the Wanganui Prison and the southern part of the forest. I propose the Whanganui on-account bill be progressed through its stages in Parliament as a companion measure to the Ngāti Apa (North Island) Claims Settlement Bill in order for the bills to receive the Royal assent on, or as close as possible to, the same date.
Finally, I thank the members of the working party and Whanganui iwi for their commitment to achieve this on-account settlement in a short time frame. I consider that the bill should, therefore, proceed without delay to the Māori Affairs Committee. I commend the bill to the House.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) : It gives me great pleasure to rise to support the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. This bill is part of a series of negotiations that began some time ago. As we know, these negotiations take both time and a great deal of energy, particularly where there are disputes and overlapping claims. I recognise the points that the previous speaker, the Hon Tariana Turia, has made in respect of the differences between iwi and the efforts at resolution.
The previous Labour Government was engaged fully in the negotiations around this legislation, and these negotiations tend to take longer than the life of one Government. I recognise the work that has gone before by Ministers of the previous Labour Government in this process, and I acknowledge the work that has been done subsequently in the last year by Ministers in the current administration. The Labour Party is, of course, supporting this legislation, and it is pleased to do so.
I will take a moment in this speech to traverse a little bit of history, because some forests are involved in this settlement. I am very aware that a number of my colleagues in this House and, I think, a number of New Zealanders are not fully aware of what happens and why when we arrive at these legislated settlements, particularly where they apply to assets such as forests. It is worth traversing this background a little to show where we have gone, how long the process takes, and how much is invested by tangata whenua across this country when they have waited and waited for settlements to be finally resolved.
In 1989 the fourth Labour Government was in the process of selling forestry assets. The process of the sale of those Crown assets was held up by a man who took the case to court on behalf of tangata whenua and iwi throughout the country. That person was Sir Graham Latimer. On behalf of the Māori Council, he took the Government to court to prevent the sale of those Crown assets. A number of us in the Labour Party were very pleased at that point, because it was a bone of enormous contention in the Labour Party at the time. Sir Graham Latimer’s case was quite simple, even though it ended up becoming extremely complex and, in fact, went to the Privy Council. In those days we still felt the need to refer such things to the Privy Council. We no longer do; we stand on our own two feet and have our own Supreme Court to deal with those matters now. We have grown through that phase.
However, at the time, Sir Graham challenged on behalf of the New Zealand Māori Council the Government’s right to sell an asset that was subject to a historical Treaty of Waitangi claim. The accommodation arrived at was that the land would not be sold, but the cutting rights to the trees would be. The forests went out of Crown ownership—not in every case across the country, but in many cases—but the land remained in Crown control, because it was an important asset that was potentially to be part of a future settlement in redress for grievances under the Treaty of Waitangi. Nobody thought that the process would take as long as it has. However, the good thing that has come out of the process, apart from the fact that Sir Graham was able to maintain Crown ownership of the land, albeit with the trees coming and going, was that the rental of the property to forest owners generated an income that went into the Crown Forestry Rental Trust. The trust accrued that rental and the interest on it, and it dispersed the interest on the rental to Māori in order to advance their Treaty of Waitangi claims. Any iwi that had a claim covering land that was part of the Crown forests had the ability to draw on the interest on those funds that was kept on their account by the Crown Forestry Rental Trust.
I had the privilege of working for 5 years as a trustee of the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, representing the Crown’s interests. I learnt a great deal about the process. I was not intimately acquainted with the process beforehand; I was only remotely aware of it. I became very intimately acquainted with the process and with the constructive application of the interest on those rentals to the settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims. That was how a number of iwi were able to fund their claims. They would not have had the capacity to do so otherwise. That was a fair outcome.
The point is that in this settlement we now have part of the forestry lands returning with all conditions met to the iwi of the Whanganui area. That has to be another good milestone. It is another step in the process of reconciling this nation with itself. That is what Treaty of Waitangi settlements are about. The historical background to the return of forests is simply that. The rental of the property has been held in trust for Māori, and iwi have applied to use it in redressing their grievances. It is a tidy, neat, and fair solution to something that was, potentially, an enormous source of grievance to Māori. If those lands had been sold without any redress, then there would be even more grievances than we have today.
I am pleased to say that in this settlement we see not only the return of some Crown forest land with all conditions met but also the same principle being applied to the land under the Kaitoke Prison. The land becomes owned by Māori, and the buildings and so on remain the property of the Crown. That, again, is a neat solution. It is a good answer; it is a modern answer to the settlement of old grievances. Some of my colleagues will speak further about that.
I commend the Whanganui iwi for their efforts in reconciling differences and cross-claims. I think the previous speaker, the Hon Tariana Turia, was right to say that this is a good moment, with both the Ngāti Apa (North Island) Claims Settlement Bill and this bill coming to the House at a similar time. The reconciliation and agreement between these iwi—although some of the agreements are yet to be finalised—recognise that iwi have a maturity, a thoughtfulness, and an appropriate application to claims, counterclaims, and overlapping claims. I congratulate the iwi concerned, and I assure them of Labour’s support for this legislation.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) : E ngā uri o te Awa Tupua i a Whanganui, Te Ātihau-nui-a-Paparangi me ōna hapū, ko Hinengākau, ko Tama Upoko me Tūpoho, tēnei te mihi atu ki a koutou e kaha nei ki te kawe i ngā moemoeā o ō koutou tūpuna, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa. Ka tika hoki te kōrero “Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au.”
[I acknowledge you collectively, descendants of the eponymous river Whanganui: namely, Te Ātihau-nui-a-Paparangi and its subtribes, Hinengākau, Tama Upoko, and Tūpoho, on your efforts to fulfil the dreams of your ancestors. Greetings, greetings, and greetings to you all. The saying “I am the river and the river is me.” is most appropriate.]
I thank the previous speaker, Maryan Street, for her helpful comments. This is, indeed, a matter that has covered two administrations, and I acknowledge those Ministers in the previous Labour Government who played their part as we headed towards its settlement. To those members of the iwi who may have been present in the House when the Hon Tariana Turia was speaking, I simply say what I said in the House a few days ago in relation to the Ngāti Apa (North Island) Claims Settlement Bill, which was that I did not, as it were, slope off while the Minister was speaking. There is some little rule of procedure that requires the Minister in charge of the House not to be present if someone else is going to do the first reading. I did not want Mr Hughes or someone on the Labour side to take some pettifogging procedural point that would have caused me embarrassment. So there we are.
As the Minister said, this bill gives effect to aspects of the deed of on-account settlement that was signed by the working party of the Southern Whanganui Cluster and Tūpoho, on behalf of Whanganui iwi and the Crown, on 31 July, 2009. The bill protects Whanganui iwi interests in the northern part of the forest, and in the half share of the land under the prison, as was mentioned by the previous speaker. The agreement by the Crown to enter into an on-account settlement was an outcome of discussions between Ngāti Apa and the working party, and its aim was to address the concerns Whanganui iwi had with parts of the North Island Ngāti Apa settlement.
Addressing overlapping interests is one of the key challenges in Treaty settlements. It is a difficult and complex area, and there are no easy answers. Where groups claim an interest in sites offered to iwi in settlement negotiations, the Crown has an obligation to engage with them and to consider their interests in good faith. The on-account settlement with Whanganui iwi demonstrates the Crown’s willingness to find flexible and creative solutions to these difficult issues of overlapping interests.
As my colleague the Hon Tariana Turia has said, the deed of on-account settlement provides the working party with the opportunity to acquire, firstly, a half share of the land under the prison, and, secondly, the half of the forest that was not offered to Ngāti Apa. The right of deferred selection offered to the Whanganui iwi over these properties is subject to Ngāti Apa first exercising their right of deferred selection over the land under the prison and the southern half of the forest. If Ngāti Apa do not purchase the half-share of the land under the prison or the southern half of the forest, the Crown will retain the properties. The value of the transfer of assets transferred in this on-account settlement will be taken into account when the Crown makes an offer of redress for the final settlement of the Whanganui iwi historical claims.
This is the second on-account settlement that has been offered to Whanganui iwi; the first was the transfer of the courthouse in Wanganui, with a lease-back to the Crown, and that was agreed in 2004. The transfer of these properties to Whanganui iwi is closely linked to provisions in the Ngāti Apa (North Island) Claims Settlement Bill to transfer the land under the prison and the southern part of the forest.
More broadly, there are a number of other positive developments in the Whanganui rohe at present. The Whanganui District Inquiry is now coming to a close, and the final hearing is in mid-December. Then, I expect, the focus of the iwi will turn to its coming into negotiations. I understand that the progression of land claims will be a topic of discussion at the hui-ā-iwi that is being held this weekend. I very much look forward to entering an intensive phase of negotiations early next year on the Whanganui River claims. Indeed, I was speaking to Sir Archie Taiaroa about that matter this morning, and I think that everyone hopes we will be able to achieve something by the middle of next year. Certainly, that is the hope.
With those words, I indeed support this bill going to the select committee, where it can be dealt with in conjunction with the Ngāti Apa bill, and dealt with, I hope, as quickly as possible.
H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) : Tēnā koe, matua Mr Assistant Speaker Barker. Kia ora tātou, nō reira e te Whare, e ngā iwi, e ngā reo, e ngā hau e whā. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.
I am pleased to take a call in the first reading of the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. I am privileged to be able to address the House on this settlement bill. First, I acknowledge Minister Finlayson from the National Government and the Hon Tariana Turia from the Māori Party. I also acknowledge my own colleagues, who had a great deal to do with bringing this legislation to the House, for the background work they did. The Hon Mita Ririnui did a lot of the legwork and negotiations, and I acknowledge the grunt work that was put in by the Hon Parekura Horomia.
This bill is the result of ongoing negotiations between the Crown and the Southern Whanganui Cluster working party. The agreement was an outcome of discussions between Ngāti Apa of the North Island and the working party on aspects of the Ngāti Apa settlement package. Taking a call this afternoon I acknowledge the leadership of the Southern Whanganui Cluster working party and Ngāti Apa, and their able advocacy for their people, for leadership is the ability to motivate and inspire others to follow. It is obvious that there was a lot of passion, real commitment, dedication, and motivation in wanting to provide a better way forward. For people to achieve, they need a purpose, they need a hand up, they need able advocacy, and they need the willingness to strike out on their own. So to Ngāti Apa I say “Kia kaha, tātou tātou.”
This on-account bill is about economics and about social responsibility. The late Nick Tangaroa, who was a friend of mine whom I knew from his time in Pakuranga—we worked together before he went back down to Whanganui—was a staunch advocate of redressing the wrongs of earlier generations. If he were here today—indeed, this week—he would be pleased and glad that a people’s hopes and dreams, and an economic partnership, are about to be recognised. It is an ability to contribute to the economic well-being of this nation, for together we serve and together we prosper.
The aim of this bill is to give effect to the deed of on-account settlement in which the Crown and Whanganui iwi agree to the transfer of assets for the on-account settlement of the Whanganui iwi historical claims. The preamble of the bill sets out the background to the Deed of On-Account Settlement of Historical Claims of Whanganui Iwi in relation to the Whanganui Kaitoke Prison and Part of the Whanganui Forest, which was entered into by Whanganui iwi and the Crown.
In doing some research on this, I discovered an article by Patrick Gower, a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald. He had this to say: “Maori are set to become landlords of a prison for the first time in a deal where Corrections will rent the grounds of Wanganui’s Kaitoke Prison from tribal interests. A similar deal is underway with Wellington’s Rimutaka and Arohata prisons with an agreement in principle for the ownership of the land beneath them to go to Maori.” He went on to say that the deals are all based on the agreement that Māori will rent the land back to the Department of Corrections, which will retain control of the buildings. Ngāti Apa’s 2007 settlement was based on the grievance of the Crown acquiring the land cheaply and assuring them that they would benefit greatly, only for Ngāti Apa to find poverty and not partnership. That means that their economic prosperity as a people was denied. As a member of Parliament representing a multicultural electoral district in the south of Auckland, I concur with that settlement in recognising those feelings. Mr Gower goes on to say: “Mr Finlayson’s spokesman said Rimutaka men’s and Arohata women’s prisons would be given to the Ngati Toa collective as part of negotiations now underway.” I am reminded of where I grew up with the Ngāti Toa, just north of Wellington, with boyhood friends from the local marae: Simon Moriarty, Whitu Rōiri, Pamela Manu, and Te Ore Damon. Only two of those people remain today, the rest having died rather early.
To me, economic independence, the opportunity to provide employment, and a sense of achieving and contributing to society matters. It is about a person’s whole well-being. It is about giving a meaning to life. It is my fervent hope that this venture will be successful and that it will be a pathway to provide a future for tomorrow’s generation. All of us as members of Parliament are beholden to provide leadership and direction, to lead by example, and to provide the opportunities for people to achieve their full capacity and to realise their ability to contribute to society rather than to be a cost. To recognise that one can make a contribution is important for all New Zealanders.
I acknowledge again the advocacy of Ngāti Apa and its people; they are strong advocates for their community, their whānau, and their mokopuna. I also acknowledge again the advocacy of the Ministers who led this work in the last Labour Government. I acknowledge the work of the Hon Mita Ririnui, who went out on the road, did the hard-core negotiations, represented the Crown, and worked tirelessly on the fifth Labour Government’s account. I also recognise the work that the Hon Parekura Horomia did in putting the grunt work in behind this legislation to make sure that it was ready. Of course, it must be said that this National Government, in coalition with the Māori Party, has at least decided to bring this legislation to the House to recognise that there were grievances and it is time that they were addressed. Kia ora tātou. Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa. Kia ora.
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : I stand today to add to the debate on the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. I welcome those of Whanganui descent who have come today to this first reading. Tēnā koutou.
This is a bill with a very long title, and an equally complex deed of settlement. The bill defines the deed of on-account settlement as “the deed of on-account settlement of historical claims of Whanganui Iwi in relation to the Whanganui Kaitoke Prison and part of the Whanganui Forest between the working party on behalf of Whanganui Iwi, the trustees of the Pakaitore Trust, and the Crown dated 31 July 2009 …”. What is perhaps missing from that very long definition is reference to Ngāti Apa, and yet the origins of this on-account settlement are firmly fixed in relation to Ngāti Apa. The working party referred to in the settlement was established and mandated for the express purpose of ensuring Whanganui hapū that claim interests in the southern or Tūpoho region of the Whanganui district had a vehicle for consultation on the Ngāti Apa settlement. It is, by its very nature, a settlement that is relevant only because of Ngāti Apa, or, more particularly, those hapū of Whanganui iwi whose interests overlap with Ngāti Apa.
The terms of the on-account settlement will enable the working party to have a right of deferred selection to a half-share in the land under the Wanganui Prison and the half of the Wanganui Forest not offered to Ngāti Apa. That right of deferred selection is subject to Ngāti Apa first exercising its right of deferred selection. Should Ngāti Apa decide not to purchase those assets, they will remain in Crown ownership, and are likely to be the subject of further negotiations with Whanganui iwi.
As we go through the detail of the bill, it becomes more and more evident that we are talking about a sophisticated tapestry of overlapping and interrelated discussions and dialogue between Whanganui iwi and North Island Ngāti Apa. As I understand it, the way in which the Crown applies the overlapping claims process in any particular case is meant to be managed in good faith to reflect the particular situations of the groups in negotiations and those with overlapping interests. In April this year the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, the Hon Chris Finlayson, held a major hui with iwi to encourage the various groups to identify procedural ways that they or the Crown could help to negotiate more efficiently. A key issue in the discussion was the possibility of the Crown offering more assistance to iwi with overlapping claims before the serious negotiations begin. Overlapping claims are a significant feature of our settlement landscape. Although everyone accepts that they are best settled by the claimants before negotiations with the Crown begin, it does not always work out that way, and in some instances the Waitangi Tribunal has been called in to resolve issues. I listened very carefully on Tuesday when my colleague Tariana Turia described the clear commitment of Ngāti Apa to work towards ensuring that overlapping interests from other tribal groups within the rohe are addressed. The position put forward by Ngāti Apa was that they would claim areas of interest as theirs exclusively only as long as the available research was substantial and unopposed. I believe that is a very distinctive aspect of their settlement, and I will be interested, at the select committee consideration of this bill, to learn how the working party proceeded to negotiate with Ngāti Apa during the process of reaching the terms of agreement.
Minister Turia also made some very interesting remarks today in opening this debate, in speaking to the need for enduring and meaningful relationships between iwi before, during, and after the Crown enters the rohe. Whanganui and Ngāti Apa have to live together just as, in my case, Ngāti Kōata, Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Tama, Te Ātiawa, and Ngāti Toa have all had to work out how we live together in our relationships with each other, and, in the case of the latter six iwi, with Kai Tahu. In the case of Te Tau Ihu, the Waitangi Tribunal found that when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 the latter six iwi I just referred to had valid customary rights that overlapped the acknowledged rights of Ngāi Tahu in various parts of the takiwā. The tribunal found that the Crown had acquired these lands and resources in violation of their rights. The Crown extinguished all customary rights in the northern part of the Ngāi Tahu takiwā through a series of acquisitions, including the Wairau purchase, the Waipounamu transaction, the Arahura purchase, and the Kaikōura purchase. In all of these purchases the Crown failed to fully inquire into, or consider the interests of, Te Tau Ihu iwi or to obtain their free and full consent.
I refer to that example because I think in all respects it is preferable to not try to accelerate the process nor to have to be forced to take matters to the Waitangi Tribunal. The wisest course of action is to have the kōrero, to try to settle support amongst the claimant community, and to ensure full, free, and frank discussion amongst all parties. I believe that what has been achieved in this Whanganui iwi deed of on-account settlement represents a commitment to working together, talking together, and settling together. It is my understanding that the iwi concerned are satisfied with the Kaitoke Prison and northern part of Whanganui forest on-account component of the package and believe that it effectively resolves any dispute that may have potentially occurred between Whanganui iwi and Ngāti Apa.
Of course, this is just the very start of the process before the bill becomes law, and a lot of water needs to flow under the bridge before the deal is signed. It will obviously be in everyone’s interest to get good commercial advice as to whether the prison and forest are good assets. We understand also that the nature of the redress offered means that Whanganui will not be in a position of having to make a decision whether to select the properties for another 6 to 12 months following the passage of the bill. That is a good breathing space to consolidate the settlement. It is also a good period of time to ensure that ngā uri o Te Awa Tupua o Whanganui, all descendants of the tupuna rohe o Whanganui, are actively consulted and engaged in the decision-making process around the on-account settlement. We, the Māori Party, look forward with great interest to watching how this settlement will pan out in action, and we are pleased to add our support to this bill at this first reading.
[To the integrity of the Whanganui tribes, greetings.]
The Green Party acknowledges with respect the work and endurance of the hapū, the whānau, and ngā kaumātua rangatira [the chiefly elders] of Whanganui, who have worked and who continue to work for the return of what is rightfully theirs and what has been taken from them.
The Greens are pleased to support this bill. Although we believe that there are clearly flaws in the Treaty settlement process, we will always support genuine progress towards making amends for historic and, indeed, contemporary injustices. I was never more proud to be part of the Greens than on the day a decade or so ago when we amended our own party constitution to include in it a preamble that stated our acknowledgement of Te Tiriti as the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand and Māori as tangata whenua. This amendment was not made without some difficulty, and the trepidation felt by some within the party of our going down that path was, I think, a fair reflection of wider society, where many still see the Treaty as a threat or perhaps an historical anachronism. One extreme expression of this view, of course, is routinely heard emanating from a particular local body politician well known to the people of Whanganui. Those views expressed there have at least one value, in that they provide a useful benchmark against which to measure the progress made in understanding and awareness among the more enlightened general population.
The Treaty settlements that have already occurred, the return of land and assets, and, just as important, the Crown apologies that have been central to them have been powerful catalysts for opening up the debate, for raising awareness, and for building an understanding that this country’s political, social, and economic foundations will rest on uneasy ground until such time as there is a reconciliation. The Greens’ policy for resolving the Crown’s historical injustice against Māori is to set up a Treaty settlement framework that ensures that any timeline must be agreed with Māori, that there is full, fair, and durable restitution to Māori for Crown breaches, that there are adequate resources for the Waitangi Tribunal and, more important, for claimants, and that opportunities exist for Māori to have their resources returned to them.
In particular, the question of timeliness is one that continues to rate highly in much of the rhetoric around Treaty settlements. The Greens have already called on the Government to scrap the quite arbitrary deadline of 2014 for settling all Treaty of Waitangi claims. We believe it is more important to do it right than to do it quickly. The unilateral imposition of a deadline will simply provide a platform for pushing through a singular agenda based on hasty and superficial consultation rather than honest dialogue, and Māori generally, and particularly many of the smaller hapū and iwi, will bear the brunt of that. That is not to suggest that unnecessary delay or procrastination is acceptable. All too often the rhetoric about the need for a deadline for settlements somehow implies that Māori intransigence is the underlying cause of the protracted process. This is far from the truth. I have never at any hui, on any marae, or in any Māori context ever heard support for anything other than a swift resolution. Too many of our elders, and indeed generations of elders, have passed on after lifetimes of effort without witnessing the fruit of their labour, and we of later generations acknowledge our debt to them.
We commend this on-account settlement bill to the extent that it will increase the capacity of iwi Whanganui to pursue a further and more complete settlement. It is to be hoped that this and future Governments will accept their very real responsibilities to continue and indeed increase the support in resourcing of the relevant Crown agencies and, critically, that similar support is given to claimants.
There is a sad irony in the fact that part of the land being transferred under this settlement is land upon which a prison was built some 30 years ago. It is well known that Māori are heavily overrepresented in the prison population, and that our prison population overall is one of the highest per capita in the world. Between 1950 and 1990 there was a sevenfold increase in the number of Māori sent to prison, which is about four times the comparable non-Māori increase. It is no mere coincidence that this period saw also the major urbanisation of Māori, which has been described as the most rapid on record for any ethnic minority anywhere in the world. Perhaps this Whanganui on-account settlement will give cause for thought and encourage an examination of the effects of the repeated and chronic violations of the Treaty by the Crown and by the Government, which began almost as soon as the ink was drying on the document and have continued to this day.
These violations have torn at the structure and fabric of Māori society, and have served to destroy much of the economic base that assured Māori independence and self-sufficiency. It is little wonder that the alienation, the fragmentation, and the loss of trust and respect for law that this destruction engendered have inevitably led so many of our young, and not so young, along the path to prison. In my own rohe of Tai Tokerau some 10 years ago the Greens joined others who fought hard, albeit unsuccessfully, against the building of a prison not only because of the offence to tikanga of desecrating a sacred site but also because we could not understand why, when there was no money for a polytechnic, for a youth centre, for a community economic development strategy, there was money for a prison. There is little satisfaction in observing that the site continues to be a place of strife and that the buildings themselves continue to sink into the ground, as predicted by those who know best that whenua.
The return of the mana over the land and other assets within this settlement can be seen only as part of the redress, and add to the capacity of Māori to rebuild their economic base, so providing the opportunities and skills that will keep our rangatahi out of prisons, and reduce other negative statistics that shame all of us as New Zealanders.
Settlements such as these are necessary, though not in themselves sufficient, to ensure that current and future generations of Māori have the resources and capacity to restore the natural environment, to rebuild social relationships, and to develop an economic base that will contribute to the assertion of tino rangatiratanga.
E rere kau mai te awa nui nei mai i te kāhui maunga ki Tangaroa; ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au; tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.
[The great river flows from the mountain region to the God of Oceans. I am the river and the river is me. Greetings, greetings, and greetings to you all.]
[My acknowledgments, in the first instance, to my relative in the Green Party, James Clendon. So greetings to you, chiefly one.]
It is interesting that my Green colleague’s name is David James Clendon; in fact, my grandfather’s brother’s name is James Clendon Henare. Nō reira, mihi au ki a koe e te whanaunga.
[So I acknowledge you, the relative.]
One of the greatest things for a people is to recognise what has happened in the past. It is great when a people can carry their history with them on their journey. I think it makes those people a hell of a lot stronger than they may have been, and whether it is good history or bad history it is history that we need to be mindful of and carry with us to make us stronger. The Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill is good and creative, and it is a sign of future things where we do not just do the norm but try to figure out whether there is any other way that we can settle disagreements.
This bill is by no means what many people would regard as an iwi cross-claim; more so, it is a hapū cross-claim where there is maybe a slight disagreement—maybe I am downplaying it a bit much—between the hapū of one iwi. It is good that there has been an avenue where they have been able to get together and come up with a comprehensive agreement about their cross-claims, and the Crown has accepted the mechanics of that deal in an effort to move forward.
I will not take too much time but I too want to mention Nick Tangaroa, because it was Nick who offered me my first youth worker job so many years ago and I have a deep and undying respect for the work that he did.
I also make an interesting point about prisons. My Green colleague David Clendon mentioned Ngāwhā prison. I cannot wait for the day when Māori start to run their own institutions. To me it shows a level of maturity that we have gone past the times when our people thought: “Oh, no, we should not run prisons because how horrible that would be, as so many of our inmates are Māori.” I believe the opposite. We have to try something new, at least once, to see whether something good can come out of an innovative idea. So I think this is a small step forward. It is a step that has to be taken, and I think it is an indication that maybe this Government wants to try things in a different manner and a different way, to make sure that we keep chugging on with Treaty settlements.
I do not want to downplay the input from former Treaty Ministers, in particular Mita Ririnui. I also want to say on behalf of the Māori Affairs Committee that we will try our hardest to marry together the Ngāti Apa settlement bill and this bill so that we hear them as companion bills rather than as separate settlements. As the chairman of that select committee, I will be more than happy to recommend to our committee that we combine the work programme when we travel to Whanganui to hear submissions on both bills. Ā, nō reira e te Whare, e te Kaihautū, tēnā koutou katoa.
Hon MITA RIRINUI (Labour) : Kāti rā, kai te Kaihautū, kai te tū tonu i ngā mihi i mihingia nei e tātou inatahirā tonu i te taenga mai o Ngāti Apa ki te pānui tuatahi o tō rātou pire whakaritenga, whakaotinga. Nō reira, nā runga i tēnā me mihi anō rā ki a rātou i te mea rā, nā rātou tēnei kaupapa i hāpai, i kōkirihia i roto i te Whare nei, kia tutuki pai ai.
[Suffice to say, Mr Deputy Speaker, the acknowledgments by us to Ngāti Apa when they arrived 2 days ago at the first reading of their settlement bill continue to apply. As a result of that, I acknowledge them again, because they took up this matter being debated in this House for a good outcome.]
I, like my colleagues on this side of the House, stand in support of the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. It is a very elongated title.
Earlier in the week we were privileged to have a number of representatives from the iwi of Ngāti Apa from the Whanganui district in the House to hear the third reading of their Treaty settlement bill. The Hon Tariana Turia—who is of the local communities around Whanganui and up the Whanganui River, as she said earlier in her first reading speech—had the privilege of filling in for the Minister of Māori Affairs, who could not be in the House at that particular time. It must have been a huge privilege for her then, as it is today at the first reading of this bill. It is an unusual practice in this House, but in this case I think it is highly appropriate. Of course, it is not in breach of Standing Orders.
I endorse the comments made by previous speakers in terms of their support for this settlement. My colleague the Hon Maryan Street gave us a pretty comprehensive rundown of the history of the Crown Forestry Rental Trust: where it began, why it began, and how it brought Treaty settlements to the position we are in today. It is interesting to note the acknowledgments of the people who were involved right back then, because without those people it would be very difficult for the Māori claimant community to fund the Treaty settlements process, given that they have been stripped of resources over a number of decades. I acknowledge her contribution to this discussion.
I also thank the chairman of the Māori Affairs Committee, the Hon Tau Henare, who made some complimentary remarks—a rare occurrence—about the progress of this legislation through the House and the commitment he has to the uninhibited passage of the bill through the select committee process. He also made comments about one particular aspect of the settlement, and that was in relation to Kaitoke Prison. Although my colleague the Hon Maryan Street touched on that part of the on-account settlement, which is the term that the Inland Revenue Department uses, I want to add to the discussion the fact that this is something different. I know that the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations was looking at similar arrangements at Rimutaka and Arohata prisons—transferring the land beneath those prisons as part of Treaty settlements—but in the case of Whanganui iwi it is interesting to note that they have signed up to an agreement whereby they will own the land under Kaitoke Prison, while the Department of Corrections will retain ownership of buildings and assets.
I think my colleague the Hon Tau Henare was referring in his comments to a pathway to privatisation. I do not see that as being the case at all. I see this as greater cooperation between the Crown and iwi, particularly when it comes to Crown properties. In this case we are talking about the ownership of land beneath the prisons. I have an issue with the privatisation of prisons. I think it is the responsibility of the State to keep our communities and our homes safe from dangerous criminals, and we have prisons and courts in place for that purpose. We have a justice system in place for that purpose. The feedback I am getting from Māori communities is questioning what signal Māori ownership of prisons sends to young Māori. Is it an extension of our marae? In other words, we can attend our marae functions at any time, so is there a clear signal to our younger generations that it is not OK to go to prisons, even if we own them in a particular way? This settlement bill is very clear that the Whanganui iwi will have ownership of the whenua beneath the prison; that whenua will be leased back to the Crown. It is an opportunity for the Whanganui iwi to have a commercial arrangement with the Crown over the prison, and I think that is a good and positive pathway forward.
In the House earlier this week some very generous compliments were paid, by just about all the speakers, to the Ngāti Apa negotiators in terms of their youth, in terms of their determination, and in terms of their foresight. In other words, they had a plan, and the plan began in settling their outstanding grievances. The plan included a pathway forward, a way of growing the settlement assets, and a way of transferring the benefits from that to their constituent hapū. That legislation pertained to Ngāti Apa in particular. This legislation refers to the Whanganui iwi. But having said that, I believe that the attitude of the negotiators for Whanganui was exactly the same as that of the Ngāti Apa negotiators. There were internal issues. I would not say there were overlapping interests; I would say there were shared interests. That being the case, and that being the understanding of the negotiators, a plan was put in place to mitigate those issues in the best way possible. For Ngāti Apa, the bill before the House today is an addendum to that settlement earlier this week.
It is incredible, we have to admit, that with each settlement bill that comes through this House we learn something. In the case of Ngāti Apa, they have taken us to another level. When I say another level, I mean a pathway to resolving issues that have the potential not only to divide people but also to derail negotiations. We have seen that in the past. Some members in this House have been guilty of making those sorts of situations arise when they do not need to. I recall that earlier in the year the Whakarewarewa transfer legislation was delayed—in my view, unnecessarily. The unnecessary delay was due to the local member deciding that there were some political opportunities to be gained by supporting the divisive group, and so that was done. I know that the member for Rotorua has an issue, but had he been around with his issue as long as some of us in this House have, I think he would have a better understanding of what I am talking about. Nevertheless, there was a successful outcome. But I am hoping that we do not see that delay happen too much when it comes to similar settlement legislation. The fact is that the longer settlements take to resolve, the more difficult it becomes for the claimant communities. And the more difficult it becomes for those communities, the more fragmented they become. That does not need to happen. I once described this process as very, very arduous, yet it need not be that way.
If I have an issue with this bill, it is only the one issue. I hope that the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations is listening, wherever he is. This is the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. The words “Whanganui Iwi” have an “h”; the words “Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest” do not.
JOHN BOSCAWEN (ACT) : I had not planned to take a call in the debate on the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill, but my ears pricked up when I came back into the House and heard the comments of David Clendon. I want to address a couple of issue that have come out of the bill.
This bill transfers Crown assets—as we have heard, the land underneath the Kaitoke Prison and land associated with forestry—to Whanganui iwi, in settlement of their Treaty claims. I think it is very important that the Crown does settle Treaty of Waitangi claims, and that it does so in a speedy fashion. Equally, I think it is very important that when those claims are settled, they are settled in a full and final manner—that we have a full and final settlement, so that the injustices and the grief that have given rise to the Treaty claim can be settled and put away.
There are a couple of aspects of this bill that I want to focus on. One of them is that full and final settlement aspect. I also want to focus on the fact that this legislation involves, in part, a transfer of forestry land. Much forestry land has been transferred to iwi under Treaty of Waitangi settlements over many years, but it concerns me greatly that some of those settlements—in fact, I think five of those settlements—are currently under the process of renegotiation. Despite the fact that they were full and final settlements, I understand from the acknowledgement that the Minister for Climate Change Issues has made in recent days that he is actively negotiating with five iwi to renegotiate settlements and provide them with some additional compensation. He is doing that, he would say, because the Crown has been threatened with legal action. But he is also doing that to secure the support of the Māori Party in amending the emissions trading scheme.
I realise that Mr Deputy Speaker wants me to focus on the particular issue addressed in this bill, but that issue is important, because what is being transferred here is forestry land. Māori have had forestry land transferred to them in settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims. I hope that the Whanganui iwi, when they get this forestry land, are not treated in the way that so many other iwi have been. Although the Minister for Climate Change Issues is negotiating to renegotiate, I understand, five settlements—and they principally relate to claims settled with Ngāi Tahu—many other settlements involving forestry land have been detrimentally affected by the passing of the previous Labour Government’s emissions trading scheme legislation last year. It has devalued the value of those settlements, and I hope that the Whanganui iwi do not have that same devaluation applied to the land that they are to have, at some stage in the future. That is actually quite important, because under the emissions trading scheme a person—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I have indicated here the topic that is under debate. Climate change has nothing to do with this legislation—the first reading of the bill before us. I ask the member to concentrate on the bill.
JOHN BOSCAWEN: I realise that climate change and a Treaty of Waitangi settlement, in the eyes of most people, would be totally, utterly unrelated. I do not want to challenge your ruling, but I would say the emissions trading scheme—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Mentioning the emissions trading scheme again is a challenge to my ruling. I ask the member to concentrate on the bill before us.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have only just returned to the House, and I apologise if I have missed something important in regard to your ruling, but I seek clarification in support of my colleague Mr Boscawen. The issue of Treaty settlements in respect of—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: No. I have ruled. This bill pertains to the Whanganui iwi. Part of it is to do with Wanganui Prison; part of it is to do with Wanganui Forest. We are not referring to the emissions trading scheme and to Treaty settlements associated with it.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a more general point in relation to your previous ruling, and again I seek your clarification. Is it your ruling that the Speaker may now direct the subjects that members—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I made it very clear earlier on, before I had to intervene, that it is all very well to make a reference, but the member who was speaking dwelt for some time on the emissions trading scheme, and on forestry and Treaty settlements. That is not part of the bill. To make a reference to those matters is OK, but the substance of this bill is completely different from them.
JOHN BOSCAWEN: I will be very brief, and I thank the Hon David Cunliffe, a man with a lot more political experience and parliamentary experience than I have, for raising the points of order and for the support that he gave me.
I conclude by simply reiterating the point that I made earlier: I hope that the Whanganui iwi who take this forestry land in settlement of Treaty of Waitangi claims are not affected in the same way as so many others have been. We had the Federation of Māori Authorities talk about the greatest confiscation of Māori wealth since the 1800s. On that note I will leave it and sit down. Thank you very much.
SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) : Tēnā koe. Tēnā koutou e te Whare. It is good to take a call on the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. I said previously, when I spoke yesterday on the Ngāti Apa (North Island) Claims Settlement Bill, that I do not want to be a bull in a china shop who has not been or is not affiliated to the iwi concerned—
Hon Member: Leave that to Paul Quinn.
SIMON BRIDGES: —yes, I will leave that to Paul Quinn—who gets to Whanganui only once in a while, and who has had no involvement at all with the Crown negotiations. But even a cursory reading of this bill makes it quite clear that in modern-day Treaty settlements we can as a Parliament and as a country be quite flexible and creative when dealing with the various interests and issues that are presented. To put that another way, we can take traditional, historic, age-old grievances and we can deal with them in very modern, innovative ways.
The Office of Treaty Settlements and the various officials that have helped on the Crown side have no doubt been very, very busy since National has been in power and the Hon Chris Finlayson has been dealing with these settlements. I know from my own very small number of dealings with them that they are very clever, very smart, and very sophisticated people in what they do, but they need to be, because they are dealing with difficult issues. I would say that they are multilayered and multidimensional.
I remember—and I do not necessarily remember all that much; it comes back to me in fits and starts—from law school a very prominent well-known American jurist from Harvard, I think, by the name of Lon Fuller. He talked about polycentric issues and problems—that is, many-centred problems. He illustrated that with a picture of a spider web. When we touch one strand we impact the whole web, and nothing is ever the same again.
Again, I say, as an outsider, that Treaty settlements can be somewhat like that. They are very delicate, like spider webs. They have many strands. If we think about it without even getting into the issues involved in this particular bill and this on-account settlement, but just in terms of the parties, we see that there are intra-hapū issues and iwi issues before we even get to the iwi-versus-Crown issues. So these can be complex.
What I am saying boils down to this. In Treaty settlements today, we need to be, and we can be—and this bill illustrates that—flexible, creative, innovative, and modern in response to the age-old issues that these settlements throw up to the historic traditional problems that have been there for a long time.
I offer my congratulations to the iwi involved, to all the individuals on the Crown side, to the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, the Hon Chris Finlayson, and to those who went before him for the fine work they have done here.
Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) : Ā, kia ora anō tātou. Te mihi atu ki a koe e te Kaihautū o te Whare. I te tuatahi, me huri ōku mihi ki tēnei tangata hou kua tae mai ki waenga tonu i te marea o ngā kaitōrangapū, te uri a Tenana, nau mai haere mai, tēnā koe. Tēnā koe mai i Hokianga Whakapau Karakia, tēnā koe mai i Te Pēwhairangi, nā reira, ngā mihi ki a koe.
[Greetings again to us, and to you, Mr Deputy Speaker of the House. In the first instance I turn to extend my greetings to this new member, descendant of Clendon, who has arrived in the domain for politicians. Welcome, welcome. Greetings to you from Hokianga Whakapau Karakia and Pēwhairangi, greetings.]
Before I begin my speech, I want to record and acknowledge the presence of the new MP, Mr Clendon, the proud descendant of James Clendon. I am not sure whether he comes from Sarah or the daughter of Takotowī of the Te Whata whanāu, but, whichever line he comes down, I welcome him.
As I stand and very briefly speak about this Whanganui Iwi (Whanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill, I am reminded of the tūpuna from Whanganui who undertook some very perilous litigation, not the least of which was to recover their rights to the bed of the Whanganui River. To date they have been unsuccessful. I met some of them in 1976, when my school, St Stephen’s School, were welcomed to the marae in Taumarunui. There were two old men on that marae, one being Richard Barrett—otherwise known as Tiki Pārete—and the other being Titi Tihu. Those two gentlemen would have probably been in their 90s and that time I was the ambitious young school orator. I think fondly of all those people who sought to recover their land in this area, with limited resources, great indifference from the Crown, and a considerable level of societal ignorance as to whether there was any legitimacy whatsoever associated with the complaints and the grievances of these people—in particular, those who came from the upper reaches of the Whanganui River.
I join with our other colleagues and acknowledge the good work that is being continued by the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations, and I acknowledge the role played by the Hon Tariana Turia in respect of advancing the land issues of the people whom she hails from. The genius of what is here is that at long last we are seeing a greater spirit of pragmatism in the settlement of claims. It is my view that there has been far too much slavish adherence to process. We allowed ourselves to be incarcerated within the fictional boundaries of the fiscal envelope. This is an example of where we have two competing claimants and a contested resource, commonly owned, about which, presumably, the Government of the day and its advisers are capable of being flexible in their thinking and in the execution of the policy and its inevitable conversion into law.
As I look at this bill, I see that the Whanganui people have given us some very exciting episodes recently, not the least of which is Pākaitore, which is otherwise known to those possessed of a poorer level of history as Moutoa. It is rather interesting that in Part 1 of this bill there is not only a reference to the trust but also a definition of what the trustees are to do. It is a beautiful reminder that from a great deal of foment and anger from the occupation of Moutua we are now witnessing legislation going through the House that redresses a problem that captured an enormous amount of attention and threatened to divide lots of New Zealanders. It was quite a passionate issue. I think it was when the Hon Tau Henare was the Minister of Māori Affairs, and I may have mistakenly gone up there alongside him one time when I was a member of the Māori Fisheries Commission. But this is progress, and it has taken a long time to get here.
Hon Tau Henare: It wasn’t a mistake. You did it on purpose.
Hon SHANE JONES: I am not entirely sure whether he had a great deal to do with either moving this bill forward or the first foray that he undertook. I know that he scared the life out of the mayor, who I think was called Chas Poynter or something like that. In that sense, it is positive.
In relation to the remarks of my colleague Mita Ririnui about Kaitoke Prison, it is ironic that the land that is being made available for inevitable full restoration back to the tangata whenua of that area has a prison on top of it. It is sad to say, but a significant percentage of its occupants will no doubt be related to the people who originally owned that land. I hope that when the land is moved into private ownership, albeit in the form of some sort of collective kin-based possession, we do not see the infrastructure standing on top of the land similarly follow a type of private ownership so that one day we have not only the private ownership of the land underneath the prison but also the private ownership of the prison. That is something that I do not agree with, and anyone promoting that deserves the meaning of “kaitoke”, which means to be consumed by worms.
We need to be positive about the other piece of this legislation, because there is a great deal more work to be done. This legislation gives an excellent account in clause 5 of Part 1 as to what the origins of the claims are. It is essential that when we resolve these claims we resolve them in such a way, as Sir Douglas Graham did in his time, that we give reassurance and peace to the communities that are impacted by these land disputes, resource disputes, and historical grievances. Whether they come from fiduciary duties, from actual rights protected in law, from existing or subsisting common law, or from some other origin—customary or indigenous—it is important that once these settlements are entered into, they remain intact. They should not be used by Governments that follow as a source of fomentation, or of trammelling or fiddling with a long-term solution for a short-term political gain.
That is why when this claim, which relates to forests, among other things, is entered into, I hope that all members of the House agree that it should not be subject to relitigation. It should not be opened up. It should not be changed at the caprice or the whim of whatever political flavour is breezing through the House at a given point in time. I fear that that would undo the work and the promise that all New Zealanders have decided to trust in; that is, the process for settling claims. For those reasons a number of useful remarks were made earlier, uncharacteristically by the ACT Party, and they come as a timely warning. When we use the good will of the public and we make a legitimate attempt to address the wrongs of history, we do not allow short-term political imperatives to undermine those settlements. That will lead not only to racial discord but also to our mokopuna, our future generations, coming back and saying that we encouraged and engendered an appetite to continually revisit acts of history to suit short-term social or political imperatives. Irrespective of what area one comes from, that is not good for our overall nation’s future.
In relation to the Crown forestry asset portion of this bill, I have to acknowledge a small, largely forgotten—predictably so—role that Mr Quinn played in the origination of the Crown Forestry Rental Trust. I acknowledge him along with one of his matua, Tama Nīkora, and my matua from the far north, Sir Graham Latimer. Had it not been for the Federation of Māori Authorities, the New Zealand Māori Council and the willingness of the Government of the day, with great encouragement from the High Court or the Court of Appeal—I do not recall which particular one—we would not have legislation that relates to forests. Earlier Governments decided that the forests were no longer useful parts of the public estate. As I have recalled the names of the kaumātua from the tangata whenua of that area, I also think it is important that we recall the names of the people—indeed, some of them grace this House today—who played a role in building the infrastructure that has brought us forward over the last 20 to 25 years.
It is a pleasure to support this legislation. There is a great deal more work to come but there are some fantastic leaders, not the least of whom is Sir Archie Taiaroa. I wish them well, along with the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations. Kia ora tātou.
PAUL QUINN (National) : Kia ora tātou. Tēnā koe e te Whare. Firstly, I join with other speakers who have acknowledged the iwi and hapū in respect of this Treaty settlement in extending my congratulations. I may be a bit slow off the mark in this acknowledgment, because I have been humbled by the acknowledgment my friend and colleague Shane Jones made of my involvement in the establishment of the Crown Forestry Rental Trust. I acknowledge it and leave it at that, though I might say I consider it one of my greatest pieces of work.
I think it has all been said in respect of the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill, which follows closely, as others have already acknowledged, on the Ngāti Apa (North Island) Claims Settlement bill, which was introduced earlier this week. I will not reflect on the emotions I had in my presentation then.
I will take a slightly different angle and make a couple of comments on previous speakers. David Clendon seemed to put a lot of emphasis on the deadline of 2014 to settle all Treaty claims. I assure him that this Government has never claimed it as a deadline; it has only ever been a target. It remains a target. More important, it is what iwi want. Iwi and hapū want to get on and settle their claims. They are happy to have that date, because it brings focus to the whole Treaty negotiation process. Both parties to the Treaty claim are very keen to stick to that target, but that is all it is: a target.
The second thing I will cover briefly is my disappointment to some extent with the contribution to this debate of my relative Mita Ririnui. He was a bit critical and seemed to imply that a lack of progress has been made by this Government in respect of Treaty settlements. By comparison, I reflect that when the previous administration came into power in 1999, seven Treaty settlements were in the same position as the settlements before us today. It took until 2002 before one of those settlements came before this House—just one settlement. What did the previous Government do for 2 years? Yet Opposition members turn around and say that we are not doing enough. I know that the Ngāti Awa claim sat around until 2005. Te Uri o Hau was the first settlement, but it took until 2002 to come before the House. This Government can take great pride that within its first year it has progressed and signed off the Taranaki Whānui settlement, it has picked up on the work done by the previous administration in respect of Ngāti Apa, and now we have the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. We have also completed the delivery of the apology to Te Arawa.
I will cover one final point, and I think it is very important that it go on the record. Previous speakers—in particular, John Boscawen and Shane Jones—made some comments in respect of renegotiating and opening up settlements. In particular, reference was made to the five iwi with which this Government is endeavouring to reach an agreement over the emissions trading scheme. Let the record show that the previous administration renegotiated with the same five iwi in terms of reaching a settlement with its emissions trading scheme. The reason I know that is that I sat in Dr Cullen’s office in the presence of David Parker and renegotiated that deal. So those members on that side who are accusing this Government of reopening and renegotiating Treaty settlements should look in the mirror first. That administration renegotiated with the same five iwi, including Ngāi Tahu, and it did another deal. I am disappointed if the members on the other side do not know and are not familiar with the detail, but it is in my brain as though it was negotiated this morning. I can tell members every detail, as I can tell them about the Crown Forestry Rental Trust details when I negotiated its establishment in 1989.
Hon John Carter: What colour tie did David have on?
PAUL QUINN: I cannot remember that; I was focused on the numbers. The point is that the record should show that the Opposition renegotiated with the same five iwi over the Crown forest that was taken in those settlements. In this particular settlement, it will not be renegotiated, because the emissions trading scheme is accounted for in the southern part of the Wanganui Forest.
With those few words, it gives me great pleasure to join others in commending this bill in its first reading.
- Bill read a first time.
Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister of Civil Defence) on behalf of the Minister of Māori Affairs: I move, That the Māori Affairs Committee consider the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 19 March 2010, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
- Motion agreed to.
Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue) : I move, That the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill be now read a second time. This omnibus bill consists of a good deal of catch-up legislation that makes changes to the law that flow on from earlier tax changes that have been made. It also generally updates the law in a number of areas to give taxpayers greater certainty.
The main feature of this bill is the alignment of resident withholding tax rates on interest and portfolio investment entity tax rates with the recent changes to personal tax rates, and the 30 percent company tax rate that was introduced last year. This alignment was considered at the time of the October 2008 personal tax cuts, but was postponed until this year to allow time for consultation with the financial institutions that must make the necessary changes to their systems. The new resident withholding tax rates on interest, as introduced in the bill, are 12.5 percent, 21 percent, 30 percent, 33 percent, or 38 percent, depending on income levels. As introduced, the bill proposed a new default rate of 38 percent for people who do not choose a rate with their bank. The idea of using the highest personal tax rate as the new default rate was simply meant to motivate individuals to choose a resident withholding tax rate for their personal income that correctly reflected their personal tax rate and then to communicate this to their bank. The thinking was that if they failed to do so, their interest would automatically attract the highest resident withholding tax rate, which would be a powerful incentive for taxpayers to communicate the right rate to their banks and not repeat the painful experience.
The main recommendation from the Finance and Expenditure Committee on these proposed changes is that the default rate for existing bank accounts should not automatically rise from 21 percent to 38 percent from 1 April 2011, as was originally proposed. The committee reported its concern that if the default rate for existing bank accounts was raised to 38 percent, many taxpayers who had lower marginal tax rates might be overtaxed. They would not know that they would be entitled to resident withholding tax rates lower than 38 percent. In turn, that would mean low-income earners would be taxed at the same resident withholding tax rate as those in the highest tax bracket, which the committee reported would not be fair.
The committee also thought that shifting the rate for existing bank accounts would impose significant administrative cost on the banks and on the Inland Revenue Department, since banks would have to notify their customers of the new default rate and the department would have to issue extra personal tax summaries. So, instead, the committee argued that the Inland Revenue Department should instruct banks to change individuals’ resident withholding tax rate when it determines that they are using a rate that is not consistent with their marginal tax rates. This new proposal should result in the 38 percent rate generally applying only to those people for whom it is appropriate, therefore reducing compliance costs for banks and other interest payers. However, the committee recommended that the default resident withholding tax rate should remain at 38 percent for individuals who open new bank accounts from 1 April 2010, in order to encourage those individuals to select a resident withholding tax rate that is consistent with their marginal tax rate. Having considered the changes recommended by the committee, I am satisfied that they will help make for better, more effective tax law.
As a complementary measure, the bill also aligns the portfolio investment entity tax rates with the new personal tax rates, so that portfolio investment entity rates will now be 12.5 percent, 21 percent, and 30 percent. The bill also raises the income thresholds at which those portfolio investment entity rates apply. These changes will ensure that people who invest in portfolio investment entities are not disadvantaged relative to direct investors. The bill also proposes a number of other measures, including the introduction of a new 12.5 percent secondary tax code and a new withholding tax rate for extra pays that brings the withholding rates on employment income into line with new personal tax rates, and will thus help ensure that low-income workers do not have too much tax withheld. Further proposed changes in the bill will allow the Inland Revenue Department to accept corrections of minor errors in subsequent returns in order to reduce costs for taxpayers. Another measure ensures that the Inland Revenue Department does not need to issue a personal tax summary automatically if a taxpayer is likely to have paid the correct amount of tax. This is intended to reduce compliance costs for taxpayers and administrative costs for the Inland Revenue Department. The bill also proposes changes to allow tax agents more time if they need it to allocate beneficiary income.
Together, the changes proposed in this bill will give effect to some necessary catching up on earlier tax changes. They will give greater taxpayer certainty and help the tax system to operate more effectively. Finally, as part of a long-term project, the bill contains an amendment to ensure that the Inland Revenue Department can issue notices and other information by email, while making the tax administration rules for sending information electronically more consistent with the rules for sending information by post.
I advise the House that before the Committee of the whole House stage I will be introducing a Supplementary Order Paper that adds further measures to this bill. A number of them are minor remedial amendments, but all of them need to be legislated for as soon as possible. One group of substantive amendments contained in the Supplementary Order Paper will clarify the tax treatment of the facilitation fees charged by inbound tour operators. The Prime Minister and I announced earlier this year that such a law change would be made, and I subsequently instructed officials to consult with the industry on the draft legislation to ensure that it achieves its objective. That consultation was completed very recently, and, given the lengthy history of this issue and the uncertainty it has engendered, it is very important that the lack of legislative clarity on the matter be resolved soon. That is why these amendments are being included in this bill, which is the first available legislative opportunity.
The second set of substantive amendments relates to recently signed tax treaties with Australia, Singapore, and the United States, and deals mainly with the taxation of outbound dividends. The new treaties reduce the rate of withholding tax on non-portfolio dividends paid to non-residents from 15 percent to either 5 percent or 0 percent, depending on circumstances. These reductions affect the supplementary dividend rules in the Income Tax Act, and they need to be amended before the reduced treaty rates can take effect. To prevent delays to the coming into force of these important tax treaties, the necessary amendments are being added to this bill.
The third set of substantive amendments arise from recent changes to portability arrangements for New Zealand superannuation and veterans pensions, which the House dealt with just a little while ago. These changes will ensure the correct taxation of recipients of New Zealand superannuation and the veterans pension so that the tax-free status of the pension is retained when recipients decide to live overseas. However, if recipients are simply travelling overseas, the pensions will remain subject to New Zealand tax.
I thank the select committee for its careful consideration of this technical tax bill. I know it had a lot of things on its mind at the time that this bill was before it. I am grateful for the work it has done. I commend the select committee’s report, and I commend the bill to the House.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) : I thank the Minister of Revenue for his remarks and confirm to the House that Labour will be supporting the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill, much of which transcends the election and carries on work streams of a remedial nature that were in place under the previous Government.
The Finance and Expenditure Committee spent considerable time on a number of aspects of this bill, and both I and our tax and revenue spokesperson, Stuart Nash MP, will mention those in some detail. I will also take the opportunity to address some contextual matters in relation to other aspects of tax reform to which this legislation bears.
Let me first touch upon some of the core issues that were the substance of the select committee’s debate. Principal amongst those was the default rate of resident withholding tax. The issue is quite simple. The default rate is currently set at the 19.5 percent tax rate. That tax rate is going out of business. It will be replaced by a new low tax rate of 12.5 percent. Government members’ position, going into the select committee reflection, was that it would not be appropriate to use that rate as a default rate, so they wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum and set it at 38 percent, the highest tax rate, on the grounds that that would maximise the incentives for people to specify what their actual rate was, rather than face such a punitive marginal rate if they did not need to.
That was an assumption of position that the select committee questioned very heavily. We received advice from officials that had that rate been implemented, many hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders would have been knowingly forced into the position of paying too much tax. I think that offended members of the select committee right around the table, and I commend the chair, Craig Foss MP, and other Government members who worked constructively with the Opposition, with officials, and with submitters to find an alternative to what we felt would have been a prejudicial and unjust default position.
The Bankers’ Association made a proposal, which was taken up by the select committee and worked around the table, to set the new default rate in the middle of the bell curve, at 21 percent, which was the modal rate where most taxpayers were likely to sit and the rate that would minimise the numbers who were positioned either too high or too low. That was the basis of the select committee’s consideration, and it is reflected in the amendments to the bill; we support that. However, we have a reservation that the default rate has still been set at 38 percent for new accounts. We are relying on the good offices and undertaking of the officials that they will work rapidly and decisively with the banks to inform individual customers who may be in the wrong position, and to ensure that they are advised of their options and how to correct their personal resident withholding tax rate.
On that basis we are prepared to support the bill, but we do caution against any future moves that build in the same assumption that it is somehow OK for a Government to knowingly pass law that puts hundreds and thousands of hard-working Kiwi families on a tax rate that is obviously and deliberately higher than the one that they are bound to pay. That is not a proper precedent, and it is one that we objected strongly to.
I will touch on another substantive amendment in the bill, which is in relation to the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative. This amendment concerns the provisions for the climate change initiative under which a person who owns land that has been reforested, or that he or she intends to reforest, can enter into a covenant with the Government and receive emissions units.
It is timely that we are debating this bill today. I do not know whether, by design, the Government has put this before us because it wants an opportunity to showcase the deal that it has been doing with the Māori Party in order to desperately save the Government’s deeply flawed emissions trading legislation, but the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative contained in this bill is just one aspect of what has now been shown to be a much bigger deal. The Māori Party campaigned on some of the highest ideals of Māoridom, including the idea that Māori people should aspire not only to tino rangatiratanga, but to every commercial advantage available to other New Zealanders. Those are ideals with which we broadly agree and for which Labour’s Māori MPs have long and tirelessly worked. But the Māori Party has sold out. It has sold out to do a deal that will simply cut an advantage to certain iwi-based owners of forests and fisheries. It is different from that which is available to other New Zealanders, and makes a mockery of the Māori Party’s commitment to Māoridom, and more broadly so because, for example, a group of Māori doctors came to Parliament today with evidence that Māori people—ordinary, flaxroots Māori people—would be amongst some of the worst affected by climate change if this bill goes through. They called climate change the No. 1 health problem facing Māori New Zealanders today.
I hold that the Māori Party has not honoured those people’s interests in doing a shabby deal for certain members of the “Browntable” to benefit from the pollution subsidies that this Government is handing out. The sooner that the Climate Change Response (Moderated Emissions Trading) Bill, which looms large above Parliament’s proceedings next week, is stopped in its tracks, the better. We are talking about tax, and that bill will put a $110 billion tax liability, equal to 17 percent of GDP, on to young New Zealanders cumulatively by 2050. I say “Shame!”.
Hon Members: Shame!
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I say “Shame!”. How big is that? I will put it this way. This Government inherited gross debt to GDP of around 17.7 percent at its lowest, the year before the election. New Zealand had only 17 percent gross debt to GDP—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): Just to interrupt the member, we are on the second reading but it is of a different bill. The member can make comparisons where they are relevant, but he cannot launch into an attack on something that is quite separate.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This is of course germane because this bill is a revenue bill, and goes to the ability of the Government to meet its debt obligations. This bill specifically refers to the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative under which foresters—including Māori foresters—can receive free emissions units. I will close off presently, but I do need to finally say on that matter that 17 percent of GDP is equal to the entire Government debt that the National Government inherited from the outgoing Labour Government. In other words, the Government is proposing to double it in one hit by doing shabby deals with polluters, and binding our children to an unbearable tax burden in the future.
That brings me to another aspect that young New Zealanders will regret in terms of tax policy. Because this Government has, so far, refused to address the howling imbalances in the property market and prevent a resurgence of the property bubble, Generation Y, young New Zealanders, are likely to be locked out of their dream to own their own home. It is bad enough to load them up with carbon charges and lock them out of the housing market, but the third leg of that treble is to load them up with the superannuation obligations that this Government is not prepared to pay for by way of pre-funding. The Government has just put it on our children, and I think that is ethically and morally wrong. I cannot look my children in the eye and say that this Government’s tax programme—
Hon Steven Joyce: Do the superannuation, but not the accident compensation cuts.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There is the “Minister for Dithering”, Steven Joyce. It has taken him a year to find out where his navel is, when contemplating broadband. He had a broadband roll-out plan ready to go a year ago but he sat on his fat behind, contemplating his navel, wondering what to do with the plan, and industry is still waiting. I think he should spend his time thinking about that and not chipping at the Opposition, because that would be time much better spent.
The bottom line is that this is a Government that has already run out of ideas. When I was reviewing Budget 2009 I thought I had missed a chapter, but I had not. It just had not been written. That was the chapter about growth and jobs, and how to support hard-working Kiwis through this recession. Because the Government is out of ideas, and this bill does nothing to add to that, it has had to outsource the brains trust.
CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) : It is an absolute pleasure to rise and speak on this day, the anniversary of the swearing-in of the new National Government, which happened 1 year ago today—the National-led Government; I acknowledge our coalition partners. We never agree on absolutely everything, but, goodness gracious, we agree on an awful lot more amongst ourselves than the previous administration did.
I am quite astounded by the new-found concern for the hard-working taxpayer that the previous speaker, the Hon David Cunliffe, was trying to allude to. He talked about overtaxation, and he was all concerned. He made some points that are raised in the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill—that is quite right. But from the Government whose first job in taxation was to go from 33c to 39c in the dollar for the highest marginal rate, and who overtaxed New Zealand to the tune of $20 billion per annum while at the same time raising spending by about $30 billion per annum, I do not quite understand where this road to Damascus change has come from other than perhaps a glance at the consistently bad polls, be they rogue polls or not. But it is a pleasure to speak on that.
There is just one other point I will make, and then I will move on to the bill proper. The previous member was also talking about concern for children whose parents are locked out of the housing market. In the previous administration the housing affordability index and ratios for New Zealanders got as high as they ever have, to, I think, 7½ times average annual earnings, when we normally run at about 4 times average earnings after tax. So I do not know where that logic from members over there is coming from; it is probably from the same bucket as their throwing out the monetary policy framework agreement. Apparently there was a ground-breaking speech on that today. I bring members’ attention to the fact that members opposite all agreed to the framework. Dr Cullen initiated an inquiry into the monetary policy framework, which was reported back on 8 September 2008. Page 1 listed all the major points, and the majority of the committee—in fact all of the committee, on which the previous administration had a majority—fully and totally endorsed the current monetary policy framework.
I wish to thank members of the Finance and Expenditure Committee as we progress this bill. It was not a contentious bill, unlike other legislation that we have been dealing with recently, and I appreciate the contributions of all members. I acknowledge the thanks from the previous speaker, the Hon David Cunliffe. Politics aside, I think we had a pretty good outcome on this bill. I also acknowledge one of the best things—there were not many—that we inherited from the previous administration: the Minister of Revenue. Peter Dunne is doing a great job in furthering, modernising, and aligning our legislation. I also wish to acknowledge the officials, who did a great job—particularly our advisers.
If members look at the commentary on this bill, particularly towards the end, they will see that the Minister and the Hon David Cunliffe also alluded to the large issue that the committee spent a lot of time on—the fairness or otherwise of the default rate for resident withholding tax. In fact the solution, which came out of consultation with the private sector, with affected parties such as the Bankers’ Association, which are mentioned in here—remember that it will apply to all financial institutions later on—is a pretty good outcome and the Minister acknowledged that. As I noted, it was the key plank. The initial bill, as introduced, took the default rate up to 38c—the highest marginal tax rate. I note that when we crunch the numbers, yes, there is a fairness argument, which I will put aside for a moment, with my earlier comments about the previous member’s concern about taxpayers, but the concern was that those who should be on a very low, or virtually a positive, tax rate were being overtaxed because of the default rate—the wrong application of the 38c rate to their interest income. But if we crunch the numbers, it is probably a fair assumption that not many of that demographic have large financial assets that would attract large interest income and therefore a tax obligation, be it 38c, 21c, 19.5c, or whatever. It is probably a fair assumption that they do not have large financial assets that therefore make them too aggressively overtaxed. But I acknowledge the fairness argument, and we spoke about that in the commentary. Once we crunch the numbers it is not a big deal. In fact, members will see in the commentary that the actual fiscal impact, if there is overtaxation, is about $4 million per annum.
That brings me to a very, very important point. This bill is not about—and I used the term myself—overtaxation; this bill is about correct taxation, about putting PAYE or resident withholding tax payers on the correct rate, given all the knowledge that their financial institution, which is their bank, and the Inland Revenue Department have. Everyone has the option—and it is getting easier by the day—with online banking, to point and click to make sure that the correct rate is known. Of course, the only information that the Inland Revenue Department may have may be about the interest on some investment asset at the bank; it may or may not have knowledge of other sources of income that a particular taxpayer may have. The bank is, of course, blind to that, and one never knows quite what is going on. It is a very fair outcome, and I think other speakers will probably acknowledge the same point. Pretty much what was in the bill as introduced gets pushed out a year, because all new accounts that are opened will default to 38c in the dollar unless the correct rate is applied. So there is only that window. It sounds horrible that hundreds and thousands of people may be going to be on the wrong tax rate, but when we crunch it down the number will be an awful lot less than that.
I have just a couple of other quick points on the bill that the Minister alluded to. There is the modernisation of communications. Some other member might like to remind us, when speaking, of how many communications the Inland Revenue Department does a day by snail mail. It is absolutely astounding. I guess the only upside is that we are all shareholders in New Zealand Post. The figure is hundreds of thousands of communications a day; it is just astounding. So the more communication it can do by email the better it will be for the taxpayer. The Minister alluded to a couple of Supplementary Order Papers that are coming, and, in particular, the one about inbound tour operators. That is here because this is the first tax bill before the House within that window, and it would be very good to have that issue sorted out before the Rugby World Cup, to let everyone have some certainty and to apply a solution to a longstanding issue. Finally there is the portability Supplementary Order Paper, which sits off the Social Assistance (Payment of New Zealand Superannuation and Veteran’s Pension Overseas) Amendment Bill, which we debated the other day, giving New Zealand superannuation to people in the Pacific and those travelling. It corrects any anomalies there. Those people, as far as their New Zealand tax residency is concerned, will be on the correct tax rate and, hopefully, not the incorrect rate.
This is all about the efficiency of the tax system and of the tax structure, and of the obligation to make it easier in this electronic age for taxpayers to fulfil their obligations to the Crown as much as possible and with good intent. Again, I appreciate and acknowledge the officials and members of the Finance and Expenditure Committee who worked on this bill. I look forward to further speeches in the House. National will, obviously, be supporting this Government bill. Thank you.
STUART NASH (Labour) : I rise to support the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill in its second reading. It is basically a technical bill in nature, but a necessary bill. As has already been mentioned by other speakers, the main issue that the bill addresses and rectifies is the alignment of resident withholding tax on interest paid to individual taxpayers with the new marginal tax rates.
Now, please do not get me wrong—I certainly do not agree with the National Government’s new marginal tax rates. They were rushed through under urgency and they ended up giving, believe it or not, 30 percent of tax cuts to the top 3 percent of taxpayers. That is simply not fair. Nor did National’s tax cuts address, at all, the rising cost of living that those earning under $40,000 are now facing under the current Government. But I tell New Zealand not to worry because Phil Goff, as Prime Minister is less than 2 years’ time, will work very hard to address that dreadful unfairness and inequity. The bill deals with a number of technical issues, but resident withholding tax is the issue that has by far the greatest impact on ordinary, hard-working Kiwis. I do have a slight reservation, which I will address soon.
I have said before and I reiterate today that every new and amended tax must be judged across six categories. The first and foremost category is economic efficiency. Tax legislation should not hinder the growth of the economy. It should, in some way, improve the efficiency of the tax system and therefore the whole economy. The second category is revenue adequacy—how much tax will it gather for the effort required to gather the tax? The third is revenue integrity, which is the effectiveness in raising revenue and the ease of avoidance.
The fourth category is simplicity of administration and compliance, which means that the costs to the Government of administering the tax system and the costs to the taxpayer of complying with the tax system are kept as low as possible. The fifth is coherence, which means that a particular tax makes sense in the context of the entire tax system. The sixth category is equity and fairness—that is, who bears the burden of tax?
I would like to expand on the sixth point. It is the one that the Labour members on the Finance and Expenditure Committee fought hard for. It is to the credit of the Inland Revenue Department that it understood our argument and concerns and amended its recommendations accordingly. What I am referring to is the rate at which the default resident withholding tax is set for individuals with bank accounts that earn interest. At the risk of losing the attention of some members opposite, I will provide a couple of figures that put that important point in context.
As we know, there are four tax brackets within which all income falls: 12.5 percent, 21 percent, 33 percent, and 38 percent. The tax that individual taxpayers pay on the interest earned from money sitting in a bank account should be the marginal tax rate—or their tax bracket—that their wages or salaries are taxed at.
So those who earn close to the average wage of around $38,000 per year, and thus received no tax break whatsoever from the National Government in its Scrooge McDuck Christmas package, will have a top marginal tax rate of 21 percent. If they earn as much as the chief executive officer of Telecom, who, I think, ended up with a Christmas bonus in the form of a tax cut of around $400 per week—because he really needed it—then their top marginal tax rate is 38 percent. Their income tax rate is the rate at which the interest in their bank account should legally be taxed. If the bank does not know people’s tax rate, then the interest they earn will be taxed at the default rate.
Initially, the Inland Revenue Department recommended to the Finance and Expenditure Committee that the default rate on all bank accounts be taxed, on 1 April 2011, at the top tax rate of 38 percent, the rationale for this being that the largest tranche of resident withholding tax is collected from this group, at about $392 million per year.
There are, however, only around 267,000 taxpayers on that 38 percent top marginal tax rate, and a further 3.3 million Kiwi taxpayers are on marginal rates lower than that. Now, a total of 3.6 million sounds like a lot, but members need to be aware that this figure includes interest on bank accounts opened and maintained, for example, by parents on behalf of their children.
The Inland Revenue Department believed that if taxpayers were on the lower top marginal tax rate, they would contact their bank proactively and get their default resident withholding tax rate lowered to the correct rate, and I am sure that many would have done so. The department’s rationale was also based on three of the six categories, which I outlined initially, that constitute a sound tax. The department said that the top tax rate being the default would promote economic efficiency, revenue integrity, revenue adequacy, and revenue simplicity.
I agree to a large extent—the default tax rate being the top marginal tax rate does, by and large, meet those tests. However, in the view of the Labour team on the committee, it did not meet the test of equity and fairness. That is what the Labour Party and Phil Goff stand for—equity and fairness for all hard-working Kiwis. In fact, every member of the Finance and Expenditure Committee agreed on that point.
So we asked the Inland Revenue Department to do a scenario analysis around setting the default rate at 12.5 percent and 21 percent. The analysis confirmed that the fiscal risk of setting the default rate at 12.5 percent was simply too high. The department then concluded that a 21 percent default rate was more likely to ensure that the highest portion of individuals is taxed at the correct rate, but the risk is that that might not encourage those on the top marginal rate to proactively change their resident withholding tax rate upwards.
The department determined that the fiscal risk of setting the default rate at 21 percent instead of 38 percent was possible under-reporting of around $47 million. In the end, the department agreed with our rationale around equity and fairness, and did agree to the select committee’s recommendation of a 21 percent default rate. The department also agreed that it would proactively engage with banks and those taxpayers on higher marginal rates of 33 percent and 38 percent to ensure that the fiscal risk of under-reporting the correct rate for resident withholding tax was mitigated, and to ensure that the number of Kiwis who are either knowingly or unwittingly avoiding their full tax responsibility is kept to a minimum.
At the beginning of my speech, I noted that I had one slight reservation about the important issue of amendments to the resident withholding tax, and it is this. Even with the default rate now set at 21 percent there are still some 1.453 million Kiwis on the 12.5 percent tax rate. As I said before, a lot of them may well be children for whom their parents have set up and maintain a bank account. But that is still 1.453 million Kiwis who are on the 12.5 percent tax rate—that is, earning between $1,000 and $14,000 a year—and who have a combined interest income of $1.13 billion dollars.
The previous speaker, Mr Foss, said that that demographic did not have significant assets. I would have thought that $1.13 billion in interest income is reasonably significant, but those 1.453 million Kiwis will be overtaxed if they do not proactively contact their bank and ask for their resident withholding tax rate to be lowered to the correct, appropriate marginal tax rate. So all the members of the Finance and Expenditure Committee sought and received assurances from the Inland Revenue Department that it would do its utmost to guarantee that all New Zealanders are given as much information as possible, through public education and advertising campaigns, to ensure that those being under-taxed and those being overtaxed are well informed of their rights and the processes required to change their resident withholding tax to the correct rate that matches their marginal tax rate. As mentioned, unlike a lot of other taxes, this one requires New Zealanders to be proactive to ensure that they are taxed fairly.
That aside, I do support this bill, and I commend it to the House. Thank you.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) : I am very happy to take a call in the second reading debate on the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill. After listening to the speaker who just resumed his seat, Stuart Nash, I have to say that it is rather unsettling to hear a Labour member use the phrase “growth of the economy”. For a moment I thought I was in the twilight zone, but then I realised that I should not be put off by it, at all. Labour members talk a great game about the economy, but we know that for 9 years they did not do a thing to help the economy. That is the party that put the productive sector—
Stuart Nash: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The economy grew by 25 percent in the last 4 years under the Labour Government, and I think that—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): That is not a matter of order; it is a matter of debate.
AMY ADAMS: As I said, it was not hard to remember that, much as Labour members talk about helping the economy, they do not actually do it.
Here we have a bill that reflects the National-led Government’s commitment to growing the economy. It was interesting to hear that Labour members are still complaining that this Government gave the people of New Zealand a tax cut. Most of Mr Nash’s speech was spent bitterly complaining that we have the audacity to come into power and give the people of New Zealand a tax cut. For 9 years the Labour Government sucked every cent of tax that it could out of hard-working New Zealanders. National members came in and said that Kiwi mums and dads and Kiwi workers deserve to keep the money they earn. We are not going to build up a war chest to blow on overpriced trainsets; we are going to back the economy. We came in and lowered personal tax rates, and this bill is a result of that.
As a consequence of lowering those tax rates we had to turn our mind to the consequential adjustments that were required. I find it interesting that Labour members are so bitter about the fact that we have come in and done what they refused to do, which is give money back to the people of New Zealand. We let New Zealanders keep that money in their own pockets because we believe that money belongs to the people who earn it, not the Government. Labour members think that Big Brother needs the money more than New Zealanders do; they think that it is better for the Government to spend New Zealanders’ money. That is not the case. This National-led Government would rather people kept the money they earned and put it back into growing the economy. From our side of the House that is a real commitment backed up by action, and that is the difference between this National-led Government and the Labour Opposition.
The title of this bill explains that there are two component parts to it. As I was saying, consequential adjustments need to be made as a result of the lowering of tax rates. That is the meat of the bill and it is where the Finance and Expenditure Committee did most of its work. We also heard the Minister of Revenue say in his opening speech in this debate that this bill provided the best vehicle to achieve a number of remedial matters.
The bit I mostly want to talk about in this contribution to the debate is the adjustment of the resident withholding tax rates. As we have already heard in the debate, the Finance and Expenditure Committee spent a lot of time looking at this adjustment. It was an interesting issue and one on which the committee worked together very well, with reasonably common objectives. As we have heard, the bill as introduced would have moved the default rate for those who had not elected a resident withholding tax rate for their accounts to 21 percent, and a year later, if there was still no election, it would have moved it to 38 percent. The issue that was identified was that it would see 90 percent of taxpayers, who are on lower rates, potentially initially paying more tax than they should, with, of course, an entitlement to collect it back in their end-of-year return. Obviously, there is a concern that it might not always be collected.
But the other side of the equation—this is where the balancing came into it—is the real concern and growing pressure on the Inland Revenue Department to ensure that it properly manages tax debt. Our committee spends a lot of time looking at the matter of tax debt. It is a significant item on the department’s books and the department is very concerned about it. On one hand our committee is putting a lot of pressure on the Inland Revenue Department to look at how it manages tax debt and how it can stop tax debt from getting out of control, but, in terms of this bill, where the department tried to take a proactive step in ensuring that new tax debt did not arise we were equally challenging it by saying that is all well and good, but it should ask itself how it makes sure it is not charging people more tax than it should. We had these competing elements of trying to ensure that we did not continue to run up hundreds of millions of dollars in tax debt, but, equally, trying to ensure that New Zealanders were not paying more tax than they needed to pay initially.
The other part that came into this, and I think it is worth mentioning from an individual perspective, is that although no one wants to pay more tax than she or he has to, this is a “pay as you go” system, and any overpayment or underpayment is adjusted at the end-of-year return, if one is filed. I think it is worth mentioning that although it is never good to pay more tax and have to collect it back, there is also a burden on people if they are under-taxed during the year. I am talking about workers who pay PAYE who do not usually file a tax return through their accountant as a matter of course. It is a real burden for some people, if they have underpaid tax during the year, to get to the end of the year and find a bill from the Inland Revenue Department that they were not expecting. It is not always in people’s interests to suddenly have to front up with a pool of money they did not think they would have to find. So we did not want to see them in the position of being out of pocket as the weeks roll by, but neither did we want to see them facing large bills because they had not got around to electing a rate.
We had some interesting debates on these matters. I think the committee has come to a good position with the help of the department, and I thank the Minister and the officials for their work in this regard. The rate now sits at 21 percent and we have a commitment from the department to run an extensive campaign to educate people on their entitlement and the expectation that they will identify and select their correct rate. But, equally, I think at the end of the day all people have to take responsibility to ensure their affairs are in order. We can do much to educate, help, and get people in the right direction, but when taxpayers are opening bank accounts, when they are setting up taxation, and when they are applying for an Inland Revenue Department number, they have to step up, as well, and they have to take some ownership of their financial situation and tax rate. So although I commend the department for being willing to work at ensuring taxpayers have the right information, I say to taxpayers that there is also an obligation on them to ensure that their tax is managed appropriately, and that they pay attention to the rate they are on and to the rate they should be on.
As I said, our committee spent an amount of time debating that matter, looking at it, and challenging it from different perspectives. I think it is fair to say that no outcome was ever going to give a perfect result from every angle of the debate, but I think we have got to a good, workable step. It can continue to be monitored, and I think it will prove to be successful. I commend the officials for their work on it. I thank my fellow committee members, under the chairmanship of Craig Foss, for working so constructively towards this outcome.
I turn briefly to some of the remedial matters in the bill; one or two of them have been mentioned in the debate. Of the couple that I wanted to pick up on, the one that is particularly close to my heart—although that probably suggests that I need to get out more—is the change to ensure that beneficiary income from trusts does not have to be allocated within 6 months of the balance date. It will now have a requirement to be allocated by the time the return is due to be filed, which will give much more flexibility in the management of trusts and trust accounts. It is a good change, it is overdue, and I am very pleased to see it.
There are also some tidy-up matters in there—for example, removing the ability to dispute the need to pay disputable tax, which all becomes a bit circular. Otherwise we could have a very strange situation: someone with tax in dispute might be in a particular set of circumstances where the Inland Revenue Department was able to require him or her to pay the tax up front while the dispute was sorted, that person could dispute that requirement to pay, and we would get into a circular argument. So I think tidying that up is certainly to be commended. Moving to electronic communications was another matter that drew the committee’s attention and debate for a little while. As Mr Foss said in his contribution, given the amount of material we are dealing with, and given the times we now live in, it is inevitable that we need to move to more electronic communication. There will always be issues with that as it is worked through, but I take at face value the Inland Revenue Department’s commitment to do everything it can to get that right. We will certainly continue to watch that matter.
I think, all in all, the bill has come back to the House in good shape, and I am very pleased to support it.
BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) : I am very pleased, as a member of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, to take a call on the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill, which is a good bill that has come through the select committee. It is sensible legislation, with some amendments that I will comment on in a moment.
I will pick up on some of the comments from members preceding me, particularly the chair of the committee, Craig Foss, who did a good job at the select committee. But today in the House he commented on the speech given by the Leader of the Opposition on monetary policy, and criticised the notion that we should be considering the future of our economy and some of the levers that are used to affect the economic situation. I would like him to go back to his electorate and say to his farmers and his exporters that monetary policy is working at the moment. He should tell them that as they struggle with a currency currently at about US73c, up from US50c earlier in the year. He should tell that to farmers and exporters who are trying to go into the British market at the moment, when our currency is 44 pence to the dollar, and it was around 30 pence at the start of the year. He should tell that to those trying to buy a house in a re-inflating housing market, which is being fed by monetary policy, by banks pumping capital back into the housing market because it is a nice, safe investment for them. I commend Phil Goff’s comments today.
Amy Adams, the member for Selwyn, went on about hard-working New Zealanders. My goodness, we hear that. Let us also recall that 71 percent of National’s tax cuts last December, which were rushed through under urgency, went to just 3 percent of those hard-working New Zealanders. Therefore, the vast majority of New Zealanders missed out. Let us also recall that if those same hard-working New Zealanders had had the tax cuts that National had promised—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): We are in a second reading. I ask members to acquaint themselves with Speaker’s ruling 106/2, which states that “On the second reading of a bill discussion must be confined to the bill before the House as printed.” There are quite a suite of things that just explain the nature of it. We are quite precise here. If there are going to be some amendments, members can refer to them but cannot debate them. This debate is about the second reading of the bill.
BRENDON BURNS: Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker. I was, of course, coming to the bill, and was just picking up on comments already made in the House. However, we will turn to the matter at hand. I think the point has been made.
This bill, obviously, is one that Labour supported. In fact, its genesis was under Labour. The bill did not receive a great deal of submission, but there were some submissions received from important players in the taxation space, which I will comment on in a moment.
One of the important changes that the select committee was able to make was about the issue of the resident withholding tax rate default rate. The initial proposal from the Inland Revenue Department was a 38 percent tax rate. My colleague Stuart Nash did some good work in the select committee, identifying and pursuing the fact that literally hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders—the battling New Zealanders, the hard-working, taxpaying New Zealanders—would have been totally disadvantaged by the rate being 38c in the dollar. So the committee has recommended that the default rate go back to just 21c, and that is a very, very appropriate change.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants commented that the tax rate being at 38 percent would have been the wrong tax rate for 92 percent of all New Zealanders, and would also have resulted in a huge flurry of people having to go back to the Inland Revenue Department. The select committee well knows from examining this bill, from other measures before us, and from reports from the Inland Revenue Department that the department is already hard-pressed. People can wait 30 to 40 minutes to get through on the phone to the Inland Revenue Department. So the notion that we would introduce a bill requiring tens of thousands of New Zealanders to go back to the Inland Revenue Department to seek some remedy from it was not one that I think the Inland Revenue Department—if it had given a little bit more thought to it—would really have pursued. So it is pleasing to see that the select committee has accepted the recommendations of some of the submitters, including the Institute of Chartered Accountants, who have noted the problems that would have been created if we had stuck with a default rate of 38c in the dollar.
Some of the submissions made to the select committee are not being followed through by amendment, and I want to pick up on some of those. We have supported the proposal to give the Commissioner of Inland Revenue the discretion to determine who should receive an income statement automatically. We have also decided that income from portfolio investment entities—PIEs—should not be capped at 30 percent outside the ambit of this bill. We have also upheld that a proposal of the commissioner to require payment of tax in dispute should be adhered to, and should not be challengeable. That is an important principle. Obviously, we expect the commissioner not to use the power in general circumstances, and he does not do that. He uses it only when it must be used, and we are upholding that right in our report back as a select committee.
In terms of the compliance costs for the resident withholding tax regime, the committee requested that, as this bill comes into law, the Inland Revenue Department consider the concerns about the resident withholding tax regime creating difficulties for casual payers of interest and dividends, because of the compliance costs it can impose on small businesses.
The committee also noted the call for electronic communication between taxpayers and the Inland Revenue Department. The Inland Revenue Department has a capital spend in place to improve its information and communications technology infrastructure to allow it to do electronic communication on a better footing. We certainly support that, because we can see that it will reduce the barriers between taxpayers contacting the Inland Revenue Department.
I note one of the other changes in the bill. It is around the issue of secondary tax. As an electorate MP, I get plenty of people complaining to me that they pay too high a rate of secondary tax. It sometimes comes as quite a shock to people when they take on a second job or get a little extra income through doing overtime. Those people are, particularly, in low-income categories, and at the moment they can be charged up to the prevailing high tax rate. They can lose a lot of income. So I was pleased that the tax changes that the Labour Government introduced in October last year introduced a new set of personal income tax rates, which included a new 12.5 percent rate for income of $14,000 and below. Currently, the lowest rate for withholding tax on secondary income is 21 percent. Obviously, the difference between those two figures can be a considerable amount. So I am very pleased to see that new 12.5 percent rate being introduced in this bill.
This bill is a sensible tax measure. It had broad support across the Finance and Expenditure Committee. It introduces sensible tax changes. Labour supports the bill in the House.
AARON GILMORE (National) : I rise to add to the conversation on the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill. It represents another example—as prior speakers on our Government benches have talked about—of more tidying up and loosening up a bit of the tax burden on mums and dads around New Zealand. But as previous speakers have mentioned, the big issue of particular interest is resident withholding tax, and the default tax rate on interest, particularly for those who open new bank accounts. There was constructive conversation around resolving that issue with the officials and some of the submitters, and some quite innovative solutions were put forward. It represented a good step towards solving that problem.
It is interesting that for those people setting up new bank accounts—like the one for my new nephew, who was born yesterday—a default mechanism will be put in place, from 1 April 2010. It is a good thing in many ways. The Inland Revenue Department can liaise with the financial institutions, particularly the trading banks, to ensure that those mums and dads who open new bank accounts have a bit more information to know what their rates should be. That way there will not be an ability to be overtaxed. That being said, there are still a whole lot of requirements on taxpayers to pay a fair and equitable share of tax and to provide the Inland Revenue Department with the appropriate tax rate for their income levels, so that people know what they will be paying.
This is one of those bills about which I think in the future people will ask why we did this. We have had a lot of rhetoric from the other side of the House about tax cuts and changes, and the Government doing all sorts of things. At the end of the day, this bill will reduce the tax burden for a number of people. It will reduce the information that they have to provide, because of the way that we are aligning these tax rates. I think that must be a good thing.
I want to focus most of my effort on two aspects of this bill that have not been talked about. One is the issue of the non-disputable requirement to pay tax. There have been a number of issues in New Zealand with individuals or corporates arguing over whether they should pay tax, and refusing to pay tax under dispute. Under current law, there is no requirement for a person to front up and pay tax, even if that person is refunded subsequently and proven right in arguing with the Inland Revenue Department. We have had a couple of high-profile cases in Christchurch where phoenix companies or high-profile individuals refused to pay the amount of tax under dispute and then took their companies or organisations down with them. I do not think that is a good thing. This bill fixes that by making it a requirement that people pay tax—it is a non-disputable requirement to pay—but it retains the right for people to dispute the amount of tax that may be payable. That is a good aspect, and one that other speakers have not touched on. It is a good, positive thing in this bill, which will help reduce some of the tax evasion and tax avoidance that exists in the New Zealand system.
We are very lucky to have quite a low level of avoidance in our system, as pointed out yesterday in a report that talked about the low level of corruption in New Zealand. Making tax payment non-disputable is an important step to try to reduce that small amount of behaviour from certain individuals and organisations arguing about paying tax. In fact, I have had one individual in my office who thought it was his right not to pay tax at all, and he had spent his entire time in dispute with the authority. To me, that is revenue forgone that could have been used to provide mums and dads with the services they want the Government to provide through the tax revenue. I think that move is a good step forward.
The other aspect that I will touch on a bit more, which was mentioned by some earlier speakers, is the issue of electronic communications. It has been a problem for the authority, and it was mentioned in much of the advice that we received in the Finance and Expenditure Committee. The authority could not be sure that electronic communications to interest payers had been received by them, so the authority was required to send written bits of information. This bill makes a change that means that where the authority has good reason to believe that an electronic communication like email has been received, then it can carry on as if it was received. That will be another good step in reducing a little bit of extra administrative cost and burden for both taxpayers and the authority. That is an extra saving of administrative cost, and our Government is all about saving money on those bits of regulation and red tape.
We have heard some discussion from members on the other side of the House about what the Inland Revenue Department might do to resolve the issue around the change in resident withholding tax rates. I have utmost confidence in the officials, and they have pointed out to us their plan to resolve that particular issue. They will put in a good education programme, so that new mums and dads—like my brother and his wife, who had a new baby yesterday—will be able to get good information so that they can set up a new bank account for their new baby. In fact, most new accounts are set up for newborn children, and 64,000 or so children have been born in this country this year so far.
We had a number of other discussions on this bill, and one of the other issues that has not been picked up on is the alignment of the portfolio investment entity rates. Portfolio investment entity rates allow a bit of extra tax deduction for those investing in certain types of vehicles, which is a good thing. This bill aligns not just the resident withholding tax rates but also the portfolio investment entity rates, and that is a good thing. We obviously still have a bit of work to do on trying to get some of those rates down further. We would love to be able to get our tax rates down further and maintain our service level in some way.
I think that this is a really good bill, as it resolves some of those niggling little issues that exist around taxpayers and non-disputable tax. It resolves some issues for the Inland Revenue Department in terms of electronic communications. It resolves the issue that exists around resident withholding taxes and the ability to get the right tax rate for taxpayers, and it helps the department to engage with financial institutions to help people get the right tax rate so that they pay a fair and equitable amount of tax.
There are a number of other changes in this bill, but I do not think I will bother the House with those at this stage. There has basically been agreement across our select committee and across the House today on those changes, and I commend the rest of the bill to the House.
RAYMOND HUO (Labour) : Taxation is a magical word. If someone has the required power to offer lip service plus a certain form of testimony, such as a personal guarantee, etc., he or she will in all likelihood get the required and expected result. The National Party’s promise of tax cuts, which was personally guaranteed by its leader before the election, is a typical example.
This Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill is a technical bill that continues one of Labour’s work streams and makes some necessary changes. The bill introduces, among other things, new rates of resident withholding tax, or RWT, on interest income in order to align them with the new tax rates. Among the issues that were discussed at length at the Finance and Expenditure Committee, as my colleagues who spoke before me have pointed out, was the new default rate of resident withholding tax. The default rate that applies when an individual does not choose a resident withholding tax rate with his or her financial institution will be changed from 19.5 percent to 38 percent. The reason for changing the default resident withholding tax rate to the highest income tax rate, according to the commentary of the Minister of Revenue on the bill, is to encourage individuals to select the rate that is consistent with their marginal tax rate.
In the bill’s first reading I cited a news story published in the Otago Daily Times on 23 July this year. The headline reads “Tax change could catch investors off guard”. A tax expert, Mr Peter Truman, stated: “Tax changes being proposed by the Government will catch investors unaware and may see them paying more tax on their investment income,”. That is one of the reasons why we spent a considerable amount of time deliberating on this issue in the Finance and Expenditure Committee. The Inland Revenue Department listed a number of bullet points to support its analysis and underlying assumptions as to why the 38 percent default rate is desirable. Generally speaking, in setting the default rate at 38 percent rather than at 21 percent the objectives were to promote the integrity of the tax system, to reduce fiscal risk, to minimise compliance costs, and to encourage individuals to elect the rate that is consistent with their personal tax rate. I thank the departmental officials for their great work, and I thank our independent specialist advisers for their great work, too.
Basically, the proposed clauses are saying that any person who has resident withholding tax deducted at the 21 percent rate, and who has not confirmed that rate, will be automatically moved to the 38 percent rate. We received valuable submissions from concerned individuals and organisations. In general, the submitters were not supportive of a default rate of 38 percent. The main reason was that it would not be an appropriate rate for the vast majority of taxpayers who would be affected. It would result in the over-deduction of tax in respect of those individuals.
However, in respect of those individuals, the officials have suggested an alternative approach, but it would still have at least two impacts. The first impact is that a large number of interest earners would find themselves having resident withholding tax deducted at a rate that is higher than it should be. This impact would, in all likelihood, fall disproportionately on lower-income earners. The second impact is that the proposal does not appear to include a requirement that the Inland Revenue Department advise banks to move an account holder to a lower rate.
Advisers correctly commented that some of those impacts would be minimised if taxpayers were in a better position to elect the correct rate. Conversely—and this is my own take on it—some of the impacts would be maximised if taxpayers were in a worse position to elect the correct rate. One possible solution to that problem would be a major public education campaign. Other suggestions included measures such as the Inland Revenue Department setting up a toll-free phone number so that its advice is available in a timely manner. No doubt those are good suggestions and they would help to remedy the situation. It is important for us to make sure that any problems or consequences, either unintended or otherwise, are properly attended to.
I agree with Peter Truman when he said 4 months ago that many Kiwis did not get around to notifying their financial institutions of their correct tax rate. Therefore, we have the Government increasing its tax take from those who are not motivated or organised enough to advise their financial institutions of their appropriate and correct tax rate. Further, another catch in the proposed legislation, as identified by Mr Truman at that time, was the failure to alter the resident withholding tax rate on individuals, which placed an administrative burden on companies.
As I said at the beginning, this bill is a technical bill and Labour supports it. However, it is a good reminder that the National Government has failed to deliver where it matters. This Government came into office with grand promises of a tax cut programme benefiting everyone. As soon as it got in, it passed a tax cut package that gave a third of the tax cuts to the top 3 percent of taxpayers. Then in the Budget National broke its No. 1 election promise and cancelled the next two rounds of tax cuts. As a nation, the Chinese idiom suggests that civilians, or, in modern language, citizens or voters, are like water: water can float a boat and can sink one. New Zealand is not the Dead Sea, where one can float easily no matter how one performs. Too many broken promises would eventually haunt the responsible individuals or parties. There are holes in the boat and they will only help to sink it. Thank you.
DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) : I will take just a short call to finish the debate on the Taxation (Consequential Rate Alignment and Remedial Matters) Bill. The bill has been through the Finance and Expenditure Committee. It was a very good bill for the committee, following the very long taxation bill that had preceded it. Committee members were taxed completely after considering the preceding bill, but felt they were in a better position at the end of considering this bill.
Essentially, the argument in the select committee was around whether one has a high or low withholding tax rate, and then the question related to how much revenue is at stake, and, therefore, how many taxpayers would be subject to a higher tax rate than potentially they should have had to pay. That was debated at length within the committee and we came to a good solution that enables the State to achieve its goals of capturing tax that potentially was lost under the previous system, and, with education and other programmes, enabling taxpayers to be fairly treated. In all, a good balance has been achieved through this legislation.
I congratulate all members of the Finance and Expenditure Committee who worked hard to achieve that outcome. I think the National and Labour members worked well together on this committee. The officials who were present did a great job of providing us with the detail and also with some practical solutions that were necessary to get us to this point today.
This bill is part of the tidying-up of the New Zealand tax system. It is also about making sure that the Government attains the revenue that it should through resident withholding tax. In the end it is the best solution to achieve that goal, while taking into account the needs of our taxpayers. We support this bill and look forward to passing it through the House. Thank you.
|Ayes 111||New Zealand National 56; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 8||Green Party 8.|
|Bill read a second time.|
Biosecurity Amendment Bill
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Internal Affairs) on behalf of the Minister for Biosecurity: I move, That the Biosecurity Amendment Bill be now read a third time. I was pleased that when the bill passed through the Committee of the whole House on Tuesday, 17 November, it received a wide measure of cross-party support, and, indeed, it has received such support through all of its stages. The bill seemed to have a wide measure of support from the public, too; we can judge that by the fact that no public submissions were submitted to the Primary Production Committee for consideration in early September. I want to thank the members of the committee, who made a thorough examination of the bill and recommended it should be passed with some amendments to improve its overall effectiveness.
It might be useful for the House if I provide a summing up of the bill and its context. New Zealand is unique among many developed countries in that it relies heavily on primary production for its export earnings. We have been fortunate to remain free of many pests and diseases that affect agricultural productivity and export markets in other countries. It is widely understood and widely supported that we must maintain the security of our agriculture, horticulture, and forestry sectors.
But biosecurity means more than protecting agricultural productivity. Other countries less fortunate or less rigorous than us have had the health of their citizens and their natural environments affected by disease and pest species. Countries such as the USA have recently had to deal with mosquito-borne viral infections and the invasive and very painful stinging red fire ant.
Another very important source of export earnings for New Zealand is tourism. The improvements to the biosecurity system proposed in the bill are a key part of the joint agreement between the New Zealand and Australian Governments to make it easier for their citizens to travel across the Tasman Sea. The National Party’s pre-election biosecurity policy made a commitment to improve cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the New Zealand Customs Service, ensuring that passenger processing times are acceptable, and increasing the infringement fee for incorrect biosecurity declarations at the border. Streamlining border processes will allow passengers who comply with biosecurity requirements to pass through with minimal intervention, while passengers who breach requirements will face higher penalties. The bill will allow the instant fine for incorrect biosecurity declarations to be increased from $200 to $400. The maximum penalty for conviction in court for the same offence will be more than doubled, from $400 to $1,000.
I note that speakers in previous debates from Labour and the Green Party, although supporting the bill, were not unqualified in their praise. The Government shares their concern about maintaining high levels of biosecurity protection, but many of the issues they raised extend beyond the scope of this bill. In biosecurity, as in so many other areas, it makes sense to focus effort on areas of the highest risk. In the future, more attention will be directed at arriving passengers who are considered high-risk. Low-risk passengers will be allowed to pass through with less security, but they will still receive attention and will still be subject to the higher penalties this bill enables. We will put our efforts into areas where we can get the best results.
The select committee heard a good deal from officials about the whole package of measures that will be adopted to improve our handling of international travellers and the variety of biosecurity risks they may pose. Closer attention to serious risk includes better-targeted and translated publicity material for people who speak languages other than English, and closer cooperation between border agencies in both New Zealand and Australia, including information sharing.
Let me assure everyone in the House today, in the plainest possible terms, that this bill and the range of improvements to targeting biosecurity risks that lie behind it, are about improving our biosecurity, not weakening it. This Government has committed itself to making improvements, and I thank members across the House for their support to get this bill through. Indeed, I commend this bill to the House.
Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : I will take just a brief moment to thank Minister Nathan Guy for his wonderful words on the Biosecurity Amendment Bill, but to remind him that they are just words. He and his Government cut $2 million from biosecurity in the Budget. They also removed over 50 experienced front-line border protection people, who check that we do not have unwanted organisms and pests coming in. If this Government was genuinely concerned about biosecurity and if it really did care, it would have increased the number of people on the ground, as it did with police in the case of property and personal security. This Government has made a mockery of its so-called commitment to biosecurity, and this bill is a token gesture—
Hon Nathan Guy: That’s rubbish!
Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: —and that Minister knows it. All this bill does is increase the penalties for those people who consciously or unconsciously bring into this country high-risk things that could be anything from fruit or meat to shoes with soil on them. There are many, many avenues and pathways for unwanted organisms to come into this country. The good front-line people in MAF Biosecurity New Zealand check them every day in order to protect us, and what did this Government do? It cut over 50 of those people from front-line services and it cut $2 million from biosecurity’s core budget this year. That Minister cannot get up in this House and say that his Government is committed to biosecurity.
- Debate interrupted.
- The House adjourned at 6 p.m.