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Volume 671, Week 70 - Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Earthquake, Christchurch—Extension of State of National Emergency
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Civil Defence: I intend to make a ministerial statement under Standing Order 347 advising the House of the extension of the state of national emergency. Today the Minister has further extended the duration of the state of national emergency in Christchurch City under section 71 of the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002. As members know, section 66 of the Act states: “The Minister must advise the House of Representatives as soon as practicable” of an extension, hence the statement yesterday applied to the extension declared on 31 March. Today’s declaration by the Minister is the seventh extension of the state of national emergency that applies specifically to Christchurch City since it was first declared on 23 February. The extensions are necessary to enable the national controller to continue exercising his powers and functions under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act.
Although the situation in Christchurch City has improved significantly in the 6 weeks since the earthquake of 22 February, the city has not been stabilised sufficiently to change the status of this state of national emergency, and therefore the Minister considers it necessary to keep the state of national emergency in place. The earthquake response is of such a magnitude that the civil defence emergency management required is beyond the capacity of the regional civil defence emergency management group. I am advised there is strong support in Christchurch for the state of emergency to be national rather than local or regional at this time. This provides the national controller with powers to access resources from around New Zealand, but only for the purpose of responding to the earthquake in Christchurch City. The state of national emergency will be lifted when the Minister is satisfied that the situation has stabilised sufficiently and the powers available through the state of national emergency are no longer required.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I would like to thank the Minister for the statement he has made on behalf of the Minister of Civil Defence. It is the first time that the question of the appropriateness of a national rather than a regional state of emergency has been addressed in a ministerial statement, and for that I do acknowledge the fact that the Minister has considered the matter and communicated his thoughts, or at least the thoughts of the Minister of Civil Defence, to the House. The issues that he has raised about the appropriateness of a national versus a regional state of emergency will be considered by the Opposition, and a response will be forthcoming in due course.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : The Green Party supports the statement of the Minister, the Hon Simon Power. We would like more information, though. Repeatedly, when these renewals are made, we get just general words about the situation having not yet been stabilised. A little bit more elaboration, I think, would benefit the House—for example, the Minister could say, in the areas of getting rid of silt or getting the power back on, that there have been advances that do not require the national state of emergency, but that, in other areas, progress is still being made and the national state of emergency is still required. I think more elaboration would be useful for the House.
Correction—Legal Services Bill
Questions to Ministers
State-owned Energy Companies—Financial Returns
1. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that dividends from State-owned enterprise energy companies help pay for services like doctors and hospitals, and can he confirm that the dividends earned last year from the four companies amounted to $732 million?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes. The Government will spend in excess of $70 billion this year on a whole range of services, including doctors and hospitals. It will fund this spending in a whole range of ways, including direct and indirect taxes, excise fees, and State-owned enterprise dividends, and through increasing debt. To the second part of the member’s question, yes.
Hon Phil Goff: Why is he intending to sell off shares in profitable companies whose profits remain entirely in New Zealand and are used to benefit all New Zealanders?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because the Government wants to acquire $33 billion worth of assets over the next 5 years, and it is the Government’s view that that is an efficient way of doing it. It is also the Government’s view that it will actually increase the performance of the said State-owned enterprises.
Hon Phil Goff: How much of the profits and dividends from Contact Energy, a company once wholly owned by New Zealanders—I use the Clyde Dam for an example, which was built and paid for by New Zealanders—are now sent overseas to foreign investors, and is it in excess of $100 million a year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know the answer to that question. But I do know that had Contact Energy not been sold, that debt, which was also from overseas, would have had those dividends going overseas. There is also a very important difference between—[Interruption] Well, actually we owe a lot of money overseas. But the second important issue, of course, is that there is a fundamental difference between Contact Energy and what the Government is proposing under the mixed ownership model, which is that, at a minimum, 51 percent control would be held by the Government. There are also 1.65 million KiwiSaver accounts. There are also the Crown financial institutions, and a wide range of other New Zealanders who would like to buy shares. So it is the Government’s view that the majority ownership would stay in New Zealand.
Hon Phil Goff: When the Prime Minister told the House yesterday that Contact Energy was owned “by a very wide range of Kiwi mums and dads”, was he aware that in fact 80 percent of the shares in that company are owned by 1 percent of shareholders—mainly corporates—and most of the shares are now owned overseas?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes—and I apologise for rushing out the full answer; I did not want to deter the member from being able to ask another question. But in the interests of making sure there is clarity, let me read out the whole quote. It is from Pattrick Smellie and says “One of the least defensible criticisms of the Key”—[Interruption]—well, they do not want to actually hear it, but we will go through it—“Government’s partial privatisation plans have been regular references to Contact Energy as an example of a privatised company which lost control to foreigners. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of the Contact share register is it remains possibly the most widely held share by domestic New Zealand investors.” Eleven years on from the float, in fact, Contact Energy’s shareholders have shown a high degree of loyalty to the company, to the extent that Edison Mission Energy’s attempts to take 100 percent were roundly rebuffed in the early 2000s. Pattrick Smellie says “What it shows is that many small-scale investors have piled into privatised companies like Contact precisely because they want to retain … as much New Zealand ownership as possible.” If the member wants to ask me that question every day, I will look forward to reading out the answer every day.
Chris Tremain: Has he seen any policies on State-owned electricity company dividends?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I have seen at least two policies. The first is that we should hang on to these dividends at all costs because they raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the Government’s coffers. The second is from this statement to the Labour Party conference, and says: “That’s something we got wrong in the last government. … It’s not right that last week a power company paid $230 million in dividends to government. … We will not demand excessive dividends coming back into state coffers”. The confusing thing is that these two diametrically opposed policies come from the same person: the current Leader of the Opposition.
Hon Phil Goff: How can the Prime Minister possibly be right in saying Contact Energy is owned by a wide range of Kiwi mums and dads, when most of the shares are owned offshore, and when 80 percent of the shares are owned by 1 percent of the shareholders, the big corporates? How could he possibly be right?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said earlier, Contact Energy was privatised in a completely different way from what the Government proposes. The proposals are that there will be 51 percent control, that Kiwi mums and dads will be put at the top of the queue, that we will allow the 1.65 million KiwiSaver account holders to have an opportunity to invest, that we will make sure the Crown financial institutes have an opportunity to invest, and that the proposals will go partly towards fulfilling the Government’s plan to have more Kiwi ownership in the form of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. There are big, fundamental differences between that proposal and Contact Energy, but if we want to go and look at privatisations that were hocked off in a very poor way, let us go and look at what occurred when that member was a Minister in the Labour Government.
Hon Phil Goff: Is it correct, as reported, that TrustPower and Contact Energy, which are now privately owned, have increased their prices since 1998 by 180 percent—
Hon Parekura Horomia: How much?
Hon Phil Goff: —180 percent, which is much higher than the rate at which the State-owned enterprises increased their prices, and how does he explain why the private companies have increased their prices by such a higher rate?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot be sure of those facts, because one never knows when they are presented by that member, but—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you will be aware, that answer obviously reflected on the integrity of the questioner. I can table the document that was reported in the paper that said that.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member’s point was well made. The Prime Minister does not need to answer the question in that way, and doing that will always lead to disorder.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot be sure of those facts. I certainly cannot be sure that they are correct, nor have I ever seen them in the past. But I make the point that the bulk of those increases were made under a Labour Government.
Hon Phil Goff: Is he prepared, personally, to guarantee that if his sell-down of shares goes ahead as he has signalled, it will not result in a much higher rate of price increases than would otherwise have occurred, and that significant shares in those companies will not end up very quickly offshore?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, it is important to understand that the majority share ownership will be held by the Government, so that is the first point. Secondly, what controls the increase in price is, of course, the regulation of the industry. I make the point once more that in the 9 years of a Labour Government electricity prices rose by 72 percent. I also make the point that about a week or so ago there was a significant price hike in relation to hedges—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is all very interesting, but I asked a specific question: whether he would guarantee that the sale would not result in shares going offshore and prices rising much faster. He has not addressed that question yet.
Mr SPEAKER: The member needs to reflect a little on that point of order. The Prime Minister is giving an explanation of how the market works for electricity prices. Giving an assurance that prices will not increase is not necessarily within the Prime Minister’s power. He is trying to explain to the House how the prices in the electricity market work, and that is a pretty sensible way to answer such a question, I would have thought.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I reflect on what happened a couple of weekends ago. We saw a significant price hike, and I make the point that that is a matter for the Electricity Authority to investigate—and it is doing so. But that price hike took place with three primary players: Genesis, Mighty River Power, and Meridian Energy. They are all 100 percent State-owned enterprises. The prices in the electricity sector are controlled by regulation, not ownership.
Superannuation Rates—Effect of Average After-tax Weekly Earnings
2. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: Have after-tax average weekly earnings been rising faster than inflation; if so, what are the implications for rates of New Zealand Superannuation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes, as measured by the quarterly employment survey, after-tax weekly earnings rose 6.8 percent last year. That is significantly greater than annual inflation of 4 percent. This has implications for superannuation rates under Section 16 of the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act, which, as I recall, was passed by the previous Government. The fact that after-tax earnings have risen significantly faster than inflation means that superannuation rates get an extra increase on 1 April this year. That extra increase was necessary to maintain the married couple rate of 66 percent of after-tax weekly earnings, which are rising significantly faster than inflation.
Craig Foss: By how much did superannuation rates rise on 1 April 2011?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are a number of different rates of superannuation, but to use the total married couple rate per fortnight, from 1 April this went up per person by $11.90 a fortnight. Over a quarter of this is due to the fact that after-tax earnings have risen significantly faster than inflation. That, of course, is not a political assertion; that is a matter of fact according to the measures agreed by this Parliament over the last 20 years and reconfirmed by the previous Government when it passed a new Act in 2001. So the increases in national superannuation prove beyond doubt that after-tax earnings in New Zealand are rising faster than inflation.
Craig Foss: Were superannuation rates accurately and permanently increased for the effects of raising GST?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, between 1 October 2010 and 1 April 2011 superannuitants received a special 6-month payment to compensate them in advance of the normal cycle for the rise in GST. From 1 April onwards the normal inflation adjustment including the GST impact has taken over, so there is no longer any need for a special payment. Superannuitants can be assured that the increase in national superannuation on 1 April fully compensates them for GST and that it is ongoing and permanent.
Craig Foss: How do recent increases in superannuation rates compare with those in the past?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I mentioned, the increase in the married couple rate per person since 1 April 2008 is actually now $83 a fortnight. This works out as a real increase of 8.5 percent in national superannuation over the last 3 years, and a significant cause of that has been the reduction in tax rates and the increase in the after-tax wage beyond the increase in inflation. Just by comparison, the superannuation rate went up by 8.5 percent in real terms under the previous Government, but it took 9 years to increase by as much as that.
Economy—Projected Fiscal Deficit for 2011
3. Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive) to the Minister of Finance: What is the fiscal deficit likely to be in the calendar year 2011, and what would the fiscal deficit be if there had been no tax cut on 1 October 2010 for the top 5 percent of earners?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : It is hard to answer the member’s question in detail, for two reasons. First, the Government uses a March year and not a calendar year, so it is a bit complicated to isolate the calendar year. Secondly, all earners have benefited from reductions in, say, the bottom tax rate. It would be fair to say that if there had been no reduction in, say, the top rate of tax, then the deficit would be smaller. However, tax reductions right across the board have been part of tax packages that have been fiscally neutral—that is, where the Government has given away income tax it has paid for that by taking more tax in other forms.
Hon Jim Anderton: Has the Minister seen the table on the Treasury website that allows revenue from tax changes to be calculated; if so, has he seen that it shows that the cost of the tax cut for the top 5 percent of income earners this year will be $462 million, meaning that the deficit will be worse by that amount this year than it would have been if the top rate had been left unchanged?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that is what I said in answer to the first question. The tax packages that we introduced, on 1 April 2009 and then in October 2010, were both self-funding so the Government’s tax packages have not contributed to the deficit. We have offset income tax cuts with other tax increases.
Hon Jim Anderton: Would not the $462 million a year from the top 5 percent of income earners with incomes over $100,000 a year help to raise $4.6 billion over 10 years, which could be used to help pay for the Canterbury earthquake and give jobless young Cantabrians trade skills to help rebuild their city?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It has, I think, long been that member’s position that higher taxes are a good thing. We do not believe that they are a good thing, unless they are used for effective purposes. People who had reductions in the top tax rate are also subject to higher taxes on investment housing, and higher effective taxes on overseas owners of New Zealand assets where they may have a share in those assets. They are paying higher GST. The rules have been tightened on social support such as Working for Families to ensure that broader definitions of income are used. So we are satisfied that the tax packages have been fiscally neutral. Of course there are challenges with funding the recovery for Canterbury, but the Government is determined to do a good job and will fund what is necessary.
Amy Adams: What has been the cumulative fiscal impact of tax changes made by this Government since taking office in 2008?
Hon David Cunliffe: More debt.
Stuart Nash: More borrowing.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The members are wrong about that. The combined impact of the two tax packages the Government has introduced is a net gain, in 2011-12, in revenue of $950 million. That is to say if the Government had had no tax packages, revenue would be almost a billion dollars lower than it will be in 2011-12. I know that the Opposition might be startled about that, but that is the result of the Government changing the tax system to make it more effective and provide better incentives for a stronger economy and more jobs.
District Health Boards—Number of Doctors and Nurses Employed
4. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received in relation to the number of doctors and nurses working for New Zealand’s district health boards?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : I am pleased to advise that we are making good progress in protecting and growing the public health service. I have been advised that in the 2 years since the change of Government the number of nurses working for our district health boards has increased by over 1,000 and the number of doctors by over 500. Retaining and growing the health workforce is a great challenge facing our public health service. The challenge will continue as demand for better access to services grows as our population ages, and the international demand for health professionals further intensifies.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What other reports has he seen in relation to improving New Zealanders’ access to trained health professionals?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have previously reported to the House that the Government’s new voluntary bonding scheme has attracted 1,400 medical, nurse, and midwifery graduates into specialities and locations where we need more of them. I am pleased to confirm that the Government has expanded this year’s voluntary bonding scheme to include nurse graduates if they choose to work in the specialities of mental health and aged care. Not only have these specialities been added but they have also been made a priority for the voluntary bonding scheme.
Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that it takes at least 6 years to train a doctor and 3 years to train a nurse, and will he show his trademark humility and generosity and give credit for that to the person who is actually responsible for increasing the number of medical staff—the Hon Annette King?
Hon TONY RYALL: No. I do not like to harp on the past.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table the latest available data from the Medical Council of New Zealand that indicates that there are 320 extra doctors, not more than 500, as the Minister said.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
5. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What programmes does he consider “nice to have” and should be cut?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : If the Opposition want an indication of it, it should look at a number of the programmes that the Government has cut in previous Budgets; for instance, reducing funding subsidies for hobby courses in adult education, abolishing the “Wassup!” badges for promoting achievement among Māori students, and reducing the tertiary tripartite funding pool by $55 million, which was just a political agreement between Labour and its union mates.
Hon Annette King: Is funding for Te Rito: New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy, which helps to tackle the growing level of family violence in New Zealand, a “nice to have” or a necessity; if it is a necessity, why has $382,000 been cut from women’s refuges from 1 April?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I understand that the Minister who is in charge of that, Ms Turia, is involved in a vigorous discussion with people who are providing family violence prevention services. The parts of that programme that do not work are “nice to have”; the parts that do work are necessities.
Hon Annette King: Is having advocates for vulnerable children and young people who have witnessed family violence, who have had their funding cut, a “nice to have” programme, and what is the likely impact of these cuts on hundreds of children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think this is an area, like many others, where it is important to be able to have sensible discussion about what works and what does not. I understand that on that issue there are a range of views among people who understand the issues about whether it works or does not work. We will not shy away from discussing the effectiveness of hundreds of millions of dollars of social programmes, some of which work, some of which do not.
Hon Annette King: Is the $13 million allocated to Te Puni Kōkiri for whānau engagement over the next 2 years “nice to have”, or will this funding be redirected to necessities like skill training, for example, so that young Māori can get a job, rather than to paying for a family meeting?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is doing a very good job of rearranging funding around skills training. We discovered that a lot of the money Labour had committed to skills training was resulting in thousands of young people getting zero credits and no qualifications. So we are reallocating funding to much more effective skills training.
Hon Annette King: Why are budget advisory services effectively having their funding cut at a time when, under this Government’s policy, these services are seeing almost five times the number of families they are funded for and are having families sent to them by Work and Income? Is it because those services are “nice to have”?
Hon Paula Bennett: They have not had a cut.
Hon Annette King: They have so.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As is evident from the members’ exchange, when the member says “effectively cut”, does that mean it is less than what Labour promised 3 years ago or something?
Hon Annette King: No, less than what you promised them.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member is trying to give the impression that the Government is cutting funding to social services, she is wrong. This Government has committed hundreds of millions of dollars over the last couple of years to dealing with the effects of the recession. But at the same time as spending more, we make no excuse for thoroughly scrutinising which programmes are working and which are not. Good intentions are not enough.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter from the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges to the deputy chief executive officer of the Ministry of Social Development asking for an explanation as to why it has had $380,00 cut from family violence prevention programmes, advocates for children, and the family violence prevention education fund.
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 Shane Jones: Why is spending $2 million on a plastic waka the highest priority Government spending when he is cutting $55 million from industry training for young Māori on the basis that it is a “nice to have”?
Hon Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the member realises that $33 million was spent on a black waka—by Labour.
Mr SPEAKER: When the House realises I am on my feet, there will be silence. That is not a point of order.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that is a very good point. Why did the Labour Government spend $33 million on the America’s Cup yacht—which apparently will show up here some time? The project the member refers to is a pavilion, not a waka. When New Zealand is on the world stage, with billions of people watching the third-largest sporting event on the globe, we want to present New Zealand positively so that everyone sees us as a country that is progressive, multicultural, and economically robust.
Hon Shane Jones: If a plastic waka—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I say to Government members on this occasion that I simply cannot hear with that level of noise.
Hon Shane Jones: If a plastic waka is such a high priority for Government spending, why did the Minister not give any consideration to tendering for such a contract?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, most of the money for the project the member is talking about is coming from cancelling other projects. In the current environment, that is as it should be. Of course, the building of the project will be tendered.
Hon Shane Jones: Why does the Minister think this $2 million Tupperware gift—or in this case “Tupperwaka” gift—will improve the daily lives of the members of the Ngāti Whātua iwi?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Ngāti Whātua iwi seem to believe that it will improve the daily lives of their members. They are keen participants in showcasing New Zealand to the world. Despite the fiscal constraints, the Government is not cutting back the Rugby World Cup budget. We want to do a good job of it.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there any dim prospect that we can get a proper answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Shane Jones: —given that most of the information given to us comes from Ngāti Whātua?
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member will get to his feet and apologise for that abuse of the point of order system, because I was on my feet and he just carried on regardless. I have already made it very clear to members that when I am on my feet they are to stop, so I ask the member to apologise to the House for that.
Hon Shane Jones: I apologise for speaking while you are on my feet. I apologise, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member. The thought of being on the honourable member’s feet was all a bit much for the Speaker for a moment.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. And I am standing on one of my feet, anyway. There are two points I would like to make. First of all, during that exchange, the Leader of the House interjected. Secondly—we did not take it up at the time, because we thought you were going to deal with it—Tariana Turia also did not sit down when you stood up. She continued.
Hon Tariana Turia: Oh, he—
Mr SPEAKER: There will be no interjections or the Minister will be leaving the Chamber. There will be no further interjections. The point the member makes is not unreasonable. I accept that I have probably been a little bit tougher on the Hon Shane Jones, but that happens from time to time. I am not unaware of that. I warn Government Ministers—all Government Ministers—that when I am on my feet, there will be no interjections. They will cease speaking and will resume their seats when I get to my feet, because I do it for very good reason. I accept that the score may be a little against the Opposition at the moment on that count, but I am aware of that.
Hon John Boscawen: Does the Minister of Finance agree with his colleague the Hon Pita Sharples that the $1.9 million plastic waka is “authentically Māori”, and does the Government have any plans for other authentic Māori plastic-fantastic inflatables?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think it should be any surprise that when New Zealand is on the world stage, showcasing this country to a global audience, there will be some Māori content. If the member is advocating there should be no Māori presence, I have to tell him that that is not New Zealand.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Does the Minister of Finance agree that it is rather inconsistent for the Labour Party to criticise an investment of $2 million in a waka cultural centre—
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the honourable member to reword his question, because the Minister has no responsibility for what the Labour Opposition might think.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has the Minister of Finance seen any reports that might indicate that it is inconsistent for the Labour Party to criticise a $2 million investment in a waka cultural centre, given that a party in this Parliament—namely, Labour—invested $33 million in Team New Zealand waka?
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister I just alert him to the fact that the question is very marginal, because the Minister has no responsibility for Labour Opposition views, at all. I will allow the Minister to answer the question as long as he is careful.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the Minister of Finance I would dearly love to cancel the Team New Zealand funding of $33 million, because it is a “nice to have” and there are necessities we need to fund. But the contract signed by the Hon Trevor Mallard was so tightly specified that we have to honour it despite the fact that it is a very low priority.
Hon John Boscawen: How can it be appropriate for Cabinet to vote funding for a plastic waka to the largest hapū in the electorate of the Minister of Māori Affairs at a time when polling shows he is in danger of losing his seat to Labour, when an election is imminent, and without even putting the project out to tender?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, the building of this pavilion, which will look like a waka, will be tendered.
Overseas Investment Rules Review—Sale of Forestry Blocks
6. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: Does he still believe that following the Government’s review of the foreign investment rules that “New Zealanders are able to feel that those things that they think are important about New Zealand are … protected”; and what influence did the outcomes of that review have on the Overseas Investment Office’s decision to grant consent for Carter Holt Harvey to sell more than 17,000 hectares of central North Island forestry blocks to a company with ownership spread between 10 countries including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, and Liechtenstein?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes, I do stand by the comment, but I can confirm for the member that the changes the Government made in the overseas investment rules to implement the Government’s approach, as outlined in my comment, had no bearing on that particular case, and that is because the application for consent was received on 3 December 2010, and the new regulations came into force after 13 January 2011. So the application he refers to was approved under overseas investment rules put in place a few years ago by the previous Labour Government and Winston Peters.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What advice was received from central North Island iwi about the decision to sell off 18 North Island forestry blocks to a US-led applicant group?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government would not have sought advice from anyone in particular. Once an application is lodged the Overseas Investment Office deals with it consistent with the Overseas Investment Act and it makes a recommendation to the Minister. It is not a consultative process.
Hon David Parker: How many proposed sales of New Zealand rural land to foreign owners have been declined pursuant to the changes that he made to the overseas investment rules, which he said just then came in on 13 January 2011, noting that the likes of the Crafar farms were declined under pre-existing rules?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not aware of any applications that have reached the point where a decision is required under the new rules, but it is simply a matter of time before they are. My understanding is that overseas investors are taking note of the Government’s concerns about undue aggregation, and also a positive direction for them to have a New Zealand content to their proposals, which would make it easier to get approval.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What checks and balances are in place with American-style corporate investment applications to ensure that commercial exchange to a foreign owner does not erode our own local institutional, intellectual, social, and physical capital?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Those constraints are laid out in the Overseas Investment Act 2005, which was passed by the previous Government and Winston Peters. Since then the Government has made a couple of extra changes to the regulations that create higher hurdles in respect of rural land. Of course, the terms of that legislation are always open for debate, but we believe they strike about the right balance between protecting things that are valuable to New Zealanders and at the same time allowing the kind of overseas investment that helps to create new jobs and higher incomes in New Zealand.
South Canterbury Finance—Treasury Advice
7. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: to the Minister of Finance: Is it correct that Treasury was in the Prime Minister’s office “week after week, month after month” telling him South Canterbury Finance was going bankrupt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes, it is correct. Both the Prime Minister and I received regular updates from Treasury on South Canterbury Finance. The advice for some time was that the company was in difficulty and that there was only a slim chance that it could trade its way out of its difficulties, although for quite a long period that was always possible. In the event, it was not able to raise capital or trade its way out. South Canterbury Finance was placed in receivership in August 2010, and payments were made to deposit holders under the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme, which was implemented by the then Labour Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: After receiving these warnings, according to the Prime Minister, from the day he was elected, “week after week, month after month”, did the Government put South Canterbury Finance into statutory management by mid-2009 to insulate the taxpayer from risk; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The process for statutory management is a different one. It is done by a recommendation of the Securities Commission, and it did not make that recommendation. As a general point, because of the size of South Canterbury Finance and a belief that there was always a chance that it could trade its way through, the Government ensured that there was every opportunity for South Canterbury Finance to fix its own problems before there was a call on the taxpayer. As it has turned out, it appears that the company was in so much trouble even by early 2009 that whatever we did would not have made much difference.
Hon David Cunliffe: After receiving such warnings from the day he was elected, “week after week, month after month”, did the Government end the Crown guarantee to South Canterbury Finance to insulate the taxpayer from risk, or did it agree to renew the guarantee; if so, when?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: At all times South Canterbury Finance remained in compliance with the original deed of guarantee. The member will be familiar with that deed of guarantee, because it was his Government that drew it up. Actually, South Canterbury Finance was signed into that guarantee on the morning of the day the current Government was sworn in. So it was not a decision made by us; it was made by Treasury, and it was consistent with the scheme that that member put in place.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister whether he had made a decision to renew the company’s guarantee, and instead he answered that Treasury—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will remember what I said about members resuming their seats immediately. If that was all the member had asked in his question, his point of order would have been fine, but he preceded that part of the question with another part, and the Minister answered the other part of the question.
Jo Goodhew: My supplementary question to the Minister of Finance—
Hon David Cunliffe: A very nervous one.
Jo Goodhew: Not at all. What advice did the Government receive on options to recapitalise South Canterbury Finance and the impact these would have had on the taxpayer?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Both Treasury and their independent advisers dealt with a number of propositions over a period of time, and their advice was consistent—all propositions would have resulted in extra cost and risk to taxpayers, and none of them were recommended to the Government. Anyone who wants to check this out can look through the over 100 documents that have been published on the Treasury and Reserve Bank websites. I will take just one piece of advice from KordaMentha. It said: “SCF promotes the offer as crystallising the Crown’s loss.”—this is referring to one of the offers—“This is not correct. [The] proposal does however cap the Crown’s recoveries. In essence, the Crown carries the downside risk under this structure but has no ability to access any potential upside.” In short, the Government would have been mugs to accept any of the proposals that were put to it.
Hon David Cunliffe: What did he do to save taxpayers $1.2 billion when auditors Ernst and Young in April 2010, 6 months before South Canterbury Finance went under, stated that South Canterbury Finance’s directors’ assumptions “contained ‘uncertainties’ regarding the ‘adequacy of funding and liquidity; sufficiency of capital, and compliance with regulatory requirements’ in its trust deed and its trustee waivers.”, and did the Government renew the South Canterbury Finance guarantee after that warning?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is nothing in that that was news. A lot of it was known by mid-2009. I just want to remind the member that the guarantee he put in place did not guarantee the company; it guaranteed the depositors. It was a deposit guarantee scheme. The Government’s job, bearing in mind that we had an obligation of $1.6 billion to the depositors, was to give the company every opportunity to trade through in order to meet its obligations to depositors before taxpayers. If we had leapt in earlier, there would have been no opportunity for the company to fix its own problems.
Hon David Cunliffe: Will the Minister release in full the offer documents from Permanent Investments, Ngāi Tahu, and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, which were declined in September 2010; if not, how can he justify his claim that it was prudent to decline this offer, which would have limited taxpayer liability to around half a billion dollars instead of the $1.2 billion and climbing so far taken to book?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The reason the Government will not issue the full offer documents is because those offers are made under confidentiality agreements. If we release those documents, we will never be able to do business with anyone again. Secondly, the member is simply wrong about that proposition. The proposition was scrutinised by officials; his $500 million figure is wrong. Like other propositions, it was going to ensure that the buyers made money and the Crown took all the losses. KordaMentha would make the same conclusion about that proposition as other offers. That proposition meant downside for the Crown and no upside and should not be accepted.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Treasury document showing that as of 23 March 2010 Treasury’s estimate of liability in South Canterbury Finance was $696 million, a far cry—
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 David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Treasury document quantifying in February 2010 the South Canterbury Finance liability at $696 million, and showing the derivation of that amount.
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 David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Treasury document that sets out a number of resolution options for the Government, none of which conveyed an estimate of liability anywhere near the liability that has actually come to pass.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the date of that document?
Hon David Cunliffe: It is undated.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table an undated Treasury document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Treasury file note recounting a meeting that took place between Treasury and the Reserve Bank on 3 August 2010, which shows the debate on whether South Canterbury Finance should have been placed into statutory management.
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 David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Treasury report dated 3 August 2010 that updates the Minister on proposals made that would have limited the Crown’s liability to debt—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I said in answer to the question, all of these documents are available on the Treasury and Reserve Bank websites. Generally, you have drawn a bit of a line on tabling between those things that are readily publicly available, such as press clippings or items from Government websites, and those that are not. We could go through the whole hundred if the member wanted to table them, but they are all available on the websites.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a pretty sensible point the member makes. I mean, I am not to know whether documents are available on departmental websites when members seek to table them, but those who are particularly interested in following issues clearly are. I will seek the member’s guidance: if those documents are from the Treasury website, then I think we have taken sufficient time tabling them.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Under your ruling, earlier leave to table documents was put to the House; on some occasions members objected, and on some occasions they did not. I seek your advice: for those times where members did not object at the time, why would we be revisiting that—
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. My advice is very simple: members should use their discretion when seeking to take the time of the House to table documents. Had the member tabled one or two documents from a website there may have been no objection to it, but since he has taken considerable time of the House to table a number of documents available on the Treasury website, members are clearly not happy. I must say that as Speaker I am not happy about that, either, and that is why we will not consider any more documents from the Treasury website today.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If it were a question of timeliness, why did the Minister of Finance leap to his feet only after I had completed—
Mr SPEAKER: That is unnecessary. The House accepted in good faith the member seeking leave to table a number of documents. That went on for a considerable period of time, and I think he became unreasonable. If the documents were all unavailable to the public I would have no objection, but since they are readily available to the public I think we are taking unnecessarily time in the House.
Schools, Building Projects—Public-private Partnerships
8. ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Education: What reports has she received regarding the building of schools at Hobsonville Point?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education) : I am pleased to say that I have received a number of reports. These have included reports on the need for new schools at Hobsonville Point and a detailed business case for public-private partnerships. This has led the Government to decide that the two new schools at Hobsonville Point will be designed, built, and maintained under a public-private partnership. The new primary and secondary schools at Hobsonville Point, north-west of Auckland, subject to satisfactory bids, will be the first New Zealand schools built under a public-private partnership. The new primary school is scheduled to open at the start of 2013, and the secondary school is due to open at the start of 2014.
Allan Peachey: What are the main benefits of building these schools under a public-private partnership arrangement?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Although the financial savings in this case are expected to be relatively small, overseas experience shows that the appropriate use of public-private partnerships does deliver a range of wider benefits, including new design, financing, and maintenance techniques. The private sector partner will be responsible for that financing, and for building the property and maintaining it for 25 years of school operations. That means that schools and boards can focus more on teaching and learning, without the added responsibility of managing the property.
Allan Peachey: How will the public-private partnership arrangements work?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Very well. The land and school will still be owned by the Government, of course, and the board of trustees will remain wholly in charge of the governance and the day-to-day running of the school. But the private sector partner will develop the buildings and carry the risk for problems like leaky buildings. A single establishment board of trustees has been appointed to oversee and assist the process in setting up the new schools, and the board will be briefed on public-private partnerships and will work closely with the Ministry of Education throughout the process.
Sue Moroney: How much corporate profit will the Minister allow the private partner to make out of the taxpayer-funded Hobsonville schools, which are being built in the very area where the Prime Minister cancelled the building of State houses because he did not want them in his electorate?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Probably about the same amount they will get out of building them in the first place.
Oil Prices—Infrastructure Investment and Consumer Behaviour
9. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “[e]very day New Zealanders are making decisions to change their behaviour based on changes in the oil price”; if so, how will those behaviour changes be reflected in Government infrastructure investment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes; what we do know is that in response to price increases, fuel technologies continue to evolve. Vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient, as we see in modern diesel engines, the development of hybrid engines, and also more and more talk of electric cars emerging. I think that if fuel prices continue to rise, we will see a faster uptake of these technologies, and we will continue to see more of what is happening in Auckland now, where Auckland Transport needs to put on more buses to cater for the upsurge in demand for public transport, not all of which is on trains. Most of it is actually on buses, which need to use the roads.
Gareth Hughes: What choices does a shift worker living in Flat Bush, Manukau have, with 91 octane petrol at $2.19 a litre, to avoid those high oil prices, when there is no public transport and that person cannot afford a new hybrid electric car?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is the opportunity that Auckland has, now that it has a unified council—to rethink its transport services and its public transport services, so it can meet the needs of the increasing number of Aucklanders who want to use public transport. That growth is most likely to be strongest in buses, and buses need roads that are not congested. If we can deliver an efficient highway network, I am sure we will see a stronger uptake of public transport, particularly if fuel prices keep rising.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister agree with Dr Stephen Rainbow from the Auckland Transport Agency, who said bus congestion is a problem in downtown Auckland right now, and “we are not going to resolve that until the central city rail loop is completed.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, not necessarily. All sorts of benefits are claimed for the central business district rail loop. We are going through a considered and hard-headed process of analysis with the city council, to make sure that the considerable expenditure Aucklanders will need to make in the loop will yield the benefits that are claimed.
Gareth Hughes: How will there be enough buses and trains to meet the huge and growing demand, when the Government has effectively capped transport funding for public transport services over the next decade?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The figures I have seen show that this Government is spending more money on public transport than any Government has ever spent. We have spent quite a bit of time on reorganising the funding and governance arrangements so that there is clear accountability, full transparency in relation to the funding, and strong incentives for improved performance in public transport. So although we have a big roading investment, we see that as being complementary to our public transport policy, and public transport policy has never been in better shape.
Gareth Hughes: Given that petrol is now the most expensive it has ever been in our country’s history, what choices do people actually have, when buses and trains are overcrowded and the Government is spending $10 billion on more motorways that people cannot afford to drive on?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I agree with the member that ideally our public transport system would be running with sufficient capacity to enable people to have reasonable choice about whether they use a private car or public transport. I imagine that Auckland Transport right now is rethinking how to expand capacity to cater for the increased demand. However, I do not think any increase in demand that I can imagine will have most people giving away the opportunity of having their own car, and the freedom and mobility that that gives them. With that in mind, the Government will continue to invest in a comprehensive roading network in Auckland.
Gareth Hughes: Given that we now have the most expensive petrol in New Zealand’s history, what choice does, say, a Gisborne-based logging company have to avoid high oil prices in truck transport and still get the logs to market, when the State-owned railway company is potentially closing the local railway line?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The practicality is that even if the railway line was open, or even if it was carrying a lot of logs, companies would still need trucks to get the logs to the railway, and then to get them off the railway and into the port. The fact is that logging operators, whether they like it or not, will have to make the same choices as anyone else—that is, if they can find more fuel-efficient trucks and make the logistics of shifting the logs more efficient, then they will be able to reduce their fuel consumption. I am quite sure most logging operators are thinking that through right now, precisely because fuel prices are so high, as the member said.
Gareth Hughes: In the upcoming Budget will the Government change its transport funding and switch to projects that reduce our reliance on expensive oil, and will it plan for more buses and trains that New Zealanders desperately want to take now, instead of wasting $10 billion on more motorways that they cannot even afford to drive on?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the difference of opinion here is not so much about the effect of high fuel prices. High fuel prices are going to force people to make different choices about their transport, whether it is to use more-efficient fossil-fuelled transport or public transport. The difference is that we do not see public transport and building roads as being mutually exclusive. We are doing both. We are doing both well. We can argue about whether the level of investment should be higher than it is, but I have to say the level of investment in both is higher than it has ever been in New Zealand, because we believe efficient infrastructure is important in terms of having a productive economy, more jobs, and higher incomes.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table an excerpt from a Cabinet paper by the transport Minister Steven Joyce, which says he effectively capped the funding available for public transport services in 2009.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the date of this Cabinet paper?
Gareth Hughes: It is November 2010.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document from a Cabinet paper. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Pike River Mine Tragedy—Royal Commission of Inquiry
10. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement on the Pike River royal commission of inquiry that “we are taking this inquiry absolutely seriously, we are determined to get answers for those families, and we will leave no stone unturned”?
Hon Damien O’Connor: Will he be satisfied that he has fulfilled his promise that “we will leave no stone unturned” if the company that planned, built, and operated the mine is unable to fully participate in the royal commission of inquiry; if not, what action will he take to ensure the company can participate?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are a couple of points. Firstly, the company does not need lawyers to fully participate in the royal commission of inquiry—it is not an adversarial court, nor is anyone actually on trial. In relation to the company and the formal request it made yesterday to fund legal representation, the Government is unlikely to respond positively towards that request, because it is our view that the company already has resources to pay for its own legal representation. On the best information we have, it has about $5 million left in the bank.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the Prime Minister seriously consider that the statement by the receivers and the company that they do not have the ability to fund and finance the proper information to be delivered is a reasonable excuse; and why does he not do something about it now?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is not an excuse; it is a statement of fact that a lawyer is not required to participate in the royal commission of inquiry. It is also true in our view, unless proven otherwise, that the company has about $5 million in resources.
Benefits and Superannuation—1 April Changes
11. CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How have the 1 April changes provided greater certainty to those receiving benefits and New Zealand Superannuation?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : This Government has locked the annual general adjustment into legislation to give those who rely on benefits and superannuation real certainty. Last week all main benefits increased by 3.75 percent, to reflect the increases in the CPI.
Chester Borrows: Has there been any increase to assistance for people caring for children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, the annual increase was to foster care allowances as well and that was also locked into legislation. Assistance has also increased for the 11,500 people caring for children and receiving the unsupported child benefit.
Hon Annette King: If older New Zealanders are feeling more certain about their future after the 1 April change, why is Grey Power in its latest magazine saying: “The Government is more interested in its big dividends from power companies than the health and welfare of its citizens, many who cannot afford to turn heaters on in the winter. There are more and more people in poverty.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: When it comes to superannuitants this Government is very proud of the differences we have made to money in their pockets. Since October 2008 the married rate of New Zealand superannuation has increased from $439.80 per person a fortnight to $522.96—an increase of $83.16, or 18 percent.
Hon Annette King: I would like to table the Grey Power newsletter, which is not available to everyone, in order that people might like to see it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Are you a qualified member?
Hon Annette King: You are, though.
Mr SPEAKER: I say both to the Hon Dr Nick Smith and to the Hon Annette King that I was on my feet. I accept, though, that the first fault was with the Hon Dr Nick Smith. We do not need to table newsletters that are commonly available for people.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Skills Shortages
12. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements made during question No. 6 on 15 March 2011?
Jacinda Ardern: What advice has he and Cabinet received on how many apprentices and industry trainees are required to meet New Zealand’s existing and projected skills shortage, including the demands of the leaking building situation and the Christchurch rebuild?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that detail to hand, and I suggest to the member that she puts down a written question to the relevant Ministers. But I can say that the Government has been doing a lot of work with both the Canterbury Development Corporation, the Industry Training Organisation, polytechs, and other relevant organisations to map the upcoming skills needed for the Canterbury region. One thing we can say is that the picture is still developing but so far it looks like the residential rebuild alone will require up to 12,500 full-time workers.
Jacinda Ardern: Why has the Government not required that bids to rebuild up to 10,000 homes in Christchurch include a commitment to take on apprentices?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, those bids have not been taken yet. Many people do not even know whether their own home will have to be rebuilt or whether a new home will be built. We do not have those conditions on new homes that are built in the rest of the country.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specific to the tender requirements the Government has already issued and asked why they did not include—
Mr SPEAKER: The member should reflect on the question asked. She asked the Prime Minister why the Government was doing certain things and the Prime Minister gave an explanation. It might not be the answer that member actually wanted, but it was still a perfectly reasonable answer to the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know we are not meant to litigate answers but this is black and white. It is about a tender that has been issued, and the Prime Minister said it had not been issued.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker is not in a position to know whether an answer a Minister has given is correct. That is not the issue. The issue is whether the question was answered. More supplementary questions are available for the member to pursue it. The member has a couple of further supplementary questions to pursue the issue, and that is the way it should be done—not by way of point of order.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My apologies. I was confused by the question. I thought the member was asking about the 10,000 homes we thought might need to be demolished, not the temporary homes. The answer is that I do not have those contract details to hand. I am not sure of the answer, but I will look into it for the member.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he agree with Registered Master Builders Federation of New Zealand chief executive, Warwick Quinn, who said there would not be enough builders in the coming years to meet demand and that “We may have to look at bringing tradesmen over from China, Philippines or Malaysia”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We have had an indication that there is likely to be a shortage in occupations such as concreters, carpenters, and joiners. It is far too early to know whether that statement is right. The Government is working on a number of initiatives in terms of training new people. I also know that there are a lot of full-time workers in the Canterbury region who could actually work more hours; they have been working reduced hours. We know that there are other workers from around New Zealand. So I think it is a bit too early to know the answer to that statement.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) : I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business. There could not be a greater contrast, in these very difficult times, between the positive and strong leadership from John Key and the desperate, the divided, and the dysfunctional Labour Party.
Members opposite just do not seem to get it that here we are facing the worst global downturn since the Great Depression and the biggest natural disaster this country has faced in half a century, as well as the awful mining tragedy at the Pike River mine. Now, more than at any time, we need strong, disciplined, and focused leadership. The Labour Party has proved in the last fortnight that it cannot manage itself, let alone govern this country. Let us look at the contrast.
Over the adjournment period the Prime Minister announced business and employment assistance for Christchurch. The Minister of Finance, Bill English, announced the delivery of more efficient and better public services. Gerry Brownlee announced decisions about Christchurch and the Government’s recovery plans for that city. In just 6 weeks, exactly today, since that massive quake struck Christchurch this Government has been focused on what matters: getting people’s water back on, which is now at 100 percent; getting people’s houses connected back on the electricity, which is now up to 99 percent; getting thousands of new heating systems so that people will be warm for winter; Anne Tolley is working on getting our schools up and running, and children back to school; and getting the sewerage fixed, which is back up now to 94 percent. It has been a sterling effort. I am proud of this Government and I am proud of those people doing the hard yards in Christchurch getting that city rebuilt. I compare the progress with cities like Kobe and San Francisco, and I say that we compare very well in the progress that we have made in just 6 weeks.
I note that there has been a new word added to New Zealand’s vocabulary—munted. I think it is because the people of Christchurch are too polite to use the f word when they describe buildings that have been wrecked. “Munted” is the perfect word to describe the Labour Party. Over the adjournment Labour has been dysfunctional, it has been divided, and it has been distracted. We have seen the Labour Party president attack the leader. We have seen MPs and candidates see that Goff just does not cut the mustard and has not managed things properly. We have seen torch-bearers for the left describing the Leader of the Opposition as the walking wounded and a Clayton’s leader.
It has become worse this week with Labour manipulating its party list. What does that say about the standard of the list that Labour does not want the next five people on the list back in Parliament, or are things so bad that those former Labour members do not want to be associated with the Labour caucus opposite? What is going on in respect of MMP is underhand, it is a rort, and it makes a farce of MMP. If Labour has so little confidence in its list, perhaps it should let those slots go to parties in this Parliament that have competent, fresh, and talented people who want to make a contribution to this Parliament. On the National list we have at least a dozen who would be up to the task of making a contribution.
Then we had the ridiculous spectacle of David Cunliffe demanding the resignation of the Minister of Finance over finance company collapses and the cost of the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme. We would think these problems were of Mr English’s making. I remind members opposite that 36 finance companies had gone to the wall even before we came into Government. I commend Bill English and Simon Power for doing the hard yards without focusing on blaming the previous Labour Government.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) : How fascinating that the member who has just resumed his seat, Nick Smith, spent his whole time talking about the Labour Party, never once defending the Government’s record on the economy, when we have 180,000 people unemployed. National’s mishandling of the South Canterbury Finance collapse is a disaster of epic proportions, and New Zealand community assets will be flogged off to pay for it. Bill English and his mates turned down recapitalisation offers, which, on Treasury’s own documents, would have limited the liability to around $500 million. The actual tab is $1.2 billion, and rising.
What company’s chief financial officer would have made a $700 million cock-up and kept his job? He has bet the company, he has beggared a whole year’s Budget round, and he is still sitting there and blaming the Labour Party. He is blaming the Labour Party despite the fact that he signed the thing in and he extended it in the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme even though John Key says he had Treasury in his office week after week, month after month, since the day he was elected, telling him that South Canterbury Finance was a dog. But he rolled it over again in the deposit guarantee scheme.
We know that Fran O’Sullivan is no apologist for the Labour Party, but she says it is risible that the Government did not simply pull the plug when the finance company’s auditor, Ernst and Young, ran the ruler over it. I refer to her article in the New Zealand Herald of 1 September. She said: “Instead, South Canterbury became the beneficiary of an extended government guarantee—extraordinary given that KordaMentha had been advising the Government on South Canterbury since mid-2009.” She says that the Government could have mitigated the Crown’s overall exposure by putting South Canterbury Finance into statutory management months ago.
And we would add that the Government could have limited it later if it had accepted one of a number of bids for recapitalisation. Now, the Government may have been worried about an Australian merchant bank owning part of it—why, I do not know; it is supposed to be trans-Tasman friendly—but it cannot possibly object to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund or Ngāi Tahu buying a slice, because they are not going anywhere. They were prepared to share the risk, but Bill English wanted all the risk for the taxpayer. Now the Government is sucking on a $1.2 billion kumara because it had pride and misjudgment, and it came before a big, big fall.
I want to know how bad those members’ mathematics is, and why, but I also want to know what pressures were brought to bear on the Government for that colossal cock-up. I suspect that there were various constituencies in members’ ears asking “What about our debt?”. Why was it that when the recapitalisation discussions were going on, on 31 August, the Government insisted the company be thrown into receivership to wipe out all the equity holders but was happy to extend the debt guarantee so that every deposit holder did very well—and some did extremely well, especially some of the institutional senior debt holders. They made a killing at the taxpayers’ expense while mum and dad Kiwi are picking up the tab and now are faced with the prospect of privatisation to fill in the hole.
People out there might ask: “Is this a big problem, really? How big is this?”. Well, the difference between what the Government thought it was going to pay and what it has ended up paying is, wait for it, a whole year’s Budget round of new money. Seven hundred million dollars is the amount that John Key just announced he was cutting out of the Budget, to make the blackest zero Budget in decades, and $700 million, ironically, is the amount it has lost so far, over and above Treasury’s own estimates of its liability—it is a $700 million mistake. Who else survives a $700 million mistake in the real world? People get sacked for less than that. Why is Bill English still sitting there? Jami-Lee Ross would have been sacked from the council if he had made a $700 million mistake—they would not have let him near a $700 million cheque.
David Shearer: Just as well.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Just as well! Can members imagine Mr Quinn making a $700 million mistake? Well, I can, but I cannot imagine him having the cheque book. Bill English has made a $700 million mistake. Has John Key defended him?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: He’s fixing up your mess!
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Oh, our mess? Who signed it in? There was a bipartisan agreement on the deposit scheme, but National signed it in.
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : Goodness me! What a lot of nonsense from the member opposite, David Cunliffe. What I find more interesting is seeing who got to lead the general debate for the Opposition this week, after weeks of speculation about leadership. David Parker had a half-page write-up in the New Zealand Herald at the weekend, and there was one column for David Cunliffe on page 3—one paragraph—and a big half-page on that other chap from Wellington—
Hon Paula Bennett: Grant Robertson.
Hon TONY RYALL: There were three lines for David Cunliffe at the bottom of an article in the fourth section—the business section. What has been embarrassing for his leadership potential was his ridiculous call yesterday for Bill English to resign. David Cunliffe was pressured a bit and he then called for the whole Government to resign. Simon Mercep says David Cunliffe is a man who can cope under pressure! David Cunliffe got pushed on from calling for Bill English to resign to calling for the whole Government to resign. That indicates the real level of dysfunction in the Labour Party and how the members are managing the party’s own internal problems.
We have seen it all before. I have lived it many times when I was in Opposition. I know exactly the dynamic that is going on in Labour now. As there are uninspired beat-ups on potential leadership candidates, those who have seen themselves as the heir apparent for the last 2 years can see the poisoned chalice slipping further and further from their grip. That explains so much of Mr Cunliffe’s quite bizarre behaviour in the last while.
It is not just Mr Cunliffe; Phil Goff joined in the story that the whole Government should resign and that we should have a snap election. Well, “Make my day!” was the message from members on this side of the House. Phil Goff quickly reeled himself back in.
On Monday night Labour launched its big campaign to stop asset sales in New Zealand. It was about 7 p.m. after the news cycle and hardly anyone was at the meeting. Labour wants to stop the asset sales. The reason people were not there is that Phil Goff and Annette King were in a Government that sold $9.5 billion of public assets. Phil Goff was first up to sell New Zealand Steel, Petrocorp, and the Health Computing Services in 1988. Then Annette King and Phil Goff while in Government sold DFC New Zealand. Do members remember that? Then Phil Goff and Annette King sold New Zealand Post. Do members remember when the Crown owned New Zealand Post, over 20-something years ago? Well, Phil Goff and Annette King sold it. Then they sold the Shipping Corporation of New Zealand and Air New Zealand. Then they sold huge amounts of Landcorp and, goodness gracious, they sold the Rural Bank. Phil Goff and Annette King then sold the Government Printing Office and the National Film Unit, and then they sold State Insurance—
Chris Tremain: What, 51 percent or—?
Hon TONY RYALL: No, they sold the whole lot—$735 million. They sold the Tourist Hotel Corporation. Then Annette King and Phil Goff sold the New Zealand Liquid Fuel Investment and Māui Gas for $350 million. Then they sold Telecom.
Phil Goff does not ever want this Government to sell a quarter of anything, but he was happy to sell all of Telecom to majority foreign owners for $4.25 billion. Then only a few weeks before the election, he was prepared to sell the forestry cutting rights for just short of a billion dollars.
It is little wonder that no one can take that voice of the past seriously when he and his deputy were in a Government 20-something years ago that sold $9.5 billion worth of public assets. Labour members are grasping for any issue to try to cover up Labour’s lack of policy, lack of cohesion, and lack of commitment to dealing with the issues that really matter to New Zealanders.
We have not seen anyone from the party opposite really focusing on what matters to New Zealanders, which is getting the cost of running their businesses down and job creation.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : Tony Ryall was the second speaker from National we have heard in the general debate, and neither of them referred to their management—or, as we call it, mismanagement—of the economy, because the news is so bad. The National Government was elected on the promise to close the wage gap with Australia, but it is growing. The National Government was elected on the promise of creating a stronger and brighter future for New Zealand, but it has become dimmer. The National Government was elected on the promise to cause a step change in the New Zealand economy, but we are in a second recession, or close to that. The National Government is so fixated on Labour that it does not get on and manage the economy as it ought to.
In the face of criticism that the National Government has fiddled while the economy has burnt, National has now come back with a plan to sell part of the State-owned enterprises, particularly part of the electricity-related State-owned enterprises. We heard the list from Tony Ryall, and he still does not get it. The sale of Government-owned infrastructure assets with monopoly characteristics results in overseas ownership. The profits flow offshore, and there are increased prices to the cost of consumers while the infrastructure is run down. That was the experience with Telecom and New Zealand Rail, and that will be the experience in respect of the electricity companies if the Government sells them. They are two sides of the same coin. If the Government strengthens the private sector ethic in respect of those State-owned enterprises, they will both cut costs and increase prices to the maximum.
We know that the electricity market is uncompetitive. There were $4.3 billion of excess profits stripped out of it. The Commerce Commission found that out just after Labour left office, when the commission reported back on the inquiry we had started. Since then the Government has done nothing, and prices continue to go up. We have a flat economy. We have flat demand for electricity, yet dividends go up and prices continue to go up. The sale of electricity State-owned enterprise interests will put up electricity prices.
It is fair to question the economic mismanagement by the Government. The latest example we have is South Canterbury Finance. Yes, it came into the guarantee scheme. No one is complaining that it came into the guarantee scheme.
Paul Quinn: You put it there.
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, we did not. But then the liabilities grew by hundreds of millions of dollars, because the Government let that risk grow, despite the fact that it admits that it was warned by KordaMentha and others that the liabilities were growing and South Canterbury Finance was being mismanaged. Then when the issue came to a head, the Government had the ability to make the losses lower than they have been. It could have put South Canterbury Finance into statutory management. Sandy Maier, who did that for DFC, was there to manage it. He could have done it, as he did for DFC. Fran O’Sullivan has made that point, and it is fair. Further than that, the Government could have had the liabilities capped at about $500 million by accepting the offer from third parties to recapitalise South Canterbury Finance. But no, Bill English and John Key knew better than to do that.
What has been the outcome? It is $1.2 billion of losses, instead of $500 million of losses. There should have been only $300 million of losses, but the Government let the liability grow from the time that South Canterbury Finance came into the guarantee scheme until it went broke. Even putting that aside, the Government caused an additional $500 million worth of losses.
This Government has no plan. That is why we have an economic malaise. That is why we have unemployment going up. That is why we have a $16 billion deficit, which is equivalent to 9 percent of GDP. The Government should not blame the deficit on the Christchurch earthquake. The Treasury re-estimation of the future economic progress of this country shows that more than half of the problems and deterioration—
Hon David Cunliffe: Two-thirds.
Hon DAVID PARKER: My colleague says it is two-thirds—arise from factors other than the earthquake. The earthquake is cover for the Government to blame everything on that. The global financial crisis is also blamed. Other countries like the USA and the United Kingdom are popping out of the recession when New Zealand is going back into a second one, or is so close to doing it that it does not matter. We are in an economic malaise because the Government does not have a plan for the country. It knows about only one thing: tax cuts. Economic policy should be much broader than just tax cuts. Even in respect of the tax cuts, the Government got it wrong, because so much was directed to the same small proportion of our population who will get the money if they sell the State-owned enterprise shares.
Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) : I begin by expressing my regret at the circumstances that led to the resignation earlier today of the Hon Darren Hughes as a member of Parliament, and wishing him well for his future.
I feel a little bit like the gap between the two opposing forces at this stage, because I do not want to join the debate that has been taking place; I want to talk instead about a significant announcement made earlier today that will have vast positive implications for the recreational hunting sector in New Zealand. I want to talk in particular about the decision to establish a new Game Animal Council as a statutory body. The idea was borne out of two confidence and supply agreements by United Future with both the previous Labour Government and the current National Government, and is the end of a long progression of events that have had a very positive outcome. I acknowledge at the outset the four Ministers of Conservation under both Governments, and a variety of other people who have played a role in bringing things to the stage they are today—in particular, the Hon Margaret Austin, who chaired the original consultation panel established in 2006, for the work she did, and Garry Ottmann, who chaired the establishment committee that was set up after the 2008 election to oversee the development of the council.
We have now probably the most significant development for recreational hunting in New Zealand since the passage of the Wild Animal Control Act over 30 years ago. I have had some people say to me that the completion of this exercise is really the culmination of work that was under way at the time that Fish and Game was established as a statutory body in 1990. We will now see a process whereby deer, chamois, tahr, and pigs will be taken out of the status of being pests, and treated as game animals, and they will therefore be able to come within the ambit of the Game Animal Council and managed as such. The good news is that access to the game animal resource will remain free for all New Zealand hunters. We will finance the arrangement by a levy on the trophies taken by overseas hunters coming to this country, plus a very small Government contribution.
This is a win-win, because it enables the growing hunting sector—the commercial hunting sector, recreational hunting sector, and those who come from overseas—to enjoy what they do best to therefore help manage the resource, which in some people’s eyes does have a pest status. It is also good news for our environment. I welcome the support we have received already for this initiative from a number of organisations that have an interest in this area. I am very disappointed that the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society has chosen to take a negative and somewhat inaccurate view of things. This is not about charging New Zealand hunters for accessing a resource they have always enjoyed; in fact, the price will be borne by offshore hunters who come to this country.
It is about a better way of managing a resource. It is a better way of ensuring that those New Zealanders who like to go out and enjoy the great outdoors and hunt those animals are able to do so in better surroundings. We recognise that a significant number of New Zealanders are in that category. The original panel received over 4,500 submissions arguing for this very proposition. All the consultations, discussions, and meetings that have been held up and down the country with interested parties during the establishment committee process have shown very strong support for the initiative.
Today is the culmination of a process that has been under way for a very long time. It marks a new dawn for those who enjoy hunting. It is part of the New Zealand heritage for many New Zealanders, and it will be welcomed up and down New Zealand. Once and for all, it ensures that the interests of the recreational hunting sector and the burgeoning commercial hunting role, plus some of the more exclusive lodges, will get a say in the policy and management of the resources, which they have always argued for. This will lead to better information and a much safer environment all round, and it will also ensure we are able to deal with the fundamental problems that have led us for so long to treat those animals as pests.
Perhaps in an oasis of calm in the political storm around us, it is timely to take the opportunity today to celebrate this positive initiative, to acknowledge the work of those who have brought it about, and to wish the council well for its future.
Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) : It is very important that when a world event comes to Aotearoa all dimensions of our Aotearoa identity are put on show, so I have no doubt in my mind that the current Minister of Māori Affairs, a very important figure in te Ao Māori, means well when he seeks to project the identity of the people for whom he has, if not a literal, then a figurative, responsibility through the political process. As much as it pains us to be accused of making a mockery of a small hapū in Ngāti Whātua, the notion that a plastic waka—a “Tupperwaka”—is a suitable vessel to reflect the aspirations, the dreams, of day-to-day Māori families living in Auckland, and throughout New Zealand, cannot go unchallenged. It may come to pass that the notion of a “Tupperwaka” is a Walt Disney creation. I have listened to “Goofy” over there, and to “Mickey Mouse”, straight out of Disneyland; we have learnt to tolerate those contributions. I will not debate who National believes is “Goofy” or “Mickey Mouse”. Its members will make that decision when they make up their list. But I can tell the House that a few of the people on that list will be on the plastic fantastic out of this joint, because they will no longer have a future amongst that particular waka.
I need to come back to what is really serious about this debate: Māori unemployment is out of control. Māori achievement, in terms of our young men and women in Tāmaki-makau-rau, is worsening by the year. The sense of hopelessness and depression amongst ordinary families as they struggle to pay their bills is deteriorating. But what do we hear as to how those people might be uplifted through the World Cup experience? We hear that $2 million will be used to make a “Tupperwaka”, and that it is likely to be then dismantled or destroyed after it has been used for 17 days. Well, I know that the former Minister of Māori Affairs and his friends cannot actually divide 17 into 2 million, but it adds up to a substantial amount of money each day for a pitifully low return, and it is nothing to do with what young people want to show on behalf of their country. What about the thousands of artisans, and the thousands of people doing voluntary work or lowly paid work in art, culture, recreation, and entertainment? Not a sliver of opportunity has been given to them to participate in a non-contestable process. No, they will be served up this garish image, as if somehow all we can develop for Aotearoa, in order to project ourselves to the rest of the world and to introduce some indigeneity into that projection, is a plastic, ill-conceived, hastily executed waka.
This diminishes the concept of waka. In the north, we have the true tohunga who has revived waka, Hector Busby. Was he given the opportunity? Were his people given the opportunity to participate? We could actually have had something that reflected authenticity.
Paul Quinn: You’ve got my waka—Mātaatua. Bring it back!
Hon SHANE JONES: I realise that upon hearing the word “authenticity” that man breaks out in boils; those boils are in a very, very large mouth. It is not my problem that those members do not care about authenticity and identity. Those members belong to the National Party yet they try to pretend they are Māori, so they have a deep, DNA-based problem, anyhow.
No, it is a reasonable criticism to make. At a time when thousands of garden-variety Māori families are struggling, all they can hear about from the Minister of Māori Affairs is a plastic waka and a Clayton’s seabed and foreshore. In addition to that, even if they have not got enough kai on their table in Tāmaki-makau-rau, they can look at the Auckland Harbour Bridge on one day per year and see a flag fluttering.
These are trinkets; these are empty symbols. These are not the sentiments of the finer qualities that New Zealanders should be proudly projecting to the rest of the world. Only Hosea Gear and Piri Weepu being in the All Blacks will show there is Māori pride in the World Cup. Kia ora tātou.
Hon TAU HENARE (National) : Anybody who clapped for that speech from Shane Jones has to be off the planet. After the troubles Labour has gone through in the last week, we would have expected the leader and deputy leader to be on their game, up front in the general debate. But who do we have? First of all, we had the Hon David Cunliffe, and we have to be very careful about how we spell that. Then we had David Parker, the quiet one. I remember when I was a lad, listening to the wireless on a Sunday morning, and hearing the story about quiet ones. Then we had Shane Jones. I always thought Shane Jones would make a great leader of the Labour Party. I asked myself whether we really want Phil Goff to go or whether we want some new leader. I thought to myself that it would be a scary thing to have a new leader going into an election. We would not know who we would have. Well, I tell members this: bring it on. Let us have Shane Jones, let us have David Parker, and let us have Mr Cunliffe from New Lynn, even though he lives in Westmere, that real posh place of Auckland.
I want to go even further. I want to go even further, and it is about the waka. It is about contemporary art, not the sort of art that we all know Mr Jones likes to watch. It is not that sort of contemporary art. It takes leadership to see beyond the sort of stuff we are hearing from Shane Jones—actually, the “Three Amigos”. Those members are the “Three Amigos”. When I think of the contemporary art in this country, I think of guys like Shane Cotton and I think of guys like Parekōwhai, who are brilliant artists. Then I hear from Shane Jones, who wants to go backwards instead of going forwards. I tell members something that we should all put out: come the Rugby World Cup, if we ever see Shane Jones or any one of the Labour caucus having a free beer inside that really nice waka, well, I will be damned; I will come straight back here and tell the nation that they are a pack of hypocrites—
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Having suffered an invitation to sit before for using the word “hypocrite”, I ask you to please invite the member to withdraw that term. There was nothing hypocritical about what I said, and I will be there as a Golden Oldies Rugby Festival player.
Mr SPEAKER: I was listening very carefully to what the member was saying. He did not actually call anyone a hypocrite; he said that if—if—certain members were to have a drink in this waka, he would come back down here and accuse them of being hypocrites. He has not done that, so I cannot really call him to order. He did not accuse anyone in this House of being a hypocrite.
Hon TAU HENARE: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that. I say that I will come back here and maybe I will not use the word “hypocrite”, because that might be a bit too harsh, but I will certainly tell the nation what these guys got up to. They have not supported anything to do with the Rugby World Cup. This is the one opportunity this year, in a year of heartache, that we have to celebrate this nation, and all we hear from the “Three Amigos”—the “Three Amigos”—is nothing short of a traitorous act on our nation. We should be proud of our nation. We should be proud of our culture. I apologise if I have ruffled anybody’s feathers—
Hon Rick Barker: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think I need any assistance. Members must not accuse another member of being traitorous. On this occasion I think the member has gone too far. I ask him to withdraw that comment.
Hon TAU HENARE: I withdraw and apologise. It is not on. Maybe members opposite would have got to their feet earlier if I had not helped them. It is like this: support our nation, support the Rugby World Cup, and support our people. This is about all of us in this country—Māori, Pacific Island, Pākehā, you name it, whatever we have in us.
Hon Maurice Williamson: We’re all in the same boat.
Hon TAU HENARE: We are all in the same waka. I realise why some members across the way do not want to be part of the game, why they do not want to play the game, but it is time for us to get on board with each other and play the game together.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : There is no justification for the Intelligence and Security Committee to hold secret hearings on the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill. The whole process around this bill has been a mockery of open government. The first bit of the process was similar to many bills. On 18 December a small advert was put in the newspaper public notices calling for submissions by 18 February. But most people do not follow the public notices every day. They rely on finding out from the parliamentary Internet what is happening to bills and when submissions are due. However, nothing was on the parliamentary Internet. Some very frustrated people phoned me and I informed them that they could make submissions by 18 February. I presume some did, but when I asked today who had submitted, I was told by the committee that “This is a secret.”
There is no need for this secrecy, and it departs from the normal practice of select committees, which is for the media to be notified which submissions are coming up the next day so that they can plan which sessions to attend, along with the general public. Of course, this time nobody other than the submitter will be allowed to attend, and even the submitter is not allowed to know who else has submitted on the bill. If submitters want their submission known, they have to go to the effort of promoting it to the media, as the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions did today and as I will also be doing. However, as anyone who has ever attended a select committee knows, a lot of the value in submissions lies in the exchanges between the submitter and committee members, where the submitter’s points are elucidated and are often taken by the committee, which is convinced to amend the bill accordingly.
When asked to provide a reason why the hearings were to be in secret, John Key said yesterday: “Bluntly the reason for it is there are holes in the current legislation—now we can have that debate in the public about what those holes are or we can take submissions from people and we can fix them.” The obvious answer is to ask why not do both—have a public debate and have hearings, which should be in public—or is the Prime Minister advancing some strange argument that there is currently some limitation on the SIS powers that is not publicly known, and that if this became known in committee hearings, terrorists might use the knowledge of those limitations to escape detection between now and the third reading of this bill in Parliament? It all sounds weird, but this whole process of avoiding public hearings is very weird.
In my opinion the real reason is that the SIS and the Minister in charge want to avoid any serious public scrutiny of SIS activities and the laws that govern their operation, and any real debate in Parliament. The Intelligence and Security Committee can get away with this because it is not a select committee of this Parliament but a statutory committee made up of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and their appointees. There is no evidence that the committee’s scrutiny of the SIS is anything but perfunctory. Its report on last year’s SIS financial review was simply that it had no matters to bring to the attention of the House.
The committee, under its legislation, is quite capable of meeting in public by agreement amongst its members, as it certainly should in this case. By imposing secrecy on the hearing of submissions on the bill, the committee is reinforcing the major point in the Green Party’s submission that we should not be giving the SIS more powers to intrude into the private lives of citizens when it is such an unaccountable organisation in virtually every respect. This contrasts with the police—the agency responsible for detecting all kinds of crime, including politically motivated crime. We would not dream of holding all the hearings on a police amendment bill in secret. This raises the question of why we need the SIS when the police are quite capable of catching terrorists, saboteurs, or anyone who might be a danger to our national security. The police are much more accountable to Parliament and the people.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the next member, I say to members that during the general debate, to have a member to read a speech word for word is somewhat troubling. I do not want to prevent members from doing it, but this is the general debate and the contribution was not that technical. I am sure that a very experienced member like Mr Locke does not really need to read it word for word.
AARON GILMORE (National) : I want to focus on a few things that matter. We have lost a lot following two major earthquakes—homes and businesses—people have lost family members, and many things have occurred. Across my city relationships have been ruined and people have lost loved ones. The most horrific things I want to talk about are the things that matter. My uncle not only lost his home, his business, and members of his own family but also saw three people killed in front of him. For him the earthquakes we have gone through have been horrific. We have broken water supplies, broken sewer pipes, and rather dodgy electricity. We have had some schools destroyed, as well. But in all that adversity that Cantabrians have seen, there have been some funny things. Cantabrians have comedy in adversity. I must admit that one of the great things I have seen is a video clip on YouTube called “There is a fraction too much liquefaction”. I encourage as many members as possible to see that video clip and the comedy that exists in times like this, which helps some people get through.
The people of Canterbury are strong, resilient, and optimistic. Yes, about 5 percent of Cantabrians have decided to leave the city and they may not come back for some time. There may be about 15,000 or 20,000 people in that situation. About 40,000 people went away for 2 to 4 weeks and have come back to the city. Some may not be able to return safely to their homes. My city is broken but not beaten. Parts of it are even munted. “Munted” is a great new term, and the Hon Nick Smith referred to it earlier. There are two different flavours of “munted”—there is “munted” and “mega-munted”. “Munted” is a great word that is often used in Christchurch to describe things that are so broken they cannot be fixed. I am told that “munted” is officially in the Oxford Dictionary and it will continue to be so. It will be referred to as a common phrase used in Canterbury. We have met some great people and personalities in relation to our earthquake. In particular, I refer to Mayor Bob Parker and his orange parka, which is now so famous it has its own Facebook page. This is another example of the differences that occur in Canterbury.
The Crusaders are back winning again. They are not playing in Christchurch yet but they are training there. Richie McCaw is back training again in Christchurch—a very good sign as we lead into the Rugby World Cup. Our professional netball team, the Tactix, are back, and they won their first game.
Todd McClay: Who’s going to win the World Cup?
AARON GILMORE: Of course we are going to win the World Cup. I can tell Mr McClay that as long as Mr McCaw is back and fit we will win the World Cup. For Cantabrians sport is an important thing. Some people say sport is a very important matter, but in Canterbury it is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that.
In other parts of Christchurch and in other parts of Canterbury there is a thing called quake normality. In the western suburbs of Christchurch, the bars, the restaurants, the garages, and the shops look like everything is back to normal again, but on my side of town, in the eastern suburbs, that is not so. Thousands of people have been busy working, putting in emergency power cables so we can have power for the winter, and fixing sewer lines and water pipes so we can drink the water and actually be able to flush our toilets at some stage in the near future.
I want to thank a few people. I thank the contractors, partly funded by the Government, who have fixed the road humps and the road bumps to help things get back to normal; the churches that have housed, counselled, and fed people; and the food banks that have given out thousands of food parcels. I want to make particular mention of one gentleman called Kerry Bensemann and 0800 Hungry. It is New Zealand’s largest food bank, whose own buildings have been destroyed in Wainoni, but which has given out over 6,000 food parcels in the space of the last month. I was blessed over those few weeks, with some colleagues of mine, to spend time handing out hundreds of those food parcels. To the consternation of the Labour Party, we do get out and work in food banks. I want to mention the Hon Rick Barker, in particular, who put aside political aspirations, I thought, and came to Christchurch and did some good work in my community. Although I was not quite sure what he was doing at the time, it turns out he was getting votes to be senior whip and it obviously was successful. I give thanks to the Salvation Army and to my senior whip, Chris Tremain, who despite turning up in Canterbury in Hawke’s Bay colours, black and white, which has to be seen as hostile, had the great pleasure of digging alongside me for a number of days, digging out Canterbury. I have now given him a Crusaders rugby jersey so he feels more at home and will be more welcome when he returns next time. I want to thank the builders who have been building chimneys and installing heat pumps, and the real army, which has given out 28,000 chemical toilets, including one to my own home, so people can have a functioning sewerage system.
During this time our Government has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in wage support, it has altered tax rules and benefit schemes, and it has improved and put in place an accommodation support package. We expect to spend billions of dollars over the next few years rebuilding Canterbury for the benefit of people. We have seen great support from the Government in terms of Mr Brownlee and his staff, who have been phenomenal as well, and in the next few weeks we will see the creation of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, which will rebuild Christchurch the way we want it to be. Thank you.
Hon HEATHER ROY (ACT) : The Alcohol Reform Bill is currently at the Justice and Electoral Committee. Submissions have been heard on the bill, and there is currently a hiatus. The public debate that was very vocal before the bill went to the select committee will soon be resumed, as the bill is due to be reported back on 11 May.
There are many issues with regard to this bill. It does not get the incentives in the right place, in my view, and I have been speaking about that for quite some time. If we believe for one moment that allocating to a dairy a certain amount of floor space for alcohol will change people’s drinking habits, then I think it is time to start at the start and completely rethink what the bill could realistically achieve. I do not think the bill even manages to identify the real issue that we have in New Zealand with alcohol, and that issue is, of course, binge drinking.
Much of the media focus on the bill before it went to the select committee was on the drinking age. As a result of that, much of the public focus has also been on that. Three options are likely to be put before this Parliament, and the age issue will, as is usual with alcohol issues, be a conscience vote. The first option is to leave the age where it is currently at, which is 18. I support that particular initiative. If we allow our young people to get married at 18, if we allow them to go off and fight in wars at 18, and if we allow them the great responsibility of voting at 18, then how on earth can we deny them the ability to have a drink at the age of 18?
Secondly, there will be those who want to raise the drinking age to 20. In fact, age is a complete red herring in this debate, and there are good arguments to have no drinking age at all. The debate will come down to whether the age should be 18 or 20, but we should consider this: there are respectable and responsible drinkers at age 18, and irresponsible drinkers at 18. The same applies at 20: there are responsible and irresponsible drinkers. The same applies at 30, 35, 60, 75, and, in fact, at 99, where we see people who have difficulties arising from the consumption of alcohol.
The third option is the split age: 18 years at pubs, and 20 years at off-licences. This option, really, is for those who want to have a bob each way, or who cannot make up their minds. Age is a red herring, and if we are to focus on the real issue, it is time that we looked at binge drinking and the things that will really work.
I can see only one good thing that has come out of the debate about this bill. That is the Keep it 18 campaign. Student politicians—as we all know from debate on other bills that have recently been before this Parliament, and will continue to be for some time yet—are hugely passionate. As we sit here today and have a boisterous debate—usually between the National Party and the Labour Party—we see that the smaller parties in today’s debate have taken a different line from National and Labour in what they have chosen to speak on. The Keep it 18 campaign could actually teach the parliamentarians in Parliament quite some lesson. The Keep it 18 campaign has been very sensible and reasoned. Most important, the campaigners have found a consensus, something on which they all agree, and they have worked very constructively towards a common goal. The Young Nats, Young Labour, ACT on Campus, and the Young Greens have joined forces to push the Keep it 18 campaign. They realise that age is a red herring, and they know that responsibility rests with them. They know that things do have to change in terms of binge drinking, and they have debated sensibly in this vein.
There is room in this Parliament, and in this nation, for consensus politics on some issues. The Keep it 18 campaign has shown us the way that we could move forward on a number of other issues, not just on the alcohol issue. We should be discussing in this alcohol debate the impediments that we should put on the consumption of drugs, alongside those on the consumption of alcohol. I think the really thorny problem that this Parliament has grappled with for a long time now—for decades—is that of superannuation. There are some issues where parties should agree on common goals, on common policies, and on how to move forward.
Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : On 19 November last year a tragic event occurred on the West Coast. We had an explosion at the Pike River mine. There was shock, horror, and uncertainty as to what the result would be. Two people survived it, and we held out hope that maybe others would also. On 24 November, a second explosion occurred, at which time the people of the West Coast—families living in hope—realised that 29 more miners had been killed and were likely to remain in the Pike River mine until a recovery operation was completed. In the midst of that tragedy, I do not think any one of us would have guessed that within months we would have had a tragedy of far greater numbers over the hill in Canterbury.
None the less, on the West Coast much still remains unresolved. The recovery operation has been difficult, getting information from inside the mine has been difficult, and families have been put through a roller coaster ride of emotions. I cannot imagine what it has been like for them. This was New Zealand’s worst mining disaster since 1914, and there have been many rumours, much speculation, and many theories running around the West Coast since that time. However, people have lived in hope that the remains of their family members—their brothers, their husbands, their partners—could be brought from the mine. There was the transfer of the mine from the police jurisdiction into the hands of the receivers, and there was uncertainty about that, as well.
There was also the national memorial service, which John Key and other Ministers came to. Commitments were given to the families not just then but prior to that. John Key said: “I gave a commitment to the families at Pike River I’d do everything I could to get their men out, I stand by that.” And people held out hope that that would give them assurance. We had the national memorial service, then there was an announcement that the recovery would continue, and the Prime Minister said we would do our very best. He also said there would be a royal commission of inquiry.
Yesterday another huge blow was brought to the families and the community in Greymouth when the Pike River mining company held an initial hearing—the royal commission of inquiry has not yet started—and said: “Sorry, we don’t have money and we don’t think we can participate in this royal commission.” People were flabbergasted because in spite of the greater number of people perishing in the Canterbury earthquake—and we must offer our sympathies to all of our families over there—thankfully most, though not all, of those bodies have been recovered. But for the Pike River families on the West Coast, the bodies have not been recovered and the issue remains unresolved. They cannot have closure. One of the things they had hoped for—in fact, perhaps the only thing they had hoped for—is that something would come from this terrible tragedy. In the past the lessons of such tragedies have been transferred through into mining regulations—better knowledge, better practice. The reality, of course, since 1992, when the National Government was last in power, was that it did away with mining regulations. I am sure that that will be a matter for much debate and discussion when the royal commission hears evidence. The possibility that the Pike River mining company will not be able to present all the knowledge and all the facts that it has regarding the planning, the development, and the operations of the mine is shocking to us all on the West Coast and, I think, to most people in New Zealand. We need to absolutely be assured that all the company’s records, all its knowledge, and its employees, past and present, will be available to give information to the royal commission. It is essential.
Although much weight is put on the status of the royal commission, we have seen in the past, unfortunately, examples where even royal commissions have not concluded accurately the information.
JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) : So who will it be, team? Will it be the Bulls or the Crusaders? At Alpine Energy Stadium on Saturday night, I am sure the Crusaders will prevail. There will be a full crowd, and I will be there cheering along the Crusaders, who are not quite on their own home turf but not far from it. There certainly will be a very supportive team there behind the Crusaders on Saturday night.
But who will lead the Labour team into the next election? I wonder. Phil Goff did not lead the general debate this afternoon, so maybe he is resting up and getting ready. It could be Trevor Mallard, David Cunliffe, Shane Jones, Grant Robertson, David Parker, or even Damien O’Connor. I bet that that is the first time someone has mentioned Damien as a potential leader this afternoon.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): The member must use the member’s full name or title.
JO GOODHEW: My apologies, Mr Assistant Speaker. That will be the first time that Damien O’Connor has been mentioned as a potential leader this afternoon, I suspect. But that member should know that he got a vote in a Colmar Brunton poll. In an electorate close to mine on Sunday, somebody voted for him to be Labour leader, so there we go—well done!
The headlines have said it all—dog tucker. When the media start asking the members of a caucus whether they support their leader, it generally means the leader is dog tucker. John Armstrong said it more kindly when he said that Labour has no one else it can believe in. In the meantime, all New Zealanders are watching every single one of the contenders, dissecting every single move they make and the words they say. They are looking to see whether there is any disunity, whether anybody is trying to undermine the other potential leaders, or Phil Goff. I wonder who Helen Clark is voting for. It is a bit like picking a team at playtime, where each of the wannabes lines up and gets his team to fall in behind him. I ask members to imagine the uncertainty of wondering how many people will get behind each leader, and whether one leader’s line will be longer than the other’s. In the case of David Cunliffe, he will think his line will be long, even though it may not be.
Hon Simon Power: Mirrors do that.
JO GOODHEW: Yes, that is true. There has also been the bizarre suggestion of a genetic remix, which is a bit like Stars on 45, I think, which was a group that sang a catchy mix of tunes. Anyway, this remix is about Jacinda Ardern’s looks, Trevor Mallard’s mongrel, Shane Jones’ blokeyness, David Cunliffe’s intellect, and Louisa Wall’s sportiness, although she is not here yet. Well, I think they might get the genetic remix wrong. They might end up with Mallard’s boxing prowess, Shane’s penchant for movie watching—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): The member is doing it again. You must use the members’ full names.
JO GOODHEW: I will. There is also David Cunliffe’s disconnect instead of his intellect, Jacinda Ardern’s ability to talk for ages and say nothing, and as for David Parker, well, he used to be referred to in his electorate as “David Who”, and that will make it pretty hard for people to pick him for Prime Minister. These are scary times in the Labour caucus, but there is one thing I can tell members: Phil Goff has won the poll. What was that poll? His caucus has voted for him to lead Labour to defeat. No one else wants that job.
In the meantime, in my electorate of Rangitata, people really care about the economy of this country and the economics of their own pockets. That really is No. 1 for them. In terms of the talk about South Canterbury Finance, largely by the Opposition, there is a different perspective so close to home, and there are some facts that I need to get on the record today. Our Government has been quick to act on some fronts, but it beggars belief to suggest that we were responsible for South Canterbury Finance going into the retail deposit guarantee scheme—that happened on the day we were sworn in. We cannot possibly have been that quick.
In fact, it became clear to this Government from mid-2009 that South Canterbury Finance was in trouble. The Government’s objectives were to create certainty for the 35,000 investors around the country, many of whom are in my electorate; to reduce wider disruption to the business community, especially in the South Island; and to minimise the cost to the taxpayer—and minimising the cost to the taxpayer has always been a priority. The reality is far from the rhetoric we are hearing from the other side of the House.
Mr Trevor Mallard has suggested that Treasury did not want to admit South Canterbury Finance but was pressured by the Government. What a load of codswallop! That is an incredible falsification, even by Labour’s standards. The scheme was designed by Labour; it was announced at the opening of the 2008 election campaign. Labour wanted finance companies in. That is why it charged them no fees, even when more creditworthy banks were paying. Total fees collected from the retail and wholesale guarantees have been around $500 million.
- The debate having concluded, the motion lapsed.
Legal Services Bill
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : I move, That the Legal Services Bill be now read a third time. The Legal Services Bill forms the Government’s response to Dame Margaret Bazley’s call to transform the legal aid system. These are important reforms. This bill will help restore public confidence in the legal aid system, and will lead to better service for vulnerable people who rely on the legal aid system. The bill overhauls the administration of the legal aid scheme by bringing the functions of the Legal Services Agency into the Ministry of Justice, and creating an independent statutory officer to exercise those functions that require independence. It also creates a new Legal Aid Tribunal for resolving disputes over entitlements. Dame Margaret Bazley highlighted the need for legal aid to be administered as a core part of the justice system, and I expect that these new arrangements will lead to a better alignment between the court system and the legal aid system.
The Legal Services Bill will improve the responsiveness of the system and allow for innovative service delivery by removing much of the prescription in the old Act and allowing the Secretary for Justice the flexibility to establish different legal services, and deliver services in different ways. This is consistent with the Government’s commitment to improving the quality of public services and ensuring value for money. The bill also streamlines the eligibility process for prescribed grants. This will apply to low-cost grants in a criminal jurisdiction and will reduce the compliance costs for providers, speeding up granting decisions and reducing the cost of administering the system.
The bill also clarifies funding arrangements for Waitangi Tribunal proceedings and removes the risk of overlap and duplication with funding for settlement negotiations. Importantly, the bill introduces a new quality assurance and performance management system for providers to enable the ministry to manage the quality of services provided to legally aided clients. The new quality assurance system will require providers to prove that they are up to the job before they enter the system, and regular reappraisal will then ensure they maintain high standards.
We are all well aware of the review by Dame Margaret Bazley that led to this bill being introduced. In her report, Dame Margaret called for a sea change in the way legal aid operates. When someone as experienced in providing services to the public as Dame Margaret Bazley talked about system-wide failings, a system open to abuse, and appalling behaviour, we knew we had a problem. This bill is merely the starting point, and we will closely watch the implementation of the bill and its provisions.
I again commend and thank the Justice and Electoral Committee, under the chairmanship of Chester Borrows, for the work it has done in considering the Legal Services Bill. To all those who made submissions to the select committee, I want to express my appreciation for their time and for their views. Submitters were concerned that the transfer of the legal aid system to the Ministry of Justice may reduce the level of independence in the legal aid system. We thought about this carefully in the policy design, and I am pleased that the committee agreed that the position of the Legal Services Commissioner will guarantee that independence. These important reforms will restore public confidence in the provision of effective legal aid services. I commend this bill to the House.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : Since the Minister of Justice first mooted reform of the legal aid system, the Labour Party has supported, in principle, the need for reform. But it would have to be said that over the course of the debate on this matter, in the hearing of evidence in the Justice and Electoral Committee and with subsequent developments in respect of the Government’s criminal justice policy, the Labour Party’s concerns about the overall effect of this reform, taken with others, is leading to increasing concern, and it is now with quite a degree of reluctance that the Opposition agrees to continue to support the Legal Services Bill at its third reading.
I want to run through some of the serious concerns that we have increasingly held as the debate has gone forward. The Minister in his third reading speech just made reference to the Bazley report, the report of Dame Margaret Bazley, which kicked off this set of reforms. He said something along the lines that a public servant as experienced as Dame Margaret, someone who is as proficient as she is in looking at the best ways in which to deliver public services, should not be lightly ignored, and it is true that Dame Margaret is somebody who has given great service to New Zealand and to its Public Service. But there are major issues with the Bazley report, and those issues are ones that the House needs to take notice of, because all the reforms we are debating today proceed from that report.
The aspect that is of most concern in the Bazley report is the one that was drawn to the attention of the select committee by the New Zealand Law Society when this bill was before its members—that is, the anecdotal nature of the concerns that Dame Margaret expressed. She did so in language that I hope she has had cause to reflect on, because she looked in particular at the way in which legal services were delivered in South Auckland, and in particular at the new Manukau District Court.
I have been to that court. I have met practitioners who work there, off and on, in gruelling conditions, some on legal aid assignments and some not. Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson knows, as do other members in the House, that that is one of the more difficult courts in the country in which to practise and in which to deliver access to justice for New Zealanders. But there are practitioners who do that day in and day out. They do it unselfishly, and they do it often in the face of a system that does not seem to care very much about method or outcomes, yet their professionalism keeps that system going.
The greatest matter of regret that I have in this whole debate is that neither Dame Margaret nor the Minister has ever distanced themselves from the more extreme comments that occurred in the Bazley report about those practitioners. There may well be one or two whose work needs better quality control, but the vast majority of those lawyers work very hard to provide access to justice. It is a crying shame not only that their efforts have not been properly acknowledged by the Government but also that the Minister has not chosen to acknowledge that professionalism on a fundamental basis, because without it the entire system would grind to a halt. It is also questionable whether an entire set of reforms, such as those we are seeing in this House today, can be grounded in the Bazley report, because of the anecdotal nature of the findings, and because of some of the extreme language in that report. It is important, I think, to put on record in this speech those fundamental concerns.
The other concern that I think it is fair to put on record that has developed on this side of the House, as this bill has proceeded, is the way in which it meshes with other matters of criminal justice policy being advanced as part of the Minister’s reform agenda. I think we need to say that in that category lie not only the restrictions on choice as to advocate, which this bill will put into place in the legal aid system in respect of certain categories of offences, but also the “three strikes” legislation, which I note the Minister has distanced himself from, but which will have the inevitable effect of increasing traffic—for want of a better way of putting it—through the system. Combine that with restrictions on choice of advocate in the legal aid system and, inevitably, we will see a deterioration in the ability of New Zealanders, the people whom we represent in this House, to access justice.
Then there is the package of reforms currently under consideration in the Justice and Electoral Committee, the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, where, as the Law Society has pointed out, procedural reform is being put ahead of reform of the drivers of crime or the substantive criminal statute, or even, really, the rules of evidence—an odd way to do it—and in the process we have some restrictions on the right to the presumption of innocence, restrictions on the right to trial by jury, and other major concerns being brought to the attention of the committee not only by the legal profession but by a number of people concerned about that fundamental right of access to justice.
So we have some major concerns about this bill. I do not say that all parts of the bill are bad, and I hope that members on this side of the House have been fair about its provisions as we have gone through the process of debating it. One of the very positive aspects of the legislation is the extent to which it provides some contestability in the provision of publicly funded legal services to those who cannot pay their own way. Not only will there be the continuation of a contracted legal aid provision system for some lawyers but there will be an extension of the Public Defence Service. That is an excellent system. It was introduced under the last Government, and it is being extended as a result of the bill we are debating today. The bill empowers a reasonable extension of that scheme.
Two things need to be said about the Public Defence Service. The first is that it provides some choice and contestability in the system. The Public Defence Service is a publicly funded, publicly owned entity, and it provides defence services for people who employ its services. The evaluations of the Public Defence System show that the way it provides services is very, very effective and very, very efficient. That provides good evidence that the State can deliver these sorts of services, if the services are structured properly on an appropriate basis, and if it can do so in a way that keeps a check on, or a reference to, contracted private providers. So that is a good thing. The other good thing is that there will be a third category of provider. In some places where it is just not possible to find legal aid providers on a contracted basis, then firms will be contracted to provide the service. We support that.
In summary, although the reforms are not all bad we have some major concerns about them. We have decided we will continue to vote to support the legislation, but it will be very much on the basis of waiting to see what the results are like. We are certainly not making any commitment to retain the system that will be brought into effect by this bill, because of the major concerns I have listed in this speech—in particular, the concern about the inability of people to make a choice about their representative or advocate, especially in respect of some offences when the grant of legal aid is not even untrammelled but, effectively, a loan from the State. That is a matter for real concern. If it transpires that in the implementation of this legislation, along with the other parts of the Government’s criminal justice reform agenda, the right of access to justice for New Zealanders is significantly impaired, then the watching brief that we are keeping on it will mean that when we have the next opportunity, we will make significant changes to the legislation if they are required.
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) : Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker, and congratulations on your appointment. This is the first time that I have been in the House to have the opportunity to say that. It is good to see you back.
I rise to speak in respect of the Legal Services Bill. I acknowledge the comments of the previous speaker, Charles Chauvel, and acknowledge that the concerns he raised are concerns that are held widely across the legal sector and that were well discussed within the Justice and Electoral Committee. I congratulate the committee members on the work they did in the consideration of this bill.
Those of us who have worked as legal aid providers and duty solicitors around our courts in New Zealand can think of times when we were taking instructions under a tree while it was raining down outside, or were leaning in the doorway of the very cramped public area outside the court, trying to deal with people and to work with them in circumstances that were trying for them, in order to access the justice they were entitled to in our free and democratic society. But we also have to take cognisance of those matters raised by Dame Margaret Bazley in her report—and I take the point made by Charles Chauvel earlier that, very much, anecdotal comments were made. To my disappointment, those comments tended to feed a healthy appetite out there in the general public, who do not normally interact with courts, or at least with criminal courts, anyway—an appetite for the belief that those within the legal fraternity were lower than the most low.
The fact is that people within the legal fraternity have to work within very tight bounds, and they frequently make a significant contribution to access to justice out of their own pockets, by way of time and services they cannot claim for under the legal aid system and they have no way of funding. I think if we looked across the rest of the economy in New Zealand and expected a similar level of altruism from the abilities of various businesses and practitioners, then we would be found wanting. The fact is that a number of areas within our current legal aid provision need to be addressed. Loopholes will be exploited. Given the way they are exploited, in the high-profile way they are exposed, it brings the legal fraternity into disrepute, albeit, as I have already said, the public really want to believe that that fraternity is already there.
The bill seeks to disestablish the Legal Services Agency and to fold it back into the Ministry of Justice—as was previously done, and as it worked particularly well—and to establish a Legal Services Commissioner. It introduces a new quality assurance framework that will enhance the confidence of the public in the knowledge that those providing legal aid services, on payment from the taxpayer and on behalf of society at large, will be assessed, and will be providing good legal services for those they are working for. The bill will allow the Secretary for Justice the flexibility to establish different legal services and to deliver services in different ways. To provide new ways, and creative and innovative ways, of enhancing and facilitating access to justice is something we need to do, bearing in mind the spread and the changes we have in population bases around the country.
The bill allows for the streamlining of eligibility for low-cost criminal cases in summary jurisdictions, and it allows the Secretary for Justice to contract community law centres to provide legal services. That is something that community law offices are willing to do, and the community is willing to have community law offices provide those services for it.
Lastly, the bill replaces the Legal Aid Review Panel with the Legal Aid Tribunal, which will consider applications for the review of legal aid applications. I find this last point extremely important, bearing in mind the gatekeeper role that the Legal Services Agency has at present and how difficult it can be for providers of legal aid to access the most minimal of funds in order to assist access to justice for the people they work for, and bearing in mind that the public largely believes that those who appear before the court are already guilty and should be extended very little in terms of public time, energy, or taxpayer money.
I commend this bill to the House. I am grateful for Labour’s assurance that it will be supporting the bill at this third reading, and I commend the Minister for the job he has done in preparing the bill for consideration by Parliament. Thank you.
CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour) : Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. I congratulate you on your new role. I did so last night when you were in the Chairperson’s Chair, but I was told by the Minister Simon Power that I was premature in doing so, because apparently you had not been accepted in that role. I am assuming that you now have been; I hope you have been. You are looking very comfortable. It suits you well, Mr Assistant Speaker.
I am standing to discuss Labour’s views on the Legal Services Bill. I say from the start that Labour members support this bill, but we do so reluctantly. I think my colleague Charles Chauvel articulated Labour’s views really well in his speech prior to Chester Borrows’ speech. I will go over it again with regard to Labour’s thoughts on the Legal Services Bill.
We understand that the bill overhauls the legal services system. It is the legislative result of Margaret Bazley’s review of legal aid, completed last year, which found some failings in the delivery of publicly funded legal services. The bill will replace the Legal Services Act 2000.
Labour believes reforms are necessary, with an emphasis on the public defender system and community law centres, and a focus on quality assurance. However, we have concerns about this bill and the Government’s overall direction with regard to its justice policy, which seems to be inhibiting access to justice. I will talk more about that shortly.
Just to provide a bit of background, the purpose of this bill has been, from the outset, “to promote access to justice by establishing a system that—(a) provides legal services to people of insufficient means; and (b) delivers those services in the most effective and efficient manner.”
What are we concerned about? I will start with the “three strikes” bill. We are concerned that the “three strikes” legislation will place further pressure on publicly funded legal services, and will negate some of the good work that has been done in the sector. The number of defendants charged with serious crimes relying on legal aid will increase, given that they will be more likely to plead not guilty in order to avoid being locked up for a long time. Those are some of the reservations and concerns we expressed when the “three strikes” bill was going through the House.
Our reservations must be more widely shared than National wishes to admit, because that legislation should really have gone through the Justice and Electoral Committee. It should have been headed by the Minister of Justice, Simon Power. We are pretty sure that he shared our reservations with that bill. Hence, rather than going through the Justice and Electoral Committee, as it should have, the Law and Order Committee looked after it. I remember, because I was on the select committee at the time. Our concern was that, really, the police should not have responsibility for a sentencing bill. However, the Minister of Justice washed his hands of it, the Law and Order Committee was stuck with the bill, and that is where it went. We disagreed with it. There are fundamental reasons why we were concerned, and we discussed them at that time. Now our concerns about that bill have again arisen with regard to this legislation.
The concern was really that the number of defendants charged with serious crimes relying on legal aid will increase, given that they will be more likely to plead not guilty in order to avoid being locked up for a long time. That will inevitably prolong the length of trials and place extra cost pressure on the justice system. That, really, was our concern in relation to the “three strikes” legislation.
Dame Margaret Bazley’s report uncovered some serious problems with the way New Zealand’s legal aid system operates. As a result, this bill is necessary to restore taxpayer confidence in legal aid, which is, we would all agree, an indispensable part of our justice system. But the bill, unfortunately, will not achieve that restoration of confidence, as there is no statutory consultative requirement in the bill with community law centres and the rest of the legal community.
We are pleased, I have to say, that the Public Defence Service will be expanded. It is a system launched by former Minister of Justice Phil Goff in 2004. The Public Defence Service is a good way to meet the cost of rising fees charged by barristers and solicitors in private practice. It creates a system of salaried public defenders and will standardise a high quality of defence. It really is a good alternative to legal aid.
We are pleased the Government is placing greater emphasis on community law centres. There was a time—I think it was the beginning of last year—when we were concerned that their future might be at risk under this National Government, so we are pleased the Government is placing a greater emphasis on community law centres and that the Secretary for Justice will have the flexibility to utilise different means of delivering legal services. But we are disappointed that the obligations are not legislated for in this bill.
Hon Tau Henare: Put a bit of passion in it. Passion!
CARMEL SEPULONI: Tau Henare says there is no passion in this speech but I tell him that we do not all need to jump up and down and yell to demonstrate the fact we take something seriously, unlike some people.
Recently, last month, Simon Power announced there would be a $402 million funding gap for legal aid in the next 5 years and that further reforms were required.
Hon Tau Henare: Stop reading it.
CARMEL SEPULONI: It is very worrying, I say to Mr Henare. We hope there will not be additional funding cuts, as the legal aid system is vital in order for large sections of the public to have access to justice.
Lianne Dalziel, one of our Labour colleagues, has previously expressed concern that many allegations in Dame Margaret’s report were unsubstantiated. She called on Simon Power to meet with members of the Manukau Bar, who claim that their reputations have been unfairly hurt by the report. The New Zealand Law Society expressed its concern that the report was based on anecdotal evidence. It said the majority of legal aid lawyers were not corrupt or incompetent, yet there was a risk they would be tainted by the allegations made against the minority of practitioners. I think this is a very valid and fair point made by the New Zealand Law Society. The Manukau Bar expressed similar concerns, but the Government has not addressed them. We feel there was a valid concern expressed by the New Zealand Law Society, backed up by similar concerns from the Manukau Bar, and we think the Government should address it and take it seriously.
We have some concerns about legal aid and employment disputes. The current system disadvantages union members. They pay $300 to $500 per year for their membership, which includes an insurance fee to cover the cost of representation for personal grievance claims. However non - union members have to contribute only $50, placing them at an advantage. Members on this side of the House would really hate to see our union members disadvantaged in any way with regard to this matter.
Thank you very much, Mr Assistant Speaker. I recognise that I have 2 minutes left; it is great to have you signal that to me.
I say again that Labour supports this bill, but we do so reluctantly. I have outlined the reasons why. In summary, they are things like the “three strikes” bill—and the repercussions of that poorly thought-out legislation—and some of the allegations made in the Bazley report, which the New Zealand Law Society and the Manukau Bar expressed serious concerns about. There are other concerns, and I am sure that my colleagues who speak after me will speak to those concerns. But, as I said, Labour will be supporting this bill. Thank you very much.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : The Green Party at the time of the first and second readings of the Legal Services Bill voted against it, and there were good speeches illuminating why we were doing that, from Gareth Hughes and Kennedy Graham. Unfortunately, Kennedy Graham cannot be here today to present a speech on behalf of the Greens. He has been the Green member of the Justice and Electoral Committee, but like many other Christchurch MPs he is otherwise detained.
This bill has several good points, as have been outlined by previous speakers. The public defender system is a step forward, and we want that to be reinforced. But we are concerned, like the earlier Labour speakers, that to some degree this legislation has been driven by the Margaret Bazley report, which, as has been pointed out, has been highly criticised by lawyers, particularly in the Manukau area, as an unwarranted attack on them without sufficient evidence to back up the accusations of somehow wrongly benefitting from the legal aid system. The main reason why the Green Party opposed the bill at the earlier stages still applies, in that we are not sure whether disestablishing the old Legal Services Agency and putting the administration of the legal aid services under the Ministry of Justice will preserve the necessary independence that a legal services body requires. Putting in a supposedly independent statutory officer, the Legal Services Commissioner, will not necessarily solve that problem.
The report back from the select committee says: “It is important that while the Commissioner would be accountable to the Secretary for Justice, the Secretary should not be able to interfere in the Commissioner’s performance of his or her independent functions as set out in the bill.” That is all very well, but, as we have found in other areas, when an officer is reporting to someone above them in the hierarchy their responses are a bit conditioned by the responses of the higher-up officer. That issue was raised as part of the debate on the bill that merged Archives New Zealand and the National Library and put them under the Department of Internal Affairs. Even though there is an independent Chief Archivist, the Chief Archivist has to report to the head of the Department of Internal Affairs. A similar situation will constrain the real independence of the Legal Services Commissioner, particularly when monetary matters are involved, as they are with legal services and as they are in the case of the Chief Archivist and the Department of Internal Affairs. Budgets can be restricted and so on, so we do not think there is sufficient independence in the system.
The other question raised in the report back from the select committee, when talking about submissions, was the question of people being able to get a lawyer of their choice. As was pointed out in the report back, the previous board of the Legal Services Agency took away the right of defendants to choose their own lawyer in category 1 and category 2 criminal cases, which involve lower-level criminal offending. But it is difficult, in the Greens’ view, to make a distinction between lower-level offending and higher-level offending in terms of access to legal aid. One might say that the matter is not as important if the person would receive only a small punishment, so it does not matter that they cannot choose their own lawyer. But, as we know, the very first offence, even if it involves low-level criminal offending, can be very important for people. It often sets them on the road to a criminal career, repeat offending, and so on. If they had had a good lawyer at the beginning stage, it might have made a difference. People often feel a great injustice if their lawyer is not up to scratch, even in the smallest case. If they are wrongly convicted, the sense of injustice can carry over into more criminality. So that is not a good thing.
There were submissions from community law agencies for consultation to be written into the legislation, so that there was a statutory requirement for consultation by the agency. Unfortunately, the select committee decided that such a requirement should not be written into the legislation. Again, although it is good to trust that people will have the right motivation and will engage in consultation because that is the thing to do, I think it is always good to write a requirement in, because some officials and some Governments are not very keen on consultation with non-governmental organisations. We have currently a Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, who is not very keen on consultation with non-governmental organisations in the foreign affairs and aid sector, so I think it is good to write in those kinds of provisions.
With those few comments noting, as I indicated, that the public defender system and other aspects of the bill are quite useful, I say that on balance the Green Party will stick with its position of voting against it. Thank you.
TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) : Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, reo Māori te kōrero. Nō reira ko tāku i te tuatahi he whaiwhai haere i ngā kōrero a ētahi ki a koe tēnā koe, hoki mai ki te Tūru o te Speaker. Ko tāku he mihi ki a koe kua eke ki tērā o ngā taumata, nō reira kia ora rawa atu.
I a mātau e titiro ana ki tēnei pire te Legal Services Bill, kāre mātau i te titiro whāiti nei, arā, ki te mā me te pango. Ko tā mātau titiro, he tirohanga whānui, kia taea ai te titiro ki te hōhonutanga o ngā take pēnei i tēnei ki mua i te aroaro o te Whare. Kei te pūtake o tā mātau titiro, o ngā whakaaro o te Pāti Māori, e pēnei ana. Mēnā āe rānei he painga tō te pūnaha ā-ture ki te hunga whakaraerae o te hapori. Ki te tika, mā te āwhina ā-kupu, mā te āwhina ā-rōia anō hoki. Nō reira, kei te whakaae atu mātau ki te whakaaro kia whakamātauria ngā rōia i mua o tā rātau noho i te rārangi rōia. He pai tērā ki tā mātau titiro, ki ō mātau whakaaro, me pērā rawa te tika o te reo Māori.
Tuarua, ka tino harikoa mātau mēnā i whakaae te Minita ki te whakahoki i te pūtea mō te Māori Legal Service. Ēngari, kāre tērā i eke, i eke panuku. Ka toru, ka nui te hiahia kia noho pū te komiti āwhina ā-hāpori, kia whai wāhi te hāpori ki roto i ngā whiriwhiringa. Ko te public advisory committeetērā. I a mātau e titiro ana ki ētahi atu o ngā take, kua noho āwangawanga te Pāti Māori ki te whakakorenga o taua komiti, arā, ko te public advisory committee, arā, te rōpū e āwhina ana i te Legal Services Agency mō ngā mānukanuka o te hāpori mō te āwhina ā-pūtea, āwhina ā-noho, āwhina ā-mātauranga rānei ki te hāpori, ki tētahi wāhanga rānei o te hāpori, tāku e kōrero nei; ki tētahi atu tāke rānei ka tae atu ki mua i te aroaro o te Minita i te mea, ko te iwi Māori te hunga kimi āwhina, hia āwhina ana i te nuinga o te wā.
Kua tino titiro mātau ki te pūtake o te pire me te titiro ki ngā take kua puta mai i roto i ngā kōrero kua kōrerohia nei, i te mea, te tikanga me haere ngā painga ki te iwi Māori. Hei whaiwhai haere i te kōrero a Dame Margaret Bazley e kōrerohia ake nei “if the legal aid system fails Māori, it fails altogether.”Koinā tana kōrero. Nō reira, nā ngā āwangawanga i mua mō te legal services, he pai kē atu mēnā ka taka te hunga nei ki raro i te Pāremata. He pai tonu tērā ki a mātau pēnei i tā Keith Locke e kōrero ake nei.
Engari, ko tētahi o ngā take i kōrerohia i roto i te Whare, he take nui whakaharahara ki a mātau, ko tērā e pā ana ki te wāhanga tuarima, i te whārangi tuatahi, arā, e kī ana, ko ngā rawa e hāngai tonu ana ki te whenua Māori. Me pēnei pea te whakamārama ake i roto i te kōrero a Dame Margaret Bazley, mō te legal services. Ehara i te mea i kōrerohia, ehara i te mea i puta ētahi akiakinga e hāngai tonu ana ki ngā moni o tēnā, o tēnā, otirā, te whakamātautanga o te moni me ngā kaitono, me te nui o te moni a tēnā kaitono, a tēnā kaitono.
Ko te whenua Māori he take nui i roto i te tirohanga o te Ao Māori. Me kī, e mea ana ko wai mātau a Māori nei. I roto i tētahi o ngā whakataukī e kī ana, “Nōku te whenua, nō ōku tūpuna”. Nō reira, arā noa atu ngā kōrero i roto i te pīre nei e pā ana ki tēnei mea te whenua. Nō reira, koinei i puta te mānukanuka nui, i kitea mai ai e noho he kupu i huna nei i roto i te wāhanga tuatahi o tēnei o ngā pire, arā, i te wāhanga tuarima e mea ana, ka whakaaetia kia titiro te kōmihana ki te rawa me te moni ka puta nā runga i te āhuatanga o te whenua Māori. Mēnā ka titiro ki te wāhanga tuatahi i tōna whānuitanga kei te kite atu, kei te whakaaetia kia titiro whānui ki tēnei mea o te moni, o te pūtea, o ngā rawa a tēnā, a tēnā, a tēnā; kia taea ai te whakamātautau mēnā āe rānei, kāore rānei ka taea e tētahi te utu ngā nama mō te āwhina ā-ture.
E mea ana te wāhanga tuarima o taua whārangi tuatahi mēnā ka tāpirihia mai ko te pūtea me ō pānga ki te whenua Māori, ka mutu, ka taea te whakatakoto i tērā momo whiriwhiringa i roto i ngā whakahaere o te kōti ā-whānau nei. Nō reira, he āhua uaua te whakamārama ake i tēnei i te reo Māori engari ko te tino pūtake o taku kōrero, he rerekē anō rā te titiro ki tēnei mea te whenua Māori nā runga i te mea, he tirohanga tō te Ao Pākehā, tāku e kōrero nei. Nā, ehara i te mea ka titiro a Māori nei ki tōna whenua, ko tētahi wāhi ki tēnā tangata, ko tētahi wāhi ki tērā tangata, ko tētahi wāhi ki tērā tangata, kāo. He titiro whānui. Ehara i te mea ka pērā tonu te titiro o te Ao Māori ki tōna whenua. Ehara i te mea ko te pānga ki te whenua he take ā-pūtea nei, ā-rawa, ā-whai rawa nei, kāo. He titiro ā-tikanga nei, ā, ka mutu, i ētahi wā ka puta te kōrero e kore ngā Māori e hoko i tēnei mea ko te whenua i te mea, ehara nōna tērā whenua, he whenua nō ngā mātua, nō ngā tūpuna. Ko te nuinga o ngā tāngata ka whai pānga ki roto i te whenua Māori, ehara i te mea ko te rawa te mea nui, ehara i te mea ko te moni te mea nui i te mea, kei te mōhio tonu ko ngā painga ka taka ki ngā tamariki, ki ngā mokopuna ā te wā. Ka mutu, ki te āta wetewete i ēnei take i roto i ngā kōti, he uaua. He mea nui tērā. Nō reira, ki roto i a Te Waiariki i tēnei wā e hia kē nei ngā whenua, ngā poraka whenua Māori ki roto i te rohe o Te Waiariki, o Te Tai Rāwhiti anō hoki, he moumou moni, he moumou tāima noa iho te whaiwhai haere i te hunga ka whai pānga ki tēnei mea ko te whenua. Ka mutu, e hia kē nei ngā Māori kāre i te mōhio he pānga whenua tō rātau. Kāo. Kāre rātau i te mōhio kei te noho huna ā rātau kōrero mō te whenua kei roto i te Kōti Whenua Māori. Nō reira he uaua rawa. I whakatakotohia e te Pāti Māori tēnei take ki mua i te aroaro o te Minita, ēngari, auare ake. I whakatakoto i te kōrero ki mua i ngā pāti o te Whare Pāremata, kāre i eke panuku inapō, hoi anō ehara i te mea nō te kore hiahia engari kāre i eke.
Ka mutu, hei kupu whakamutunga pea ki tēnei o ngā kaupapa, kāre tēnei wāhanga e paku āwhina i te iwi Māori ahakoa ko rātau te hunga e kimi āwhina ana i roto i te kōti. Ko tā mātau kē, ko te kī atu me pana atu tērā, me ūkui atu tēnei wāhanga i roto i te pire kia taea e te iwi Māori, te hunga e whai pānga ana ki te whenua Māori nei, te kimi āwhina i roto i ngā whiriwhiringa, kia taea ai e rātau te tono mō tētahi āwhina i roto i te kōti. Koinā te mea nui mēnā ka whakatāpirihia atu te whenua Māori ki te rawa kua nui ake te pūtea, ka mutu kua raruraru katoa te iwi Māori mēnā ka tono pērā rā. Kia ora tātau.
[Greetings, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. I am giving my address in Māori. But first, I want to add to the complimentary remarks by others before me, by welcoming you back to the Speaker’s Chair. I commend you on attaining that position. Well done.
When examining the Legal Services Bill, we did not take a narrow and simply black or white view of it. Instead, we looked at it broadly so that we could get an in-depth understanding of the issues in it, such as the ones before the House. Central to our view and the thoughts of the Māori Party were the following issues. Was the legal aid system beneficial to vulnerable members of the community, yes or no? In terms of justice, would these vulnerable ones have access to it through legal advice or representation, as well? So we agree with the view that lawyers should sit competency tests. We see that as a good thing—a correction, to our way of thinking. I have to express that properly in Māori.
Secondly, we would have been really delighted if the Minister had seen fit to reinstate funding for the Māori Legal Service. But that did not happen; it did not make it to the top. Thirdly, we dearly wanted the public advisory committee retained, to ensure community involvement in the consultations. As we examined the issues, we of the Māori Party became concerned about the abolition of the public advisory committee, which assists the Legal Services Agency that gives advice on community concerns in terms of funding, housing, or educational assistance to the community or a section of it, or any matter referred to it by the Minister or that comes before him. Māori people are the ones who seek assistance or want help most times.
We have taken particular interest in what this bill might offer in terms of addressing issues that have emerged in the speeches delivered here, because, without a doubt, any benefit should go to the Māori people. As Dame Margaret Bazley said, “if the legal aid system fails Māori, it fails altogether.” That is what she said. Given previous concerns with the Legal Services Agency, it would be a great improvement if it came under the scrutiny of Parliament. We really favour that occurring. It is quite like what the member Keith Locke said previously.
One of the issues that was debated here in the House, an issue of huge significance to us, is the one that relates to clause 5 of schedule 1, namely resources relating to Māori land. Perhaps what Dame Margaret Bazley had to say in her review of legal services explains it better. It was not as though it was discussed, that pressure was focused specifically on the money that this person or that person had, or that the disposable income or capital of this applicant or that applicant should be assessed.
Māori land is of huge significance in a Māori World view. It refers to our significance as a people. A phrase in one aphorism states “The land is mine; it is from my ancestors”. So there are many references in this bill to this thing called land. Hence it was with some concern that we discovered, tucked away within schedule 1 of this bill, the proposal in clause 5 of the schedule that allows the commissioner to look at the equity and income of Māori land. If schedule 1 is considered in its entirety, one will see that it allows a wide look at the income and assets of individuals; and the making of an assessment, yes or no, as to whether one can afford the costs involved in legal aid.
Clause 5 of schedule 1 proposes that the income and one’s shares in Māori land be applied in the case of a proceeding in this family. This is quite difficult to explain in Māori, but the point I am trying to make is that when it comes to this thing called Māori land, there is a different view on it because the non-Māori viewpoint is quite different. That is what I am saying here. Māoridom does not view land from an individual perspective—that is, one part for that person, and one for someone else. Absolutely not. It is a broader perspective. To the Māori, it is not an individual thing. Shares in the land are not about money, assets, or having equity. Not at all. It is essentially a viewpoint based on a lore handed down—end of story. At times, statements are made that this thing, land, is never sold by Māori people, because it does not belong to them, but rather to the elders and the ancestors. Many Māori people have shares in Māori land, but assets are not the important thing here, nor the income generated, but rather the knowledge that any accrued benefits will drop down to the children and grandchildren of the future. Furthermore, unravelling issues like these in courts is quite a difficult process. It is a huge task. So the situation in the Te Waiariki electorate currently is that because there is a vast amount of Māori land, and numerous blocks, in the Bay of Plenty and East Coast regions, a lot of time and money is wasted chasing up people who have shares in this thing called land. And many Māori do not even know they have land interests—end of story. They do not know that their information about the land is tucked away in the records of the Māori Land Court. So it is difficult. The Māori Party took this matter up directly with the Minister, but to no avail. We put it before the other parties in Parliament last night, but it never reached the threshold. But it was not for want of trying that we did not get the desired outcome.
As a closing statement, perhaps, on this bill, this part of the bill will not help Māoridom, at all, not one bit, even though Māori are the very ones who are seeking assistance in the court. We advocate that this part of the bill be excluded and deleted, to enable Māori tribes and those with land interests to apply to the court for assistance. That is the important thing, provided it can be tacked on to Māori land where the equity exceeds the money in hand; otherwise Māori will be in trouble big time, through the application process. Greetings to us .]
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ross Robertson): I call the honourable member Simon Bridges.
Grant Robertson: A bit slow.
SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I was getting confused. The Hon David Parker was also trying to get the call. I thought the Assistant Speaker knew something I did not know.
Legal aid is a fundamental part of a civilised—as we like to think of it—sophisticated, and humane society. One way to think of legal aid is that it redresses power imbalances, so that people who effectively are powerless, who do not have the resources, can nevertheless have a fair day, week, month in court, depending on the complexity of the case against them. Indeed, they can get legal assistance and advice before that time, so maybe it does not come to that. In criminal law it is very simple why that would be the case. It is the State that is bringing a case, and a person should have a right to a good defence against the State. Family law is also relatively straightforward, some of the time.
In civil cases—and family law is a breed of civil law—legal aid is perhaps not quite so clear, but even then I think we would all agree that where people without money or resources are being sued, or have a legal right, there should be, to some extent, public moneys to pay for those people to have their day in court in order to take on the powerful, who might be raising a case against them.
As I say, it is important that we have a good legal aid system in New Zealand. That does not mean we should be lazy about our thinking on legal aid. It is expensive: costs have been rising very significantly in recent years. In the Justice and Electoral Committee we were led to believe that those costs would continue to rise—if not exponentially, then certainly dramatically—over years to come. So we cannot be lazy about our thinking. Dame Margaret Bazley issued a report, and that has been picked up on. This bill, soon to become law, is part of the Government’s response to Margaret Bazley’s reasonably rigorous report into legal aid in New Zealand. I accept we cannot tar all lawyers with the same brush, but she found some concerning cases; it does not matter, in a sense, whether they were anecdotal or more widespread. This bill makes for, and begins the process of, a more efficient legal aid system, and that has to be good.
I agreed with what the Hon David Parker, who is next to speak, said yesterday in the Committee of the whole House. I think he may have put it slightly differently, but he talked about a continuum, with justice versus efficiency. Efficiency is still very important. One can have a million-dollar drink-driving case that takes weeks, but the cost of that would be prohibitive and not worth it. So some regard has to be had for efficiency.
But the other thing that this bill does is allow for competence, and competence testing—a quality assurance framework where practitioners who get legal aid will need to demonstrate competency. That, I think, is very important. It has been said to me before, and it is true, that people could get an LLB from any of the numerous universities in New Zealand—there are probably too many in this country that offer law degrees—and they can set up shop anywhere in New Zealand. Of course, they have to meet the professional requirements, but once they have done that, they never ever again in New Zealand need to do anything more to upskill, or train, or to better themselves as lawyers. I am sure David Parker, Chester Borrows, and I probably were diligent when we were practitioners, going along to New Zealand Law Society courses that updated us on the new law. I remember going to one on the Evidence Act that the past Government—
Hon Member: Too expensive.
SIMON BRIDGES: They were expensive, those courses; they were $700 to $800 a pop, sometimes. They did do a good muffin and scone, though, but that is another point. The point is that some would be diligent and go to these courses and would upskill, but there is no requirement to do that now. Where lawyers get public money to defend or to pursue a case, there are competency requirements. I think that is fair enough. It is a quid pro quo—
Dr Cam Calder: To change the status quo.
SIMON BRIDGES: To change the status quo, says my poetic friend and colleague Cam Calder. So that is that.
I also make some final concluding remarks again about some things that David Parker, and Simon Power, the Minister of Justice, said yesterday about our having embarked on criminal law reform, family law reform is to come and perhaps even civil, broader law reform. Of course, how we fund civil cases—
Jacinda Ardern: I wait for that moment of glory when you quote me.
SIMON BRIDGES: I do not recall “Jacinda Ardern LLB”, but that is OK. That is not a problem. Jacinda Ardern can go to night school, I think, through Waikato University, and then maybe I will quote her on legal reform bills.
Anyway, I am getting off course. Finally, civil reform is to come, and there are a number of things we can consider there. Conditional fee agreements are something they do in the UK and they are now revisiting. We may look at those sorts of things in the future in this country, but they are not without their pitfalls. This bill is a very good plank of progress in legal aid reform in this country, and Simon Power and the Justice and Electoral Committee that I am on are to be commended for their work.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : I want to speak in support of the Legal Services Bill. Before I do, I think it is good that members here are being a bit careful not to criticise all people who work on the legal aid rosters, because most people who work on the legal aid rosters do a good job and do not overcharge. None the less, Dame Margaret Bazley did find evidence of poor practice, and I must admit that I was surprised on the Justice and Electoral Committee to learn that some legal aid lawyers doing low-level criminal cases in South Auckland were earning $250,000 per annum at the cost of taxpayers. That seemed to me to be a bit excessive for low-level legal aid cases.
We heard not just in Dame Margaret Bazley’s complaints but also from retired Justice Hansen—I think he is Sir John Hansen now. He was the executive High Court judge in the South Island for a long time and a very practical man as well as a good judge. He said that one of the problems was the method of allocation of legal aid briefs. So he supported the change proposed by the Government in this legislation to the preferred lawyer rule—effectively, the choice was always given to a litigant to choose their own lawyer. There are occasions where it is important that litigants have continuity of lawyer, such as with cases involving language barriers and instances where the accused suffers underlying mental health problems and has had a history of involvement with a particular lawyer. It is helpful for everyone to have continuity, otherwise people have to go back over ground that has previously been traversed. Some of the issues relating to mental health difficulties should be brought to the court’s attention, and the administration of justice is improved through the facilitation of that by a lawyer who has previously been involved. But that does not mean to say that in all cases there should just be the automatic right to choose one’s lawyer, because we found that some of those cases had an association with the abuses of the legal aid system. So we agree that the removal of the preferred lawyer—that is, the right of people who are getting their legal expenses paid for by the Crown to choose the lawyer that they want—should not always be so for minor cases. It becomes a bit more difficult in more serious cases where someone might be at risk of losing their liberty for a longer period of time. We think it is then appropriate that the person who is accused has some control as to the lawyer who is representing their interests.
Some people say we should not have legal aid, but I disagree with that view. It is a wrong proposition, partly because the court processes are generally improved through people having legal representation. People who are of low income and who are charged with a crime often cannot afford a lawyer. If they are left without a lawyer, they suffer an outcome different from someone who can afford a lawyer. It does not seem to be a good principle of justice that there is a different outcome according to the amount of money someone has in their wallet. There are also flow-on costs to the Crown, in terms of less efficient court processes and the cost of ongoing disputes where people feel they have not had a fair trial and will be more likely to appeal and to object to the consequences. Their families will have a sense of injustice, and confidence in our criminal justice system will be undermined. So it is important that we have legal aid available.
I want to refer to a couple of other issues. Legal aid costs are significant and they are growing. What I think is wrong with the system at the moment is the “three strikes” legislation, which drives up legal aid costs. There is no doubt that if someone is facing a charge for a crime that would be one of their three strikes, then they will be more likely to defend that charge, because they do not want three strikes. They will be advised by their lawyer that the consequences of the charge are so significant that rather than plead guilty they should defend the charge. There is no doubt about that, in my view. So one area where we could be saving costs to the Crown is by doing away with the silly “three strikes” legislation.
Another area is that the Crown, through the police, needs to exert some control on how complex it makes some of these trials. The prosecution controls how long some cases are, to a certain extent, just as the defence does. The increasing complexity of all trials, be they civil or criminal, needs to be addressed, because the quality of justice has not changed much. There are no more or fewer people getting off charges when they really are guilty and ought to be convicted, or being convicted when they are innocent. That sort of thing has not changed over time, yet trials are becoming longer and longer and therefore more and more costly. Every additional technical step the prosecution takes has to be matched by a technical and costly act in defence on behalf of the accused, which is at the cost of legal aid if the person on trial is in receipt of legal aid, and at the cost of people’s pockets if the person on trial is not in receipt of legal aid. There is a need for rigour. How do we impose that rigour? Well, it requires a change of practice within the ministries. It is not so much a matter of law; it requires a change in practice. It also, in my opinion, requires judges to control their courts and to say that there is an interest in justice in the expeditious conduct of proceedings. I said yesterday, and I still believe, that the quality of justice cannot be divorced from its accessibility. If there is a fantastic but inaccessible justice system that no one can afford to access, it is not serving the overall interests of society in just resolution of disputes in terms of someone being convicted of a crime or not convicted, or in terms of the resolution of a civil dispute. We have to control the cost of justice. There needs to be rigour within prosecution.
One also needs rigour in the courts. Judges must control their courts. I saw a change during my period in practice when judges moved from being pretty strict, growly, generally old men on the bench. But, my goodness, they had a sense of fairness and they controlled their courts. If a judge saw a lawyer taking too long, trying to delay something coming on for trial, making it too complex, or asking too many preliminary or interlocutory matters prior to trial, they stood on it and stopped it. It is their right to and their duty to, if they are going to cause the efficient administration of justice. I think our justice system has gone back in that regard, and we need to get back some of that rigour. We see the increasing length of judgments. We have only about 350 decided civil matters in the High Courts in the whole of New Zealand between all of the judges. About 350 civil judgments between all of those judges in the whole of New Zealand were defended issues. Not enough matters are coming to trial, because the cost of trials has become too high. The bill covers civil as well as criminal jurisdictions. Legal aid is but one part of what we need for a cost-effective, fair, and just system. We must control the length and cost of processes, despite the fact that we have only 350 judgments in the High Court, I was told. We should look at the length of law reports. They are just as long as they were when we had far, far more decisions coming out of the High Court. The length of every judgment has increased. Too many of the reports read like books or, in my opinion, like academic treatises. It is important that we have the occasional academic look at a point of law, but that is not true of most cases. Most cases can be decided relatively simply on their facts without embarking on some jurisprudential consideration of the finer points of the law. We need more practicality at that end of the justice system, as well.
The Legal Services Bill, in so far as it changes the rules for preferred counsel, is a valid attempt to control expense, but we ought not to pretend that it is actually the fundamental driver of cost. The fundamental drivers of cost—whether they be in legal aid cases or non - legal aid cases—need to be controlled. The High Court Rules and the District Court civil rules need to be changed. They are too complex. We do not have enough oral judgments being delivered. That is another step that could be improved through better judicial practice.
I am privileged to stand in the third reading of the Legal Services Bill. Legal aid was first provided in New Zealand in 1912, to ensure that people of insufficient means were represented fairly. The National Government intends to make sure that all New Zealanders have access to a high-quality legal system. The Government also wants to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent.
The bill will replace the current Legal Services Act 2000. The review undertaken in 2009 by Dame Margaret Bazley identified that the legal aid system was open to abuse. The review also identified that there were inadequate processes to ensure quality and serious delivery of issues. Last year there were 85,156 legal aid grants, costing taxpayers $131 million. The clear message was that it was time for fundamental changes. The trouble these days is that offenders know their rights better than they know their mistakes. The Justice and Electoral Committee received 24 submissions from lawyers, community law centres, and the general public. They all acknowledged the need for reform and recommended many changes to be considered.
The bill will provide an effective legal aid system that supports the wider justice sector. The legal aid system helps to uphold the principles of, and access to, justice, equality before the law, and natural justice, which helps to build and maintain public confidence in the legal system. The bill will provide an effective legal aid system that supports the wider justice sector. It will create a system in which taxpayers can have confidence. It will also provide high-quality legal services by capable lawyers.
The focus of the bill is the reform of the legal service agencies. It transfers accountability for the administration of legal aid to the Secretary for Justice. It creates an independent statutory office that will have an obligation to grant legal aid and ensure the independence of public defence lawyers.
One of the changes recommended by the select committee that I think is very important is that the Secretary for Justice is required to cancel the approval of any provider who was convicted of an offence that is punishable by imprisonment. That will not only align the provision with the provisions of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 but will also ensure that providers are held to appropriate professional standards, and will protect the reputation of the profession.
Another important change recommended by the select committee is to amend clause 77 by inserting new subclause (3A). This clause requires the Secretary for Justice to provide a reason for declining or giving approval for a provider to provide legal aid or specified legal services. That will make the secretary accountable for his or her decisions. It will create a system in which taxpayers can have confidence and it will provide high-quality legal services by capable professionals.
Legal aid services are vital to our most vulnerable citizens, and the changes made in the bill will make proud the users and the providers of legal aid. We are also confident that the package of changes will help build more public confidence that the legal aid system is providing quality service for those who need it while giving taxpayers value for their money.
The bill shows that the Hon Simon Power, the Minister of Justice, has acted speedily to address the issues identified by Dame Margaret’s review. We are confident this package of changes will help build more public confidence in the legal aid system and provide quality service. I support the bill on its third reading.
- Debate interrupted.
Amended Answers To Oral Questions
Question No. 5 to Minister
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is none.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I wish to correct an answer I gave to a supplementary question to question No. 5 in the House today from the Hon Shane Jones. When asked why the waka-shaped pavilion had not been tendered out for contract, I responded that it had been. However, I have subsequently received information that the responsibility for contracting a company for the construction of the pavilion had been transferred to Ngāti Whātua, who exercised their own discretion in procuring a suitably qualified and experienced company to construct the pavilion. The reasons for transferring the responsibility to Ngāti Whātua were time lines and budgetary constraints.
As a further control, the Government, through Te Puni Kōkiri, has engaged Beca, an independent construction company, to provide separate advice and quality assurance on the project through regular reports to the Minister of Māori Affairs. Beca is currently engaged to provide quality assurance on the Cloud project and the fan zone on Queens Wharf.
The answer I gave—that the construction of the pavilion had been tendered out for contract—was not correct.
Legal Services Bill
- Debate resumed.
JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) : It is my pleasure to speak on the final stages of the Legal Services Bill. Although I am no longer a member of the Justice and Electoral Committee, I was a part of the deliberations and public hearings on this bill, and I want to reflect on some of the most important points that I think we need to get on record as members of the select committee going forward.
Charles Chauvel and other members of the Labour Opposition have quite articulately laid out our support but also our reservations about general direction when it comes to our justice system. The two most important principles for me in considering this bill were confidence in our criminal justice system and the issue of accessibility. For me, those are the most important elements of the legal services structure within New Zealand—particularly access to justice, which would be prohibited due to monetary reasons for many people if it was not for our legal services in New Zealand. That was prime in my mind in considering this bill.
When I reflect on Dame Margaret Bazley’s review of legal aid and the fact that the passing of this bill will draw a line in the sand for legal aid going forward, I think there is still some work to be done by the Minister in restoring and improving relationships between the Ministry of Justice, the Government, and the Bar, and particularly the Manukau Bar. It was pointed out very early on that because of some of the anecdotal references made in Dame Margaret Bazley’s report and some of the unsubstantiated claims that cast aspersions across the whole sector, there is a need to rebuild some of those relationships. I hope that the Minister of Justice focuses on doing that for the very reason that we need to restore confidence in our system in order for it to continue to be successful and to support the people who need it most.
I move on to the more substantial parts of the bill, and I will touch on the most important changes. Some were structural; for instance, the bill transfers the administration of publicly funded legal services from the Legal Services Agency as a separate entity and moves them into the Ministry of Justice. It was important to the select committee that we made sure there was enough transparency, enough distinction, between the way that the Minister and the ministry conducted themselves and the ability of that entity to continue to operate in a pseudo-independent way.
One of the things I am still disappointed with is that I do not feel the reporting requirements are perhaps as independent as they could be—for instance, almost all of the reporting comes through the Secretary for Justice to the Minister of Justice. I would have liked to see the new legal services entity and the legal aid commissioner having the ability to report directly to Parliament at their discretion without necessarily being directed by what the Minister of Justice or the Secretary for Justice wished them to report on. We debated that matter at the Justice and Electoral Committee, but in the end I fell down on the side of having perhaps a slightly more conservative line of reporting.
The second important area is the quality assurance framework that is being put in place, which will include a new accreditation system for legal aid lawyers. Again, for me, it is incredibly important in order to restore confidence in legal aid lawyers, not all of whom should live under the cloud of providing a poor service because, of course, not all of them do. Having this framework is an important part of restoring faith in the system, and I think it goes some way to addressing some of the issues Keith Locke has raised. I want to highlight the fact that the select committee had brought before it the point that not only is an accreditation system important but it is also important that lawyers working within the legal aid service do not feel they are being treated unfairly by those who administer the service. If a complaint is made against them, for instance, being able to deal with it in a transparent way also remains important.
I come back to the issue of the preferred lawyer. The Green Party has objected to it, and I think it is important to put on record in this third reading the debate that was had at the select committee. “Preferred lawyer” does not necessarily mean “best lawyer”. I think it is really important to highlight that. At the beginning of the debate, it seemed to me to be unfair to remove a person’s ability to choose his or her own lawyer, but it was brought to our attention that when we are talking about some of the less serious criminal cases—category 1 and category 2 offences—often the person who has been charged is not necessarily making a choice based on the credentials of the lawyer but on those whom they are referred to or those who tend to do the most legal aid cases. It does not mean that those lawyers are the best. It does not mean that the charged person is getting the best-quality service. In fact, in some cases those who are picking up a large range of the less serious criminal cases are some of the poorer lawyers—poorer in terms of quality—working in the field. It really dispelled some of the myths that might be attached to the use of the word “preferred”.
In the end I was comfortable that we were probably striking a better balance by ensuring there is a spread of lawyers dealing with category 1 and category 2 offences, in conjunction with the fact that we will have a quality assurance framework to make sure that everyone working within our legal aid service is a quality lawyer. Also, we have left in the legislation the discretion to allow a person who has used a particular lawyer in the past to use that same lawyer again. If someone has, for instance, specific language issues, or a sensitive case such as a domestic violence case or a Family Court case, and they have used a particular lawyer in the past, they are able to use that same lawyer again. Those protections exist, and it means that we are able to bypass the general rule of thumb, which will now mean that, generally, “preferred lawyer” will no longer exist for category 1 and category 2 offences, and I am now comfortable with that.
I move on to the issue of the public advisory committee, which is something that has been raised in the third reading speeches. I state for the record that I am not entirely convinced we have enough assurances that there will be a good line of communication—which was provided by a public advisory committee—between, for instance, community law centres and the Minister. Although I absolutely believe that Simon Power has proven, through the way in which he has dealt with community law centres in the past, that he does see the importance of these centres in our system, I am not convinced that that will always be the case. In fact, it has been brought into more stark contrast by the fact that Simon Power is leaving the Government. So we are faced with the imminent prospect of having someone potentially less empathetic to the very good work that these community law centres do. I highlight that we need to keep an eye on the lines of communication between the community law centres and Ministers.
On the issue of public education, I say that I am glad we have managed to clarify that it is not something that has been omitted from this bill. It has just been set out differently across two clauses. It is particularly important for groups like Youth Law, who play an incredibly important education and advocacy role, and, through this legislation, will continue to do that.
I have one final point. It is a shame that in an attempt to try to bring greater efficiency to our legal aid system whilst ensuring confidence and accessibility, the Government has undermined all of that work by having a ridiculous piece of legislation like the “three strikes” legislation. It is a case of one step forward and about five steps back.
PAUL QUINN (National) : I note that the “three strikes” legislation has nothing to do with the Legal Services Bill. Jacinda Ardern was outside the Standing Orders and Speakers’ Rulings by referring to it, given that third readings are about summing up the process and focusing on the principles of the bill, as Jacinda will see on page 117 of Speakers’ Rulings.
I will start my contribution to this debate by joining my colleague Kanwaljit Bakshi in acknowledging the new senior Labour whip. I congratulate Mr Barker, although I hope he is not quite as successful as Kanwaljit was proposing. I have noticed that Mr Robertson has been appointed Assistant Speaker only temporarily until the end of this week, and I look forward to Mr Barker resuming the Chair next week, given the contribution and leadership he shows in the House, which I enjoy.
Simon Bridges: What was all that about?
PAUL QUINN: Do not worry; Rick and I work out in the gym. I join the other speakers on the bill who have already alluded to the origins of the bill, which came out of the Dame Margaret Bazley review. Although structural and substantive changes are proposed in the bill, I will focus principally in this contribution on the strategic intent of the bill, rather than on its structural issues.
The starting point is that we must recognise that at some stage in any organisation or process, complacency becomes embedded, and the systems used and the focus shown are not in keeping with the service that is needed and demanded. As a consequence, the bill is very timely in order to update the processes.
I am pleased to join most of the speakers who have contributed to the debate. I agree with Jacinda Ardern’s contribution, particularly in terms of preferred lawyers. She covered her points very well. There was also a very good contribution from David Parker—
Simon Bridges: What about mine?
PAUL QUINN: —and from Simon and Kanwaljit. They were all excellent contributions. There is really nothing further I can add. I, along with my colleagues, have great pleasure in endorsing the bill.
|Ayes 106||New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 41; ACT New Zealand 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 14||Green Party 9; Māori Party 4; Independent: Carter C.|
|Bill read a third time.|
Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : I move, That the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill be now read a second time. I would like to thank members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for their work on this bill. This bill will make important changes to improve New Zealand’s road safety by targeting two key groups that are overrepresented in our road toll—young drivers and high-risk drivers. It makes changes to the requirements for young drivers. The bill as introduced proposed to raise the minimum driving age for obtaining a driver’s licence from 15 to 16 years; to introduce a zero blood-alcohol concentration for all drivers aged under 20; and to allow the restricted licence test to be tougher. These are crucially important steps as New Zealand has a 60 percent worse fatality rate amongst young drivers than Australia does and these changes will help address that sad reality.
Recently released statistics have shown that 72 percent of alcohol-related crashes resulting in death were caused by high-risk drivers—people with a previous drink-drive conviction, or first-time offenders with an alcohol reading at least 50 percent higher than the legal blood-alcohol limit. To crack down on these problem drivers the bill as introduced proposed an alcohol interlock programme to be introduced, a zero blood-alcohol concentration licence for repeat offenders, doubling the prison sentence from 5 years to 10 years for dangerous driving offences causing death, and allowing the renewal of a 28-day licence suspension for up to three consecutive occasions while police investigate charges. As well as improving road safety, this bill will also improve the efficiency of our land transport legislation by removing duplicated legislation and streamlining the rule-making process.
This bill was referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee in September 2010. The committee received 85 submissions and although there have been no substantive changes to any proposals, a number of changes have been suggested by the committee that will improve the effectiveness of current provisions. I believe that the bill is better for these changes. Definitions have been clarified, such as the definition of “cumulative work day”. This will assist police, and heavy vehicle drivers and their employers, in ensuring compliance with work-time and rest-time obligations. There has been a change to proposals for the regime for collecting blood specimens from suspected drink-drivers. The bill proposes allowing changes to requirements to account for more modern and safer methods, such as Vacutainers as an alternative to syringes. The bill as introduced would have allowed the blood specimen collecting procedure to be set out by the Minister of Police through a Gazette notice. Submitters on the bill were concerned that this would remove the current requirement to provide a blood specimen for independent analysis. The right to an independent analysis of a blood specimen by a private analyst remains unchanged.
The committee also recommended changes to alcohol interlock provisions. These changes will make it explicit that a person subject to an interlock is also subject to a zero breath-alcohol level; clarify that a driver subject to indefinite qualification can, at the court’s discretion, be sentenced to an alcohol interlock as an alternative sentence; and allow the New Zealand Transport Agency to authorise the removal of interlocks from a vehicle. This will ease administration but not allow the agency to remove a court order.
The police have had difficultly obtaining suitable evidence to enforce current chain of responsibility provisions. The bill as introduced proposed extending the police’s powers to obtain a search warrant for these offences. The select committee, after considering submissions, has recommended that the process for obtaining a search warrant for those offences be the same as for all other offences. This will assist police and send an important message to all people in the supply chain about their responsibilities. The committee has recommended enhancements to the New Zealand Transport Agency’s powers, to allow it to immediately suspend the licences of taxi drivers and other professional drivers who carry passengers where there is a serious allegation against them. Currently, a New Zealand Transport Agency licence suspension can take effect only 28 days after it is served. This delay could put passengers at risk. The change will improve passenger safety. The committee has also agreed with the Government on the need to gather New Zealand - specific evidence on the harm caused by drivers who have a blood-alcohol concentration of between 0.05 and 0.08 grams. All drivers who fall within this range who have been involved in a fatal or serious injury crash will have their details forwarded to the Secretary for Transport for analysis.
Finally, I would like to ask the House to consider, at the appropriate time, Supplementary Order Papers that will amend a number of technical points in this bill. These papers will correct a number of minor errors and omissions and reduce the administrative burden on the courts. These papers will also allow for the orderly implementation of various new requirements to be inserted into the Land Transport Act. Again, I thank the committee for its work on this bill. The bill will improve road safety by improving the safety of young drivers, and by allowing for the better management of high-risk drivers. It makes a number of other important changes to facilitate the smooth operation of existing transport law. This is a good bill and I commend it to the House.
- Debate interrupted.
Just over a month ago I was elected as the member of Parliament for the Botany Electoral District. Botany is one of New Zealand’s most diverse constituencies. It is also the newest electorate in New Zealand. Having lived locally for some years, I have seen much of the electorate grow from farmland to the tightly packed suburbs that it is today. One-third of the Botany population is of Asian descent, and almost half of all residents were born overseas.
The people of Botany were kind enough to put me here, and, for however long they allow me to stay—and it is their decision, ultimately—I will be a staunch and loyal advocate for my community’s best interests. I sincerely thank the people of Botany for putting their faith in me and electing me to the forty-ninth Parliament. I also acknowledge the National Party and my campaign team for the support I was shown during the recent Botany by-election. It takes a dedicated, hard-working, and passionate team of volunteers to make it all happen. I owe a great deal to many of the people sitting in the public gallery this afternoon for all the time and effort they put in on my behalf.
I am proud to be joining the National Party caucus at this time. I am proud to be part of a fair-minded, focused, and effective team that is working hard to make New Zealand an even more vibrant, successful, and great nation. I am also proud of two very special ladies in my life who have always had my best interests at heart. Without my wife, Lucy, and my grandmother Sharron, I doubt I would be standing here today.
I did not have an easy start to life. It is a common misconception that National MPs were all born with silver spoons in their mouths. That certainly did not occur in my case. My mother was young when she had me, and my father was nothing more than a faceless name that never stepped up to life’s responsibilities. Having just finished raising three girls on her own, my grandmother decided that it was her job to give her young grandson the best start to life that he could possibly ask for. She raised me in our small flat in South Auckland, where we lived from week to week as she looked after her own frail mother at the same time. My grandmother is the reason I did not become a statistic. In the most public way that I could possibly say this, thank you, Nana, for the love and support you showed me, and for giving me everything I could have asked for. May every child born into difficult circumstances in this country be as lucky as I have been.
Five years ago I met another incredible woman, a young archaeologist at the University of Auckland. Since we met, my wife, Lucy, has been my biggest supporter, my toughest critic, and my most solid anchor to the real world. I have been told that Parliament can be harder on spouses than it is on MPs. Although this place will become a big part of my life, I will always remember that I was a husband first, long before I set foot in this Chamber.
I recognise the fact that I am also the product of an amazing school, and one of New Zealand’s largest charities, Dilworth School. For those who do not know, Dilworth School was founded in 1906 under the terms of the will of an Irish-born farmer and businessman, James Dilworth. Dilworth and his wife, Isabella, had no children of their own, but they wanted to ensure that their wealth and their life’s work were put to good use. James Dilworth was very specific about the concept he wanted for the school. He wanted to provide “an education for as many boys as possible from families in straitened circumstances to ensure that those boys become good and useful citizens.” That basic concept has not changed in 100 years.
I enter this House as the fourth Dilworth old boy, following in the footsteps of the Hon Harry Lapwood, the Hon Dr Michael Bassett—who is here today—and the Rt Hon Mike Moore. I am pleased to be able to even up the balance between Dilworth Labour MPs and Dilworth National MPs.
I joined the National Party because we believe in giving New Zealanders the freedom to choose their own destiny and reap the rewards for doing so. We believe in one standard for citizenship and in treating all New Zealanders equally, and we believe that national and personal security must be protected for the benefit of the country as a whole. The National Party seeks a safe, prosperous, and successful New Zealand—a New Zealand that allows all Kiwis to reach their hopes and dreams. And long may it continue.
I can promise the Prime Minister and my new caucus colleagues that for as long as I am a National member of this Parliament I will be an ardent advocate for the National Party and for agreed policies. But I understand that during one’s maiden statement it is appropriate to outline for the House one’s own personal beliefs and political views. I now wish to do just that.
I am a staunch believer in limited government. I believe Government intervention in the lives of New Zealanders must be minimal, and take place only where necessary. I believe the State should provide help to those in need, but on the basis of need, not desire. I believe that the Government must protect the private and personal security of citizens from foreign or domestic attack. I believe the State should provide access to essential services like health and education when the private sector is unable to provide these services profitably. Above all else, we should instil in the nation a culture of personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.
It has been my observation, during my time as a city councillor, that as politicians we have a natural tendency to want to legislate, and a natural tendency to want to throw funding at an issue or to regulate, often in a way that limits the freedoms of everyday New Zealanders. I submit to this House that in making decisions, the principles of freedom and liberty must be overriding considerations in everything we do.
In my view, one of the greatest observations of the 20th century came from Ronald Reagan during his first inaugural address. Speaking about the problems of decades of bloated bureaucracy, the problems of an overreaching State, and the economic ills of a Government that thought it could spend its way out of many of the problems it encountered, he commented that government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.
As politicians, too often we jump to pass laws without first trusting New Zealanders to do the right thing. Too often we think we know best how New Zealanders should be spending their own money, when instead we need to realise that the collective intelligence of a nation far surpasses anything we as politicians can devise ourselves. Too often we seek to interfere in the private lives of individuals without first questioning whether we were ever asked to do so.
Governments should not be judged solely on how many laws they pass that, rightly or wrongly, increase the size of the State or further restrict our freedoms; Governments should be judged also on how many unnecessary statutes and regulations they remove, further reducing restrictions and compliance regimes and ridding the country of the shackles of socialism that have been built up over many decades gone past.
Socialism is a failed experiment. The socialist doctrine seeks to close the gap between rich and poor—a reasonable goal. But rather than doing so by incentivising wealth creation, socialism seeks to redistribute the limited resources of wealth creators by using the coercive power of the State. If tax and spend was all we had to do to achieve what we wanted, then every nation on earth would be a glowing utopia of human desire. Clearly that is not the case. If I may paraphrase Baroness Thatcher, the problem with this approach and the problem with socialism is that eventually we run out of other people’s money to spend. The problem with trying to spend our way towards closing the gap between rich and poor is that eventually we all collectively become poorer. I have faith that this National-led Government will continue to progress an agenda of reform that seeks to concentrate resources on core front-line services by reducing red tape and distancing ourselves from a time when social engineering was the predominant focus.
As a new member of Parliament, I join the ranks of members past and present who are proud to call themselves Māori. But although I am an individual of Māori descent, I consider myself a New Zealander first and foremost. I have Ngāti Porou blood running through my veins, but I assure the House that I am a New Zealander who believes strongly in one standard of citizenship.
Te Tiriti o Waitangi is an exceptionally important document in New Zealand. It has a very simple and succinct text, but one that must be read in its entirety. We often hear of the principles of kāwanatanga as expressed in article 1, and tino rangatiratanga as expressed in article 2. Sadly, the often forgotten part of the Treaty is article 3. The Kāwharu translation of the Māori version of article 3 reads: “For this agreed arrangement therefore concerning the Government of the Queen, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand and will give them the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.”
I am not convinced that we have yet reached the point in New Zealand where we calmly and honestly talk about the relationship between Māori and non-Māori in the context of article 3. My strong belief in one standard of citizenship means that I believe in fair, full, and final settlement of Treaty grievances, with a strong emphasis on the word “final”. Believing in one standard of citizenship means that I will treat every single one of my constituents equally, regardless of the colour of their skin.
It also means that I do not subscribe to the view that I or any New Zealander of Māori descent require special seats to be elected to Parliament, to councils, or to any other body in this country. It is my hope that the people of New Zealand will be given the opportunity in the near future to examine the role of Māori seats in Parliament by way of referendum. I am a New Zealander of Māori descent, and proudly so, but I hope to challenge the status quo in my time here. I will be criticised along the way, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that all New Zealanders should be treated equally. He iwi tahi tātou—we are all one people.
I have been impressed so far with this Government’s strong emphasis on law and order issues. It is a fundamental responsibility of the Government to keep everyday Kiwis safe. New Zealanders have had a perception for a long period of time that as a nation we are too soft on crime. We should not be. In 2008, 15,000 members of the Asian community marched through the streets of Botany protesting against violent crime. Good on them for taking that stand. New Zealanders expect the State to keep them safe and secure.
They also expect the State to take a hard line on those who infect our society with their lack of respect and their disdain for the rights of their fellow citizens. We should not be afraid to say that criminals are bad people. We should not be afraid to say that the softly softly, “wrap them up in cotton wool” approach of the past is ineffective. And we should not be afraid to say that inmates deserve to have it tough in prison—so tough that they never want to put a foot wrong again—but also with an emphasis on rehabilitation to help break the vicious cycle of crime and reoffending. If the State fails to keep the citizens of a nation safe and secure, then the State has failed its citizens.
I enter this House with a strong set of beliefs and ideals. I am a centre-right fiscal conservative, someone who believes in individual freedom, equality, and the maintenance of law and order. Undoubtedly, some of those ideals will be moulded and tempered over time to align with what is achievable, but although politics may be the art of the possible, politics without principle is nothing more than a naked power grab.
I want my constituents to have the right to exercise their free will to make the most of the time they have on this earth. I want our nation to be proud. I want our nation to be prosperous. I want every child born in New Zealand to be able to access quality schools and universities. I want every adult to seek to be a productive member of society, where they do not have to rely on the State to prop them up. I want our nation to be a centre of brilliance, where achievement is rewarded and innovation and excellence can thrive, where we value and protect our personal freedoms, and where we celebrate every day all that is great about our New Zealand.
I am honoured to have been elected to the forty-ninth Parliament. I come here to be what James Dilworth called a good and useful citizen. I am honoured to have been elected to serve the people of Botany as their member of Parliament, and serve I shall.
- Sitting suspended from 5.59 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill
- Debate resumed.
DARIEN FENTON (Labour) : Thank you so much, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, for pronouncing my name correctly. It is very nice. I will take the opportunity to congratulate you on your new role. We know that you will be fantastic. You have done it before, and we have great faith in your ability to be fair to all of the members in this House.
Paul Quinn: Can I join with you, Darien?
DARIEN FENTON: The member can. I will come to the matter at hand. I am very pleased to take a call in the second reading of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2010. Labour supports the majority of the bill’s provisions, because there is much that is good in the bill. We support a zero limit for repeat drink-drivers, the alcohol interlocks for repeat offenders, the tightening of work-time requirements for truck drivers, and the doubling of the minimum prison time for drunk, drugged, or reckless driving causing death.
Although we will vote for the bill at its second reading, we will be putting forward a couple of amendments at the Committee stage, because we have some concerns about two aspects of the bill. Firstly, the Government has missed the opportunity to lower the blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05 grams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The public have been calling for the limit to be lowered, every poll supports it, and there is readily available research confirming that it would make a difference to our road safety. Secondly, Labour members have also thought very long and hard about the increase in the driver-licensing age from 15 to 16, and we have consulted widely on the matter. We remain unconvinced about the need for change, although we do support extending the learner-licensing period.
I will address the last matter first. Raising the minimum age for holding a driver’s licence to 16 effectively means that young people must be 16 before they can apply for a licence. After they apply for and pass the written and practical tests, there is still the learner-licensing period. The bill provides for an extension from 6 months to 12 months for that learner-licensing period before a driver can obtain a restricted licence. We support the extension, and we do so because research shows that the period of supervised driving under a learner’s licence is when young drivers—and in fact all drivers—are at their safest. However, the overall effect of the proposed changes is that young drivers will be 17 before they can obtain a restricted licence.
We have some difficulties with that situation, because we have seen no evidence that raising the age for holding a driver’s licence will reduce accidents for 15-year-olds. Let me make it very clear, and let me put on the record, that Labour, along with most New Zealanders, is concerned about our high teenage crash rate. New Zealand’s road death rate for 15-year-olds to 17-year-olds is the highest in the OECD, and our road death rate for 18-year-olds to 20-year-olds is fourth highest. No one—no one—wants to see our young people dying unnecessarily in horrific road crashes, but we have found no research that attributes the high rate to the age at which young drivers are able to begin their driver-licensing and education process.
There is no clarity about whether it is age, lack of experience, or lack of supervised driver training that is causing the problems, but we do know that the greatest risk for young drivers comes during their first 6 months of driving independently. That indicates to me that a lack of experience, rather than the driver-licensing age, is the problem. Could it be that an inexperienced 16-year-old or 17-year-old is just as likely to crash as an inexperienced 15-year-old?
Of course we support young drivers learning to drive well, through proper supervision and driver education, but the approach the bill takes is the low-hanging fruit approach that the Government is very, very fond of. The danger we see with the bill, and with this provision for raising the driver-licensing age, is that we are simply shifting the problem from one age band to another. Driving problems among the young are shown to occur when they shift from the restricted period to the time of being unsupervised.
There is a popular perception—there is no doubt about it—that everybody thinks that if we pick on the young and go after them with a driving-age increase, it will fix all the problems. The Government wants to be seen to be taking action. Sadly, young drivers and communities will pay with the provision for raising the driver-licensing age. Raising the driver-licensing age will have impacts on rural communities—
Paul Quinn: Is that the same for alcohol?
DARIEN FENTON: —and on young workers and students who need to drive to work or study. Perhaps Mr Paul Quinn should have sat in on some of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee hearings where rural New Zealand Federated Farmers and young workers came along and expressed their real concerns about the impracticalities of raising the driver-licensing age. Let me emphasise that it is about the driver-licensing age; it is not about the age at which young people can drive. They cannot drive at 15, but they can apply to become licensed drivers.
The second issue I will address is the blood-alcohol content limit. We are deeply disappointed that the bill fails to deal with lowering the adult blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05. We all know that alcohol is involved in a significant number of vehicle crashes that result in death and injury. Loss of life, personal suffering, and costs are an enormous and preventable burden on our society. The Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, had the opportunity to do something about the blood-alcohol content limit in the bill, but he has kicked it into touch.
Select committee members were aware of the concerns, because we heard—and I was on the select committee—from submitter after submitter that the bill was an opportunity to address something that we say, and that the Minister’s own advice says, would save 17 to 35 lives every year. The regulatory impact statement from the Ministry of Transport on the Safer Journeys strategy gives very clear advice to the Government on this matter. It states: “Currently alcohol impaired driving is one of the main causes of serious road crashes. In 2009, alcohol contributed to 33 percent of fatal crashes and 21 percent of serious injury crashes. Crashes involving alcohol resulted in 137 deaths, 565 serious injuries, and 1725 minor injuries at an estimated social cost of $875 million. Road crashes”—with or without alcohol—“place a substantial burden on the economy and the health sector, and lower the quality of life of many New Zealanders. The annual social cost of road crashes in New Zealand is approximately $3.8 billion … Drink driving is a significant contributor to this social cost and one of the main causes of serious road crashes.”
The advice to the Government from the Safer Journeys strategy, which is from the Minister’s own ministry, was that if the Government lowered the adult blood-alcohol content limit from 0.08 to 0.05, and if it also lowered the youth limit from 0.03 to zero and introduced infringement penalties for the proposed excess blood-alcohol content offences, then these actions could save between 17 and 35 lives and prevent between 363 and 729 serious injuries each year—let alone the millions of dollars it would save our communities.
There is an extensive body of research on the issue. I know that the Minister is saying we need New Zealand research, but actually the research is there. It concludes that impairment starts at a very low blood-alcohol content, and that the vast majority of drivers are affected or impaired at a level of 0.05, with significant impairment at 0.08. In fact, the Minister tested it out, did he not? He clearly agreed when he said that legal alcohol limits for drivers are just ridiculous, after he drank three-quarters of a bottle of wine and was surprised to find he could still legally get behind the wheel.
Labour offered an out to the Government. We put forward a member’s bill that would deal with this issue. It was a face-saving offer for the Government. We are prepared to work with the Government on this issue, but it has chosen not to. The Government has chosen not to work with us.
This issue is about public safety on our roads. This issue is about saving lives and preventing deaths on our roads. It is not a game; we are talking here about real people whose families and others will be affected. The Government has chosen to do nothing about the issue.
DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) : Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. I congratulate you, as well, on your ascension to that role. I am sure you will do a very fine job, as you have done in your time in the House. Well done, and congratulations!
I will pick up from what the last speaker, Darien Fenton, said. She finished her speech by saying that this Government had done nothing for road safety, and that we were ineffective at dealing with the issue of road safety. But let us look at a little bit of history. The Labour Government had 9 years and did nothing on road safety. It said everything people wanted to hear but did nothing. It has taken National only 2 years to make the most effective changes with regard to road safety that this country has seen in recent times. We put out the Safer Journeys: discussion document, a document that went out for consultation, that was in the public view for nearly a year, and that was around for people to have their say about. It was a document that covered the bases; it went through all the options in road safety, and it delivered some real and tangible solutions in road safety. The Minister of Transport has taken those solutions on board and made positive and real change. I encourage the people of New Zealand to look at that record, and at the reality of actually doing something in the road safety area—not just talking about it but actually delivering solutions that are in the best interests of New Zealand drivers, especially our young people.
We have heard Labour members who have come to this House and talked about putting forward Supplementary Order Papers in the Committee stage. They stand up and do all the politics they can. They say they will change this and change that, but they never actually did anything when they had the chance to do something. We are doing something. We are setting up this legislation so that we can have a better and more stable roading environment that looks after the safety of our drivers as we go forward.
When we look at the big impetus of this legislation, or the big changes it encourages, we see there are two areas we have to look at. One is the driving age in relation to young drivers, and that is something for which I think we need also to commend Peter Dunne, who has always been an advocate in that area. As well, there are the sanctions for serious and repeat drink-driving offenders. Those are the two big changes in this bill. There are a number of other changes with regard to certain by-laws, issuing penalties and suchlike, and with regard to some parts of the demerit points system and the like, but those will pretty much go under the public radar. The first thing that the public will remember about the bill will be the raising of the driving age—that is, raising the driving age to 16 from 15—to give us consistency with Australia and the other international comparators that we use. The second thing is the toughening of sanctions for serious or repeat driving offenders. That provision basically lowers the breath-alcohol limit to zero for certain drivers, and brings in the introduction of alcohol interlocks for repeat drink-driving offenders, which is something I think the public is very supportive of. We hear a lot when we go around our communities—
Hon Shane Jones: Have you read the bill?
DAVID BENNETT: That is the new spokesperson on transport for Labour, who was never even at the select committee, but he will stand up in 5 minutes’ time and say how he will change the bill. He was never even at the select committee. He would not even know what is in the bill, but he will be telling the world about the way he will change it and make things different. We look forward to your contribution tonight, Mr Jones—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): When the member uses the word “you”, he brings the Speaker into the debate. That is not permitted. You are debating in the House; you debate through the Speaker, not to the Speaker.
DAVID BENNETT: Yes, we understand.
Hon Shane Jones: Stop pinching Labour policy.
DAVID BENNETT: They will try to change it, if it is Labour policy. Well, that is typical of Labour.
In conclusion, this bill is very simple. It has two main parts to it—that of the raising of the driving age, and that in relation to toughening the sanctions for serious and repeat driving offenders. Members of the community out there, when we talk them, are very serious about seeing something being done in relation to the drinking and driving components of our communities. That provision will meet with a lot of support in the community, I am sure, as people want to see the legislation toughened so there are better rules and regulations in that area. We commend this bill to the House.
Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) : It is disappointing that the speaker who has just resumed his seat, David Bennett, did not use the entire complement that democratically he was entitled to enjoy. That is largely because his understanding of these matters is threadbare, not unlike his physical appearance. More important—and I want to start with a controversial area—why is David Bennett being so antagonistic to the families of young 15 and 16-year-old drivers in the provinces? Those young people actually need access to a driver’s licence so that they do not run foul of the law. But, most important, if we continue to increase the steepness of the slope that our young drivers have to legitimise themselves through, it will impose a disproportionately large penalty on our Māori men and women—youngsters.
We already know, according to the Automobile Association statistics, that there is a different approach in relation to some of the skills and the orientations shown in the way young Māori view road rules and acquire a licence. It will make life more difficult for garden-variety families in rural New Zealand. This is evidence that the current Minister of Transport, and the colleagues of the Minister, are taking the heartland for granted. It is important that we show some trust, and introduce a suitable system where people in the heartland are not abandoned or neglected as they will be as a consequence of the bill.
It is a very simple change we are suggesting. It is relatively harmless, because the statistics show that there are not an inordinately large number of rural young men and women seeking to drive to rugby or netball, and to move around with their families. But they are being penalised, and we fear that they will be 17 or 18 before they actually get a licence. They have been shown that the current Government does not really care what happens in that part of provincial New Zealand. We have had the extraordinary situation in which Minister Joyce has said he is capable of drinking three or four glasses of wine—
Darien Fenton: Three-quarters of a bottle.
Hon SHANE JONES: Well, I am not entirely sure how much deli plonk that represents—possibly two or three. I have had a bout of it once or thrice myself. The notion was that because he can do it—the “Minister of Dead Ends”—that is evidence that the rules should not be changed. We recently heard from an Australian expert who came over. I met that person whilst the Automobile Association staged its conference down in Te Wai Pounamu, in Queenstown. That expert was very, very judicious, unlike the behaviour of the National contributors to this debate. That expert said that if we change the legal threshold, it improves behaviour. It has a successful impact at the other end of the spectrum.
The Minister of Transport, I have to say, from time to time does have some very useful suggestions; they are just generally not about transport. They are about a host of other things more to do with improving the prospects he presumably enjoys as the “shadow Prime Minister”.
However, I come back to why we think the threshold ought to be changed. I want to be fair. When the threshold changes, it is going to be irritating, and it is going to be disruptive to the lifestyles of people who enjoy popping down to the golf club or to the rugby league club, having one or three drinks, and driving home without the fear they will be stopped by the cops and then suffer the ignominy of being processed through the courts. Quite frankly, I know that many of my own relations and many of my own rugby-playing mates probably suffer that misapprehension. But this is a pitch for the long term.
Hon Member: Rugby-playing mates?
Hon SHANE JONES: I used the word “mate” there, and, as Mr Quinn would know, that was not an inclusive term, in the event that he thought he was being included. But I have to acknowledge we have a great man, capable of great things on the rugby field, in our midst: Paul Quinn. We can never ever take that away from him. Unfortunately he continues to take it away from himself, so I will not add anything in that regard. As I said earlier today, I am not sure whether a rapid departure from his caucus represents transport policy, but it will be one-way traffic; there will be no more Mr Quinn.
However, let me come back to say, yes, a change of the threshold will be disruptive. A change in the threshold will mean that our lifestyle choices will have to go through a process of adaptation. Is that level of irritation or dislocation so severe that we ought not to change it? What we are actually dealing with here is that the “Minister of Dead Ends” knows there will be a change but he does not want the change under his watch. That is a political decision he is making and that is why we want to contest this point. It is more than credible that we should want to do that. It is a genuine point of difference between two political parties over a significant public policy issue.
Who has lobbied them? Who has brought this immovable force upon them that they have remained deaf and ignorant against the large overwhelming majority of the public? All the public want to see is a proactive step taken to improve the prospect of people driving under the influence of alcohol being caught and changing that behaviour. Would it have been the corporate alcohol interests, and is it possible that over the last 3 to 5 years they have contributed to this great journey? Is that why the Government is showing no interest in taking on those vested interests?
That might be the case, and if there are lobbyists paid to represent the corporate alcohol interests there is one area where I hope those lobbyists listen to the public. We have had a gutsful of these alcohol-lollipop drinks. They are creating a great deal of hazard and damage to the young—in many cases vulnerable, and in many cases coming from blighted areas. If we are going to continue, as a consequence of not changing this threshold, the option for those interests to ply that foul brew into our young people, then we should not be surprised if our young people continue to suffer, and worsen the tone in our community because they cannot handle it.
Who else might it have been? At the drop of a hat I would recognise that the Automobile Association is a very proud organisation capable of exerting a considerable level of influence, and its members are very open with their lobby, so I do not think there is anything nefarious from them. They more than likely welcome the opportunity to debate such a public policy issue in a transparent fashion. That takes me back to the small clusters of communities that make up the broad support base for the current Government and the current Minister. These are people who are unwilling to change, and these changes, as I have said, may represent some awkwardness, but in the long term they send a better message to the average Kiwi and his or her family that we have to improve and moderate our behaviour when we use our roads and we have been under the influence of alcohol. This is a group of politicians on that side of the House, and a Minister, who have to find the courage—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order!
Hon SHANE JONES: —have to find the leadership and the vision to reflect something that will put the best interests of our young people at heart and convince them that it is not acceptable to continue to exercise drinking options and imagine that they can drive. One way to make that improvement is to change the threshold. As a consequence of their not doing that—naturally we all support the bill—we are disappointed. Kia ora tātou.
I was just reflecting on the very entertaining speech of the Hon Shane Jones and I wondered what type of drink it would be. I guess it is more akin to a mocktail or a shandy—colourful, filling, but not a great deal of substance. Let us be frank: the previous Labour Government had maybe two or three opportunities to act on its Cabinet discussions about the blood-alcohol level, but it did not act. I congratulate Labour on taking a strong stance now and introducing a member’s bill on the issue but we should have done this a decade ago. We have missed opportunities in the past; we cannot miss the opportunity as the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill passes through Parliament.
I acknowledge the new Mr Assistant Speaker, Mr H V Ross Robertson, in the Chair. Welcome to the new role, Mr Assistant Speaker, kia ora. I acknowledge the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee members, who heard a great number of submissions. I acknowledge the submitters. We heard some pretty powerful testimony.
The bill we are talking about is not academic; we are talking about real people’s lives. Many people in this country have had their whole lives changed, literally in a second, on a road or on a motorway, and, unfortunately, alcohol is such a massive problem in our country. When it comes to road safety the Green position is that we need to do everything we can to ensure our roads are safer.
Road safety should be a priority for the Government. Unfortunately it is not. Its priority at the moment is trying to find $10.7 billion to invest in just seven new roads. I did not bring my graph with me tonight, but a graph I have tried to table in this Parliament compares Government policy statements of the last Government and the current Government. What it shows is that Steven Joyce has raided the entire transport budget—across all the transport classes, from road sealing to road safety—to fund his pet roads of national significance.
The Green Party is proud to have always stood up for road safety in this Parliament. That is why we will vote in favour of the bill tonight, but we have some concerns. First, there are the good points. The Minister of Transport outlined some of the reasons why we support the bill. There are some good points in the bill even though the intent may be modest. We think it is important we do something about the terrible impact of alcohol on young and inexperienced drivers.
My story is that on my 15th birthday I went out and got my learner’s licence. As soon as I got my restricted licence I hit the McDonald’s drive-through to get my first drive-through meal, as I could drive by myself. I grew up in Gisborne, and among all of my mates the driving ambition was to get a car as soon as we could.
Hon Dr Wayne Mapp: You would’ve got a bike, wouldn’t you, Gareth?
GARETH HUGHES: A bike? No, as soon as I could I bought my car and drove to school every day. The Minister might not know.
Paul Quinn: He’s got a car.
GARETH HUGHES: No, I think I might be the only member now who does not own a car, but I am also a member who knows how to change a car engine. I was a bit of a boy racer when I was growing up in high school. I admit I did some stupid things in my car as a 16-year-old and I think many in this Chamber would also have some similar, pretty dumb experiences. So it is important we raise the driving age.
It has been a challenge for the Green Party to decide what we would do on the driving age, but we support raising the age to 16, to move us into line with other countries. That will have an impact. We take an evidence-based approach to it. New Zealand’s accident rate for young drivers is 60 percent worse than Australia’s. We support the moves for interlocks and zero blood-alcohol levels for repeat offenders. We acknowledge the important but small-scale changes made by the select committee to cumulative workdays and to blood specimens, which make the use of vacutainers easier and empowers the New Zealand Transport Agency to take more powers with regard to taxis. We support those moves.
But when it comes to the key missing part of this legislation there are two things. On the one hand is the treatment of offenders and on the other hand is the reduction of the blood-alcohol level. Firstly, I will speak about the treatment of offenders. Much like other alcohol legislation going through this Parliament, there is a focus in the bill on the minutiae, the easy-to-do. When it comes to young people it is easy to scapegoat them as offenders. Across this country we know that drinking is not a youth problem; it is a cultural problem. We know that 92 percent of our problem drinkers are aged over 20. So when it comes to treatment, that is the missing part of the road safety puzzle in this legislation. We know that 80 percent of repeat drink-drivers meet the criteria for a drinking problem, yet only 5 percent of the 30,000 people who are annually convicted of drink-driving offences have a drug or alcohol assessment—only 5 percent. The Ministry of Transport said it would work with other Government departments on treatment options. It is a pity that the Minister of Transport is not here. I look forward to the Committee stage, to find out what progress has been made, because treatment is the key missing part of the puzzle.
When it comes to the blood-alcohol level we are an international outlier. We know that 23 similar Western nations have dropped their blood-alcohol level to 0.5. Why have they done that? They have done it because it works. What we are talking about, and what the officials are advising us on, is that we could be saving between 11 and 33 lives right now in this country, annually. We could be preventing between 300 and more than 600 serious accidents every year. The single most effective thing we could be doing, but we are not doing, is lowering the blood-alcohol level.
Why are we not doing that? I am just not sure, because the majority of the submissions to the select committee were clear. We had just a couple in favour of maintaining New Zealand’s international outlier position—
Michael Woodhouse: Like the AA, who represent 1.3 million drivers?
GARETH HUGHES: I say to Mr Woodhouse that the Automobile Association is a really interesting point. The fact is that most of its members sign up to get its roadside assistance. I am not sure how much the association can talk on behalf of all its members, but I think it made a serious submission. It raised some excellent points, but the only submitters I can recall who submitted in favour of 0.8 were the Automobile Association, Clubs New Zealand, and the Hospitality Association. I asked them at the select committee whether their members had to be drunk to enjoy their premises. That is the thing: we need an entire cultural change. We do not need to be legally drunk. But Professor Doug Sellman in his submission said that driving with a blood-alcohol level of between 0.5 and 0.8 is driving legally drunk. We need to make a change.
We do not need more research. We heard in the select committee that there are more than 300 international reports on lowering the blood-alcohol level. We would not be going out on a limb; we would simply be keeping within the World Health Organization’s guidelines. We know we could be saving a considerable number of lives. We know public opinion is on our side. One opinion poll put at 85 percent those who supported the 0.5 blood-alcohol concentration or the two drinks maximum. We are missing a massive opportunity in this country to save lives and the economy. We are talking about saving potentially $300 million or more at a time when we are borrowing $300 million a week internationally.
I finish on the submission of Professor Doug Sellman, one of the experts on alcohol use in New Zealand. I am glancing over his submission, which states: “We have legalised drunk driving in New Zealand …”, with our current blood-alcohol level. “Decisions like this make me ashamed to be a New Zealander.” As my last point, I will read out a substantive paragraph: “Let every death and every injury that occurs in fellow citizens over the next two years and the suffering of their families be felt by those Members of Parliament who are actively conspiring against the safety, health and well-being of ordinary New Zealanders for the sake of other agendas, by supporting ‘more research’ rather than ‘action now’ on legal drunk driving; and shame on those Members of Parliament who sit back and do nothing while this scandalous decision is passed into law.”
We are missing a massive opportunity. Will it happen in 5 years? Will it happen in 2 years? To finish on the words of Professor Sellman: “Do the right thing.”
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) : I am pleased to speak to the second reading of the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. This Government is serious about providing the right levers for building safer communities, and that definitely includes safety on our roads. The bill forms part of the Government’s road safety strategy, Safer Journeys, which covers the period of the decade 2010 to 2020. The long-term goal for road safety in New Zealand is set out in the Safer Journeys vision: “A safe road system that is increasingly free of death and serious injury”. This vision recognises that although it will be impossible to prevent all road crashes from happening, we can stop many of them resulting in death and serious injuries. The main provisions of the bill will result in this, indeed—fewer injuries from death, and serious injuries.
The world is a very different place from when I first learnt to drive at age 16. There are far more cars on the road now and the cars are considerably more powerful. It is estimated there are over three million vehicles on the road at the current time. That is three times as many as when I learnt to drive. I absolutely support the raising of the driving age to 16. I believe that the world today is a much more dangerous place to drive in than it was all those years ago when I first drove.
The issue of road safety needs to be addressed. The fact is New Zealand still lags behind many other countries in road safety, and the Safer Journeys approach addresses this. It is aimed at improving the safety of young drivers and giving the courts more options and tougher sanctions for serious or repeat driving offenders. I would like to focus on the serious or repeat driving offenders. There is quite a frightening statistic that 72 percent of all alcohol-related deaths on our roads are caused by drivers who have either a prior drink-driving conviction or are more than 50 percent over the current adult legal limit for drink-driving. That is truly terrifying. Recently released Ministry of Transport figures showed that in 2009, 88 deaths—or 72 percent of all alcohol-related deaths—were caused by just 73 drivers, who were either at least 50 percent over the current drink-driving limit or had a previous conviction for drink-driving. Of those 88 deaths, 34 were caused by drivers with a previous conviction, and 50 of those deaths were caused by drivers who were at least double the current legal limit.
This bill is designed to help get that small, but dangerous, group of high-risk drivers off the road. It will do that in a number of ways: by subjecting repeat drink-driving offenders to a blood-alcohol concentration of zero for 3 years, after they receive their licence back; providing a new penalty regime for breaches of the proposed zero drink-driving limit; allowing courts the option of requiring repeat or serious drink-driving offenders to use alcohol interlocks, after a mandated 90-day disqualification; and, of course, doubling the prison sentence for dangerous driving causing death.
The offenders at this end of the spectrum are the Government’s first target, because of their high contribution to fatality statistics, and there is this hard core of drink-drivers who cannot separate their drinking from their driving. Obviously the answer is for them to stop drinking, but the answer also partly lies in technologies such as alcohol interlocks, which can prevent those people from driving. It is absolutely important that we no longer tolerate continued and high-level drink-driver offending, and this bill will address that issue. Although there is no silver bullet, this bill will go some way towards helping to decrease road fatalities. I commend this bill to the House. Thank you.
DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) : As previous speakers have said, Labour supports the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. We think that many aspects of the bill will improve safety on our roads. The previous speaker, Dr Jackie Blue, mentioned a number of those aspects, and we go along with them.
But there are a number of areas where we believe that we could have had a much better bill, and we oppose what has been put up. The ultimate test, I think, for anything on road safety has to be: let us do something that works, let us do something that is proven, and let us do something that has evidence to back it up—evidence to back it up. So when we have a bill that does not address the alcohol limit by dropping the limit from 0.8 to 0.5, it is a wasted opportunity. It is not only a wasted opportunity—it has much more profound effects than that—it is a waste of lives.
We know that if we bring that alcohol limit down, we can save in the order of 20 or 30 lives, according to people who have done the research on this sort of thing. I do not understand, when we know that the evidence is telling us that 0.5 is much safer than 0.8, why we do not bring it down. More than 300 reports internationally have done work on this. For some reason the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, seems to believe that we need to do more research on New Zealand, as if the human beings in New Zealand are somewhat different from the human beings anywhere else in the world. Somehow we have to have our own international research that applies to us.
If he drinks three-quarters of a bottle of wine, it brings him up to the 0.8 limit. He said that with that amount of wine in his system he certainly would not drive, yet he is quite willing for everybody else to have that amount of alcohol in them and drive. The man is simply not being consistent and not looking at the evidence before him.
We need to have a blood-alcohol limit of 0.5; even the Prime Minister agrees with this. The Prime Minister said that that probably was the best thing to do, yet for some reason Mr Joyce felt he needed to go out and consult again. For some reason we need another 2 years of research, and for some reason he needed to test the polling, as this Government tends to do. It needs to test the polling before a decision is made, rather than trust the evidence. So we end up with a delay in the inevitable reduction of the blood-alcohol limit from 0.8 down to 0.5.
When Mr Joyce went out and checked the polling, he found, strangely, that people out there—70 percent of the public—wanted to bring the blood-alcohol limit down. Those people recognise, unlike him, that it will make our roads a safer place to be on.
That is one piece of evidence that this Government has chosen to ignore. The other one—which is not so critical in terms of driver safety, but is nevertheless based on evidence—is that somehow raising the driving age from 15 years to 16 years will make the roads much safer. Actually, the evidence proves that it does not make the roads safer. Bringing the driving age up does not improve the safety on our roads. It is the first 2 years after getting a licence that is the most dangerous time for young males up to the age of 25 years. There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate the claims that raising the age from 15 years to 16 years will make our roads safer.
It will, however, make it incredibly difficult for youth in rural areas to get to and from school and for young people to take on jobs. We all know that public transport, particularly in the city that I come from, is not provided with the sort of funding it needs, so people need cars. The people who suffer from this change will be 16 and 17-year-olds who maybe are starting a job, need to get to school, or need to get to sports clubs quite responsibly. As I said, there is no evidence that raising the age will somehow make an enormous amount of difference.
The third area that I will touch on—and this just shows that the Minister is not serious about road safety—is Mr Joyce’s famed “Holiday Highway” from Pūhoi to Wellsford. If he really was serious about road safety and if he really was concerned, then he would know that the piece of road that he will build between Pūhoi and Wellsford, at an incredible cost to the taxpayer, is a completely unnecessary road. We could have had the same benefits delivered for a fraction of the price by making safety changes, and we could spend the rest of that money on other things like, perhaps, the broken infrastructure in Christchurch. But, no, we will go ahead with a piece of road that will enable people in the holiday weekends to get to their holiday baches in Ōmaha much quicker, which is the only thing that this piece of roading will do. It will allow people to arrive about 7 or 8 minutes more quickly.
Approximately one person a year dies on that stretch of road. That is a tragedy, and it could be improved by making safety changes. The terrible statistic is that that the Warkworth to Wellsford road, the second piece of that road, kills five people a year, every year—certainly in the last 5 or 6 years—yet we will not get any progress on that part of the road.
I have submitted written questions asking about the plans of the Minister and the New Zealand Transport Agency to improve that stretch of road, including Dome Valley, which is a very dangerous piece of road. This road kills five people a year. We will not get any action on it for the next 10 years. As a result of that, at least 50 people will end up being killed on that piece of road, because the Minister has decided to build a fanciful white elephant “Holiday Highway” between Pūhoi and Wellsford so that he can get to his bach at Ōmaha quicker.
That is the bottom line here. It is really about getting people to their holiday homes. It is about helping the sorts of people Mr Joyce would like to help: his mates, the sorts of people he has just given a tax cut to, and the sorts of people he is looking to expand Auckland’s boundaries for so that they can make a killing on the property market. Those sorts of people do not necessarily use the trains; they like to use the motorways. Those are the sorts of people this Minister wants to help at the expense of those people who will die on the roads.
This Minister is not prepared to look at the evidence, which shows very clearly that a lot could be done to improve road safety. Here I hold the evidence. If members look at this front page of the New Zealand Herald from last week, they will see the heading “2 Killed, 5 Hurt”. This refers to the same piece of road on the “Holiday Highway” that Mr Joyce will not improve for another 10 or 20 years, because he will be focused on the area between Pūhoi and Wellsford that will get him to his holiday bach.
That is the sort of policy we are getting from this Government. It will not lower the blood-alcohol level, even though that happens to save lives. It will not invest in improving pieces of roading that are killing people. We get money spent on the rich, not on those who will suffer the most: people who are at the bottom of society. That is what separates that Government and that party from this party on this side of the House. This party goes by the evidence, does what is right, and stands up for those who will be hurt and killed because of crazy policies that this Minister is bringing into this House.
For that reason, I say very forcefully that although Labour supports this legislation and lots of the elements in it, there are elements that are seriously lacking, and I have outlined some of those today. Thank you.
Hon TAU HENARE (National) : Kia ora. Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, and congratulations on your elevation to your old position. My advice to Labour members is to sit down, get out of the way, shut up, and let us do our job. That is all those members need to do: be quiet—
Kelvin Davis: Build the waka, build the “Tupper-waka”.
Hon TAU HENARE: That is right—No. 1 waka jumper, and proud of it. In fact, they are building a monument this very day, and I am very proud of that.
I am glad that Mr Shearer got up and spoke so eloquently.
Hon Maurice Williamson: No, you’re not.
Hon TAU HENARE: Well, I am. The great pity of it all is that not one member of the last Labour administration spoke as eloquently as that member did, and that is a shame. National will do the work that is required, and we will put in the hard yards that are required. I absolutely support these measures.
KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) : Thank you, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, for the opportunity to speak on the Land Transport (Road Safety and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. Before I get to the substance of the bill I will take this opportunity, as others have, to congratulate Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson on his elevation to the post. I know he has vast experience in the House, and I am sure he will be a fair-minded Assistant Speaker.
As many members on this side of the House have said, Labour supports the thrust of this bill and many of the measures in it. But there are a number of bones of contention that we have highlighted tonight. As my colleague David Shearer said previously, the move not to take any action on lowering the blood-alcohol level is a lost opportunity. It is a lost opportunity to take real action on a matter that has real public support. As David Shearer also mentioned, it is a real lost opportunity to save, every year, the lives of about 25 or 30 Kiwis on the roads.
There was an opportunity to have cross-party support to lower the blood-alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05, and I believe that this House should have taken it. It was a lost opportunity to do what is right. We have the ability to save the lives of many Kiwis who are out on the roads now, driving innocently down the road when someone who has had too much to drink gets behind the wheel and takes lives. We have the ability to save 25 to 30 of those lives, but we are seeing a lost opportunity.
The Minister of Transport had the opportunity to get cross-party support through a member’s bill that Labour put forward. The Minister himself has already let the cat out of the bag and said he supports lowering the legal blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05. He supports lowering the blood-alcohol limit. He said himself that it was just ridiculous that he could drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine and still be able to drive. The fact that the Government and the Minister did not have the courage of their convictions to do what is right and put some substantial changes in the bill to lower the blood-alcohol limit is a lost opportunity.
Instead, what has the Government done? It has made a commitment to carry out 2 more years of research to see whether there is a massive effect from drivers who are found with a blood-alcohol limit between 0.08 and 0.05. We do not need any more research. Over the last 50 years we have had 300 studies to find out the impact of drink-driving around these levels. They quite categorically say that lowering the blood-alcohol limit is the thing to do to make sure we can save lives. The lost opportunity—and the Government knows it—is that right now we could be taking concrete action against those who go out there, get behind the wheel, and cause grief.
We know what Steven Joyce wants to do, because he know the optics are right. A One News poll from Television New Zealand stated that 67 percent of Kiwis want a lowered blood-alcohol rate. Public opinion is there, and the Minister knows it. Let me have a look at what the media has had to say about this issue: “a UMR Research survey … found 70 per cent of respondents supported lowering the limit to 50mg”. That was in the New ZealandHerald on 19 May last year. The New ZealandHerald is not a fan of the Labour Party at the moment, but it is still talking sense around lowering the blood-alcohol limit.
An article in the Otago Daily Times of 9 April 2010states: “A Research NZ poll of 500 people has found 63% support lowering the adult blood-alcohol limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, to 50mg. Previous surveys have seen a 50-50 split.” There has been a mood change over the years, and the mood change has been that Kiwis want to see action on lowering the blood-alcohol limit. The Otago Daily Times continues: “The poll also found 84% in favour of a zero blood-alcohol limit for drivers under 20.”
Journalists in the Bay of Plenty took positive action, just to test the real impact of drinking and driving. They took it upon themselves to have a few drinks and then see where they tested and how they felt when they were at the limit. On 28 August the front page article in the Bay of Plenty Times said that four Bay of Plenty journalists had failed a breath test only after consuming eight bottles of beer or five glasses of wine. One of the female reporters was rolling drunk on wine, and, amazingly, she still blew under the limit. Importantly, they all felt they should not be driving, despite registering below the legal limit. They were journalists taking it upon themselves to be guinea pigs to test where they were on the scale of whether they were OK to be behind the wheel. They were—although one was rolling drunk and the other three knew they would not be safe behind the wheel. Again, in the Otago Daily Times on 9 April, Otago University public health physician and epidemiologist Jennie Connor said that drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 80mg were almost four times more likely to have a fatal crash than those with a reading of 50mg.
Why are we not taking action? There is support on this side of the House to make sure we can take action. The Government would absolutely and utterly have the mandate of this Parliament to make sure we could take some real action. In an earlier stage of this debate the Minister said there was a need for public support. That support is already out there, as I mentioned and as shown in the earlier public opinion polls, such as that from my former colleagues at One News, which showed 67 percent in favour of lowering the blood-alcohol rate.
It is wrong that we are heading down the one-way street against the tide of public opinion. People want the blood-alcohol level to be lowered. As I said before, there have been 300 studies over the last 50 years. We do not need to wait another 2 years. The members on the other side of the House can cry across at us “You did nothing over 9 years.” Well, those guys are there now and have the Treasury benches.
Dr Jackie Blue: We’re doing stuff.
KRIS FAAFOI: You are not doing what is needed.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): The member cannot bring the Speaker into the debate.
KRIS FAAFOI: I apologise, Mr Assistant Speaker. The Government is not doing what is needed and what is publicly supported in terms of lowering the blood-alcohol limit. At a Transport and Industrial Relations Committee hearing a number of submitters were urging the Government to take action. As Gareth Hughes mentioned earlier on in this debate, there was a submission by Professor Doug Sellman. I will take a moment to have a look at what he said. He said it was “an appalling decision by Government to deliberately delay the lowering of the adult level for drink driving from 0.08 to at least 0.05. Decisions like this make me feel ashamed to be a New Zealander. It makes me feel part of an increasingly backward little nation of plodders and plonkers, having previously been a world leader in progressive social change towards a safer and healthier human society.”
Paul Quinn: That’s OK; let him wander off to Australia. Cheerio, Doug.
KRIS FAAFOI: Paul Quinn can sit on the other side of the House taking pot shots, but we are talking about people’s lives here. If he thinks it is funny that we are not taking action against lowering the blood-alcohol limit, then let the record show that. Professor Sellman went on: “Lives are going to be unnecessarily lost and severe maiming injuries suffered to innocent New Zealanders that could be prevented over the next two years, while research that even the researchers are not calling for is undertaken. The cost to the country has been predicted to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
In this case, although Labour supports the thrust of the bill, the Minister has the judgment wrong on this one. The public opinion is that we should take real action because too many New Zealanders—even young New Zealanders—have lost their lives on the road. The Minister has this wrong and he knows it. He himself has said that it is just ridiculous that someone like him can drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine and still be able to get behind the wheel. The judgment call is wrong. The judgment could have been made to reach across to this side of the House to take some affirmative action to make sure we can save lives, but that judgment was not made.
For all the huffing and puffing, I think there are just two questions we need to ask: are we safer on the road than we were 10 years ago, and what is Labour’s record during its 9 years in office when it had a chance to do something about it? I will tell members the answer to the second question: none, zilch, nada. Labour did absolutely nothing. We had a 12-month rolling road toll that had been steadily decreasing since the 1970s and then it flatlined under the Labour Government. When other countries’ safety records improved, ours did nothing. We now have road fatality rates per kilometres travelled 40 percent higher than Australia’s, 28 percent higher than America’s, and 82 percent higher than the UK’s. Labour members can spout sanctimonious sermons, but the fact is that Labour did absolutely nothing about it when it had its chance. The public should view Labour members’ crocodile tears for road safety for what they are: populist, dog-whistle politics.
I will move on to the question of blood-alcohol—[Interruption] They did; they microchipped the dogs.
I will move on to the issue of blood-alcohol concentration, because it has been the fixation of members opposite during the whole second reading debate. The second question is how many serious or fatal accidents in New Zealand involve drivers whose blood-alcohol concentration was between 0.05 and 0.08 where the driver was at fault. The fact is, we do not know. We can draw some inferences from the international data—
David Shearer: 300 reports, though.
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Yes, but the member has not named a single report that actually answers that question. How many drivers driving between 0.05 and 0.08 caused an accident where they were at fault?
Even in the Safer Journeys document, in which the Automobile Association produced some data to support their position that at this stage 0.08 should not be dropped, the Ministry of Transport was quite critical of the Automobile Association’s data. In fact, the ministry criticised itself. When the Automobile Association pointed out that just 6 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes where alcohol was a factor had a blood-alcohol concentration of below 0.08, the ministry pointed out that of the 7,800 accidents in the 5-year period of the study, in only half of those accidents where alcohol was suspected was blood even taken for analysis. The simple fact is that we can draw lots of inferences from the data, but we cannot say whether it will save the lives that Mr Shearer claims it will.
However, it is true that increased blood-alcohol concentration raises relative risk, and that is also what SaferJourneys stated. But it does not raise risk evenly, does it? Those aged 15 to 19 years old are five times more at risk than 30-year-olds. So alcohol is a factor, but it is not the only factor. There are other factors at work; otherwise the accident rate would be extremely correlated. That is why this Government is moving to do better than 0.05 for those people who are at the greatest risk. People aged 15 to 19 years old will have to have a blood-alcohol concentration of zero. Recidivist drivers will have to have a blood-alcohol concentration of zero, and they will have to have interlocks. Maybe the evidence will suggest that that is the right thing to do.
Maybe if Labour members were pontificating over that for 9 years, they should have done something about it. I refer to Mr Hughes’ submission that 85 percent of the public supports that even though the Government is not doing it. Well, I could name a raft of legislation passed over the last 9 years where 85 percent of the public did not support much of the social engineering legislation that the Labour Government put through with the support of the Greens, but that Government did it nevertheless.
This is a Government that will work on evidence. Again, it is very ironic that Ms Fenton somehow is the friend of 15-year-olds. She never mentioned it once in the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, where Labour supported the raising of the licensing age to 16, and has now done a complete U-turn, despite the fact that the evidence is unequivocal that those 15-year-olds are at risk. Labour will sacrifice the 15-year-olds for the sake of a vote in 2014. Clearly it has lost those people for 2011, but it realises they will be turning 18 by 2014 and maybe then they might vote Labour. I say: “Good luck with that.” But there is not enough evidence to suggest that a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05 will work. We are gathering it, and we will see how that goes. In the meantime, I am sure we have not heard the last of this.
|Ayes 116||New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 41; Green Party 9; ACT New Zealand 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1; Independent: Carter C.|
|Noes 4||Māori Party 4.|
|Bill read a second time.|
Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3)
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I move, That the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3) be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I will move that the bill be referred to the Social Services Committee, that the committee report back to the House on or before 31 May 2011, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time that the House is sitting except during oral questions, and 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).
This bill is about fairness. I am proposing these changes to ensure that people in similar circumstances are treated the same. Two areas of the Social Security Act need changing. They are the treatment of weekly compensation and accommodation assistance for students. This bill makes the legislation clearer so that we treat people consistently.
It is important that people receiving weekly compensation are treated the same, regardless of who pays the compensation. Weekly compensation is paid when people cannot work because of an injury covered by the accident compensation scheme. The Social Security Act sets out how the payments are treated when injured persons or their partners claim a benefit. A recent Social Security Appeal Authority decision made it clear that the current wording in the Act does not cover weekly compensation paid under the accredited employer scheme. ACC introduced the scheme to encourage employers to better manage the risks of work-related accidents. The employer gets a reduced levy rate and is responsible for claims where a worker is injured in the workplace. It provides employers with good incentives to minimise the risk of accidents for their workers.
For workers, things are just the same as if they were working for any other employer. They continue to pay the same levy through PAYE and they have the same cover guaranteed under the Accident Compensation Act. If the accredited employer fails to make the compensation payments, ACC steps in to pay the injured worker. That could happen where the employer became insolvent, for example. It would be very unfair if the benefit system treated the injured worker differently just because the weekly compensation payments were made by an accredited employer rather than by ACC. The amendments set out in this bill will ensure that payments of weekly compensation continue to be treated the same, whether paid by ACC or by an accredited employer—or, for that matter, by someone else acting on behalf of ACC or an employer.
Work and Income already treats all of these payments the same. The changes set out in the bill confirm the current and past practice. They will be backdated to take effect from July 1999. That is the time when the wording was first changed to mention the Accident Compensation Corporation as the payer. The decision of the appeal authority, though, will not be overturned. The bill preserves the position of the person who successfully appealed the treatment of weekly compensation payments by an accredited employer.
What does the change mean in practice? It affects two current practices: the backdating of benefit applications and the deduction of weekly compensation payments from benefit payments. The usual rule is that Work and Income cannot grant a benefit from a date earlier than the day on which the person applied for it. Backdating a grant is allowed when a person applies for a benefit after they have been getting weekly compensation for some weeks but their ACC claim has just been declined. If the person had known the claim would be denied, then they would have applied for a benefit in the first place. The Act allows Work and Income to treat the person as if they were receiving a benefit during those weeks. The backdated benefit is used to offset the payments made by ACC. The bill makes sure that the backdating can apply whether the payments have been made by ACC or by an accredited employer.
The second impact of the bill is for people who get less in their weekly compensation payments than the benefit rate that they could claim for their family. Those people can, in effect, have their weekly compensation rate topped up to the right benefit rate. Work and Income pays the benefit after deducting the compensation dollar for dollar so the payments cannot double up; the Crown is not providing twice for loss of income, and families are provided with the level of income they need. The bill makes sure that all weekly compensation payments, not just those made by the corporation, are deducted dollar for dollar from benefit payments. That was, and still is, the Government’s aim. It would be unfair that a person who receives compensation from an accredited employer would be better off than a person who received the same amount of weekly compensation from ACC. That simply would not be fair, and they should be treated the same.
I now turn to how the bill affects students who need help with their accommodation costs. The Government provides assistance for full-time students through allowances and loans. That assistance is designed taking into account the fact that both the individual and the nation benefit from tertiary education. There is a shared approach to assistance, with the Government, students, and their parents contributing resources. This has helped support our high levels of participation in tertiary education, and it is a sensible approach. The accommodation supplement assists low to middle income people with accommodation costs when they are not getting other Government assistance such as income-related rent or a student allowance.
A few students have worked out that they might get more by giving up their student allowance and the accommodation benefit that goes with it, and claiming the accommodation supplement instead. It is not an easy thing to work out, because so many different factors are involved. It depends on their family situation, income, where they live, and their housing costs. The loophole in the Act has meant that students in very similar circumstances can end up getting quite different levels of accommodation assistance. That simply is not right. Students should get the assistance designed for them. The bill closes a loophole so that students cannot use it to claim an accommodation supplement. These are fair and reasonable changes and I commend this bill to the House.
JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) : It is my pleasure to rise and, on behalf of the Labour Opposition, be the first to speak on the first reading of the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3). For the record I state up front that Labour will support this bill. As the Minister, the Hon Paula Bennett, has set out, predominantly the bill makes what appear on the surface to be some minor technical amendments. But, as the Social Services Committee has found in the past with amendments to our social security system, from time to time these minor amendments have unintended consequences, and it is incumbent on the select committee to scrutinise these bills closely to identify where those unintended consequences might be.
At this point I may not be in a position to raise some of those matters, as I have not been able to look closely at the bill and question officials in particular, but I assure the House that that process will happen in due course, as it has with the arrangements in relation to the superannuation living alone payment rate, which the select committee is currently looking at.
As the Minister has pointed out, this bill primarily amends three aspects of the Social Security Act. Firstly, it requires that weekly compensation and payments paid under the Accident Compensation Act 2001 be deducted dollar for dollar from benefit payments. It applies equally to weekly compensation paid by ACC, an accredited employer, or a person acting on behalf of ACC or an accredited employer. That sounds reasonable, on the face of it.
The second aspect is to allow backdating of an application for a benefit when payments have been made by ACC and the applicant’s claim for weekly compensation subsequently fails. Backdating provisions can sometimes tend to be controversial, particularly, obviously, for applicants, and in my mind it is always appropriate for us to err on the side of caution from the perspective of the applicant to ensure that the applicant is not left short if backdating provisions are unfair.
Thirdly, the bill clarifies the provisions that exclude students who are eligible for assistance under the Student Allowances Regulations 1998 from receiving the accommodation supplement. My question to the Minister would obviously be more appropriate for the committee, but I guess I feel it fair to forewarn her that at the select committee I will be very interested to try to ascertain what it means in monetary value for students to go to the extent of cancelling particular student allowance arrangements in order to receive the accommodation supplement. To me, that points to two things. Firstly, there obviously must be a significant financial difference between those two rates of eligibility, but, secondly, in relation to the accommodation supplement, these supplements are never designed to be overly generous but to ensure that an individual is able to survive. For the accommodation supplement to be disproportionately larger than what a student is subsisting on says to me that there might be an issue with the student allowance rate that the student is receiving. It is something that I would be happy to debate at the select committee, and I am sure we will do so with vigour.
Katrina Shanks: I can’t wait.
JACINDA ARDERN: I am glad that the chair of the Social Services Committee is here to hear me give big props to all of the work that the select committee will do on this bill. I might be overstating my enthusiasm at this point, but perhaps not—we will wait and see.
The Minister pointed out in her address that she saw this bill as primarily being about fairness. I am glad she raised that word. It is one of Labour’s favourite words at present, particularly when it comes to the cost of living, which in many ways this bill goes to the heart of with the issue I have just addressed in relation to students in particular.
I would be happy for any member of the Government to tell me what is currently fair about what students in this country are facing. Not only do we have a situation where the Government is ensuring that in real terms it is allowing a shrinking of the caps that have been funded in tertiary institutions but also students who reach eligibility for our tertiary institutions are being either turned away or subsidised by the institutions that do not wish, in a recession, in good conscience, to turn away young people who have met the threshold test to enter their institutions. To me, that is an absolute shame.
When we look at what Australia is doing to try to match what is happening in a recession, we see that it is opening its doors. It is ensuring that its tertiary institutions are well funded and well placed in a time of recession to place young people who cannot find work into credible training institutions to make sure they are upskilled and ready for when the recession turns round. We are doing the absolute opposite. I have heard of institutions that are turning away up to 300 students at a time—to what? The unemployment rate is almost one in four for 15 to 19-year-olds. What is fair about that?
Also, what is fair about a situation where students are cancelling their student allowance, which is relevant to this bill, in order to try to get the accommodation supplement? Is that triggered by the fact that they are facing such a dramatic increase in the cost of living—about 4.8 percent—and that many of them of struggling to survive? If we match that with the fact that part-time job availability is decreasing, we have a recipe for disaster.
The student allowance scheme is not built to allow people to survive solely on what we provide them from the State. They need part-time work. They need to be able to supplement what allowances they may be eligible for, and I really want to highlight the words “may be eligible for”, given that they are all being means-tested against their parents’ income until the age of 24. It is absolutely ridiculous that we determine that students are dependent until that age when, of course, very few of them live at home or have parents who are able to support them at that point. Also, they could quite possibly be married with children, but they are still means-tested against their parents’ income, which is absolutely ridiculous.
What is fair about a GST increase that hits hardest those with the least discretionary income, which includes students and people who, through no fault of their own, are trying to survive on ACC payments? What is fair about that? Just to throw it all into the mix, what is fair about the Government’s voluntary student membership bill? I say “the Government’s bill” because the Government is supporting the ACT Party bill, even though students associations are one of the small ways that young people in universities and tertiary institutions are able to access health centres at a reasonable cost or free of charge. They did, of course, at one point have the opportunity of accessing youth health centres, but the Government has let a couple of those collapse as well, just for good measure. There is absolutely nothing fair about any of those things that those people are facing, all of which are touched on in some form or another by the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3).
I am also interested in the quite hefty regulatory impact statement—which is unusual for a Government bill these days—which almost seems to be potentially longer than the bill might be. I was interested in point five of that statement, which states: “Assistance for students is designed in the context that benefits from tertiary study accrue to both the student and the nation so it is reasonable to expect students to contribute to their own study costs.”
I have not at any point argued with that, but I think it is interesting that we have a regulatory impact statement arguing that there is a public good to tertiary study. That is something that we would be hard-pressed to get the Government to acknowledge. In fact, all of its policy towards students has pointed squarely to a firm view that there is a private good only involved in education past the point where a student leaves school as a secondary student.
Not even night classes are viewed now as a public good by the Government, unless, of course, one is learning literacy and numeracy, and I mean that in the narrowest sense of the term, because literacy and numeracy cannot be learnt in any form other than reading, writing, and arithmetic—if one is a member of the Government. Labour members, of course, take a much different view towards the notion of education, its contribution to society, and the public good that it is. We believe that it should be invested in at every step of the way.
There are many elements of this bill that I would like to have a wider debate on. I am sure that my colleagues will pick up on the fairness theme in respect of ACC, because there is a lot to be discussed under that heading. I am sure my colleagues will carry that theme through.
KATRINA SHANKS (National) : I did not realise we were in a general debate. The Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3) is actually a very, very narrow bill, and I do not quite know how adult and community education fits into it, how GST fits into it, and how voluntary membership of students associations fits into it. It is actually a very, very narrow bill, so I think that member, Jacinda Ardern, got a lot of latitude in the speech she has just given. It will be interesting, when we get to the Social Services Committee, to discuss the issues that are relevant to this bill. I know there may be a wider debate that goes on within the Labour team amongst themselves, but I am sure we will be able to keep to the bill itself when we get to the select committee.
This is an interesting bill. It addresses just two things. It addresses loopholes in the Social Security Act, and it addresses two areas only. One area is in relation to some students who receive accommodation support. Basically, the bill makes it clear that students are not eligible for the accommodation supplement if they could receive assistance under the Student Allowances Regulations but choose not to apply for it. The bill closes a loophole. It is interesting that the member said she was unsure about what the differences were between the accommodation supplement and assistance provided under the Student Allowances Regulations. Actually, it did not take me very long to get on the phone, ring up, and find that out before I got up here to speak tonight. There is very little difference in the maximum value of those two forms of assistance towards accommodation costs, but it is actually extremely hard to get the maximum amount. Someone has to meet a whole lot of conditions in order to claim the maximum amount.
You know, I would say not a huge number of students are claiming the accommodation supplement, because it would not really be to their benefit to do so. But I think it is really important that we get legislation right. This bill just shows us that when we make legislation we have to be really wary that we do not create loopholes, and that when we find loopholes we have to ensure that we close them pretty quickly.
The bill’s second main provision clarifies that weekly accident compensation includes weekly compensation regardless of whether it is paid by ACC or an accredited employer. Once again, this is just a little loophole in the current Act, which means that it does not include weekly payments when they are made by accredited employers. A recent Social Security Appeal Authority decision confirmed this. The past and the current Ministry of Social Development practice is that compensation payments are deducted, whether they are made by accredited employers or by ACC. This bill will validate the past and current practice of deducting payments dollar for dollar from benefit payments.
I have taken just a short call tonight, and I look forward to debating this bill vigorously in the select committee later on. Thank you.
SU’A WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere) : The last speaker, Katrina Shanks, said she looked forward to debating this issue vigorously at a later stage. I wonder why the member did not take the opportunity to debate the issue now, at this particular time. Let me provide some context before I come to the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3). We are in a crisis at the moment in this country. I see that the country is in crisis. There has been a cloud over this country for quite some time. We had the tragedy in Christchurch, prior to that we had the Pike River mine tragedy, and prior to that there was another earthquake. Since then, there has been a sense of urgency through the length and breadth of this country about the need as a country to pick ourselves up and move forward. Despite the desire I pick up from the people of New Zealand, all we are getting from this Government is this kind of legislation, this flimsy piece of legislation.
Yes, my colleague Jacinda Ardern said we would support this bill, but we are supporting it on the basis that this is the first reading. We are supporting this bill because we want to debate it and we want to go out and ask for the views of the general public. I have to say that if we send this bill out to Grey Power, whose members will be affected by what is in this bill, or to the students associations of the various universities for their comment, they will throw it in the rubbish—they will describe this as rubbish. Is this the best this Government can do—flimsy legislation? Is this the best this Government can do at this time, when the country is in a crisis, when people are looking for leadership, and when people are looking to move forward? Is this the best this Government can do?
The explanatory note of this bill states that the bill “is intended to ensure equitable treatment—for people receiving payments of weekly compensation:”. I get people on a daily basis coming into my office and saying this Government is not providing the support they need in a time of crisis. I would say that people who have left Christchurch who are now living in Māngere and Manukau are still looking to find support for housing. People who have lost jobs are still looking for support to find jobs.
The other thing this bill is intended to do is to ensure the equitable treatment “of students seeking assistance for their accommodation costs.” Is it not important that in times of crisis we ensure we are investing in the future of this nation? Is it not important that in times of crisis we give every support to the younger generation coming through, so that they are supported to receive the education that not only they need but this country will need in the years ahead? Sooner or later we will need this younger generation to be able to come through the ranks, to be able to get an education, and to be prepared to take up the reins of this country. But if this is the best we are going to do by this Government, it means we are left languishing in terms of trying to find where we go. Let me read out what this bill intends to do. It provides that “the requirement for weekly compensation payments paid under the Accident Compensation Act 2001 to be deducted dollar-for-dollar from benefit payments applies equally to weekly compensation paid by the Accident Compensation Corporation”.
When Grey Power organisations and students associations hear what this bill is about, they will ask: “What about us? What is this Government doing for elderly folk? What is this Government doing for students who want to upskill themselves and get further education to prepare themselves for the future?”.
I have to say it is very disappointing that under this Government we do not seem to be going forward but seem to be going backwards as a country. Instead of wanting to move the nation forward, the Government seems to be taking the nation backwards all the time. In fact, at the beginning of this month, the legislation that came into force was generally an attack on workers. On 1 April, this Government attacked the working population of New Zealand. Workers are already in a crisis; they are already under attack with high unemployment, but this Government, instead of creating and finding jobs for them, is content to say to those workers that employers can now sack them within 90 days for any reason. That is the gift of this Government this month. So I ask whether it can be helped that the population listening to this debate and to the presentation from this Government on this flimsy piece of paper will say that under this Government instead of moving forward we are going backwards. They will say this Government has no plan.
Unemployment increases. Every day, I have to say, we get complaints about the housing stock in our neck of the woods. During 2½ years of being in Government, National made promises to maintain housing stock and ensure that houses were going to be available, but those houses continue to be unlivable and unmaintained. We have winter coming up. What will happen to those people who are still looking for homes? What will happen to the people of Christchurch who are still unable to return to their homes? This Government, instead of focusing on tinkering around the edges of legislation, should be presenting to this House major work to move this Government forward. It should be presenting to this House a plan to move the economy forward.
Frankly, the public has every right to say this Government is out of touch, and does not realise the struggles that families the length and breadth of this nation are experiencing. The rising price of food is making it very difficult for many families, particularly families with schoolchildren, to provide quality food, quality lunches, for their children. The rising cost of petrol is making it so difficult for many of our families to look after themselves. Once upon a time in 2008, my 1990 Toyota Corona cost $60 to fill up. Today, it costs over $100 to fill up the same car. It happened under this Government’s watch, and all we get is the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3). When will the Government do the right thing for this country? When will it move the economy forward? When will it take this nation forward?
Katrina Shanks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is this a general debate? He is not speaking to any of the bill at all.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I will judge the relevancy there and otherwise. This is a first reading speech, which is a wider-ranging speech than we find in the second and third readings. I will determine the relevancy.
SU’A WILLIAM SIO: Your determination is excellent.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: You do not need to comment on the ruling I have just made; otherwise, I will terminate the speech.
SU’A WILLIAM SIO: Let me just say that when this bill goes out for consultation, I expect that questions will be asked by members of Federated Farmers, Grey Power, and students associations. They will ask what plans this Government has for raising the productivity and economy of this nation, what plans this Government has to increase our employment needs, and what plans this Government has to ensure we invest in our young people.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : The Green Party has some criticisms of the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3). I am speaking tonight on behalf of our spokesperson in this area, Catherine Delahunty, who is the expert. Although we acknowledge that the bill seeks to address two perceived anomalies in the current social security legislation, the Government fails to acknowledge that the two provisions that it is attempting to patch up through this bill are themselves anomalous, discriminatory, and unfair.
First, I wish to address the provisions of clause 4, which will ensure that students eligible for student allowances, whether or not they access them, are not eligible for the accommodation supplement. At present, a perceived loophole exists so that students who may be eligible for a student allowance but choose not to apply for it can access the accommodation supplement instead. In most cases, that provides a higher level of accommodation support than the accommodation benefit payable under the Student Allowances Regulations. The level of accommodation supplement a person can receive under the Social Security Act is subject to a regional cap, responsive to his or her actual accommodation costs. However, the accommodation benefit that a person entitled to a student allowance can receive is not; it is capped at a fixed rate, regardless of the student’s actual accommodation costs. The fixed-rate cap for the student accommodation benefit is a significant cause of debt incurred by students. Often they simply cannot find accommodation they can afford on their student allowance and the flat-rate accommodation benefit. There is an inherent discrimination and unfairness in the way that students are treated in this regard, by comparison with everyone else.
I note that the recently released report from the Welfare Working Group of the Minister for Social Development and Employment proposes abolishing the accommodation supplement for everyone and introducing a fixed-rate accommodation allowance, similar to the student accommodation benefit, albeit with different regional rates for all people requiring accommodation assistance. That would be a retrograde measure, indeed. Just as students currently encounter considerable difficulties finding accommodation they can afford and frequently end up living in overcrowded and substandard conditions as a result, the recommendations of the Welfare Working Group would exacerbate that problem many times over. They ghettoise beneficiary and low-income New Zealanders into the sorts of disgraceful housing estates that we see in the northern parts of England and Scotland, with all the associated social dysfunction and crime that goes with that.
Rather than extend the student accommodation benefit regime to beneficiary and low-income New Zealanders, the scheme should offer students accommodation costs that are linked to, and genuinely meet, their actual accommodation costs. Rather than putting a sticking plaster over the pustular sore that is the student accommodation benefit—which this bill does—the Government should be seeking to heal it.
Clause 5 addresses the way ACC weekly compensation payments interface with benefit payments payable by Work and Income. At present, benefit payments are deducted from weekly ACC compensation payments on a dollar for dollar basis. However, a loophole discovered through a case at the Social Security Appeal Authority revealed that in law weekly compensation payments paid directly by employers accredited with ACC should be treated as income and deducted from benefits at a different, more favourable ratio. The current practice, which this bill seeks to retrospectively validate—and that in itself is repugnant to good legislative practice—can result in someone who has been on a benefit while working part-time suddenly having their benefit reduced to zero after an injury.
The Green Party does not support people being able to double dip. The dollar for dollar deduction is fair enough if someone’s eligibility for weekly compensation is caused by the same event as his or her eligibility for a welfare benefit. But when someone is receiving, say, a sickness benefit in respect of a chronic illness, and is working part-time, it is completely unfair, if he or she becomes fully incapacitated as a result of an injury, to have the sickness benefit reduced by $1 for every dollar of weekly compensation received. Such a person effectively receives no compensation for his or her loss of earning due to injury, and that is repugnant in respect of the principle of real compensation upon which our accident compensation scheme was founded.
Were the Government to propose reverting to the pre-1999 provision under the weekly compensation - abated welfare benefits, in the same manner as any other income does in the absence of a common causal event for both entitlements, we would consider supporting clause 5. But under the current, unfair, dollar for dollar deduction system that applies for weekly compensation, we cannot. I sincerely hope that the select committee will address these profound points, provided to me by my colleague Catherine Delahunty. Thank you.
TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) : It gives me pleasure to rise and speak on the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3). I will start by thanking the extremely hard-working Minister, Paula Bennett, for bringing this bill to the House. I particularly enjoyed her speech introducing it, and very much look forward to the bill coming to our Social Services Committee, where we can seek the wider views of the public on this issue.
I will touch on just a couple of points. I have had a chance to read the bill. I understand it, and I think that it is doing a number of things that are important. I am glad to hear that others in this House are going to support it. Mr Su’a William Sio, who spoke earlier, spoke of many things, and at one stage he was waving a piece of paper and saying that when this bill went out for consultation others would be concerned and would throw it in the bin. The problem with that was that it was not the bill he was holding; it was his speech. So I agree with him. I am sure that many others out there would throw that speech in the rubbish bin, although we have some important work to do.
The point I really want to make is that this bill is about anomalies and closing loopholes. That is why I am sure that Labour members will support this bill all the way through. It was not so long ago that we heard the Leader of the Opposition say in public that he would give a $5,000 tax break to all New Zealanders—their first $5,000 of income would be tax-free—and that he would pay for that by closing loopholes. So I guess that this was one of the loopholes he was talking about; it would not go anywhere close to paying for that promise that he will not be able to deliver on.
It is important that as a Government, and as a Parliament, we come together to make sure that those outside this place are treated fairly, and I believe that this bill does that. As I said, I look forward to dealing with it when it comes to our committee, and I look forward to seeking the views of the public, who Mr Sio said would have thrown his speech in the bin. Thank you.
Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) : I am pleased to take a call on the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3), and I say to the previous speaker that, yes, we will support this bill, probably through all of its stages. But let me also say to that member that we remind him and we will remind Government members of all of their follies in the many other areas that also relate to many of the issues raised in this bill, and the principles that speakers from the other side of the House have already talked about. So, yes, we will take every opportunity, I tell Mr Todd McClay, to do those things, as well.
The first point is that this is correcting legislation, which is designed to fix two problems that have arisen—and, yes, we can understand that. The first arises from a decision of the Social Security Appeal Authority. That appeal authority has found a hole somewhere, and it wants that hole fixed and to have a decision. This relates to section 71A of the Social Security Act 1964, which does not cover weekly compensation payments made by employers accredited under the ACC accredited employer scheme. So the practice of reducing, dollar for dollar, income-tested benefits by the amount of compensation for injuries at work, paid through ACC by accredited employers, is illegal and therefore has to be fixed. So I can see the need for correcting legislation, which is what this bill is.
It is also interesting to note that the scheme covers a lot of employees—about a quarter of all employees are caught by this particular scheme, so it is quite important. There is a financial incentive for employers to be part of the scheme, because they pay lower levies if they are in this particular scheme. If only some income benefits came under the scheme, and not others, we are told that that would create extra costs for employers and inequality amongst different types of beneficiaries. The word “inequality” comes up quite often in this bill, and the Minister mentioned “inequality” in her own speech, as well. I just wish that the Government was as quick also to address the many other kinds of inequalities we have seen, because some of what the Government has introduced, under equality measures so to speak, are really “inequality” measures. That has found many New Zealanders going backwards. Much of the tax switch for many of our citizens has had the same effect, as well.
I can see how the regulatory impact statement says that the return to full-time or part-time work could be seen as a disincentive if the compensation were treated as income and the full benefit was paid out. So if somebody received the full benefit as well as some income, then if that were cut off, there really would be a disincentive for people to go back to work. The benefit, plus the income, would be higher than one would ordinarily receive, so would thus act as a disincentive. Again, this is a recurring theme. The assumption always is that those who are poor, and those who are on low wages, are somehow out there to get the system, so we must screw everything down to the lowest common denominator in order to make it as difficult as possible. This bill, in a sense, does that. It tries to take everything down to the lowest common denominator. The point, though, is that this is not being done in a consistent manner.
There are many other areas where disincentives are a recurring theme but they are not addressed. However, we have to accept that there are good reasons for correcting the problem that has arisen with section 71A of the Social Security Act 1964. The approach taken is to make it legal for these deductions to be made for those people on weekly compensation payments. The Government has rushed this legislation, quite urgently, and it is important to discuss it now. But again when we look at the total amount of money that this provision will save, we find that the regulatory impact statement says that the problem, if not corrected, would cost an additional $700,000 in benefit expenditure per annum. So there we are—$700,000 in benefit expenditure per annum is what this bill is trying to hold, and what this bill is trying to fix.
I agree with Katrina Shanks, that if there is a problem with legislation we should fix it. But for something with such a small annual dollar value, one wonders whether this is the priority. Given all that is happening at the moment, we ask whether this is the priority at this time. Is this part of the Government’s plan for getting our economy going? Somehow, it is always people at that end of the socio-economic spectrum who are the ones being watched most of the time, when an amount as little as $700,000, which we might pay off extra in a year, is something that this particular bill is being brought forward to try to resolve. Again, that masks the fact that the Government does not have a plan. This is part of its economic plan, and if this is what it is—and measures like this—then I think we are in pretty serious difficulty. The bill also makes the correction retrospective.
Retrospective legislation always leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, wondering if it could be avoided, etc. Perhaps when we look at the bill in the select committee we will see if it is reasonable.
There is one good provision in the bill, as well, and it is that the appeals currently going through are saved. If those appeals are successful, then they will be accepted. So those appeals are not frustrated, and I congratulate the Minister and the officials on thinking that through and making sure that at least retrospective legislation takes account of something that might have happened perversely. The regulatory impact statement also makes it clear that if the provision was not retrospective, there could be an additional $3.2 million of one-off payments coming out of those kinds of appeals. I guess that provision takes care of the risk.
There is a second issue that the bill addresses, which relates to the inconsistency between policy and legislation, as set out in section 61EA of the Social Security Act 1964. This inconsistency has the unintended consequence of giving access to accommodation supplements to some full-time students, when it is the intention that their conditions are to be regulated by the Student Allowances Regulations 1998 and the student loan scheme. There is another bill currently before the select committee that is using the same kinds of principles to make sure that students and student loans are taken care of by that particular scheme. So it is really about unintended consequences.
I am pleased the Government is looking at unintended consequences. As this relates to ACC as well, I wonder what thoughts were given to the unintended consequences of coming down so hard on ACC payments for the treatment of sexual abuse victims. Where was the unintended consequence of that type of policy that the Government has brought forward? The effect of that policy on many women for many, many months was very, very serious. I know my colleague Lynne Pillay received many letters that said that that policy had taken people’s lives backwards. There is a little inconsistency in what the Government is doing. There were clear, unintended consequences of a particular policy the Government brought forward under ACC, affecting sexually abused women. Yet in this bill the Government is very careful to make sure that the unintended consequence is addressed. This provision will exclude students who are eligible for assistance under the student loan scheme.
Labour will support the bill going to the Social Services Committee. I am sure there are many other aspects of the bill that I have not fully understood, so I look forward to robust discussion and debates in that committee, of which I am a member. I look forward to seeing exactly what some of the other unintended consequences are of this particular policy. It will give us a broader opportunity to look at the Government’s plans in this particular area, and we will come back to the House to debate other areas as well. Thank you.
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) : It is always a pleasure to follow the loquacious Dr Prasad in debates in this House. We need to remember that the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3) is a fairly straightforward and necessary measure. It is designed to restore fairness and equity within our system for paying student accommodation allowances and accident compensation. I say to the member that it is good to hear, yet again, that Opposition members will support the bill, but I am puzzled—as I have been so often in my time as a member of this House—that the Opposition members say they will support a bill, but then everything they say in debate appears to oppose it.
I say to members opposite that it is no wonder New Zealanders have absolutely no idea what Labour currently stands for. It is also very apparent why Labour is becoming less and less relevant to the New Zealand public with each passing day. To give members one example—and it is worth pointing it out—the member for Māngere, Su’a William Sio, professed to be deeply concerned about the cost of petrol at the moment for New Zealand consumers. I am sure we all are concerned; it is at a high level. But of course he failed to point out that the cost of petrol at the moment has still not reached the level it did in 2008 under the previous Labour Government. It is very curious to hear a member saying how outraged he is at the cost of something and that it is unaffordable, when, in fact, it is cheaper than it was when his party was in Government.
This measure responds to inequities and it overcomes unfairness. As Dr Prasad has just said, there are very good reasons for promoting it, so I simply say to that member and to all members opposite: let us stop talking about it, and let us get on and do it.
KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) : Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3). Earlier in this debate as my colleague Su’a William Sio was addressing Parliament, members across the House—I think including the Minister—were asking whether he thought he could pad out his speech for 10 minutes, and were saying that he would need to speak slowly. I am not surprised, because there is not enough in this bill. It does not take a good look at what the real problems are in this area. In fact, it is tinkering. It is tinkering around the edges. It is a lost opportunity.
The bill is correcting legislation. Although I believe that Labour will support the bill through all stages in the House, there is some concern that the Government is not taking a really good look at what the issues are for the people the bill will affect. The Minister of Social Development and Employment, in her opening address, made a comment that this bill is about fairness. If it is, then that is very interesting in terms of fairness for most New Zealanders at the moment, and in terms of the cost of living.
I would actually challenge Tim Macindoe at the moment, in relation to his assertion that petrol prices are not as high as they were in 2008. I cannot remember petrol being $2.19 when I paid in 2008. I cannot remember paying that much for it. I cannot recall in 2008 paying $2 and 18.9c for a litre of 91 petrol. Maybe Mr Macindoe might want to go and check his facts on that claim, and then come back to the House to clarify whether that is true.
As I said, the Minister said the bill was about fairness. That comment is interesting, given what is going on in most Kiwi households at the moment, where in terms of the cost of living people think that New Zealand is going backwards. Todd McClay mentioned to the House Labour’s policy of making the first $5,000 of earnings tax-free. That is exactly about fairness, because whether a person is a cleaner or a chief executive, that person would get the first $5,000 tax-free. That is unlike the tax-cut package that came in on 1 October, where the top 10 percent of earners got 40 percent of the tax cuts under this National Government. In terms of fairness, most New Zealanders think that that does not quite meet that standard. I thank Tim Macindoe for bringing up the issue of petrol, because most Kiwis think petrol is yet another one of the things they have to fork out for, in the cost of living rises each week that are making things unfair for them.
Tim Macindoe: Have you seen what’s happening in the Middle East, Kris?
KRIS FAAFOI: I read the papers, too. But I say to Mr Macindoe that people are also concerned about what is happening at the petrol station when they are filling up their cars, and when they see the petrol pump figures going well beyond the hundred-dollar mark to fill up their cars. Where is fairness when people are looking at what the National Government is doing at the moment? Most Kiwis believe that in terms of fairness and the cost of living they are not getting a fair deal under this Government. Although this bill, as the Minister said, tries to address fairness, most Kiwis feel as though they are going backwards. Most Kiwis feel as if this Government does not have a plan to get the economy going. In terms of fairness for ordinary Kiwis, I believe that this Government might be out of touch.
Going back to the bill, I tell members that we are talking about tinkering. We are talking about correcting legislation that is really inconsequential. Going to the bill itself and looking at the third aspect of it that I have on my piece of paper, which is to clarify provisions, I note that the bill will exclude students who are eligible for assistance under the Student Allowance Regulations 1998 from receiving the accommodation supplement. I guess the intention of that—and as I said before, Labour will support this legislation—is to try to help students. But if this Government really wanted to help students, they would not support the legislation that the ACT Party put forward in terms of voluntary membership of students associations. Student unions—and if I am correct, the Minister may have been the president of a student union in her student days—are absolutely vital in terms of making sure that students have the required assistance they need at tertiary institutions. If this legislation goes through, all the services that students have relied on over time will no longer be available to them. In the fairness game for students, that does not match up.
I am also looking at the disincentive Rajen Prasad spoke about: the disincentive for getting both the allowance and accommodation supplement for part-time workers. Although that attends to the question of fairness, we on this side of the House will definitely address fairness in the upcoming election. We have a plan to make sure that we give most Kiwis a fair go, and to make sure that everyone pays their fair share. I guess that is what having the first $5,000 of salary tax-free is about. We will make sure the economy will work for most ordinary Kiwis. We will be introducing legislation that will make sure we focus on jobs and creating jobs, not the kind of tinkering legislation we have before the House at the moment.
We will not be tinkering, either, with our State-owned assets. We will not be tinkering with those. They will stay in the ownership of the ordinary Kiwis who already own them. We will make sure that State-owned assets are protected from being sold offshore. The profits that come from our State-owned assets—I believe they are somewhere in the region of $750 million a year—will stay right here so that they will go towards paying for the essential services that Kiwis rely on.
While I am talking about services, let us talk about public services and the fairness of what the Government is planning to do there. Unfortunately this House—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I ask members that the noise level be reduced. It is becoming increasingly difficult to hear the member, so please calm it down.
KRIS FAAFOI: Thank you very much for that, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think I was talking about the fairness of public services, and the Government’s intentions around cuts that, unfortunately, it has been telegraphed will come on Budget day next month. Where is the fairness for ordinary Kiwis who rely on very essential public services in health and education? How is it fair that we are getting this tinkering legislation, and a massive whack, when the Budget comes through next month? What we really need is to stop this tinkering around the edges. What we really need is a plan to make sure that we are making it fair for all Kiwis who are struggling to make ends meet.
What we have here is just a small piece of inconsequential legislation. It does not really address the wider issues facing Kiwis at the moment. What we need is a real plan to make sure things are fair for Kiwis, and to make sure that Kiwis can do the simple things like putting food on the table and making sure their kids can go to school and early childhood education without having to pay exorbitant prices for that—because this Government is pulling $400 million out of early childhood education. I expect a barrage about that but it is absolutely the truth. The members opposite are not listening. They do not care about the fact that in one case in my electorate parents will have to pay $25 more, per kid, per week to make sure their kids can have the right to go to early childhood education.
|Ayes 110||New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 41; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 10||Green Party 9; Independent: Carter C.|
|Bill read a first time.|
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I move, That the Social Services Committeeconsider the Social Security Amendment Bill (No 3), that the committee report finally to the House on or before 31 May 2011, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and 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.
Whanganui Iwi (Whanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Whanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill
- Debate resumed from 17 February.
Clauses 1 and 2 (continued)
KELVIN DAVIS (Labour) : It seems like only a month ago that we were last debating this bill, and we got to the riveting stage of debating the title. If I recall correctly there was intense debate and discussion over the inclusion of the letter “h” in Whanganui. We spoke about the whole debate that occurred on whether Whanganui should be called “Whanganui” or “Wanganui”.
I also raised the issue that up north, back in the 1800s, the “wh” in Māori words was offensive to the ears of the missionaries. They did not like words such as “whakarongo” because of the first couple of syllables of words like that. What they tried to get us to do up there—or so I am told by an esteemed kaumātua in Ngāti Hine—was to stop saying the “f” sound. They wanted us to pronounce a word such as “whakarongo” as “hakarongo”, by dropping the “w” in that word. It is interesting to note that in the Treaty of Waitangi, the word “whenua”, spelt with wh” and pronounced as “f”, actually has the “h” dropped out of it. Instead, it is pronounced “w’enua”, which is similar to the way it is pronounced by the Hon Tariana Turia. That is just an interesting little part of the whole debate on this bill’s title.
The other interesting Māori word in the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill is the word “Kaitoke”. “Kai”, as most New Zealanders will know, means to eat, or it means food; “toke” is the Māori word for “worms”. I hazard a guess that there is a very interesting legend, or story, around the way that Kaitoke got its name. No doubt it is about somebody eating or having a feed on a whole heap of worms, but, actually, I should not guess because I am not from there, and it is not for me to invent the history of another iwi.
Certainly, there has been a lot of debate on the Māori words and Māori names in this bill. We recall the angst of a group of children from Ōtaki School who dared to challenge Michael Laws and his stance on the letter “h” being included in Whanganui. He did not want the “h” in Whanganui. In his opinion, Whanganui should be Wanganui.
JO GOODHEW (Junior Whip—National) : I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I seek your assistance and ask whether you can give me some guidance as to how much debate we have had on clauses 1 and 2—how many speeches we have already had—so that I can have some indication of the progress we have made in this debate previously.
Grant Robertson: Point of order—
The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): No, I will handle this. There have been two calls, because the previous speaker, Kelvin Davis, was finishing off a speech from the other day. Two calls have been taken.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) : It is a pleasure to speak again in this debate on the Whanganui Iwi (Whanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Whanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. This time I do not wish to traverse the history, the settlement process, the creation of the Crown Forestry Rental Trust, and all of that background material, because I have done that before when speaking to this bill. I want to focus very tightly on the title, because that is what we are talking about.
When I was a child growing up in New Plymouth, we learnt to say “Wanganui”. We came from New Plymouth and we did not know better, so we said Wanganui. It was Wanganui Prison and Wanganui Collegiate School—not too much difference. We learnt to say that name as “Wanganui”, but over the course of the intervening decades clearly the re-emergence and the reassertion of te reo have made people more sensitive to the way that things are expressed, and to the way that Māori words are pronounced. We have got to the point now where the people around the Whanganui area have clearly asserted, causing some rancour in the area, that they wish to have the name “Whanganui” with the “h” in it, and to have it pronounced in the way that the Hon Tariana Turia pronounces it frequently in the Chamber. It is pronounced as “W’anganui” rather than “Whanganui”, which may relate to another part of the country and another expression of Māori pronunciation.
But what I find interesting about this issue is that the Māori Affairs Committee, in its report, was really quite decisive about why this spelling should change. I will just quote from its commentary for a moment: “We heard from the Southern Whanganui Cluster Working Party that they strongly feel that the spelling of Whanganui should be with an ‘h’. On 18 December 2009, the Minister of Land Information announced his decision to assign the alternative official geographic names ‘Whanganui’ and ‘Wanganui’,”—without the “h”—“and stated his expectation that Crown agencies would adopt the ‘Whanganui’ form over time. We also strongly feel that Whanganui should be spelt with an ‘h’.”
There are a couple of interesting things about that. The Minister for Land Information, in fact, in announcing his decision, did so in the time-honoured tradition of Ministers who wish for things to be not noticed. He announced it on 18 December, just before Christmas, hoping that it would fall into the abyss and that he would not be subjected to the kind of debate and disapproval that had been characteristic of the argument about the name in Whanganui. But the implication from the Māori Affairs Committee report is that the Minister felt strongly about the use of this name. If he had felt strongly about it, then he might have released a decision earlier than 18 December 2009. However, the select committee said: “We also strongly feel that Whanganui should be spelt with an ‘h’.” I welcome that. I do not believe for a moment that that was the Minister’s position and that the Māori Affairs Committee was simply adding its weight to it. However, we have the spelling now as it stands, with the “h” in it.
When we look around the country, we see it is quite clear that there are dialectical differences within te reo that require different pronunciations. In the South Island, where I live now, we talk about Kāi Tahu instead of Ngāi Tahu, and we talk about Aoraki instead of Aorangi. The “ng” sound is replaced with a “k” sound, so there are dialectical differences. But here the Māori Affairs Committee has been quite emphatic about recommending the amending of the spelling of Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison to Whanganui (Kaitoke) Prison, and the northern part of Wanganui Forest to the northern part of Whanganui Forest. I hope for the sake of the Hansard that the distinction between the spelling with the “h” and without the “h” is clear from my pronunciation. I hope that is of assistance to the Hansard recorders.
The other thing of interest is not only the spelling used in the title but also something that is quite difficult. It is the business of an on-account settlement and the deed of on-account settlement, which is part of the title Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill. If we go to the definitions in order to read an explanation of the title, we find that clause 4 in Part 1, “Preliminary provisions”, defines “deed of on-account settlement as being “the deed of an 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 and as amended from time to time”. In other words, the title reflects the settlement. The title tries to describe those parts of the Whanganui area that are now being handed over to Whanganui iwi in settlement of breaches of the Treaty that have occurred over time.
So we come to the title of the bill, which describes exactly what the bill contains but also has a reference that I, as a student of language in a former life, find to be really interesting. I think that when the Minister for Land Information took up his portfolio, he did not expect there to be such agitation—
Grant Robertson: A crisis.
Hon MARYAN STREET: —crisis, argument, and debate around the word and the name as there have been. Michael Laws was attacking the proposed spelling change and really ramping up Pākehā agitation about te reo, a Māori renaissance, and a Māori assertion of Treaty settlement obligations. The Minister did not want to be caught in the middle of all that. In the end he released his decision on the name a few days before Christmas, so that anybody who was at all interested might well have missed it.
I welcome the bill. I look forward to its progress and movement to its third reading. Thank you.
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Labour—Ikaroa-Rāwhiti) :Tēnā koe, Mr Chair Tisch. I listened to my learned friend Kelvin Davis, who is a former principal. He gave a great translation. I saw Te Ururoa Flavell over there nodding his head, so I tended to accept it and be thankful.
Hon Maurice Williamson: He was just going to sleep.
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Mr Williamson would certainly be one member who would want to go to sleep after the changing of the name. I have heard his comments in relation to the “h” in Whanganui. I remember that a long time ago Naida Glavish dared to say “Kia ora.” on the telephone—and Mr Williamson will remember that. There was an uproar about her daring to use a Māori language greeting. I want to celebrate the fact that we have come a long way forward as a nation. We all talk about being one nation and all that sort of stuff, but the title of the Whanganui Iwi (Wanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Wanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill is quite exact.
I want to register my respect and support for the Māori Affairs Committee. I am on that committee and so is Kelvin Davis, and it has done a good job in relation to the bill.
There is one part of the bill that I want to mention, even though we are debating the title. The group that brought the settlement to the point of finality is a very, very young negotiation team. It is a great example for other iwi and hapū groups to take notice of.
“Whanganui” can mean a great bay, but the addition of the “h” gives surety to the people as surely as they stood firm at Pākaitore. The issue I want to ask the Minister about is that in changing the name and adding the “h” to the name of the forest, there are some added technicalities to go through. I wonder what he has done about them. Also, with regard to adding “Kaitoke” to the prison’s name, I wonder whether he has prepared for and dealt with the technicalities in relation to the justice legislation and regulations. I look forward to the Minister responding to my queries.
Sandra Goudie: What is the member talking about?
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The member knows what he is talking about regarding the Māori language. I am more than happy to give free lessons to people who are so naive that they want to distance themselves from a great bill and a commitment to the Treaty settlements that Labour began—and thank goodness—like the other 11 settlements that National is struggling to finish off. I recognise Dr Cullen and pay a bit of respect to the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations.
At the end of the day, this bill is certainly one of the better things that the Government has moved forward. It is one of the better things that the Government has finalised. But I really want to ask the Minister what he has done about the technical issues around the name change. I also commend those people who brought this settlement to an end and negotiated well with the Government.
- The Chairperson reported progress on the Whanganui Iwi (Whanganui (Kaitoke) Prison and Northern Part of Whanganui Forest) On-account Settlement Bill, no progress on the Customs and Excise (Joint Border Management Information Sharing and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, and no progress on the Airports (Cost Recovery for Processing of International Travellers) Bill.
- Progress reported.
- Report adopted.
- The House adjourned at 9.56 p.m.