[Sitting date: 28 June 2012. Volume:681;Page:3491. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Questions to Ministers
KiwiRail—Turnaround Plan and Financial Restructuring
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the
Minister of Finance: When did he become aware of the decision to write down the value of KiwiRail by $6.7 billion?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the
Minister of Finance: KiwiRail’s chair first expressed a desire to the Government that it revalue KiwiRail’s balance sheet to reflect a more commercial value, in late 2010. KiwiRail then spent several months working through the various legal, accounting, and tax implications of such a step. In October last year KiwiRail announced its intention to proceed with—at that stage—an estimated $6 billion write-down, and announced that at its annual public meeting. Cabinet took the decision to approve the final write-down this month on the basis it would put the company on a more commercial footing under its long-term $4.5 billion turn-round plan. Under the plan, the Government is committed to ensuring that KiwiRail can fund its business on a commercial basis.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that time frame of pre-warning, why did he not include any quantification on the write-down in the value of KiwiRail assets in Budget 2012?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The proposed KiwiRail write-down was included as a specific risk in Budget 2012, but it was unquantified. The reason it was not included in the actual Budget numbers at that time is that it had yet to be considered by Cabinet. So there was uncertainty as to whether it would proceed in the current financial year or whether there was too much uncertainty around the amount. There is still some uncertainty around the final amount, but the numbers quoted in yesterday’s press releases are the best estimates at this time.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why did he announce the decision in Budget 2012, with such specificity, to allocate $250 million from the sale of Mighty River Power towards KiwiRail, without the same form of transparency and specificity when quantifying the amount of the planned write-down?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, it is because the $250 million capital expenditure has been planned and budgeted for KiwiRail for some time. The actual amount of the valuation and when it could occur were actually not decided until the opportunity was there for Cabinet to consider it.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Can he confirm that in the 2011 financial year Treasury contracted NG Consulting Ltd, a company that specialises in initial public offerings and valuations, to provide advice relating to the Government’s ownership interest in the KiwiRail group?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I cannot confirm that for him today, but I can confirm for him that the Government has no intention, nor does it believe it would be possible, to sell KiwiRail. It was picked up by the previous Government at a rather large price. It was revalued upwards—the different components—by the previous Government. This Government is focused very much on a difficult turn-round plan, which is very challenging for the company, and would be very surprised if somebody wanted to buy it currently.
Andrew Williams: Will he confirm that no financial consultants have been engaged to advise the Government on the sale of KiwiRail, or the land in the ownership of the New Zealand Railways Corporation, to foreign interests?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I obviously cannot confirm everything the Minister may have received, but I can confirm to the member there are absolutely no plans to sell KiwiRail. There are absolutely no plans to sell what was being described as the longest and skinniest farm, which is KiwiRail’s land under its tracks. I think members opposite would do well to consider that the Government, on behalf of taxpayers, is doing a very, very challenging job to rescue what was an appalling situation inherited in regard to the rail company.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that answer, will he give the House a guarantee today that KiwiRail, or part thereof, will not be at any time sold by his Government?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is posing something that is eminently not possible. The reality is—I tell you what, we would not be able to sell it at the price that Labour bought it. Labour spent over $1 billion—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —in 2008. If somebody—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! A point of order has been called.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: With respect, there was no political loading. It was a simple question. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order is being heard.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It was a simple question that built on the Minister’s previous two answers. It simply asked him whether he would guarantee to the House that KiwiRail or part thereof would not be sold off at any time. It is a simple question, whatever else—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is absolutely right. His question was quite a simple question like that. I thought the Minister had answered it at the start, and that he said it would be impossible to sell it. But since he then went on to add unnecessary criticism of the questioner’s party, maybe the Minister now should answer the question rather than just leave it to assumptions.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I will try to answer the question for the member as follows. The Government is focused on very much trying to recover some of the sunk cost in KiwiRail, and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The question was a very simple question. It just asked whether the Minister is prepared to guarantee that the Government would not sell any shares or part—I cannot remember the exact wording now—of that asset. I can understand the Minister’s desire to say why it might be impossible, but the answer is dead simple. The answer is either the Government is prepared to, or it is not prepared to. The question did not ask whether it was possible. It asked whether the Government would sell, or whether the Minister would give a guarantee that the Government would not try to sell any of it.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was trying to provide some context as to why it would not be possible to do so, but if the Speaker would prefer, I will not provide that context. It is just that normally Ministers do get the opportunity to provide context to the answers to their question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Normally, the Speaker is perfectly happy to see Ministers do the context after they have answered the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: After the questioner’s statement—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The issue is simple. The answer does not actually need a lot of context. The Government is either prepared to sell or not. I am always happy to allow context after the question has been answered.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: My point is that it would not be possible to recover anything like the sunk cost of KiwiRail, so the Government is very much focused on trying to turn the business around to recover some value for stakeholders. The matter just simply does not come up. I would not guarantee it, because the reality is—[Interruption] No, the reality is that you cannot guarantee anything in this world. I can tell the member that it is a long, long time before we will get back, under any circumstances, the money that Labour wasted in KiwiRail.
Mineral Resources—Aeromagnetic Survey Within World Heritage Area
CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the
Minister of Energy and Resources: Why is he conducting an aerial survey for minerals within a world heritage area?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): Although I will not personally be conducting the aeromagnetic survey, I am advised that the data will be used for geological mapping, forestry, agriculture and horticulture, engineering and construction investigations, digital elevation modelling, and geological hazard assessment. The Alpine Fault, of course, the member may note, runs right through the area, and in light of the Canterbury earthquakes it is hoped the information will give us a better understanding of the tectonics in that area. I note again for the member the Government’s previous comments that there would be no tender for permits for schedule 4 or World Heritage areas.
Catherine Delahunty: Is he saying that no information about mineral potential is being collected by his Government in the South Westland World Heritage area?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: A whole range of information is being collected. I am explaining to the member why the aeromagnetic survey is actually going on in that area. I have said to the member, and will repeat for her benefit, that there will be no tender for permits for schedule 4 or World Heritage areas.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a simple question. Is he saying that no information about mineral potential is being collected? He did not answer that bit.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the member’s point. The question actually asked whether information on mineral potential would be collected. It did not repeat the primary question. It did not ask why the survey is being doing. It actually asked that specific question, and it is not unreasonable for the member to be expecting an answer to it.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I thought I did at the outset say that some of that information will be collected, alongside all the other information, but again I noted for the member the Government’s previous comments that there will be no tender for permits for schedule 4 or World Heritage areas.
Catherine Delahunty: If he is looking but not planning to touch our World Heritage areas, why is he spending taxpayer money on the minerals part of the survey within one?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: At the risk of repeating the answer to the primary question for the member, I am advised that the data is used for geological mapping, forestry, agriculture and horticulture, engineering and construction investigations, digital elevation modelling, and geological hazard assessment. I presume that is why we are spending the money.
Catherine Delahunty: Will he give a 100 percent guarantee that our World Heritage areas will not be mined?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I answered that question in the affirmative in both the primary answer and the first supplementary answer.
Catherine Delahunty: If he can guarantee that no mining will take place in World Heritage areas, will the Government place the entirety of our World Heritage areas under the legal protection of schedule 4?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as the Minister is responsible for that issue, I call the Hon Steven Joyce.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is a question the member has to put down to the Minister of Conservation.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that it is uncommon to table legislation, but, in fact, the Minister of Energy and Resources has concurrent powers with the Minister of Conservation.
Hon David Parker: My understanding is that this is done by way of an amendment to the Crown Minerals Act, which has a schedule to it, and which is the responsibility of the Minister of Energy and Resources.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker is in a dilemma here because although the Speaker can ask Ministers to answer questions, I cannot debate with Ministers what issues they are responsible for. Only the Minister can have that knowledge. I call the Hon Steven Joyce. If there is anything further he could add, I would appreciate it.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: To clarify it for the members, I do not see that the matter actually comes up, because the Government has made the commitment not to mine in those areas.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My understanding is that we are discussing the Minister’s responsibility for placing it under schedule 4, which is
the responsibility, under the Crown Minerals Act, of the Minister of Energy and Resources.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought I heard—forgive me, I—
Chris Hipkins: Let us have the question again.
Mr SPEAKER: I will let the member repeat her question, to avoid any doubt on the question. I apologise for taking the House’s time for this. I blame myself for this situation.
Catherine Delahunty: If he can guarantee that no mining will take place in World Heritage areas, will the Government place the entirety of our World Heritage areas under the legal protection of schedule 4?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In light of the Government’s commitments, I do not think that will be necessary.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he consult with the Minister of Conservation in regard to any proposals to mine on any conservation land, or does he agree with her description of her role as being responsible only for looking for things, not for doing things?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government takes a collective approach on these matters, and of course I would consult with the Minister of Conservation if there was such a matter to discuss.
Catherine Delahunty: So is he telling New Zealanders that we have to rely on his word rather than on legal protection to make sure that the minerals survey he is conducting in a World Heritage area will not be used for mining?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes.
Better Public Services Targets—Effect on Economy
MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the
Minister of Finance: How will the Better Public Services results targets announced this week contribute to a stronger economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the
Minister of Finance: The Government has set ambitious targets across 10 result areas for the Public Service to achieve over the next 5 years. Getting better results in difficult areas like reducing crime, reducing long-term welfare dependency, and reducing educational underachievement improves the lives of individuals, saves taxpayers money, and benefits the economy. The public sector makes up about a quarter of the economy, so any improvement in public sector productivity naturally flows through to the wider economy. That is why it is one of the Government’s four main priorities alongside responsibly managing the Government’s finances, building a more competitive economy, and rebuilding Christchurch.
Maggie Barry: What benefits will achieving Better Public Services targets have in terms of raising the skill level of the New Zealand workforce?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Lifting educational achievement lifts the skills available in the New Zealand workforce. This helps our economy become more productive and competitive as it continues to recover from the recession that started under the previous Labour Government. For example, today the tertiary education Minister discussed with the adult literacy and numeracy forum new initiatives to target foundation-level education at those who have not previously achieved in education and need to lift their skills and employment prospects. We are also looking to make levels 1 and 2 foundation funding more fees-free, meaning learners will not have to take out a student loan. Already under this Government the number of adults accessing literacy and numeracy support has tripled. All these things help us meet our target of 55 percent of New Zealanders aged 25 to 34 having a level 4 or higher qualification.
Maggie Barry: What benefits will achieving Better Public Services targets have for New Zealand businesses?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government is determined to drive down costs for businesses dealing with government by 25 percent by 2017. We will achieve this by developing a one-stop online shop to deliver faster online services, better integration of services, and designing services around business needs. Our target is deliberately ambitious to achieve a significant improvement in the quality and cost of business interactions with government. Improving the quality of these transactions and making them easier and faster to complete will have a significant impact for the businesses involved and for the New Zealand economy.
Hon David Parker: Why, after 4 years of his Government, has he got no target—never mind an ambitious target—for either export growth, current account deficit reduction, or net international liabilities by which his Government can be held to account, given that even today we have Philip Borkin, an economist at Goldman Sachs Group, saying that the decline in exports and rising imports are the driving force behind our deteriorating current account deficit and rising international indebtedness?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The first one in all those things would be to do better than the previous Labour Government, and we have already achieved that. The second one is that actually the Government does have indicators. For example, we have a very ambitious target for increasing export growth, being led by the Minister of Trade and the Minister for Economic Development—
Hon Members: What’s the target?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, it is amusing. I think the Opposition has to decide what its attack is: we either have too many plans or not enough plans. It is over to those members, but they really do have to make up their minds.
Maggie Barry: Has the Minister seen any reports on the Government’s Better Public Services targets?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I have seen a report that achieving things like less welfare dependency, lower crime rates, and improving education is all “meaningless stuff”. On this side of the House we do not think it is adequate to simply spend billions and tell the country that we care. We want to get real results for the community, for individuals, and for the economy. Frankly, I am not surprised by the Opposition’s reaction, because focusing on getting better results is a relatively new experience for the New Zealand Government, as the last lot was focused on how they managed to spend the most money.
Hon David Parker: What is the export target that he referred to in answer to my last supplementary question?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: To achieve exports at 40 percent of GDP by 2025.
Economy, Sustainable—Pure Advantage Report
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the
Minister for Economic Development: Does he stand by all his recent statements as Minister for Economic Development in relation to the Pure Advantage report
New Zealand’s Position in the Green Race; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development)
: Yes, especially my statements that it is important that New Zealand take advantage of all its opportunities for economic growth within sensible environmental and safety protections.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why, then, did he say that he fundamentally disagrees with New Zealand getting a slice of the $6 trillion world market export opportunity in the
move to a clean economy, and why does he believe this would be “far too value-destroying” for the New Zealand economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Because the Pure Advantage people promote shifting a whole lot of resources, particularly Government resources, into subsidising those industries as a way of actually achieving that level of growth, and although we of course support and encourage our high-tech and cleantech industries—and some of them are doing a fantastic job—there is a limit to how much you can support them without being value-destroying for other parts of the economy. Also, saying that certain industries should not be invested in when they represent between them roughly 80 percent of our exports would be value-destroying.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why will he not heed the actual call by Pure Advantage, as clarified by chairman Rob Morrison, to level the playing field so big pollution has to play by the same rules as innovative Kiwi cleantech start-ups?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not quite sure what the member is alluding to, but I presume he means that industry should pay higher costs around, for example, emissions than they currently do. Of course, that would mean that they would be paying costs that their competitors in other countries do not face, which would be value-destroying. The challenge for New Zealand as a country trying to grow its exports is to make sure that it does not hobble its exporters with tests and costs that other countries’ exporters do not have to face.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why did he describe the Pure Advantage group of business leaders as self-interested and accuse them of bias in asking for “very big subsidies into industries and firms that would … not be economic …”, when its recent report does not call for specific subsidies; and if he cannot substantiate those claims, will he now withdraw and apologise to Pure Advantage chairman Mr Rob Morrison and trustees such as Mr Phillip Mills, Mr Jeremy Moon, Mr Mark Solomon, and Sir Stephen Tindall?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sure that Rob will be quite capable of the robust debate, as I am sure he has been in the past, and I have had good discussions with him about it as well. The point I was making is that in the report it talks a lot and in very positive terms of countries that make very, very big subsidies to industry, such as Spain and the Nordic countries—and also, for example, America with the Tesla Motors company—and suggests that would be a model for New Zealand to follow. Obviously I disagree.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On the 13th of this month National backbenchers declined leave for me to table the Pure Advantage—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear what the issue of order is. Is the member seeking leave to table a document? I do not want to hear some speech; I want to hear exactly the reason why the member is raising a point of order.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the Pure Advantage report,
New Zealand’s Position in the—
Mr SPEAKER: All members have this document available to them, as I understand it.
Hon David Cunliffe: It is not readily available to members in the House, and the Minister has again—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a published document that has been published in recent times. I do not think we need to table stuff that is published and readily available.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the uncorrected transcript of Mr Joyce’s comments to the Commerce Committee during the estimates examination in public session of Vote Economic Development, in which he made several of those critical comments.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Tim Groser: Is the Minister aware that the Pure Advantage report suggested that a very good model to follow would be the Birmingham City Council green growth strategy, which produced 270 jobs at a cost of nearly $2 million a job, and does he think that is a sensible model to follow for New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I am aware of that and a number of other models cited in the report. I think that illustrates the problem with the approach. The debate has actually moved on and in the New Zealand economy we are focused very much on greening our successful export industries and developing new industries, and not just trying to pick winners, as Mr Cunliffe seems to be advocating.
Parenting Support—Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the
Minister for Social Development: What parenting support has the Government recently made available to grandparents who are raising grandchildren?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development)
: Grandparents raising their grandchildren do a truly remarkable job. To support them in their parenting role we asked Parents Centres to tailor a version of their Toolbox parenting programme. The resource includes 9 hours of practical parenting advice on DVD, with a manual that carers can work their own way through at home. [Interruption] Well, I know that the other side did not do much with them, so I am trying to catch up. Parents Centres in partnership with the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust will be sending the material out to over 5,000 grandparents.
Chris Auchinvole: How else has the Government supported grandparents who are raising their grandchildren?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The majority of grandparents raising grandchildren do so without the involvement of Child, Youth and Family. For these families, this Government has taken a number of small but significant steps to provide further support. We have raised the main payment that grandparents can receive to match the rate of those made to Child, Youth and Family carers—matching the unsupported child benefit and the orphans benefit to the foster care allowance—and we have provided 500 respite care places a year for grandchildren in week-long holiday health camps.
Jacinda Ardern: Given that many grandparents are raising grandchildren on their pension alone, will she consider treating them as full foster carers, as is Labour’s policy, which would provide them with greater support than classifying them as carers of unsupported children; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Most of those grandparents are not raising them on superannuation alone. They are eligible, as I stated, for the unsupported child benefit or the orphans benefit.
Hon Annette King: No. That’s not the question.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, the member did actually say that they were raising grandchildren on just their superannuation, whereas actually they are generally eligible for the unsupported child benefit, which this Government has actually matched to the foster-carer rate.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just wanted to clarify that I did not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard the question very clearly, and the member started her question with “Given that many grandparents are raising children on their benefit alone”. I know my hearing is not good, but I heard that, and the Minister heard that. If
the member wanted to ask a question about the payment made to normal foster parents, or whatever, going to those grandparents, she should have asked that question.
Jacinda Ardern: I did.
Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me, the Minister and I both heard the same question, and I clearly heard the member start her question that way.
Chris Auchinvole: Can the Minister update the House on the other parenting initiatives developed as part of the 2011 Budget?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Budget 2011 supported investment in a number of parenting initiatives in conjunction with Parents Centres. Funding has been provided to deliver and enhance the Toolbox programme specifically to Child, Youth and Family caregivers, whānau, Pasifika, grandparents, and kin carers, progressively delivering the Toolbox to 3,700 extra parents and caregivers for free for them over the next 3 years; also to research and evaluation, and to increase the number of volunteers and facilitators to deliver and coordinate the programme.
Prison, Wiri—Public-private Partnership
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the
Minister of Corrections: Does she stand by her statement about the proposal to operate Wiri prison privately that “The contract will have strong performance incentives, ensuring we receive a superior service compared to publicly run prisons, or we pay a lower price”?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Acting Minister of Corrections): Yes. I am advised that officials from the Department of Corrections are currently negotiating with Secure Future to finalise contract terms. Fundamental to the contract will be the need for Secure Future to achieve lower recidivism rates than the average for publicly run prisons. It will also face financial penalties if it fails to meet short-term rehabilitation and reintegration measures, including prisoner health and employment targets, and custodial standards.
Charles Chauvel: Has she done any cost-benefit analysis as to what the future costs of a lower price would be, in the event that the prison does not perform on those grounds and actually sees increased reconviction and recidivism rates, as has been the case in Serco-operated sites overseas?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: The penalty payments for failure to meet those targets are one aspect of the calculation that has been done. I do not have any more-specific figures in front of me.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Talofa lava. How are the public to have confidence in private prison service providers, given that Mt Eden Corrections Facility operator Serco wrongfully released two potentially dangerous criminals into the community in the year to February 2012?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I believe that the public can have confidence in the ability of private providers. It is interesting to note that in the last financial year there were two prison escapes; in this financial year there have been 10, of which only two have been from private providers and the balance have been from public prisons. It is also interesting to note that in the last year of the Labour Government there were 23 escapes from publicly run prisons.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I have called Charles Chauvel. [Interruption] I apologise to the member. I ask both sides, please—it is mainly National and Labour that are making all the noise—to come to order so we can hear Charles Chauvel’s supplementary question.
Charles Chauvel: Why is the Wiri Prison business case on which the contract is now being negotiated based on a requirement for 2,065 new prison beds by 2020 for a
forecast prison population of 10,306, when the latest 2020 prison population forecast is for only 8,165—that is, 2,141 fewer beds than the business case calls for?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I do not have that level of detail in respect of that supplementary question.
Charles Chauvel: Since the Wiri Prison will add 900 beds to a system that is already thousands of beds in surplus, does the Government still plan to lock New Zealand into a 30-year, $900 million contract to build and operate a private prison, with the inevitable result that thousands more beds in the public system will have to be closed?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: It is important to the Government to have prisons where they are needed. There is a lack of prison capacity in the northern part of the North Island. In fact, there are 1,000 prisoners from the Auckland region who are housed in prisons outside of the Auckland region. There seems little point in maintaining prisons that are in dire need of closure because of their age and level of decrepitude, in places like New Plymouth and Mount Crawford, when the need for capacity is in Auckland.
Charles Chauvel: What basis other than an ideological belief in the superiority of the private sector does the Government have for choosing Serco to run the Wiri Prison, given that it has already failed to meet 40 percent of its existing targets and is virtually certain to face fines payable to the Crown of $400,000 in respect of failures in running its existing site?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: One of the benefits of having private providers of custodial facilities is the ability to have penalty payments for not meeting those targets that are not available within the public system. The fact is that the taxpayers of New Zealand and those people within the prison system are the customers of private providers, and this Government is holding them to account very well.
Charles Chauvel: I seek leave to table the detailed stage two business case from the Department of Corrections for the procurement of a new men’s prison at Wiri through a public-private partnership.
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.
Young Offenders—Review of Youth Offending Strategy and Vetting of Placements
JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the
Associate Minister of Justice: What recent announcements has he made on addressing issues around youth justice?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Associate Minister of Justice)
: This morning I announced plans to write an action plan addressing youth crime as a replacement for the 2002 Youth Offending Strategy. It will take into account changes in offending patterns and trends and the successes of the Fresh Start policies, and address the overrepresentation of Māori youth within our youth justice system.
Jacqui Dean: What specific areas of change will this work address?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: It will address a change in trends in respect of youth justice offending, it will look at new ways in which the youth justice sector has addressed those trends, and it will focus on the strategy of a 5 percent reduction in appearances before the Youth Court, amounting to about 600 fewer young people appearing before our Youth Court, year on year, from 2017.
Metiria Turei: What is the Minister doing to identify and contact young people who may have experienced abuse as a result of a gap in policy that meant that police checks for family group conference placements for youth justice were not done?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: In respect of the delegations I have as Associate Minister for Social Development, that does not fall within my specific delegation, because these matters come under Child, Youth and Family, and the Minister for Social Development retains that priority and that responsibility.
Metiria Turei: What commitment will the Minister take in his ministerial responsibilities for youth justice to ensure that full police checks are undertaken for all current placements as a result of youth justice orders or family group conferences, or current placements where those police checks have not been done?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I can give an assurance that those police-vetting checks are done for all placements for young people being placed as a result of family group conferences and court orders now.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about where it was being currently done but all current places where it was not done.
Mr SPEAKER: Because there is the potential for confusion, the member may repeat her question.
Metiria Turei: Will he commit to ensuring, in his ministerial responsibility for youth justice, to undertake full police checks for all current family group conference placements under youth justice where those police checks were not done?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Yes.
Housing New Zealand Corporation—“Smarter. Faster. Fairer.”
Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the
Minister of Housing: What recent reports has he received on Housing New Zealand’s “Smarter. Faster. Fairer.” housing service?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Immigration)
on behalf of the
Minister of Housing: The Minister receives regular reports about the progress, implementation, and evaluation of the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s new service delivery model. These reports include updates on the corporation’s customer service centre, which show that there has been a vast improvement in the level of service that customers are receiving recently. It is important to remember that the corporation is modernising the way it does business, and making it quicker and easier for its customers to engage with the corporation.
Hon Annette King: Is the Government delivering a “Smarter. Faster. Fairer.” housing service in Christchurch, where the Housing New Zealand Corporation has 701 vacant houses pending development at a time when the Minister of Māori Affairs is encouraging homeless people to occupy abandoned houses in the red zone?
Hon NATHAN GUY: It is worthwhile mentioning to the member that since September 2010 more than 27,000 urgent repairs have been carried out by the Housing New Zealand Corporation on over 5,000 of the corporation’s properties in the Canterbury region.
Hon Annette King: Who is right: the Minister of Māori Affairs, Pita Sharples, who says that he is shocked at the hardship and the housing crisis in Christchurch; or Gerry Brownlee and himself, who have declared that there is no housing crisis in the city?
Hon NATHAN GUY: As I mentioned in the previous question, we have a real focus on ensuring that we are repairing those 5,000 properties, some of which have been affected by the Canterbury earthquake. There are a lot of jobs involved in terms of supporting that housing stock so that we can get those houses up and running. As I mentioned, 23,000 urgent repairs have taken place since September 2010.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was quite a simple question, and I got the same answer that I had to the question I had asked previously. Maybe he did not hear me. Would you like me to repeat it?
Mr SPEAKER: In the circumstances, since there seemed to be so little attempt to answer the question, the member may repeat it.
Hon Annette King: Who is right: the Minister of Māori Affairs, Pita Sharples, who says he is shocked at the hardship and the housing crisis in Christchurch; or Gerry Brownlee and himself, who have declared there is no housing crisis in the city?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I would prefer to take advice from those two members than I would from anyone across the House. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not think much is going to be achieved by pursuing that one any further. The member may ask a further supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: Is he concerned that the Chief Executive of the Housing New Zealand Corporation said yesterday she has no idea how much her 0800 “dial and wait” housing phone line is costing the Government, or how much the 56,000 calls that were abandoned last month cost; if not, why not?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I was interested in those comments. Indeed, we do have a process on the service centre. It is improving. The member might be interested to know that I rang the call centre at 1.29 p.m. today, and I waited for 9 seconds only.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 9, Barbara Stewart. [Interruption] Order! I apologise to the member. [Interruption] Order! I say to the senior colleague on my left that there is no need for that. The House has had its fun. Please, I want to hear Barbara Stewart’s question No. 9.
Health Services—After-hours Medical Care for Under-sixes
BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the
Minister of Health: What progress has been made towards implementing free after-hours medical care for under-sixes?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: Excellent progress. Free after-hours care for under-sixes has been operating in Greater Auckland since September last year and operating in the Waikato since 2 June—this month.
Barbara Stewart: Can he explain why details of the funding for the free after-hours care for under-sixes, set to begin on 1 July, are not yet publicly available?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, they are publicly available. I have made comments on a number of occasions that the $7 million being put aside for this is being funded by drugs coming off patent.
Barbara Stewart: Why have very few rural practices been involved in discussions with their district health boards and primary health organisations about the extension of the under-sixes policy to after-hours care, according to a report published in the latest
New Zealand Doctor?
Hon TONY RYALL: That report is wrong. I know that there are significant numbers of rural networks that have been involved in discussions, including Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, MidCentral, Wairarapa, Nelson-Marlborough, West Coast, and South Canterbury.
Barbara Stewart: What does he say to Dr O’Keefe, executive director of General Practice New Zealand, who says that the ministry’s guidelines for the implementation of this policy do not address matters such as clawbacks or the difference between types of care?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would say that she has missed the point completely. The fact is that this is about providing better access for children aged 5 and under to after-hours general practitioner care. It is a commitment that the Government made before the last election, and it is a very good preventive measure that many people in the health service are welcoming.
Hon Maryan Street: Will free after-hours medical care for under-sixes be available throughout New Zealand; if so, how does he intend the service to be provided in rural areas where there is only one general practitioner available?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is the Government’s intention that it should be available across New Zealand. We have to remember, though, that this is not a compulsory scheme. We have had to negotiate this with individual after-hours centres and general practitioner networks. For those who do not want to participate, we cannot force them to. But I think excellent progress is being made.
Television, Public Service Channels—Closure of TVNZ 7
CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the
Minister of Broadcasting: Does he stand by the statement of the previous Minister of Broadcasting, Hon Jonathan Coleman, on 30 May 2012 in relation to the decision to scrap TVNZ7 “there was no plan for how TVNZ7 would be funded in the future”?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Broadcasting)
Clare Curran: In light of that answer, who is correct: him, when he said in answer to question No. 12 on Tuesday: “I do understand that various proposals were put by various entities, including TVNZ, for various options for TVNZ 7 … and such things as levies to fund TVNZ 7”, or Jonathan Coleman, who said there were not any proposals?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The primary question quotes that there was no plan, and I do stand by that decision. When I was answering the question the other day I said there were various proposals put up and various entities were included. But I do note that there was no proposal put up as part of the broadcasting policy for the Labour Party in 2011. There was no mention of it. So there was no business case nor plan for TVNZ 7.
Clare Curran: Can he confirm once and for all for the House that Cabinet did consider options for further funding for TVNZ 7 based on the paper prepared by his ministry on 23 February 2011, but Cabinet disregarded the recommendations in those papers and decided no further funding would be made available for TVNZ 7?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I do not know whether Cabinet disregarded those or not. Cabinet made a decision not to continue funding for TVNZ 7, which was time-limited funding announced by the Labour Government’s broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey in 2006, when Labour announced both the opening and closing dates for TVNZ 7.
Clare Curran: In light of the closure of TVNZ 7 on Saturday, where does the Minister suggest New Zealand audiences will be able to access regular free-to-air, commercial-free local programming about politics, media, arts, science, and literature, or an hour of commercial-free news, or do he and his Government not consider that this is important for New Zealand audiences?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I am sure that the New Zealand public will get entertainment and political dialogue from Parliament TV as they observe and watch it when Parliament is sitting.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a document released through the Official Information Act from the Minister of Broadcasting, dated 23 February 2011, titled
Future of TVNZ 7: Revised Cabinet Paper, subtitled “Options for Future of TVNZ Channel 7”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Marine Protected Areas—Commercial Activities and Conservation Concerns
GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the
Minister of Conservation: What are the conservation impacts of having oil exploration permits in marine mammal sanctuaries and an exploration licence to prospect for rock phosphate in a benthic protection area?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the
Minister of Conservation: I am advised that the conservation impacts of any exploration in marine mammal sanctuaries would likely be localised and minimal due to the limited activities undertaken at this stage. Addressing the second part of the question, I am advised that the conservation impacts of exploration licences to prospect for rock phosphate are also likely to be minimal, as there is very limited disturbance to the seabed, apparently, while surveying and sampling, due to the small number of samples taken.
Gareth Hughes: Is it not true that trawling, set-net fishing, seabed mining, and oil and gas exploration and production activities are allowed to occur in parts of the West Coast North Island marine mammal sanctuary?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am sure that member is able to give quite a lot of detail on what is in that management plan, because that management plan was agreed and put in place under the Labour-Green Government in 2007.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a clear, simple question: “Is it not true that those activities …”. All that the Minister referred to was me and the Green Party.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister was not disagreeing. He was pointing out that the member is likely to be well aware of what was in it, and he was probably right. I do not think the House could object to that.
Gareth Hughes: Given that marine mammal sanctuaries are set up to protect our most endangered mammals, will the Minister recommend that our marine mammal sanctuaries be added to the schedule 4 regime so that they cannot be mined?
Hon TONY RYALL: I know that this Minister of Conservation has a very strong commitment to conservation in New Zealand. I think her record demonstrates that. But I am certainly not aware that the Minister has considered their inclusion in schedule 4. I am sure that it must have been considered in 2007 when Labour and the Greens put the marine mammal sanctuaries and their requirements in place.
Gareth Hughes: Given that benthic protection areas, which prohibit bottom trawling and dredging, were established for conservation purposes, will she advise the Minister of Energy and Resources to decline mining permits to dredge for phosphate in these areas?
Hon TONY RYALL: Although benthic protection areas come under the fisheries legislation, and exploration and mining permits are administered by the economic development department under the Crown Minerals Act, and that is a responsibility of the Minister for Energy and Resources, I am sure that both Ministers discuss various issues on a regular basis. I am unaware whether her ministry had previously discussed that matter with the Ministry of Economic Development when Labour and the Greens put in place the zones that currently applied in 2007.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to have another point of order, but the Minister spoke about what might have happened in the past, and spoke about the Green Party once again, but did not answer the question, which was whether she will advise the energy Minister to do that.
Hon John Banks: Some of us listen carefully to the questions and listen carefully to the answers, and I refer you to Standing Order 383(1). It says: “An answer that seeks to address the question … must be given …”—an answer that seeks to address the question must be given. That answer given sought to answer the question. The point I
want to make is that during this question time we have had members standing up and asking—seeking, really—to ask the question again on seven occasions—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard from my good learned colleague. The way that Standing Order is being interpreted has changed in recent times, while the member was not a member of the House. The way that this Speaker interprets that Standing Order is that an answer must be given to the question asked, if it can be given consistently with the public interest. If Ministers do not want to be held to account, the answer is very easy: do not be a Minister. You know, question time is for members of this House to hold the executive to account. Members have a right to ask questions. Where members lace their questions with comment or unnecessary assertions, you have heard the Speaker make it very clear to them that they cannot seek the Speaker’s help if the Minister picks on those unnecessary bits of lacing that are added to the question and focuses on those. But where a straight question is asked, in a parliamentary democracy the House deserves an answer, unless the Minister deems it not to be consistent with the public interest to give an answer. And that accountability of the executive is a fundamental function of this House.
The question is about whether or not on this occasion the Minister did answer the question. Members have to be a little bit reasonable with the kinds of questions they are asking. Where members are asking hypothetical questions, it is very difficult for Ministers to give absolute answers. There is a tradition in the House where members try to press Ministers for yes/no answers, and there is a tradition that Ministers are not always expected to answer those. But in so far as it is possible, where members are seeking information I will try to make sure they get that information, if it is reasonable to expect the Ministers to have that information, and sometimes, given the primary question, it is not reasonable. But on this occasion, to avoid any confusion I will allow the member to repeat his question, but members need to think about their questions. I mean, some questions are clearly simply highly political, and it has to be reasonable that Ministers can give a political answer to them. This is a fine judgment, but on this occasion I will allow the member to repeat his question.
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Peter Dunne first.
Hon Peter Dunne: Speaking further on the point raised by my colleague to my left, I think the point that he was drawing attention to was not so much to challenge your judgment in terms of what constitutes an answer, but the fact that answers being given by Ministers are constantly being challenged by other members who feel that they are not getting the adequacy of answer that they think they are entitled to. The question then becomes who challenges the Minister in terms of the validity of the answer given: the questioner, or you as the arbiter, as the Speaker? I think there is a sense emerging that there is a constant challenging occurring of answers that people do not like. This is not to in any way move away from the point you have just made, but it does raise the question of whether the Speaker is the arbiter, or the House is the arbiter.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not wish to take more time of the House on this matter. I draw the members’ attention to the questions on today’s Order Paper. On some question sheets we get a lot of questions such as “Do Ministers stand by their statements?” and all that sort of thing. The Speaker cannot assist members when they seek opinions like that. The first two questions on today’s Order Paper asked straight questions: “When did he become aware of the decision …”, and the second one was “Why is he conducting an aerial survey …”. When Ministers see questions like that, they should make sure they answer them. We got into some difficulty today because—
Hon Steven Joyce: No, those were supplementaries.
Mr SPEAKER: But supplementary questions based on clear primary answers like that, and the supplementary questions asked were clear supplementary questions. Again, the remedy is in Ministers’ hands. We have seen many Ministers answering questions very clearly, and it has been very helpful to the House. Questions like that crop up on the Order Paper, and those first two questions I am aware caused some points of order to be raised today, but they were straight, fair questions. That is where the House deserves an answer. We have heard some questions being asked today, though, where I have sat questioners down because they had laced their questions with superfluous information instead of asking a straight question. But question time is where Ministers are held to account. It is important that this House can do that. The public expects it. I try to make sure that where a question is just a political statement, it is no use seeking the Speaker’s assistance. I am not going to rule out the ability of members who have asked questions to raise a point of order to seek the Speaker’s assistance, because I think that puts just too much onus on the Speaker altogether. But I do ask members to be reasonable. Some members are, in my view, going over the top. They need to think more about the question they are asking before they seek the Speaker’s intervention. I thank members for their contribution to this issue, but it is an important issue for the House, and I have got to say that I think Ministers have been answering questions very well. I think question time has been going very well, and I do not want to see it in any way derailed. That is why I ask all members to treat it with the seriousness that question time deserves. But I will allow Gareth Hughes to repeat his question.
Gareth Hughes: Given that benthic protection areas, which prohibit bottom trawling and dredging, were established for conservation purposes, will she advise the energy Minister to decline mining permits to dredge for phosphate on the seabed?
Hon TONY RYALL: As acting Minister, I am not in a position to be able to answer that question. I do know that this Minister of Conservation works tirelessly in the interests of conservation in New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister very much.
Gareth Hughes: What will she do to make sure New Zealand’s marine mammal sanctuaries actually provide sanctuary, and New Zealand’s benthic protection areas actually provide protection from seabed mining, oil exploration, and indiscriminate fishing?
Hon TONY RYALL: As the member knows, the Minister has been considering these issues. Her motivation is to make sure that New Zealanders can have confidence, I am sure, in the marine mammal sanctuaries that were put in place in 2007 by the Labour-Green Government.
Parking Enforcement—Wheel Clamping Code of Conduct
MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the
Minister of Consumer Affairs: What progress has been made to address the growing concern around wheel clamping on private land?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Consumer Affairs)
: I am glad the member asks. In April and May, I met with all the key players in the parking enforcement industry about wheel clamping and the development of a code of conduct. The goal was to continue to protect the rights of private land owners, while giving more clarity to consumers about what they can expect from the wheel-clamping operators. I am pleased to report that a voluntary code of conduct has been signed by the vast bulk of the clamping industry, which will come into force on 1 October.
Mark Mitchell: What are some of the key provisions in the code of conduct?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The code provides for clear, visible signs about parking rules and possible wheel clamping, outlines situations where clamping will and will not
occur, and ensures fees are accurately displayed and are fair and reasonable. The code caps the maximum fee at $200. There are clear expectations in the code for industry employees—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! [Interruption] Would someone tap him on the shoulder for me, please! Order! I apologise to the Minister, but the noise is simply unreasonable. The question is a fair question, and I want to be able to hear the answer. [Interruption] Order! I invite the Minister to start his answer again.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I appreciate that there is high public interest in this issue. I will start my answer again! No, to conclude, there are clear expectations in the code for industry employees, including that they are professional in their work, and that they hold a certificate of approval by the Ministry of Justice or an endorsement issued by the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you advise me in respect of the following matter? I am advised that Tau Henare has tweeted the following—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! [Interruption] Order! Order! The member will resume his seat immediately. The member will resume his seat immediately. I cannot for the life of me see what the issue of order is. The member started immediately launching into what another member of the House may or may not have done. That is not an issue of order at all. The member needs to make very clear to me—before he risks criticising another member of this House—what the issue of order is.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question is issues of contempt in respect of the Speaker. I am advised, as I have noted to you, that a tweet—in fact, I have seen it—criticising you has been lodged by that member some minutes ago.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Matters like this should be raised by way of notice of motion. The Speaker has been around here a fair while. He has got a reasonably thick hide and does not get too troubled by criticisms. I am not that precious.