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Volume 672, Week 73 - Tuesday, 10 May 2011

[Volume:672;Page:18465]

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Mr Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.

Prayers.

Questions to Ministers

Government Borrowing—Current Financial Year

1. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: In light of his comment that “borrowing $300 million a week is unaffordable and is holding the economy back,” how much on average has his Government borrowed each week during the current financial year?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : The Government’s bond programme for this year was recently extended to $20 billion. That is more than is required for the year, but the Debt Management Office is front-loading some of the borrowing to take advantage of favourable market conditions. On a weekly basis, that averages out to new debt of $380 million a week. That sort of increase in debt is absolutely unaffordable, and I am glad the member now sees that.

Hon Phil Goff: If borrowing $380 million a week is, as he just said, absolutely unaffordable, how can he afford to spend $44 million a week—or $2.5 billion a year—on giving tax cuts to the wealthiest 10 percent of our country?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If we were, that would be unaffordable, but we are not. The Government has made a number of tax changes since coming into Government, but, taken as a whole, National’s tax changes are in fact reducing the Government’s deficit compared with the situation we inherited in 2008. Without these changes the deficit next year would be almost $1 billion worse.

Hon Phil Goff: Will his cuts to home care, which hurt frail elderly people trying to live independently in their own homes, significantly reduce that $380 million of borrowing a week?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I can say that the Government has been working very hard to take the rough edges off the recession. It is one of the reasons why we had run such a large deficit. I also say that when members opposite see the Budget next week, they will realise what great progress the Government is making in getting the country back into surplus, so that we have to borrow less. I look forward to Labour producing its alternative budget, which will show us having a debt profile that is similar to Greece, I would have thought.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a specific question. It was relatively short, it was to the point, and it had to do with home-care spending and the effect of that on the amount of borrowing. There was a lovely general statement about the Budget and about the Opposition, but certainly—

Mr SPEAKER: I accept the basic thrust of what the member is saying. The dilemma I have as Speaker is that when members incorporate into a question a supposed statement of fact instead of asking for the information, when members insert a statement into the question, as was inserted into that question about some alleged cuts to some programme or other, it gives the Minister answering a lot more leeway. If the question asks a straight question, then it gives a Minister less leeway. I can be of far more assistance to members if they do not insert statements into questions. If it is a primary question, then it has been validated. A supplementary question has not been validated, so a Minister has a fair bit of licence in those circumstances. But I will be listening very carefully because the Prime Minister, I accept, was on the edges of that one. I do want to hear questions that ask questions rather than insert statements. The facts should be in the primary question and then the supplementary questions should respond to the answers given by the Ministers.

Hon Phil Goff: Have cuts of up to 80 percent to adult and community education and pushing up the fees on parents for early childhood education significantly reduced his $380 million borrowing each week?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: All savings that the Government makes helps in the current financial position we are in.

Hon Phil Goff: If all savings help the Government’s position, has the Prime Minister considered not installing the $1,000 seat warmers in his BMWs, and has he considered requiring that his Minister of Foreign Affairs take a $4,000 commercial flight and not a $75,000 air force flight?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In terms of the use of the air force by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, from time to time that will make sense because of the diary that he runs. But I have said to the Minister of Foreign Affairs that when it comes to jumping out of planes, there will be none of that. We do not want that. Phil Goff tried that stunt and there was nothing in it for the taxpayer.

Hon Phil Goff: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable Leader of the Opposition. I say to colleagues that we must be able to hear what is going on. I accept there is a fair bit of passion in some of these questions and answers, but we want to be able to hear them.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister agree that the flight to Vanuatu cost the taxpayer $71,000 more than it needed to, but the flight to do the parachute jump cost nothing because it was on a routine Special Air Service parachute jump?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is a bit rich coming from Labour. That was a routine flight with Phil Goff as Minister of Defence. Well, all I can say to the member is that he should not do that sort of stunt now, because I tell you what: if the parachute was packed by the Labour Party caucus, it would be a very interesting jump.

Hon Phil Goff: It’s only jealousy, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] When the seals stop performing, I will ask my question.

Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet, and the House will come to order. The House has had a bit of fun but it is time to settle down. When I am on my feet there will be silence, or members will be leaving. The honourable Leader of the Opposition knows that he should not make statements like that, but then I accept the provocation as well.

Hon Phil Goff: How can New Zealand afford to borrow to pay for his $2.5 billion tax cuts for the wealthiest 10 percent each year but not afford to invest in the Cullen superannuation fund, which this year produced a rate of return of over 23 percent, on average over 8 percent, and has reduced his deficit by some billions of dollars?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: All I can say is thank goodness Phil Goff is not the Minister of Finance, because this table quite clearly shows—

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is clear to you that that did not even begin to address my question. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I meant what I said about the House coming to order. I realise there is a lot of disorder in the House, and if I happen to pick on the wrong person to leave, it will be a bit unfortunate. But I will not tolerate more of this. I think it would be more helpful for an answer not to start in the way it did, and I invite the right honourable Prime Minister to answer the question.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: When the Government introduced its tax cuts, which were across the board, it made a number of changes. It increased taxes in certain parts and reduced them in others. That showed that by 2014 the deficit will have reduced by over a billion dollars.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave for the Prime Minister to table the official document from which he was quoting in the previous supplementary answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Was the Prime Minister quoting from an official document or from material prepared for his answer?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was. I am more than happy to table it but it has been tabled before.

Mr SPEAKER: Are members satisfied that it has already been tabled?

Hon Members: No.

Mr SPEAKER: The member should table the document. [Interruption] The Prime Minister indicated that the document had been tabled before, but a request has been made for the Prime Minister to table the document he was quoting from if it was an official document. I am asking that that be done.

  • Document laid on the Table of the House.

Financial Position, Government—Reports

2. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s financial position?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : This morning the Government’s financial statements for the 9 months to 31 March were issued. They show an operating deficit for the 9 months of the financial year of $10.2 billion compared with a forecast deficit of $8.9 billion. The Earthquake Commission’s $1.5 billion estimated share of the costs of the Christchurch earthquake accounts for most of this difference. However, the figures do not include any of the further costs of the Canterbury earthquake, including the Government’s support packages or the Government’s support package for AMI policy holders.

Craig Foss: By how much has the Government’s financial position deteriorated since late 2008?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Not by as much as it might have. But it has deteriorated significantly, requiring the Government to carefully review all its spending priorities—for instance, the pre-election update in October 2008 forecast that the deficit for this year would be $2.4 billion. It is much more likely to be about $15 billion or $16 billion. This is all the more reason for New Zealanders to be very sceptical about political promises to spend more, borrow more, and run up even larger deficits.

Craig Foss: How will the Budget next week respond to, and improve, the Government’s financial position?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Budget is likely to confirm a very large deficit for the current financial year, including recognition of a fair chunk of the costs of rebuilding Christchurch. But it will also set out a balanced and considered review of the Government’s spending priorities across a range of programmes and lay out a credible track back to surplus.

Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that the New Zealand Superannuation Fund has made a return of 32 percent since he cancelled the Government’s contribution to it, and that if those contributions had continued, based on that rate of return, Crown debt would have been reduced by approximately $375 million compared with what it is today?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member needs to remember the context here. The New Zealand Superannuation Fund lost billions of dollars because of the change in global markets. It has clawed back a fair bit of that, and one would expect that a fund of this size would over time return to its normal return. In the end, the Government took the view that borrowing is not saving. Based on the member’s statement, I would expect that a Labour Government would go out, borrow $50 billion, buy the New Zealand Exchange, and call that investment.

Craig Foss: Why is it important for the Government to get its finances in order and return to Budget surplus?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: What a good question. It was appropriate that the Government run deficits through the recession as we continued with our long-term investment in infrastructure, maintained public services, maintained cash support to New Zealand families, and protected New Zealanders from the worst effects of the downturn. But now that the economy is showing further signs of growth it is time we restrict our borrowing, make more decisions about the priorities for our spending, and get our way back to surplus. That is how the Government can contribute to national savings, as households are already doing.

Vulnerable Citizens—Prime Minister’s Statements

3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “low-income New Zealanders are being looked after by a National Government”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes.

Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, what does he say to Mrs Alexander, interviewed on Campbell Live last night, whose basic grocery items have increased in price by 20.4 percent—going from $123.30 per week to $148 per week in just 8 months?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first thing I would say is that I did not actually see the Campbell Live show—but then, mind you, I do not see Coronation Street either, unlike the Labour caucus. But—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. The member will resume his seat for the moment. Members are entitled to call a point of order, and when members make unhelpful comments in answering questions it will tend to lead to disorder. Members are entitled to call a point of order and for that to be heard in silence. My patience is wearing a bit thin with some Government members on these points of order. They might not like the point of order, but a member has a right to call one as long as it is a point of order. If it is not a point of order I will sit the member down very fast, but the member has a right.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I think it is fair to say that standing up and sitting down fast is not quite what I can do—

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member.

Hon Trevor Mallard: —and there is no disrespect in my not sitting down quickly. My point of order is a simple one: that gratuitous comment about the television habits of Labour members, especially with regard to a foreign-made programme, was unnecessary.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a perfectly fair point. The question asked whether the Prime Minister had seen a certain programme and what he had to say about that. Admittedly there is some licence there, but a comment as gratuitous as that will always lead to disorder.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. From memory, Coronation Street has been on for 50 years. I am surprised that the Labour—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. That was not a point of order. It would be a terrible thing for the Speaker to deprive the Opposition of the chance to question the Prime Minister—let me put it that way. I do not want to deprive the Opposition of that opportunity, but we will not have any more of that. The Prime Minister, though, should answer the question he was asked.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I did not see the Campbell Live show, but one thing I am advised is that the family was still eligible for Government programmes such as Working for Families and accommodation supplements, and, if they had a mortgage, their mortgage rates would have gone down. Apparently, as the show showed, there are fluctuations in grocery prices, and apparently this month the grocery prices would have been lower.

Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement, as reported on Campbell Live last night, that after the tax cuts “no one will be worse off”; if so, how does the Alexanders’ $11-a-week tax cut go anywhere near to compensating for the $25-a-week increase in their food costs alone?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Hon Annette King: How does the Alexanders’ $11-a-week tax cut go anywhere near to compensating for the $25-a-week increase that they have faced in their basic food costs?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know the personal circumstances of the family, and I cannot confirm that it was an $11-a-week tax cut. I have learnt not to trust the member’s numbers.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have been tough on Government members, and it applies to the Opposition too when a point of order is being heard.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Again, it is a question of whether the Prime Minister should make that gratuitous flick at the member, when I think that 80 percent of the members in the House know that the member is quoting direct figures, which would be easily authenticated if the Prime Minister wanted them to be.

Mr SPEAKER: Of course, the Prime Minister does not know that. When members ask this type of primary question, then quote details in respect of a particular person, they cannot expect any Minister to answer, unless we have that information. If I get too tough on Ministers when responding, this place would get boring. We do not want Parliament to become a totally boring place. I have pulled up the Prime Minister a couple of times on gratuitous comments, and I think we have to be a little bit reasonable. This is a place where there is a bit of give and take, and where a few comments that are perhaps barbed are hurled across the House. If I try to stop all of that, it will destroy the character of the place. I just ask members to be reasonable. I am not sure that that was totally unreasonable.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Maybe I did not express myself clearly enough in the original point of order. I think it is fine for people to dispute the figures or to say they have not seen them, but to say a member is not to be trusted is an implication that is likely to lead to disorder.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member on that. I ask Ministers not to do that. There is no problem with their disputing figures, but on the issue of saying a member cannot be trusted, I accept the point that the member makes.

Hon Annette King: What message is he giving New Zealanders when he refuses to visit a food bank and refuses to meet with Melissa Voice from Timaru, who asked him to walk a week in her shoes, then refuses to appear on Campbell Live to talk about the cost of living, after a very thorough investigation by TV3 on the real issues that New Zealanders are facing at the moment?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One of the criticisms from the Opposition—and there are many—I have received in my time as Prime Minister is that I spend a lot of time around New Zealand. I spend a lot of time visiting New Zealanders in their places of work, their homes, and their places of enjoyment, and I think I have a good sense of what New Zealanders are going through.

Freshwater Management—Reform

4. LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for the Environment: What steps has the Government taken to improve the management of fresh water, and how does this compare with actions taken historically?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) : Yesterday the Government announced a national policy statement on freshwater management that will require all councils to set limits on both water quality and minimum flows. This is the third national policy statement adopted by this Government, compared with just one in 9 years under each of the previous Governments since the Resource Management Act was enacted. We have also announced increases in freshwater clean-up funding, which will see this Government, in its first 5 years, spend five times as much as was spent in the preceding 5 years on clean-ups. We have doubled the fines for non-compliance. We have increased, by doubling it, the number of consent non-compliance prosecutions. A clear national policy, increased funding for clean-ups, and tougher enforcement combine the key ingredients to making sure we manage our rivers and lakes properly.

Louise Upston: How does the Government’s reform package fit with the Bluegreens objective of balancing economic growth with environmental protection?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This Government sees New Zealand’s abundant freshwater resources as an important competitive advantage for New Zealand. It looks to schemes like the Ōpuha, built in the 1990s, as a good example of the way in which well-designed and balanced schemes can provide both economic and environmental benefits. That is why the Government yesterday announced funding of $35 million for ensuring that schemes are well designed and for getting them to an investment-ready stage, and announced the proposal of $400 million of equity investment to support water storage. New Zealand uses only 2 percent of its total water resource, and the challenge is to store water when plentiful in order to use it in times and areas of drought.

Brendon Burns: Given that his Cabinet paper on the national policy statement on freshwater says that though councils are to implement it by December 2014, “if it is impracticable to meet this deadline,” councils will have until December 2030, does that not mean it will be 16 long years before our birthright of safe, clean water has any real chance of being restored?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, that is incorrect. In fact, those parts of the national policy statement are exactly those that were recommended by the board of inquiry about the practical time frame. I simply ask members opposite to reflect on the progress we have made in 3 years. Not one single step was taken by the previous Government in respect of a national policy statement on fresh water, which I think most people, including a broad group of 58 groups, say is overdue.

Brendon Burns: Will the Minister confirm that whereas the draft national policy statement required conditions be imposed on all discharge permits affecting fresh water to protect the environment, his version simply requires councils to have regard to any adverse effect; and did he have to be waterboarded by the pro-growth cabal in Cabinet before he agreed to this weakening of environmental protection?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I will share with the House the specific advice that I received from the Ministry for the Environment. It said that these provisions are ultra vires because a national policy statement can contain only objectives and policies. They would also be unenforceable because only a rule in a plan, or a provision in the Resource Management Act, can require any person to get a consent for a specific activity. They would also create an internal conflict between the approach that is taken in plans and the national policy statement. Those are the reasons that the Government changed those portions of the board of inquiry report.

Brendon Burns: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I ask that the Minister table that advice, please?

Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, was that a point of order?

Brendon Burns: Yes, Mr Speaker. I have asked whether the Minister will table that advice from the Ministry for the Environment.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member can make that request only if the Minister is quoting from an official document. I will check with the Minister. The Minister was not quoting from an official document.

Dr Russel Norman: Will the Minister release the legal opinion on which the Ministry for the Environment’s advice that the provisions are ultra vires is based?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: As is the longstanding convention of Cabinet, I would be happy to consult the Attorney-General and see whether there are any legal risks. Subject to the advice of the Attorney-General that it does not pose any legal risks for the Crown, I would be more than happy to release that advice.

Government Spending—Line-by-line Expenditure Reviews

5. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his reported statement from February 2009 that Ministers had been “aggressively” working on line-by-line expenditure reviews?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes, and they continue to do so. They have had to look carefully at Government spending, because between 2003-04 and 2008-09 Government spending increased by 50 percent in just 5 years. That was under a Labour Government, and we have had to rein in those things.

Chris Hipkins: Has he ensured that the departments and agencies for which he is responsible have been subjected to the same line-by-line scrutiny; if so, is he confident that all of the potential savings have been identified?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Chris Hipkins: Does he believe that Ministers should lead by example when it comes to living without “nice-to-haves”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but it is always open to interpretation what a “nice-to-have” is. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I say to the Labour front bench on this occasion that I have called their own backbench colleague Chris Hipkins. I want to hear his supplementary question.

Chris Hipkins: How does he justify approving expenditure of more than $275,000 on redecorating his prime ministerial residence at a time when the elderly are finding that their home help is being cut, parents are paying more for their children’s early childhood education, police cars are being taken off the street, and night classes are being cancelled throughout the country?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is a $14 million property. It is having maintenance work as it has not been painted for 11 years. The advice was that if we did not paint the property, because it is weatherboard in Wellington it would deteriorate more. If he wants to ask me about “nice-to-haves”, a “nice-to-have” is Phil Goff as Leader of the Opposition. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Both sides of the House, I think, are being equally difficult today.

Chris Hipkins: Why was it appropriate for him to cancel the upgrade of Premier House back in February 2009, when his Government was dishing out large-scale tax cuts, but appropriate to go ahead in early 2011, when his Government is promising a Budget that will severely cut into many of the public services New Zealanders rely on?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because my understanding was that in 2009 the money would be spent on things such as couches, which, frankly, do need changing, but they are a “nice-to-have”, whereas painting a Historic Places Trust category I building will actually save the taxpayer money. If the member is saying we should not maintain New Zealand’s historic buildings, that is fine by me; that can be the new policy of the Labour Party. Goodness knows, Labour needs to save money somewhere in its policies, with the way it is spending it everywhere else.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Why was the 2009 decision his to make, but the decision this year not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For the same reasons. The decision is made by the department, but its advice is to me. I was aware the building would be painted in 2011. My view was, on the advice we had, that it would maintain the property.

Dairy Farming—Effect of Intensification on Water Quality

Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) : My question is to the Prime Minister—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I ask both sides of the House again to extend some courtesy to Dr Russel Norman.

6. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his comments on BBC HARDtalk yesterday that “intensifying our dairy operations … had some impact on our river quality”; if so, what is that impact?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes. In some areas of New Zealand, the historical intensification of dairy operations will have had some impact on our river quality. That is why we announced yesterday an increase in funding for the clean-up of our rivers, lakes, and aquifers. But in reality, the impact is not great and needs to be kept in context. We have a 2010 ranking second only to Iceland in the water quality index of Columbia University and Yale University, with a score of 99.2, which is significantly ahead of other developed countries.

Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister aware of statistics provided by the Ministry for the Environment that show that 43 percent of our monitored rivers are not safe for swimming most of the time?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not recently seen those figures. I have no doubt they are there, but I have not recently seen them. But that would explain why a National-led Government is spending more money—in fact, five times as much—on the freshwater clean-up between 2009 and 2014 than the previous Labour Government did, which that member supported.

Dr Russel Norman: If, as he said on the BBC, the intensification of dairying causes water pollution, then why is he promoting hundreds of thousands more hectares of dairy intensification?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I honestly cannot remember what I said on BBC HARDtalk, because I have not seen the show, but I have also said on numerous occasions that one needs to balance the environment with the economy. Looking, for instance, at dairy intensification that may come from water irrigation schemes, I refer the member to the Ōpuha dam water management project in South Canterbury. It won the 2008 Canterbury Resource Management Award. It is a sustainable project that is supported by Fish and Game New Zealand, local iwi, and the community. It demonstrates that we can actually have both economic and environmental benefits.

Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister aware of the statement by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research: “There is no doubt that our declining … water quality over the last 20 years is associated with intensification of pastoral farming and the conversion … to dairy farming,” and how can he possibly support massive conversion to dairying while avoiding those environmental effects?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not seen that particular comment but, again, we are aware that there are always environmental risks when one increases intensification of dairying. I am also aware of all the steps the industry is now taking to make sure it is a good custodian of environmental responsibility. In my view, the industry is meeting those challenges.

Dr Russel Norman: If the industry is to be a good custodian of the land, does the Prime Minister believe that we need regulation in order to ensure that the industry actually does look after the land?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Inevitably, some legislation is always required in that area. When there are controls they are covered by things like the Resource Management Act. The legislation will also be assisted by the national policy statement that the Minister for the Environment put out yesterday.

Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister aware that the national policy statement that was put out yesterday removed the requirement that dairy intensification requires a resource consent? The draft national policy statement on freshwater management stated that a resource consent was needed for dairy intensification, which the national policy statement has taken away, so there is no ability to regulate.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am advised that the Government had legal advice that the proposed national policy statement was ultra vires, and that it can set policy but not rules. That is why Cabinet did not proceed with those provisions.

Dr Russel Norman: Was the Prime Minister taking a bit of a gamble in inviting BBC HARDtalk interviewer Stephen Sackur to swim in our rivers when, according to Ministry for the Environment statistics, 43 percent of our monitored rivers are not safe for swimming most of the time, so Mr Sackur would have stood a one-in-two chance of getting the runs?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not think I was taking a big risk asking him to come for a swim. I think the member is taking a much bigger risk if he continues to support Labour.

Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table the document where the Ministry for the Environment says that 57 percent of monitored swimming spots have water quality that meets the requirements almost all the time.

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 Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thought Russel Norman was going to raise a point of order about gratuitous comments made by the Prime Minister—I think for the third time today—that were totally irrelevant in this case. At your advice, we on this side of the House have worked quite hard—not always successfully—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I do not want to ask the member to resume his seat; that is unfair to the honourable member. I ask the House to please show some courtesy to a colleague.

Hon Trevor Mallard: The point is that you have given the House advice, and members on this side of the House have been making a real attempt to follow it and to stay within the Standing Orders. I think it is generally accepted that there has been a lot of progress in that area over the last year or so. It is just a question of whether the same advice is going to the Prime Minister. If we made that sort of gratuitous comment three times or had interrupted you when you were on your feet in the way the Prime Minister did, we would have been asked to leave the Chamber.

Mr SPEAKER: The member was doing pretty well until that point. The member will have noted that today I was not very happy with the Prime Minister at one stage, but it was my assessment that it would have been unfair to the Opposition to ask the Prime Minister to leave the Chamber, because there are several questions to the Prime Minister that I am sure the Opposition wanted him—and not anyone else—to answer. The Speaker has to make all sorts of judgments at a time.

I do not want to be too unreasonable. As long as there is a little bit of humour in the comments, I do not want to be too unreasonable. The member says the Labour Opposition has tried to get their questions much tighter. I think many members have tried, and I congratulate members on it. But I invite him to reflect on the fact that many questions still seek opinions. A particular question asked the Prime Minister about risks. The Prime Minister, in answering, shared a risk with the questioner that maybe was a bit flippant, but if I were to try to prevent that kind of comment, I think we would almost destroy question time. There is a risk when a questioner asks a Minister about risks that the answer may include risks that the questioner did not expect.

That is my dilemma as Speaker. I do not want to be too unrealistic. Members will note that where a straight question is asked that seeks information, I am pretty tough on Ministers. Where questions seek opinions, it is much more difficult for me. Where supplementary questions contain statements—alleged statements of fact—it is much more difficult for me. I hear the member’s point, and I will do my best to achieve what he is seeking, but I do not want to destroy all humour. In that particular case the questioner asked about risks, and a risk was included in the answer that perhaps was not totally expected. I do not want to rule out that sort of thing completely.

Top Scholar Awards—2010 Results

7. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister of Education: What were the results of the 2010 Top Scholar Awards?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education) : I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister and I have just attended the awards ceremony at Government House, where 26 students were named as Top Subject Scholars. The Top Scholar Awards recognise the No. 1 student in an individual Scholarship subject. Nine students received Premier Awards, and these nine Premier Scholars gained at least four Scholarship subjects at “Outstanding” level. These students are Stewart Alexander of Christchurch Boys’ High School, David Bellamy of Christ’s College, Athene Laws of St Cuthbert’s College, Stephen Mackereth of King’s College, William Quach of Mount Roskill Grammar School, Michael Tzu Min Wang of Macleans College, Max Wilkinson of Papanui High School, Yuanye Xu of Westlake Boys High School, and Hao Jordan Zi of Mount Roskill Grammar School. These students are all performing at a world-class level, and are great role models for all New Zealand students.

Nicky Wagner: What was new about these awards?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: 2010 was the inaugural year of the Prime Minister’s Award for Academic Excellence. This award is for the top achieving student in last year’s Scholarship awards. I am pleased to inform the House that the inaugural winner of this award is David Bellamy from Christchurch. David’s achievement is absolutely outstanding. He was just 16 when he sat the Scholarship exams and is a Premier Award winner and the Top Scholar in chemistry. In addition, David achieved six Outstanding Scholarships in English, biology, chemistry, mathematics with calculus, statistics and modelling, and physics.

Tourism—Role of Māori Culture

8. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour) to the Minister of Tourism: Does he stand by his statement that “New Zealand has some big competitive advantages” in tourism including “our unique Māori culture and its stories”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Minister of Tourism) : Yes.

Kelvin Davis: How is the Minister demonstrating the competitive advantages of our unique Māori culture and its stories if Māori are barely represented in an event as significant as the REAL New Zealand Showcase?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because the Government is spending $4.5 million on the development of the Māori tourism action plan. The Government is spending $2 million on the pavilion, actually, which I know that members on the other side are deeply opposed to. But also occurring during the Rugby World Cup is a huge number of events around New Zealand where Māori are participating and, if the member wants me to, then I am more than happy to table that enormous list of events. Just to give him a flavour for some that are occurring, there is a Māori arts market in Porirua and a tribal rugby festival in Rotorua. There is just a whole bunch of them; I am more than happy to table that document.

Kelvin Davis: Why, aside from a few brown-faced waiters and a bit of music, did Māori and Māori tourism have no significant presence at the launch of the REAL New Zealand Showcase?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I noticed that you were straining to hear. I think we were straining to hear, as well, and we are not very far away from the member.

Mr SPEAKER: I will invite the member to repeat his question and, although members may not have liked it, the question must be heard as long as it is in order.

Kelvin Davis: Why, aside from a few brown-faced waiters and a bit of music, did Māori and Māori tourism have no significant presence at the launch of the REAL New Zealand Showcase?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I will repeat what I said earlier, that during the Rugby World Cup 2011 festival there will be many events. The REAL New Zealand Showcase is by sector, and Māori are an important part of each of those sectors and play a part in them. If the member wants to have a chance on what is obviously his attempt to get his profile up before the by-election, he should ask better questions.

Kelvin Davis: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not receive an answer to the question.

Mr SPEAKER: There will be no comment. The member should reflect on the question he asked. I invite him to do that, and to think about the question he asked. I could have, perhaps, even ruled it out, but I allowed the Minister to answer it, and perhaps the answer the member received was reasonably mild, considering the question.

Kelvin Davis: What percentage of Government funding does Māori tourism receive in comparison with mainstream tourism?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that exact number to hand.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: You’re the Minister!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I do not have every number to hand. What I do know is I would know when a boat would leave if I was going out on one, on a reality TV show—I would know that—but I do not know every single one of those numbers. I do know that we are spending $4.5 million on Māori development in the tourism action plan, I do know that a lot of work is done with the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign to use the imagery of Māori, and I know that they are deeply involved in many of the sectors of the REAL New Zealand Showcase Rugby World Cup programme.

Kelvin Davis: Why should Māori believe this Government values our contribution to New Zealand when financial support for Māori ventures such as Māori tourism, in comparison with mainstream tourism, is almost non-existent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: First, because that statement is not true and, secondly, because when this Government stood up and said we would have a pavilion to promote Māori, in a prime position at the Viaduct Basin during the Rugby World Cup, all Labour members could do was make some cheap shots—so Māori know who supports them when it comes to tourism, and it sure as hang is not Labour.

Youth Rates—Support for Reintroduction

9. Hon HEATHER ROY (ACT) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Why did she oppose a bill which sought to reintroduce youth rates, and will she support a bill to introduce youth rates now that youth unemployment has hit an all-time high of 27.5 percent and 36.6 percent for Māori?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : The National caucus opposed the bill at the time as we were not persuaded that it alone would reduce youth unemployment. In relation to the second part of the question, like any other member’s bill, caucus will consider it if it comes out of the ballot box.

Hon Heather Roy: Does she accept any responsibility for the 12,000 young people who cannot get work because of the removal of youth rates, and how does she justify spending $55 million of taxpayers’ money to employ less than half that number, as announced in her youth employment package last week?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I contest the fact that 12,000 young people are not getting jobs because of the youth rates. The rates that she is talking about are for 15 to 19-year-olds, and they are a tough group to find jobs for. The number is taken from the household labour force survey. Often those people are looking for only an hour’s work a week while they are studying. We actually recommend that young people stay in education and training for as long as they can; our focus is on schooling. We want to see them in schools, we want to see them in work, and we want to see them in training as much as we can. That is this Government’s focus.

Hon Heather Roy: Does she agree that youth rates give “employers a reason to hire younger people and give them a chance to get experience.”, as stated by John Key in December 2007; if not, what has changed?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. That is why we also supported the training rates, and why we support those other rates for young people—so, yes.

Prime Minister, Security-related Meetings—Travel

10. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Prime Minister: Why is it not in the public interest to tell New Zealanders whether, if he had travelled by car from Hamilton to Auckland as previously arranged, he would have arrived in time for his “security related meetings” on 11 December 2009?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : It is my judgment that it is not in the public interest for me as Prime Minister to talk publicly about any of the details related to security-related meetings held on that date, and, from the best of my knowledge, that was the custom of the previous Prime Minister, as well.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that I am not seeking the subject of the meetings, the number of meetings, the venues of the meetings, the attendees at the meetings, or the duration of the meetings, but, rather, I am seeking to know only whether, if the kind helicopter pilot had not offered a lift direct to Auckland, the Prime Minister would have got there on time?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said earlier, it is my judgment that it is not in the public interest for me as Prime Minister to talk about security-related matters.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Does he stand by his statement that when the helicopter pilot asked him whether he wanted to go from Mount Pirongia to Hamilton, or Mount Pirongia to Auckland, “the pilot said to me it was about equal distance either way”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot remember whether the pilot said that, but I can certainly assure him that the pilot offered to take me to Auckland.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Why was the Vela brothers’ invoice that was generated on New Year’s Eve 2009 not approved by his office until 1 March 2010, but never date-stamped as having been ever received by his office on any date?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it takes a while to go through the system.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Is it within the bounds of possibility that around February 2010 someone dropped to the fact that the gift from the Vela brothers would have to go on his pecuniary interests register, and that to avoid awkward gibes from the Rt Hon Winston Peters, someone got a backdated invoice from the Vela brothers?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, the decision to ask for an invoice was, to the best of my knowledge, made within 48 hours of me taking the trip.

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Government Support

11. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: In what ways has the Government demonstrated its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: By doing what we have been doing since day one of this great Prime Minister’s administration. We have accelerated the settlement of Treaty grievances after 9 years of failure; we have reviewed and repealed the hated Foreshore and Seabed Act; we have restored the right of iwi to seek customary title in the courts; and we have supported the declaration through participation in international meetings. Indeed, the United States has changed its position on the declaration. An official from Te Puni Kōkiri is attending the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this week and will also attend a meeting in Washington of United States, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand officials dealing with indigenous topics.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister agree with article 19 in the declaration, which affirms indigenous peoples’ rights to “free, prior and informed consent”; if so, why have New Zealand officials currently attending the UN session on sustainable development asked for the text “free, prior and informed consent” to be deleted?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As to the first part of the question, yes. I note that although the declaration certainly carries moral force, it is not legally binding; it is an aspirational document.

Hone Harawira: Can the Minister please tell the House how the Government calling out the New Zealand armed forces against Tūhoe and Te Whānau-a-Apanui for standing up for the rights guaranteed to them under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples demonstrates its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As to the issue of Tūhoe, that matter is before the court. It would be singularly inappropriate to comment on that.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he agree that in seeking to remove “free, prior and informed consent” from the text on mining in the sustainable development session, his officials have breached Cabinet’s support for the declaration and have breached the Treaty clauses in a number of pieces of legislation, including the Crown Minerals Act; if so, what is he doing about it?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, it is a work in progress and we will see what happens at the end of the day. To ask for a clause by clause, day-by-day analysis of the work our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials are doing at this most important conference would be inappropriate.

Interisland Ferry—Proposed Clifford Bay Terminal

12. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Transport: Why is the Government considering the proposed ferry terminal at Clifford Bay?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : Preliminary advice shows that a new sea freight terminal at Clifford Bay could significantly reduce ferry crossing-times by half an hour, and would further reduce the travel time to Christchurch by 50 minutes for road and 80 minutes for rail. This would have the effect of bringing our three largest cities closer together, and therefore increasing productivity and helping economic growth, particularly in the South Island. In addition, the new terminal could provide a real long-term boost to Christchurch’s recovery and confidence. Ferry operators could also benefit by increasing their freight capacity over time and running an extra ferry crossing per day, thereby improving their productivity further.

Colin King: What are the next steps for progressing the project?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Firstly, the Ministry of Transport is commissioning a study to further examine the project, including national cost and benefit assumptions, which will take 2 to 3 months to complete. Secondly, using the results we will then be able to determine whether Clifford Bay could be successful and whether it would be a candidate for a public-private partnership, for example. It is not the sort of facility that KiwiRail would have the resources to build on its own, but it could provide a steady, long-term revenue stream to infrastructure investors. Designing and building the terminal would take an estimated 3 to 5 years.

Hon Shane Jones: How does the Government’s ferry terminal consideration take account of the future of Picton and Blenheim, likely to be gutted as a consequence of these changes?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member may have been asleep at the time, but yesterday Mark Baxter of Sounds Connection, one of the tour operators in Picton, said that without the ferries Picton could come into its own as a tourist destination, and, in his words, “go from strength to strength”. He said: “The ferries going south could be, I think, in actual fact the making of the town.” Of course, the ferries moving to Clifford Bay, if it happened, would also reduce the amount of heavy freight travelling through the Blenheim township.

Offices of Parliament

Address to Governor-General

Hon SIMON POWER (Acting Leader of the House) : I move, That a respectful Address be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General commending to His Excellency the alterations to the appropriations for the 2010/11 financial year in respect of Vote Audit, Vote Ombudsmen, and Vote Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, and the appropriations and information for the 2011/12 financial year in respect of Vote Audit, Vote Ombudsmen, and Vote Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

In order to maintain the independence of the three Offices of Parliament the Public Finance Act 1989 provides for funding for the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General, the Office of the Ombudsmen, and the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to be determined by Parliament through the Officers of Parliament Committee. The Officers of Parliament Committee has considered submissions from each officer detailing proposed alterations to their 2010-11 appropriations and their draft budget for 2011-12 and out-years, and has reached decisions on the funding required for the offices to carry out their duties.

The details for each vote are set out in the Officers of Parliament Committee report, presented to the House on 30 March 2011. Each of the three votes is to be increased in accordance with the Remuneration Authority’s determination. Vote Audit will receive $400,000 per annum from 2011-12 for the Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions, funded through the State Sector Development Partnerships Fund administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This will be focused on completing a Pacific Islands forum programme to develop the capacity of Auditors-General in the Pacific. Vote Audit will also receive a capital injection of $2.2 million in 2011-12 to bring together the Office of the Auditor-General and Audit New Zealand in one location.

Vote Ombudsmen will receive a number of increases, including $160,000 in 2010-11 to account for earthquake damage to the Christchurch office, $230,000 from 2013-14 to fund an ongoing monitoring programme to help meet the commitments of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, $38,000 in 2011-12 and $337,000 in 2012-13 to host the International Ombudsman Institute conference, $30,000 in 2011-12 to assess accommodation options, and funding of $50,000 in 2011-12 and $370,000 per annum in 2012-13 and 2013-14 to assist with a backlog of cases. On that last point I understand that the current backlog will be compounded by an expected influx of inquiries following the two Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River disaster.

I was pleased to learn that complaints under the Official Information Act concerning decisions by Ministers of the Crown averaged 144 for the first 2 years of this Government, compared with 264 for the first 2 years of the previous Government. On a related matter, the Ombudsmen have noted that unlike other jurisdictions they are required to follow up all complaints, even those considered vexatious or frivolous.

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Labour) : The Officers of Parliament Committee is a very interesting committee. The Acting Leader of the House has quite rightly pointed out the three votes that were considered. Today I want to focus on the Office of the Ombudsmen, because I found the scrutiny of that office particularly interesting. It put the Chief Ombudsman, Beverley Wakem, who does a wonderful job, under quite substantial pressure. Those pressures are mounting, because it is a small office with an increasing workload. The Minister mentioned the Canterbury earthquake, and it was interesting that the Office of the Ombudsmen’s office in the South Island was affected by the earthquake. We had no problem with keeping the South Island office after some examination as to whether it was needed. We also looked at the Wellington office, as its lease is expiring and it will need to assess some other accommodation offers.

The most interesting aspect of the scrutiny of this vote was the increase of $50,000—from $320,000 to $370,000—to clear a backlog of inquires. The Minister alluded to the fact that the Office of the Ombudsmen must investigate all complaints, even if they are vexatious or frivolous, and I think that requires, as the committee agreed, a legislative change. I hope that the Minister, before he goes, gets that piece of work finished for the Office of the Ombudsmen. It is crazy that it has to open all inquiries and complaints, then scrutinise all inquiries and complaints to see whether there is substance to them. That wastes a lot of the Ombudsmen’s time. It is not a “nice-to-have”; it is something they must do, so the backlog, the tail, of complaints blows out. I think this legislative change is an initiative that the Government should undertake.

It is also interesting to look at the parallel with other commissioner offices and their ability to resolve complaints. There are some concerns coming back to us in Opposition about the Health and Disability Commissioner, who has put out only five reports in the first 10 months of his new term of office, compared with an average of 50 under the previous Health and Disability Commissioner. We want to look at relativity in the ability to resolve complaints, and there is definitely a blowout in the decisions pending that did not sit comfortably on the shoulders of the Chief Ombudsman.

I think the Minister should also look at a closure target for closure of complaints for these offices, because they are charged with promoting the public’s rights and with getting answers to inquiries. The Office of the Ombudsmen is the one place the public can go to get closure on their complaints. The office looks at complaints from Government departments, and every electorate MP knows that we receive these complaints from city, district, or regional councils; from school boards of trustees; from universities, polytechs, and other tertiary education initiatives; and from district health boards. Heaven knows that those complaints will be a measure of how the present Government is starving these departments of funding over time. We want to know that we close that loop of investigations and get feedback very quickly about budget constraints that will impact on those departments, especially with the Budget that we will no doubt have to face next week. I think the Minister should look at a closure target for these offices and make sure that the public know that if they complain to the Office of the Ombudsmen, there would not be a blowout of over 2 years to resolve some of those complaints.

I also want to mention the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That was a convention signed in September 2008 by Ruth Dyson when she was the Minister for Disability Issues, and I want it on the record that I congratulate Ms Dyson on her work. But that work has put some more pressure on the Office of the Ombudsmen, because now it must monitor and report back to the United Nations. That increased the pressure on the office, and it needed more funding for that. I am more than happy with that; it is not a “nice-to-have”. It is part of our article 33 that we must report on, and $230,000 was allocated to that task from this Government.

There was another interesting aspect in that the existing scope for the Office of the Ombudsmen was changed by this committee to look at an appropriation limited to the investigation and resolution of complaints, the provision of advice relating to central and local government administrative actions, and monitoring compliance with international conventions. We brought that more up to date than the current scope.

This work is very important. I want to congratulate the Office of the Ombudsmen on undertaking its duties with limited resources, I have to say, and with few staff. They do a remarkable job, but I think there are some changes the Minister in the chair should take notice of. Thank you.

Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) : I rise to convey the support of the Green Party for this motion. I will not take up too much time of the House; I want to make just a couple of points in particular reference to the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. When we look at the financial allocations that are conveyed to the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, we find a certain asymmetry with due regard to the different work that is required to be undertaken by those officers. One might say, in an evolutionary sense, it speaks volumes for the priorities that this country and this Parliament place on those aspects. The audit, for example, absorbs $65 million roughly. Of the total amount allocated annually, the Ombudsman absorbs $9 million and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment absorbs $3 million—that is to say, $65 million, $9 million, and $3 million.

I mentioned this time last year that the amount allocated for environmental work in this respect is very modest and could be increased. I understand that in a time of fiscal retrenchment there would have to be triage; we would have to find the money from elsewhere, and I believe that needs to be done. I submit that $3 million is not sufficient. The quality of the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment remains untrammelled, but the amount the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment could undertake without question could be increased. I also note that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment budget is held constant over the next 4 years, thereby signalling no change in priority between the environment and other issues. In our view that is unacceptable and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment should be allocated more than $3 million a year.

We want to commend the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment for the truly excellent work it has done over the years, but particularly over the past year. The six or so reports it has submitted have been of a very high-quality indeed, well researched, and well reasoned to logical conclusions. There have been reports on the emissions trading scheme, on the emissions reduction target, on lignite and climate change, on mining the conservation estate, on the draft energy strategy, and on thinking strategically about biofuels. That is not to say the Green Party agrees or agreed with every judgment and every conclusion entered by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment; in fact, we took quite definite exception to one of them—the last-mentioned one on biofuels. But, objectively speaking, we commend the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and her office for the quality of the work they do. One could almost say it is outstanding.

Before I conclude, I want to propose an undertaking. I would like the House to reflect on this comment, which I also make to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and to the academic community in general. There are two proposals I would like to make. The first is essentially that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment should undertake a new study. I look at the Environment Act 1986 under which the commissioner is appointed in her functions, and I see that the primary function out of seven is the following, as stated in section 16(1)(a): “With the objective of maintaining and improving the quality of the environment, to review from time to time the system of agencies and processes established by the Government to manage the allocation, use, and preservation of natural and physical resources,”. I repeat: “With the objective of maintaining and improving the quality of the environment,”. We then look within the same Act to section 2, “Interpretation”, and we find that “Environment” is defined as the following: “Environment includes—(a) Ecosystems and their constituent parts including people and communities; and (b) All natural and physical resources; and (c) Those physical qualities and characteristics of an area that contribute to people’s appreciation of its pleasantness, aesthetic coherence, and cultural and recreational attributes; and (d) The social, economic, aesthetic, and cultural conditions which affect the matters stated …”. On the basis of that, I would propose for reflection by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that a study be undertaken by her office and advice submitted independently to Parliament—a study of the economic conditions in New Zealand that affect New Zealand’s ecosystem and its constituent parts, New Zealand’s natural and physical resources, and the physical qualities and characteristics of areas that contribute to the New Zealand people’s appreciation of its pleasantness, aesthetic coherence, and cultural and recreational attributes. The reason I make that proposal is that from the Green perspective, there is a very close and intimate causal relationship between the environment and the economy, and vice versa, between the economy and the environment. I submit to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that it undertake a study of the economic conditions of New Zealand essentially that affect the environment and New Zealand’s appreciation of the environment in its aesthetic, cultural, and other dimensions.

The second study I recommend is of a broader matter of interest, but I think it is of considerable interest, we might say, to the integrity of Government. The principal purpose of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is as stated: the Commissioner has “a unique opportunity to provide Parliament with independent advice in its consideration of any matters that may have an impact on the quality of the environment.”, and we have just defined “environment.” It is further stated that the mission is to “maintain or improve the quality of the environment by providing robust independent advice that influences decisions.”

I have already said that we get very high-quality advice as a Parliament from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, but I think a question is left hanging in the air as to the extent to which that advice influences not only Parliament but also the Governments of the day. I do not necessarily mean only this current Government; I am talking about Governments since the late 1980s, when the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment was established. It would not be appropriate for the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to undertake such a study, but I would like to see a broader, independent academic study undertaken by a university, perhaps, or a group of universities acting in consortium, on the assessment of what advice to Parliament submitted by the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has been adopted by successive Governments since the establishment of the office. Those are my two proposals in the context of my comments on the motion. I reiterate that we support the motion.

RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. In these times of fiscal constraint it is somewhat unusual to speak to a motion in which the appropriations for each of the three votes—Vote Audit, Vote Ombudsmen, and Vote Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment—are to be increased, in accordance with the determination of the Remuneration Authority. These are relatively minor increases in expenditure in the grander scheme of Government spending, but there are some important items in the list that the Māori Party will mention.

Firstly, we welcome the increase of $400,000 to Vote Audit to fund the Pacific Association of Supreme Audit Institutions. We see the support being provided to the Pacific forum to develop the capability and capacity of Auditors-General and their offices in the Pacific as absolutely in keeping with the concepts of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga with our relatives across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa. It is therefore a pleasing gesture on behalf of the Government.

We note too the need for an additional $160,000 in 2010-11 to Vote Ombudsmen for the re-establishment of the Christchurch office, which was damaged during the quake. The continuing trickle-down effect of the quake is being reflected in every vote, in every appropriation of Government, and, of course, in every home throughout Canterbury. For those of us who live in the Christchurch electorates, I can say only that when we were woken at about 3 this morning by a violent 3.5 magnitude earthquake—

Dr Kennedy Graham: 5.3.

RAHUI KATENE: —sorry, I got it the wrong way round; a 5.3 earthquake—we wondered when the rumblings of Rūaumoko would quieten down and allow us to live in a way that resembles normality.

The quake this morning was also the 25th earthquake that Canterbury has had measuring 5 or more on the Richter scale since the 7.1 magnitude earthquake on 4 September. Put that into the total picture of some 5,490 aftershocks in less than 9 months, and is it any wonder that a survey released today from the Southern Cross Healthcare group revealed that 46 percent of Christchurch respondents reported high levels of stress? When one is stressed it is important to have a forum to address concerns and to seek the benefit of advice.

It is this next area of funding, $50,000 this year and $370,000 over the next 2 years, that speaks volumes about the role of the Ombudsman. As electorate MPs we have many cases of constituents who think they have been treated unfairly by a central or local government agency and turn to an Ombudsman for assistance. The extra funding to Vote Ombudsmen is required to clear a continued backlog of cases. I understand there has been some suggestion of a review of the functions and legislation in respect of the Ombudsmen, because the workload is never-ending. I am interested in the views of the Minister on that particular issue, as it certainly reflects the concerns that we get across our table.

Another injection of funding into Vote Ombudsmen that warrants special focus is that related to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been mentioned already. This is a new pūtea, an investment of $330,000 in the ongoing programme that my colleague Tariana Turia introduced last year in her capacity as the Minister for Disability Issues. Article 33 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which New Zealand ratified in September 2008, requires the designation of at least one mechanism to monitor the rights of disabled persons. In Budget 2010 Minister Turia secured $2.34 million for the independent promotion, protection, and monitoring of the UN convention. The measures included the establishment of a Disability Rights Commissioner within the Human Rights Commission, a protection and monitoring role for the Office of the Ombudsmen, and resourcing a formalised vote for disabled persons organisations. This vote addresses the enhanced capacity of the Office of the Ombudsmen to monitor disability issues.

I congratulate Tariana on the efforts that have been made in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, efforts which have been reflected well in New Zealand’s very first report to the United Nations on that issue. The work she has done is a major step in the measurement of progress in achieving New Zealand’s vision of full participation and improved well-being for disabled persons and their families.

Finally, I signal the Māori Party’s intention to appoint as an officer of Parliament a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Treaty of Waitangi, to proactively promote the Treaty’s commitment to partnership. We have been researching a number of avenues by which to make this possible, either by a member’s bill, which we have drafted to this effect, or indeed as a result of the process in relation to our constitutional review. This motion is ostensibly about ensuring that Parliament is held to account, and about the strength of democracy generally. To this end, we believe that the Treaty commissioner proposal is one that aligns well within the context of this motion.

CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) : I am very happy to speak on this motion before the House today. I am particularly happy to speak on it given the constitutional significance of the role of the people we are talking about, particularly the Ombudsmen and the Auditor-General, in determining that public money is spent wisely and prudently, and that the activities of the Government are transparent. It is incredibly important that the activities of the Government are transparent.

The Ombudsmen’s role is never more important than at the times we have a National Government. It is never more important than when we have a National Government, because National Governments do not like being transparent about what they are getting up to. We can tell that by looking at the Ombudsmen’s annual report, and the number of complaints there are about this Government and its failure to release information.

When members of this Government get a tricky question and when they are asked about tricky issues—about what they are actually getting up to behind the scenes—their gut response is to deny, deny, deny. That is why there has been such an increase in the number of complaints being investigated by the Ombudsmen, and that is one of the reasons the Ombudsmen need extra resourcing, which is what this motion is all about. This Government does not like being transparent about what it is getting up to.

I look particularly at the numbers in that report, and why the Office of the Ombudsmen need that extra resourcing. The number of complaints received by the Ombudsmen under the Official Information Act in the past year was 920, which was a 12 percent increase on the year prior to that. The office ended the year with 643 complaints on hand. Fourteen percent of complaints overall were against Ministers of the Crown, which is a significant proportion of the complaints received under the Official Information Act by the Ombudsmen. A significant proportion of complaints were against Ministers of the Crown.

I quote particularly from the Ombudsmen’s report: “People usually require official information for a specific purpose, and often it will lose value over time. Overall, we took on average 120 working days to complete OIA cases,”. That is 4 months or more before people are getting the information, although there is no guarantee they will get the information at the end of that time. It is 4 months in which the office will investigate whether the people should, in fact, get the information.

This Government is using the provisions of the Official Information Act to deny the release of information; it is using those provisions as a blanket rule. If the information is tricky or difficult, or if the Government does not want to release it, the Government simply refuses the request for it. A complaint then goes to the Ombudsmen, and Ministers know they have 4 months. They know they have another 4 months. By basically not complying with the law they can buy themselves 4 more months, in the hope that the issues will go away. That is not democracy in action, and we as a Parliament need to make sure that the Office of the Ombudsmen is adequately resourced to investigate complaints adequately and thoroughly, and ensure that transparency and democracy, and the principles we hold dear in this House, are upheld. They are not being upheld under the current National Government.

I also quote from page 31 of the Ombudsmen’s annual report: “the impact of an increased workload is visible in the age profile of open investigations.” The Office of the Ombudsmen aims for 80 percent of Official Information Act complaints to have been completed at the end of a year, yet in the last year only 45 percent of the Official Information Act complaints it received had been concluded. That means that more than half of the Official Information Act complaints received by the Office of the Ombudsmen had not been finished—had not been completed and had not been fully investigated within the year in question. That figure is of significant concern to this Parliament because it says that the activities of this Government are not being transparently scrutinised. The information about what the Government is actually up to is not making its way into the public domain. Of course, that is not surprising when we find out what Government Ministers are getting up to, and why they do not want to release that information.

There are other avenues, of course, under which members of Parliament and members of the public can obtain information apart from the Official Information Act, but that Act is critical because it is independent of Parliament. Often we have an issue with the interface between written parliamentary questions, for example, and the Official Information Act. This Government refused to release huge amounts of information under written parliamentary questions, in situations where the information would have been released by the last Labour Government. Therefore, the only recourse we have to obtain that information is through the Official Information Act. Of course, Ministers use other excuses as well. John Key’s latest one is to say that an issue is a security issue, and he will not therefore comment on anything, at all. Particularly if it is to do with him, it is just a security issue.

The Office of the Ombudsmen is the body we can go to if we do not agree with something, and if we want a matter investigated. We need to make sure that the Office of the Ombudsmen is adequately resourced to do that. That office, for example, is looking at the moment into whether information about Cabinet Ministers’ conflicts of interest should be publicly released and publicly disclosed.

Grant Robertson: That is an interesting topic.

CHRIS HIPKINS: That is a very interesting topic at the present point in time, because the Government has refused to release information on Ministers’ declarations of conflicts of interest. Therefore, the Ombudsmen have to investigate whether that information should be released. The most recent advice we had from the Ombudsmen—and I am talking of August 2010—was that they thought the information about a Minister’s perceived or potential conflicts of interest should be released. Yet the Government still has not done that. In August 2010 the Ombudsmen said that, yes, in principle they believed that some information about ministerial conflicts of interest and declarations of interest should be released. But the Government has still not done so.

We can say that we want the Office of the Ombudsmen to be resourced adequately, and we can vote it more money, but if the Government then turns round and continues to ignore the office, democracy is not being served. The public of New Zealand have a right to know whether Ministers have interests in the business entities they are dealing with in their ministerial capacities. The public have a right to know that; this Government does not seem to think they should. The reason the Government does not think they should is that John Key set the bar incredibly high for that declaration. He did not declare that he had an interest in Tranz Rail when he was a member of Parliament and was asking questions about Tranz Rail, so that is the standard the Government has adopted: there can be conflicts and there can be private interests, but Ministers should not tell anyone about them, and whatever they do they should not release information about them. That is the standard that has been set by John Key’s Government.

We have seen it time and time again, whether it concerns John Key trying to hide his interest in his so-called blind trust, which can actually be seen through by just about anybody with an interest, Bill English trying to hide the money he was receiving in his housing allowance; Tim Groser having shareholdings in a South American farming company; or Chris Finlayson and matters to do with the judiciary that I will not go into in any greater detail. Clear conflicts of interest exist, yet this Government does not want to tell the public of New Zealand about them, even though the Office of the Ombudsmen said that in principle it thought information in relation to conflicts of interest should be released into the public domain. Pansy Wong is another example of a potential conflict of interest. Members of this Government do not think that that information should have to be released by this Government. I think they are wrong, and the Ombudsmen think they are wrong, yet the Government continues to ignore that advice.

The Office of the Ombudsmen does an absolutely fantastic job on behalf of the people of New Zealand in ensuring that our democratic institutions function properly in upholding the Official Information Act, in particular. I am disappointed that members of this Government seem to think they are above the law when it comes to honouring Official Information Act requests. They seem to think they can simply ignore Official Information Act requests and wait until the Office of the Ombudsmen has time to investigate. That process takes 4, 5, or 6 months; therefore, Government members buy themselves time. They are making decisions on behalf of the New Zealand taxpayer that are potentially worth tens or hundreds, if not billions, of dollars.

This Government wants to hide what it is up to by denying the public the right to have access to that information, and by declining Official Information Act requests and leaving it to the Ombudsmen to determine whether that information should be released. I think this Government should set itself a lower bar than that for the release of information. I think the presumption should be that information is released unless there are very good reasons to withhold it. That is what the Official Information Act says. It is not the principle being applied by members of this Government, but I think they should start adhering to it. Thank you.

GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) : It is a pleasure to address this Government motion No. 5 in the House today. I say at the outset how much we on the Opposition benches appreciate the work of the Officers of Parliament. As my colleague Chris Hipkins just said, essentially the work we are talking about here, particularly of the Office of the Ombudsmen and the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General, is the transparency of Government and the accountability of Government, which are critical elements in our democracy. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment also plays, as my colleague Kennedy Graham noted, a very important role in making sure that issues of a fundamental nature to our lifestyle in New Zealand are raised inside this Parliament.

I note with interest Rahui Katene’s comments in relation to the possibility of an Officer of Parliament to deal with Treaty-related issues. From time to time these ideas arise. Another idea that has been debated in this Parliament recently was the question of whether the Chief Archivist should be an Officer of Parliament, particularly given the changes that the current Government has made to bring Archives New Zealand inside the Department of Internal Affairs. I can absolutely understand both the point Rahui Katene made and those who want to see someone like the Chief Archivist brought in as an Officer of Parliament, because of the independence that being an Officer of Parliament provides, because it is a fundamental check on Government. Constitutional roles to do with the Treaty and Archives New Zealand play such an important part in our constitutional and democratic infrastructure. I think those ideas are worthy of consideration, because we need that independent check within our unicameral system and the Officers of Parliament play an excellent role in that. There is a limit, of course, to what we can cover under an Officer of Parliament - type role. I am not necessarily agreeing with the proposal Rahui Katene put forward, but I think when we look at our overall democratic infrastructure we need to look seriously at the role that Officers of Parliament can play.

The offices we are dealing with today in this particular notice of motion are, as has already been pointed out, the Ombudsmen, the Controller and Auditor-General, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. My colleague Chris Hipkins just finished talking at some length about the Ombudsmen. I will add a couple of points to that. I re-emphasise that it is always quite easy to look at statistics in different ways. The Minister who introduced the motion today, the Acting Leader of the House, proudly stated the difference in terms of the number of complaints involving Ministers, but, as my colleague Chris Hipkins pointed out, there have been 920 complaints about the Official Information Act in the last year of the annual report for the Ombudsmen, which is up from 809. That is 111 extra complaints about the Official Information Act. At a time when there has been a review of the Official Information Act, that is something the Government should be taking seriously. Its responsibilities are to adhere to the law as it stands today and to ensure that information is available as freely as possible. Those delays in responding to Official Information Act requests are nothing to be proud of. It is something we need to do far better on and it is something where technology should allow us to be far better.

I note also that in the annual report of the Ombudsmen over half of the overall complaints dealt with by the Ombudsmen relate to the Department of Corrections. I think we are about to see in the Budget next week the Department of Correction becoming our largest Government department. Therein lies the Government’s economic plan: to make the Department of Corrections the largest Government department. I think that shows that there are some wrong priorities in our society. I think we need to ensure that the Department of Corrections is not our largest department, that we do not have to build ever more jails in this country, and that ever more complaints do not find their way to the Ombudsmen’s office.

In relation to the review of the Official Information Act, it would be good to know from the Government when we will see a response to the Law Commission’s report on that topic. It is a very good report. Sir Geoffrey Palmer released it last year. It is called The Public’s Right to Know, and it is a very important report because the Official Information Act, which came in in 1982, did not foresee the internet and did not foresee the way in which information is now distributed in our society. Although, as the report notes, the fundamentals of the Official Information Act are sound, a number of things could be done to improve it.

I mention one of those now: the issue of the proactive disclosure of information. I strongly believe that that is something that Government agencies can do far better. I simply cannot see why, when a major decision is announced after a Cabinet decision, the relevant documents are not released at that time. Those documents are still subject to the withholding requirements within the Official Information Act, but the fact is that they could be disclosed when a decision is formally announced by Cabinet. I think that that would increase people’s confidence and trust in the institution of Government. It would also save a lot of wasted time for people who make requests for Cabinet papers and background documents if those documents were released at that time. I believe that is the kind of open Government that any party should want to be part of, because it would increase the confidence of the public in our decision-making process. Obviously, the role of technology can assist. We have the situation now where emails, tweets, and text messages are now a part of the record of Government. Ensuring that we have an Act that makes sure those are captured where appropriate is important. There are recommendations within the review about that.

The review also makes another important recommendation, which I would like to think the Government could implement soon. That recommendation is the question of the overuse of the provision for saying that information will soon be publicly available, then for a long period of time to elapse before that information is actually released. I believe—and it is not simply confined to this Government—that stating that information will soon be publicly available is being used as an excuse by the Government and it is not in line with the spirit of the legislation. There are some recommendations in the Law Commission’s report in relation to tightening up that provision. I do not believe that that issue will increase the trust and confidence of the public. The review of the Official Information Act is an important part of the ongoing work of the Ombudsmen. On this side of the House we strongly support the Office of the Ombudsmen in the work it is undertaking, but we need to ensure that the legislation that that office administers is appropriate to modern times. I encourage Mr Power, before he leaves us, to give us some response—I do not mean today, I tell Mr Power, but before he leaves us generally—on what we can do to ensure that the Official Information Act meets the requirements of the modern age and that the Ombudsmen’s office is able to implement it.

The other aspect of this motion that I want to refer to today is the work of the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General. We know that National has kept that office busy—we know that. We have had Pansy Wong and her husband, Sammy Wong; we have had Phil Heatley’s ministerial credit card; and we have had Bill English’s use of his ministerial home. The office has been kept busy. It is a good thing to be able to say today the National Government is contributing to economic growth in this country. The Auditor-General’s office needs a bit more money because National has been keeping it so busy. The Auditor-General’s office has a number of other important inquiries that it would be nice to see it make progress on. The office recently reported on after-hours medical treatment in New Zealand, which is a very important issue. Within that report the office made note of the fact that the accessibility and affordability of after-hours medical treatment are major issues in New Zealand, and they are not getting better under this Government.

Other reports are coming to us in 2011-12 from the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General. There is one on public-private partnershipsand the risks for New Zealand’s public sector. That will be interesting. The main risk of public-private partnerships for New Zealand comes from the National Government wanting to get in and open up schools and the health system to the private sector—

Phil Twyford: And prisons.

GRANT ROBERTSON: —and prisons—and privatise core Government responsibilities. I look forward to the report of the Auditor-General on the risks of privatisation to New Zealand, because we know there are many risks, particularly under a National Government that is determined to privatise within education, health, and the correctional system. We also have a follow-up on ONTRACK’s maintenance. That is important because we need to look back to when National privatised our rail system and show how poor the infrastructure became, and how when the rail system was bought back enormous amounts of money had to be invested because the privatisation of that core Government asset did not work.

I congratulate the work of the Officers of Parliament. They do an excellent job for us. We need to ensure that they are able to keep up their work, keep up with modern technology, and keep up with the devious actions of the National Government.

  • Motion agreed to, and Address agreed to.

Environmental Protection Authority Bill

In Committee

  • Debate resumed from 5 May.

Part 2 Environmental Protection Authority (continued)

CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : In my contribution on this part I will deal with the question of the independence of the Environmental Protection Authority. In an earlier contribution I noted that three types of Crown entity are recognised by the Crown Entities Act. Firstly, there are Crown agents, which just give effect to Government policy. Crown agents are the closest type of body to the Crown one can get without having a Government department. The next layer of the onion, out from the executive, is an autonomous Crown entity. They must have regard to Government policy but are not required to directly implement it. Finally, the last layer of the onion, if you like, is the independent Crown entity. They are independent of Government policy, and the Minister must not give them directions unless he is authorised to do so by another Act.

If we look at clause 7 we see that the clear intent is to set up the Environmental Protection Authority as a Crown entity. The way in which the provisions interact make it quite clear—and I hope the Minister for the Environment will be able to speak on this matter and confirm it—that the Government’s intent is that the Environmental Protection Authority will be a Crown agent; that is, the closest type of Crown entity that is able to be brought within the powers of the Minister. It still has a board, so it is not a department, but it is amenable to ministerial direction.

One of the concerns expressed by a number of submitters to the Local Government and Environment Committee was that this meant that the Environmental Protection Authority would be too close to the Crown, that the authority would not be able to function with appropriate independence, and that it would be much better to constitute the authority from the start as an autonomous Crown entity. That would mean that the authority would act independently of the Minister and that it would clearly be an authority that the public could have confidence in because it would not have to do what the Minister told it to do on any particular occasion.

Supplementary Order Paper 242, which is in my name, makes it clear that the authority is to function as an autonomous Crown entity in terms of the submissions that I have referred to. Labour members on the select committee were persuaded by the force of those submissions. If one has a look at the ways in which the authority will initially function one sees that the majority of the decisions that will have to be taken by the Environmental Protection Authority will be those that it inherits from the Environmental Risk Management Authority, which is currently constituted under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

At the moment, the Environmental Risk Management Authority is an autonomous Crown entity, so if we adopt the Minister’s approach, then we are moving a key function of the Environmental Protection Authority, which is currently autonomous, much closer to ministerial direction and control. If one thinks about the nature of the power—being responsible for dealing with applications around hazardous substances and new organisms—then the folly of this becomes immediately apparent. Why on earth would we disturb the wisdom of a previous Parliament that said these types of applications around genetically modified material, for example, must be dealt with on a completely independent basis to the Minister’s? The applications must not be anywhere near ministerial direction or control, yet we are constituting an authority over which the Minister would have serious powers of control and direction.

No justification is advanced in the regulatory impact material or in any commentary that I have seen for moving this power closer to the Crown. I think it would be helpful to hear from the Minister as to why he feels that it is necessary to compromise the authority of the former Environmental Risk Management Authority by moving that power closer to ministerial direction. As I have tried to explain in my contribution, that would be a serious change.

If the Minister takes a call, I apprehend that he would point to section 17 of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, because it is a provision that would expressly prevent him from making a direction to the board on its key decision-making functions under Parts 5 and 6A of the Act. It may well be that clause 78 of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill provides a similar protection in respect of the Environmental Protection Authority’s decision making under the Resource Management Act. Clause 78 would expressly prevent the Minister from making a direction to the board in respect of certificates of compliance. If that is the case, then I accept—as do members on this side—that there is a degree of protection in respect of some key powers of direction.

But that is not really the point. The point is that when a new public entity is created, the overall scheme of the legislation is what sets the tone for its operation. Anybody who has worked in an establishment entity in the public sector would know this. But it is not limited just to the public sector; it is the same when one is starting a private sector entity. The overall direction, the overall tone, is set by the key establishment documents. In the case of the private sector, it is set by the articles of association and the mood of the owner as communicated to the employees and key staff. In the case of a public entity, it is set by the empowering statute. This statute starts with the premise that the Minister is able to direct; the Minister is able to control. The authority is not the independent or autonomous Crown entity that hitherto existed in respect of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, an entity that is abolished by a later provision of the bill. This is something that is closer to the Crown.

Why should we be concerned about this? As has been said by a number of speakers in this debate so far, what is needed desperately in this country is a strong, central, comprehensively empowered, independent authority to deal with environmental issues. Do we have that in this legislation? Regrettably, no. This should be of particular concern to members who want to contemplate the make-up of the establishment board, because not only do we have a power being brought closer to the Crown but also we have an establishment board chaired by a former National Party candidate. Kerry Prendergast is somebody for whom I have a lot of time and respect. She was an excellent Mayor of Wellington. She treated all people with whom she had dealings politically with absolute fairness, in my experience. But, none the less, she was a candidate for the National Party at a not too distant general election.

The chair of the Local Government and Environment Committee is yet to make a contribution in the debate, but I do look forward to that contribution, because everybody agrees that he is a fine chair of the select committee. I wonder whether he would perhaps like to think about whether the “optics”—to quote one of his colleagues—of this is a very good look here: a politicised chair of the establishment board, as well as these powers being much closer to the Crown than is the case at the moment.

So rather than see a statutory scheme where the Environmental Protection Authority is obliged to give general effect to the Minister’s objectives, with specific exemptions for independence where the Minister thinks that that is a good idea, we prefer the reverse position. We should start with the position of independence or autonomy, and then give the Minister specific powers of direction if this Parliament thinks he needs them. That would be a perfectly acceptable way to proceed. It would allow the Government to communicate its general policy objectives to the Environmental Protection Authority, but it would allow the Environmental Protection Authority to proceed on an independent basis and to win public confidence. I say to members that we are not putting that scheme into place; we are putting in place the opposite scheme. I think, and I know that other members of this side of the Chamber agree, that this is the wrong way to proceed. When it is the desire of the House to create a new, independent, transparent organisation, the statutory scheme is actually the opposite of what is desired to be created here.

PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) : It is often said that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good, meaning that if something is good enough, it is good enough. But that is not the case with the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. This is a case of the inadequate, the mediocre, and the unsatisfactory being the enemy of the good.

Labour members voted for this bill at the first reading, because we thought that to establish a strong, central, independent, environmental regulator would have been a big step forward for New Zealand. Disappointingly, the bill that has emerged from the Local Government and Environment Committee and come back to the House is really a pale shadow of what it could and should have been.

We listened carefully to submitters at the select committee and four key problems, concerns, emerged from that process. The first is that the functions of the Environmental Protection Authority are far too narrow for this new organisation to exercise any real kind of leadership in the environment sector. Second, the objectives are inadequate; bizarrely, it does not include even the task, the responsibility, of protecting the environment. Third, the Environmental Protection Authority is not sufficiently independent from the Minister for the Environment. Its independence is compromised. Fourth, on the question of its need to take into account Māori perspectives in its decision making, the legislation is confusing and, in fact, sets back the environmental legislation in that regard.

I will first talk about the functions of the Environmental Protection Authority. I point to a couple of amendments that are on the Table in the name of Charles Chauvel. One of them would insert a new paragraph in Part 2—clause 12(c)—which would charge the Environmental Protection Authority with carrying out the administration of the Waste Minimisation Act 2008. My colleague has brought this amendment to the House, because we believe that the administration of the Waste Minimisation Act is one of the functions that it was always obvious that the Environmental Protection Authority should be responsible for. It makes complete sense, it is logical, and we are at a loss to understand why this has been excluded from the objectives of the Environmental Protection Authority. Similarly, we are baffled as to why the climate change legislation and the various functions of the Resource Management Act have not been handed over to the Environmental Protection Authority.

The second amendment in the name of Charles Chauvel to Part 2 is new clause 12(e). It would give the Environmental Protection Authority the responsibility “To protect and enhance the Coastal and Marine Environment, and to carry out the environmental management of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone.” That is of course an issue that is on the minds of everybody in New Zealand at the moment, because of the deep-sea offshore drilling that Petrobras is doing off the east coast of the North Island. It is a matter of great concern to all New Zealanders that that drilling should be properly regulated and that our marine environment should be protected for generations to come. We have no confidence that that kind of protection is in place, and we are mystified as to why the Environmental Protection Authority has not been given the responsibility to discharge those tasks.

It is interesting. We have noticed a bit of a trend with some of the legislation that is coming through the Local Government and Environment Committee. There is something about this bill: it is unformed. It is partially formed; it is just not all there. It really should never have been brought to the House by the Minister at this time. He should have waited until more of the groundwork had been done and until there was a more substantial, more comprehensive, more developed bill for the Environmental Protection Authority. We have seen that in the Building Amendment Bill (No 3), which is currently before the Local Government and Environment Committee. We have seen it with the weathertight homes financial assistance package, which has a deferred commencement date because the Government is still negotiating with the banks that are supposed to be providing the finance for that package.

We have seen it, as I said, with the Building Amendment Bill (No 3). A number of reforms are being proposed for the building and construction industry, yet people in the industry have come to us saying that the cart has been put before the horse, the industry is not ready for it, and these things are not being sequenced properly. So a bit of a pattern is emerging of inadequate, underdeveloped, poorly thought-through legislation being brought to this House. One can surmise only that it is because of the electoral cycle that Ministers—not just this Minister but others—are keen to be seen tabling some bill and trying to get some runs on the board before the election at the end of this year.

We question whether in fact the Environmental Protection Authority being established by this bill is sufficiently credible and substantial to survive. There are real questions about its long-term viability because of the inadequacy of the structure, the mandate, and the roles that are being put in place. A number of powers and responsibilities are being transferred from existing bodies, but it is happening in a piecemeal fashion.

A number of submitters pointed out the legal situation in regard to the Environmental Protection Authority and its relationship with other key bits of legislation—the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, the Resource Management Act, and the climate change legislation. All of those bits of law will have to be read in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Authority Act, and vice versa. That will have the effect of making our environmental law more complicated, and less accessible and less intelligible to the layperson.

A related concern we have is that the bill gives the Minister the power to direct the Environmental Protection Authority to carry out additional functions. The Minister has assured the House that such functions are likely to be minor and ancillary to the current functions of the Environmental Protection Authority. We remain concerned that this is an unsatisfactory way of setting up the future development of the Environmental Protection Authority. There is no brightline test to determine whether something is an ancillary or a substantive function; it is up to the Minister of the day. He or she will make a political judgment, and that could not only confuse the public but undermine the integrity of the Environmental Protection Authority, if that is the way it is going to grow and develop over time.

The second big concern we have is that, as I mentioned, the objectives in Part 2 do not include even the explicit tasking of the Environmental Protection Authority with the job of protecting the environment. It brings to mind George W Bush’s Clear Skies Act in the United States, which, perversely, actually, substantially degraded the quality of the regulation of air quality in the US. To call this bill the Environmental Protection Authority Bill raises real questions about truth in advertising. It is not really an environmental protection authority, and, when we look at the bill’s objectives, we see that that becomes even clearer.

Charles Chauvel has put forward an amendment to clause 11(1), which proposes to insert new paragraph (c). That amendment would rectify this defect in the bill by explicitly stating that the job of the Environmental Protection Authority would be to protect, maintain, and enhance New Zealand’s environment. It is pretty basic stuff, but it is a mystery to us why that is not in the bill as we see it.

LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) : I move, That the question be now put.

BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) : I am very pleased to pick up the theme that my colleague Phil Twyford put before the Chamber this afternoon in respect of the pattern beginning to emerge in the environmental policy of this Government.

I note that just yesterday Minister Smith announced the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. That statement was looked forward to with enormous anticipation, I think, by anybody with an interest in the environment of this country. It was, obviously, brought together under the process of the Land and Water Forum, a very good Scandinavian model. I applaud the Minister for setting that up, but there is enormous disappointment emerging from some members of that forum. They are looking at that policy, just as they looked at the shape and form of the Environmental Protection Authority, and they are asking what happened and where the driver of good sound environmental policy went. There are just so many bits missing that deserved to be there.

In respect of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, for example, although we see that councils are supposed to bring in and implement its outline over the next 3½ years, there is actually an out-clause: if they find it impracticable to meet the deadline then they have another deadline. That deadline is December 2030. If we were looking to that document as an example of this Government delivering on environmental outcomes, we would be waiting a long, long time before we began to see the final results of those environmental changes.

That is paralleled by the lack of any clear commitment to environmental policy in the objectives of the Environmental Protection Authority, and that is why I support and applaud the amendment proposed by my colleague Charles Chauvel. The amendment would give this organisation some real functioning form that relates to environmental policy and objectives, and is not a bland assertion of bureaucratese.

The other parallel I draw between the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the Environmental Protection Authority Bill is on the weakening that has gone on between the versions. The basis of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill comes out of National’s much-vaunted A Bluegreen vision for New Zealand, from 2006.

Hon Member: Oxymoron.

BRENDON BURNS: Well, it is something of an oxymoron. One of the things I have learnt as Labour’s spokesperson on water is that the most toxic of all the algae to be found in the now polluted river ways of Canterbury is a blue-green algae. It is the cyanobacterium that forms the matting on the bottom of rivers. If dogs go in and eat some of that matting, they will die. So in many rivers in Canterbury it is no longer safe for people to take their dog down to the water. We were looking for the Environmental Protection Authority to be a watchdog on those issues. We were looking for the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management to be a new tool—a powerful new tool—and for the Environmental Protection Authority to have some role in administering and enforcing it. But I am afraid that both of them are weaker.

Let us look, for instance, at the original version of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. It required that conditions be imposed by councils on all discharge permits affecting fresh water, so as to protect the environment—so as to protect the environment. What did we see in the version delivered by the Minister yesterday? It simply requires councils to regard any adverse effect. One could not get a blander requirement of a council taking a role in enforcing water quality than that. The Minister is hiding behind the idea that there is an ultra vires legal opinion. I have not seen that tabled yet. He has indicated that he might table it at some point, if somebody does not say no to that. I welcome seeing that advice. I say to the Minister that he needs to find a way to give that national water policy statement some teeth. There is no point in having something that is simply wishy-washy and does not put any onus on councils.

I note the irony that just over a year ago in this House, over 30 hours of legislation, we passed the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act, which did away with the councillors of the original Canterbury Regional Council. I must acknowledge that at least with the Environmental Protection Authority Bill we are taking it through the normal passage of Parliament, and I welcome that. That, I must say, is an advance. I go back to the “Environment Canterbury Deconstruction Bill”—I think it had another name; it was called the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill, which is an oxymoron in itself. That bill did away with the councillors because the councillors of that regional council were not delivering effective water policy in that region.

Of course, they argued very strongly that they had great difficulty in enforcing water policy because there was no national framework underpinning what they were trying to do. The Minister claimed that it was the only council that did not have a water plan, but I say to the Minister that that is not correct. Environment Southland did not have its water plan in place until April 2010, which was exactly the same time as he said that Environment Canterbury was the only one that did not have a regional water plan. So that was not correct.

We come to the situation now where we are seeing the requirements for taking charge of water quality being handed back to regional councils, without an underpinning framework. So what does that mean? Does it now mean that if councils decide to be good environmental watchdogs—as I think Environment Canterbury was attempting to be, admittedly belatedly, after some “gold rush” went on for the water resources of Canterbury—and get too vigorous in enforcing the environmental side of the equation, they are likely to face the same fate we saw happen to Environment Canterbury? It has been sheeted to them that they will have responsibility, but there is nothing underpinning them under the national water policy statement that gives them the basis for making their decision. We have neither fish nor fowl in respect of the national policy statement, and it is a bit like the Environmental Protection Authority in that respect.

The Environmental Protection Authority has been created without a proper goal and objective. The bill does not state that the Environmental Protection Authority is there to protect and enhance the environment. It is formed by an amalgam of existing Government agencies. Most of the staff will come from the Environmental Risk Management Authority, from the Climate Change Office, and from the fast-track mechanism that the Environmental Protection Authority already embodies. I see nothing to suggest that there will be any staff there to enforce issues like improving water quality.

The Minister made much, much noise today and yesterday about the big increase in funding for improving water quality. There has been a $7.5 million a year increase—whoopsie-do—but at the same time half a billion dollars is being created to facilitate irrigation projects. Of course, some of those projects are likely to come to fruition before the several long years the Minister has indicated arrive, when we will see the new environmental rules, which he still heralds are coming. He says that it will be several long years, but some of those new schemes, funded by the Government’s half-billion of largesse, will come into play. They will not be required to meet any tough new requirements. I suspect that we will see a further deterioration in water quality, and that is not even counting the schemes already under way, such as the Darfield Fonterra plant. I think there is a view in the industry that if it can push ahead and get some new production in place before new rules come in, well, that is what it needs to do.

I think the industry is being encouraged by a Cabinet cabal that the Minister is not part of. He has clearly lost the arguments on both the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the Environmental Protection Authority. This is not the bill that was intimated. It is not the bill that was indicated. It does not deliver on clear goals and objectives to improve the environment, as one would have hoped. I am glad to see that we are picking it up. I hope that we might get some support for some environmental goals and objectives for the Environmental Protection Authority, as enshrined in the amendment from my colleague Charles Chauvel.

It is truly disappointing that we are here passing this bill. It will not deliver the environmental gains that we were hoping for. It is a watered-down agency that is an amalgam of existing functions. I ask the Minister, for instance, whether we are going to see any staff in the regions. To date, it was projecting to have about one person in Canterbury. Will we see any people starting out in the regions, enforcing issues like water quality, like air quality, like environmental risk management, or will we see a Wellington-based bureaucracy that will be small and tight, with no objective and no real capacity to improve on the environment, which was supposedly enshrined in the objective of this bill?

NICKY WAGNER (National) : I move, That the question be now put.

Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) : I rise to advise the Committee that in the last half an hour I have developed an amendment and it should be in front of colleagues now or very shortly. It reflects a similar concern as that articulated earlier by my colleague Charles Chauvel—picking up from various concerns that my colleague David Clendon and the Green Party have raised earlier in the Committee and during the first reading—that there is a fundamental illogic in the Environmental Protection Authority Bill here. It can be clarified, or rectified, with some fairly simple wording. If we look to the purpose in Part 1 and the objective in Part 2, it is in relation to clause 11, “Objective of EPA”, that I offer the amendment. Clause 3 states: “The purpose of this Act is to establish an Environmental Protection Authority”—that is, environmental protection. When we look at the objective of the authority, it is to carry out the purpose in every Act. The objective, as has already been noted, says nothing at all about protection. Clause 11, “Objective of EPA”, states: “(1) The objective of the EPA is to undertake its functions in a way that—(a) contributes to the efficient, effective, and transparent management of New Zealand’s environment and natural and physical resources;”.

It makes no sense to establish a protection authority that does not explicitly contain in its objective the protection of the environment. My proposal in my amendment is the following: “The objective of the EPA is to undertake its functions in a way that—(a) ensures the protection of NZ’s environment and natural and physical resources, while having regard to their efficient, effective, and transparent management.” That wording keeps the intended thrust of the Government—that is, the efficient, effective, and transparent management of resources—but it precedes that with the superior obligation that is implicit in the bill and in its stated purpose, which is the protection of the environment. I repeat its objective: “(a) ensures the protection of NZ’s environment and natural and physical resources, while having regard to their efficient, effective, and transparent management.”

I submit that amendment to the Committee and, with your indulgence, Mr Chairperson, I would like to raise a separate point, but may I do that in a separate call?

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): Is the member finishing the call?

Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM: Yes. I am indicating that there is a separate point I would like to explore, but I would prefer to do it in a separate call, if that is possible.

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): We are on Part 2. The member may want to continue because I cannot guarantee the allocation of speaking spots. While the member has the call, he might want to continue with it.

Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr Chairperson. I appreciate your advice, but I will in fact leave it at that and give it a shot later.

CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) : I move, That the question be now put.

Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) : I appreciate this opportunity to speak on the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. I fully support what Dr Kennedy Graham said, particularly in relation to the word “protection”. It is almost unbelievable that someone like the Minister in the chair, Dr Nick Smith, does not know better. I have gone with him to meet with the Institution of Professional Engineers and to discuss a lot of these issues. When he is promoting a bill like this, where we are talking about a protection authority, there has to be something in the functions of the authority that uses the word “protection” in regard to the environment. It is very sad to see that he has very limited objectives for this authority.

In the 1980s I had the opportunity to do some research with the Department of Agriculture in the US. Part of that research was to work with the Environmental Protection Agency over there. That research related particularly to water—to groundwater and water management and soils. One of the important things that the Environmental Protection Agency did was to research and become involved in those issues, particularly land-based issues. The US agency was established 40 years ago. One of its major functions is science, research, and development, but this bill says nothing about research and development. I ask the Minister to take a call and let us know where the bill talks about research and development, which should be part of the Environmental Protection Authority.

This bill, as I see it, is all about fast tracking controversial projects. The authority has half a dozen projects before it right now, and they are all related to development. They are not directly related to either the protection of the environment, particularly land-based issues, or to water quality. My colleagues have raised the issue of water quality, and I am also really concerned about that issue. I am personally aware that major issues are developing around water quality and agricultural lands. There are two areas: the first that is being talked about nowadays concerns the dairy industry, where the number of dairy herds is increasing but there is a whole lot of pollution runoff from the land that is polluting our water. At the moment there are no standards, although I know the Minister announced something today about water standards. I still need to be convinced of what he is trying to do.

Another particularly important issue is non - point source pollution. That means pollution that is coming from the farms, particularly the nitrates and pesticides in the runoff from the land due to dairy farming and agricultural land that is used for cropping. In the horticultural area there is a huge issue. In major horticultural areas like Levin there is a major problem with the leaching of nitrates and runoffs. I have not seen anything in this bill that tells us what the Environmental Protection Authority will do about that non - point source pollution, which is a major issue for our rivers.

Members who have seen the Manawatū River after rain will know that a huge amount of soil comes through from the Wairarapa and through the Manawatū area. All that soil comes from the runoff from the land. I am personally very keen for the Minister to take a call on that issue and on other issues to tell us what the Environmental Protection Authority will do about them.

LOUISA WALL (Labour) : The Environmental Protection Authority Bill is flawed. I highlight my colleague Charles Chauvel’s press release, because we have tried to fix the bill, have we not, I say to Charles. The reality is that members opposite do not want us to help fix it. Labour opposes this bill quite vigorously, and I will tell members why. I will focus on a New Zealand Government press release that was issued at 2.47 p.m. on 16 November 2010, and in it Dr Nick Smith said: “The EPA is about providing stronger central government leadership on environmental issues.” I find that statement incredibly interesting. Members opposite seem to want to protect environmental issues, but they do not have as a mandate of the bill or of the Environmental Protection Authority the fact that they should protect the environment. It is completely ironic to have a bill that will not fulfil any of the objectives in the name of the bill.

I want to highlight what is meant by Nick Smith’s words “providing stronger central government leadership”. We have found that it actually means minimising the opportunity for local people—mum and dad New Zealanders—Māori, and other interest groups to have a say about developments that are happening where they live. I will use a few examples. One of them is the Waterview Connection project, which is particularly relevant to my colleague David Shearer. I will draw on some press releases about what has happened with the Waterview Connection project, and the way the Environmental Protection Authority has undermined the opportunity for local people, for elected members of that community, to be involved in decision making about projects such as the Waterview Connection project.

We had people like councillors Simon Friar and Cathy Casey at the time and other community leaders who were given only 20 days to have their say as local people in local communities about an extension that, as we all know, has a huge impact on local people—homeowners and business people. There was a 40-volume application with 54 resource consents and seven new designations, but that community was given only 20 days to respond. I find it incredibly interesting, because the community was engaged. Those councillors and leaders wanted to have their say and they wanted to represent the interests of local people, but they were denied an additional 10 days. One has to ask how flawed is a process that is supposed to be about democracy—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I have listened carefully to the member’s contribution. There is nothing in her speech that has any regard to Part 2, which we are currently considering.

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): I remind members that we are on Part 2, and that is the Environmental Protection Authority. I ask the member to come back to that matter.

LOUISA WALL: Kia ora, Mr Chair. I am just saying that the functions of the Environmental Protection Authority are to exercise the powers and carry out the functions and duties conferred on it under this legislation. I am trying to highlight that, in fact, this bill erodes democracy and erodes the opportunity of local people—mum and dad New Zealanders—to have a say in developments that are happening in their communities. The mandate of this bill means that if it is designated to have national significance, then those mum and dad New Zealanders who live in communities will not have the opportunity to have a say about developments that will affect their daily lives. I want to highlight that that is what Nick Smith was actually talking about when he talked about “stronger central government leadership”. It is actually about the erosion of mum and dad New Zealanders in our community who have a connection to where they live, who obviously have a sense of responsibility for the way that their community will develop. This bill will undermine their opportunity to live in that community and to contribute to decisions that will affect their community. That is what I want to highlight.

I also want to highlight that the National Government, as we have in our notes, has a bad track record on environmental protection. I say that the National Government has a record on environment non-protection. That is the reality. National has extended the deadline for the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality to 2018 and has ignored warnings that doing so puts people’s lives at risk. National obviously does not care. National has watered down the emissions trading scheme, and that will add billions to the taxpayers’ bill for—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. The member’s comments have absolutely nothing to do with Part 2. None of the issues she has raised are relevant to the part.

Charles Chauvel: Mr Chairperson—

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): I do not need any help. I warned the member earlier that the emissions trading scheme is not part of this debate, and the member had just mentioned the emissions trading scheme. The member has 7 seconds remaining.

LOUISA WALL: For anyone who is listening, I think they should seriously consider what “stronger central government leadership” means.

CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) : I move, That the question be now put.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the question be now put.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Motion agreed to.
  • The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 242 in the name of Charles Chauvel to the heading to clause 7 and to clause 7 be agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendments be agreed to.

Ayes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Noes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Amendments not agreed to.
  • The question was put that the amendment set out on Supplementary Order Paper 242 in the name of Charles Chauvel to clause 11 be agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendment be agreed to.

Ayes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Noes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Amendment not agreed to.
  • The question was put that the following amendment in the name of Dr Kennedy Graham to clause 11 be agreed to:

to omit subclause (1)(a) and substitute the following paragraph:

(a)ensures the protection of New Zealand’s environment and natural and physical resources, while having regard to their efficient, effective, and transparent management; and.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendment be agreed to.

Ayes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Noes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Amendment not agreed to.
  • The question was put that the amendment set out on Supplementary Order Paper 242 in the name of Charles Chauvel to add new paragraph (e) to clause 12 be agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendment be agreed to.

Ayes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Noes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Amendment not agreed to.
  • The question was put that the following amendment set out on Supplementary Order Paper 242 in the name of Charles Chauvel to add new paragraph (f) to clause 12.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendment be agreed to.

Ayes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Noes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Amendment not agreed to.
  • The question was put that the amendment set out on Supplementary Order Paper 241 in the name of the Hon Dr Nick Smith to clause 15 be agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendment be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Amendment agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 2 as amended be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 2 as amended agreed to.

Part 3 Disestablishment of entities, transfer of functions, and other matters

CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) : I intend to take only a small call on Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. It is interesting because it speaks about one of the real kickers of the whole bill, which is bringing staff together. There is a definite concentration on collegiate advantage, and that will be really good. One of the points that interests me in the contributions from the other side of the Chamber so far is that the majority of people who have spoken on the bill, to the best of my memory, did not actually sit on the Local Government and Environment Committee during the hearings on this bill—for very good reasons, I am sure, as part of their internal party organisation. I honestly think that that has been reflected in the quality of the contributions they have made. Without wishing to be personal about it, they are demonstrating a very narrow understanding and interpretation of the submissions received because they missed out on the accompanying discussion, which really did broaden the whole platform.

I am sorry that that is the case, because the Minister for the Environment has responded very politely to each point that members have raised on the exclusive economic zone and the environmental purpose and status of the Environmental Protection Authority. We are hearing over and over again the same old arguments, and that does not give sufficient credit to the capacity of the Opposition to join us in promoting this bill as a good thing for the environment. The bill has been through a very robust and thorough process, and our environment is best served by us getting on and passing the law so that the authority can get on with the job on 1 July. I know that the structures that are being established in Part 3 will do that very, very effectively.

The Hon Ruth Dyson brought something contradictory into the debate the last time she was here. I note that she said in an earlier speech that the Minister had not kept me, the chair of the select committee, advised of his views of the bill, that I should be hopping mad about that, and that she would be if she were me. In response to that, I say: “He did, I’m not, and she isn’t.”

CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : First of all, I thank Chris Auchinvole for taking a call. As I recall, it is the first call he has taken in the debate on the Committee stage of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill.

Phil Twyford: It was only 4 minutes.

CHARLES CHAUVEL: Although it was a short call, I think one or two points are worth mentioning. However, I will say that it is shame that we did not hear from the chairman of the Local Government and Environment Committee in respect of Parts 1 and 2, because they are the primary parts of the bill. They deal with the purpose, the objective, the functions, and all those matters that other members and, I think, the public would have liked to hear about from the person responsible for chairing the select committee. But we were denied that opportunity.

Mr Auchinvole said he was mystified—and this was his last point—by some comments made by my colleague Ruth Dyson. I remind Mr Auchinvole and the Committee what Ruth Dyson was talking about. She was talking about the tabling of an amendment earlier in the Committee stage that related to a Treaty of Waitangi clause. That was the first time that that clause had been subjected to any sort of parliamentary scrutiny. The Minister in the chair, the Minister for the Environment, is looking through his copy of the bill. It is true that that clause relates to an earlier part, but I know I will be indulged because I am responding to a matter dealt with in an earlier speech.

Ruth Dyson’s point was that it was discourteous to the select committee and its chair for a substantive Treaty clause of that nature to appear for the first time in legislation after the select committee process had finished. That means that the public gets no opportunity to have any sort of input, to have any say, or to make any submissions on the point.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What about all your amendments?

CHARLES CHAUVEL: The Minister just asked about my amendments. The difference, I say to the Minister, is that all my amendments were moved in response to public submissions. They were suggested by the public, but his Government decided in its wisdom or its arrogance—members can take their pick—not to include those amendments. That is the difference.

I will take a few moments to talk about a particular provision in Part 3 that I would like the Minister to do us the courtesy of speaking to. That provision relates to Subpart 2. Subpart 2, particularly clauses 25 through to 28—and, in particular, clause 27—would disestablish the Environmental Risk Management Authority. It also disestablishes Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao—the Māori advisory committee to the Environmental Risk Management Authority. I see that one of the effects of Supplementary Order Paper 241 in the Minister’s name is to correct the spelling of “Taiao” in clause 28. I hope, as I say, given that the Minister has moved a Supplementary Order Paper that affects this part and given that it is an important part, that we will actually hear from him on it.

I ask the Minister what the effect of the disestablishment of Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao is, particularly as under clause 20 and those that precede it—19, 18, and 17—a new Māori advisory committee is established for the Environmental Protection Authority itself. If the Minister is to address the Committee on this point, I ask how these provisions fit with the amendment that stands in the name of Rahui Katene. The Committee has already discussed that amendment, but it is entirely relevant to this part, because this part abolishes the advisory committee to the Environmental Risk Management Authority.

In particular, how is the new Māori advisory committee and how is the Environmental Protection Authority to satisfy the new test that has been inserted into the law by the earlier amendment? The Environmental Protection Authority is required “to take appropriate account of” the particular Treaty clause in one of the contributing pieces of legislation to the Environmental Protection Authority—that is, one of the environmental Acts under which the Environmental Protection Authority gains authority to act. As we have heard already, there are different provisions in each of those Treaty clauses. The new obligation, if we pass this bill in the form that we so far appear likely to pass it in, is “to take appropriate account of” the Treaty of Waitangi. That is what the Environmental Protection Authority is obliged to do, but it is to do so with regard to these different Treaty clauses.

My concern is that the advisory committee that is being established to replace the existing body that advises the Environmental Risk Management Authority will be quite bewildered about how to do this. Why is that? The Resource Management Act, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, the Climate Change Response Act, and the Conservation Act, which is not legislation of direct relevance to the Environmental Protection Authority but which will obviously have an effect on the general manner in which it operates, all have different types of Treaty clauses. There are other functions to be discharged by the Environmental Protection Authority under the Ozone Layer Protection Act and the Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Act, where there are no requirements to have regard to Treaty clauses.

I think what has happened is that people who are unfamiliar with the way in which a Crown entity works have looked at this legislation and thought: “Oh, well. We’ll put a Treaty clause in and hope it works.” But it is not as if an individual staff member working in the new Environmental Protection Authority will have responsibility just for climate change, just for hazardous substances and new organisms, just for the Resource Management Act and projects deemed to be of national significance, just for the ozone layer, just for the Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Act, or just for any of the new functions that might be added to the Environmental Protection Authority either by the Minister’s fiat or by legislation in the future.

The reality is that policy analysts or others will have multiple responsibilities under all those bits of legislation. Initially they might start working just in one area, but, of course, if the Environmental Protection Authority is to work they will have to take an integrated approach. Not only will they have to direct themselves properly on the law in respect of any individual provisions in the contributing pieces of legislation, but also they will have to reconcile these Treaty clauses. Often, as I have pointed out, a Treaty clause will require one thing in one piece of the Environmental Protection Authority’s responsibility and a different thing in another, and there will be no obligation in yet another. Finally, there is this overall obligation “to take appropriate account of” Treaty provisions, which has now been inserted by the amendment already approved by the Committee in respect of an earlier part.

My concern in respect of this particular part is how these obligations are to be reconciled. There is to be a Māori advisory committee. Other committees with relevant responsibilities in the contributing organisations, particularly in the Environmental Risk Management Authority, are being abolished. A multiplicity of tests exists in other legislation and now a new overarching test in respect of Treaty obligations has been inserted by an amendment. But there is no overall requirement as to how to act in respect of Treaty matters, in respect of the consultation of iwi, or in respect of fulfilling the fundamental requirement of finding out what Māori think in respect of a particular proposal or function and then taking into account, having regard to, or having appropriate regard to—to use the three different tests that now already exist in respect of these functions—those considerations.

That fundamental matter is raised by the subpart because of the obligations, which I have referred to, and because of the disestablishment of Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao, the apparent replacement of that body with the Māori advisory committee, and these conflicting provisions, which I have referred to in this contribution.

BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) : As we deal with Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill, I note that a major part of it relates to the disestablishment of the Environmental Risk Management Authority. We on this side of the Chamber acknowledge the benefits that could be had by incorporating the Environmental Risk Management Authority into the broader Environmental Protection Authority. There is a sound logic to that, but there is, I think, a flaw in this and that is that the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s staff will make up around two-thirds of the staffing of the new expanded Environmental Protection Authority to take effect from 1 July this year.

If we look at the risks to our environment, we find they are mostly risks to our reputation. We make a living in the world on the basis of our clean, green image. We need to look only at media overnight and the interview with the Prime Minister on the BBC HARDtalk programme, when he was grilled about whether New Zealand really is as clean and green as the tourism campaign suggests. The interviewer put it to John Key that Mike Joy, a leading environmental scientist at Massey University, recently said that we are delusional about how clean and green we are. Dr Joy made that comment particularly in respect of the issues facing our waterways, with more than half of our lakes and lowland rivers being polluted. The Prime Minister’s response was that he did not want to get into a flaming row with one of our leading academics, which sort of suggested that scientists are a bit like lawyers, in that we can get whatever outcome we want from them. I think that is a bit offensive to the science community, because scientists make their interpretations based on science. It is a bit of a smack in the face for the scientific community, which is not like one or two other professions, because all of its work is based on science.

The core of this legislation is trying to protect the environmental reputation of our nation, which makes two-thirds of its living from what we produce on our “clean, green land”. We should also consider that this is not the first time that a leading world news organisation has questioned how tenuous or otherwise our reputation is, and how real it is for us to be claiming that we are “100% Pure New Zealand” and marketing ourselves as such.

We are establishing an Environmental Protection Authority that does not have an objective and goal of protecting and enhancing our environment, and two-thirds of its staffing is made up of one important but still relatively small component of the environmental picture. The key thing that I would have thought the authority would deliver is the enhancement and protection of that environmental reputation, which is the very core of our economic basis as a nation.

When I look at Part 3, I see that the Environmental Risk Management Authority is included in the authority, and issues of climate change are to be addressed by the authority, but then I look for the gaps. I wonder why there is not a division of some kind to manage water or provide policy advice to the Minister for the Environment on water. We have to conclude that the reasons it is not there are, firstly, budgetary, which is always a reason we have to acknowledge, or, secondly, relating to the question of whether the Government really wants strong science on water from one of its own agencies, which can confirm the sorts of findings like those of Dr Mike Joy that are being quoted to the Prime Minister on the BBC. I ask whether that science would truly be wanted by a Government that has made very clear its primary objective of rapid new growth, which is seeing allocations of water take place as we speak in Canterbury and other places, driving a new wave of production in industries such as dairying. It is not exclusively in dairying, and I have to say that dairying can be done responsibly, but, unfortunately, far too often that is not the case.

Part 3 incorporates the Environmental Risk Management Authority in the Environmental Protection Authority, and includes addressing climate change as an important component of the authority’s work, requiring probably around 20 staff, meaning we are now up to 110 staff of around 140. There is also the fast-track component, which involves another portion of the staffing.

I would like the Minister to take a call at some point and tell us how many people with some water science experience will be there to either agree with or comment on Government policy, so that the Prime Minister is not just basically chipping away at the credibility of scientists when he responds to what I think will be increasing questions from international media, and others—because farmers and farming organisations will be taking note of that interview. I ask what environmental science the Minister will be able to access so that he can say that Mike Joy may have one point of view, but scientists working for the Environmental Protection Authority have a different view. Is it because the science is actually fairly strong? There is no doubting that we have polluted waterways in New Zealand, and my source for that comment is none other than the Minister himself. He made something of a triumph of noting that water quality was deteriorating in New Zealand, vowing that the situation would be turned round. He talked about 9 years of inaction on water, yet yesterday we saw him delivering a national policy statement on freshwater management, which had provisions that he acknowledged would take, in his words, several years to implement. In fact, when we look at the detail, we see that councils will be given until 2030 to bring everything into line in respect of improving water quality. Beyond that, acknowledgments are given in the Cabinet paper that where a waterway is too badly degraded it will not have to come up to any standard; the assessment of improving water quality will be made on the whole region. So in my region of Canterbury, that might mean that Lake Ellesmere, which is a vital source of food for Māori and is now managed, in fact, by Ngāi Tahu, may never have to improve its water quality to a point where it is acceptable once again to swim in it or take fish from its waterways. It would also mean that that would be all right because some improvement may be made in other parts of Canterbury, and over the next 16 years overall water quality will be deemed to have risen to some acceptable point. Those are the kinds of reasons why we should have in the Environmental Protection Authority some strong water science. It is a gaping hole in this legislation. Although we have some coverage in respect of environmental risk management through the Environmental Risk Management Authority, and some coverage in respect of climate change, water management is a gaping hole.

There is one other hole, and it might be particularly appropriate to raise this issue tonight because some of us in this Chamber will go, once the dinner bell rings, to one of the Speaker’s excellent science lectures, and tonight the featured topic is New Zealand’s leading role in Antarctica. When the Minister spoke to the Local Government and Environment Committee in June of last year about the shaping of the Environmental Protection Authority, he indicated that there would be within the authority coverage of Antarctica, yet that is also not in Part 3. It is missing in action. If we consider how important Antarctica is to the issue of climate change, it is rather curious that it is not associated with the Environmental Protection Authority. It is missing in action, and I would like the Minister to take a call to explain to us why nobody will be employed to oversee water issues. I would like to know not only whether there will be staff on the ground for the Environmental Protection Authority in regions such as mine in Canterbury but also why there will not be any staffing for water. I am sure part of the answer will be that it is covered by other ministries, but if we are to have this strong new watchdog, as this authority was envisaged, surely, when our living is made through water, it should be at the very core of this new authority.

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Labour) : I will take a quick call on Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. It probably reflects the fact that some of us were not on the select committee, but we were trying to get our heads around this new Environmental Protection Authority, as opposed to the old Environmental Protection Authority. I suppose Part 3 shows us what is in and what is out, and the danger of this part is in the missing bits. I cannot work out, for the life of me, whether this is an authority to protect and enhance the environment, which we really hoped it would be, I say to the Minister in the chair, the Minister for the Environment. There are substantial bits missing.

One of the issues I am really worried about here is the disestablishment of the Environmental Risk Management Authority and Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao. I understand that the Māori Party has acceptance for a Treaty clause to go into the bill, but I cannot understand why we are setting up a Māori advisory committee in the Environmental Protection Authority. It is subservient to the authority and is just an advisory committee. We have had trouble before with Māori advisory committees and their standing, in terms of how much their advice is taken by any authority. We saw it in Auckland City, we saw it in Canterbury, and we are now seeing it again in this new Environmental Protection Authority. The Government is being too tidy in thinking we will just tuck in a Treaty of Waitangi clause and that therefore we are looking after the interests of Māori and iwi.

I say to the Hon Nick Smith, the Minister in the chair, that I am glad he is there, but I am not sure whether the iwi advisory committee will pick up the functions of Ngā Kaihautū Tikanga Taiao or whether he is intending an entirely new modus operandi for that committee—that little advisory committee. How toothless will it be? How much authority will it have? Will it be listened to, or is it just a little bit of flannel sitting there in the Environmental Protection Authority, to be listened to but not to be taken much notice of? That is something that I think is offensive to Māori.

One of the issues that concern me greatly is what is missing in this bill. I am struggling to find out why some bits are not here, with the movement of all of the hazardous substances and new organisms responsibilities, and loss of the Environmental Risk Management Authority. What is in, and what is out, and what is now sitting with the Ministry for the Environment? It is not easy to understand, and—heaven knows—I was a Minister of Conservation for some time so I do understand the overlapping responsibilities between conservation, and the protection of the conservation estate and species, and the Ministry for the Environment. But this legislation does not make it any clearer to me, at all.

It is amazing that coastal marine management and the environmental management of New Zealand’s economic zone is not part of this Environmental Protection Authority. I cannot work that out. We have had a Minister of Conservation, though, who sat on the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement for over 18 months. It was ready to go when I completed my term in office, but was not tabled in the House until pressure was put on—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. We are debating Part 3 of this bill. There is absolutely no reference to national policy statements, or, frankly, to any other matters that the member has been raising. This part is limited to disestablishment. We have already argued about the functions of the new Environmental Protection Authority. This section is simply about disestablishment and the transfer of functions. The issue of the Māori committee was covered in the previous part, and I think the member should be brought back to the provisions of this part.

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Yes. I ask the member to debate Part 3.

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I thank the Minister for his clarification, but I think the point has been made about what is missing, and I will continue to try to get my head around it. We are not sure about the disestablishment of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, and I can remember a former colleague of mine, Jeanette Fitzsimons, who battled away to get the authority better resourced. But in the disestablishment of the Environmental Risk Management Authority in Subpart 2 of Part 3—I hope the Minister is pleased I am referring to that, in this Part 3 debate—I am really concerned about whether all of the functions of the authority will carry over into the new authority. We are really not sure just what is in and what is out.

I think that will raise confusion for us all, even though the Minister is very clear in his head, apparently. I tell the Minister that it is about how we tell the story to New Zealanders so that they have confidence in the Environmental Protection Authority. At the moment, there are so many shifts of staff from the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Development to the Environmental Protection Authority. The functions of the former Environmental Protection Authority under the Climate Change Response Act will now be “in” as part of the Environmental Protection Authority. I think the country is confused, and when we are confused the Minister must accept that we do not have confidence that the new authority will have any more teeth, any more powers of coercion, or any more effectiveness.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : I probably have to apologise to my colleagues for a start, because I am going to say something nice about the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. The Minister in the chair, the Minister for the Environment, may fall over as well. I think it is great that in the transfer of staff in Part 3 to the Environmental Protection Authority, their terms and conditions are locked in and carried over. I am almost amazed and shocked that the National Government would do anything like that, but it is a very good precedent to set.

The question I have of the Minister is whether this precedent will be the new standard for changes in the public sector. We accept that the Government seems to be focused on efficiency, restructuring, and part-privatisation—call it what you like—but in this part there are some very good provisions, I have to say. Under clause 38(1A), “The employee’s employment is to be treated as unbroken and the employee’s period of service with the previous employer ending on the close of the day before the employee is transferred …”.

In summary—and I accept the criticism that I was not on the Local Government and Environment Committee so I may not get it entirely right—I think that any New Zealander, as my colleague the previous speaker said, on reading through the bill will have these questions. It is very reasonable that we in Opposition ask them here, not as members of the select committee who have heard hours and hours of submissions, but as people who pick up this legislation, read it, and ask what it means. We can be sure that lawyers around the country will pick it up and take two meanings from the one word. That is the job of lawyers, in fact. But the public—

Charles Chauvel: No—careful!

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: With all due respect to my colleague in the front there, of course. It is usually for good reason. But the point is that this legislation allows the transfer of unbroken employment terms and conditions, and that is to be welcomed.

The only question I have that relates to Subpart 3 is about how many staff members will be transferred over, because the provision is a little silent in that area. I guess it leaves the way open for a reduction in staff, although I am led to believe that the Environmental Protection Authority is severely understaffed at present. Any changes or cut-backs would undermine the credibility—not just the integrity, but the credibility—of the Environmental Protection Authority.

I will go to another issue in Part 3, and that is the consequences of the transfer of climate change functions. Again, I have to applaud the legislation, because it implies that the functions of the former agency—that is, the Environmental Risk Management Authority, I am assuming—must be carried on under an amendment of the Climate Change Response Act. Under clause 44(2)(g), “the commencement, continuation, or enforcement of proceedings relating to the function by or against a former agency may instead be carried out by or against the EPA without amendment to the proceedings;”. The legislation goes on to state: “(h) a matter or thing relating to the function that would, but for this section, have been completed by a former agency may be completed by the EPA.”

I know that the Committee will think that hearing that is a bit like watching grass grow, but I say that the devil is in the detail. We too often pass legislation in this Parliament that has not been thoroughly assessed. The select committee may have been pushed or pressured. I understand that the Minister is under a bit of pressure at the moment, and he might push through something that may, in fact, be detrimental.

I have questions, but I applaud the commitment to climate change obligations. I think they imply that environmental standards in this area will be upheld by the new Environmental Protection Agency. We can take, for example, the Transmission Gully proposal. I guess that the emissions assessments relating to that project—and extensive reports are done in this area before any such project goes through Government agencies now—will be upheld by the new agency. But the water and air quality standards may very well lapse. It is a genuine question.

Where the Environmental Protection Authority has intervened in big projects—we may think for good reason, such as efficiency, or whatever the National Government thinks—the question is whether the upholding of the climate change response obligations through Part 3, which I applaud, will surpass those of other environmental standards in relation to water quality, air quality, and any runoff. I ask members, and the Minister may want to take a call on this matter, why we are putting emissions obligations, which we understand are very important, right up on a pedestal, and, through the Act, allowing those obligations to be carried through into the new agency, but we are saying something else when it comes to water quality. My colleague referred to issues in relation to dairying; no doubt, projects will be brought to the Environmental Protection Authority in relation to agriculture. We will uphold emissions obligations but we will forget about the water quality.

I do not think New Zealanders will accept that decision as fair, and they will not accept that the legislation is progress in the area of environmental management. I thank the Chair for the ability to finish on that issue.

JO GOODHEW (Junior Whip—National) : I move, That the question be now put.

SU’A WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere) : I follow on from my colleague the Hon Damien O’Connor by saying I too was shocked to see that the Government is transferring the terms and conditions of employees into the new organisation. Frankly, I have to ask questions. It just sounds too good to be true. I ask the Minister for the Environment whether he consulted the New Zealand Public Service Association before finalising this part of the Environmental Protection Authority Bill. I ask that because clause 42 on KiwiSaver states that the transfer of an employee “does not constitute new employment for the purposes of the KiwiSaver Act 2006.” I ask myself why it was necessary to specify that. I then ask myself about the 90-days bill that the Government passed. Will the employees who are being transferred over also come under that particular legislation? Why have we not specified in this legislation that for all employees transferred over to the new organisation, the conditions of the 90-days law will not be forced upon them?

I ask again—and I hope the Minister will take a call—whether the union representatives of those staff were involved in the discussions of the bill. I also ask the Minister, because of the belief I have and that many will have that this is too good to be true, how many staff have left as a result of it being highlighted that the old organisation will be disestablished, and a new organisation will be established. It seems to me that in disestablishing the old Environmental Protection Authority—set up only in 1991, which is not too far off—I need to ask why it is that we are doing this again. In looking to the Auckland region for lessons to be learnt, I ask the Minister whether a cost-benefit analysis was undertaken before the decision was made to disestablish the 1991 Environmental Protection Authority and to establish the new organisation. I also ask the Minister what that cost-benefit analysis would reveal in terms of any cost savings to the community or to the Government, as we are talking about cost savings at this particular time.

I raise those questions because I treat the protection of our environment very, very seriously. In fact, it is an issue that the Hon Pete Hodgson and I raised recently at the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference. Many of the world’s countries have a view that New Zealand has a clean and green image. I say that the disestablishment of the Environmental Protection Authority, and the new organisation being set up to replace it, does not focus on the protection of our environment. What is the purpose of our doing this if we are not focused on the protection of our environment?

I want to be quite honest with the Minister. The Minister introducing this bill is the last Minister who should be introducing such a bill, because he does not have a good reputation with the wider community. We can look at the way he got rid of the Canterbury Regional Council—an organisation set up for the protection of the environment of Canterbury. How can we have a Minister who did that to our environment saying to the New Zealand public that this legislation will protect our environment? It will not protect our environment. I would like the Minister to take a call in that regard.

I really find it hard to believe that the bill states that these workers will receive the same terms and conditions in the new organisation. It is important, then, that the Minister answers the question of how many staff have already left because they are under pressure and under stress because of the changes that are about to come. How many staff have gone? How many staff are going to be affected? Why has the Minister specified clause 42, and what does it mean for staff who will go over to the new organisation under the 90-day law?

  • The question was put that the amendment set out on Supplementary Order Paper 241 in the name of the Hon Dr Nick Smith to clause 28 be agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendment be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Amendment agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 3 as amended be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 3 as amended agreed to.

Part 4 Amendments to Climate Change Response Act 2002

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 4 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 4 agreed to.

Part 5 Amendments to Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 5 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 5 agreed to.

Part 5A Amendments to Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Act 1988

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 5A be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 5A agreed to.

Part 5B Amendments to Ozone Layer Protection Act 1996

  • The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 241 in the name of the Hon Dr Nick Smith to clause 74R be agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the amendments be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Amendments agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 5B as amended be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 5B as amended agreed to.

Part 6 Amendments to Resource Management Act 1991

BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) : I am very pleased to pick up on Part 6, which is where we see a widening of the powers of the Minister for the Environment in respect of his capacity to call in matters that are deemed to be of national significance. I think we need to look through the 10 points in respect of how that power is to be given to the Minister. He is able to call in an issue and have the Environmental Protection Authority steamroll it through on any one of 10 points. Let us look through them. The Minister may call in an issue where it “has aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment (including the global environment)”. A very, very broad sweep is encompassed in that particular proposed new subsection. The Minister may call in a project that “involves or is likely to involve significant use of natural and physical resources; or affects or is likely to affect a structure, feature, place, or area of national significance; or affects or is likely to affect or is relevant to New Zealand’s international obligations to the global environment;”.

I would like the Minister to give us some indication of the sorts of scenarios where he envisages he could use the sweeping powers we see here in Part 6. What is the risk to our international obligation to the global environment that would see him call in a project under Part 6? Is it in respect of climate change issues, for instance? Is it in respect of a hazardous substance being released into the environment? Is it in respect of ozone issues? Clause 82 is very wide ranging. It goes on to state that a matter can be called in where it “results or is likely to result in or contribute to significant or irreversible changes to the environment (including the global environment);”. I cannot see any particular problem with that. Obviously, if something very quickly led to a huge impact on the New Zealand environment or the world environment, then we would want to see a Minister with the capacity to intervene rapidly. But I cannot see that a small agency like the Environmental Protection Authority, which will probably have only around 20 relevant staff, would have that capacity. The Minister can correct my estimation of the figures if I am wrong, but we have already heard that the number of Environmental Risk Management Authority staff transferring across is of the order of 90. I think there are 20 or 30 staff in respect of addressing climate change. The balance of the staff is mostly in respect of this call-in unit that is provided for in this provision. I do get a sense that this clause is sort of the Trojan Horse of the bill and that it is there as a rapid agency for fast tracking particular projects. We as a Parliament deserve to hear from the Minister about the various scenarios he sees.

Looking further through clause 82, we see that a call-in can be invoked where it is likely that an application may “involve technology, processes, or methods that are new to New Zealand and that may affect its environment;”. Obviously, technology moves very, very rapidly; there may be scenarios that the Minister has in mind in respect of that clause. This clause signals to me that, basically, the Minister wants the power to do a call-in no matter what the issue. If the Government wants to push something through very rapidly, this clause seems to embody that power, because it says that a call-in can happen where it “will assist the Crown in fulfilling its public health, welfare, security, or safety obligations or functions;”. I have to suggest to the Minister that there is not much within the purview of Government that would not fall broadly under that remit. He might have to spell out education as the missing clause, but if he needed the power to intervene, this is the hold-it clause. When the Minister says that he needs the power to fulfil public health, welfare, security, or safety obligations or functions, I think he has the open door to an intervention on a proposal of national significance, as he sees fit, rather than it having any particular issue of real national significance. It is a very wide clause, and I would like the Minister to indicate the sorts of circumstances that relate to that clause that he would like to see introduced.

I have a particular disquiet about this part, and it goes back to my past life as the editor of the paper in Marlborough at the time when the fast ferries started. It is very topical issue at the moment.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) : I want to provide the member Brendon Burns with just one very simple reassurance. The criteria regarding resource management matters going before the Environmental Protection Authority are exactly the same as the criteria that currently exist for Ministers to be able to call in and deal with consents of national significance.

BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) : I thank the Minister for the Environment, but, of course, it is a different complexion of Government in charge at the moment, so I still have some fears in respect of these clauses and how they might be applied. There is a different agenda. There is definitely a growth agenda in Cabinet at the moment.

I refer to the article that Colin James wrote in January of this year about the Minister wishing to influence better environmental outcomes but, as Colin James reported, being in the grip of an economic growth cabal. There is no doubt, as we stand and look across the Chamber, where the power is based. It is certainly not in the environment portfolio and it is certainly not in the broadcasting portfolio. We could go down a number of other portfolios where the power and weight are minimal compared with a clutch at the top that certainly have a very fixed agenda, and that is why Part 6 provides a very, very wide-ranging opportunity for intervention. It was used on occasions by the last Government. I remember my friend and former colleague Marian Hobbs using it in respect of Project Aqua, and that was an appropriate intervention. But the concerns we have—and why I want reassurance from the Minister—are in respect of the capacity for the 10-part section 142(3)(a) in clause 82(1) to be used to evoke a very rapid set of interventions driven by that growth agenda.

Coming back to the concern I have about this kind of power, in the mid-1990s I was the editor of the newspaper in Marlborough at the time the fast ferries began. Two or three groups sprang up in opposition to the wake that was being effected by two fast ferry operations. It was not a situation where the proposal of national significance provision was used, but the power of those companies was sufficient to bring charges against those two or three small groups and whack them with very considerable costs. That is the imbalance that can be created when legislation allows a big entity—that is, the Government—to take on a small entity, a small ratepayer-based or community-based group, that wants to challenge the power of the Crown or a major corporate. The imbalance that can be created can be monstrously unfair. The irony of that situation was that the then Minister of Conservation, one Denis Marshall, was one of those who had costs awarded against him, along with two Marlborough Sounds - based community groups.

Of course, that issue is rapidly coming back into sight at the moment as in the last 48 hours we have seen our rail company indicating, with the support of the Minister of Transport, a wish to rapidly reconsider the option for a new port at Lake Grassmere to replace Picton as the main port at the top of the South Island for rail-ferry traffic. That proposal deserves to be considered on its merits. It is an issue that will divide the Marlborough community, which I still have strong connections to. Already the people of Picton are expressing some very real fears about the impact of that project. I would like to know from the Minister whether that is the sort of project he envisages would be taken in under clause 82, with its 10 wide-ranging provisions with enormous power for call-in. I think the people of Marlborough would welcome such an assurance from him tonight, and perhaps the member for Kaikōura might be willing to take a call on behalf of his constituents in respect of that particular application of Part 6.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : I guess it was useful to take the assurance of the Minister in the chair, the Minister for the Environment, that, in repealing section 142(3) of the Resource Management Act and substituting the new subsection in clause 82 in this Environmental Protection Authority Bill, the provisions there are all the same as those that are currently in place—that is, they provide the ability to call in a resource consent application. I trust that that is true, but I suspect that there are some changes. No one could argue with the general thrust of all the provisions in the new subsection (3). In deciding whether a proposal is of national significance, the Minister may have regard to widespread public concerns, significant use of natural resources, effects on structures and features, international obligations, etc. There are a number of them. They are all laid out here; members will be pleased to hear that I will not read them all out. All of these relate to one particular project that I can think of, and that is dairying in the Mackenzie country. I was down there the other day, visiting communities and individuals, and investigating. The big proposals down there all meet the criteria laid down in new section 142(3) in clause 82.

I guess that means that the Environmental Protection Authority can step in and make a judgment. It can assess all the criteria and make a judgment on it. But then the thing that concerns members on this side of the Chamber is that if we go to clause 82(3), which adds section 142(7), we see that that subsection states: “To avoid doubt, the Minister may make a direction under subsection (2) that differs from the direction recommended by the EPA …”. The underlying or overarching concern—whichever way one sees it—that we have is the ministerial power in all of this. I do not mind trusting one of my colleagues as a Minister, but I am not sure whether I have confidence in the current Government, because the Minister in the chair at the moment—the Minister for the Environment, I think he is called—is the same person who proposed, along with all his colleagues, mining in national parks. This Minister—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. There is absolutely no reference to the issue of mining in national parks in the part of this bill that we are debating, so it is not appropriate for the member to raise those issues.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Mr Chairman—

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): I do not need any assistance. I was listening very carefully to the member and I think he was phrasing his remarks about clause 82 and the Minister’s call-in powers. I will just ask the member to restrain himself to that example. We do not need to relitigate the matter that was the example—I do not want to restate it—but the example was, I think, one that was pertinent to clause 82. If he would contain his speech to that comparison.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I will hold myself back. We are talking about clause 82. The Minister may call in a matter that is, or is part of, a proposal of national significance. The Minister and his wise Government considered the Waterview Connection, Transmission Gully, and the proposed prison in Wiri. All of those issues are of national significance, so the Environmental Protection Authority will call them in. But the precious Minister takes offence at my saying that a proposal to mine in a national park may not be called in by the Environmental Protection Authority. Well, I put it to members that that is exactly the kind of proposal, to mine in a national park, that this Minister, who already supports that, may take to the Environmental Protection Authority. What we have seen is that this clause here overrides the Resource Management Act and replaces the basic and well-understood provisions that say the community, through the resource consent process, has the ability to have a say and have an influence. The Environmental Protection Authority Bill will remove that ability. So on projects of so-called national significance, the Environmental Protection Authority may make a direction or ruling, but the Minister, of course, can override that sort of advice. That is the concern that we have. It is right here in this part of the bill; it is laid out and spelt out. I say to the Minister that if we cannot ask questions about how the Minister will or will not use those powers, then we are not doing our job.

I say that in Opposition I have to ask that Minister, who supported mining in national parks, whether he will, when this legislation passes, take to the Environmental Protection Authority proposals to mine in national parks—because they are of national significance. Clause 82 provides that the Minister, in deciding whether a matter is, or is part of, a proposal of national significance, may consider whether there is widespread public concern and whether matters involve significant use of natural and physical resources. It lines up. We must ask questions around the inevitable use of this legislation through the country.

As I say, the Government already has the Waterview Connection, Transmission Gully, and Wiri Prison, and we have had a proposal to mine in national parks. I am a supporter of mining, but the public of New Zealand, and every wise person in this country who understands and upholds environmental protection and all the values that go with it, knows that national parks have been set up, and established and entrenched in legislation, for their natural and recreational values, not for their mineral values. I know that is frustrating, but the mining industry itself understands that. The question I ask the Minister is whether he will bring to the Environmental Protection Authority a proposal that will generate “widespread public concern”, to quote new subsection (3)(a)(i), inserted by clause 82. Will he bring that to the Environmental Protection Authority and then instruct—because he can make a direction—the Environmental Protection Agency to approve that?

That is my last word on this—that a very important issue is raised in this section, laid down here in black and white, and it will be up to the courts, no doubt, and to the Minister, to establish some precedent beyond the passage of this bill. That is why the Opposition has an obligation—a moral obligation—to ask those questions and to try to get an answer from the Minister.

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 6 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 6 agreed to.

Part 7 Minor and consequential amendments

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 7 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Part 7 agreed to.

Schedule 1

A party vote was called for on the question, That schedule 1 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2

A party vote was called for on the question, That schedule 2 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3

A party vote was called for on the question, That schedule 3 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Schedule 3 agreed to.

Schedule 4

A party vote was called for on the question, That schedule 4 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Schedule 4 be agreed to.

Schedule 5

A party vote was called for on the question, That schedule 5 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Schedule 5 agreed to.

Schedule 6

A party vote was called for on the question, That schedule 6 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Schedule 6 agreed to.

Schedule 7

A party vote was called for on the question, That schedule 7 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clauses 1 and 2

CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I will make a brief contribution on the question of the manner in which the bill is to be brought into force. The Minister has tabled—

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): It’s the title clause we are on.

CHARLES CHAUVEL: Yes, the title and commencement, Mr Chairperson?

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): No, just title—my apologies; it is clauses 1 and 2. It was my mistake. You are correct.

CHARLES CHAUVEL: Thank you, Mr Chairperson. First of all, dealing with the commencement, the Minister has tabled a Supplementary Order Paper that will divide the bill into six different pieces of legislation. Each of these bills will be able to be brought into force by Order in Council, with the proviso that each of them has to be brought into force by 1 December 2012. That is my understanding of the scheme from the Supplementary Order Paper the Minister has put forward. We have not heard from the Minister on it, so I am doing my best to interpret the provisions that have been laid on the Table for the Committee.

I will make just a couple of points about this manner of proceeding. I know that the Regulations Review Committee wrote to the Local Government and Environment Committee on the manner the bill was originally going to be brought into force, which was, as I recall, to rely even more heavily on Order in Council provisions. The problem with this manner of legislating is that it confuses the responsibility of the Minister and the executive with the responsibilities of this House. We should be clear, on any occasion, whether we intend to bring a bill into force, and, if so, when. It is lazy to do it this way, frankly; it provides the officials with an excuse to delay. If there is a clear provision in the bill that states the date when part of the bill will come into force, then the administrative work that is required to be done by departments, by entities, and by the Minister and his office, will be done by that date. If it is not done by that date, then the Minister has to come back to this House, explain why, and propose amending legislation. But, as it is, this legislation is on the never-never but for a drop-dead date of some 18 months hence. I would like the Committee to reflect on whether that is a satisfactory way of proceeding. It is my submission that, particularly on legislation as important as this, it is not.

The second point I will make relates to the title. We have heard a great deal of debate during the Committee stage on whether this bill ought to merit the title the “Environmental Protection Authority Bill”. The nub of the concern is that nowhere in the objectives of the legislation, or in the functions, is there a requirement that this body be responsible for protecting New Zealand’s environment. Kennedy Graham moved an amendment earlier; I moved an amendment. The Government voted down both of those amendments. We have tried to make this an authority that would be worthy of its name. The Minister and his colleagues have rejected that attempt; I say shame on them for that. I say that in respect of the name that this bill bears, the authority that it will create will not live up to that name.

A party vote was called for on the question, That clause 1 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Clause 1 agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That clause 2 be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Clause 2 agreed to.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) : I move, That the Committee divide the bill into the Environmental Protection Authority Bill, the Climate Change Response Amendment Bill, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Amendment Bill (No 2), the Imports and Exports (Restrictions) Amendment Bill, the Ozone Layer Protection Amendment Bill, and the Resource Management Amendment Bill, pursuant to Supplementary Order Paper 240.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the motion be agreed to.

Ayes 68 New Zealand National 58; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; United Future 1.
Noes 54 New Zealand Labour 42; Green Party 9; Progressive 1; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Motion agreed to.
  • Bill to be reported with amendment presently.

Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill

In Committee

Clause 1 Title

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : This is a very important bill, and it is good to see the Minister of Agriculture in the chair. I am sure that he will be able to answer many, many questions.

The bill has taken quite a bit of parliamentary time. We did not filibuster at all at its first reading, and it has been through the select committee process, but I have to say up front in this Committee stage that it is a waste of time, except for one provision, and that provision is the reason Labour is supporting it.

The bill ensures an ongoing supply of milk to independent processors. We will ask questions later about competitors to Fonterra and why they should be able to get this supply. The reason that Labour has supported this bill—and the day after the Minister introduced it he said it was redundant because he was conducting a full review, because a bit of political weight had been brought to bear on him—

  • Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: We are looking at the title of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill, which includes the words “Sunset Provisions”. I hope no one takes those words to mean that the dairy industry is on the way out. But if this National Government were to get back in, who knows? It would like to restructure the dairy industry—

Chris Tremain: Yes, they’re gone.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: That is right—there is an admission.

While the Minister of Agriculture is in the chair and able to answer a few questions, following on from my speech earlier I want to ask him about the review of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act regulations. I understand that the review took place and he may have before him recommendations on the review. Labour will support this bill, which is an interim measure. As I said earlier, it is possibly a waste of time, but it guarantees supply to independent processors.

The Minister announced that review, and I understand that there are recommendations before him. I hope he can bring to the Committee some wisdom so that in discussing this bill we can know exactly his ideas for the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act regulations into the future. Is he going to remove them? Is he going to ensure there is access to other independent processors, either for export or for domestic? Labour’s preferred position is that there be ongoing supply for domestic production, but the supply for the export competitors of Fonterra needs to be seriously looked at. It is important to put that issue on the table. Labour supports this bill not to guarantee supply to competitive exporters into the future but to ensure that there is ongoing supply to the domestic market.

There are a lot of questions around the dairy industry at the moment. We spoke about some of them earlier when debating the Environmental Protection Authority Bill and the likelihood that it will be looking at a large-scale expansion of the dairy industry. That is all well and good, and we like to see that, but only with the right environmental protections.

One of the big questions hanging over the industry is the level of foreign ownership. The National Government has allowed Synlait to be purchased by majority foreign shareholding.

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): Clause 1.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: That is right. That issue is around the restructuring. Synlait takes milk through the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act regulations. Synlait currently—

Hon David Carter: Clause 1.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Yes, it does. The Minister is trying to say no. It takes milk—

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): We are on the title, clause 1.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: That is right. It is the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill. The Dairy Industry Restructuring Act regulations enabled many companies to take milk and to set up in competition with Fonterra.

We do not want to be confused about titles or anything like that. We need to know that this bill is basically about an odd commercial arrangement that was laid down when Fonterra was set up. The reasons were that Fonterra’s dominant position in the market required some access to milk to be assured for independent and innovative producers. We did that, but we have seen emerge some large export competitors of Fonterra who continue to access this milk, and it is important that we review the situation. I hope the Minister takes a call and explains where he has got to with that matter.

COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) : It is good to speak during the Committee stage of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill. When members on this side heard the member opposite, Damien O’Connor, talking about farming going out of fashion, it triggered a bit of thinking on this side. When we look at the title we remember that probably back in the 1990s Helen Clark was talking about the dairy industry and all the primary sector industries being sunset industries. So it is quite appropriate that we have the title Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill. One wants to think about the role that the primary sector is playing in the most difficult economic times in New Zealand, I would imagine—

Chris Tremain: Are you saying this is a memorial to Helen Clark?

COLIN KING: I would say it is more of a memorial tomb to Helen Clark, in the sense that listening to a number of the Labour members speak, one would think the world did not start until 2008. There is a legacy whereby Labour miserably failed the primary sector. The very able Minister David Carter is taking this bill through the House, extending provisions to ensure that the primary driver of this nation’s economy has certainty. That is very, very important. I just advise members on the other side of the Chamber that we do not want to treat lightly the importance of this legislation. The Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill provides certainty going forward until we get everything else in order so that we can address the substantive matters.

The title is very, very appropriate. It is appropriate from the point of view that it is just a reminder to the Labour members. I have some sympathy for the former member for West Coast - Tasman, because he is probably the final remnant of any rural representation of the Labour Party. When he goes we know that we will no longer—

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): We are on the title.

COLIN KING: —have a dairy representative on the other side of the Chamber. The representatives will continue to be teachers, academics, and misguided unionists.

This is a very, very important bill—

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): We are on the title.

COLIN KING: The title is the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill and it is appropriate, even though it reminds us of what the Labour Party said back in the 1990s. It said that primary production was actually a sunset industry. It is a very appropriate title, and it needs to be treated with great reverence and respect, because this bill transitions us beyond where we were with the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act 2001. This bill bridges that gap until we get something more appropriate. Thank you very much.

Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) : This academic certainly loves dairy and certainly loves farming. I have spent my life in one way or another in farming or helping farmers, along with my colleague Damien O’Connor, who is a good dairy farmer—

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Who is also leaving Parliament.

Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY: That is fine; that is all right. I am leaving the Parliament in a very happy way. Do not worry about it. We still have a lot to contribute to agriculture.

The Primary Production Committee received 13 submissions on the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill. We heard eight of them, and most of them were in support of the bill.

Clearly, this is a very small bill. It basically extends the market-share threshold for the expiry of the pro-competition provisions of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act. The Labour Party and the Government both want to see more competition in the market. We want to see healthy domestic dairy prices and good processing markets for everyone concerned, whether for local domestic consumers or for export. This bill extends the threshold.

We are delighted to support this bill because it clearly increases competition, and particularly because it includes the West Coast in the South Island market share. In the past it was excluded, but this bill now includes it.

I think it has been mentioned earlier when we were discussing the Environmental Protection Authority Bill—

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): We are debating the title.

Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY: I know, but I think this is part of it. The processing of dairy impacts on our environment and our income, and this particular bill certainly increases competition and the welfare of our people. It enhances the market, and that is good.

As has been said before, this bill is only one part of the wider dairy industry restructuring. I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will come back to the House in the not too distant future to get it right. We have to get it right, because this is something that both sides of the Committee support. Dairy is our main industry, and it is the future. In my view, this is not a sunset industry. I spent my life in the industry, and I fully support this bill. Going forward I can see opportunities, particularly in China, India, and the whole Asia region. That will be the future for this country. I commend this bill to the Committee.

SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) : I move, That the question be now put.

  • Motion agreed to.
  • Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 Commencement

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : Thank you for the call, Mr Chair; I did not want to let it go as easily as that.

I have a question for the Minister in the chair, the Minister of Agriculture. Will he wait until his review has come up with some recommendations in respect of the larger issue of Dairy Industry Restructuring Act milk, and will he delay the date on which this bill comes into force and receives the Royal assent, or will he just let this bill go through and then muddle around, as he has done on most issues, for a lot longer? The meat industry, for example, is desperately in need of some leadership, and that Minister has not committed to any dates at all.

As clause 2, the commencement clause, is so important, maybe the Minister can learn from the issues here and the questions in respect of when he should bring this bill into effect, when he should review it, and when he should change it. Parliament does not have a huge amount of time between now and the election, and he has to realise that if he does have a plan or an agenda—and he and his colleagues do not seem to have come up with any—then he has only a few months to implement it. After that it will be our agenda and our plan, and I look forward to that.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Ha, ha!

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Mr Coleman is living in hope.

I will not speak long on the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill, other than to ask the Minister whether he will, if this bill comes into force on the day it receives the Royal assent, turn round and release the review of the substantive Dairy Industry Restructuring Act issues. He is muddling around with his papers, just as he has with this bill. Maybe he can take a call and give us a time line for further change and reform of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act regulations.

  • Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 3A agreed to.

Clause 4 New sections 147 to 149 substituted

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : I guess clause 4 is the substantive part of the technical side of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill. Clause 4 inserts section 147, “Minister to certify that market share thresholds met”.

I go back to the basis of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act and why it was set up. Fonterra being a dominant player, the regulations in the Act guaranteed supply to other independent processors, at an estimated quantum of about 5 percent of the total milk flow of Fonterra. As the industry has grown—and there has been fairly steady growth—there have been calls by independent processors for more milk, and those thresholds have been changed. Now up to 600 million litres are available to independents. At what point does Fonterra become less dominant? In terms of that question, there is a decision now that it should be once it reaches 80 percent of the total milk flow through dairy farmers.

One of the issues dealt with here is how that percentage should be calculated. One of the very proud, prosperous, and smart regions that stood out was the West Coast. It remained independent at the formation of Fonterra, and it was calculated that its milk should not necessarily be part of the South Island calculation for the dominance of Fonterra, because of the Alps and a number of things. It was deemed at that time that West Coast farmers, or Westland Milk Products, could not participate or compete with Fonterra for farmers or vice versa. It has now been decided, because of rail transport, because Westland Milk Products has decided to set up a plant in Canterbury, and because Fonterra is building a plant in Darfield and there is potential competition there—I do not think it is necessarily healthy competition, but that is another story—that the thresholds should be changed. If Fonterra reaches 80 percent of the total milk flow, including the West Coast milk in the South Island, then the Minister would be obliged to review the situation.

He has announced that he is doing that anyway. This is the particular technical point that is made effectively redundant by changing political considerations. I think the Minister should have announced that review prior to tabling this bill. None the less, we have gone forward. Labour supports the change in the threshold on the basis that it is more sensible, but we remind the Committee that this bill is something of an academic exercise because of the Minister’s review.

SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) : Clause 4 of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill effectively does three things. It extends the period before the sunset provisions will be met. That is, it lowers the threshold for that to happen. Under the 2001 Dairy Industry Restructuring Act that threshold was likely to have been met within about 12 months of the Minister starting to discuss this amendment, which was likely to come up either next season or the one after it in the South Island, and a year after that in the North Island.

The bill extends that period and lowers the threshold to about 80 percent of New Zealand’s total milk production going through Fonterra as opposed to what it was before, which was a formula based on litres and percentages rather than the 80 percent straight out. Also, the sunset provisions will not be triggered entirely unless both islands are triggered. That is another addition. Of course, the Minister has to certify that the market shareholding has met that level before anything happens. The Minister can reconsider it in the event of that threshold being met in one island much quicker than in the other, or suchlike. That is what clause 4 does—no more or less than that.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : Clause 4 of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill really gets to the heart of what the bill is all about. It extends the period for which the new sunset provisions apply and sets the percentage of milksolids that must be reached in both islands for the Minister to give a certificate to allow those provisions to apply.

I wonder, given that the Minister must sign a certificate that states the market-share thresholds for the North Island, for the South Island, or for both islands have been met, whether the Minister in the chair, the Minister of Agriculture, is able to enlighten the Committee on any criteria that he might use in order to satisfy himself that he is in a position to sign the certificate that states that those market thresholds have, in fact, been met. Although members on this side of the Chamber support the new sunset provisions allowed for in this bill in order to ensure that there is competition in the market, we are concerned that they allow an ongoing subsidy for some players in the dairy market, and we do not want to see that subsidy going on and on for ever. So we need to be assured that the Minister will be applying the criteria appropriately. Perhaps he would like to take a call on that matter and just clarify some of the potential issues that may rise.

It is noteworthy that the Primary Production Committee chose to include the West Coast in the South Island market-share threshold. Of course, previously the West Coast was ring-fenced, but I understand that submitters—I was not on the select committee myself—

Shane Ardern: The member would have made a good member of the select committee.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I thank the member very much. I appreciate that from the chairman of the select committee. My understanding is that submitters informed the committee that the availability of transport, particularly the improved rail options, meant that the West Coast no longer, in their opinion, needed to be ring-fenced in the way it had been previously. In fact, a number of Canterbury farmers regularly approach West Coast independent producers, offering to supply them. That meant that the South Island could be taken as one, which shows that this bill reflects changes that have happened over time. The situation has moved on a long way from the situation in 2001, when the original Dairy Industry Restructuring Act, which this bill is amending, came into force.

It is great to see that changes like that were able to be made. The bill will require the Minister to request a report on the state of competition in New Zealand when the market-share thresholds are met in either the North Island or the South Island. Again, it would be useful to know what the content of that report would need to be for the Minister to trigger the provisions in this bill. We recognise that having no deadline for the report to be completed could result in some uncertainty for the dairy industry whilst it awaits the reviews, the recommendations, and the Minister’s response. It would be great if the Minister could perhaps take a call on some of those issues.

One thing we hear time and time again from the farming community and from the dairy industry is that the more certainty they can get from legislation, the better it is for their businesses, the better it is for their production, and the easier it is for them to budget. In a lot of ways they almost do not mind what we do in Parliament as long as they are absolutely clear about not only the intention of a bill but how it will actually be applied. Given that the Minister has a lot of say in how this bill will be applied, it would be useful if the Minister could perhaps take a call.

COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) : Clause 4 of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill is the material part of the bill, and I want to concentrate on three particular areas. It is worth mentioning that this country produces 1.4 million tonnes of milksolids. When we look at new section 147, substituted by clause 4, we see that there is a change from kilograms, as far as the formula for the trigger goes, to a percentage. If members work out 20 percent of 1.4 million tonnes of milksolids, they will see that somebody would have to be taking in the region of 280,000 tonnes of milksolids before they triggered it. So there is a more pragmatic approach to the sunset provisions in this bill—if that makes sense.

Interestingly, the submitters from the West Coast really got the Primary Production Committee thinking. They were very straight-up and honest. They said that the opportunity was there and they would take advantage of it. That sits on our minds, and, no doubt, the Minister of Agriculture is very aware of it. As we speak there are plans to have a collection centre set up in Rolleston where milk can be collected and then taken on the railway line through the Ōtira tunnel, and so on. It is quite important and it is a forward movement that we have actually included the West Coast in the bill. It is quite pragmatic.

One thing that is quite curious is that the original bill did not clearly define what a dairy farm was, the thing we were actually talking about. So in substituted section 147(5) we defined what a dairy farm is: “a farm in New Zealand that produces milk from dairy cows as a business or part of a business.” That bit of work was needed to clarify it.

An enormous amount of thought and work has gone into section 147 to ensure we have very robust and consistent transition sunset provisions, and, on that basis, I think clause 4 really does address the matter adequately.

Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) : In the same vein as the previous speaker, Colin King, I say that clause 4 of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill is really the guts of the bill. It is about having one market in the South Island. This bill includes the West Coast Regional Council as part of the South Island threshold for the market share. As has been said before, we have 1.4 million tonnes of milksolids and a large amount of milk to deal with. Clearly, with better transport across the Alps, the inclusion of the West Coast is now very appropriate. I am very pleased that the submitters to the Primary Production Committee were very happy we included this particular clause. I guess the opportunity is now given to the Minister of the day to provide or get that conclusive evidence that the threshold has been reached, and then the competition involvement prevails.

This particular part of the bill also clearly defines “dairy farm” and “milksolids”. In the past we used to use the term “milk fat”, but there was a change a number of years ago to sell the milk products on the basis of “milksolids” rather than just “milk fat”. I think that was a very good extension because “milksolids” includes the protein and the fats. It is fantastic. As I said, this is the guts of the bill and we are quite happy to support it.

CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) : It is a pleasure to rise and speak in support of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill. Before I start talking about the substantive provisions in new sections 147 to 149, I say in response to comments made by Shane Ardern about the lack of empathy and interest in the dairy industry on this side of the Chamber that those comments could not be further from the truth. Both Jacinda Ardern and I took real umbrage at those comments. We are both rural girls. We both grew up in the important dairy farming industry area of the Waikato, and we would certainly like to put our rural credentials on the table. Jacinda, as is well known, is from that important place Morrinsville, and I grew up in a place called Ōhaupō, which is a very important dairy farming area.

As I said, Labour supports this bill and its intention, which is to extend the period of time for which Fonterra must provide fixed-price dairy solids to other dairy processors in order to foster competition in the domestic industry. I am sure that we see across the Committee the desire to have a competitive and healthy domestic dairy processing market, so that consumers have low prices and good choice when it comes to dairy products. That matter, of course, is subject at the moment to much scrutiny, because consumers currently do not have access to high-quality products at affordable prices. It has become an item of major concern for New Zealanders, especially as we live in a country producing dairy products. It is one of our main exports.

Getting on to new sections 147 to 149, which are the main substantive provisions of the bill, the three new sections together extend the application of subpart 5 of Part 2 of the existing Dairy Industry Restructuring Act by resetting the market-share thresholds at 20 percent for both islands, as others have commented. Once those targets are met it triggers the sunset clause, which is the provision that obliges Fonterra to supply milk to independent processors. At that point the Minister must sign a certificate, which is published in the Gazette and notifies that the market-share threshold has been met.

New section 148 institutes a new process for expiry, whereby the reaching of either of the new market-share thresholds will trigger a comprehensive competition review of the New Zealand dairy markets, enabling the Government of the day to make informed policy decisions relating to deregulation, including further legislative amendments if required. That provision is really important. On this side of the Chamber we are very much in favour of evidence-based lawmaking and policy-making, so we are pleased that this provision would trigger a comprehensive competition review—a very necessary thing.

That provision will also require the Minister to request that report, as I have said. I was not on the Primary Production Committee, but as I understand it the select committee made a recommendation on that matter, because there was no time limit on it and it could have resulted in uncertainty for the dairy industry while it waited for the review recommendations. I think that matter has been dealt with. Certainly the Minister, once a decision has been made after that comprehensive review, will have to signal the Government’s policy direction within 90 days of receiving the report. Again, that provision provides some certainty for the industry, which is important.

Going back to the point I was making earlier, it is of considerable concern to members on this side of the Chamber that the price of milk and other dairy products has skyrocketed under National, and this bill will do little to change that. I thought a quote from the chief executive of Manaia Health was quite telling. In February of this year Chris Farrelly said that the cost of cereal and milk means “55,000 children go to school every day without having breakfast.” In respect of this bill, a decision was made in the end to look at the pricing of dairy products. But the timing means that this bill is going through prior to the outcome of that review process being known. It seems to members on this side of the Chamber that it would have been logical for that review to inform this bill, and perhaps even for us to make some relevant changes as a consequence of the review.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) : I will take a second call on clause 4, which is the substantive part of the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Bill. I refer to two aspects, and people who are listening to this debate will probably be a bit confused as to why we are going round in circles a bit. It is because there are so many contradictions in this bill. There are so many significant precedents and issues relating to the next set of dairy industry reforms on possible recapitalisation.

The first aspect is the new definition of “dairy farm”, which was referred to by the chairman of the Primary Production Committee. It is a really important definition. Although it is in a little subsection of new section 147 in clause 4, it is absolutely crucial. The questions of who owns a dairy farm, who then is entitled to shares in Fonterra, and where the milk goes are all absolutely vital components of any change in the dairy industry. The unique aspect about dairying is that it is the biggest industry in the country, and it is the only industry substantively fully owned by New Zealanders. The fact that all of the others are owned, for the most part, by foreigners is a disgrace. The dairy industry remains in New Zealand’s hands, so the definition of “dairy farm”, and thereby “dairy farmer”, will be absolutely essential. Mr Ardern, I know, understands the significance of this issue. We must take note of the definition that is made here, and in any amendments to it we must make sure it serves the purpose we want and demand from legislation, which is the protection and betterment of New Zealand.

The next point relates to the Commerce Commission. The trigger that we talk about—and which we are changing, so we are going round and round here—was the market-share thresholds that would have triggered the Commerce Commission and the Minister to investigate the issue of competition in the New Zealand market. They have been pushed out, effectively, but as we have pushed them out to ensure ongoing supply to domestic producers or other independent processors we have seen, at the same time, an investigation by the Commerce Commission begin. So this is kind of bizarre: we have the Minister announcing a review and saying that, most likely, there will be other legislation coming forward, and the Commerce Commission undertaking an inquiry—not an investigation yet, but an inquiry as to whether it should hold an investigation—into the issue of competition. All those things are going on, and we are pushing this bill through, which again must, in summary, be called an academic exercise.

I go back to the substantive issue of the Commerce Commission asking the question of whether there is competition in the New Zealand market for milk products, for milk, and for the benefit of consumers. That is the first focus and priority that we have. In terms of competition offshore, I am less concerned about that. I think we must have collaboration, cooperation, and coordination in our offshore sales and marketing. That should occur, and for those companies that are independent and think they can go out there and beat up on Fonterra or on one another, I say just look over the fence at the meat industry and take some lessons from that.

In terms of competition for domestic supply and production of milk products, there is a question to answer, and I urge the Commerce Commission to be brave—it does so every now and then; not very often, I have to say—and to front up and undertake an inquiry into the way that the milk is distributed to well-meaning, innovative domestic suppliers of milk products. I welcome that, because that is what we need here, so that consumers are not paying more than they should.

In terms of the export supply, the Minister should be undertaking work. He is indicating that he is looking at it again, and I think most of the dairy industry, along with Labour, is fully supportive of that move.

I take issue with some of the snide remarks made earlier by members opposite. There is a sound understanding of primary production, of its value, and of the way it operates within the Labour Party—believe me. In fact, it is far better understood than in the National Party. Most of the good legislation in this Parliament has been passed by Labour Governments, and I stand on that record.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Oh, come on, Damien.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Mr Coleman should take some history lessons, and he would find that out as well.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : I will refer to new section 148, substituted in clause 4 of the Dairy Industries Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill, and particularly to new subsection (2), which refers to the terms of reference for the report the Minister has to consider, in looking at whether competition in the dairy industry is strong enough. There are a number of matters in there that look at any specific competition concerns in any specified New Zealand dairy markets. The terms of reference specify the person or persons in the dairy industry who must be consulted, and the method of consultation.

I wonder whether, in looking at whether there is enough competition in the dairy industry in New Zealand, we have to look a little bit beyond the dairy industry, and look at matters such as the price of milk. That is an issue of considerable importance to New Zealanders. In fact, a number of people, particularly health practitioners, have raised concerns about the price of milk in New Zealand, and the fact that, for instance, since April 2008 a litre of Home Brand milk at Foodtown has increased by 20 percent. When we consider that wages in New Zealand may be increasing at the rate of about 2 percent, then that is a significant increase. When we think about competition, which is what this bill is all about—competition in the dairy industry—then the prices that people are paying for milk and dairy products, I would have thought, would be quite an important factor in determining just how strong competition is in the dairy industry in New Zealand, and whether New Zealanders are gaining the benefits from strong competition in New Zealand.

In fact, if we look further through the bill in new section 148, we see that the select committee has included, under new subsection (9), “For the purposes of this section, other relevant government agency means any agency of the Crown (other than the Commerce Commission), whether a department, a corporation, a Crown entity, a Crown Research Institute, or another organisation or instrument.” It might be that we need to listen to what the Ministry of Social Development is saying, or what Work and Income New Zealand is saying. Maybe we should even be listening to Statistics New Zealand about what it is saying about food prices in New Zealand, and wages in New Zealand, and how those reflect the level of competition and the strength of competition in the dairy industry.

We know that we have a problem in this country with the increasing price of the basics such as milk, which is outstripping any increase in wages. In fact, with wages essentially flat-lining at the moment, and the cost of living increasing so much, that is a very important part of taking into consideration just how strong competition is in the dairy industry in New Zealand. Ultimately, that is what this bill is all about. It is about ensuring that there is strong competition in the dairy industry. In fact, it is about giving a bit of a leg-up, I suppose, to some of the smaller players in the dairy industry, so that they are able to participate and ensure that competition is strong.

The hope, of course, I suppose, for many New Zealanders, who are just trying to get by from day to day, is that strengthened competition would mean lower prices. That is not the case at the moment; we are not seeing lower prices at the moment. In fact, we are seeing prices go up and up.

So the Minister has to give consideration to a number of things. The Minister has to specify the date by which the report must be completed. That is a date “within 365 days after the date of a request made under subsection (1)(a);”, as stated in new section 148(2)(a). That seems like an awfully long time. In my previous contribution I said we wanted to give certainty to the dairy industry. I wonder what the Minister’s view is on that length of time, and I wonder what submitters to the select committee said about it. I note that it is a change that the select committee made to the bill. Not being a member of the select committee, I would like to hear some of the background—whether submitters thought a year was too long, not long enough, or about right. It seems like an awfully long time for businesses in trying to plan, or in trying to budget for the year ahead. Those 365 days might seem like a long time. Again, that is a question to the Minister. We would appreciate his taking a call and clarifying some of the issues about that—and clarifying some of the other departments he might be referring to.

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) : Last year reports came out that put the Māori asset base at a value of about $36.9 billion. Just last week a report was released from the Minister of Māori Affairs, as a result of the commission that he had set up, which showed that that value has significantly grown. The question I want to—

Shane Ardern: It won’t be on the back of the dairy industry.

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Well, it is—significantly. It certainly shows that Māori are major contributors to the agricultural sector, and specifically in the area of dairying. That point is well made, and when I look at a bill like this, I have some questions that I too would like the Minister in the chair, the Minister of Agriculture, to take a call on. A peer-reviewed report that was looking at the Māori economy—a Business and Economic Research Ltd report—said that the growth of the Māori economy would be significant to the extent that by 2060 New Zealand could benefit from $12 billion per annum from just the Māori economy alone. If a significant proportion of that growth is on the back of the dairy industry in the primary production sector, then this bill, I think, raises some questions for me, in a very local way.

I am not the member for the interest for which I want to ask the question of the Minister, but I know that he is well aware of Tuarōpaki Ltd, and its combined investment with Wairarapa Moana Inc. in Miraka Ltd, to the sum of about $100 million. The basis of that investment would seek some guarantee of supply of milk from Fonterra, so I will ask one simple question—and I am not a rocket scientist so it is very basic—does this bill guarantee, long term, supply options to Miraka if it has made such a significant investment? I think that when we have a small player emerging on to the scene, and substantially founded in significant asset wealth, then it is a fair question to ask of the Minister, because Tuarōpaki also has interests in communications, and significantly in geothermal, food, and farming operations.

The company is located in Georgina te Heuheu’s area, and it is probably worth mentioning, given that she will be located at home, that she will have some very direct interests in ensuring that the economic opportunities of Māori in her part of the country are not hindered by bills like this one.

So I ask the Minister to take a call, and I tell him that a very simple clarification would help to assure Tuarōpaki, in terms of its supply of milk, that this bill will not prejudicially affect it in the short, medium, or long term. If the Minister could clarify the nature of how the bill will impact on that company, I think that people listening to the debate would find that clarification very worthwhile. On the back of a lot of positive comments about how the Māori economy can contribute to the overall wealth, growth, and opportunity trajectory of the country, then that would certainly be an important response.

I certainly think it is exciting when we see business investments like this from Māori, when they are positively engaging in opportunities, seeing a niche in a market, and seeing some potential in terms of how they can secure opportunities. They will obviously continue to grow their investments, so it is a fair question to put to the Minister. Quite simply, I ask the Minister again whether he could clarify that. I know there are people who are excited, perhaps, about following some of the other business models that Tuarōpaki is engaged in, and who are looking to some of the leads that that company is taking in some very innovative areas of investment. Kia ora.

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): Members, the question is that clause 4 stand part. Those of that opinion will say Aye, the contrary No. The Ayes have it. I will report this bill without amendment.

GARETH HUGHES (Green) : I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I forgot to vote in opposition to the final clause. Could the vote be held again?

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): I have already cast the vote and it is too late, I am afraid. [Interruption] Was the member wishing to vote against this?

GARETH HUGHES: That’s right.

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): Well, the member could seek leave. It would for the Committee to decide, but I have already cast the vote. If the member wishes to seek leave, he may.

GARETH HUGHES: Thanks, Mr Chairperson. I seek leave for a party vote to be called in this Committee stage.

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): A party vote is called for on clause 4. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

A party vote was called for on the question, That clause 4 be agreed to.

Ayes 107 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 42; ACT New Zealand 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
Noes 15 Green Party 9; Māori Party 4; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Clause 4 agreed to.
  • Bill to be reported without amendment presently.
  • House resumed.
  • The Chairperson reported the Environmental Protection Authority Bill with amendment and that the Committee had divided it into six bills, and the Dairy Industry Restructuring (New Sunset Provisions) Amendment Bill without amendment.

The CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch): I move, That the report be adopted.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the report be adopted.

Ayes 107 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 42; ACT New Zealand 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
Noes 15 Green Party 9; Māori Party 4; Independents: Carter C, Harawira.
Report adopted.

Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2)

First Reading

  • Debate resumed from 3 May.

KEITH LOCKE (Green) : The Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) has a number of different elements to it. Some parts of the bill the Green Party supports, and some parts we are particularly worried about. On balance, we have decided to oppose this bill at the first reading, although we are hopeful that when it goes to the select committee a number of changes will be made, and we will be able to support it at subsequent stages.

One part of the bill that is not “at the top of the bill”, and that might have been lost a bit in the commentary, but that we think is very important, is the section that gravely limits what is traditionally called “the claim of right”, or what is sometimes called “the colour of right”. We are worried that there has been something of a knee-jerk reaction to the decision in a case often known as the “Waihopai Three” case, in which three men, charged with criminal damage at the Waihopai spy station, were found not guilty. They used the claim of right as a key part of their defence. It is unfortunate when changes in law are made mainly in response to the result of one court case, particularly when we are looking, as we are here, at a common law provision that has existed in many countries, still exists in many countries, and has a very important tradition in common law.

I will just go back to the original text of the claim of right in section 2 of the Crimes Act in relation to this amending bill: “claim of right, in relation to any act, means a belief that the act is lawful, although that belief may be based on ignorance or mistake of fact or of any matter of law other than the enactment against which the offence is alleged to have been committed”. The concept is fairly broad, and even though a person cannot misinterpret the actual offence for which he or she is charged, if the person puts the offence in a broader context or makes some mistake in relation to that broader context, or if some other factor comes in, then perhaps he or she can be found to be not guilty.

The change suggested in this bill is to restrict the use of the claim of right to cases where the person charged has some proprietary or possessory right in property—that is, under clause 4(2), the amendment takes out the belief that the act is lawful, and substitutes the provision: “ ‘at the time of the act of a proprietary or possessory right in property, being property in relation to which the offence is alleged to have been committed’.” Just to put it in its simplest terms, that definition could apply—and correctly apply—to a case in which somebody picks up a bag, as some of us have done at times, and runs off with the bag, thinking it is his or her bag. Later on, that person realises that it is someone else’s bag but that his or her bag looks identical to it. In that case, technically that person is guilty of theft, because he or she has run away with somebody else’s bag, but in a court setting the court would say that, no, the person had an honest belief that it was his or her bag. Restricting the claim of right in that way, therefore, has some application, but it is a very limited application.

The provision would not apply even to something that is fairly similar in a property sense, to a situation in which, for example, people hear a scream and think someone is in distress. They are sitting in their own home and hear a scream. They think it is coming from next door, and that someone is being attacked. They go next door and bash down the door because they think it is rather urgent. Then they realise that the scream has really come from the next house over, and that the scream might even be something else—it might be someone screaming at the All Blacks on television, or something. They have a genuine belief that they are trying to help someone in distress, yet their next-door neighbour whose door they have just bashed down says he or she will take them to court because it is wilful damage, etc. They might try to use the claim of right, which people traditionally would have used, but in this case because they have no proprietary relationship to the property next door, they cannot use that claim of right.

The Waihopai case was broader than that, as have been so many other cases. The three people who were charged with criminal damage said that, yes, they had conducted an action that caused some damage to the dome surrounding the dish at Waihopai. They did not deny that, but they said that the context or the claim of right took into account broader international laws against committing murder and wars—like conducting an illegal war in the case of Iraq, which they referred to a lot in the court case—and the rights that New Zealanders uphold under the Rome Statute, which governs the International Criminal Court, etc. The three people said they were obeying a lot of international law, and that that outweighed other issues and provided a context for them to commit criminal damage to the dome at Waihopai.

When the claim of right is being discussed in legal circles it is not just accepted as an honest belief, and it is not just a moral entitlement; there also has to be a legal entitlement, which is why the three people had to provide evidence of the other laws in their court case, and why they had to present evidence that the spy station at Waihopai had some relationship to the breaking of those laws. If one reads the court transcript, one sees that the three refer particularly to the evidence of a Government communications security headquarters whistle-blower in Britain, who came out with a memo from a chap called Frank Koza of the National Security Agency—which Waihopai is linked up to and does its spying for—who said, just prior to the invasion of Iraq, that the National Security Agency and its offshoots would conduct a whole set of interceptions. He specified that the interceptions would be of dissident members of the United Nations Security Council in order to try to get a majority for the American invasion of Iraq. They failed to get that UN majority, but in the process spied illegally on United Nations delegations in their communications back to their homes. There are a whole lot of things there.

One of the problems with this issue is that in this particular case Government policies were being challenged, and Governments can react by saying they do not want their Government policies being attacked so they will change the law. That is what is happening in this case. Rather than the Government admitting that perhaps the court, jury, and judge got it right in the Waihopai case, it is just throwing out the colour of right, even though it has a long tradition. I think that that is a very unfortunate thing.

With regard to the other part of the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), the Greens support the intention of the bill to put more moral sanction on assaults on children. That is very good, but as we and our co-leader Metiria Turei have said in the past, we are concerned that lengthening the sentences that apply, particularly to family members in a place where children might be abused, might provide a certain disincentive for reporting crimes. Family members will not want to get another family member into trouble if he or she will be given a 10-year sentence. Some of the people in that household might be abused but be very scared of coming forward to the police. There are all of those sorts of problems, and it would be much better to somehow bring in techniques and support for families and extended families in order to bring them on side, so that they can constrain and prevent violence in the home.

The Green Party is a bit critical of some of these provisions. Our criticisms parallel those of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, and others.

TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) : It is a privilege to rise this evening in our Parliament to speak on the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2). I say it is a privilege, because I think this legislation is particularly important when one digs down deeply into what it is to achieve. It will create a new offence of failure to protect a child or vulnerable adult.

Protection of vulnerable people—and particularly children—is important to everybody in this House, and when we move outside of this House we find that it is of particular importance to many New Zealanders. Children and the elderly are among the most vulnerable in our society. It appals me—but, more than that, it saddens me—to pick up the newspapers on far too many occasions and read about the horrific abuse of young people and of children by the very people in our society who should be caring about them the most. I think all Governments have grappled with the problem of child abuse—why it happens, where it stems from, and what we can do about it. I am very proud as a member of John Key’s National-led Government to say that I believe we have brought some important changes through this Parliament over the last 2½ years to start to deal with what is a horrific problem for society in New Zealand.

There are probably many reasons why, when we pick up our newspapers, we read about child abuse, but although there are reasons, I cannot think of a single reason that is an excuse for what I read about in our newspapers. Child abuse happens all over New Zealand and with different people in all walks of life. In many situations it is clear that others, family members and supporters who live in the house, must have known that the situation the young child is in is not a fair or good situation and that they are in some form of danger or are being challenged. It is not too much to ask for this House—in fact, I believe that New Zealanders want us to go as far as we reasonably can—to protect these young people and to make it a crime if an adult in a position to do something to save a child’s life and to protect them from horrible, harmful abuse does not step in and do so. Each of us has a duty not only to our own family members and children but to those around us—our neighbours and anybody out there who is vulnerable—to step in where we can and support them. I do not believe that it is too much for us in this Parliament to say to New Zealanders that where they can take some action they must, and that if they are negligent in that duty, then they should be brought to account.

We should not be punitive or pass sentence upon people, although I am sure there will be many occasions where some people should have acted, knew they must act, and chose wilfully not to, and I am not opposed to the law dealing with them fully. We should send a message to all New Zealanders that child abuse is not acceptable. It is something that none of us wants, there is no reason for it, there is certainly no excuse for it, and if someone turns a blind eye, then they will be held to account. If we can spread that message throughout this country, I am hopeful—in fact, I believe—that many more New Zealanders will look over the fence, will look at what is happening in the next room or the next bedroom and say that it is their duty to stand up for that young, vulnerable person.

There is a lot of detail in the bill and a lot of other things. The Green member Keith Locke spoke a moment ago about some other areas of the bill. I have less concern about some of those areas than those members do. I will not go into them in any great detail today; I do not want to water down my message about the appallingness of child abuse. I think the Greens will talk about the other issues in great detail. I also ask New Zealanders from all walks of life and with all experience of this issue to come forward when the bill goes to the Social Services Committee and to let us know their thoughts. I think a number of people in New Zealand will say that the bill is a great start, that it is putting a line in the sand, and that it is telling others what we expect, but we have so much further to go as a Government, as a Parliament, but also as a society.

On a final note before I conclude, since we started this debate—and I am sure it will happen after I have spoken—members opposite have been talking about the appropriateness of the bill going to the Social Services Committee. I say to members opposite that the committee is a very hard-working committee. We have dealt with a number of issues regarding young people and other issues of law. I believe that not only are we capable but we will undertake our duties responsibly. Some of the Labour members who do not sit on the committee and have said we are not capable do a great injustice to their members of that committee, who I know will join with the Government to work as well as we can to make sure that where we can protect young people, we do, because it is our duty and our responsibility. Indeed, that is why we have been elected. Thank you.

JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) : It is my pleasure, as a member of the Social Services Committee, to speak on the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2). I would not want to do a disservice to members on my side of the House by misrepresenting any questions they may have raised over why this bill is going to the Social Services Committee, because I do think it is a curious decision. This is the kind of bill that would generally go to the Justice and Electoral Committee. Of course I do not say that as a slight upon myself as a member of the Social Services Committee, but given that generally these are bills drafted by Ministry of Justice officials—indeed, they are the ones who have had involvement here—I think it would be interesting to have an explanation from the Minister of Justice about why this bill is being directed elsewhere. Perhaps it is because of the heavy load that the Justice and Electoral Committee currently has. As a previous member of that committee, I can attest to the amount of work it is currently dealing with.

Some of that part-way goes to my first point, which is that no one in this House disputes that child abuse is an issue of critical importance for us to be addressing as responsible legislators. We have an abhorrent level of child abuse in New Zealand, and of course we should be dealing with it. The debate comes down to whether we are using the best tools and policy available to us in order to address this issue. That is the question I wish to raise.

Labour will be supporting this bill’s referral to a select committee so that we can further query that issue—so we can look into what options are available to us. Will lifting the penalties for someone who neglects to raise an issue actually prevent children from being abused in this country? That is the key question. If not, what are the alternatives, and are we doing enough there? Firstly, though, we cannot neglect the fact that there are some other elements to this bill. It is a bit of an omnibus bill, which, I think, seems to be the modus operandi of this Government when it comes to justice issues—slightly scattered, very reactive and knee-jerk, and not always coherent.

I will go back to a key point, given that Simon Power is available to hear this message. I ask when we will go back to the drivers of crime that were much heralded by this Government. With great fanfare the Government announced that it would finally be looking into the drivers of crime in New Zealand, the things that cause people to offend or that cause reoffending. It was a piece of work we were excited by, but it seems to have disappeared into nothing. I would not mind hearing a little bit more about that, in the mix of this omnibus bill.

I give my thanks, though, for the ongoing work that groups like ECPAT International and the Department of Internal Affairs do around the first issue this bill addresses, which is sexual grooming. That area is an incredibly difficult area to work in. I got a small idea of that when I worked for the Minister of Justice many years ago. What an incredibly draining, personally stressful, and difficult area those officials work in! My thanks go to them, and of course I say that we should be doing anything we can to support them in the work they do.

The second key change in this bill has already been touched on, and that is the idea that under section 195 of the Crimes Act, previously called “Cruelty to a child”, the maximum penalty is substantially increased by this bill from 5 years to 10 years. The provision is also altered so that those who have the care or charge of children will be liable for being grossly negligent in their standard of care in those circumstances. The point I wish to make is that if a child is being abused in a family environment, there is a strong correlation, I would wager, between that and the potential levels of domestic violence in a family. If that is the case, there is a whole range of services that we should be making sure is available, so that those who are in a situation where there is abuse or domestic violence will have the best opportunity they can have to exit that relationship. Exit points will be the first things they will be thinking about, above and beyond the idea of “What kind of prison penalty will I be facing if anyone finds out about the abuse of my child?”. The first things they will be thinking about are “How can I exit this situation, what support will I have, and will I be safe?”. Those are the things that I think we should be considering if we want to ensure that children are taken with speed out of a situation where they are being abused, or that those who are aware of the situation feel safe enough to raise that with either external family members or external services and agencies.

Support for Women’s Refuge has to be a major part of that cohort of services, but what we have seen recently is a slashing of funding towards Women’s Refuge. The Government has tried to claim that that has not occurred, but it is yet to disprove the claim by Women’s Refuge that refuges are losing $700,000 worth of funding. That is incredible for an organisation that, from memory, has about 300 staff and already about 600 volunteers. It is already substantively a voluntary organisation, and now it has lost a considerable amount of funding. It is absolutely disgraceful to claim that this Government is addressing child abuse and domestic violence issues on the one hand by lifting prison penalties, but doing nothing to ease the path to try to remove children from vulnerable situations, with appropriate services, on the other hand. It is disgraceful. From my perspective, simply throwing in a new law that increases a penalty will not necessarily make any great change without those wraparound services being in place in the community where they are needed most. It is the same with the Te Rito coordinators, the police, and domestic violence advocates. All of them have said that these services make a difference on the ground. Instead, the Government is slashing them and saying that it will increase a prison penalty. Where is the evidence that that will make the difference we need?

I have not found any evidence in the regulatory impact statement. I point out that it is interesting that bills do not include regulatory impact statements any more; they just include web addresses. I ask whether that is some way of trying to make it a little more difficult to prove that the Government is not fully providing evidence for the bills it is putting before this House. But I went to the effort of looking up the said web addresses. Members will be pleased to know that I could not find the regulatory impact statement for this bill on the Treasury website, but on the Ministry of Justice website I found a clear point about teenage parents in particular, because the Government has made the decision that this legislation will apply to those parents under the age of 18. I will not dispute that, but the point was made that very little is known about the children who are raised in the care of young parents. It strikes me that that is as area where we make a lot of assumptions, and that some evidence would be useful.

The second point is that this bill does not include under-18-year-olds who do not have a biological relationship with a child. I query that, and I would like to hear the Minister of Justice point out the reason to us, perhaps via officials at the select committee or in the Committee stage. If a de facto happens to be the one who has the knowledge of child abuse and is under the age of 18, then surely there should be a level of equality in the way that he or she is treated in the eyes of the law. As far as I read this—

Chester Borrows: It’ll be under a different section of the Crimes Act.

JACINDA ARDERN: The member is telling me that under a different section of the Crimes Act that person will still be—

Chester Borrows: Failure to provide the necessities of life.

JACINDA ARDERN: But for consistency’s sake I ask why there is an exemption for an under-18-year-old who has any other relationship other than biological—

Chester Borrows: Special relationship for a parent of a child or a de facto parent of a child.

JACINDA ARDERN: Well, that is something I would like to look into further at the select committee, because I do not think it is overly clear here because of the fact that we have created an exemption within that clause. But I look forward to having that discussion with Mr Chester Borrows at the select committee. We always have a good, robust, and useful discussion.

It is also good to see that the protections for children have been extended to vulnerable adults, and I hope that that will include those in aged care. Of course, Labour and the Greens produced a comprehensive report stating that there were issues with neglect and abuse in the aged-care industry. This might be a way that we can actually progress that review, because the Government seems utterly uninterested in taking that review forward through any other means.

Those are the substantive points that I will make on this bill. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss these matters further, and perhaps to also hear a contribution from Chris Finlayson, who I am sure will have some very uplifting and positive statements to make about this bill—and not at all something nasty. Thank you.

CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) : I appreciate the opportunity to take a call in respect of the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2). I also appreciate the fact that it will be coming before the Social Services Committee. As a member of that committee I look forward to investigating the circumstances around this bill, thinking about how this bill will be applied, hearing the evidence, and having the opportunity to do some stuff around the protection of vulnerable people, and vulnerable children especially. I am sure that all of us who come to this House who have worked with young children who have been abused and who have been neglected relish the opportunity to do some work in this area.

The fact is that we cannot legislate for people to feel responsible or to recognise their own responsibility, but we can legislate to hold people to account. When we have people living within households where there are vulnerable people, they should be held to account. There is a need to do something tangible in a country where one child every month is murdered. I can call to mind the faces of young children, whom I have worked with over many years, who have been absolutely abandoned by those whom they turn to, seeking help.

I am very pleased to be part of a Government that is working very strongly towards making vulnerable people in our community safer. To hear the previous speaker, Jacinda Ardern, suggest that the funding arrangements, for instance, for Te Rito and the Women’s Refuge was in some way a case of the Government’s abandoning its responsibility to look after vulnerable children is absolutely ridiculous. For instance, in respect of the monitoring of POL 400 family violence forms that are currently being done by Te Rito coordinators through the police and through Women’s Refuge, those forms will still be collated, those referrals will still be made, and the Government will still be funding those positions. Previously they had been, prior to the last Government, changing the rules around that in terms of who was going to do it. In Wanganui the Living Without Violence Trust was contracted to do that work. The previous Government took it off that organisation and gave it to Women’s Refuge for reasons of its own, despite the fact that the job was being done perfectly well.

In this country we have seen horrific cases. People can call to mind, for instance, the case surrounding the death of Nia Glassie. She lived in a household where a number of adults over the age of 18 lived. A number of people were witness to the atrocities that were carried out against that poor child until she eventually died, and people did absolutely nothing in respect of her. So I am pleased that this legislation will force people to take responsibility, and if they do not take responsibility themselves they will be held to account for the action they did not take to protect those vulnerable young people.

I remember one particular case where a grandfather had set about grooming his 12-year-old granddaughter. In response to that, the mother came and made a historic complaint of sexual abuse, in respect of herself and her sister. As the investigator I worked on that case, took the various statements, became satisfied in my mind that there was a case to answer, and went and knocked on the door of the abuser, the father of the two mature women who had made a complaint and the grandfather of the child whom he was grooming. I knocked on the door, he saw me, and he said “I know who you are. You’re Chester Borrows, aren’t you?”. I said yes. He said he had been waiting for me for 30 years, and he immediately admitted to the offending that was alleged against him. Nevertheless, while he went through the process and pleaded guilty, one of his daughters wrote to the judge and asserted that everything she had said had been a lie, in spite of the fact that he had made several admissions to us, and in spite of the fact that the evidence was well and truly beyond a reasonable doubt, should it have needed to be proven. The point I want to make is that the impact of sexual grooming is absolutely horrific and has a lifelong effect on people who have been the subject of those despicable acts by those most despised within our society—and so they must be.

Along with changing the law, widening the grasp of the law, and holding people to account, we must, as a society and a Parliament, seek to understand the nature of sexual abuse, not only just the ramifications of it, not only just the effects of it, and not only just to point the finger and lay the blame but also to actually fully understand the reasons behind sexual abuse, in terms of why it happens and what we can do to curtail this country’s horrific record in respect of it. I congratulate the Minister for Social Development and Employment on promoting the discussion about mandatory reporting. The fact is that in protecting our young children and the vulnerable adults within our community we not only have to paint everything with a broad brush but have to do everything we can through a number of pieces of legislation to be able to keep people safe.

In answer to a question that was raised by the previous speaker, Jacinda Ardern, we must remember that people who have a special relationship with vulnerable people and fail to act are caught by a number of pieces of legislation. The under-18-year-old de facto partner of a child’s mother, for instance, would, no doubt, be caught by other sections of the Crimes Act, which require people in such circumstances of having a special relationship with a young and vulnerable person who is abused, neglected, and in need of care to take action and to be held legally responsible if that action is not taken.

I commend this bill to the House at its first reading. I look forward to the select committee discussions, and to the investigations of the matters and circumstances arising from child neglect and abuse, which is just one of the things catered for in this legislation. I am pleased to speak in its support.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : I am very pleased to be able to take a call on the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2). Despite venturing off into some issues around knife crime and the claim of right review, the bill is essentially focused squarely on strengthening the penalties and clarifying the responsibilities around abuse of vulnerable children. The key aspect of this bill is, of course, that it places a much greater and much clearer obligation on caregivers in charge of vulnerable people not only to provide the necessaries of life but also to ensure that they protect those vulnerable people in their care from any form of injury or abuse.

This is very, very important legislation, but it is also a very, very important message that must reach parents, caregivers, and anybody who has responsibility for children in particular, who are just so incredibly vulnerable, and anybody who is vulnerable to abuse or injury, that they do have a responsibility. For any of those people to say that they were unaware or unable to intervene simply is not good enough. They have to make sure that they do everything they can to protect those vulnerable people, particularly children in their care. So, of course, the Labour Opposition supports seeing this bill go to the select committee. We want to hear the debate around some of the initiatives in this bill, and we want to hear people’s ideas and views on how we improve the protections available to the people in our society who are at their most vulnerable.

We know that this bill places an obligation on caregivers in charge of vulnerable people. It also extends the current Act so that “parents, who are currently under a duty to provide their children with ‘the necessaries’, will also be required to take reasonable steps to protect them from injury:”. The age of the child, for the purposes of this legislation, is raised from 16 to 18 years, which should be a positive step.

For every single one of us in this House our stomachs churn when we hear of abuse, neglect, murder, and injury to young people caused by adults who should be taking care of them. So, of course, we want to see these provisions considered by the select committee, and we want to do anything we can to protect vulnerable children. I know that Government members know this. This is not an attempt to attack Government members, but this bill is somewhat the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. This is our response when things have gone so badly wrong that a parent or a caregiver abuses a child in their care.

We need to think about this more and, hand in hand with this type of legislation, we need to look at what needs to happen to make our families stronger and to give parents the tools, the skills, and the self-respect in a lot of cases to avoid getting into these situations in the first place. If we are truly to put children at the centre of everything we do, we need not only to think about the consequences of things going badly wrong and giving people the message that they should not be committing these types of crimes but also we need to look at how we can work with and support families to make sure that this sort of thing does not happen.

That means more resources for the types of parenting support programmes that are out there already—things like SKIP or the Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters, known as the HIPPY programme, which are available but which so many parents are not able to access because their resources are so limited at the moment. Let us think about how those programmes are supported by early childhood education, and about supporting parents, whether it is through things like paid parental leave or other schemes to ensure that parents are at home and part of their children’s lives. Just generally raising standards of living would go a long way to improving the environments in which children grow up and preventing some of the issues that this legislation is trying to deal with.

When I think of what we can do to support families and to prevent the abuse of children in our communities I always go back to an organisation in my electorate called Te Aroha Noa. Some years ago it decided to move into a part of our city where we knew there were vulnerable families, to get alongside those families and to work with them, initially by opening a playcentre, which grew into fully fledged early childhood education around which adult education support was placed, and around which programmes such as SKIP and the Home Interaction Programme for Parents and Youngsters have been placed. Te Aroha Noa has now moved into adult community education. It works with the whole family. It gets involved with the family, in particular with vulnerable families and young mothers. It works in a part of my electorate where this type of work is definitely needed.

I honestly think that organisations like that are doing more to achieve what this bill sets out to achieve, to protect vulnerable children and families, to give them hope and to create the environment in which children are nurtured, than a piece of legislation, important as it is, can do to support those families and create the environment in which children are safe, and in which we can start to curb child abuse across our society.

This is important legislation. I applaud the Government and the Minister for introducing it to the House. I think there will be a very interesting debate at the select committee about what is in this bill. But if we are serious about tackling the issues of child abuse, then we have to think about what leads up to the situations that this bill seeks to deal with. We can double the maximum penalty for cruelty to a child, we can wield the threat of imprisonment over families, and I have no doubt that will have some effect on people’s actions. We can extend the legal duty on parents and caregivers as much as we like, but we actually have to start going back to what Mr Power called the drivers of crime and what is behind the issues this bill is trying to deal with.

This is good legislation but it cannot be in isolation. We have to think about everything else that goes alongside it. We have to think about supporting and getting alongside our families and our communities, and getting alongside the people who are trying to prevent this stuff from happening in the first place rather than simply looking at how we mop up the mess after it has occurred. We support this legislation but we do think an awful lot more has to occur if we are really going to tackle child abuse in this country.

JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) : It is pleasing to hear that the Opposition is supporting this Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), because it is a very good bill, and it is very timely given many of the cases from around the country that we see in the media. It is also good to hear an Opposition supporting a bill. Although I am relatively new in this Chamber, it seems to me that the Opposition often opposes many of the good things this Government does, so I am pleased to hear that it is now supporting this bill.

I doubt whether many people around the country would think this is a poor bill. Many people would see this as a very good bill because it is about protecting the most vulnerable people in our society. It is about protecting children and vulnerable adults, and doing what we can as a Parliament to help those people. I have often heard the saying that a society is judged by how it treats animals. I think that what is more important is that a society should be judged by how it treats children and vulnerable people. This Government is sending a message that it is wrong to treat children or vulnerable people poorly. It is sending a message that if a person is cruel to a child, that offence should be punishable by a long prison sentence. It is sending a message to people who do not protect children, and who do not provide what they need to be safe in their homes and society, that those are things that should be frowned upon. This Government is creating a new offence relating to a failure to protect children and vulnerable adults. Those people need support and help. They need this legislation so that penalties are in place if a person does not provide the necessary protections that are important for those people.

The bill also doubles the maximum penalty for cruelty to a child. It is saying that 5 years as a maximum penalty is not enough. A maximum penalty of 10 years is far better. The 5-year penalty has been doubled because it was insufficient. Any person out there who is cruel to a child must be frowned upon by society and punished severely, and 5 years as a maximum penalty simply was not enough.

The amended offence of sexual grooming is a timely matter. Many people would have seen a bit of coverage recently about Facebook and certain things that have taken place there. I for one find what has been happening appalling. I realise that a lot of investigation is going on at the moment, but, should a case like that be seen to be happening around the place, many people around the country should be saying that it is appalling and needs to be dealt with. The amended offence of sexual grooming makes it easier to catch those people and to punish them. It makes it easier to point out that they are doing the wrong thing, and that they need to be stopped.

Finally, I will talk about the claim of right defence and the changes taking place there. I heard the contribution from the member Keith Locke, when he essentially defended the Waihopai spy base issue that happened a couple of years ago. I think that anyone who believes that what those people were doing at Waihopai was a good thing is probably in a similar camp to Hone Harawira when he thought that Osama bin Laden was an honourable man. We have to say that those types of beliefs are wrong. Anyone who thinks that those people at Waihopai were there to do the right thing has a few screws loose. Anyone who cannot accept that those people knew full well that they were causing million-dollar damage to Government infrastructure, and who thinks that that was a good thing, needs to reconsider his or her position. I am proud to be part of a Government that is changing the law on behalf of the taxpayers of this country to make the law tighter, so that people who cause wilful damage to Government property are unable to do that and get away with it.

This is a good bill. I am glad the Opposition has decided to support something. Let us vote.

CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour) : The Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) deals with several issues. A particular focus of the bill has been to ensure that children are adequately protected from assault, neglect, and ill treatment. This bill implements the Law Commission’s recommendations in this area, and it also addresses an emerging knife crime problem. It responds to issues of scope with the sexual grooming offence and the claim of right defence. Labour, of course, supports this bill, and supports the measures that it takes to prevent and mitigate the harm and abuse of children. However—there often is a “however” when we say that we support a Government bill—we do have reservations about certain provisions and their ability to be effective in combating the actual problem.

When we listened to the previous speaker from National, we heard him talk about the concern that the Government has for children who are abused or children who are at risk of being abused. Members on this side of the House share those concerns. We are of course concerned about abused children, and about the risk of abuse to children. However, members on this side want to take an approach, where possible, that is about the fence at the top of the cliff rather than the ambulance constantly at the bottom of the cliff. But we see that the focus of members opposite is overwhelmingly on the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We support aspects of that approach, given that there are times when that approach is necessary. But when that is the entire focus, then we are concerned, because we know we will see the need for more and more ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. That is what the Government is setting us up to have to respond to.

When members opposite talk about the abuse of children, I cannot help but reflect on some of the decisions that have been made recently by the Government. Some decisions do not protect the best interests of children, and do not protect the best interests of those children’s mothers. I am talking of decisions like the cuts to domestic violence programmes that have been made by members on the other side. I am also talking about cuts to Te Rito programmes, cuts to women’s refuges, and cuts, in accident compensation, to counselling services for victims of sexual abuse. Those are all the kinds of services that this side of the House would expect of any Government that cares, and purports to care, for children who are abused or at risk of being abused. As I said before, members on this side of the House support this bill as we do have concerns, but we are disappointed in the Government, because it seems to put measures into place or take legislation seriously only when it is already acting as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

Along the lines of things that have been cut, I should also mention the inability of the National Government to deal with legislation that would make a difference in respect of violence, in respect of women and violence, and in respect of children who are abused or who could be abused. The bill that I am thinking of is the Domestic Violence Reform Bill, which was thoroughly consulted on with organisations in the sector, yet it continues to languish at the bottom of the Order Paper.

Hon Simon Power: Two-thirds of it has been done.

CARMEL SEPULONI: It continues to languish at the bottom of the Order Paper, and the Minister of Justice says that parts of it have been done. However, it has been done in a piecemeal kind of way; that is the concern. It has been done in a piecemeal kind of way. Rather than taking the entire piece of legislation that was consulted on widely and agreed on widely within the sector, and implementing it in its entirety, it has been implemented by that Minister of Justice and the National Government in a piecemeal way. That is of concern to members on this side of the House, because we expect that any responsible Government would take an issue like domestic violence seriously, particularly when its members stand up in this House and purport to be advocates for children who are abused or at risk of being abused.

One of the things about this bill that is of concern is the select committee that the Government has decided to refer the bill to. There is a distinctly legal nature to the bill, yet we see that it is to go through the Social Services Committee. One has to wonder whether that is the appropriate select committee to consider this legislation. It is not the first time that we have seen this happen with this Government. We have seen it before. We saw it with the three-strikes legislation, which should have gone through the Justice and Electoral Committee—and we had to wonder whether that was because the Minister of Justice did not agree with the three-strikes legislation—instead, we saw the legislation go through the Law and Order Committee. It really was not appropriate that we had the Department of Corrections—or was it the police—overseeing a sentencing bill. Again, we had to wonder whether that was purely because the Minister of Justice did not agree with that three-strikes legislation, and wanted to wash his hands of it and hand it over to somebody else, because it was all part of the pact that the Government had with the ACT Party. The enactment of the legislation had to happen, but the Minister of Justice did have some sense and did not want to have it happen under his watch in terms of his select committee, his portfolio area, and his ministry.

Going back to what I said at the beginning, I tell the House that Labour is concerned about the level of abuse of our children in this country, and the risk of abuse to our children in this country. I think that testament to the fact that Labour takes the abuse of children seriously are some of the measures that were implemented by the previous Labour Government. At that point in time we had cross-party support, and that again is testament to the fact that across this House we share a genuine concern for our children, and we do not want to let politics get in the way of that to any extent.

But, as I said, it is important that we lay out all of the reservations that we have on this bill. We cannot pretend that we accept it in its entirety. We cannot pretend that the National Government purporting to be acting in the interests of children has always happened, within the context of what it has done over the past 2½ years. We have to put into context some of the other decisions that have been made by the National Government over the past 2½ years, and, quite frankly, some of those decisions are disappointing and have not been made in the best interests of children.

There is a possibility, with what this legislation proposes, that false reporting may lead to an overloading of social service agencies, according to several welfare groups and academics. That is a concern to us because we are already getting reports from those agencies that they are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the workload they are facing. They are increasing overwhelmed because of the needs of the people who come to them and the challenges those people face, and increasingly overwhelmed because of the poverty they are seeing and the stresses that families are under. Putting it into context, it is about the climate that we have at the moment: the continued increase in the cost of living, the severe underemployment in this country—if not underemployment, then unemployment—and just the fact that families are really struggling at the moment. When families struggle, then we see our social service agencies struggle. The agencies are concerned that this legislation and its provisions may lead to false reporting, which may lead to an overloading of social service agencies. The Children’s Commissioner, John Angus, said that mandatory reporting of child abuse would swamp Child, Youth and Family. New Zealand already has a high level of reporting on abuse incidents, and needs to respond better to those cases rather than bring in mandatory reporting.

I have laid out a number of concerns tonight with regard to this legislation. As I said earlier, Labour will support the bill but we will watch this space. We are concerned, though, that the bill will not be going through the right select committee, and we are concerned about what that might mean when the bill is being considered. We have concerns about other decisions, made in relation to other legislation, that are not supportive of women and children, and that do not actually protect either women or children from the harm they may encounter with regard to violence and abuse. We support the bill but, as I said, we have some major reservations about what the Government is doing. Thank you.

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : Although I am the Minister in charge of the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), a colleague of mine actually moved the first reading motion and delivered the first speech in this debate.

Hon Christopher Finlayson: I did.

Hon SIMON POWER: I thank the Attorney-General very much. I have checked with the Clerk of the House and there is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent me, as I understand it, from making a contribution at this point, which I intend to do.

This bill is an extremely important piece of legislation for a number of reasons. The first is that for too long this country has allowed the abuse and the killing of children to occur in an environment where a code of silence has been able to descend upon the households and wider families of those people who should have been responsible for the lives of those young children. My colleagues today have given some examples—in fact, both sides of the House have—of where that has occurred.

I am reluctant to give this piece of legislation a specific reference point, a specific case that been through the courts or is yet to travel through the court process. The Hon Rick Barker on the other side of the House will agree with me that when a Minister of Justice holds that particular warrant it would be inappropriate for him or her to be discussing a case that is before the courts or a case that has been through the courts with reference in this way.

We have to finally face up to the fact that a series of continuous tragedies is occurring in this country and is going unchecked by this Parliament. That is not a criticism of previous Governments or, for that matter, this Government, quite obviously, but it is saying that this Parliament now has an opportunity to say to the public of New Zealand that we have heard the message the public has been relaying to members of this House for many years now, and that message is quite straightforward. The message is that we should stop sitting on our hands when it comes to children being abused, mistreated, and killed in households where families, family members, and regular attendees at those houses are not sticking their hands up and saying: “Something is not right here. I know what happened, and I am going to take some responsibility and come forward.”

We need legislation that gives a clear message to those people that they are not narks; they are people who are protecting those who most need their protection—young, small, and vulnerable members of our society who cannot speak for themselves. We know them only when the media portrays them and when their photographs are on the front pages of newspapers and leading television bulletins when it is too late, after the fact.

We sit in our cosy homes, watching the faces of these children, innocent children, being beamed into our living rooms, and we have somehow, over a long period of time, developed a legal system that has enabled people who were close to those incidents to remain silent. This bill says today that that travesty must stop. Responsibility will lie with those individuals and people who could have done something or said something for those who could not do anything or say anything and have died or been mistreated.

I welcome the contributions of those members of the House who have agreed to support the referral of this matter to a select committee for various submissions to be heard. I have to say that as I get around the country and talk about the areas that have been reformed in the justice system—not just in the last 2½ years but over the last 4 to 5 years in particular—nothing gets a group of New Zealanders more engaged with those meetings than this issue. It is not a problem that we can regard as limited to particular communities or particular parts of our country. The truth is we do not treat our children as well as we should. We do not treat vulnerable members of society, who cannot speak for themselves, with the dignity they deserve.

This bill may not change all of that, but it will strip back the bizarre situation in respect of people who have been in sufficient proximity to a child but who are neither the parents and thus under a duty nor perpetrators of the offending, nor parties in a legal sense. They must have a level of culpability in coming forward to describe to society, and to inform society, about what has occurred. We have made some other changes to the Crimes Act to address some of the broader sentencing issues and the necessities issues. But this model of turning one’s back on a child who has died or been maltreated, and then the police and others in authority being unable to penetrate that code of silence in a way that sees justice left waiting, has to stop.

Members opposite ask why the bill is being sent to the Social Services Committee. Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that it is a child-centred bill. The second is that we want to get this thing moving as quickly as possible. Those are the two reasons why it will go to that committee. I do not doubt that members opposite who have contributed to this debate are any less genuine than other members in their appreciation of how serious this issue is. But I am disappointed when members say that Government Ministers, myself included, have not taken the issues of domestic violence and the treatment of women in violent relationships seriously. The truth is that that is just wrong. The introduction of public safety orders and the changes we are making to our criminal justice system are all sure signs.

The sad part about it is that when members opposite talk about the Domestic Violence Reform Bill and about having only two-thirds of it advanced, they are making cynical statements, because that bill was introduced to the House by the last Government on 30 September 2008 and this House rose for the general election on 26 September. After the House rose for the general election, that party introduced a bill to try to deal with these issues. So they should not come to this House and tell this Government we are inactive on this issue. We are taking action today, and I look to the House to support those who need this support tonight.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a first time.

Ayes 112 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 42; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1; United Future 1; Independent: Harawira.
Noes 10 Green Party 9; Independent: Carter C.
Bill read a first time.

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : I move, That the Social Services Committeeconsider the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), that the committee report finally to the House on or before 18 August 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.

Arms (Military Style Semi-Automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill

First Reading

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Police: I move, That the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time, I intend to move that the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill be referred to the Law and Order Committee for consideration, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 4 August 2011, and that the committee have the 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).

This bill amends the Arms Act 1983 to place controls on the importation of airguns that look like real pistols, military-style semi-automatic firearms, or restricted weapons, and it clarifies the definition of “military-style semi-automatic firearms”, or MSSAs—which I am sure Mr Assistant Speaker Roy is familiar with. The bill will preserve the rights of legitimate firearm users while at the same time protecting the public from the illegal use of firearms.

The bill will enhance public safety by clarifying and strengthening import controls on airguns that look like real pistols, restricted weapons, or military-style semi-automatic firearms. Because of their appearance, such airguns are used by criminals for intimidation purposes. Although no official statistics on this are collected, police estimate that there is up to one incident a week where a member of the public has presented an airgun that looks like a real pistol, restricted weapon, or military-style semi-automatic firearm that has prompted an armed police response.

The bill will require those who import airguns that can be mistaken for real pistols, restricted weapons, or military-style semi-automatic firearms to have a permit from police. A permit will be granted only if the Commissioner of Police is satisfied that there are special reasons why the airgun should be imported. Permits will be issued to allow for the legitimate importation of airguns for sporting and collection purposes and the like. These measures will reduce the availability of these types of airguns for criminal purposes, and it is expected that within a relatively short period of time most of the cheaper imitations already in New Zealand will be lost, broken, or discarded.

The bill’s restrictions on the importation of airguns will not apply to airguns that are clearly designed to be used for airsoft and paintball sports and could not be mistaken for real pistols, military-style semi-automatic firearms, or restricted weapons. It is also intended that these provisions would not restrict the importation of airguns that are clearly manufactured solely as toys. These tend not to look anything like real pistols, military-style semi-automatic firearms, or restricted weapons.

The bill includes a consequential amendment to eliminate the unnecessary regulation of fully automatic airguns used for airsoft and paintball sports. Fully automatic airguns used for these sports are currently declared restricted weapons in the Arms (Restricted Weapons and Specially Dangerous Airguns) Order 1984—although I am sure the Hon Clayton Cosgrove was aware of that. However, this does not accurately reflect their lower power and reduced ability to cause harm. The bill removes the classification of these as restricted weapons to reflect their lower risk, but they would still be subject to the proposed import controls on airguns that look like real pistols, military-style semi-automatic firearms, or restricted weapons.

The bill will also clarify the definition of military-style semi-automatic firearms. In 2010 the High Court decision in Lincoln v Police highlighted problems with the way the Arms Act 1983 defines military-style semi-automatic firearms. The current definition has resulted in confusion and created difficulties for police who need to be able to determine in a consistent manner which semi-automatic firearms are military-style semi-automatic firearms.

This amended definition in the bill will clarify the definition and bring the situation back to a classification regime very similar to that administered between 1992 and 2008, which was generally understood and accepted by the firearms community. This will greatly assist with the enforcement of provisions relating to military-style semi-automatic firearms, including the obligations on those who possess them.

The new definition first of all defines a “military-style semi-automatic firearm” in the positive, as a semi-automatic firearm that has one or more specified features rather than, as is the case now, in the negative with a list of features that a firearm in sporting configuration, that is, not a military-style semi-automatic firearm, must be without. That is a very confusing way of approaching the situation, you would agree, Mr Assistant Speaker Roy. The phrase “sporting configuration” is rendered redundant and will be repealed.

Secondly, the new definition of “military-style semi-automatic firearm” provides for the use of regulations to designate a firearm or type of firearm as a military-style semi-automatic firearm, and to define or describe features of a semi-automatic firearm that would classify it as a military-style semi-automatic firearm.

The designation of specific types of firearms as military-style semi-automatic firearms in regulations would be used only in rare instances where firearms or firearm-makers are unable to be clearly classified under the new definition and the classification is in line with the policy intent of the Arms Act as amended in 1992. This is very confusing and I suspect that those who have specialist knowledge in this area will be following it more closely than those of us who are not as well informed on such complex descriptions and matters as that contained in the Minister’s speech.

The definition of a military-style semi-automatic firearm in the bill also addresses a situation that has arisen over magazine capacity. For a firearm to remain classified as being in sporting configuration, and therefore not a military-style semi-automatic firearm, it must have a magazine that is not capable of holding more than seven rounds—although I suspect, Mr Assistant Speaker, that you are already aware of that—and does not appear capable of holding more than seven rounds, unless it is designed to hold .22 inch or less cartridges.

Many firearm owners possess magazines designed to hold 10 rounds, but in order to maintain a firearm in sporting configuration, either the manufacturer or the firearm owner has internally modified those magazines so that they can hold only seven rounds. The bill ensures that firearm owners and manufacturers who take that action will not be found to be operating outside of the law. That will be done by retaining the current limit of seven rounds that the magazine of a semi-automatic firearm can hold before it is classified as a military-style semi-automatic firearm, but allowing a limit of 10 rounds in respect of what the magazine appears to be capable of holding. This is not getting any less complex, Mr Assistant Speaker.

The bill provides for a right of appeal to the District Court when a firearms owner who is affected by a determination by police that a firearm is a military-style semi-automatic firearm wishes to challenge that decision. I think it might have been more straightforward to rewrite our entire criminal procedure.

The bill improves the ability of the Arms Act to continue to protect the rights of legitimate firearms users while at the same time protecting the public from the illegal use of firearms. Clarifying the definition of military-style semi-automatic firearms is in the interests of gun owners, as it removes uncertainties about the types of weapons that have additional requirements for their possession. At the same time it improves the ability of police to apply controls on the possessions of military-style semi-automatic firearms.

I am confident that restricting airguns that can be mistaken for real pistols, restricted weapons, or military-style semi-automatic firearms will improve public safety and limit their availability for criminal use. I commend this bill to the House.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) : I am sure I am joined by other colleagues on this side of House in complimenting the Minister of Justice, who has just resumed his seat, on his well-researched dissertation. Obviously, he has become somewhat of an expert in this field. I am not, and as we proceed through the processes on the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill the House will look to him to—

Hon Simon Power: I could be an expert witness at the select committee hearings.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: He has offered to be an expert witness at the select committee. Without bringing you into the debate, Mr Assistant Speaker Roy, I suspect that you, as a firearms user, may wish to consider that option. We look forward to the Minister of Justice appearing before the learned Law and Order Committee. It will be a first. It is difficult enough to get Ministry of Justice officials to appear before the Law and Order Committee even on justice issues, so we are reaching a new level of quality with the advice we will receive, given the Minister’s commitment to appear before us. I will ensure that the select committee issues an invitation forthwith, and I know it will be accepted.

The Labour Opposition will support this bill with one rider, which is that, obviously, given the select committee process, we will want to see that it receives a high degree of scrutiny, and that it returns back to this House as a practical bill that will do what it is intended to do, which is to allow those folks who are law-abiding citizens to continue to be able to participate in their chosen legal activity or sport, whilst also protecting the public from those who would engage in nefarious activity in respect of the importation of those items. I will not labour the point.

I note the Minister’s point that there appears to be a safeguard for legitimate users who are turned down in respect of the importation of military-style semi-automatic firearms. They can appeal to the District Court. The question I have is whether that will indeed provide a safeguard, because that is a significant and expensive process through which ordinary, law-abiding Kiwi users will have to go—appearing before the District Court, appealing to it, and hiring lawyers et al. at great expense.

I note that this bill is about protecting the public interest. I have seen the blog traffic, as I am sure other members of Parliament have, from various associations representing firearms users. Those organisations will be making submissions, I am sure, to the select committee, and we will welcome that—and I see my colleague on the select committee Shane Ardern nodding. Firearms issues generally come with a reasonable amount of controversy. I note that a constituent in my electorate, the principal of Woodend School, Graeme Barber, who is a collector and user of firearms—for legitimate purposes, obviously, in sport—is quite an authority on these issues. I would say that he and his organisation—not the school, of course, but his rifle club—will make submissions. Obviously, we would welcome Mr Barber as an expert in this field to look at these matters.

I make a couple of further points. A trend has developed with this Government whereby legislation in respect of law and order and justice has been wheeled into the House in rather a piecemeal way. I think the point has been made that we have leapt from double-bunking issues to the “three strikes” legislation. In the case of Mr Hide and Mr Garrett, of course, we have had one strike, two strikes, and three strikes, and Mr Hide is now out. So I suppose that that is one benefit in political terms of that legislation. We look forward to him hastening his departure from this Chamber.

In terms of legislation from this Government, there does not appear to have been a coherent and coordinated plan on justice matters. There has been a lot of populism, I would say, especially from the ACT Party and its former leader, as that party clasped together with the Sensible Sentencing Trust. But when we look at the overall issues in respect of justice—offending, the prevention of offending, incarceration, rehabilitation, and the whole package of goods—we see that there has never been a coherent strategy or plan from this Government.

Apart from populism—and I bundle this bill into that as well, although I acknowledge that this bill is a practical measure—there has never been a coherent strategy or plan. Instead, there has been the next populist idea that Rodney Hide, or David Garrett before he acquiesced under cover of darkness, or some other person from the Government pulled out, thinking it would grab a nice headline, and decided to bang through because it will get their party up a couple of points in the polls.

There are some very, very serious issues in the whole criminal justice sector that need to be addressed—

John Hayes: You need more than a couple of points, Clayton.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: —especially by that member over there. He would know, of course; he would know indeed. The passing of piecemeal bits of legislation like boy-racer legislation, on the one hand, from the Minister of Police, and serious pieces of legislation like this, on the other hand, does not reek of a coherent plan or strategy. It reeks, I think, of the sort of rugged popularism that the ACT Party and National have been engaged in ad nauseam.

I acknowledge, of course, that the Minister of Justice has done a significant amount of work in respect of bringing justice legislation into this House. That is the positive. But I also acknowledge the process by which that legislation has been brought to the House and the restrictions on select committee processes. I am referring to the Law and Order Committee not being able, for instance, to get corrections advice on corrections bills, or justice advice on justice bills; the total abrogation of select committee protocols in respect of submitters; the abuse of parliamentary protocols in terms of members of Parliament; and select committees not being able to put in minority reports or even have a minority view.

But that, I take it, is in the past, and the Law and Order Committee has a new chairperson, Jacqui Dean. To give her credit, she has acted, to date, in a way that her predecessor never did, in trying to bring, I think, some parliamentary process back to that committee, to allow democracy to flow, to allow members to have a fair go, and to allow submitters their right to submit and have an opinion. So, in fairness, I acknowledge the new chairperson of the Law and Order Committee. God help us—it would not take a huge leap of faith to do better than did the last chairperson we had.

In essence, Labour will support this legislation. I am sure there will be, as I have said, some controversy and some concern from legitimate users in relation to this bill. Our view is that that should bubble up in the select committee and that those people should be listened to. But at the end of the day my view is that we have a duty in this House—on balance, of course—to protect those individuals and our community from those who would do wrong and endanger others, either violently or in practice—the criminal elements. But, again, it is the role of this House to balance that against those people who are, in a sporting sense and a hobby sense, legal and legitimate users

At the end of the day, in my view, safety comes first. We have seen some of the difficulties the police have had in respect of these firearms. We note that there is uncertainty, and it is the role of this Parliament to clarify, in legislative terms, any uncertainty that exists. That has to be a good thing for legitimate users and for those who are charged to protect our communities—the police.

The Labour Party will support the legislation, and I am sure I am joined by the chair of the Law and Order Committee in requiring and welcoming a full and open submission process so that all stakeholders in the sector, if you will, will have the opportunity and time to make submissions. That process will ensure that the legislation that comes back to the House is appropriate and practical in its nature, and that it gives effect to the aims and objectives that I would have thought at least most parties in the House—some odd ones, maybe, might take a different view—would support and would accept are for the protection of our communities, the protection of our police, and the rights of those folks to act legitimately in their chosen sport or activity.

JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) : The Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill is clearly about arms safety, and I do not think that anybody across the House, or indeed any member of the Law and Order Committee, will be at odds with that basic principle. Indeed, Mr Cosgrove’s contribution just now confirms that, I suspect, we will have broad agreement about the requirements of this bill to capture elements of firearms safety, for many reasons. We know that these military-style semi-automatic firearms and replica firearms are used in the passage of crime. That does not make life easy for the police; therefore, we need to do some work on that issue.

It seems to me, having a look at the bill for the first time, that there is a need to define what is meant by a military-style semi-automatic firearm as opposed to one with a sporting configuration. I imagine, Mr Assistant Speaker Roy, you may well know this, as well: a sporting configuration means that one holds the firearm to one’s shoulder and goes out to shoot ducks with it, and other pursuits. That is a sporting configuration. The pistol grip configuration, on the other hand, is something that I imagine, as it is described, is held in the hand but is not balanced against the shoulder, and is used—no; you see already I am finding myself wallowing in the mire of not understanding the difference in definition between a pistol grip and a sporting configuration. That is exactly why we need to have a good select committee process in examining the contents of the bill. What I do understand is that the inclusion of the definition of “pistol grip” in regulation provides some flexibility going forward so that when there are different manufacturing standards in relation to pistol grips, that can be encapsulated so that manufacturers of pistol grip firearms cannot get ahead of the legislation. The legislation is anticipating different styles of pistol grip.

I think the gentleman who came to see me a year ago in Waimate and who was very concerned about air pistols and replica firearms had a very important message for me. I certainly listened to him with a great deal of close attention. He had a great and genuinely held concern about the number of firearms that were coming into New Zealand, and he had quite a thick magazine or catalogue of those firearms. His concern was that there was little regulation in relation to the import of those firearms. I listened to that gentleman with close interest, and, in fact, I raised the issue in Government. I was able to tell him that yes, there was some work being done on that issue, and, indeed, here we are this evening with the first reading of this bill. I notice that his concerns will also be addressed within the contents of this bill.

My contribution will be short because, clearly, the select committee will be spending a lot of time receiving expert advice on the contents of this bill. I too hope we have a number of submitters. I will be listening to them very closely. This is a good bill. We must remember that the reason this bill has been brought to the House is this Government’s desire to enhance firearms safety. I commend the bill to the House.

LOUISA WALL (Labour) : Kia ora. I reiterate what my colleague the Hon Clayton Cosgrove said as a member of the Law and Order Committee. I have aspirations to be on that committee.

Clare Curran: Esteemed!

LOUISA WALL: Very esteemed. I agree. Labour supports the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill, which amends the Arms Act 1983 to change the definitions and regulations in relation to what constitutes a military-style semi-automatic firearm.

Given that I had an opportunity to speak about this legislation, I thought I would do a little bit of research. I found an article by Dr Greg Newbold from the University of Canterbury about the criminal use of firearms in New Zealand. It was quite interesting looking back at our history. Dr Newbold states that “The foundations of New Zealand’s arms legislation were laid with the passage of the Arms Act in 1920. This act provided for the registration of firearms to specific owners.” So it was very much about the firearm being aligned to a specific owner. That legislation endured up until 1983. The police kept a record of all firearm owners, the weapons they possessed, and where they lived. Then, in the fruition of time, it was decided we should have a review, so “in the 1960s and early 1970s an arms check revealed that approximately seven percent of all registered rifles could not be located and that up to 36 percent of registration certificates contained errors.” That spawned the development of a new bill. In 1983 we had a new Arms Act drafted. It was about deregistering “all firearms except pistols and restricted weapons owned by people such as collectors.”, but registering firearms users. There was a bit of a change in philosophy. I guess over time these things have to occur. The most recent amendments came after the tragic Aramoana massacre. We know that in 1990 there was that unfortunate event in our history, but, in turn, it provided another opportunity for us as a country to look at our firearms legislation.

I found really interesting one of the fun facts that our research people were able to find out for us. During the debate on the 1992 amendment to the Arms Act, the Labour Opposition considered that the balance was not struck properly between the safety of the public and the ability of reasonable users of firearms to pursue their work or sport without unnecessary restriction. Many speeches in the House stated that there was no legitimate sporting use for any military-style semi-automatics and that they should be completely banned. Now we are obviously in another place in our history where we have an opportunity to debate that fact.

I will reiterate the background to the legislation and why Labour will support it. The Government has asserted that police estimates indicate that there could be up to one incident a week where a member of the public presents an airgun that looks like a real pistol, military-style semi-automatic, or restricted weapon, requiring an armed police response and sometimes involving our armed offenders squads. I was fortunate a couple of weeks ago to go out with the police in Manurewa. I know what a sterling job they do, and we support any measure that ensures their safety and the safety of all New Zealanders. It is a good opportunity for us to assess again the relevance of our firearms legislation and whether it is protecting New Zealanders, whilst at the same time ensuring that those who use firearms are able to do so and that their liberties are not at all compromised.

I also note that the change to the definition of military-style semi-automatics is necessary, it seems, because of the 2010 High Court decision in Lincoln v New Zealand Police, which created uncertainty as to whether some semi-automatic firearms were military-style semi-automatics. The bill provides us with an opportunity as a country to debate that definition and to be very clear about what is and what is not a military-style semi-automatic so that there is no ambiguity, and, again, to ensure that our police and the people who are there to serve and protect our communities have the powers and tools they need to do their jobs. Under the current law, a semi-automatic firearm in a sporting configuration is not considered a military-style semi-automatic. Therefore, those with firearms licences can own and use them without the need for an additional endorsement from the police as is the case with military-style semi-automatics.

I hope to be on the select committee considering the bill and I look forward to the engagement with members of the community whom this legislation is relevant to. Kia ora. Thank you.

SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) : It is a pleasure to rise and speak on the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill. I would like to follow on from the Minister of Justice and indicate that my knowledge on this issue is extensive, just as his clearly is.

I look forward to the submission process in the Law and Order Committee, because, clearly, when we set out on a well-meaning path with new legislation, there will always be some unintended consequences that the wisdom of the House tonight may not be able to filter out. I hope that those who participate in gun clubs and sporting activities using firearms, and who understand the ramifications of the bill—particularly to do with military-style semi-automatic - type arms and the more powerful airguns today, which have become a major feature in some crimes in recent times—will take part in that submission process. I myself have been surprised to learn of the power of some of those more modern guns. I look forward to that matter being debated in the select committee, and await the submissions with great interest.

It is also interesting to note that the bill is attempting to define a military-style or military firearm - type risk, as opposed to the risk from a gun that might be used as a sporting gun.

  • Debate interrupted.
  • The House adjourned at 10 p.m.