Questions and Answers – 18 August 2010

by admin on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 — 5:00 AM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Economy—Reports; Recession—Prime Minister’s Statements; Foreshore and Seabed Act Review—Extent of Customary Title; Savings, Compulsory—Prime Minister’s Statements; Internet, Child Safety—Police Initiatives
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)





1. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I mentioned yesterday a report that showed that in the 9 years from September 1999 to September 2008, real after-tax wages in New Zealand grew by only 3 percent in total. I thought that number must be wrong, and I asked my office to check it. The figure is correct. But in fact almost all of that growth happened in the first 4 years of the period. In the last 5 years, from September 2003 to September 2008, there was essentially no growth in real after-tax wages in New Zealand.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have repeatedly brought up with you the issue of the sound system. It clicked in then, so I am now echoing back upon myself. It is very easy to hear comments from the other side of the House, and there is nothing wrong with that, but it was not easy to hear the Minister’s comments. There is something seriously wrong here that needs to be sorted out. It is quite unfair to members at the present time.

Hon Trevor Mallard: It might be something to do with the balance, because the system seemed to be working when comments were coming in our direction. The problem might be just comments coming back to members on that side.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not believe we need to take further time on this right now. But let me apologise to all members. I am not happy with the performance of the sound system. Members will recollect that we gave permission for sound technicians to be present on the floor of the House to make tests and conduct an analysis of what is wrong with the sound system. Those technicians are coming back in September, next month, to make further adjustments to the sound system, following the problems that they detected from their work here. I do apologise in the meantime for the inadequate performance of the sound system.

Amy Adams: What were some of the reasons for real after-tax income increases being so low in the 9 years to 2008?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: One reason was that annual inflation was frequently running at above 3 percent. In fact, by September 2008 annual inflation had reached 5.1 percent, without any pressure from an increase in GST. The other reason is that right through those 9 years to September 2008 there were no tax cuts, which meant that people on the average wage were paying an increasing proportion of their wage in tax.

Amy Adams: What measures has the Government taken to increase New Zealanders’ after-tax incomes and boost economic growth?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, the two of those go together: measures that boost economic growth will ultimately boost after-tax incomes. In Budget 2010 the Government announced across18 Aug 2010 Questions for Oral Answer Page 2 of 14 the-board personal income tax cuts. These will help families by leaving more cash in their pockets, giving them stronger incentives to get ahead. The average household, after it has paid the increased GST, will be $25 per week better off.

Amy Adams: How will the tax package on 1 October improve New Zealanders’ incomes?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It certainly will, if only because the Government will be collecting less revenue from GST than it will be paying out in income tax cuts. For example, the average household income is $76,000 a year, and those households will receive a weekly tax cut of $46. Even if they spend every last dollar aside from their housing costs, they will pay extra GST of $21. This will leave them $25 a week better off. A wage worker on the average wage of about $50,000 a year will be around $15 a week better off. A typical couple on New Zealand superannuation, with a fixed income, will receive a tax cut and compensation worth $22 a week, and pay about $11 a week more in GST, so they will be $11 a week better off.

Recession—Prime Minister’s Statements

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he still believe that New Zealand is coming out of recession “reasonably aggressively”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and I will make three points. The first is that it would be worth reading out my full quote. Although I said: “I think actually starting to come out of it reasonably aggressively,” I then went on to say: “I’m more optimistic about 2011 than 2010 but nevertheless I think 2010 will be positive.” That statement was right. Secondly, it proves that I am better at economic forecasting than the Leader of the Opposition, who at exactly the same time I was making that statement was predicting that growth this year would be 6 percent, which is actually wrong. Maybe the most important point is that the economy has actually grown more in the last 6 months than it did in the entire last 4 years. That is what I define as “reasonably aggressively”.

Hon Phil Goff: If New Zealand were coming out of recession reasonably aggressively this year, as the Prime Minister predicted, how does he explain the dramatic increase of more than 20,000 additional New Zealanders unemployed in the last quarter, when he told the country that unemployment would be coming down?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Unemployment is always a lagging indicator, not a leading indicator. [Interruption] The member was a Minister of Labour and if he wants me to quote some of the statements he made at that time, I am more than happy to. The second point is that average unemployment is lower.

Hon Phil Goff: How is his claim that this year the country would be coming aggressively out of recession consistent with the fact that last month 2,700 people—2,700—lined up for 150 jobs at the Mount Roskill New World supermarket?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My answer is that I did not make that statement.

Hon Phil Goff: If the New Zealand economy is recovering, as the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance repeatedly claim, how does he explain the surge in business liquidations and receiverships and the record number of mortgagee sales for domestic homeowners over recent months?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: A picture speaks a thousand words, so let us look at this picture. This is a sign of the economy, and this is the enormous recession that we have had. Members will note that the recession we inherited from the previous Labour Government was deeper than anything we saw in the 1990s. We are a good Government, but even we struggle when we have to inherit the mess we got from the previous Government.

Hon Phil Goff: If the Prime Minister is so confident that he is closing the gap with Australia and that the economy is recovering, how does he explain the comment by major construction suppliers and by major retailers in the last 24 hours that the situation today and in the last couple of months is the worst that they have seen in 20 years?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I will say a couple of things. Firstly, one of the things that the Government has been doing is running an enormous cash deficit in the order of $8 to $10 billion. The vast bulk of that deficit is going into things like infrastructure support. If it was not for the Government spending so much in that area, the construction sector would be worse. Secondly, in terms of retail, I think the member may find that he is inaccurate. He should go and check his facts, because the last time I looked retail sales were not as weak as they were 20 years ago.

Hon Phil Goff: If the Prime Minister is so confident that he is closing the gaps and that he is getting the economy to recover, how does he explain that after the high level of confidence at the start of this year, in the last 3 months the business surveys by the major banks in New Zealand have shown that each month confidence has gone down because of inaction by his Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The only thing the Leader of the Opposition is proving this afternoon is that he does not know anything about economics. Firstly, unemployment is a lagging factor—

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My questions have been quite consistent, quite clear, and quite straightforward. They do not require personal abuse from the Prime Minister; they require an answer.

Mr SPEAKER: I ask the House to settle down a little. I think that the question was reasonably clear about how the Prime Minister would explain changes in business confidence. When someone is asked how they would explain something there is a fair bit of latitude around the answer, but the Prime Minister’s answer should related to the question.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member thinks that that was personal abuse, I should introduce him to Pete Hodgson and Trevor Mallard. Anyway—

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

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. I say to National members on this occasion that just because they do not like the fact that a member has called a point of order, that is no excuse to carry on like that. Their only good fortune was that so many were involved that I could not pick on any one of them. I will now hear the point of order from the Hon Trevor Mallard.

Hon Trevor Mallard: It is a relatively simple point of order. The member has been here for some time. He should know that when you have ruled, Mr Speaker, no comment is made on that ruling. In a funny way, I am not very unhappy, because it shows that the pressure is getting to them.

Mr SPEAKER: No—[Interruption] I have just told National members that when a point of order is being heard they are to be silent. The fact that the member making the point of order had strayed outside the Standing Orders with his last comment is no excuse for the error to be compounded by other members carrying on the way they just have. I tell the House that it will come to order or some members will be getting an early shower—I make that very clear. I will not tolerate some of the noise that was in the House yesterday. Having said that, the Hon Trevor Mallard was perfectly in order at the start of his point of order, and the Rt Hon Prime Minister should not make those kinds of comments after the Speaker has just given a ruling. However, the honourable member then deviated from what is allowed under points of order. I guess I have to allow that on this occasion both sides deviated equally. Therefore that is where the matter will rest, but I ask the Rt Hon Prime Minister not to do that again. I invite the honourable Leader of the Opposition to repeat the question, because it has been so long since the House heard it.

Hon Phil Goff: If the gap with Australia is closing and the economy is recovering, why is it that after high business confidence at the start of this year, in each of three successive business surveys, month after month, the level of confidence is going down because of inaction by his Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I do not think business would see this Government as inactive. Certainly that flavour came through the mood of the boardroom when David Cunliffe forgot to turn up. But moving right along, one of the reasons why business confidence surveys move around is that they are an expectation of what activity will be like. Business confidence was extremely low

when we were at minus 3.1 percent—the conditions we inherited from a Labour Government. Of course, the figures will move around a bit but overall business confidence is still positive.

Hon Phil Goff: If the gap with Australia is closing, as he and his fellow Ministers have claimed, how does he explain the fact that in June the level of New Zealanders leaving for Australia was up 50 percent on the same period last year?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are a couple of things. To put the member’s mind at rest, I say that the gap with Australia is definitely closing, so it is not a matter of “if”. If he wants to pop up for a coffee I will take him through the numbers, and I can take him through a few others. Migration will move around a lot, but the last time I looked at it, I saw that the number of people leaving for Australia under this Government is about half the number who left under the Labour Government. Does that not say it all?

Foreshore and Seabed Act Review—Extent of Customary Title

3. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Attorney-General: Are iwi and hapū who gain ownership of the foreshore and seabed by negotiation with the Government likely to gain a title with greater or different rights from those granted by the courts?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): No. Let me say, though, that the member referred to “ownership” in his question. I think it is important to emphasise that we are talking about customary title, which is not to be equated with a freehold title, or a fee simple title. Customary title holders will not be able to exclude the public or sell the foreshore and seabed. Where customary title can be proved, it will sit alongside the public space rights of free, public access, fishing, navigation, and existing use rights. Customary title does not exclude these guaranteed public rights.

David Garrett: Will iwi whose claims for customary title of the foreshore and seabed are turned down by the courts be able subsequently to gain ownership or customary title of the foreshore and seabed through negotiations with the Crown?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I would have thought that in most cases it would be the other way round: iwi or hapū would seek to negotiate with the Crown and if they were dissatisfied they would commence proceedings.

David Garrett: Who will gain a greater degree of ownership and a greater area of ownership: iwi who claim through the courts or iwi who claim through negotiations with the Crown?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: All issues as to where customary title will be granted, be it negotiations or through the courts, are intensely factual questions and cannot be answered in the abstract as the member asks me to do.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Is the Minister aware that the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, James Anaya, in his recent visit to New Zealand recommended a new legislative arrangement that “avoids any discriminatory effects and establishes measures to recognize and protect rights” of iwi over the foreshore and seabed; and what progress has been made in achieving this?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, the Government is addressing the extinguishment of legal and other rights caused by the 2004 Act, while protecting public access, fishing, and navigation rights so that all New Zealanders can enjoy our beaches.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he agree with Ngāti Porou chairman, Dr Apirana Māhuika, that the comments of the Coastal Coalition, a lobby group opposed to Māori claiming customary title to parts of the foreshore and seabed, is “right-wing anti-Māori invective”; and what response, if any, will the Government make to its campaign of what iwi describe as ill-informed scaremongering?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I always prefer not to get into personalities but rather to take a principled approach to these issues. That has always been my style. Those issues are ensuring public access to the foreshore and seabed, ensuring access to justice for all New Zealanders, and respecting everyone’s property rights.

Savings, Compulsory—Prime Minister’s Statements

4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with all of the Prime Minister’s statements on compulsory savings?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does he, then, agree with the Prime Minister that “KiwiSaver shouldn’t be made compulsory” because it “goes against the National Party grain”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member will be aware that the Government is likely to establish a working group on savings, which will look at a range of issues, KiwiSaver among them. It is quite important that we understand that New Zealand needs to improve its national savings. The Prime Minister has always been a strong advocate of that point of view.

Hon David Cunliffe: Will the terms of reference for the Minister’s savings working group reflect his statement that “Forget it. We’re not doing compulsory super; we’re not talking up incentives.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member will have to wait and see what the terms of reference are, but they will follow the practice that this Government has followed on important issues, which is to have a very open policy process where all points of view can be aired. In the end, the Government will make some considered and very well-balanced decisions aimed at improving our economic performance.

Hon David Cunliffe: Translated, does that mean that this is simply another U-turn after those on the financial hub, mining schedule 4 land, and overseas investment; and when will the Government instead present a real plan for an economy struggling with rising unemployment and falling business confidence?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. What it means is that the Government is taking seriously the longterm effort that will be required to deal with the habitual problem New Zealand has had of low levels of national savings, which were made considerably worse by the damage done by Labour’s mismanagement in its last 3 or 4 years in office.

Hon David Cunliffe: Is the Minister saying that National does, in fact, not have a policy, and that it is a “blank sheet”, or is his policy simply to destroy the savings advances made by the previous Government, like KiwiSaver and the pre-funding of New Zealand superannuation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The Government is indicating that on this substantial issue it has already taken a significant step with its tax changes in the 2010 Budget, which are designed to reduce the incentive to consume too much and to borrow to pay for it. The indications are that New Zealand households, at least, are changing their ways and increasing their savings rate. The next step is to see whether we can push further in the same direction.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: Why is it necessary to lift national savings?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the most obvious reason is that we now owe $170 billion to overseas lenders. Over the next 4 or 5 years it is projected to reach $250 billion, which in American numbers is a quarter of a trillion dollars. That is a very large liability, and we need to turn it round. One way we can turn it round is to lift levels of national savings.

Internet, Child Safety—Police Initiatives

5. HEKIA PARATA (National) to the Minister of Police: What actions are being taken by the police to protect New Zealand children from exploitation via the Internet?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): I am pleased to report that a specialist team in the New Zealand Police called OCEANZ, which is short for Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand, is producing excellent results in its work to spare children from abuse by online predators. The squad was formed in October last year to coordinate international operations into online paedophile networks, and to identify and rescue victims of abuse. It also targets those who produce images of abuse for financial gain. The team has already rescued six children from current sex abuse settings, safeguarded a further 25 children from potential sexual abuse, and identified another

two victims from images seized during its investigations. The team’s work has also led to an offender in the UK being arrested for extremely serious offences.

Hekia Parata: What other agencies are the police working with to protect children from exploitation by online predators?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The OCEANZ squad is working closely with its New Zealand partners in the Department of Internal Affairs and the Customs Service. In addition, the police have just joined the Virtual Global Taskforce. The task force is made up of law enforcement agencies from around the world, working together to fight child abuse online. This will strengthen the efforts being conducted on an international scale to break online paedophile networks, and to protect and rescue children from abuse.

Neurosurgery Services—South Island

6. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Health: Will he take the final decision on the future configuration of South Island neurosurgery services if wide consensus cannot be reached; if not, why not?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but I say to the Labour Party front bench on this occasion that one of their colleagues asked a perfectly fair question on which there is considerable public interest. Before the Minister could say a word in answer there were numerous interjections from the Labour front bench. I ask members on the Labour front bench to please be a little more reasonable so that I do not have to force them to be a little more reasonable. I do not want to have to do that.

Hon TONY RYALL: This is a hypothetical question. As the member well knows, all of the South Island district health boards agreed to ask the Director-General of Health to arbitrate on the best configuration of neurosurgical services for the South Island, and the director-general has set up an expert panel to advise him on the matter.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Is the Minister aware that the Acting Director-General of Health has stated publicly that the final decision is the acting director-general’s to make, not the Minister’s; if so, does he agree or disagree?

Hon TONY RYALL: It is correct that all of the South Island district health boards have asked the Director-General of Health to arbitrate the decision on the configuration of neurosurgical services, which indicates that they will stand by that decision. The challenges facing neurosurgery in Dunedin have a long history. The Dunedin unit had three neurosurgeons until October 2006, when one of the three neurosurgeons resigned. There was a further resignation in early 2008, then the sole remaining neurosurgeon resigned just before the election to move to Christchurch. Dunedin has maintained its service by using locums and the support of Christchurch.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you believe that the question has been addressed. I remind you that I am seeking the Minister’s advice as to whether his acting director-general is correct or not correct in asserting publicly that it is the acting directorgeneral’s final decision to make, not the Minister’s.

Mr SPEAKER: I believe that the Minister did in his answer say that he understood that the decision of the director-general would be accepted by the district health boards. I believe that that is a reasonable answer to the question.

Hon Pete Hodgson: In the event of wide consensus not being reached on the future configuration of neurosurgical services in the South Island, is it his intention to take the issue to Cabinet at any point?

Hon TONY RYALL: That is a hypothetical question. The district health boards have inherited a situation whereby Dunedin has lost three neurosurgeons in 3 years. The district health boards are now looking at, and have agreed on, a whole-of-the-South-Island service, and a panel has been established to advise the director-general, who has been asked to arbitrate. I think that everybody in

this process would want to ensure that there is a safe and reliable service for the people of Otago, Southland, and the rest of the South Island.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Is he therefore leaving open the possibility that a final decision on the future configuration of neurosurgical services in the South Island may be made by an unelected official; if so, what does that say about his accountability?

Hon TONY RYALL: As that member would know, wherever a decision is made in the public health service, and by whomever, the Minister of Health always has to stand up in Parliament and give an answer. But let us be clear here: the South Island district health boards cannot agree on how the service should be configured, and the doctors cannot agree on how the service should be configured, so they have asked the director-general to arbitrate and make that decision on their behalf.

Hon Pete Hodgson: How is the Minister able to consider himself an accountable Minister, when perfectly reasonable media inquiries to his office are deflected routinely to officials, when countless communications to his office have gone unanswered, and when he declines to become involved in one of the most important decisions his portfolio faces?

Hon TONY RYALL: This is indeed an important matter, because when that member was a Minister three neurosurgeons left the service in Dunedin. We have got to a situation where Dunedin is relying on locums and support from Christchurch. The district health boards have now agreed they should have a whole-of-the-South-Island service, but they cannot agree on how it should be configured, the doctors cannot agree, so they have asked the director-general to arbitrate on their behalf.

Climate Change—Effect on Weather

7. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he expect that climate change will result in an increase in extreme weather events such as floods; if so, what steps is he taking to prepare for such an increase?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Climate Change Issues): Yes, but I caution against ascribing a particular flooding event to human-induced climate change, as did the member’s statements at the weekend about the Bay of Plenty floods. Extreme weather events have long been part of nature’s processes, and it is not scientifically robust to assign any particular event to being the result of human-induced climate change. The steps the Government is taking to help New Zealand adapt to climate change include publishing the documents Preparing for coastal change, published in March 2009, and Preparing for future flooding, published by the Ministry for the Environment in May this year.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the World Meteorological Organization and the global insurer Munich Ri that the unprecedented level of extreme weather events around the globe is part of a trend that can be fully explained only by climate change?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The advice I have received from Dr David Wratt, who is the head of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and its chief climate scientist, is that in the New Zealand context there is not sufficient evidence of the increased frequency of storm events for it to be assigned to human-induced climate change. However, at a global level there is a likelihood of the link, albeit the connection between the change in the chemical composition of the atmosphere and temperature is stronger than it is for extreme weather events because, quite simply, our record of extreme weather events is not as extensive.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he believe there is a vast global conspiracy between the scientific community, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Meteorological Organization, the insurance industry, and NIWA to fake the numbers on climate change, or are such beliefs held by newer members of the executive?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No. However, I caution that the sorts of extreme statements that have been made by the member, such as that the Bay of Plenty flood was a consequence of climate

change, are not scientifically robust. When we are presenting the scientific information about climate change, we need to present it in a balanced way, which is exactly the way this Government is doing so.

Dr Russel Norman: Will he provide directions to local government organisations that they must take climate change – related weather events into account when drawing up district and regional plans, to properly prepare for more floods, more droughts, and sea level rise, as are expected as a result of climate change?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The document that was published by the ministry this year, Preparing for future flooding, provides exactly the sort of robust advice that local authorities need for dealing with climate change. I am interested that the Green member is inviting the Government to provide direction. As a practical civil engineer who has done work, for instance, in designing stormwater systems, I caution the member that the level of robustness about the projections for climate change is not sufficient to be used directly in the design of such facilities. They have relevance, and that is why we provide guidance. I think that that is the responsible approach.

Dr Russel Norman: Which is the least-cost option for New Zealand: giving local councils the option of planning or not planning for climate change in an ad hoc way through such guidance documents, or providing direction through a national policy statement on climate change adaptation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: My view is that the guidance that we have provided for local authorities in this very document is exactly the sort of practical information that engineers and others working in local authorities need to adapt to climate change. But I question the member on the idea that some national policy direction on climate change will somehow assist when there remains quite a lot of uncertainty at a regional level. In my own community of Nelson, for example, exactly how the climate in Nelson will be affected by climate change does not have a level of definitiveness that would justify a national policy statement.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that, just like with leaky buildings, taxpayers and ratepayers will foot the bill if some councils do not plan for climate change and sign off on new housing in areas that may become flooded, and that the much cheaper option is to provide some clear national direction so that all councils prepare for climate change – related extreme weather events?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government is providing very clear direction to local authorities. That is what is provided in this very document, which this forward-thinking Government provided for local authorities in May of this year. That is what it is—

Dr Russel Norman: It’s guidance.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member interjects that it is guidance. I stress to the member that the idea that there is absolute factual information that will enable us to direct local authorities simply does not exist.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he believe that central government should direct local government to take a precautionary approach to the extreme weather events that could result from human-induced climate change or not?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I do. That is why the Government has provided the material for—

Dr Russel Norman: It’s a guidance document.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member seems to have got carried away with the fact that our document refers to guidance. The member seems to ignore the simple fact that one cannot provide more than guidance. For instance, NIWA provides scenarios about what might happen with climate change and the sea level in any part of New Zealand. I ask how one can provide definitive direction when that work is based on scenarios.

Income Gap, Parity with Australia—Interim Milestones

8. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he agree that New Zealanders wish to see measurable interim milestones between now and 2025 to

achieve pay parity with Australia, so as to assess whether the Government is making any progress on this goal?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development): As I clearly told the member yesterday, I have no ministerial responsibility for the establishment of milestones in this regard. I do not agree with the member’s insistence that I do have such responsibility, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to give any other answer to this question than the one I have given.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, when the Minister replied in that way, it was possibly fair enough, because it was in reply to a supplementary question. This is a question on notice, and the responsibility on the Minister is that if another Minister has responsibility for that area—if any other Minister does and he does not—then it is his responsibility to transfer the question, not just to deny responsibility when the question comes up.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: If you look at the question, you will see that it began with “Does he agree …”. That asks for an opinion. I explained to Mr Parker that I am the wrong Minister to ask that opinion of, but he clearly links it to questions that he has asked in the past. I do not think it is unreasonable for me to assume that he might have a cunning supplementary question that would extract, perhaps, further information on the portfolio responsibilities that I have.

Mr SPEAKER: This is an interesting issue of order, and that is why I am hearing senior members on it.

Hon Rodney Hide: The primary responsibility for deciding to whom a question should be addressed lies with the member of Parliament who lodges the question, so it is quite important that members take care to ask it of the right Minister. It is then up to the Minister as to whether to transfer the question. If the fact of the matter is that the Opposition asks it of an inappropriate Minister, it is perfectly within order for the Minister to answer the question by saying “You have the wrong one.”

Hon Trevor Mallard: I am digging back now into the recesses of my memory, but you will find a ruling from, I think, Mr Speaker Burke, or possibly Mr Speaker Wall. It probably does not appear within the Speakers’ Rulings that you have there, but it was made when a National member asked a question of the Hon Stanley Rodger in a similar way. Mr Rodger answered in a very similar way to the way that Mr Brownlee has answered now, and the ruling was that the Minister, if he did not have responsibility, should have transferred the question to the Minister who did have it.

Mr SPEAKER: I beg the indulgence of the House while I consider this matter, because an interesting issue has arisen. The reason why it is important is that it would be unacceptable for the answering of questions to be avoided simply through allowing a Minister who is not responsible to have the question lodged in his or her name, then come to the House and say it is not his or her responsibility, and for that to be the end of the matter. I have been exploring Speakers’ Rulings while the Hon Trevor Mallard was talking just now, and I note that the matter has arisen previously. There is no question about that, and I refer members to Speaker’s ruling 145/6, which states: “Where a Minister indicates a question is outside his or her area of portfolio responsibility, or challenges its validity, acceptance of the question must be reconsidered. In order to save a question for a member, the Clerk’s Office may negotiate rewording of the question. This will of necessity involve some give and take.” That describes a situation that is not possible today, because the Clerk’s Office has not had the opportunity to do that. I think all that I can do for the time being, given that this situation has arisen today, is to ask that where a Minister feels there is no responsibility in his or her portfolio area in relation to a question put to him or her, that Minister should seek to have the question transferred. I think it is not unreasonable to ask that. Otherwise the dilemma is that questions will be lost, because the only people who ultimately know who has responsibility for particular matters are Ministers. We cannot necessarily expect members who lodge questions to know with certainty which Minister has responsibility. Today we have to let this matter go, and the member David Parker will have to pursue his question as best he can, but I ask that in the future when a Minister feels a primary question is not in his or her area of responsibility,

that Minister should have the question transferred to the appropriate Minister. I think that is only reasonable. I am prepared to consider the matter further, if members disagree with that.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate the ruling you have given, but I ask you to consider the dilemma. The question asked “Does he agree that New Zealanders wish to see …”, etc. Mr Parker could have asked that of any Minister. Questions need to be more specifically directed to Ministers and their portfolios. Question time is the Opposition’s opportunity to question the Government, not to have a broad speculation about what might be the wish of New Zealanders.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: I do not think I need further help on this matter, but I will hear the Hon Trevor Mallard.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I have here the third edition of McGee, and on page 559 it states: “A Minister is under an obligation to transfer a question to the appropriate Minister if it has been misdirected. It is not satisfactory to reply to a question by saying that it should have been directed to another Minister. If that is so, the Minister should have arranged its transfer in the first place.” It refers to Hansard, Volume 483, at page 224, which could well, given the timing of it, relate to the incident involving Stanley Rodger to which I referred earlier.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Hon Trevor Mallard for that. He has basically confirmed what I was putting to the House, which is that on the basis of my quick reading of Speakers’ Rulings and what is logical around this matter, it would be unreasonable for the executive to be able to avoid answering questions if they were not transferred to the appropriate Minister. I will come back to the point raised by the Hon Gerry Brownlee. The honourable Minister seems to be saying he is not arguing that the entire question is outside his area of responsibility. The fact that he is being asked for an opinion as to whether he agrees with what New Zealanders might wish to see does not put the question outside his area of responsibility, because Ministers can be asked for opinions these days. In the old days, they could not be, but these days, under the current Standing Orders, Ministers can be asked for opinions. The substance of the question is whether there should be measurable interim milestones between now and 2025 in respect of achieving pay parity with Australia. If that matter is within the Minister’s portfolio responsibility, then the question is within his responsibility, and it is not for me to rule on that.

Hon David Parker: I seek leave of the House to instead put supplementary questions to the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection. The House has been very good in considering a very interesting point of order. Let us not wreck it now.

Hon David Parker: How can his Government’s refusal to provide any milestones between now and its 2025 target date be reconciled with Steven Joyce’s statement that “The Government does not dodge its milestones”?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Every year the Government produces a Budget. The Budget is a comprehensive document. It is delivered by the Minister of Finance. It has the Budget speech, the Fiscal Strategy Report, and the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update. New Zealanders and commentators are quite capable of taking the information that they may require from those documents.

Hon David Parker: Is the real reason that his Government is refusing to be held accountable for achieving any milestone between now and 2025 that they show Bernard Hickey to be right when he recently said: “We are losing a whole generation of workers before our eyes and our government appears to be sitting on its hands hoping the problem will go away.”?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No. But I invite the member to look at the appalling statistics of the previous Labour Government between 1999 and 2008, when there was an absolute flight of talent from this country out of fear of what his Government was doing to young people.

Hon David Parker: Is the real reason that there are no milestones—not one—between now and 2025 that National will stand up to be judged on that National has no credible plan to meet its election promise to close the wage gap?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No. It will not matter how often David Parker likes to sit in the back of the car and scream “When will we get there?”; the fact is that the Government does have an agenda. We have taxation reform. We have investment in infrastructure, roads, and ultra-fast broadband. We have a research and development package, reform of the labour market, electricity market reform, developing skills and education, cutting red tape and regulation—

Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I imagine that the point of order being raised by Catherine Delahunty is that she cannot hear. I say to the House that is totally unreasonable. The member who asked the question challenged whether the Government had a credible plan to achieve closure of the gap. As the Minister who was answering the question sought to outline the Government’s plan in that regard, I could not hear what he was saying. If the member asks a question about a credible plan, we ought to hear the answer about the credible plan. I invite the Hon Gerry Brownlee to carry on with that answer.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government does have a credible plan. It involves a number of initiatives, which include taxation reform, and investment in broadband and infrastructure like roads. As well, there is an increased research and development package; reform of the labour market; electricity market reform; developing skills and education; the announcement this week of nine new trade academies; the cutting of red tape and regulation, which is part of an ongoing programme; the trade agreements that Mr Groser is negotiating throughout the world; the reform of the Resource Management Act, which has already had some effect on the economy; the transition to the International Growth Fund for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise; focusing all of the Government’s resources on front-line services; and strengthening the science system with the arrangements that we have made. Mr Speaker, you have invited me to outline the plan, and it is extensive. It is just a shame that Mr Parker does not know more about it.

Hon David Parker: If it is so obvious, why can the Minister not see what is obvious to many, including New Zealand’s largest newspaper the New Zealand Herald when it said of the Government’s economic performance, in a recent editorial: “when relatively little is done, relatively little happens. Things can even go backwards.”?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The New Zealand Herald is well known for having various editorial opinions at various times.

Taxis—Improving Driver Safety

9. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Transport: What actions has the Government taken to improve the safety of taxi drivers?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I announced last week that all taxis in our larger towns and cities will be fitted with security cameras, along with measures to tighten up communications requirements for all taxis around New Zealand. Unfortunately, the working environment for taxi drivers is no longer safe, as it once was. Since December 2008 there have been a number of serious attacks on taxi drivers, and two deaths. These measures will help to enhance the safety of both taxi drivers and their passengers.

Dr Jackie Blue: What support is there for these moves?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In-vehicle cameras are widely supported across the industry, both by Taxi Federation members and by most non-federation companies. Although drivers can never be 100 percent safe, these measures will significantly reduce the risks that drivers face. The available evidence suggests that in-vehicle cameras could reduce crime against taxi drivers by up to 70 percent and taxi fare evasion by a similar amount.

Hon Darren Hughes: Why did he cite Australian evidence as a justification for introducing this policy in a New Zealand setting, when he chooses to ignore Australian evidence for lowering the alcohol limit for driving, as my bill would do?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Because the evidence of the actual harm caused by drivers with a blood-alcohol level of between 0.05 and 0.08 in this country is not available, because a previous Government did not make the legislative change that would have allowed that data to be collected. It is a bit of a joke to hear from the member on that subject, given the previous Government’s incredibly poor record.

Climate Change—Minister’s Statements

10. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he stand by his statements at the Australia – New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference last week?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Climate Change Issues): The conference chair, Gary Taylor, described my speech as one of the highlights of the conference, and commended the New Zealand Government for successfully implementing an emissions trading scheme on 1 July, so I am very pleased to stand by those statements.

Charles Chauvel: Probably not the most riveting conference—

Mr SPEAKER: The member should just ask his question.

Charles Chauvel: Apart from the emissions trading scheme, does the Minister have any plan to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse emissions, apart from the Biodiesel Grants Scheme, which Gerry Brownlee admitted on 22 July was a failure; the electric vehicle user-charge exemption, which only a few vehicles qualify for; and schemes originated under the last Government, like Warm Up New Zealand, subsidies for solar heating, and energy conservation campaigns?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would be very proud to highlight just a few of the complementary measures that the Government has provided through the emissions trading scheme. Let me take the member through a few: 50,000 New Zealand homes have been insulated under a scheme that is being led by Gerry Brownlee; over 5,000 homes have received grants for solar water panels, which is more than was achieved in the 9 years of the last Government; the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, which is led by my colleagues Tim Groser and David Carter; the Biodiesel Grants Scheme; the scheme for electric cars; the grants for marine electric production—I could go on and on, but I do not want to humiliate the member.

Charles Chauvel: Why did the Minister say last week that a national policy statement to incentivise renewable electricity generation is needed by the end of the year, when his Government repealed the renewable preference legislation late in 2008, which just shows that New Zealand has lost 2 years’ worth of valuable progress in this area?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I draw that member’s attention to the record on renewable energy, because in every year that Labour was in Government the proportion of renewable energy dropped—dropped! In fact, the amount of electricity produced from coal more than trebled during the term of the last Government. The measures that were adopted in respect of—

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was all very interesting but this question is about today, about this Government, about the future, not about going back decades— [Interruption]—or whatever it was he was going on about.

Mr SPEAKER: I say to the Hon Tony Ryall, who is normally a well-behaved member in this House, that he must not interject like that when a point of order is being raised. The point of order was a most reasonable point of order. What the Hon Dr Nick Smith had to say was very interesting, but the question asked very particularly about some matters. I invite Charles Chauvel to repeat his question; the Minister obviously did not hear it first time round.

Charles Chauvel: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Why does he say that a national policy statement to incentivise renewable electricity generation is needed by the end of the year, when his Government

repealed the previous Government’s renewable preference legislation late in 2008, which shows that New Zealand has lost 2 years’ worth of valuable progress in this area?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The advice the Government received on coming to office was that the renewal preference clause was a Clayton’s measure that would not work, and that was why the Government repealed it, and that view was held right through the industry that actually has to make the investments in renewal energy. We campaigned on having a national policy statement on renewal energy, because, quite frankly, under the Resource Management Act as it stands it is easier to get resource consent for a thermal-generating station than for a renewable energy one. We are going to change that, and that is why the Government will advance that policy this year.

Nicky Wagner: Has the Minister seen reports of the conference from an Australian business journalist, Ian Hamilton, that “… New Zealand is showing bigger developed nations how it’s done when it comes to tackling greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change.”, and from the Business Spectator, which was equally complimentary; if so, what other feedback did he receive?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have seen those reports and many others that were universally positive about New Zealand’s position on climate change. The only criticism I heard in Sydney at the conference on climate change came from Charles Chauvel, which was a bit off, given the longstanding convention that we keep our domestic politics at home. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Members will please be courteous to the House.

Charles Chauvel: Does the Minister have any plan to reduce agricultural emissions, or will the terms of reference for the review of the emissions trading scheme, which he is shortly to announce, foreshadow an exemption for agriculture from the scheme?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The most important challenge around New Zealand’s agricultural emissions is to find the technologies by which we can efficiently produce food for the world while not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. That is why this Government has invested tens of millions of dollars, and secured the support of a huge number of developed and developing countries to invest in the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. I appreciate the support of the Green Party for that initiative; I have been disappointed that Labour has been opposed to it.

Border Control—SmartGate System

11. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Customs: What reports has he received about the performance of the SmartGate system?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Customs): I bring good news to the House— more good news. Last week the SmartGate automated border clearance processing system processed its 300,000th passenger. This level of uptake highlights how incredibly successful the SmartGate system has been since it was launched just 8 months ago. Over 50 percent of all eligible New Zealand passport holders are now using it. Customs officers are reporting to me that a lot of New Zealanders who do not have an e-passport are saying that they will upgrade their passport early so they can take advantage of SmartGate. My personal favourite, though, is that over 1,300 passengers a week over the age of 60 are enjoying the benefits of SmartGate.

Nikki Kaye: What are the benefits of using SmartGate?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: The benefits of SmartGate are huge. The system makes the arrivals process much quicker and easier for trans-Tasman passengers. I think my second personal favourite is that there is an average processing time through the gates of 22 seconds—22 seconds. We hope to get that better. SmartGate also enables the Customs Service to focus its important resources on higher-risk passengers, and operate more efficiently as the system is progressively introduced across other airports, with Christchurch International Airport to come next month. SmartGate is currently operating for trans-Tasman passengers arriving in Auckland and Wellington, but on 13 October it is Christchurch’s turn.

Employment, 90-day Trial Period—Job Advertisements

12. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Is it her intention that an employer is entitled to advertise a vacancy with a 90-day trial period where an employee can be dismissed with no reason given, as a condition of employment under the current Employment Relations Act?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): It is my expectation that employers should be free to advertise any of the terms and conditions they intend to offer a successful applicant. If a prospective employee agrees to a 90-day trial period and wants to take up that job opportunity, then it is win-win for both.

Darien Fenton: So if an employer is entitled to make as a precondition for employment a 90-day trial period when an employee can be dismissed for no reason given, why did she say in the House 2 weeks ago that unless employees want a trial period they do not have to have one?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: Because that is exactly true. If an employee does not want to have a trial period he or she does not need to have one. It is an opportunity for an employee to get his or her foot in the door and to be given a chance. There are numerous stories of employees taking that opportunity and really enjoying it.

Hon Tau Henare: What reports has the Minister seen of trial periods delivering opportunities to New Zealand?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen a report of a hairdresser in the central North Island who took on somebody who was a bit rough around the edges, whom she would not have hired without the 90-day trial period. Six months on, the employment relationship is working out brilliantly. The employer now has a new hard-working employee, and the employee is learning valuable skills and has a solid career path.

Darien Fenton: When she said in the House 2 weeks ago in relation to jobs advertised with 90- day trial periods as a condition of employment: “clearly it is not compulsory for a prospective employee to apply for that job.”, did that include someone on the unemployment benefit who is referred by Work and Income to a job with a 90-day trial period and told that if he or she does not take that job he or she will lose his or her benefit?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: As I have said before, the trial period is voluntary for prospective employees. If they do not want to avail themselves of that job opportunity and that trial period then they do not have to.

Darien Fenton: Is it possible for an employee who is dismissed under the 90-day trial period to then face a 13-week disqualification period from Work and Income because a case manager believes that he or she was dismissed for misconduct reasons, even though that employee has no way of testing the validity of that dismissal through an unjustifiable dismissal claim?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I do not have responsibility for the Ministry of Social Development. I suggest that that question be redirected to the appropriate Minister.

Darien Fenton: Does she agree that employment law is there to protect against abuse of the inherent inequality of power in employment relationships, as outlined in the Employment Relations Act; if so, why is she allowing those abuses that are occurring under her current 90-day trial period?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I think that the member is making some assumptions. If there have been abuses, why have they not been brought to the attention of the Department of Labour in the last 18 months? In that time the 90-day trial period has been working very, very well.


Content Sourced from
Original url

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: