Questions and Answers – 26 August 2010

by admin on Thursday, August 26, 2010 — 11:45 PM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Economic Recovery—Reports; Unemployment Beneficiaries—Increase from July 2008; District Health Boards—Health Targets; Blood-alcohol Limit—Alcohol and other drug use in New Zealand drivers 2004-2009; Broadband Roll-out—Rural Initiative …
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Economic Recovery—Reports

1. PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the nature of New Zealand’s economic recovery?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The New Zealand economy is growing again. Real GDP grew by 1.5 percent in the 6 months to March 2010, and annual growth could reach 3 percent this year. However, it has become clear over recent months that the recovery is patchy, due to the uncertain global environment and because New Zealanders are being careful with their spending and paying down debt from a large splurge in spending from 2007 onwards. As a result, because the recovery is not being led by an increase in domestic spending in the housing market, it will need to be led by growth in the export sector, which was severely damaged under the last Government.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What are the benefits to the economy of a export-led recovery?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is vital that we rebalance our economy towards growth from the export sector. Too much of our growth over the last 4 or 5 years has come from people borrowing too much, speculating in the housing market, and that being reinforced by a splurge in Government spending. As a lot of Kiwis have found out, that is not a recipe for sustainable jobs, so an export-led recovery is required to rebalance the economy.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: Has he seen any recent indicators of export performance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. The early signs are that the economy is rebalancing. First, it is evident that New Zealanders are being careful with their consumption and that they are not rushing back to the housing market, either. On the other hand, higher export prices have driven a 6 percent jump in the terms of trade in the March 2010 quarter, which is the largest quarterly rise since 1976. The seasonally adjusted trade balance for the June 2010 quarter was a surplus of $389 million, which is the second surplus in a row and is the first time that that has happened since December 2001. Although commodity prices have slipped back slightly in June, they remain 47 percent higher than a year ago and near the record highs they hit in March this year. The indicators for export-led growth are promising.

Hon David Cunliffe: What aspect of the Prime Minister’s figures that showed that the wage gap with Australia had increased by $23 caused him to spend the last 3 weeks remassaging statistics to come up with something even more far-fetched?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The figures we have been using are based on the statistics that are used to calculate national superannuation. So, if the previous Government was deceiving superannuitants for 9 years, I would be very surprised. There is general agreement on the wage numbers that are used as the basis for national superannuation; those are the numbers we have been using. I invite the

Opposition to make the case that they are wrong, because 600,000 older New Zealanders would be keen to hear about that.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What was the cost to hard-working New Zealanders of allowing these imbalances to build up?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The cost to hard-working New Zealanders of the economic management of the last Government has, for too many of them, been that they have lost their jobs. Unemployment reached over 7 percent because too many of the jobs were based on excessive Government spending and excessive borrowing. They were not real, sustainable jobs. We now have the job of getting through a recovery, which will be quite a challenge, and creating real, new jobs.

Hon David Cunliffe: What new policies has the Minister announced in the last 3 weeks to create jobs, and would the 159,000 unemployed Kiwis appreciate that he spent that time remassaging figures rather than coming up with an economic plan to get them a job?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The most significant new policy that has come out recently has been the increase in GST and the reduction in income taxes. I have been interested in the Labour Party’s position, which is now to abandon the tax cuts and provide an exemption for rates for GST. I invite those members to campaign across the country on that policy.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not Labour policy to provide an exemption on GST for rates. The Minister well knows it. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon David Cunliffe: Deliberately misleading the House—against the Standing Orders.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will not interject while I am on my feet. I accept the cause for grievance, and the Minister should not be alleging that Opposition parties have certain policies. That is not within the Minister’s responsibility.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Does the Minister agree that for every dollar the Government spends, the average New Zealander has 1 less dollar in his or her pocket; if so, why did he allow public sector spending to increase from 46.4 to 50.4, or 4 percent of GDP, in the 12 months ended 30 June 2009—an amount of $8,400 million?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Where we would agree with the member is that excessive Government spending when there is too much of it can limit our capacity for growth, because it keeps resources in the less productive Government sector when they should be in the more productive tradables and export sector. However, this Government has chosen considered and consistent change over time, rather than rapidly executed restructuring. We believe that that is the right balance, but we are always open to the discussion with our supporters from the ACT Party.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table linked employer-employee data from the June 2009 quarter, which show that the number of people employed shrank in the year to March 2009 and the year to June 2009.

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.

Unemployment Beneficiaries—Increase from July 2008

2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social

Development and Employment: How many more people were receiving an unemployment benefit in July 2010 than in July 2008?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Due to a combination of the global recession and poor economic performance from 2000 to 2009, 42,513 more people were receiving the unemployment benefit in July 2010 than in July 2008.

Hon Annette King: Why did she wait 18 days to release to the Parliamentary Library the full summary of benefit figures for July; and was the reason for this that between July 2009 and July

2010, under her stewardship, 18,000 more people received a main benefit, 6,800 more received an unemployment benefit, over 400 more received an emergency benefit, the number receiving the independent youth benefit rose by almost 30 percent, and the number receiving the unemployment benefit student hardship rose by almost 85 percent?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I suppose I just question where the member has been for the last 2 years. This country has been going through the remnants of a global recession, and—

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think I even need to say what it is.

Mr SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate the point of order. The question asked why the Minister delayed releasing to the Parliamentary Library, if I recollect it correctly, certain benefit data. It then asked whether that was because of certain figures. The Minister can choose to answer either part of that question, but she should answer one part of the question.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I can assure the House that on average we have been more transparent than the previous Government was. Those numbers have been sent to the Parliamentary Library sooner than they were under the previous Government, and that is something I insisted on when I first became the Minister. Turning to the increases that the member mentions, it should be no surprise that we are going through tough times. There are people who are looking for work and are unable to get jobs. During some of the best times between 2000 and 2009, we could have upskilled young people so that they could get into sustainable jobs, and we could have supported businesses more so that they were creating employment for people. Now we have a big job to do in turning the situation round.

Tim Macindoe: How many new vacancies were listed with Work and Income in July 2010, compared with July 2008?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: In July 2008 there were just 2,496 new vacancies. In July 2009 that figure nearly doubled to 4,000, but in July 2010 a total of 5,116 new jobs came into Work and Income.

Hon Annette King: Why did she publicly release all monthly benefit figures to the Parliamentary Library in March, April, and May this year just 1 or 2 days after her press releases, but waited 16 days in June and 18 days in July, releasing them on a Friday afternoon, and why are they still not on the Ministry of Social Development website for all New Zealanders to see?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I have pointed out, we have been more transparent than the previous Government ever was in terms of making that information available. The member probably does not realise, because she spent so long as a Minister, that she has to do some of the work herself to find the information she might need. Reading the papers that come through might be useful, and then she might get the information that she is looking for.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you heard my question, and it was pretty straightforward. She did not answer any part of it.

Mr SPEAKER: The member asked a question, indeed, and as I tried to listen to the question it was extraordinarily difficult to hear, because of the interjections from the member’s own colleagues. It was very noisy, and the Hon David Cunliffe knows exactly how much noise he was making. From what I could discern of what the Minister said, she did answer the question. The question asked why she did something, and there is never a precise answer to that, but I think the Minister did answer that question.

Hon Annette King: Is the reason she recently delayed the release of all monthly benefit figures explained in the headlines of her monthly press releases, given that in March she said “Benefit numbers decrease as expected”, in April she said “Unemployment rate falls”, in May she said “Benefit numbers remain below forecast”, in June she just said “Benefit figures released”, and finally in July she said “Benefit figures rise”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Those sound to me like very honest press releases. They were put out in a timely manner and are there for everyone to read.

Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table the March, April, May, June, and July benefit numbers, which were released only to the Parliamentary Library, and have to be requested. They are not available to the public.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to release that information. It is alleged that the information is not generally available to the public. Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Annette King: Has she seen the media release from Statistics New Zealand that was released this morning, showing the annual decrease in actual jobs filled since the series began in 1999, and is that why she disagreed with the Prime Minister about New Zealand “aggressively” coming out of the recession?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I have seen that press release. However, I have also seen a report recently that said from 1987 to 1990, under the watch of Phil Goff and Annette King, the number of people on the unemployment benefit rose from 40,000 to a whopping 150,000—

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Clearly, it is desperation when the Minister, instead of answering—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The member will resume his seat. He cannot start a point of order by accusing another member of an act of desperation. That has nothing to do with order. I will be very courteous to the member and listen, as long as it is a point of order.

Hon David Cunliffe: It goes to the issue of misrepresentation. Rather than the Minister responding directly to the question that the member raised, she is instead going back several generations to a time probably before she was born—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The member will resume his seat. I extended to him the courtesy of listening to a point of order that was not a point of order, and that was my own silly mistake.

Jacinda Ardern: What initiatives has her Government specifically designed for the more than 41,000 young people who are not in training, education, or employment, and who are not on an unemployment benefit; how many young people does the Minister estimate those initiatives will assist?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: To be clear, the primary question actually asked about the unemployment benefit, and now the member is mixing that up with the household labour force survey—as she often does. To be clear, on the unemployment benefit—

Mr SPEAKER: That is not helpful to the order of the House. I must admit that I heard what seemed to me to be a rather different question, so because I am now a little confused about it I will invite Jacinda Ardern to repeat her question.

Jacinda Ardern: What initiatives has her Government specifically designed for the more than 41,000 young people who are not in training, education, or employment, and who are not on an unemployment benefit; how many young people does the Minister estimate those initiatives will assist?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I quite proudly stand up on behalf of this Government and talk about the Youth Guarantee that the Minister of Education has introduced, and about the difference that that is making for those young people. I would like to talk about Youth Training, and how that programme is being turned round. We are seeing it go more directly to those young people who need it. I also stand up on the Training Opportunities Programme, which this Government has spent a lot of time on—

Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked whether she could give the number that that initiative would assist.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no—I do not need any assistance on this one. The member, perhaps unwisely, asked about the initiatives that the Minister has implemented to deal with those numbers—

Hon PAULA BENNETT: What new initiatives.

Jacinda Ardern: Specific.

Mr SPEAKER: —members should not exchange interjections—and the Minister answered on exactly that. She outlined the initiatives that she has been pursuing to deal with that issue. She does not have to cover all aspects of the supplementary question that was asked.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: May I finish my answer, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER: I think we have heard enough.

Jacinda Ardern: How many young people will the initiatives that the Minister has just named assist?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have been specifically looking at 16 and 17-year-olds as being a key focus for this Government. I cannot give the member the exact number, because there are so many that we are reaching for with that focus. We saw, for the ten years in the early 2000s, that the Government was not even identifying who or where those young people were, let alone providing services for them—

Mr SPEAKER: The House is being very noisy and it is very hard to hear, but I believe that the member asked a commendably direct question. I do not think that it contained any political statement. If I recollect the question correctly, it was about how many young people have been assisted by the initiatives that the Minister outlined in her answer to the previous supplementary question. I fully accept that the Minister may not have that information, given the primary question, but I think the House deserves to hear the answer. If the Minister does not have the information, that is fair enough.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not have the exact number, but I will say many, many, many. I would like to add, though—and I think that the Opposition will be interested in this—that we need to recognise that those young people were not even looked for through the early 2000s. No one looked for where they were or worked out how to get to them, in order to put them into the right kinds of services. That has been something that this Government has been concentrating on and putting a lot of effort behind.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To support your previous ruling that the Minister should attempt to give an answer in response to a very straight and succinct question—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no—the member is going on far too long; that is not a point of order. The member will resume his seat. The Minister acknowledged that she did not have that particular information, and one has to accept that that is not unreasonable, given the primary question. The primary question asked how many more people were receiving an unemployment benefit. The supplementary question had moved beyond that. It did relate to unemployed people, but it related to employment initiatives for young people. It is understandable that the Minister may not have that particular information with her in the House, given the primary question. I think it was a perfectly reasonable answer. As for what followed it, though, I confess that with all the noise in the House, I could not hear exactly what followed that.

Catherine Delahunty: Tēnā koutou katoa. How many people, if any, have been stood down from receiving an unemployment benefit after having their employment ended during a 90-day trial?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not have that number in front of me. It certainly has not been coming up.

District Health Boards—Health Targets

3. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received related to district health boards delivering on the Government’s six health targets?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I have received a report that shows that after 1 full year since launching the Government’s top six health targets, real progress is being made in all six targets. In relation to immunisation, the goal was for 85 percent of 2-year-olds to be immunised by

July this year. I am pleased to advise that the number of 2-year-olds fully immunised has risen from 81 percent this time last year to 87 percent of 2-year-olds being fully immunised at the end of June this year.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Can the Minister advise what the year-end results have been for the remaining health targets?

Hon TONY RYALL: Emergency departments are seeing more people faster. In the last year the number of patients admitted, discharged, or transferred from an emergency department within 6 hours has jumped to 87 percent. Stand-outs include Hawke’s Bay, up 19 percent; Waitematā and Capital and Coast, up 13 percent; and Waikato, up 16 percent. On the target of cancer radiation treatment within 6 weeks, district health boards achieved the standard for 99 percent of patients, a major improvement on the last quarter. The number of people given help to quit smoking has risen from 17 percent to 57 percent, and the percentage of patients receiving better diabetes and cardiovascular services has also risen. These targets show that patients are getting better front-line services.

Hon Ruth Dyson: How many of the health targets does the Minister expect Capital and Coast District Health Board to fail to meet next year, given that the chief executive has just resigned, citing more cuts to front-line health services?

Hon TONY RYALL: I expect Capital and Coast District Health Board to continue to do well in the health targets, reflecting the additional $57 million that this Government has put into that district health board. One of the real improvements is that the emergency department is seeing more people faster than it ever was under the Government of that failed party opposite.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister believe that the health sector could have done even better with the greater involvement of the private sector; if so, what plans, if any, does he have under way to make greater use of private provision in health? [Interruption]

Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, that is a very good question. Private hospitals are delivering up to nearly 10 percent of total elective surgery, and the smarter use of the private sector has actually helped us reduce the cardiac surgery waiting list quite significantly. Of course, the private sector has made a very strong contribution to immunisation rates, because primary care is mainly in the private sector, and one thing the Opposition does not like to know is that the private sector has played a very important role in making sure that 99 percent of cancer patients could get their radiation treatment within 6 weeks.

Blood-alcohol Limit—Alcohol and other drug use in New Zealand drivers 2004-2009

4. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Has he read the report Alcohol and other drug use in New Zealand drivers 2004-2009 by Environmental Science and Research Ltd prepared for New Zealand Police; if so, is he aware that it contains data showing the number of fatalities for drivers with a blood-alcohol level above 50 mg but below 80 mg/100ml?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Yes, I have. An interim version of the report was cited in the Safer Journeys document released in March of this year. The report tested drivers killed in accidents over that period whose blood samples were sent to Environmental Science and Research Ltd, and it showed that 21 of them, or four per year, had an alcohol level of between .05 and .08. That number is actually surprisingly small, and is one of the numbers used by opponents of a change. However, it does not include the road toll impact of drivers with an alcohol level of between .05 and .08 who survive their accidents. That data is not complete because there is no law allowing police to collect that information. That is the very reason why more comprehensive research is required, and why we are changing the law to allow this research to take place.

Hon Darren Hughes: Why did he allow—commendably, on his part—New Zealand research like the report we are mentioning here today to act on drug-driving, but not allow New Zealand research like this to lower the alcohol limit for driving?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Because, as I just explained to the member, the research is incomplete. That research provides information on people who have fatal accidents and are fatally injured themselves, but it does not provide information on the wider issue of the number of people with an alcohol level of between .05 and .08 who are involved in an accident. We cannot legally currently collect that data.

Hon Darren Hughes: Has he met or asked to meet Dr Helen Poulsen, who wrote the report for Environmental Science and Research Ltd and the police this year, a report that is clearly research using New Zealand data about New Zealand drivers on New Zealand roads?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have not sought to meet the researcher. I have read the information, and the information is quite clear. It provides good information on drivers who are fatally injured in accidents. But, as I keep repeating to the member—and I can say it as often as he would like me to say it—the reality is that we do not have research on drivers who survive accidents and have bloodalcohol levels between .05 and .08. According to this report, the number of people killed in accidents with those levels of alcohol in their blood is roughly four per year.

Hon Darren Hughes: Is it still his position that 64 percent public support for lowering the alcohol limit for driving is not enough, and that he needs it to be 75 percent before he would support my bill to act on this issue, as he said on radio recently?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Once again, it is quite hard to take the criticism from the other side of the House, particularly given the long list of things we are doing in this area.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In my questions today and on previous days I have worked very hard to stay clear of party politics and all the usual things we do in questions. All I have asked the Minister is whether it is still his position that 64 percent is not enough and that 75 percent is necessary, as he said on radio. I do not think it is reasonable that I, having gone to some effort to keep a partisan nature out of the questions, get answers like that.

Mr SPEAKER: I am sure the Minister will come quickly to the question asked.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said, it is hard to take that criticism, because of the 9 years of inactivity on this matter from members on the other side of the House. The point is that there needs, firstly, to be a clear understanding of the harm being caused by drivers with blood-alcohol levels of between .05 and .08, and no matter how many times the member asks that question, data is not available on drivers with those levels who survive accidents. Secondly, lowering the alcohol limit does require broad public support. All the measures we have taken, and there is a significant number—the cellphone rule change, the illegal street racing legislation, the decision to raise the driving age to 16, the drug-driving legislation, the nil-alcohol limit for recidivist drink-drivers and young drivers—

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Indeed, I have congratulated the Minister on some of those initiatives, but I am not any clearer on whether it is his position that there needs to be 75 percent public support before he will support this measure, as he said on radio. That is the question I am asking him. Is it the position of the Government that opinion polls have to show 75 percent support for lowering the alcohol limit for drivers before he will support my bill?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister indicated that it would need a high level of support. I accept that he may not have exactly confirmed that it would need 75 percent support, but I cannot force a Minister to confirm something like that. The member has asked his question, the Minister has given his position, and I cannot force him to answer beyond that on that question. People can draw their own conclusions as to whether a high level of support reaches that point. I do not think it is reasonable for the Speaker to try to force the Minister to answer beyond that.

Broadband Roll-out—Rural Initiative Progress

5. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister for Communications and

Information Technology: What announcement has he made today on the rural broadband initiative?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): The Government today issued the request for proposals for the Rural Broadband Initiative, which close on 12 November 2010. The Government intends to sign a heads of agreement before the end of the year, which will lead to new fibre being laid in the ground in rural areas shortly thereafter. With our approach, I am confident that we will achieve our target of 80 percent of rural households and businesses having access to broadband services of at least 5 megabits per second, and the remaining 20 percent on at least 1 megabit per second, within the 6-year period of the policy. This will be a vast improvement in Internet experience for rural households.

John Hayes: Why did the Government decide to take a national approach rather than a regional approach?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The expressions of interest informed that decision. We are now seeking national coverage proposals rather than regional proposals. It is clear that a range of national infrastructure companies will be able to meet the Government’s rural broadband objectives. In addition, they have the financial backing to guarantee their proposal nationwide. It is also evident that although regional bidders were able to make a significant impact on broadband coverage in rural areas, they would fall short of achieving the Government’s target for coverage.

Clare Curran: How will the now national Rural Broadband Initiative fit the regional structure of 33 local fibre companies proposed for the urban ultra-fast broadband initiative, and does he now see that as coming with one national supplier, too?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: To answer the second part first, no, not necessarily. The reality is that the ultra-fast broadband—

Clare Curran: Which one?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, we have always said that it may be or it may not be. The reality is that the two initiatives are separate. They are proceeding separately under two separate processes. I am quite confident that they will knit together in much the same way that lines companies do in the electricity sector.

Education, National Standards—Support of Trustees

6. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statement in relation to the implementation of the national standards “The Trustees, who govern schools on behalf of communities and parents, were extremely supportive”?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Yes.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did she read all letters and emails she received from trustees between 2 July 2009 and 13 May 2010 on the national standards issue?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Yes. I get a lot of emails and letters into my office. I attempt to read all of them.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table a letter from Lorraine Kerr of the New Zealand School Trustees Association, complaining of the Minister not reading a briefing letter on national standards.

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.

Louise Upston: What reports has the Minister seen from boards of trustees about national standards?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have seen one report from a school board that said “We believe that parents have a fundamental right to receive information regarding the progress of their child through the school.” This Government agrees with it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: What has lead her to believe that boards of trustees are extremely supportive of national standards, when of the 51 letters and emails she received and released earlier this month only one was supportive?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: If one takes a quote out of context it does not always work. The quote in the primary question related to a press release I made after attending the national conference of the New Zealand School Trustees Association. I can tell members that its members were extremely supportive of national standards. I know, because I was there and that member was not.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she feel that she has misled the public in claiming trustees are supportive of national standards, when less than 2 percent of the correspondence she has received from trustees is supportive of national standards, and she has publicly interpreted that as trustees being extremely supportive?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No. As I say, at the annual conference of the New Zealand School Trustees Association, the president of that association, who along with her executive has been extremely supportive of national standards, got a standing ovation. That was a very good sign that the 600 representatives at that conference were supportive of the executive’s stance.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Which of the following comments about national standards that she has received from members of boards of trustees led her to believe that they are extremely supportive of those standards: “We hold grave concerns.”, “National standards will stifle student and teacher creativity.”, “It is my opinion that this project would be best dropped.”, “I wish to formally state my concerns against the proposed national standards.”, or “We have decided we will not be implementing national standards at out school.”; which of that representative sample of the correspondence to her from trustees, 96 percent of which expressed opposition, led her to believe that trustees are extremely supportive?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Those individual boards and individual members have every right to hold an opinion about anything that a Government or an Opposition does. However, boards of trustees are Crown entities and they have to obey the law of a democratically elected Government. If they do not, there are consequences.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table the entire correspondence that the Minister has received from trustees, which she released to me under the Official Information Act, and which indicates that 96 percent of the boards that have corresponded with her are opposed to the standards.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection. I call Rahui Katene.

Rahui Katene: Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have called Rahui Katene. She is towards the back of the House and I want to hear her supplementary question.

Rahui Katene: What involvement has there been with boards of trustees of kura kaupapa Māori and kura-ā-iwi about ngā whanaketanga rūmaki Māori—Māori medium national standards—and what feedback has there been from those trustees?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Consultation and information gathering about ngā whanaketanga were based on 14 regional hui. These were held from March to May of this year, and offered an opportunity for iwi, families, whānau, teachers, and school leaders—including boards of trustees— to provide feedback on the standards. More than 800 participants attended and feedback was received through both oral and written media. The third source of information is ongoing, in-depth engagement from March to December of this year with the sector, including boards of trustees from 42 schools with Māori medium settings. Most of the feedback, I understand, has been extremely positive and constructive.

Alcohol Law Reform—Police, Fire Service, and Defence Force Bars

7. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Why are the police, Fire Service, and Defence Force bars exempt from liquor licensing requirements?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: The exemptions for police, Fire Service, and Defence Force bars under the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 arose as a result of the hours, location, and nature of those jobs. All three agencies have their own internal processes and controls to manage the sale, supply, and consumption of alcohol on their premises, in a way that the Law Commission report noted emulated the rules set down by the Sale of Liquor Act.

Sue Kedgley: Does he agree with the police commissioner that “officers should face the same rules as everyone else”, and that “If you are going to show some leadership around this issue then you should subject yourself to the same rules as everyone else has.”?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The short answer is to refer to what I said in my primary answer— namely, that these conditions are set out in the current Sale of Liquor Act because the conditions under which those bars operate are in many senses parallel to the conditions in the Act. But the Government has made it clear that it is more than happy for the select committee to give some consideration to this issue, and if it feels that the view adopted by the Commissioner of Police should be adopted in respect of the police and the other agencies, this Parliament can give some thought to that matter when the bill comes back to the House.

Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that exempting the police, the Fire Service, and the Defence Force from liquor laws creates a perception of unfairness and the impression that they are above the law?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I need to make the point again that it is not a question of their being exempted from the laws; they have their own procedures, which actually follow very closely the law that is in place. As I say, when the select committee has the legislation before it, and gives consideration to this matter and receives submissions upon it, it may well come to a different view. I point out to the House that there are currently only some 28 police bars throughout New Zealand, and no new police bars have been put in place since 2005. So I suspect that in many instances the matter is taking care of itself.

Rahui Katene: Is the liquor licensing exemption for the police, Fire Service, and Defence Force consistent with the decision made by the Minister of Corrections to exempt prison officers from the policy to ban tobacco in prisons? What is the rationale behind awarding special privileges to these officials to exclude them from policy reform in alcohol and tobacco control?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I limit my response to the second part of the question. I think I have explained the rationale, which is that these particular categories—the police, Fire Service, and armed forces bars—operate in a manner akin to that set out for other premises as laid down in the Sale of Liquor Act. That means that, as a consequence, they operate in virtually the same way as every other outlet.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that “our experience is that the they”—the police—“drink responsibly.”; if so, is he aware of the series of wellpublicised cases of police being convicted of driving while drunk after drinking for many hours in police bars? Does he agree that this behaviour undermines respect for the police and their ability to uphold the law, especially the enforcement of liquor laws?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am aware of the Prime Minister’s statement. I am aware of the facts and the number of cases that the member is referring to. I make the observation that those cases probably fall in proportion to the level of cases in general society, and I also point out that the penalties that offending officers receive often involve loss of employment—far more significant consequences than elsewhere. I think the public can have confidence that, by and large, the police and the emergency services operate to the highest of professional standards, and that their activities are not alcohol-impaired.

Sue Kedgley: Can he confirm that if police, defence, and Fire Service bars are exempt from the requirements of the Sale of Liquor Act they will be able to supply liquor at any time of the day or night, including to intoxicated people, and will be exempt from the requirement of all other bars in New Zealand to promote the responsible use of alcohol?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I cannot confirm the exact nature of the member’s question. In all my experience of working with those groups, they make a very high priority of ensuring that they promote responsible use of alcohol. They take very strict and dim views of their members who infringe in that regard, and I have no reason to believe that that is about to change in the future.

Sue Kedgley: Why does the Government believe it is important that Parliament should lead by example and give up its exemption, but police, who enforce the law, should not?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I think the situations are somewhat different. There has been a rather unusual focus on Parliament’s behaviour over the years. Parliament has decided that, given the fact that we have one bar here, which is open for only a limited number of hours each night, it is probably just as well to put it under the general licensing provisions. I do not think we can draw conclusions from that decision in respect of those other agencies.

Consumer Affairs, Minister—Statement

8. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs: Does he stand by his statement that he is “eager to continue making it easier for businesses and consumers to deal confidently in a fair market place” at the Member Forum for Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner Scheme DVD launch yesterday?

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN (Minister of Consumer Affairs): Yes.

Charles Chauvel: How does the Minister think that the Electricity Industry Bill, which he praised in his speech yesterday, will make it “easier for businesses and consumers to deal confidently in a fair marketplace”, when under that bill his Government will remove consumer and renewable energy representatives from their current positions on industry regulatory bodies?

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: When I attended the launch yesterday I was impressed by the commissioners and staff of the gas and electricity complaints tribunal. I doubt whether the changes made in the Electricity Industry Bill, which has recently passed through Parliament, will in any way negate from the benefit of that tribunal.

Charles Chauvel: How does he think that the Electricity Industry Bill will make it “easier for businesses and consumers to deal confidently in a fair market place”, when our largest generator, Meridian Energy, would not say yesterday how much prices would rise by when the freeze ends in October, and when energy consultant Bryan Leyland says the system makes consumers pay four times as much per year, without great benefit?

Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN: Let me repeat that having spoken with the chief commissioner of the complaints tribunal yesterday, I have no doubt whatsoever that the tribunal is well resourced, has capable staff, and will do a very good job.


9. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Corrections: What reports has she received about the rate of escapes from New Zealand prisons?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections): I am very pleased to report that the rate of escapes from New Zealand prisons has dropped to the lowest level the department has ever recorded. Over the past financial year there have been three escapes from places of custodial control, and six “walk-aways”, when low-security prisoners have walked away from supervision or escaped while being escorted. This compares with 12 escapes in 2008-09, and 23 in the previous year—

Hon Tony Ryall: How many?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: —23 when Mr Goff was the Minister. It is particularly impressive when one takes into account that the prison population is now at its highest ever level. The No. 1 priority of the Department of Corrections is keeping the public safe from our most difficult and dangerous people. I congratulate the department on its excellent effort.

Melissa Lee: Can the Minister explain the reasons behind the record low number of escapes, apart from the fact that she is a fantastic Minister?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am not sure about the last bit of the question; I think I will deal with just the first part. The Department of Corrections has taken a comprehensive range of steps to ensure that prisoners remain safely behind bars. More sophisticated perimeter fencing, new detection and surveillance systems, improved intelligence, and single points of entry into our prisons have all helped achieve this new record. The department has also brought in a new security classification system, which has tightened the criteria that a prisoner must meet to be considered for employment in a work party outside the prison perimeter. This will further boost the department’s efforts to ensure that prisoners remain safely under lock and key. So well done to the Department of Corrections!

Dr Cam Calder: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Even though the Minister was speaking very clearly and enunciating beautifully, and is sitting only about 3 yards away from me, I could not hear her.

Mr SPEAKER: I am sure that the member could hear her perfectly adequately. I think the member is trifling with me and wants to hear the answer given again, but I think the House heard it perfectly well. I am surprised there are no more questions on the matter, given the last supplementary question.

Employment, 90-day Trial Period—Work and Income Policy

10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does she agree with the Minister of Labour, who, when asked about someone on the unemployment benefit being referred by Work and Income to a job with a 90-day trial period, said “If they do not want to avail themselves of that job opportunity and that trial period then they do not have to”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): In context, yes. We cannot force anyone to take a job.

Darien Fenton: Would it be possible for Work and Income to cut that person’s benefit if they did not want to avail themselves of a trial period, in which an employee can be fired within 90 days, with no reason given and no right to an unjustified dismissal claim?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The guidelines on this are very clear, and I quote from the Work and Income website: “A person claiming unemployment benefit is required to be actively seeking fulltime work. If an employer offered suitable employment that requires an employment trial in the agreement or contract, that employment is treated the same as any other suitable employment.”

Darien Fenton: How voluntary is the 90-day trial period for someone referred to a job by Work and Income, considering that its policy allows it to cut that person’s benefit if he or she does not take the job?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We want to see New Zealanders in work. Just in the last week or two I have heard members from the other side saying that more than 2,000 New Zealanders lined up for jobs at a supermarket. I think that tells us that they do want to work, and they want to step up and take every opportunity they possibly can, and we certainly support them in that. New Zealanders would see this policy as very fair.

Darien Fenton: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked how voluntary the 90- day period is, and I did not get anything near an answer to that question.

Mr SPEAKER: To be quite honest, I thought the member’s question was answered in the previous answer given, and that the member, in her further supplementary question, was asking for exactly what the Minister had just told her. I think the member has already received the answer. It is not as though she has not received the answer.

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 the employee was dismissed for misconduct reasons, even though the employee cannot test the validity of that dismissal through an unjustifiable dismissal claim?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The guidelines on that are fairly clear. The only time there is a standdown period within the 90 days—if there is a trial period—is if Work and Income feels it has evidence of fraud or serious misconduct. If Work and Income does not have evidence of that, then it issues the unemployment benefit. If that evidence comes to light later because the police prosecute or for some other reason, then Work and Income can insist that the unemployment benefit that the person received during that period be paid back.

Work and Income—Services for Senior Citizens

11. HEKIA PARATA (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How is Work and Income delivering services to seniors more effectively?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): We have been working hard to streamline services for our senior citizens: for example, enhancing our senior citizens call centre operations. Previously all senior services operated on different opening hours, which was confusing, time-consuming, and just plain inefficient. The new service line will operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on 0800 552 002.

Hekia Parata: How else are services for seniors improving?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Online services are becoming increasingly available. From April this year seniors have been able to apply online for their superannuation. Already, around 4,000 clients a month apply online, which is about 10 percent. Seniors are the fastest-growing group when it comes to being savvy with information technology, and we want to make sure they have access to that sort of service.

H V Ross Robertson: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Can the Minister then tell the House how these administration changes really assist senior citizens, the majority of whom are on fixed incomes, to meet the rapidly rising costs of electricity, rates, and other household costs that have already outstripped the proposed small rise in superannuation that was intended to offset the Government’s increase in GST?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I do know for a fact is that the cost of electricity increased dramatically under the previous Government and it has not increased by anywhere near that amount under this Government, so it has obviously been of benefit for those on superannuation to have the National Government presenting them, because previously we saw their costs going up exponentially. But there are efficiencies in services. There is access to the help that those senior citizens need, and I certainly suggest that they contact us on the 0800 number that I have already mentioned.

Employment—Workplace Access for Union Representatives

12. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What situations would be defined as unreasonably withholding consent by an employer under her proposed changes to workers having access to their union in the workplace?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: The draft of the bill does not actually specify those situations. The reason is that the Employment Relations Act 2000 provides guidance as to what is reasonable, as stipulated, particularly, in section 21 of the Act, which deals with conditions relating to access to workplaces. There is also a body of case law on these issues, which provides further guidance to parties about what might be considered to be unreasonable access.

Carol Beaumont: How much consideration did she give to her department’s advice that the current law is working, before proposing to make changes?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: There are two points here. The first point is that the Government is fulfilling a campaign commitment to New Zealanders, and it is worth reminding the member who

asked the question that therefore 45 percent of New Zealanders voted for this policy. Secondly, the Minister has had reports of union representatives stopping customers from coming into the workplace, disrupting customers in the workplace, and tying up workers for hours of productive time. That led to the conclusion that it was absolutely imperative to fulfil our campaign commitments.

Carol Beaumont: Does she stand by her statement in regard to restricting the right of employees to invite union representatives into the workplace: “The benefits, while symbolically significant, are likely to be marginal in practice”; if so, why is she pushing this policy?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: There are two reasons. One reason is that we are fulfilling our commitments to the New Zealanders who voted for us on this issue, amongst other issues. The second reason is that 10 cases over the past 10 years have gone to the Employment Relations Authority or the Employment Court—and in one instance, the case proceeded to the Court of Appeal—on precisely this issue.

Carol Beaumont: How will her Government’s plans to restrict employees from organising in unions help to reduce the wage gap with Australia by 2025?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: Employees are not restricted from joining unions and, frankly, this issue has no relevance to closing that gap. In fact, it will make workplaces more productive and more efficient.


Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2)—Submissions

1. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial

Relations Committee: What is the deadline for submissions to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2)?

DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): The deadline for submissions on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2) is 13 September.

Darien Fenton: Was that deadline set before or after the bill passed its first reading and was referred to the select committee?

Mr SPEAKER: I call David Bennett, if he has the answer to that question.

DAVID BENNETT: The bill was referred to the committee on 19 August, and the committee made a decision informally to open submissions after that time.

Holidays Amendment Bill—Submissions

2. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial

Relations Committee: What is the deadline for submissions to the Holidays Amendment Bill?

DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): The deadline for submissions on the Holidays Amendment Bill is 17 September.

Darien Fenton: Was that deadline set before or after this bill passed its first reading and was referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee?

DAVID BENNETT: The bill was referred to the committee on 24 August, and the committee informally agreed that it would have submissions until 17 September.

Land Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment Bill—Submissions

3. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial

Relations Committee: What is the timeline for submissions on the Land Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment Bill?

DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East): The timeline for submissions on the Land Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment Bill is a matter that the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee has yet to decide.

Hon Darren Hughes: Has the committee resolved to hear any submissions on this bill to raise the driving age, which was introduced under the previous Labour Government in 2007, before the bill is due to be reported back on Christmas Eve?

DAVID BENNETT: The committee has yet to determine any time frame for submissions.


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