Questions and Answers – 3 August 2010

by admin on Tuesday, August 3, 2010 — 5:00 AM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Electricity—Generation from Renewable Resources; Income and Employment Gap—Parity with Australia; Economy—Front-line Public Services and Value for Money; Child Abuse—Minister’s Statement
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Electricity—Generation from Renewable Resources

1. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What phased milestones does he have, if any, to achieve his aspirational goal of 90 percent electricity generation from renewable sources by 2025, as stated in his draft energy strategy?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): The questioner fails to recognise that the Government does not determine the investment decisions that will be needed to increase the availability of renewably generated electricity. The Government does, however, set the regulatory and policy environment in which those investment decisions are made. The Government’s changes to the Resource Management Act and the introduction of the emissions trading scheme are significant encouragements to the development of New Zealand’s considerable renewal energy potential. Phased milestones would be possible only if we lived in a command and control – style economy; we do not.

Dr Kennedy Graham: In the context of his regulatory framework for encouraging renewables, how many dollars of new funding has his Government committed to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s Marine Energy Deployment Fund?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Marine Energy Deployment Fund was set up some years ago. It has not been added to, but I can inform the member that I have recently announced a grant to the Chatham Islands that will make a considerable difference to electricity consumption and the price for consumers should it prove successful.

Dr Kennedy Graham: But is it not true that the fund has been cut by a million dollars?

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member but I ask him to repeat his supplementary question. I ask members to remember that it can sometimes be a little hard to hear members at the back of the House.

Dr Kennedy Graham: The Minister commented about an additional component within the fund, but is it not true that the fund as a whole has been cut by a million dollars?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is fair to say that the fund and the concept have been extremely unsuccessful. The number of projects put up that are viable has been extremely low. Yes, there has been a transfer of some money out of that fund to other energy saving activities.

Dr Kennedy Graham: How much of National’s promised $35 million of new funding for solar power has his Government committed to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s solar hot-water programme?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not recall that a dollar amount was ever put on it, but I can tell the member that the Government has moved to continue the $1,000 subsidy for solar hot-water heating. We have further introduced an opportunity for people to get a subsidy for heat pump

heating. We have also made sure that those grants are associated in a dollar amount and measured against the energy efficiency that those appliances can achieve.

Dr Kennedy Graham: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With due regard to the answer, which I appreciate, I point out that the question simply asked how many dollars have been committed. Does he have a figure?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I happy to say that my recollection is—and I will check it and correct it, if necessary, for the member—that it is in the vicinity of $8 million.

Dr Kennedy Graham: In that case, is it not true that there is no new money for renewables, and that New Zealand is therefore no more likely to reach the 90 percent aspirational target within 15 years as it ever was?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, I think that is quite wrong. If one were to look at the number of projects that are currently either consented, awaiting consent, or appealing consent, the total megawatt capacity is some 5,300 megawatts on the books ready to go. Of that, 80 percent is renewable-based generation of electricity.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does the ranking of petroleum and coal development as the No. 1 area of focus in the draft energy strategy, and the pushing back of greenhouse gas emissions as the last area of focus, reflect the Government’s fossil fuel bias; if so, how will New Zealand possibly meet the target of producing 90 percent renewable energy by 2025?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, I can report that in the last year 73 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources. During the period of the Labour Government, the use of thermal fuels tripled. So, no, we think we are on the right track.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does the Minister stand by his statement that the draft energy strategy was revised in order to meet the Government’s economic growth agenda; if so, does that explain why the draft energy strategy has been quoted to be light on detail, to leave a lot to be desired, and to have a scarcity of solid information, because there is no growth agenda?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I cannot believe anyone who had read the document would be able to make that analysis, and I certainly have not seen it.

Income and Employment Gap—Parity with Australia

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: When he said New Zealand would catch up with Australia, has National since it became Government narrowed or widened the gap in average weekly earnings and levels of employment?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Because of the difficulties in comparing data on a consistent basis, last week I asked the Parliamentary Library for its annual series on average weekly earnings, which, I presume, is the same source as for the member’s figures. It shows that between 2008-09 and 2009-10 the weekly wage gap between New Zealand and Australia, if we measure this in absolute dollars, increased slightly from $213 a week to $219 a week. If we measure this as a percentage gap, as we always did in Opposition, it decreased from $30 to $29, and, in fact, it decreased from 35 percent. [Interruption] Well, if the members want to talk about closing the gap, one gap that I know will be closing is the time between when he is—

Mr SPEAKER: Just to assist the honourable Leader of the Opposition, because of that unnecessary additional part to the answer, maybe the Prime Minister might like to answer the bit about levels of employment.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was getting on to that.

Mr SPEAKER: I could not hear it. But if the Prime Minister assures me that he did, then I will accept his word for it.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was getting on to that, but it was just getting a little noisy. None of this takes away from the fact that the average after-tax wage in Australia is now just over $50,000 a year, while in New Zealand it is just over $39,000, and there is a lot of catching up to do. In terms of employment, again, if we use absolute numbers, the difference in employment has widened by

200,000, whereas if we use percentages, the employment rate in New Zealand is actually higher than it is in Australia. As I have said before, catching Australia will never be easy.

Hon Phil Goff: In answering the question last week to the House about average weekly earnings for Australia and New Zealand, why did he not quote the figures for 2008, 2009, and 2010, and own up to the fact that, even on his statistics, since he became Prime Minister the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand has got wider, and not narrower as he promised?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, because it has not. Secondly—

Hon Members: Oh!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, it has not. Secondly, because for 2009-10, I did quote that number in the House last week. Thirdly, if the member is so hopeless that he cannot ask the right question or think on his feet, then it is no wonder that David Cunliffe is—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Phil Goff: How does the Prime Minister explain the Statistics New Zealand figures out today that show that wage increases over the last year have increased at a slower rate than prices have gone up, that they have increased at half the rate that they were increasing at when Labour was in Government 2 years ago, and that they have increased at half the rate of Australian wage increases over the comparable period?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is worth remembering one thing: the parting gift after 9 years of a Labour Government was a recession. That is what New Zealand inherited from those people over there. But if we want to talk about prices, let us do that for a moment. The price of electricity under a Labour Government went up by 72 percent—negligible claims here. Interest rates under a Labour Government went through the roof. The price of petrol under a Labour Government was $2.11 versus $1.75. An emissions trading scheme under a Labour Government was twice as expensive as one under National. I could go on and on—

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called, and no one will go on and on.

Hon Darren Hughes: I know that the Leader of the Opposition in his question made a reference to the previous Government and the record of the previous Government, so there was a fair licence for the Prime Minister to make some comment about that, but we have now got to the point where the Prime Minister is reciting a whole lot of information that is unnecessary to the question. He should get on with the substance of the answer, which is the question that Mr Goff has put to him. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being considered. Regrettably, the question also asked how the Prime Minister explained something, and, of course, how the Prime Minister might explain something is the Prime Minister’s business. But the member is quite right with his point of order. I think we had heard quite enough.

Hon Phil Goff: With unemployment rates in New Zealand under his watch for the first time in more than a decade exceeding the unemployment rates in Australia, does he expect the household labour force survey this week to show an increase or a decrease in New Zealand unemployment at the same time as the Australian unemployment rate has been declining?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not going to make predictions about the household labour force survey, nor is it my job to do so. What I can say is that one way to get employment rates rising and unemployment rates down is to have flexibility in the labour markets. That is something the Leader of the Opposition believes in when he is on Jamie Mackay’s Farming Show, but not when Andrew Little is running the show.

Chris Tremain: What impact will the Government’s income tax cuts on 1 October have on relative after-tax incomes between New Zealand and Australia?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What an excellent question! When the Government’s tax cuts come in on 1 October the gap in after-tax wages between New Zealand and Australia will have narrowed a little since December 2008, factoring in Australia’s tax changes on 1 July. Based on average weekly

ordinary-time earnings, and adjusted for effects like exchange rate changes, New Zealand’s average after-tax income will be about 78 percent of Australia’s, compared with 75.2 percent of Australia’s average after-tax income in December 2008. Tax cuts are just one of the Government’s policies to get faster growth and boost incomes. Other measures include investment in roads, broadband, and electricity; cutting red tape in science and investment; balanced employment law reform; Resource Management Act reforms; more money for tourism; aquaculture reforms; trade negotiations; and controlling debt.

Hon Phil Goff: Does he expect inflation in New Zealand over the next year to peak at a level of price increases more than double that of Australia; and is that because he is pushing up consumption taxes to 50 percent higher than consumption taxes in Australia?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, as we know, there will be a rise in inflation, caused in the first instance by a rise in GST. But of course the Reserve Bank Governor looks through that so that will have no impact. But I might add that inflation under this Government’s watch has been about half of what it was under the previous Government’s watch. Of course, one way to get inflation to go through the roof is to spend money like there is no tomorrow. That is what the previous Government did.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister confirm that this sheet showing what appears on the National Party website today under the heading “Building the Recovery” is totally blank, and that that is an uncharacteristically honest reflection of National’s plans and thinking in this area?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but I can confirm that it shows the number of people who have signed up their support for Phil Goff as Labour’s leader.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister have sufficient conviction in the promise he made to New Zealanders that he would close the wage gap with Australia by 2025 by committing to setting benchmarks against which his progress towards that goal can be measured year by year?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are a number of things. Firstly, I stand by the goal of trying to close that wage gap by 2025. Secondly, I stand by the view that it is a very complex thing and will take some time; no one has ever argued that it will happen in one day. I stand by the data produced by the Parliamentary Library, which shows the gap is already closing. But if I could just take one moment, I want to read—

Hon Phil Goff: Before the Prime Minister takes another moment, you will recall that my question is quite specific. It is about whether he would commit himself to benchmarks to measure his progress towards his own objective. He has not touched on that at all.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has repeated his question and reminded the Prime Minister of what he asked about benchmarks. I invite the Rt Hon Prime Minister to answer the question.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I make a challenge to the Leader of the Opposition. I will have benchmarks at exactly the same time as Labour tells us when we will get into the top half of the OECD under Labour’s leadership.

Economy—Front-line Public Services and Value for Money

3. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government making progress with its plan to deliver better front-line public services and ensure better value for money for taxpayers?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is making good progress, starting with a Public Service where, under the last Government, spending was out of control and value for money was not a focus, at all. Since then, we have put the Government’s finances back in order, we have capped the number of State sector bureaucrats, and we have demanded that Government agencies provide more services for less to the public. As part of this process we have over the last two Budgets reallocated $4 billion over a 4-year period from low-cost and ineffective services to higher priorities and more effective front-line services.

Craig Foss: What are the latest steps he has taken to ensure that spending by Government agencies is prudent and contributing to the Government’s priorities?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a very wide range of initiatives, because there is so much to be done, but today the Minister of State Services, Tony Ryall, the Hon Rodney Hide, and I announced a review of spending on policy advice across Government departments and agencies. Between 2002 and 2009, total Government spending on all policy advice jumped by more than 70 percent, from $510 million to $880 million. This growth in policy advice was even faster than the rapid growth in other Government spending during that period. We suspect that some in-depth investigation is needed to ensure that we are getting value for money.

Hon David Cunliffe: Is slashing policy advice the latest in his so-called step change steps for building the recovery that include other great enterprises such as liberalising overseas investment, building a cycleway to nowhere, mining national parks, and catching up with Australia; if so, just how much does he think it will add to economic growth?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the public would regard it as not just responsible but required for this Government to look at the $880 million worth of policy advice that built up under a Government that they regarded as reckless and out of touch and thought should be thrown out of office. That is why we are looking at it.

Craig Foss: Why has the Government announced the review of spending on policy advice?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have announced the review of spending on policy advice because we are mounting an effort right across Government to ensure that we are getting value for money. That effort has included substantial reviews of health, education, accident compensation, and housing. Policy is an area that, as yet, has not had the scrutiny of this Government applied to it, and it is time that we did that, because the previous Government built up the spending on policy to $880 million.

Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that the figure he just used of $880 million came from a search of Budget appropriation data with the word “policy” or “policies” in the title field; is that an indication of the rigour of this review?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, our even asking the question is much more rigorous than anything that ever happened under the previous Government. One of the reasons the public rejected Labour is that Labour believes that every dollar of someone else’s money spent on anything is value for money. Well, that is wrong.

Craig Foss: What trends in public sector spending did this Government inherit, and how has it addressed them?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the 5 years ended 2009 public spending jumped by 50 percent—I repeat, 50 percent—or twice the rate of the increase in Government revenue. In the 9 years ended 2008 the number of people working in the Public Service grew by 50 percent—I repeat, 50 percent—or more than 15,000 people. That growth was almost twice the number of police officers across the country, and was equivalent to three times the total number of people in the New Zealand Army. This Government has decided that kind of growth cannot continue, and we will apply tight scrutiny to all spending.

Grant Robertson: I seek leave to table the terms of reference for the review, which confirm that the Budget increase data was gained by searching on the terms “policy” and—

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.

Child Abuse—Minister’s Statement

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

Development and Employment: Does she stand by her June 2009 statement that stopping “the heinous and incomprehensible abuse of New Zealand’s children” is a priority?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes, I absolutely do. Interestingly, the article that the quote was taken from was about a programme run by the local district health board to reduce shaken baby syndrome. The board had been seeking funding for the programme since 2006. I stepped up and arranged funding for a 3-year pilot, which has been running for a year now.

Hon Annette King: Does she think a $2 million advertising campaign will reduce violence against children, in light of John Key’s comments about another anti-violence campaign that “People who are putting their child in a dryer and turning it on aren’t sitting back watching television and saying ‘Oh gosh, now the government is telling me over the TV it’s not a good idea.’ ”; if she does not agree with the Prime Minister, why would she waste taxpayers’ money on this programme?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am sure that even that member would appreciate that it is an incredibly complex and distressing area. There are some families who the campaign will help; there are others who it will not. It is about raising awareness. I think the previous Government found it a bit difficult and a complex issue. We have taken a number of initiatives, a number of others are coming up shortly, and we are taking steps towards protecting those children who need it most.

Hon Annette King: In response to numerous parliamentary questions, she has claimed “Every day … I invest energy and passion into making a difference in the lives of children and young people, … with a continuing priority on the vulnerable under two year olds.”, but do one small pilot programme, another review committee, and a publicity campaign, which she has said have been the Government’s actions to date, really indicate that this Government is serious about addressing child abuse—something that National when in Opposition said was so easy to fix?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I find it a sad day when we are playing politics with these young people’s lives, and I can assure the House that that was something this party did not do. I will give a bit of an indication of some of the things we have been doing. We have the First Response pilot, which is being run by the New Zealand Police, Child, Youth and Family, and Shine, which is an agency in Auckland. We have 16 Child, Youth and Family social workers in hospitals now, and that is a new initiative introduced since we have been in Government. We have multi-agency discharge meetings for children who have turned up at a hospital abused, to determine what happens to them when they leave. We have data sharing happening between agencies that has never been there before. We have the Auckland District Health Board programme to prevent shaken babies. We also provide respite care for families who are under a lot of duress, to try to give them a break so that they can actually do more. Those are just some of the new initiatives that have been introduced since we have been in Government.

Hon Annette King: If 40,000 child abuse notifications 5 years ago was a national shame, as was said by National in Opposition, what does she call 110,000 notifications at present, a figure that is predicted to rise to 125,000—her own prediction for next year? Does she believe that 9 years in Opposition to develop a policy and 18 months since the election is long enough to put together the Government’s solution to child abuse, or does she now realise that child abuse is a complex and difficult problem, as Labour tried many, many times to point out to National when it was in Opposition?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I will talk about is the fact that at the end of March 2010 Child, Youth and Family had 90 unallocated cases. It is those sorts of numbers that make a difference. Equally, in terms of investigations that are open for over 90 days, in 2005 there were over 5,000 of them and today there are 129—129. As we know, notifications have gone up because the police are reporting any incident of family violence they go to where a child was present. We are seeing

increased awareness by the public, and I encourage that and think it is a good thing. We will step up and take these initiatives, which I think make a difference.

Hon Annette King: Does she agree that a growing underclass—with many people living in poverty, and with many children going to school hungry, being beaten regularly, living in fear of abuse, and living in squalor—contributes to child abuse, as claimed by her Cabinet colleague Judith Collins; is she aware that the number of children living in poverty has increased by over 40,000 since she became the Minister; and when will she put faces to the children who are represented in these statistics?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not think there is any doubt—and I have heard from a number of people who work in this area and take it very seriously that they also think this—that this Government is stepping up to the issues and making some of the hard decisions around it. I find it quite disappointing that Labour members have decided that because there is so much strife and chaos going on in the party they will play politics on this issue today. But I think there is no doubt about it, and there is no one who can identify—

Mr SPEAKER: I ignored the previous instance when the Minister accused the other side of playing politics in asking a question, but it is not on. Members of this House are entitled to ask questions. Ministers do not have to like the questions, but they should not make accusations when questions were genuinely asked. At the same time, I must say that the questions were very long and it was extraordinarily difficult to sort out whether they were being answered. But, certainly, we should not have accusations that in asking a question—[Interruption] I am on my feet. We should not have accusations that members in asking a question are just playing politics.

Katrina Shanks: What has the Government already done to tackle the problem of child abuse and neglect?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am proud to announce that tomorrow the Minister of Police, the Hon Judith Collins, and I will sign a memorandum of understanding between the New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family to ensure a close working relationship in such a critical area. It sits above the new child protection protocol, which specifies how the two agencies will investigate child abuse, and is also on top of the multi-agencies that we have been opening this year.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Is the Minister aware of any initiatives taken by whānau, hapū, iwi, or Māori communities in addressing the issue of child abuse?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. There are a number of initiatives out there. One example that I want to point out today is in Kaikōura, where three women from a local hapū, from Ngāti Kurī, are working with young women on issues of abuse and violence to improve their outcomes. The programme is Te Ara Tika-wāhine Toa, and I have heard absolutely favourable things about it. I think it has the capacity to make a real difference on the ground. I commend those women for their initiative and support them in it.

Foreshore and Seabed Act Review—Access Under Customary Title

5. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Attorney-General: Will he commit to prohibiting Māori owners from charging other New Zealanders for access to beaches; if not, will he at least limit the amount they can charge to $5, the fee currently charged by the Māori owners of Tākou Bay in Northland?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): Access will be free for those areas of public foreshore and seabed where public access is guaranteed. The example the member uses is one of property owners whose land adjoins a beach and who are charging a fee for access over their private property. This Government believes in property rights and we will not be legislating away private property rights whether for high country farmers, Waihī residents who live near the beaches, or the landowners of Tākou Bay.

David Garrett: Leaving aside charges for crossing adjoining land, can the Minister explain what the owners of customary title of foreshore and seabed will be able to charge for and what they will not be able to charge for?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Any iwi or group that has customary title may, for example, be able to charge if someone wants to have a development on their area of customary title. That will be a question that will be worked out between the customary titleholder and the applicant for the particular development.

David Garrett: Does the Attorney-General believe that it should be part of the rights of customary title to foreshore and seabed to be able to charge for access to it?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The member has to understand that there is a distinction between the owner of coastal property and the owner of customary title. I would have thought that member comes from a party that strongly believes in property rights. If someone wants to have access to the foreshore and seabed over private property, there may well be an instance where that person has to be charged for it.

Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We appreciate the statement about property rights, but the question was specifically whether the owners of customary title in the foreshore and seabed, as proposed by the Government’s policy, would be able to charge for access—would they have that right? That question was never addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: What I will do is invite David Garrett to repeat his question to make it clear. One of the reasons I am inviting the member to repeat his question is he did not need to have a lecture about what he should understand in the answer. I invite the member to repeat his question.

David Garrett: Does the Attorney-General believe that it should be part of the rights of customary title over foreshore and seabed to be able to charge for access to it?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Of course, my beliefs are irrelevant; it is what is Government policy. Government policy is that access to the foreshore and seabed, where those areas are in the public domain, will be free.

Health Services—Cuts

6. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Why have there been numerous announcements of health cuts in the last 20 months if, as he said last week, the health budget in the last 20 months has increased by over $1.3 billion?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The member is correct that the health budget has increased by over $1.3 billion in the past two Budgets. We are getting more front-line services. Despite this increase, district health boards still have to prioritise their spending as they have always done. That is why under the previous Government the Feilding maternity centre was closed, home care in Wanganui and Otago was reduced, 30,000 people were culled off waiting lists, and elective surgery was reduced by some district health boards.

Hon Ruth Dyson: If the district health boards are so awash with money, as he says, why are front-line nurses and other health workers in Taihape being forced to take a 10 percent wage cut in order to keep their health centre running?

Hon TONY RYALL: The Government has never claimed that district health boards are awash with cash. The fact is that we are coming out of one of the worst recessions since the 1930s and the Government has been requiring everyone to look for value for money in spending that extra $1.3 billion well. Ōtaihape Health is in serious financial trouble, and an independent report into its future has indentified several things that need to change if it is to continue. It is getting strong support from the Whanganui District Health Board.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Is the option of front-line nurses and other health workers taking a significant cut in their wages an acceptable way for him to keep our health services operating?

Hon TONY RYALL: The Ōtaihape Health Trust is not owned by the Government; it is funded by the Government. The conditions by which people are employed are a matter for the trust.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Given the desire he expressed to Treasury to be a more hands-on Minister, why did he not intervene and appoint a statutory manager to Ōtaihape Health, as proposed to local member of Parliament Simon Power, rather than washing his hands of involvement and allowing the workforce to be forced to take this significant pay cut?

Hon TONY RYALL: I just comment that from that question it is quite clear that the member does not have an appreciation of what was happening at that private organisation, Ōtaihape Health Trust. We know that an arrangement has been reached that should allow services to continue in that community.

Dr Jackie Blue: What reports on front-line services for the thousands of New Zealanders who need access to medicine has he seen?

Hon TONY RYALL: I am able to report that the Government’s $60 million boost to the medicines budget is benefiting over a quarter of a million New Zealanders. Pharmac has used the additional funding for medicines to introduce newly subsidised medicines, including the first Alzheimer’s drug and new diabetes medicines. Access has been widened for patients suffering from conditions including several cardiac and respiratory problems, depression, Crohn’s disease, and severe psoriasis. These patients could not have received access to these subsidised medicines just 2 years ago.

Employment—Proposed Annual Leave Policy Changes

7. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Labour: Why is the Government proposing to allow employees to trade up to 1 week’s holiday for cash?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Employees have been telling us that they would like more choice. They are keen to exchange some of their holidays for extra cash. There are a number of protections in this policy: cashing up the fourth week cannot be discussed when an employee begins his or her employment, and cannot form part of the employment agreement; only employees can initiate a request; and if an employer pressures his or her staff into cashing up leave, he or she must return the relevant holidays to an employee’s leave balance, and the employee gets to keep the extra cash. The Government has been careful to ensure that the decision is freely arrived at by the worker, that the worker is not pressured to do it, and that there are adequate safeguards.

David Bennett: What reports has she seen regarding the Government’s proposal to allow employees to trade the fourth week?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen one report from 20 July from the Hon Phil Goff: “I don’t have huge objections to that, as long as the decision is freely arrived at by the worker, and the worker is not pressured to do it. If you’ve got that safeguard in, then if somebody chooses to do that, then I’m quite relaxed about it.” I have seen a report from Andrew Little from 31 July—the real boss, presumably—announcing that Labour Party policy is now: “There will be no tradability of the fourth week of annual leave.” The very next day Mr Goff denied that he ever supported trading the fourth week.

Mr SPEAKER: The House has heard two reports, and I think that is sufficient at this stage.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that this is really unusual, but our side was really enjoying that. Could you let it go on?

Mr SPEAKER: That is very unlikely.

David Bennett: What feedback has she received from the public on trading the fourth week?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: Workers whom I have spoken to are delighted about the new choice available to them—

Hon Members: Name them.

Hon KATE WILKINSON:—and they want it to happen sooner rather than later.

Mr SPEAKER: I say to honourable members that I realise that all this gets members a little too excited, but I want to be able to hear the answer and I am sure that other members do, too.

Hon KATE WILKINSON: However, they would like to have some clarity about whether the Opposition actually supports this policy, because in July Mr Goff supported tradability, and now in August Mr Goff does not support it and is trying to claim that he never did. I can only ask what—

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility for what Mr Goff may think on this matter.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is she aware that the annual labour cost index, released today, confirms that New Zealand average weekly wages have grown by 1.6 percent over the last year, while Australia’s wages have grown by 3.1 percent; if so, how will introducing yet another tool to drive down wages and conditions help to close the ever-widening wage gap with Australia?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: This is only one small tool in the tool kit that encourages flexibility in the workplace in order to provide economic opportunities and job opportunities for New Zealanders.

Schools, Primary—Reports for Parents

8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that the quality of reporting to parents of primary school children is better than it was last year?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): I have had feedback from parents that indicates that many schools are providing reports to parents that are clearer, contain much information, and are in plain language. Not all schools are meeting the expectations of all parents yet, but it is early days and one would expect this in a bedding-in year.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she stand by her statement with regard to numeracy that one in five school-leavers are in the bottom 20 percent and that that is a disgrace?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: First of all, that statement is not contained in any report around the national standards that goes home to parents. I am not sure exactly where the member got that quote from; I would have to see it. He tends to selectively quote.

Colin King: What reports has she received that suggest parents are receiving higher-quality reports as a result of national standards?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: My office has received a number of emails from parents and teachers thanking the Government for the reports they have received as a result of national standards. One parent stated: “The national standards reports were clear and understandable. They helped us choose parenting strategies that best suit our child. National standards and compassionate treatment of children are not mutually exclusive concepts.”

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she stand by her comments, including those in this weekend’s papers, that she is disappointed that schools were only reporting on reading, writing, and mathematics in the new interim reports; if so, why?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Yes, because parents want to know lots of things that their children are doing at school.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Why, then, did she issue schools with a template interim progress report to parents that showed reporting in reading, writing, and mathematics only?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Because they asked for it.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Is there scope in the reporting framework to parents to embrace academic achievement other than in literacy and numeracy, or that might, for example, respond to Education Review Office reports on Māori underachievement?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Yes, absolutely. We encourage schools to have those wider conversations with parents. Parents have made it clear that they want to know all about how their children are doing at school—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and we encourage parents who are not satisfied with their reports to go back to the schools and talk to the teachers about getting that information.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did she personally approve the template interim report issued in her name, which reports on reading, writing, and mathematics only?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I saw it, and I have discussed it with quite a wide number of principals, who asked for some assistance and some ideas about how they might present the information.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Why, then, did she indicate that she is disappointed when principals and teachers use the report she supplied to them?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: One of the most important things about the reporting of information from schools and teachers to parents is the rich conversations that they have together about the children. So it is not for me as Minister to get in between those conversations. But schools asked for help; we provided a template, and we will provide any information that we can to help schools with those conversations with parents.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a pretty straight and simple question that asked the Minister why she was disappointed with schools that use the template she supplied. Further to the point of order I am taking, I seek leave to table the template supplied by the Minister to schools.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me deal with the last part first. 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.

Mr SPEAKER: In terms of the first part, I say to the honourable member that he asked the Minister why she was disappointed. I think the Minister gave an explanation of what she expected in reporting, and I presume she was disappointed if that were not what was going on. She did not believe that she should be interposing herself in that, all the time. That might not perhaps be exactly the answer that the member sought. I thought he might have been more concerned about the previous answer than that one, but I feel that on that particular occasion the answer was not unreasonable.

Schools—Lifting Student Achievement

9. ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcements has the Government made about supporting schools to raise student achievement?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Yesterday I announced a major new approach to lifting achievement for all students. Firstly, experts with proven ability in lifting student achievement will be appointed to work closely with schools and build strong relationships. Secondly, the $36 million announced for national standards in Budget 2009 will go towards new intervention programmes being developed for students who need extra support in reading, writing, and maths, over and above good classroom teaching. Lastly, I have asked the Ministry to redesign its professional development for principals and teachers, to make it much more targeted.

Allan Peachey: What feedback has the Minister received on the new focus on lifting student achievement?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I received the following email this morning: “Many principals have felt that the professional development options available to schools have been too fragmented and piecemeal, so a revision of the delivery strategy is welcome. I believe that this is in fact the strategy that will change student achievement.”

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister just quoted from a document. I ask that that be tabled.

Mr SPEAKER: I have to rely on the honourable Minister’s word. Was she quoting from an official document?


Mr SPEAKER: She says she was, and I have to leave it at that.

Pork Industry Board—Thompson and Clark Investigations

10. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: Will he ask the Pork Industry Board if they were aware that Thompson and Clark Investigations was collecting information for them on animal rights campaigner Rochelle Rees by means of a tracking device planted under her car; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): I have.

Keith Locke: Could the Minister explain what the answer was, and will he investigate the matter further now that the Pork Industry Board has admitted receiving information from Thompson and Clark Investigations on domestic animal rights activists in an email sent today, given that some of that information may have come from Thompson and Clark Investigations’ proven use of a covert tracking device against an animal rights activist?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I have yet to receive a response to my letter to the Pork Industry Board. But I think that three things are worth remembering: firstly, this was a Sunday Star-Times article; secondly, some allegations were made that were not substantiated in that article; and, thirdly—this is important—the author of the article was that well-known, fair-minded, independent journalist known as Nicky Hager.

Keith Locke: Does he think it is unusual that the Pork Industry Board would reply to me before replying to the Minister on this matter, and does he not think it would be quite wrong for the Pork Industry Board to benefit from such unethical, covert surveillance, particularly given that even the police cannot use a tracking device without a very good reason and a judge’s warrant?

Hon DAVID CARTER: Nothing that the Pork Industry Board does surprises me. I certainly think that the board would be far better to focus on meeting the genuine concerns out there in relation to the consumption of pork products by consumers, rather than engaging in this sort of tactic.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Is the Minister satisfied with the time that it is taking to produce the new pig welfare code—a code that he promised would be delivered last year; if not, when will he show some leadership and step in to resolve the pork industry issues?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I am disappointed in time that it has taken to deliver the code. As was mentioned in the House last week, we now expect the draft code to be finalised over the next few weeks. It is then a matter of undertaking a peer review before the draft code is presented to me, but I gave my commitment to the House that I will process it as quickly as possible. It is worth noting that one of the reasons that it has been delayed is the threat of legal action from the Pork Industry Board.

Overseas Investment Rules—Sale of Land

11. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree that, but for the strategic asset test introduced by Labour, any overseas purchaser of a New Zealand business not including sensitive land only has to have money, have run a business, show “good character”, and not be an ineligible individual under the Immigration Act 1987?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No, this test has no bearing on those purchasers, as it applies only to investments in sensitive land.

Hon David Parker: Does he agree that infrastructure businesses with monopoly characteristics just about always turn a profit and are strategically important to the functioning of the wider economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may be the case, but I suggest that the member review the legislation, which I think he may have been in charge of before, because the strategic asset test applies to sensitive land, not to businesses.

Hon David Parker: Does the Minister agree that it is important that the Government have discretion to decline the sale of infrastructure assets to overseas owners?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has to apply the law as this Parliament has passed it, and as reinforced by regulation. Again, I recommend that the member review that law, because I am not sure that he is representing it correctly.

Hon David Parker: Given the conflicting messages that we are getting from the Minister as to loosening the foreign investment rules, and from the Prime Minister about tightening them, could the Minister please tell the House whether he intends to loosen foreign investment rules or tighten them?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: What we have said publicly is that we have been reviewing them with the intent of ensuring that New Zealanders are able to feel that those things they think are important about New Zealand are, on the one hand, protected; but, on the other hand, that we accept the reality that in order to have jobs and incomes in New Zealand we need to have foreign investment.

Resource Management Act Reforms—Consent Process

12. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast – Tasman) to the Minister for the

Environment: What new measures has the Government introduced to improve the efficiency of processing the approximately 50,000 consents per year under the Resource Management Act 1991?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Yesterday the Government’s new regulations to provide an incentive for councils to process consents in a timely way took effect. In the same way that ratepayers face financial penalties for late rate payments, councils now face a financial penalty for the late processing of resource consents. The penalty is a 1 percent discount to the consent applicant for each day over the 20 – working day statutory requirement, up to a maximum of 50 percent.

Chris Auchinvole: What data has the Minister received indicating deterioration in the performance of councils in processing resource consents?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Over the term of the previous Government, non-compliance with statutory time frames grew from 18 percent to 31 percent and, over the same period, the number of councils granting themselves extensions grew from 3 percent in 1999 to 28 percent in 2008. This means that 59 percent of consents, or 29,000 consents, in 2008 were outside the 20-day statutory requirement. Last year’s law changes limited the circumstances in which those extensions could be granted, and these provisions provide a financial incentive for efficiency. This is about reducing red tape so that businesses can get on and create jobs and economic activity to help the recovery.


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