Questions and Answers – 5 August 2010

by admin on Thursday, August 5, 2010 — 9:35 PM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart—Number of Houses Insulated; Employment Rate—Comparison with Australia; Pork Industry Board—Fulfilment of Core Functions; Income Gap—Parity with Australia by 2025
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart—Number of Houses Insulated

1. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: How many houses have been insulated through the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart home insulation scheme?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): Mr Speaker—

Hon Darren Hughes: It depends how you measure it.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There is some truth in that. I am pleased to advise the House that the first year of the Government’s Warm Up New Zealand scheme has been extraordinarily successful. A grand total of 57,908 homes were retro-fitted in the first year of the scheme. What is most pleasing is that around 55 percent of the houses retro-fitted are occupied by people on low incomes. I acknowledge the cooperation of the Green Party in the administration of this policy.

Dr Cam Calder: Why did the Government introduce the Warm Up New Zealand scheme?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government has funded the Warm Up New Zealand scheme because of the benefits that a well-insulated home has to the individuals who live in it, to society, and to the New Zealand economy on a wider scale. The Warm Up New Zealand scheme improves a home’s energy efficiency, but, more important, it makes it warmer and much healthier to live in. That means fewer doctors’ visits, fewer days off school, and less time off work. The scheme has also been a welcome stimulus for the construction industry during an economic downturn.

Chris Hipkins: In what proportion of those houses were quality or safety issues found with the insulation during the audit process?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Over the course of the last 12 months, the incidence of safety issues has been on the decline. I am more than happy to release the entire audit figures to the member, as I previously had. The most recent incidence of safety issues, I understand, is less than 1 percent. Those, of course, were all rectified, because the installers were required to go back over all of their work when one of those instances was discovered.

Chris Hipkins: Why should the public of New Zealand have any confidence in the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart scheme when the audit found that one-third of the homes insulated had quality concerns?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: A quality concern may mean that there was rubbish left on the site. It may mean that there some instructions were not left with a heating appliance. It may mean that in some cases they could not get in to install insulation because the gap was too narrow—I should not talk about narrowing gaps this week. I say to the member that I think that 57,908 retrofits indicates a very high level of public confidence in the scheme.

Employment Rate—Comparison with Australia

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn): My question is to the Prime Minister and asks: does he stand by his statement that “the unemployment rate in New Zealand is actually higher than it is in Australia”?

Mr SPEAKER: I have different wording on my question. I invite the member to—

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I apologise. I should have said the “employment rate”, not the “unemployment rate”.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member.

2. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “the employment rate in New Zealand is actually higher than it is in Australia”?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Prime Minister): That is a very important point. I am pleased that the Speaker picked it up. The answer is yes.

Hon David Cunliffe: Which aspect of today’s announcement from Statistics New Zealand that unemployment has blown out to 6.8 percent supports his claim that the economy will grow aggressively out of recession, and his expectation in March that unemployment will drop?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member set down a question about the employment rate and its relativity to Australia’s. I would like at least to have the opportunity to explain to him that the employment rate in New Zealand is 63.4 percent compared with 61.8 percent in Australia. It is better. On the unemployment figures that came out today, there is no doubt that the Government would express some disappointment about those numbers. I also say to him that last December’s unemployment figure was 7.1 percent. That figure coming back to 6.8 percent in that relatively short period of time is encouraging. We have always said it would be a bumpy ride.

Hon David Cunliffe: How can employment in New Zealand be better than Australia’s when Statistics New Zealand revealed that 19,000 Kiwis have lost their jobs, while in Australia unemployment has dropped and 19,000 new jobs were created last month alone?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member is doing what Labour has done a lot lately, and that is choosing to select bits and pieces of figures all over the place. The question related to the employment rate; I have given the difference there. Let us now talk about the participation rate, which is 68 percent in New Zealand and 65.2 percent in Australia.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister agree that he got it wrong when he said in May this year: “We’ve now got the economy back on track.”, given that over the past year 22,000 Kiwis have lost their jobs, and unemployment is still bouncing along at the trough of the recession?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Let me acquaint the member with the situation that existed in the later part of 2008, when we had four successive quarters of decline in the size of the New Zealand economy. The last four quarters measured have shown us to be growing. I do stand by that statement.

Hon David Cunliffe: When GST is 50 percent higher in New Zealand than in Australia, when the pay gap with Australia has increased by at least $23 a week since he took office, and when unemployment is higher here than it is across the Tasman, does that show National simply does not have a plan to build a stronger recovery?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Far from it. We have articulated parts of our plan on numerous occasions throughout the week. I would also say that when we have a growing economy, a natural consequence of that, ultimately, will be more work and higher wages.

John Boscawen: Does he believe that Labour’s decision to scrap the youth minimum wage has contributed to the increase in unemployment, and in particular the increase in youth unemployment—a move that the Government could have reversed by supporting Sir Roger Douglas’ member’s bill to reintroduce youth rates?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It has been my experience always that if one earns less, one is not as well off. I do not think that would be particularly helpful.

Pork Industry Board—Fulfilment of Core Functions

3. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: Is he confident that the Pork Industry Board is fulfilling its core functions of increasing the demand for New Zealand pork products and maintaining the confidence of consumers of pork products; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): It is attempting to do so, but it clearly has some challenging issues that it needs to address.

Sue Kedgley: Does he consider that the Pork Industry Board’s recent actions of taking legal action to stop the release of a new pig code, keeping audits of pig farms secret, and obtaining information on animal rights activists are likely to undermine consumer confidence in the Pork Industry Board and in pork products generally; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CARTER: The Pork Industry Board certainly needs to be aware that the perception of some of its actions is not helping it in marketing its products. I think the board needs to be far more proactive about engaging with consumers about the benefits of New Zealand pork.

Sue Kedgley: Can he confirm that as Minister of Agriculture he has specific statutory powers, which are set out in schedule 2 of the Pork Industry Board Act, to remove directors of the board if they breach any duty set out in schedule 1 of the Act?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I can confirm that under the Act I have some quite strong statutory roles, but at the end of the day they are relatively limited in respect of the allegations that have been made against the Pork Industry Board over recent weeks.

Sue Kedgley: Can he further confirm that the directors of the Pork Industry Board have a duty under the Act to act in good faith at all times, and would he consider using his powers to remove directors if they were found not to be acting in good faith?

Hon DAVID CARTER: Yes, and yes.

Sue Kedgley: Does he consider that the Pork Industry Board acted in good faith when it sought to evade the provisions of the Official Information Act so that the results of a nationwide audit of pig farms could not be released publicly?

Hon DAVID CARTER: As I stated to the member earlier, any action by the Pork Industry Board in respect of its compliance with the Official Information Act is a matter that the member needs to take up with the Ombudsman.

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did quite deliberately and specifically ask whether he considered that the Pork Industry Board acted in good faith on this matter. That was the question. It was very deliberately phrased, and I would appreciate it if the Minister could answer it.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister replied that the matter the member referred to is a matter for the board not for the Minister, and because he is not responsible for that he does not need to express an opinion on it.

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was asking whether he considered that the board had acted in good faith, and it is relevant because the Minister can sack members of the board if they do not act in good faith. So it was quite a specific question.

Mr SPEAKER: I invite the Minister to answer in so far as he feels he can.

Hon DAVID CARTER: I certainly would not consider sacking any of the board members on the basis of the board’s compliance with the Official Information Act.

Sue Kedgley: Does he consider that the board acted in good faith when it threatened to take the Government to court if it proceeded to release a new pig code of animal welfare that would call, amongst other things, for a phasing out of the use of sow stalls?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I am unaware that the Pork Industry Board actually threatened the Government; I think at that stage it was threatening the process undertaken by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.

Sue Kedgley: What would it take for this Minister to sack or to make changes to the Port Industry Board given that the board has been steadily undermining consumer confidence in pork and has been exposed for repeatedly acting in bad faith?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I think that member has done everything she can possibly do to undermine New Zealand’s confidence in the pork industry of New Zealand.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table the Animal Welfare (Treatment of Animals Amendment) Bill, which would phase out sow crates.

Mr SPEAKER: Has this bill already been tabled in the House?

Sue Kedgley: No.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table this document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Income Gap—Parity with Australia by 2025

4. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister for Economic

Development: Why, when he replied “Yes” to whether he had targets or milestones to achieve income parity with Australia by 2025, will he not share those milestones with New Zealanders?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development): In the answer I gave to the question that the member refers to, I shared my first target. That target was to remove the millstones from around the neck of the New Zealand economy placed on it by the previous Labour Government. Today I would like to share two other targets. My second target is to assist the Government’s programme to undertake comprehensive economic reform of the New Zealand economy. A third target is to rebalance the economy towards export-led growth. If we are successful in achieving these targets, we will achieve the Government’s milestone of achieving income parity with Australia by 2025.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he or his office give Steven Joyce, answering on his behalf yesterday, an answer that included the words “brush off”?


Hon Trevor Mallard: Is closing the wage gap with Australia the fundamental purpose of this Government?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The fundamental purpose of this Government is to make life better for New Zealanders. Closing the income gap with Australia over a period of time will certainly contribute to that.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is closing the wage gap with Australia the fundamental purpose of this Government, as the Prime Minister said it was?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In the last couple of days we have had a number of specifics attributed to the Prime Minister that have been picked out of an entire, one would say, speech or the outlining of a plan. Closing the income gap with Australia is very, very important for this Government. It is a long-term aspiration goal, and everything that we are doing in rebalancing the economy, in reorganising the economy, is aimed at getting a better deal, a better life quality, for all New Zealanders.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Does he know that 23 percent more Australian companies than New Zealand companies plan to lift their wage and salary levels this year, and that double the number of Australian firms plan to increase staff levels, and will this increase or decrease the wage gap with Australia?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not have responsibility for that sort of speculation. But I will say the suggestions made by Mr Mallard, if they are correct, simply serve to show what an extremely ambitious target the Government has and that we have to stick to the plan we have put in place to achieve it.

Crime, Victims—Support

5. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Police: What are the police doing to help ensure that victims of crime get the support they need as soon as possible?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): I am very pleased to report that today I opened a new national contact centre for Victim Support, which has been set up at the Police National Headquarters here in Wellington. The contact centre will enable Victim Support to provide a consistent, timely, and professional response to calls for help from across the country. The police have a very close relationship with Victim Support, and they are delighted to provide Victim Support with the office space and a communications system for the contact centre. The police also now have a dedicated national victim services manager, who will be overseeing further initiatives to support victims of crime. The 0800 number for this is 0800 VICTIM.

John Hayes: What are the latest results on how well the police are meeting the expectations of victims of crime and the wider community?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The latest 6-monthy Citizen Satisfaction Survey shows that the public continues to have a high level of trust and confidence in the police. I am also very pleased to see that the involvement of police in their communities has increased significantly since June 2008. Community involvement by the police is now recording at a rate of 67 percent, compared with 58 percent under the previous Government. I would like to commend police for the great work they are doing in communities throughout New Zealand. I am very proud to say that our police are amongst the finest in the world.

David Garrett: Does she support my member’s bill, which would remove the heavy restrictions on what a victim of crime may say in his or her victim impact statement and allow anything as long as it is true and not defamatory?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have not read the bill. I am happy to meet with the member to discuss it, but these matters will need to be looked at fully as I have not read it yet.

Te Ururoa Flavell: E hia te ōrau o ngā hua kua rirohia i raro i te Proceeds of Crime Act, e tukuna ki te tautoko i te hunga kua tūkinotia? [What proportion of assets seized and unsold under the Proceeds of Crime Act go back to support victims?]

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It is not possible for me to give an exact figure on that, because as the proceeds of crimes money becomes available it goes into the consolidated account. I am aware that right across many portfolios work is going on, looking at what can be done for victims.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Ka ahatia te tautoko i te hunga kua ngaua e te hinganga o ngā kamupene tahua-putea? [What moves are being made to ensure that victims of failed finance companies are supported?]

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: For a start, this Government has retained the Serious Fraud Office— which was scheduled for closure under the previous Government—and that is something that I think should give quite a lot of comfort to people. I am also aware that my colleague the Minister of Justice, who is also the Minister of Commerce, has been working very extensively in this area. Obviously, it is very important to do whatever we can. At the same time, it is an awful lot better than what the previous Government did.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for the delay. I thought I had heard what was being said, and now I have confirmed what was said. When I was asking a supplementary question earlier, there was an interjection from a member at the back that suggested that I and other Labour members should move to Australia. I think that that is not an appropriate approach to a member who is questioning the Government, unless, of course, it is general advice for all New Zealanders from Mr Quinn.

Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that the member is really serious about that as a point of order. I have heard the honourable member throw far worse interjections across the House than an

interjection suggesting he should go to Australia. I am afraid that I do not see that as being a serious point of order.

Drink-driving—Blood Alcohol Limit

6. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Did he consider opinion polls about public views on cutting the blood-alcohol limit for driving, and what role, if any, did it play in the Government’s decision not to lower that limit?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Internal Affairs): on behalf of the Minister of Transport: We considered a range of factors, and public support was one important consideration. But we also need to know the exact level of harm caused by drivers with a blood-alcohol level of between 0.05 and 0.08 milligrams. The Minister of Transport has said all along that road safety measures work only if they have the very broad support of road users. We want to be sure that New Zealanders understand the benefits of any change and accept it before proceeding, as we have done with the cellphone rule, with drug-driving provisions, and illegal street racing laws.

Hon Darren Hughes: When the Minister told the House that a broad level of public acceptance would be required before he would move on this matter of lowering the blood-alcohol limit, was he aware of the Research New Zealand poll and, admittedly, an unscientific Close Up television poll of 17,000 viewers, both of which, regardless of whether they were scientific or unscientific, showed support for that measure in the 60-plus percent range, showing that there is support in the community for lowering the blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05 milligrams?

Hon NATHAN GUY: I have seen a broad range of polls with all sorts of different numbers. I think that if one analyses them all, one will find that they are all about 50-50 on this issue. What I found interesting was that member’s press release today. He quoted some UK drug and alcohol expert, Professor David Nutt, who, in actual fact, in the UK has not been able to convince the authorities to lower the blood-alcohol limit. It is still 0.08 milligrams. That professor should concentrate on his own country.

Michael Woodhouse: What measures is the Government taking to crack down on drink-driving?

Hon NATHAN GUY: Last week the Government announced a package of road safety initiatives targeting drink-drivers and in particular repeat offenders and young offenders. The package includes a zero-milligram drink drive limit for recidivist drink-drivers, a zero-milligram drink-drive limit for drivers under 20 years of age, much tougher penalties for dangerous reckless driving causing death, the introduction of alcohol interlocks for repeat drink-drivers and serious first-time offenders. By targeting high-risk offenders, namely those with a history of offending, and young people, we are confident we will make a significant impact.

Hon Darren Hughes: Given that professor Nutt is in the gallery today watching this expert Minister answer these questions in such a non-partisan way, maybe he could explain to the country how any research—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was not an appropriate reference, first, to the gallery, and, second, to the Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a perfectly fair point of order that the Leader of the House has made. There should be no reference to visitors in the gallery.

Hon Darren Hughes: I apologise for that, Sir. I also apologise for referring to the Minister as an expert. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: At least the member did apologise. I ask for a little courtesy while he is asking his question.

Hon Darren Hughes: Can he explain to the House how research specific to New Zealand can be any different from the over 300 studies already done that compare a blood-alcohol limit of between 0.08 to 0.05 milligrams, and what factors in New Zealand are so specific that they make those international studies irrelevant for deciding to move on this issue?

Hon NATHAN GUY: Very little data has been collected in New Zealand to do with those who are pulled over with a blood-alcohol limit of between 0.05 and 0.08 milligrams. We want to ensure that the New Zealand Police are able to collect that data, because we need hard data to make any decisions in the future. It is also interesting to note that I saw a comment from a member saying “If we are going to change the limits, there would need to be hard evidence.” I must say that that quote came from the then Minister of Justice Phil Goff in 2001. So, once again, we have Labour MPs not agreeing with their leader.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked the Minister what factors were unique about New Zealand—what factors. He has given us an answer saying that police do not have enough data. I am interested in what factors are motivating the Government to delay a decision on this matter. It is not a question of what statistics have been collected; it is a question of what factors the Government believes are different about New Zealand so that it cannot rely on the international data that is available.

Mr SPEAKER: In answer the Minister said that the Government believes that it needs more research on the difference between 0.05 percent and 0.08 percent blood alcohol, and, I presume, he is saying that without that research it does not necessarily know the factors involved. It seemed to me a reasonable answer.

Hon Darren Hughes: Does he accept that the delay in deciding whether to lower the bloodalcohol limit will cost lives on the road in New Zealand?

Hon NATHAN GUY: Unfortunately we lose lives in this country almost on a daily basis. The Government has made some very big, broad decisions in terms of addressing alcohol concerns that the public has in New Zealand, and that drivers have.

Hon Shane Jones: What are they?

Hon NATHAN GUY: I alluded to them just before, I say to Mr Jones, if he was listening. I welcome him back. The important thing is that we are addressing this. We want to collect this data over the next 2 years to ensure that any future decisions made, and—

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am no clearer as to whether the delaying a decision on moving the blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05 will cost more lives on the road. That is the only thing I am interested in; I am not interested in the other matters that the Minister is concerned about. It was a very short, simple question.

Mr SPEAKER: The problem is that it is a speculative question. How can the Minister know that? That is why it is extraordinarily difficult for the Minister to answer such a question in precise terms. He has no research, so he tells us, to indicate whether it will have an effect. That is why it is difficult for me to insist on any particular answer to that question from the Minister.

Hon Darren Hughes: If the Government is concerned about the community support for lowering the blood-alcohol limit, and is concerned about whether there is support for it to do so, will the Minister accept an offer from the Labour Opposition and from many other parties in this House for a non-partisan approach to the topic of the blood-alcohol limit and support the bill that I put into the ballot today in order to lower the blood-alcohol limit to 0.05 so that—

Hon Members: 9 years.

Hon Darren Hughes: Yes, it was 9 years. That is correct. We are here today to try to make sure we can do something about this issue. The Government members can yell and scream during my question as long as they like, but the issue remains and it needs to be sorted out.

Mr SPEAKER: Members are making it impossible to hear the Hon Darren Hughes’ question, but I think the Minister got the purport of the question.

Hon NATHAN GUY: It is interesting that we have had 9 years of the previous Government; I alluded to that before. Mr Goff said that they would need hard evidence, and then chose to do nothing subsequently for the following 8 years. This member now wants to play purely politics with this issue, when that party have had a period in Government and done nothing. We have done more

in the first 2 years of this Government to address road safety measures than Labour did in its 9 years in Government.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I have to accept that the member asked whether the Minister would support a bill that the member described that he would be introducing to the House. The Minister made no reference to the bill whatsoever. It would be helpful to the House if the Minister were to answer that fundamental question.


High Country—Pastoral Leases

7. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Agriculture: What measures has the Government recently taken to implement a fairer approach to high country pastoral leases?

Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): This week the Government announced a new system for setting the rents for South Island high country pastoral leases. The new approach will provide a fairer rent that is simpler to administer. It allows farmers to get on with the job of farming and looking after the high country, rather than fighting bureaucracy. No longer will farmers be charged extra just because their sheep have a view.

Jacqui Dean: What is the new approach that the Government is implementing?

Hon DAVID CARTER: The new approach will see rents for Crown pastoral land based on the earning capacity of each farm. This is a major change from the current formula implemented by the previous Labour Government, which ignored income earning capacity and charged extra rent for views and amenity values.

Jo Goodhew: What reports has he seen on the new approach to high country leases?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I have seen reports welcoming the new approach as “fair”, “rational”, and “a refreshing contrast to recent times”. The most interesting, though, was a press release from the Labour agriculture spokesperson that called the Government’s policy a principled position and one that would be welcomed by farmers. This represents a huge flip-flop from Labour’s position when it was in Government, which ignored income earning capacity and caused immense emotional and financial stress to those farmers.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the projections in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald that sheep and beef farmers are on the way to extinction, and given his lack of leadership to fix the problem, does this mean that eventually the return to the Crown as the owner of this land may be zero, given the earning capacity calculation that he claims is so great?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I do not accept that sheep and beef farms are on their way to extinction, and I can tell that member that I have done more in 20 months than his Government did for any farmer in New Zealand in 9 long years.

Dunedin Hospital—Neurosurgery Services

8. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Health: Does he think neurosurgery services should be retained at Dunedin Hospital?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister

of Health: The Minister would take a lot of convincing that there should not be neurosurgical services in Dunedin.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Would he be prepared to turn his feelings into a guarantee now that neurosurgical services in Dunedin will be retained?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That member knows that the Director-General of Health has convened an expert panel to address this issue. The Minister will not prejudge the result of that inquiry.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Why did he shovel this issue on to his officials, who shovelled it on to a committee that does not yet even have terms of reference, instead of taking some action—any action—himself?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I would remind that member that under his morbid tenure as Minister of Health 30,000 New Zealanders were removed from elective surgery waiting lists. He well knows that the Director-General of Health has convened an expert panel that is addressing this issue and it will report back in November.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two points to make. First of all, the gratuitous comment at the beginning of that answer I do not think added to it. The member Pete Hodgson was asking a question about something in his electorate. This is a good example of a local member doing his or her job at question time. The second point is whether that answer went any way towards addressing or answering the points Mr Hodgson was seeking.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the point of order is valid in that the questioner did ask why the investigation was being carried out. He took a roundabout way to get there, and some gratuitousness—I do not know whether that is the right way of putting it—in an answer is not unexpected when the shape of the question is quite the way that that one was. But the intent of the question was to ask why the inquiry is being conducted in the way that it is. Maybe the Minister could please answer the question in that light—why the Director-General of Health is conducting the inquiry, if the Minister has that information.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because he was asked to by the chief executives of the South Island district health boards.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Can he confirm that high-quality neurosurgical services have been provided in Dunedin since before he was born, and why does he not now offer a straightforward guarantee that that proud history will continue?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The Minister can confirm that Dunedin has had a highquality service. But, once again, he is not prepared to prejudge the results of the inquiry.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Does he not consider that from time to time a Minister must step in—that is why we have Ministers in the first place—and that in this case that time has long and truly passed? When will he do anything—anything—to resolve this issue?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That member would usually be the first to complain if a Minister overrode an official. But there is a perfectly satisfactory path to resolving this situation, and, once again, the Minister will not pre-empt the results of that inquiry.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I seek leave to table a number of documents. The first is the results of a poll carried out by the Otago Daily Times showing that a 97 percent—

Mr SPEAKER: Was this published in the Otago Daily Times?

Hon Pete Hodgson: It was not; it is an on-line poll.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table this document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Secondly, I seek leave to table a Facebook page that just under 10,000 people signed up to in a few days, regarding—

Mr SPEAKER: What is the Facebook page about?

Hon Pete Hodgson: It is called “Keep neurosurgery in Dunedin”.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table this document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Pete Hodgson: The third document is a little more readily accessible, but when you make judgment on it, Mr Speaker, please consider that it is very, very funny. I seek leave to table today’s Southland Times cartoon.

Mr SPEAKER: We will not be doing that.


9. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Housing: What are the current challenges the Government is facing with housing?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): I have to say the housing portfolio was left to this Government with significant problems. I am advised that over 20,000 State houses are of the wrong size, in the wrong place, or in a state of significant disrepair. Additionally, over 8 years, despite the State housing stock growing by thousands, the waiting list has stayed consistently at about 10,000 families. It is clearly time to take a fresh look at that.

Tim Macindoe: What is the Minister doing about the challenges that he has identified?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY: A lot more than the previous Government. For starters, we are helping to address the need. In the next financial year the Housing New Zealand Corporation will upgrade another 8,000 State houses and acquire another 280. We are also committed to the policy of income-related rents. But this Government is open to doing things better, and we actually want to have the right houses, of the right standard, in the right places for those who are most in need.

Tim Macindoe: What advice has the Minister sought on ways to address these issues in the longer term?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY: In February the Minister of Finance and I established the Housing Shareholders’ Advisory Group, to provide advice on the current state of social housing in New Zealand and report back with recommendations for improvements, so that we can better meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our society and on the waiting list. This group, made up of experts in social housing and property investment, will be releasing its report tomorrow. We now want the broadest group possible from the housing sector to comment on it, and to consider the challenge. I will take this opportunity to thank the group for the work that it has done. I look forward to the release tomorrow of the report, and to the consequential public discussion that will undoubtedly follow.

Employment, 90-day Trial Period—Prime Minister’s Statements

10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does she agree with the Prime Minister’s statement on the 90-day scheme that “employers have generally acted responsibly and workers have been treated fairly”?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Yes. The Prime Minister’s statement referred to the findings of the Department of Labour evaluation report, which also noted that employers view dismissal as a negative outcome and actively try to avoid it.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my colleague, but we could not hear the answer. The microphone was not turned on in time for the Minister. Could she repeat her answer please?

Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister would not mind, I would appreciate it if she could repeat her answer for the benefit of the House, because it was hard to hear it.

Hon KATE WILKINSON: Yes. The Prime Minister’s statement referred to the findings of the Department of Labour evaluation report, which also noted that employers view dismissal as a negative outcome and actively try to avoid it.

Darien Fenton: Does the current law state that the 90-day trial period is voluntary and must be negotiated between the employer and employee in good faith; if so, would it be acting irresponsibly for an employer to advertise a job as having a 90-day trial period before discussing the option with a prospective employee?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: It is clear that the 90-day trial period is by agreement with the employee. Unless employees want a trial period, they do not have to have one, but both employees and employers are subject to the provisions of good faith negotiations, with that small exception in relation to the 90-day dismissal.

Darien Fenton: Does she, therefore, consider that the numerous employers currently advertising jobs with 90-day trial periods online, clearly without any discussion or negotiation with any prospective employee, to be acting responsibly; if not, what will she do about it?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: Well, clearly it is not compulsory for a prospective employee to apply for that job. But this policy is about giving opportunities to people who would otherwise not get them, and giving them the chance to prove themselves.

Allan Peachey: What reports has the Minister seen regarding fair treatment in the workplace?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen reports of a whistleblower branded “sad” and “incompetent”. I have seen reports of a woman rejected for work because of the job her partner did. I have also seen reports of a union worker sacked by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union because he belonged to the ACT Party. All three of those cases can be laid at the feet of the Labour Party and its supporters.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Further to her answer to the last supplementary question from Darien Fenton, did she indicate it was her view that people who did not like jobs with an advertisement that indicated that a 90-day period was a requirement should not apply for them?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: What I indicated is that the 90-day trial period requires the consent of the employee, and the employee does not have to agree to one. But if employees want to take up opportunities and be given the chance to prove themselves, then I suggest that they do avail themselves of this very successful policy.

Carmel Sepuloni: Given that the Government has now twice denied the public the right to have a say on the 90-day, fire-at-will scheme—firstly, by pushing the legislation through under urgency, and, secondly, by voting down my member’s bill last night—will she guarantee that any extension to the 90-day law will get full select committee scrutiny so that employees who have been done over by unreasonable employers, such as those that have been described earlier, will have the opportunity to have their say?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: Although that member is making some very misleading assumptions, I can say that the extension of the 90-day trial period will be in an employment relations bill that will go through a select committee scrutiny.

Darien Fenton: I seek leave to table six job advertisements for a range of positions, all of which stipulate a 90-day trial period as a condition of employment.

Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of these advertisements?

Darien Fenton: TradeMe and Seek.

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

Kōpū Bridge Replacement—Progress

11. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Transport: How is work progressing on the Kōpū Bridge, 1 year since construction began?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of

Transport: Excellent progress has been made on the State Highway 25 Kōpū Bridge replacement project. Construction started 1 year ago. The anniversary was marked with the last of the four steel bridge beams that connect the middle span of the new bridge being lifted into place. These beams will support the concrete bridge deck. They will carry two lanes of traffic. In addition, the manufacturing of the steel girders has begun in Auckland. As promised, this project is delivering jobs and growth that would not have otherwise occurred.

Dr Jackie Blue: How far ahead of schedule is work on the Kōpū Bridge?

Hon NATHAN GUY: Replacement of the Kōpū Bridge was not scheduled to start immediately under the previous Government, but we were able to bring forward the project as part of our $500 million jobs and growth plan. Piling and pier construction is under way in earnest, and the project is on track for completion in the middle of 2012. The accelerated progress of this project follows other recent good news, with the opening of the Manukau Harbour Crossing 7 months early, the announcement that the southern half of the Newmarket Viaduct is to open 6 months early, and the list goes on.

Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure whether that had a lot to do with the question.

Financial Advice—Minister’s Statement

12. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement “if you know which websites to go to you can get access to high quality advice”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Yes, because under the open Government style of this administration huge amounts of high-quality public advice are placed on Government websites.

Grant Robertson: How far has he taken this “government by Google” approach; for instance, has he suggested to John Key that he do a Google search for the words “economic” and “plan”— [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I could not hear the member’s question. I ask the Government backbenchers to be a little more reasonable, please. I ask Grant Robertson to repeat his question.

Grant Robertson: How far has he taken this “government by Google” approach; for instance, has he suggested to John Key that he do a Google search for the words “economic” and “plan” in the absence of one from the Government?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There is lots of good material on the web, albeit I notice that on the Labour Party website, under “Labour policy”, there is absolutely nothing.

Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that the Government’s mining policy was the result of Gerry Brownlee Googling the phrases “big hole in the ground” and “when to stop digging”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Minister for Economic Development’s plan for growing the mining and petroleum industry is of huge importance. If I look at the confidence in that sector, I am confident that he will deliver extra economic activity and growth.

Chris Tremain: What advice has the Minister of Finance received on the growth in public spending on policy advice in recent years; and how does it compare with growth in the economy?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The advice is that Government spending on policy advice grew by more than 70 percent in the preceding 6 years, whereas growth in the tradable sector over those same 6 years was zero, and the overall economy grew, in real terms, by just 12 percent. This growth in Wellington bureaucracy is not sustainable and is the reason why the Minister of Finance, the Minister for Regulatory Reform, and the Minister of State Services have announced a review of that expenditure to ensure that we put the focus on frontline services.

Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that Paula Bennett’s policy call for people to step up is based on a visit to the website of the movie Step Up, which is described as being: “clichéd, full of quite frankly terrible dialogue … and twists that you can see coming a mile off.”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: What I can confirm about the Minister for Social Development and Employment is that the very popular policies she has initiated to help get New Zealanders through the worst recession since the Great Depression are having a hugely positive impact. Any constituency MP would know that programmes such as Fresh Start and a large number of others are playing handsome dividends.

Grant Robertson: Is he concerned that there is a risk that seeking policy advice on the Internet may lead to the Government losing its entire budget to the son of a deposed Nigerian prince?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I can assure the member opposite that we will not be following the absolutely blank page of policy advice that is on the New Zealand Labour Party’s website.


Content Sourced from
Original url

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: