Questions and Answers – 14 September 2010

by admin on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 — 5:28 PM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Earthquake, Canterbury—Streamlining of Earthquake Claims Process; Tax System Changes—Effect on New Zealanders; Mōkihinui Hydro Dam—Effect on Endangered Species; Accident Compensation Corporation—Performance
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Earthquake, Canterbury—Streamlining of Earthquake Claims Process

1. ARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What steps are the Government and the Earthquake Commission taking to streamline the Canterbury earthquake claims process?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has taken steps to ensure the Earthquake Commission can assess and settle minor claims as quickly as possible. For claims where there is no structural or land damage the Earthquake Commission will settle with homeowners promptly, which it began doing this morning. In the case of houses that have only damaged chimneys, homeowners can choose to have the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority manage repairs and/or replace chimneys with a clean-heating device. These steps are expected to speed up the claims process for almost 40,000 home and building owners.

Aaron Gilmore: Why has the Earthquake Commission taken these steps to speed up the process?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Earthquake Commission has already received about 53,000 claims, and is expecting to receive many more in the coming weeks. If the commission followed the usual processes, these claims would take several years to complete. Of these claims, about 25,000 are expected to be for superficial damage involving claims of less than $10,000. Another 14,000 are expected to be for repairs to chimneys. Dealing with that large number of less serious claims quickly will free up the Earthquake Commission to focus on the many more serious and complex claims that have arisen from the earthquake.

Aaron Gilmore: What steps are the Earthquake Commission, private insurers, and banks taking to fast track the more serious claims?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: With some encouragement from the Minister in charge of earthquake recovery, Gerry Brownlee, the Earthquake Commission, private insurers, and banks have shown a real willingness to work together. Officials are leading discussions with these parties to bring about a more integrated response to serious claims. These details are being worked through and will be announced shortly. The objective will be to ensure that payouts are made as expeditiously as possible and are used as intended—that is, for repairs and the restoration of damage, not for other purposes—and also to ensure that the work is of a consistent standard.

Hon Ruth Dyson: What assistance will the Government give to people who need to employ tradespeople and engineers to undertake home assessments and then significant repairs, and who have to pay for them within 21 days, in advance of any money from the Earthquake Commission being paid to them, but who just do not have the money to proceed with assessment and repair work?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member would do well to direct that inquiry to Mr Brownlee. Work is being done on a direct payment system to try to avoid a situation where homeowners would be out of pocket, but I am sure that Mr Brownlee could answer that question in some detail.

Brendon Burns: Can the Minister give the House and the people of Canterbury an assurance not only that the Government will provide all possible financial resources for the rebuilding of as many heritage buildings as is feasible across our province and most notably in my electorate of Christchurch Central, but also that where such rebuilding is not possible the Government will work with the city council and the Christchurch community to ensure replacement buildings are funded and designed in harmony with those that simply have to replaced?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That matter is under discussion between the Prime Minister, the local bodies, and the relevant Minister in charge of the Historic Places Trust. It will be important that some parameters are laid down about the extent to which the Government may or may not participate, but also that the decision making ultimately lies with local interests and those who have a strong stake in the look of the city.

Tax System Changes—Effect on New Zealanders

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “the vast majority” of people will be “better off” as a result of his tax switch on 1 October 2010?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Phil Goff: Is the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research accurate when it says that around half of all households will end the year worse off than they were a year ago, because rising prices, the GST increase, and other one-off charges more than offset personal tax cuts; if not, in what respects is the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research inaccurate?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, because a variety of different costs apply to a variety of different households.

Hon Phil Goff: Are the latest figures from Barfoot and Thompson, which show that average weekly rents in Auckland have gone up by $20, accurate?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I could not comment on that. That is Barfoot and Thompson’s reflection. It may or may not be correct; I have not looked at it. But what I have been advised is that under the National Government rents have gone up at a fraction of the rate they went up under the Labour Government.

Hon Phil Goff: Is it correct that local government rates since the election have gone up on average by 6.4 percent, and that GST will add an average $50 per year to everybody’s rates bills?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It would be selective to look at that, because one would also have to look at the personal tax cuts, which will add about $28 a week more, after all the costs of an average household rising to $41 by 2014.

Hon Phil Goff: Will GST add an estimated $7,000 to $8,000 to the price of the average new home bought by a homebuyer?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that number to hand, but I can say that New Zealanders will be in a much better position to buy a home when they can keep more of their own income, and they will do that under our personal tax cut plan.

Hon Phil Goff: What additional burden will the increase in GST put on reconstruction costs in the Canterbury region from 1 October?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Earthquake Commission has made it clear that it will pay out the first $100,000 on property and $20,000 on contents at a GST rate of 15 percent; the bulk will be in that category and therefore will be covered.

Hon Phil Goff: Will the Prime Minister confirm that, in fact, the Government will add a further burden of $2,500 for every $100,000 spent during that reconstruction?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave of the House to table the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research quarterly predictions for September 2010, which state that half of all households will be worse off by the end of the year then they were a year ago

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.

Mōkihinui Hydro Dam—Effect on Endangered Species

3. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Does she agree with Forest and Bird that “many endangered species will meet a watery death, or be rudely shunted from their homes”, if the Mōkihinui dam is given the green light?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation): In the resource consent hearing the Department of Conservation submitted that the dam would involve significant disruption to threatened native wildlife. I have seen no reason to doubt the department’s analysis.

Kevin Hague: Can she confirm that the public conservation land that would be flooded by the dam is home to 16 species of threatened indigenous birds, four species of threatened lizards, three subspecies of threatened land snails, and several species of nationally threatened plants?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I can confirm that the area referred to by the member has some threatened native wildlife, but I emphasis that there is currently no application before the Department of Conservation.

Kevin Hague: Can she confirm that the dam will not be able to proceed unless she agrees to swap the Mōkihinui land for some other land of higher conservation value?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I say again that there is currently no application before the Department of Conservation. As the potential decision maker, it is not advisable for me to make public comment on the merits or otherwise of any hypothetical proposal that may be put to the department.

Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of the question was whether the Minister agrees that her consent is required for the dam to proceed. She did not address that point in her answer.

Mr SPEAKER: It appeared to me that the Minister was saying that it was not in the public interest for her to comment further on the specificity of the issue. It is solely for the Minister to judge on that matter. I cannot overrule a Minister if he or she argues that it is not in the public interest to comment further on a specific matter.

Kevin Hague: Does the Minister accept the Department of Conservation’s advice that the public conservation land within the Mōkihinui River has such high value that it is most unlikely to be suitable for exchange at all; if so, why wait for a revised proposal from Meridian Energy before ruling out a land swap?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: It would be inappropriate to answer that question, because, in effect, it may prejudge the merits of an application if, indeed, an application is made. There is no such application at the moment.

Kevin Hague: If she will not rule out a land swap now, will she at least ask her colleague the Minister for State Owned Enterprises to encourage our company Meridian Energy to make its land swap proposal before the matter comes up in the Environment Court next year, saving us all a lot of time and money?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: There is no land swap or land exchange application at the moment. If there is one in the future, it will be considered under the usual provisions of the Conservation Act, the Conservation General Policy, and other relevant statutory documents such as the West Coast Te Tai o Poutini Conservation Management Strategy. Until an application is made, I cannot comment further.

Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not asking the Minister to comment on a land swap proposal; I accept that she will not do that. My question was about a conversation with her colleague the Minister for State Owned Enterprises, and she has not addressed that point, at all.

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member, but, again, it is difficult for me to ask the Minister to be more specific when the member is asking a hypothetical question. Until she knows what might happen, she cannot tell the member whether she feels the need to have a conversation with a colleague in the future. I think the member has to be reasonable. When asking hypothetical questions, it is very difficult to pin down a Minister because the circumstances are not precisely known.

Kevin Hague: The question is not hypothetical, at all. It does not require a land swap proposal to be on the table; it is simply recognising the legal fact that the Minister’s consent will be required at some point. Therefore, a conversation with her colleague the Minister for State Owned Enterprises makes sense now to obviate the need for an Environment Court proceeding.

Mr SPEAKER: That may be the member’s view, but it may not be the Minister’s view. When asking this type of question, there is no specific answer. The member may be seeking a particular answer, but I cannot ask a Minister to give a particular answer to a hypothetical question like that. Really, the Minister has a fair bit of freedom as to how she answers that question and she has covered the issue. I accept fully that she has not satisfied the member, but I cannot assist with that kind of question.

Kevin Hague: Is the Minister familiar with Hydro Developments Ltd’s Stockton hydro scheme, which would be enough to make the West Coast self-sufficient in power, and can she comment on its likely conservation impact compared with that of the Mōkihinui dam?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am aware of alternative possible hydro schemes. I am not a hydro scheme expert. It is very difficult to comment on a hypothetical application that does not exist. It is difficult, indeed, to consent to an application that does not exist.

Kevin Hague: How does the Minister think New Zealanders will feel to learn during Conservation Week that our own company Meridian Energy may flood 300 hectares of pristine conservation land, putting at risk more than 20 threatened species, when there is a perfectly good alternative scheme that would meet the West Coast’s power needs?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I think that for a rowi, one of our rarest kiwis, to have been hatched at the beginning of Conservation Week—he was unscathed by the earthquake and is now named Richter—will put a smile on the faces of many New Zealanders as to the importance of conservation in New Zealand.

Accident Compensation Corporation—Performance

4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for ACC: Is he satisfied with the performance of ACC?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC): Generally, yes, I am very satisfied. The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) has made huge progress in reversing years of huge deficits, and has markedly improved rehabilitation rates. The one area that I am not satisfied with is sensitive claims, which make up 0.2 percent of claims. That is why I instigated an independent clinical review of ACC’s processes, and I am pleased with the way that ACC has responded to the clinical panel’s recommendations.

Hon Annette King: What discussions, if any, has he had with ACC in light of the fact that there has been a drop of around 6,250 people getting elective surgery funded through the scheme since he became the Minister, and that, on the current track, that drop could reach 10,000 people by December; and is he concerned about the impact this huge reduction is having on injured New Zealanders?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: In respect of elective surgery, it is true that under the previous Government ACC was funding elective surgery that was not injury-related, and that is why ACC is

properly meeting its requirements. The drop in the number of claims in that area is way over the increases in elective surgery that my colleague Tony Ryall has provided for under Vote Health.

Hon Annette King: Has he received correspondence from orthopaedic surgeons like the correspondence that I have here in my hand, which states that 80 percent of patients with shoulder injuries are being refused surgery because of changes made by ACC since he became the Minister, and that when those patients do win on review 4 to 6 months after the accident, they have irreparable damage to their shoulders because of the delay?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I have received some correspondence from orthopaedic surgeons, and I have met with them. We have a panel—[Interruption] Well, I might get to it, if members take the time to listen. The Government and ACC have ensured that those who are eligible for accident compensation actually get it. When we look at the cases that have been reviewed, we see that under the National Government there has been no change from the position under the previous Government in the number of decisions being overturned. In fact, approximately 80 percent of those decisions are being supported through that review process.

Michael Woodhouse: How has ACC responded to the Canterbury earthquake, and has he been satisfied with that performance?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The corporation has responded very effectively to the Canterbury earthquake. There have been 830 claims lodged for injuries associated with the earthquake, and they are being effectively managed, despite two of the scheme’s three offices in the region being closed for the first week of the civil emergency. The corporation quickly made contact with all 550 serious injury claimants to ensure their well-being over the course of the last week. ACC has deferred collection of accident compensation levies from Canterbury businesses, because they are under pressure. I also note that ACC has made 20 of its staff available to assist the Earthquake Commission, which is under huge pressure with regard to case management. I think that is the sort of cooperation we would want from Government agencies when we face a catastrophe the size of Canterbury’s earthquake.

Hon Annette King: Is he aware that the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association has reviewed the criteria that ACC experts are using to assess shoulder surgery since he became the Minister, and has found that they are grossly simplified and do not take account of the loss of function at the time of the accident; and will he ensure that ACC listens to the association’s advice? After all, they are the real experts.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I certainly accept that orthopaedic surgeons have a very real interest in their patients, but we should not be naive; they also have a very real interest in the fact that ACC pays far more generously for surgery than Vote Health does. It is my view that we need to ensure that decisions about orthopaedic surgery are made by the clinicians, not politicians.

Michael Woodhouse: Mr Speaker—

Hon Annette King: Good Lord!

Michael Woodhouse: I have never been called that.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not think that was at all necessary.

Michael Woodhouse: What is the recent performance of ACC in respect of rehabilitation, and is he satisfied with this performance?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: ACC’s improved performance in rehabilitation rates has been absolutely outstanding. In fact, despite significant declines in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, over the last year there has been a 3 percent improvement in rehabilitation rates, which means that thousands of New Zealanders are back at work earlier than they would have been under the previous Government. I am surprised that members opposite are so opposed to effective rehabilitation. Those improved rehabilitation rates are one of the reasons that the scheme, rather than losing $2.4 billion in the last full year in which Labour was in office, is now in far more robust financial shape.

Hon Annette King: Has he seen the announcement from the National Foundation for the Deaf 4 days ago that ACC has also got wrong the criteria for workplace hearing injuries, and in light of the

fact that it took over a year of clinical and public pressure before the Minister and ACC admitted that the had got wrong the criteria for sensitive claims for sexual abuse, will he listen to their clinicians before any more damage is done to those people who have been denied help?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have met with the Deaf Association and with the key associations with expertise in audiology. The key element that those organisations accept, which is the Government’s position, is that age is not an accident, and that it is not right that accident compensation pick up the cost of the very substantive bill associated with age-related hearing loss. That is not the function of the scheme.

Earthquake, Canterbury—Government Assistance

5. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps will the Government take to aid the recovery of the Canterbury region from the recent major earthquake?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development): Today the Government, with the support of other parties in the House, will introduce the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill. The legislation is needed urgently so that recovery work can continue seamlessly, following the lifting of the state of emergency in Canterbury, which is expected to happen later this week. Passing this bill will facilitate the Canterbury recovery by providing a mechanism that allows specific amendments to be made to a range of legislation, thereby avoiding any unnecessary slow-down to the recovery work that we now have ahead of us. This legislation is specifically for the recovery from the earthquake event. It is important that we move forward with considered haste, to prevent further adverse effects on the people of Canterbury.

Nicky Wagner: How will the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill work in practice?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill enables the Government to use Orders in Council to facilitate the recovery response. Those Orders in Council, of course, will be subject to normal parliamentary scrutiny, as provided in the Standing Orders. This bill allows for the relaxation or suspension of provisions in enactments that may divert resources away from the effort to efficiently respond to the damage caused and the efforts to minimise further damage. It also allows for the relaxation or suspension of enactments that may not be reasonably capable of being complied with, due to earthquake damage. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission will link decision makers on the ground in Canterbury with decision makers in Wellington. Membership of the commission will include the three mayors, and the commission will ensure that the recovery is driven by the people of Canterbury.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Is he satisfied that he has the complete support of the three affected Canterbury mayors for the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Bill, given their statement on Radio New Zealand today that the lifting of the state of emergency in Canterbury will not happen if they are not satisfied with the legislation that he wishes to pass through the Parliament?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am confident that the three mayors, who will, of course, be on the commission, are satisfied with the bill. Over the weekend there have been discussions with their offices, as well as with offices representing Government agencies. The work is being led by the Ministry for the Environment, and the Parliamentary Counsel Office has worked tirelessly to get the bill together. A great deal of consideration has been given to the question of how extensive the bill should be. In the end we have a bill that I think will enable those mayors to constructively go about their reconstruction. I take this opportunity to congratulate the three of them, Kelvin Coe, Ron Keating, and Bob Parker, on the work that they have done to ensure that they have what is needed in order to get the job done.

South Canterbury Finance—Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme Extension

6. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What advice, if any, did Treasury receive from KordaMentha in relation to South Canterbury Finance’s financial condition prior to approving the extension of the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme, and did this advice question whether such an extension was appropriate?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): KordaMentha was engaged by Treasury in June 2009 to undertake detailed analysis of South Canterbury Finance, and it made regular reports to Treasury regarding the state of the company. The fact that Treasury believed there was a chance that South Canterbury Finance could fail was publicly demonstrated in the public accounts for the year ended June 2009, where provision of $831 million was made. That provision was based on an independent assessment of the size of the loss that could occur from the failure of a major company such as South Canterbury Finance. The provision appeared in the first place because there was an assessment that there was a more than even chance that South Canterbury Finance, along with other finance companies, would fail. I point out to the member that South Canterbury Finance did not fail under the extended Crown guarantee; that has not come into effect yet, and will not come into effect until 13 October. South Canterbury Finance failed under the original guarantee established in late 2008.

Hon David Cunliffe: What reports from KordaMentha did Treasury receive of South Canterbury Finance using its acceptance into the guarantee scheme to attract more investment and to increase its loans, and when were those reports received?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member might have received a list of the dates of those reports in the answer to a written question. I cannot tell him whether they focused on those issues. The reports were made to Treasury under the arrangements put in place by the previous Government, and supported by this Government, whereby Treasury made those decisions. We need to keep in mind that part of the point of the guarantee was to allow the finance companies to raise money, because if they did not raise new money, they would certainly fail in the end.

Hon David Cunliffe: When a Treasury official said “South Canterbury’s failure was well anticipated …”, what was the earliest date that Treasury formed the conclusion that South Canterbury Finance could fail, and when and by whom was that first raised with the Minister?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I could not give the member a particular date, but I can tell him that by the time the June 2009 accounts were published the Government had made provision to cover the possibility that South Canterbury Finance would fail.

Hon Annette King: Just South Canterbury?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Not just South Canterbury Finance but South Canterbury Finance and other companies. There was an $831 million provision made at that stage, so Treasury must have come to a view sometime, I presume, before those accounts were finalised, perhaps in March and April 2009.

Hon David Cunliffe: What advice, if any, did Treasury receive relating to South Canterbury Finance’s potential breach of its deed of guarantee, and when and by whom was that first reported to the Minister?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot recall whether the member asked about a breach of the guarantee or a breach of the company’s own trust deed. As far as I am aware, Treasury did not receive any advice at any stage from anyone that South Canterbury Finance had breached the terms of the guarantee. In fact, if that advice had been received, the guarantee would have been removed, as it was in the case of, I think, one other finance company.

David Bennett: Once South Canterbury Finance had been admitted to the Crown guarantee, were there any subsequent actions that the Crown could have taken that would have reduced the cost to taxpayers?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think we need to keep in mind that once South Canterbury Finance was admitted to the guarantee, the only way that it could have exited the guarantee without a cost to

taxpayers was if the company was successfully recapitalised and managed to get back to stability and business as usual. As it turned out, that was not possible, because of the significant amount of bad quality loans that it had made, mostly prior to entering the guarantee. So, in effect, once South Canterbury Finance was admitted to the scheme in 2008 the die was cast. The one action the Government could take and has taken was to pay all depositors promptly once receivership occurred, so as to reduce interest costs. Treasury estimates that that has saved the Crown about $100 million.

Hon David Cunliffe: Did Treasury or any other officials or advisers ever approach the Minister with a proposal to appoint a statutory manager in respect of South Canterbury Finance, either prior to the extension in April 2010 or before its being placed into receivership on 31 August 2010?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: First, can I correct one impression. The deposit guarantee scheme was not extended in April 2010; what happened was finance companies applied for entry to an extended guarantee that would begin in October 2010. South Canterbury Finance failed under the original guarantee. In respect of statutory management, the answer is no. If there had been a reason to go to statutory management, that would have been directed to the Minister who has statutory responsibility for getting advice, and that is the Minister of Commerce, on the advice and recommendation of the Securities Commission—not through Treasury to the Minister of Finance.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It consists of two parts. The first part of the point of order is to note that the first part of the Minister’s response was irrelevant to the question asked. I did not make a proposition—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon David Cunliffe: —in respect of April 2010—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will sit down. To comment on the Minister’s answer is to totally misuse the point of order process. I listened very carefully to the Minister’s answer. Although I accept that in the first part of his answer he was pointing out a matter in respect of the commencement of the extended guarantee scheme, he moved on to answer very precisely what the member had asked. The member had asked—if I recollect correctly—whether advice had been received from Treasury about the appointment of a statutory manager. The Minister was absolutely precise; he said that to the best of his knowledge, no. The member’s question was absolutely answered.

Earthquake, Canterbury—Delivery of Supplies

7. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Transport: What is the Government doing to address challenges in delivering supplies into the area affected by the Canterbury earthquake?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): As the member will be aware, an enormous slip occurred last Friday night just south of Kaikōura, blocking both State Highway 1 and the rail line. This has increased the challenge of moving supplies into Canterbury following the earthquake. The New Zealand Transport Agency, KiwiRail, and their contractors are working around the clock to clear the debris from the site. In the meantime, the inland Kaikōura route 70 can be used by light vehicles, buses, and light trucks not towing trailers. All other traffic is using State Highway 63 through the Wairau Valley and State Highway 7 through the Lewis Pass to travel south to Christchurch. KiwiRail is trucking goods out of its Blenheim depot to Christchurch.

Colin King: When are the road and the rail line expected to be reopened?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Work is well under way to remove the estimated 30,000 cubic metres of rock, as well as to stabilise the slope from which the material has come. The full job will take about 5,000 truck movements and another couple of days to remove enough material to reopen one lane of the highway to traffic on Thursday. Once the rail line is cleared, temporary repairs can begin, and it is expected to reopen on Friday. Work is concentrating on stabilising the face of the slip so that more material does not come down in the future.

District Health Boards—Availability of 2010-11 Annual Plans

8. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: When will all the district health board annual plans for 2010-11 be publicly available?

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

of Health: When they are all approved and signed. It will not take until 11 months into the financial year to have the Auckland District Health Board annual plan approved, as I am advised it did in 2006 when the member’s party was in Government. District health boards have worked hard on their plans to improve services while steadily reducing the $150 million gap of unfunded services left by the previous Government.

Mr SPEAKER: I must be pretty thick or something, but the question asked when all the district health board annual plans for 2010-11 would be publicly available. The Minister answered that question quite quickly when he said it would be when they were completed and signed. It is totally outside Standing Orders to then make all sorts of negative comments about the Opposition. I am sure that there will be supplementary questions that will give him more licence, but that primary question did not.

Hon Ruth Dyson: How does he expect candidates for the district health board elections, let alone the public, to make judgments about the extent of his budget cuts when he has still not signed off 15 of the 20 district health board annual plans, which are now 3 months overdue?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Firstly, there have been no budget cuts; an extra $512 million is going into health—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: This time I apologise to the Minister. The Labour spokesperson on health asked a question to which, I presume, Labour members wish to hear an answer. The Minister in answering initially disputed a claim in the member’s question; he is perfectly at liberty to do that. But the interjection level was such that I could not hear any more of the answer. I want to hear the answer. I apologise to the Minister. I look forward to the House hearing the answer.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: It is absolutely misleading to say there have been Budget cuts; an extra $512 million is going into health this year. As regards district health board candidates, they are well aware of the legacy of disaster the last Government left them to clear up. In 2007 they managed perfectly well when the Labour Government failed to sign off district health board annual plans, and I am sure they will be well placed to assess the situation this time.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Has the Minister not signed off 15 of the district health board annual plans, which took effect from 1 July, because they all show cuts to services—such as the $300,000 raid on funding ring-fenced for mental health on the West Coast, and the $316,000 cut to non-governmental organisation services in Wairarapa—that he would prefer to remain hidden at least until after the district health board elections?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That member is once again misleading. In terms of mental health on the West Coast—

Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister just referred to me with a totally inappropriate and unparliamentary phrase. I took offence and ask that he be required to withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has raised an interesting point. The member is quite right: normally a member cannot allege that another member is lying or not telling the truth. To suggest that a member might be misleading the House, especially with a statement made in a question, raises an issue as questions are not meant to contain statements and they risk a Minister disputing the statement. Maybe on this occasion, since the member has taken offence, I will ask the Minister to use other language to dispute the claim in the question. The Minister is perfectly at liberty to dispute the claim in the question, but maybe he should not so blatantly claim that another member is misleading the House. He should perhaps dispute the information in more appropriate language.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The House will be able to judge whether there have been cuts to mental health budgets on the West Coast, but the facts show that an extra $12.6 million is

going into mental health on the West Coast this year. In terms of Wairarapa, another $7.8 million is going into mental health. It will be up to the House to judge whether that initial statement was misleading, but the facts stand for themselves.

Dr Paul Hutchison: When did the Minister first approve a district annual plan?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The Minister first approved a district annual plan after the general election in November 2008, when there were still four annual plans that the outgoing Labour Government, 4 months into the financial year, had not signed off. These and the remaining district health board 2008-09 annual plans projected a total of around $110 million of services being delivered but not funded. These services were subsequently revealed to total over $150 million.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Why has he signed off on the cut to tobacco control services on the West Coast of $61,000, when the board’s own report says that Māori are under-represented in accessing primary health care services and have above-average smoking rates?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: If we look at the West Coast, we see that an extra $4 million is going into health there this year. There has to be a reprioritisation of services to meet the needs of the local communities against the background of increased funding. I remind the member that her Government cut 30,000 New Zealanders off elective surgery waiting lists, so she should not talk to us about cuts.

Question No. 9 to Minister

JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata): I seek leave to alter the wording of this question to make it clear that it refers to the earthquake on Saturday, 4 September.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

Earthquake, Canterbury—Schools

9. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister of Education: How were Canterbury schools affected by the 4 September earthquake, and what is the current situation for schools in the region?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Schools in Christchurch City and in Waimakariri and Selwyn districts suffered a range of damage from the quake and aftershocks. Some suffered significant structural damage to buildings and grounds; others had no damage at all. Most schools were closed last week, but I am pleased to advise that all but seven schools are now open and we expect almost all of these to be open by the end of this week. St Paul’s School and Halswell Primary School sustained severe damage, and major work will need to be undertaken. St Paul’s School is expected to reopen temporarily on Monday at a ministry-owned property in Champion Street. Halswell Primary School is planning to open temporarily in the Halswell Residential College from tomorrow. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise all of the principals, teachers, trustees, and ministry staff, who deserve a huge amount of credit for making sure that schools can open for students.

Jo Goodhew: What support has been given to schools and early childhood services following Canterbury’s earthquake and the subsequent aftershocks?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The Ministry of Education’s traumatic incident teams have been made available to offer support for students and staff, and workshops have been held for early childhood education services, principals, teachers and boards of trustee members to provide them with advice and guidance in preparation for the return of students and children. In addition, the ministry has contacted all 400 parents with special-needs children to check on their current situation and needs. Advice and guidance have been provided and, where required, home visits are being made.

Marine and Coastal (Takutai Moana) Bill—Attorney-General’s Objective

10. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Attorney-General: Is his objective under the new foreshore and seabed bill to settle the protracted controversy around foreshore and seabed?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): The Government’s objective is to pass legislation that addresses the injustice of the current legislation, including the extinguishment of uninvestigated property rights and the removal of the right of people to go to court, and to balance the rights and interests of all New Zealanders, including the guarantee of public access. Hopefully this legislation will settle the protracted controversy around the issues of the foreshore and seabed.

Hon David Parker: Does the Attorney-General accept that the Labour Party has contributed constructively to the relatively benign political climate that has existed for the settlement of foreshore and seabed issues since the election, including by submitting to the review panel that the right of the court to confer a customary title should be restored, rather than relying upon negotiated outcomes that a future Government could frustrate?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes. I have made it clear in this House on a number of occasions that I genuinely believe that the Opposition has engaged in the review, particularly with the submission of Dr Cullen, because I genuinely believe that that party wants this matter to be resolved in a just and durable manner for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Hon David Parker: Has the Attorney-General been provided with an acknowledgment from the Māori Party leaders, the Hon Tariana Turia and the Hon Pita Sharples, that this bill, if passed, will represent a full and final settlement of the legal framework for foreshore and seabed rights?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I have neither received, nor asked for, any particular written acknowledgment from my colleagues in the Māori Party. However, I have seen statements that they have made indicating their firm support for the legislation.

Hon David Parker: Will the Attorney-General be seeking an acknowledgment from the Māori Party leaders that this bill, if passed, will represent a full and final settlement of the legal framework for foreshore and seabed rights?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, I will not be seeking any such acknowledgment, nor can I reasonably be expected to. I have indicated to the House that the Māori Party has, through various public statements, indicated its support. I have worked very closely with it in development of this legislation. Any questions of the Māori Party should be directed at the Māori Party.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou katoa. Has the Attorney-General seen the submission Te Hunga Roia Māori o Aotearoa, the Māori Law Society, presented to the ministerial review panel last year, which reported that “It remains a concern that a fundamental issue regarding customary and aboriginal rights was mismanaged by the Crown to such an extent that it caused gross racial tension.”? How does he think the new legislation will address such protracted and profound concerns emerging from Labour’s 2004 Act?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I read that submission some time ago. I think the current bill addresses the core grievances associated with the current legislation—the ones I outlined in the answer to the primary question about extinguishment of uninvestigated customary title and the removal of that fundamental right of access to justice. The bill follows a period of extensive consultation that tries to balance the rights and interests of all New Zealanders.

Hon David Parker: Why will the Minister not agree to seek an acknowledgment from the Māori Party that this bill will represent a full and final settlement of the legal framework for foreshore and seabed rights, given that he has today told the House that he thinks it is important that as a country we settle this matter and move forward?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Because I am very satisfied with the statements that the Māori Party has made, and it is not for me to go around demanding written acknowledgments from other political parties. I am a humble worker in the vineyard; those matters are best addressed to the Prime Minister.

David Garrett: Why was a version of section 40 of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004—a section that specifically prohibited iwi owners charging for beach use—not included in the new Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Section 40 deals with foreshore and seabed reserves; there will be no such thing under the new legislation. We are dealing with customary title, and in previous answers to that member I have outlined how customary title will work.

David Garrett: Will he amend the bill to include a specific prohibition on Māori New Zealanders charging other New Zealanders for beach use, which he claimed in the House last week already existed; if not, why not?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I maintain, I continue to maintain, and I will maintain until I bore everyone silly that the question of access is clear. If the member wishes to make a submission to the select committee or put down his concerns in writing to me, I will, of course, consider them.

David Garrett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very carefully worded and referred to a prohibition on charging. The Minister gave us an answer about access. Access and charging are two very different things. He did not go anywhere near charging in his answer.

Mr SPEAKER: I realise that the member asked a very precise question. In the circumstances, I will let him repeat it. I ask all members of the House to be quieter so there can be no question of whether it is heard. I want to hear the answer very clearly as well.

David Garrett: Will he amend the bill to include a specific prohibition on Māori owners charging other New Zealanders for beach use, which he claimed in the House last week already existed; if not, why not?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Because I believe that the issue is very clear. As I said to the honourable member in response to the previous iteration of this question, I am very happy for him to put his concerns in writing or to make a submission to the select committee on the issue of charging. Everything he says will be carefully considered.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he agree with the Human Rights Commission, which said in 2009 that the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 was a decisive setback in Crown – tangata whenua relationships and in relationships between Māori and other New Zealanders, and how will the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Area Bill improve this situation?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I believe the bill improves the situation by more appropriately balancing the interests of all New Zealanders. It provides for recognition of uninvestigated customary title and customary rights while guaranteeing public access and recreational use—interests that the ministerial review panel described as the birthright of all New Zealanders.

Earthquake, Canterbury—Government Support for Rural Canterbury

11. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Agriculture: What is the Government doing to support the rural Canterbury community through the earthquake recovery?

Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): The Government has moved urgently to assist rural Canterbury in its earthquake recovery. We have formed a rural recovery group, involving organisations such as Federated Farmers, Fonterra, banks, insurance companies, and Irrigation New Zealand. To assist this group, we have employed a rural recovery coordinator, who has specific responsibility for overseeing quake recovery efforts and establishing exactly what extra Government assistance might be needed.

Amy Adams: What is the level and scale of earthquake damage in rural Canterbury?

Hon DAVID CARTER: A full stocktake of damage is still being undertaken, but current estimates are that 300 to 400 farms have sustained some damage, with approximately 100 to 150 of those quite badly damaged. Damage primarily involves buildings, silos that have tipped over, inoperable dairy sheds, and some ground cracking. A major concern is the impact the quake might

have had on underground irrigation infrastructure, and we are currently working to ascertain the extent of this damage and what work will be needed to fix any damage prior to summer.

Amy Adams: What further steps is the Government considering to support affected rural businesses and communities?

Hon DAVID CARTER: Most farms are getting back to business as usual, but it is clear that a number of rural properties have damage that may not be covered by insurance. Once the rural recovery coordinator provides the Government with a full picture of this damage, we will consider whether any further assistance is warranted.

Employment—Legislative Reform

12. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does she stand by all of the statements made on her behalf in response to question for oral answer No. 11 on 9 September 2010?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Yes.

Darien Fenton: What specific changes is she considering to collective bargaining?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: There are currently no plans to implement any changes to collective bargaining at this point other than the provisions—

Darien Fenton: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister for interrupting. I would like to go right back to the start and have Darien Fenton repeat her question because I struggled to hear it, and I ask the Minister if she could speak a little closer to her microphone because it is difficult to hear her.

Darien Fenton: What specific changes is she considering to collective bargaining?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: There are no plans to implement any changes to collective bargaining at this time, except for changes that have already been signalled in the amendment bill that is currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee.

Darien Fenton: If she stands by the statement given on her behalf that any changes to employment laws would “take into account all the issues for the benefit of employees and employers equally”, then how is a law that allows employees to be fired at will with no reason having to be given and with no right to an unjustifiable dismissal claim equally to the benefit of employees and employers?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: The 90-day trial provisions, which have been very successful and have been generally and universally accepted, do not take away rights. In fact, several rights are maintained and enhanced. The trial period gives opportunities for employees to get their foot in the door and get a job, which I would have thought that that member applauds.

Darien Fenton: What does she say to the warning from Dr Judy McGregor, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission, that the 90-day trial law “offends against natural justice, the presumption of the law in favour of procedural fairness, and a commitment to a fair go for employees.”?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: It will probably come as no surprise to that member that I do not agree with the comments made by Dr Judy McGregor.


Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2)—Submissions

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

Relations Committee: How many submissions were received on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2) as at 5 p.m. Monday, 13 September 2010?

DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): I am unable to state the precise number of submissions that were received on that bill as at 5 p.m. of that day. However, 200 submissions and six cartons containing hundreds of form submissions have now been received.

Darien Fenton: How many of those submissions have requested an oral hearing, and is he satisfied that the committee has sufficient time—

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I am really struggling to hear her. I apologise that the sound system is letting her down, but could she just speak a little more slowly. I must be able to hear the supplementary question, because there is a tendency for some supplementary questions to be out of order. I would hate to judge the member’s question wrongly.

Darien Fenton: How many of those submissions have requested an oral hearing, and is he satisfied that the committee has sufficient time to hear and consider all of those submissions before the report back date of 7 November for a bill that is due to come into force on April Fool’s Day 2011?

DAVID BENNETT: I am unaware of how many have requested an oral hearing, but I am sure the committee will find that out in due course.


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