Questions and Answers – 15 September 2010

by admin on Thursday, September 16, 2010 — 11:47 AM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Earthquake, Canterbury—Reconstruction Coordination; Earthquake, Canterbury—Earthquake Commission Claims; South Canterbury Finance—Treasury Advice; Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Definition of “Tikanga”
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Earthquake, Canterbury—Reconstruction Coordination

1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Canterbury

Earthquake Recovery : Does he agree with the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend that the reconstruction of Canterbury following the earthquake requires someone “to co-ordinate and oversee” reconstruction?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister for Canterbury

Earthquake Recovery: Generally, yes. In order to assist a coordinated recovery effort, Mr Brownlee has been appointed the Government’s Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery. Last night Parliament unanimously passed the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act, which establishes the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission, consisting of the three relevant Canterbury mayors plus four other appointed experts to help oversee the recovery. The job of the commission will be to provide advice to the Government on what steps need to be taken to help the region get on with the job of reconstruction.

Hon Annette King: Was John Jackson, the construction economist who helped in Darwin following Cyclone Tracy, right when he said today that we need to learn the lessons from Darwin and New Orleans and appoint a non-political leader who is on the spot, able to allocate resources, and able to make sure there is no ripping off or price gouging; if so, will the Government appoint such a person?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course the Government is open to any advice from people who have had previous experience in these matters. Given that the Act was passed just yesterday and that coordination efforts have been largely successful up until now, including efforts by the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce and Mr Peter Townsend, it is the Government’s view that we test the current arrangements to see whether they work; the indications are that they will.

Hon Annette King: What discussions has he had with building companies undertaking work in the rapid rebuild phase following the Canterbury earthquake, and has he set out the Government’s approach to companies that ramp up prices and price gouge?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot give a detailed answer on behalf of the Minister, but I understand that he has had discussions with building companies. One proposition has been to publish a price list so that members of the public know what ought to be charged; prices could be set by the main suppliers.

Hon Annette King: Does he have any reports of a shortage of building supplies, and has he been advised of the need to ration material and prioritise need in Christchurch; if so, what action is the Government planning to ensure there is not only a rapid rebuild but also a fair rebuild?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the Minister has heard such reports. The process related to the building is that at the moment the banks, the insurance companies, and the Earthquake Commission

are finalising processes by which claims will be handled. I think the matter the member raises is pertinent because there is not an unlimited supply of building materials or personnel. Once the process of dealing with the claims is settled, there could well be a discussion about how and whether priority can be allocated to some projects over others. I imagine it will not be as easy as that, simply because there are so many distressed householders. Whether they have had a water tank burst or had their house crack in half, they regard their circumstances as important and as needing to be dealt with quickly.

Hon Annette King: Is he aware of reports of price gouging and that an earthquake premium is already being applied, according to the past president of the Canterbury Registered Master Builders Association; if so, what action is the Government taking in light of the Prime Minister’s saying last week that it would take a tough stance on rip-off builders?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister is in Christchurch, and if that kind of behaviour is going on, then I am sure he will hear about it. In respect of Government action, Parliament supported the passing of legislation that allows for reasonably extensive Government action. The first Orders in Council pursuant to that Government action will probably be passed tomorrow, once Opposition members have been consulted on them. At least there we have a tool that may help us deal with these issues.

Hon Annette King: Will the Government require those in the building industry who receive money from the Earthquake Commission in order to rebuild houses and businesses to sign an agreement to charge usual prices and not impose a so-called premium for earthquake work?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may well be a constructive suggestion. As I have mentioned before, the different parties to the claims process are finalising the process by which they will allocate the claims. I am sure that will lead on to discussions about how to ensure that there is some control of the costs. After all, both the insurers and the claimants, and the wider community, have an interest in ensuring that there are not extensive rip-offs.

Earthquake, Canterbury—Earthquake Commission Claims

2. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Finance: What steps is the Government taking to ensure the Earthquake Commission can meet claims arising from the Canterbury earthquake?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Earthquake Commission is expecting up to 100,000 claims as a result of the earthquake, with the potential cost being between $1 billion and $2 billion. The cost will be met from the Earthquake Commission’s natural disaster fund, which at the start of this month held $6 billion in cash, shares, and Government bonds. In addition, the Earthquake Commission has $2.5 billion of reinsurance cover. The Government has issued a new ministerial direction this week to enable the Earthquake Commission to sell down assets in sufficiently large amounts to produce the cash and to give it the ability to hold more cash than it used to, so that it can pay out claims promptly.

Colin King: How does the likely cost of the Canterbury earthquake compare with other recent natural disasters?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a good question, because usually the Earthquake Commission has been allowed to hold sufficient cash to meet the costs of what has actually been quite a significant number of natural disasters over recent years. To put this into context, for instance, the Gisborne earthquake generated 6,200 claims, the Bay of Plenty earthquake generated 4,300 claims, and the Īnangahua earthquake in 1968 generated 10,500 claims. The most expensive of these was the Bay of Plenty earthquake, where the total cost to insurers, converted into today’s dollars, was about $330 million. Treasury estimates that the cost to the Earthquake Commission and other insurers will be about 10 times that amount, and that is why it is necessary that the commission is able to sell down the assets that it holds in the natural disaster fund.

Colin King: What does the new ministerial direction change?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In a direction issued in 2001, the natural disaster fund was required to be invested in New Zealand Government securities, global equities, and New Zealand bank bills, and the Earthquake Commission was required to consult the Minister if it wanted to sell any part of the portfolio or to hold more than $250 million in New Zealand bank bills. Under the new direction, the Earthquake Commission will be able to keep a wider range of short-term cash holdings in New Zealand banks, so that it can quickly settle claims. The commission will also be able to hold up to $2 billion in cash or short-term securities, rather than the previous limit of $250 million. These provisions will remain in place for a year.

Colin King: With the new ministerial direction in place, how does the Earthquake Commission intend to meet claims?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Earthquake Commission must pay the first $1.5 billion of claims before its $2.5 billion reinsurance cover kicks in. The commission advises me that it intends to pay these claims, firstly from cash reserves; secondly, from maturing investments; and, thirdly, from selling down part of its portfolio. The proceeds from maturing investments and those sold will be held in short-term securities in New Zealand banks. As a result, the Earthquake Commission will not face cash-flow problems as it settles the high number of claims.

South Canterbury Finance—Treasury Advice

3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: 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 him?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): We need to bear in mind that the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme was put in place in October 2008 for the very reason that there was a distinct possibility that some financial organisations could fail. Without the view that they could fail, the guarantee would not have been needed. That was reasonably obvious, given that 45 financial organisations had already failed before the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme was introduced. In respect of South Canterbury Finance, Treasury reached the view that that company was more likely than not to fail.

Hon David Cunliffe: On which date?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: On 13 August 2009. That decision was reflected in the inclusion of South Canterbury Finance in the provision of $831 million reported in the Crown accounts as at 30 June 2009 for all companies under the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme. I was informed by Treasury of its view in August 2009. Yesterday I incorrectly suggested that the provisioning decisions were made in March or April 2009, when in fact they were made in August.

Hon David Cunliffe: Given his answer that he knew there was a “more than even chance that South Canterbury Finance … would fail” as early as the preparation of the Crown accounts, did he discuss with the Minister of Commerce or his officials the placing of South Canterbury Finance into statutory management or receivership by, or around, June 2009; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not recall that discussion, or any discussion of that nature. Some work was done on the general concept of the difference between the Government using statutory management or receivership, which I think was responsible work to do, given that we were guaranteeing dozens of institutions that had the potential to fail. Discussions that were focused particularly on South Canterbury Finance probably did not occur until this year.

Hon David Cunliffe: Given the Government’s stated objective to minimise the cost to taxpayers of the bail-out, how did he expect to reduce the cost to taxpayers by allowing South Canterbury Finance to trade on past June 2009, when provisions in the Crown accounts prove that the Government knew the company was already in a negative equity position by that time?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The point here is simply that both the Government and the company made every effort to avoid any costs to the taxpayer at all. If the company had been able to be recapitalised, or if it had been able to generate sufficient inflows of deposits, then it was possible,

up until quite recently before the receivership, that the company would not have failed at all. That, of course, was the preferred option.

Hon David Cunliffe: In the light of that answer, would the taxpayer’s liability for South Canterbury Finance have been lower if his Government had not decided on 1 April 2010 to include South Canterbury Finance in the extended Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme, given that its chief executive, Sandy Maier, has said the company used that extension to obtain extra funding; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The important thing to remember is that the guarantee was a not a guarantee of the company, but for the depositors. In fact, South Canterbury Finance had been running down its deposits, so it is quite possible that we paid out less through the recent receivership than we would have paid out in April, when the book was bigger. Secondly, we need to remember that at the time it was almost certain that if the Government had not announced an extension, South Canterbury Finance would have failed there and then. Our option was to try to give the company the opportunity it asked for, which was to see whether it could succeed in rebuilding the company, so that there would be no liability to the taxpayer.

Hon David Cunliffe: Approximately how much extra taxpayer liability would the Government have avoided if it had intervened in June 2009, and what was the rationale for incurring the additional taxpayer liability after that date?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The first point I make is that even as late as early 2010 no one really had a good grip on the assets or liabilities of South Canterbury Finance. In fact it became clear, with KordaMentha’s involvement, that the Government had a better idea of that than the company itself did, until Mr Maier came on the job. The kind of calculation that the member is postulating never really occurred. The Government’s approach was, knowing that there was potentially a very large liability, to make sure the company had every opportunity to succeed so that there was no taxpayer liability. We made decisions along the way that did not, in our view, increase the taxpayer’s liability, yet gave the company the best opportunity to succeed. In the end the company did not succeed.

Dr Russel Norman: How does the Minister explain the apparent conflict between his claim that the great majority of problem lending occurred prior to South Canterbury Finance’s entry to the guarantee scheme and the comments of the company’s chief executive, Sandy Maier, that South Canterbury Finance used its acceptance into the scheme to ramp up its risky lending?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think Mr Maier said the company used the extension of the guarantee scheme to bring in more deposits, and that was obviously part of the drive to see whether the company could carry on. In respect of the lending, we simply have to look at the figures that have been published. Those figures show that most of the problem lending occurred before South Canterbury Finance entered the scheme. In respect of the likelihood of the company failing, I point the House towards the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the 11 months ended on 31 May 2009. Even in May 2009 there was no provision for South Canterbury Finance, because at that stage Treasury did not believe there was a more than even possibility that the company would fail, whereas by August 2009 it believed there was that possibility.

Dr Russel Norman: Given the level of what we could only describe as fundamental uncertainty concerning some of the basic facts—that is, about whether the level of risky borrowing increased after the guarantee—why will the Minister not support having some kind of select committee inquiry or public inquiry into the events surrounding South Canterbury Finance’s failure, given the amount of public money involved?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the end that is a matter for the select committee. The Government will, when we have the time and the resource, issue all the documents related to the scheme that we can. That will give the member, along with anyone else, the opportunity to scrutinise all the relevant information and decide which further questions need to be answered.

Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Definition of “Tikanga”

4. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Attorney-General: Does he agree that “tikanga” as it is described—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. The House will come back to order. That was totally unnecessary. I remind members that when a member has made a personal explanation, that is it as far as this House is concerned.

DAVID GARRETT: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does he agree that “tikanga” as it is described in the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill will differ in meaning from iwi to iwi and hapū to hapū?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): I think it is probably more accurate to say it “could” differ—not always but often.

David Garrett: How does the Government define “tikanga”, and where that definition differs from that used by those applying for customary title, just who will determine what “tikanga” means?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: “Tikanga” is defined in clause 7 of the bill to mean “Māori customary values and practices”. As to how it will be proved and tested, that will be for the judge who deals with the matter in the High Court.

David Garrett: Who will determine whether iwi have acted in accordance with tikanga since 1840, as required by the bill?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: If the matter goes to court, a judge will determine that. There are some procedures set out in the bill. If there is a particular matter that the judge feels he or she needs particular assistance on, either it can be referred to the Māori Land Court for a determination, as happens now from time to time, or the assistance of a pūkenga can be engaged.

Health System—Doctors’ and Nurses’ Contribution to Management

5. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Are doctors and nurses having more say in how the health system is run?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, and in part that is because under this Government there are over 1,000 extra nurses and hundreds of extra doctors.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he support the view of Kevin Woods, who was recently appointed Director-General of Health, that many doctors and nurses’ positions can be cut without compromising health services; if so, in which areas are those surplus doctors and nurses to be found?

Hon TONY RYALL: Mr Woods’ comments no doubt reflect circumstances from his Government in Scotland. Under this Government in New Zealand, we have employed, since the election, over 1,000 extra nurses and hundreds of extra doctors.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Who are doctors and nurses more likely to have confidence in: the 29 New Zealanders who were shoulder-tapped to lead the Ministry of Health—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I must say I am not terribly impressed with the way the sound system is working today, because I am struggling to hear members, but the level of interjection is not helping. That just got totally out of control, and the House has been very well behaved until just the last couple of minutes. I ask the Hon Ruth Dyson please to repeat her question, and I ask members to be reasonable in their interjections.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Who are doctors and nurses more likely to have confidence in: the 29 New Zealanders who were shoulder-tapped to lead the Ministry of Health but declined the job, or Mr Woods who oversaw the plan to slash 4,000 front-line health jobs in Scotland?

Hon TONY RYALL: I think New Zealanders can have confidence in the decision of the State Services Commissioner to employ Dr Woods. I can confirm the reported comments of the director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, who said that Mr Woods “leaves the NHS in Scotland

in a better place than it was when he arrived”, which is certainly not something that New Zealand doctors and nurses would say about that party opposite when it was in Government.

Dr Paul Hutchison: What improvements have been made by giving doctors and nurses more say in the public health service?

Hon TONY RYALL: A good example is the 2,500 nurses now involved in the Releasing Time To Care programme, which in some parts of the country is doubling the amount of time that nurses spend with patients. As a result, patients are getting better care, getting back to their families sooner, and fewer are being readmitted to hospital. That could not happen unless there was leadership being shown by New Zealand nurses up and down wards throughout this country.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Was there any consistency in the reason that so many people declined to take on the role of Director-General of Health during the shoulder-tapping; if so, has the Minister of State Services advised him of the reason?

Hon TONY RYALL: I can tell the member opposite that she can make up as many stories as she likes about that, but Dr Woods is coming to a job where over 1,000 extra nurses, hundreds of extra doctors, and hundreds of extra services are being provided in hospitals throughout New Zealand.

Hon Ruth Dyson: When he told nurses last year of his lean-thinking pilots, was he actually intending to warn them that they would soon be working longer and harder, and that many of their colleagues would lose their jobs?

Hon TONY RYALL: Over 1,000 extra nurses have been employed in the public health service since the election and hundreds of extra doctors are employed in the public health service. The only people I am aware of who are losing their jobs are a large number of managers throughout the bureaucracy.

Earthquake, Canterbury—Flood and Waste Management Systems

NICKY WAGNER (National): My question is to the Minister for the Environment. What reports has he received on responses to the Canterbury earthquake, particularly with respect to the region’s flood and waste management systems? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to Nicky Wagner. The Labour front bench will cease carrying on interjections about the last question. It is discourteous to this House. I called Nicky Wagner. The last question has been dealt with; it may not have been dealt with terribly well, but I am not going to pass any judgment on either the questions or the answers. I have now called Nicky Wagner, and the House will show her some courtesy. I ask Nicky Wagner to repeat her question.

6. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister for the Environment: What reports has he received on responses to the Canterbury earthquake, particularly with respect to the region’s flood and waste management systems?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): I am advised that the flood protection works in the lower Waimakariri area suffered from liquefaction involving lateral spreading to approximately 1.5 kilometres of the stopbanks, mainly on the Kaiapoi side of the river but also in the Stewarts Gully area. Environment Canterbury has been working to re-establish this protection as quickly as possible and has already restored it to a 1-in-15-year level of flood protection. Work costing nearly $3 million will be completed over the next month to secure a 1-in-50-year level of flood protection. It will take 12 months to do the full set of work, providing Christchurch and the people of Canterbury with a 1-in-200-year level of protection by this time next year.

Nicky Wagner: What steps has the Government taken to assist in the earthquake clean-up so as to minimise the cost for householders and business?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Canterbury transfer stations and landfills have reported an eightfold increase in volumes, with 40,000 tonnes of food alone having to be disposed of. On top of this there will be tens of thousands of tonnes of other waste. The Government has stepped in to minimise the cost by exempting this waste from the Waste Minimisation Act levy of $10 per tonne. This step will

save Cantabrians several million dollars. The purpose of the waste levy is to encourage recycling and waste minimisation during the normal course of business. An earthquake of this scale is a very exceptional event, and there will be no impact on the Government’s waste minimisation programme and recycling work, as the estimates do not include the sort of extra waste that comes from such a disaster.

Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Proof of Customary Interest

7. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Attorney-General: What is the burden of proof under the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill in relation to applications for customary interests, and what type of evidence would the Crown be required to produce to prove that a customary interest had been extinguished?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): Under clause 105 an applicant group is required to prove it is entitled to the customary interest that is the subject of the application. It would have to show, for example, exclusive use and occupation of the area since 1840 without substantial interruption, and that the area in question was held in accordance with tikanga. If the Crown wants to assert that customary title does not exist, then it will have the burden of showing that it has been extinguished. This sharing of the burden of proof is modelled on comments of the Court of Appeal in the Ngāti Apa case.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What assistance will be available to claimant groups to submit applications for recognition of a protected customary right, a customary marine title, or both?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Under the current Foreshore and Seabed Act the previous Government provided funding for resourcing and historical research in the context of negotiations. I imagine that that kind of thing will continue.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What support is he aware of for the intention of this bill to recognise “the intrinsic, inherited rights of whānau, hapū, and iwi, derived in accordance with tikanga and based on their connection with the foreshore and seabed.”?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The inherited rights of whānau, hapū, and iwi, derived in accordance with tikanga, are recognised by the status of mana tuku iho. This is an acknowledgment that iwi and hapū have a traditional role in caring for the common marine and coastal area in their rohe. This award has some similarities with the recognition awards provided for in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act.

Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Co-leader of Māori Party’s Statement

8. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Attorney-General: When he answered yesterday that “hopefully” the new foreshore and seabed bill “will settle the protracted controversy around the issues of the foreshore and seabed”, was he aware that the Government’s confidence and supply partner the Hon Pita Sharples told TV3 that he was “not entirely happy” with the new bill?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): No, I was not aware of those comments, which I think were made by Dr Sharples to TV3 immediately before question time commenced. The Government sought to develop a replacement regime that balances the rights and interests of all New Zealanders. I have to say I agree with what Phil O’Reilly of Business New Zealand said earlier today: “Balancing competing needs with legislation of this kind inevitably involves trade-offs. It is to be hoped that we can all approach the debate around this Bill thoughtfully and courteously and without slogans.”

Hon David Parker: When the Attorney-General said yesterday that he had seen statements from the Māori Party members “indicating their firm support for the legislation.”, which of the following statements was he referring to: the statement from Pita Sharples, the one from Te Ururoa Flavell that they would “come back and have another go in the future”, or those from Hone Harawira, who is not even voting for the bill?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Neither. I was referring to a press release that had been issued by the Māori Party indicating its support for the legislation in this House.

Hon David Parker: Will the Attorney-General accept that without a clear acknowledgment from the Māori Party that the new legislation will fully and finally settle the legal framework for foreshore and seabed issues, there is less likelihood that the protracted controversy will be durably settled?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, I do not. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the National Government considers that it has developed a replacement regime that balances the rights and interests of all New Zealanders, and it will not be revisiting this matter. The Māori Party has indicated that it supports the legislation, so in terms of durability for the country, I suppose it is really a question of whether Labour would be willing to revisit the matter in the future.

Hon David Parker: Given his responsible acknowledgment yesterday—for which I thank him— that the Labour Party has contributed to a benign political climate by offering to compromise on foreshore and seabed issues, if an enduring settlement of these issues cannot be achieved now, when will it ever be possible?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I thank the member for his thankyou, but there is no need for it. I believe that now is the time for this House to deal with the issue—picking up the words of Phil O’Reilly—courteously and generously, listening to what the general public have to say, and ensuring that it is not rushed through the House. I think that if we can all deal with it in that way then it will be durably resolved.

Hon David Parker: Is the Minister aware that many New Zealanders believe that unless there is an acknowledgment by the Māori Party that this framework will fully and finally settle foreshore and seabed issues, the matter will not be fully and finally settled, and his Government and the Māori Party will have failed in their ambition?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, I am aware of many people who confidently expect, as I said, that if this House works positively and maturely on the issue then the proposals that have been put forward will result in a durable resolution of a matter that has vexed this country for too long.

Earthquake, Canterbury—Assistance of Government Social Services

9. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister for Social Development and

Employment: How have Government social services been supporting the people of Canterbury?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I would like to update the House on the earthquake support subsidy. We announced the subsidy last week and to date we have had a very positive response from Canterbury businesses and employees. It is remarkable how quickly Work and Income got up to speed with it, but we knew that things would need to be tidied up as we went along. We have been working on issues such as stepping up the speed of application processing in the last 24 hours, clarifying criteria to include sole traders and business owners who pay themselves a wage, and working on banking payment issues. So far, over 990 businesses have applied for the earthquake support subsidy, covering 4,765 employees. To date, 823 applications have been approved.

Jo Goodhew: How are Government social services working together on the ground?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting in on the welfare advisory group, and I want to thank it for all the work it is doing. Although the group is usually active, it has been meeting daily at 4 o’clock. The group that I saw yesterday was made up of over 30 people from central government, local government, and non-governmental organisations. As I said, the group meets daily to ensure a planned and coordinated approach to what is needed in the city. I think one of the measures of its success was Operation East, where a big group of organisations went into a street to work not just on compliance and building inspection but also on meeting the social needs of the residents in that area.

Jacinda Ardern: What assistance will Work and Income give to the 28 people evacuated from their council-owned housing with just 1 hour’s notice, and with some arriving home to find all their possessions boarded up inside; and will she ensure that a generous approach is provided to those people who have to purchase everything from clothing and heaters to high chairs and toiletries?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I must say that to date Work and Income has been taking a generous approach to anyone who comes to its door asking for assistance. As of yesterday, Work and Income had approved over 2,800 special-need payments and civil defence payments. Yes, it will be helping those people in any way it can, and it will be erring on the side of generosity.

Jo Goodhew: Can the Minister update the House on the Government helpline?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I suppose this is where I get to say a huge thanks to Work and Income, but many New Zealanders, including many Cantabrians, have already done so. Work and Income has now contacted well over 16,000 superannuitants who live alone, and it has visited more than 600 elderly people in their homes. It started with those aged over 80 who lived alone and were getting a disability allowance. I must say that those elderly people are a resilient lot because most of them, when visited, said that the person visiting their house should go away and look after someone else who might need them, but it has been well received. I acknowledge Minister John Carter for his support as Minister for Senior Citizens in standing up for those people and initiating the phone calls in the first instance.

Auckland Transition Agency—Award of Computer System Contract

10. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Local Government: Why did the Auckland Transition Agency award the $53.8 million contract for the Auckland Council’s Enterprise Resource Planning computer system without a competitive tender?

Hon JOHN CARTER (Acting Minister of Local Government): The member’s assertion is incorrect. I understand that the Auckland Transition Agency ran a limited tender process to deliver—[Interruption] If the members listen to the answer, they will find out what it means. It ran a tender process to deliver an enterprise resource planning system. Nine parties were invited to respond to a tender, as part of a selection process for choosing an implementation partner for the delivery of the system.

Phil Twyford: Can the Minister confirm that the selection of a contractor for the $53 million contract for the Enterprise Resource Planning computer system was done on the basis of an internal evaluation, and that the implementation of that system, worth approximately $14 million, was put out to a limited tender to nine parties as he described in his earlier answer?

Hon JOHN CARTER: Yes I can confirm that there was a limited tender process, but I should also draw the member’s attention to the fact that the project will cost about $124 million in total. This part of it is $53 million. Local government in Auckland normally spends about $90 million, so the increased cost is not significant in the context of reorganisation. I am confident that the Auckland Transition Authority will get a good end result.

Phil Twyford: Was advice sought from the Auditor-General regarding the tendering process—or non-tendering process—for the $53 million contract, given that several chief information officers of the council have expressed their concerns in writing about the lack of a tender, with one describing it as indefensible, and another urging the Government to get advice from the Auditor-General?

Hon JOHN CARTER: I cannot confirm that. That is an operational matter and I do not have that information. If the member wishes to give me a written question, I will happily find the answer.

Phil Twyford: How does the awarding of a $53 million contract without tender demonstrate the kind of clear, transparent, and accountable decision-making he has been advocating for local government?

Hon JOHN CARTER: As I have said, the member should not continue to say there was no tender process. There was a limited tender process. I also say, as I have said earlier, this is a big project. However, I have every confidence in the Auckland Transition Agency’s handling of this

issue. The agency is within budget, as was expected; it is doing a particularly good job and is to be commended for it.

Phil Twyford: Did he consider that the contract for a $53 million information technology system for the Auckland City was expensive and risky, in the terms of the Auditor-General’s recommendation that competitive tendering should be used, especially with expensive and risky projects?

Hon JOHN CARTER: I do not accept that. The fact is that, as I have said, this is a big project. The total cost is $124 million. Normally—[Interruption] well, if members just listen, they will get the answer—we spend $90 million on information technology services in Auckland across Auckland councils anyway. I am satisfied that we will end up with a good product that will serve Auckland and Aucklanders extremely well.

Women’s Affairs, Ministry—Suffrage Day Celebrations

11. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Women’s Affairs: Why is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs celebrating Suffrage Day?

Hon PANSY WONG (Minister of Women’s Affairs): On 19 September 1893 New Zealand women won the right to vote. Suffrage Day is New Zealand’s first “world first”. It shows that we are a progressive and fair people. We also changed world attitudes. Suffrage Day is an event that defines us a nation, yet we do little to celebrate this significant milestone. That is something we must change. New Zealanders can and should take pride in our achievements, and this is a significant one. I am determined to bring about enduring changes that will see Suffrage Day celebrations take their rightful place and become part of our national pride.

Louise Upston: What is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs doing to celebrate Suffrage Day?

Hon PANSY WONG: We will celebrate, and this year the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has organised a series of activities to raise public awareness of our country’s first “world first” achievement. First of all, a book on Māori women and the vote records the huge role that Māori women leaders played in the struggle for women’s rights. That resource was launched at an event in Auckland on Monday and is now on the ministry’s website. The original petition was signed by 32,000 people. Copies containing 23,853 signatures will be on display at the Wellington and Christchurch libraries. Wellington’s Civic Square also has some innovative footpath graphics that begin to tell the suffrage story. This evening women MPs will be joining women’s organisations and guests to continue our work for the well-being of women. I invite all MPs to wear the cool button I am wearing to celebrate the women in our nation.

Sue Moroney: Can the Minister point out what permanent fixtures in this Chamber recognise women’s suffrage?

Hon PANSY WONG: I very proudly point out the sculpture of camellias in the debating chamber. I understand that when Kate Sheppard’s petition was presented to the House, John—I am trying to remember the name; [Interruption] it was not the Rt Hon John Key but his namesake— rolled out the petition of 28,000 names, it caused quite a stir. It must have been effective, because within a few months the all-male Parliament voted to allow women to participate in general elections, and every one of the 31 percent of my fellow MPs who—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Sue Moroney: Which of the following of her Government’s actions does she think is most worthy of celebrating on Suffrage Day this Sunday: the closure of the pay and employment equity unit, the widening pay gap between men and women, the obliteration of adult community education, the funding cuts to early childhood education, the cuts to counselling for victims of sexual abuse, or the scrapping of pay equity reviews for low-paid women?

Hon PANSY WONG: Suffragettes like Kate Sheppard had a can-do, positive attitude. I tell you what: the National Government does the whole nation proud. The National Government had the

first woman Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley, and this Shanghai-born migrant Asian woman made it to be the first—

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called. [Interruption] The House is having a bit of fun but it must obey the Standing Orders.

Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What the Minister has to say is very interesting, but she is failing to address the question in any form. I asked her which of her Government’s actions she thought was most worthy of celebrating, and I gave her a list to choose from.

Mr SPEAKER: Members will know that when they give a list like that, Ministers may choose to give a different example of what they are celebrating, rather than pick from the member’s list. The Minister may not think any of those issues is worth celebrating, and there is no way I can stop the Minister from doing that. But I would ask the Minister to please be brief in her answer.

Hon PANSY WONG: National’s vision for women is for us to have choices. That is why I choose to finish off by saying this Shanghai-born Asian migrant woman made it to be New Zealand’s first Asian Cabinet Minister, thanks to the National Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key. We have a lot to celebrate—for migrants, for women, for everyone.

Pay and Employment Equity Unit—Report to United Nations

12. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Women’s Affairs: How will New Zealand’s forthcoming report to the UN under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women explain the Government’s decision to axe the pay and employment equity unit?

Hon PANSY WONG (Minister of Women’s Affairs): The work of the pay and employment equity unit within the Department of Labour was discontinued in 2009, following the completion of reviews in the State sector and the development of a full set of resources. The pay and employment equity tool kits continue to be made available to employers and individuals who request them on the Department of Labour’s website. In 1972 it was a former National Government that passed the equal pay Act.

Catherine Delahunty: Why will the report imply there was nothing left for the pay and employment equity unit to do, when its findings on gender pay gaps across the public sector clearly show that this was not true?

Hon PANSY WONG: That is why the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which for many years has not had budget increases, received $2 million to tackle the pay gap. We are looking at new ways of tackling it, including working with industry training organisations on breaking into male-dominated sectors, and including flexible work practice. Can I share with the House the OECD report—

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will resume her seat. It seemed to me that the Minister answered the question that was asked. She may wish to share with the House all sorts of things, but this is question time, and this is when questions are asked and answered.

Catherine Delahunty: Can the Minister confirm that when Cabinet agreed to axe the unit, it was committed to supporting the implementation of pay equity response plans in the public sector?

Hon PANSY WONG: Like I said, the resource kit is all there to be used. All the chief executives have the responsibility to ensure that they are following through with all the reviews, and, of course, the ministry has $2 million to tackle the pay gap issue. According to the OECD report, which was published this year, New Zealand has the third-lowest wage gap out of—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the question was commendably short, brief, and to the point. It asked about the implementation of the plans that were in place before the Minister took over and responsibility was transferred to her department. Nothing that she said referred to the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Because there is a genuine public interest in this issue, and, after all, today is a celebration of suffrage, I ask Catherine Delahunty to repeat her question. I ask the House to listen to it carefully.

Catherine Delahunty: Can the Minister confirm that when Cabinet agreed to axe the unit, it was committed to supporting the implementation of pay equity response plans in the public sector?

Hon PANSY WONG: When the review was completed by the pay and employment equity unit, all the results of the review and the resource kits developed at that time were made available for all departments to implement, and all chief executives are held responsible for making sure that is being done.

Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am still seeking an answer on the issue of the implementation of pay equity response plans.

Mr SPEAKER: Everyone listened very carefully to the question. I absolutely accept that what the member said was what she asked. It seems that the Minister has answered that her interpretation of the response plans that the member is referring to seems to relate to a tool kit of mechanisms available. If that is the Minister’s interpretation of what the member is asking, then there is not a lot that I can do about that as Speaker. We have to take the Minister’s advice that those plans seem to be incorporated in that tool kit of mechanisms.

Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a minute of the Cabinet economic growth and infrastructure committee from August 2009, noting Cabinet’s decision to support the implementation of response plans.

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.

Catherine Delahunty: Why is there no reference to progress on pay equity response plans in the draft report to the United Nations, when Cabinet has agreed to support them?

Hon PANSY WONG: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women report consists of a broad-based report card for 4 years on what New Zealand has done to comply with that convention. That would be the best response, because with the 40-page report, there is a format. We believe we have covered all the topics that we need to report on, but the ministry is going through consultation with women’s organisations. If it is found that there are omissions, then we will be happy to look at that.

Catherine Delahunty: Is it not misleading for New Zealand’s report to the United Nations to refer to the pay and employment equity unit as evidence of progress, when its recommendations have not been implemented and it has been unceremoniously axed?

Hon PANSY WONG: In the report we have a range of events to comment on. In fact, when I quoted from the OECD report published in 2010, New Zealand had the third-lowest gender wage gap out of 26 countries. That is something we can be proud of, but the National Government will never become complacent on behalf of New Zealand women. That is why the Ministry of Women’s Affairs received an additional $2 million of funding to continue to tackle the gender pay gap, which is 12 percent—5 percent lower than Australia’s.

Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a specific question about how the report refers to the pay and employment equity unit and its axing. I did not ask about gender pay equity in general; it was a specific question asking whether it was misleading to report on this unit to the United Nations, given that the Government has axed it.

Mr SPEAKER: That may be the member’s view in asking the question, but the Minister gave a different view in answering it. If I recollect what the member said correctly, she asked why is it appropriate—or something like that—that the report does not cover this particular issue, and the Minister, in answering, said what the report did cover it and argued that that was the important thing

to cover. When it comes to a matter of opinion, it is a difference of opinion between the member and the Minister, and I cannot judge between those two positions.

Sue Moroney: Why does her draft report with regard to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women fail to mention her Government’s decision to scrap pay equity reviews for school support workers and social workers?

Hon PANSY WONG: I was just asked by one member why we mentioned the unit at all, and the other member’s question ranges over all sorts of things. This is actually not as much my report as it is the Government’s report on the last 4 years, compiled from feedback from each Government department. It is only 40 pages long. There is only so much that we can record in it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, that was a very specific question about two particular reports and why they were not mentioned, and that was not addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear what the member is saying, but I have to say in defence of the Minister that—far be it for me to judge the quality of the answer—I think she told the House that there was not room in the report to include that matter. Members can judge for themselves the quality of the answer and the quality of the decision, but it is not for me as Speaker to do that. I believe that is an answer to the question. The Minister was asked why, and that was what she said: there was not room in the 40-page report.


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