Questions and Answers – 21 October 2010

by Desk Editor on Friday, October 22, 2010 — 10:13 AM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Infrastructure—Insurance Against Future Shocks; Economy—Minister’s Statement; Public Sector Spending—Unsustainable Increases; Incomes, Median Weekly—June 2010 Quarter Compared with June 2009 Quarter
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Infrastructure—Insurance Against Future Shocks

1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “it’s essential that we reduce New Zealand’s vulnerability to future shocks because, as we’ve seen with the current recession, economic conditions can change extremely quickly”; and, if so, is he confident that all his infrastructure investments reduce our vulnerability to future shocks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. The Government is investing billions of dollars into strengthening the national electricity grid, setting out to roll broadband out across the country, plus putting very heavy investments into roading and rail. These will both increase the resilience of our economy and underpin stronger growth in the future.

Dr Russel Norman: How will the $11 billion that his Government is spending on new high-cost motorways do anything to reduce the vulnerability of our economy to oil price shocks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The investment in roads is freeing up congestion and lifting our export productivity. If oil prices rise, then I am sure that people will make their choices about whether to travel more or less, or whether to change their mode of transport. It is our guess that even if oil prices rise, most people still will want to travel by private car.

Jo Goodhew: What are some of the economic benefits of the Government’s programme of infrastructure investment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the long run it will improve the quality of our infrastructure, consistent with a growing economy, and help to lift New Zealand’s productivity. In the short term our infrastructure investment is supporting the economy. Eighty percent of the major construction jobs—that is, jobs worth over $5 million—are being funded by the Government, according to Pacifecon’s recent survey of activity, and over half of all non-residential building consents are for Government-related work, which is the highest percentage in 20 years. So the infrastructure investment is also underpinning thousands of jobs.

Dr Russel Norman: When he says it is his “guess” that people will change their behaviour in certain ways during an oil price shock, has the Government done any studies or conducted any research into what the actual impact of an oil price shock would be on transport decision-making?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I could go and check whether the Government has done that—perhaps the previous Government may well have done, because there was an oil price spike a few years ago. But we can see that the whole transport industry has been thinking that through. For instance, one effect might be an even faster move towards much more fuel-efficient cars or a switch to electricity. Those cars would still require roads to be driven on.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Does he agree that the country’s current measurement of economic progress, GDP, is highly susceptible to these economic shocks,

and what will he do to progress the implementation of the genuine progress index, which, as a more holistic measure of economic progress, would be less susceptible to economic shocks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government accepts that GDP is not a total measure of welfare or even of those things that are desirable for the Government to achieve. That is one reason why, for instance, the Government is now publishing immunisation rates in the newspaper every quarter, to demonstrate to the public the progress that we are making on immunising children. It is also a reason why the Government is introducing national standards as a measure of literacy and numeracy. They are the basic requirements for competent citizenship.

Dr Russel Norman: In reference to the work that the Government may or may not have done on the impact of oil price shocks, can he confirm that oil price shocks have not been considered in any of the business cases for the roads of national significance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply cannot answer that question, but I would be willing to go and find out.

Dr Russel Norman: In light of the fact that oil price shocks have not been considered in any of the business cases, does he accept that an oil price shock would reduce the benefits in the business cases for building those motorways and would also increase the construction costs—so an oil price shock would change the benefit to cost ratio by reducing the benefits and increasing the costs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In some respects, it is fairly obvious that if the prices were different, the business case would look a bit different. But the lesson from past surges in oil prices is that although people may change to more efficient cars or different types of fuel, the private car is likely to remain a vastly dominant form of transport, no matter how much we spend on railways. If the dominant form is not cars, then it is buses, and they still need roads.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that there are opportunity costs in spending $11 billion on new motorway projects, in that he will have less money available to invest in projects that would give New Zealanders real options, such as better buses and trains, walking, and cycling?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, there are always opportunity costs in making a particular investment, but the investment in roads assists with what is actually a more efficient mode of public transport than rail, and that is buses. They need basically the same system as cars. The member may be interested to look in detail at some of the cost-benefit analysis on rail, because although he thinks that roads are vulnerable to oil shocks, most rail investment cases do not stack up without a very large public-good element to cover the big difference between the costs and the benefits.

Dr Russel Norman: In the light of an oil price shock, does he think that the benefit-cost ratio would look better for a new motorway project or a new rail project, and hence, that if he included oil price shocks in the studies of the benefit to cost for these two projects, actually rail would look much better, in the case of an oil price shock, than new motorways?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have not personally done those calculations, but my guess is that we would need to have a very high oil price to make the cost-benefit ratio on rail look better. If the oil price was high, we would have to presume most people would shift to rail, but even if the volumes on rail doubled or trebled, the economics of it are still very marginal.

Economy—Minister’s Statement

2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement on 18 December 2008, a month after the general election, that “I want to stress that New Zealand starts from a reasonable position in dealing with the uncertainty of our economic outlook”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In respect of the relative level of public debt at the time, yes, I do. But that was really the only economic indicator that was positive. The Government had at the time produced a Budget forecasting rising unemployment, inflation over 5 percent, a decade of deficits, and private debt in New Zealand out of control, as well as a housing bubble and a failing export sector.

Hon Annette King: What did he mean when he also said on 18 December 2008, after the election and after the global financial crisis had hit, that “In New Zealand we have room to respond. This is the rainy day the Government has been saving up for.”; and did it relate to the previous Government paying off debt, even when criticised by him for doing so?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: What I meant was exactly what the statement referred to, and that is that at the time Government debt was relatively low, although I might say that the Government did not actually pay off debt. The economy grew and, relative to the economy, the debt stayed flat. I point out to the member that a headline at the time stated: “Treasury books a sea of red ink”. That was after the Government’s Budget. Another headline stated: “Economic update shows growth in all the wrong places”. [Interruption] If Labour does not understand what a mess it left the economy in, then it does not understand the economy.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very straight. The answer did not require the nastiness at the end of it about the previous Labour Government.

Mr SPEAKER: I listened very carefully to the question, and I listened very carefully to the answer. The member’s colleagues interjected very robustly on what the Minister was saying. The Minister was giving a very reasoned answer to the member’s question, and the member’s colleagues gave a barrage of interjections. The Minister picked up on those interjections and responded, and he is at liberty to do that. I cannot insist that the Minister behave in an exemplary fashion if the member’s own colleagues let fly a barrage of interjections. It has to work fairly on both sides.

Hon Annette King: Was the Governor of the Reserve Bank Alan Bollard correct when he said in 2008 that New Zealand has “enjoyed a decade of growth, the longest period of economic growth since post – World War II era. Inflation has been low, averaging 2.2 percent since 1998.”; if not, why does he believe that Dr Bollard is correct now when he says that inflation would be around 2 percent in 2012-13?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I disagree with the Governor of the Reserve Bank’s assessment of the economy at that time. In fact, inflation was over 5 percent—that is a matter of fact—the Government’s books were heading into the red, the export sector had been shrinking for 5 years, Government spending was out of control, and unemployment was heading up. And that was before the global financial crisis.

Amy Adams: What reports has he seen about the state of the economy in late 2008?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen this one from the Press from 7 October 2008. Under the headline: “Grim numbers” it talks about a cash deficit of $5.9 billion that financial year, and $30 billion over 4 years; house prices down by 11 percent by March, the consumer price index at 4.5 percent; debt ballooning to 24.5 percent of GDP by 2012; tax revenues down $3.1 billion; and the current account deficit at $14.5 billion—which was pretty much close to a record. That is what was said at the time. Treasury books were a sea of red ink—grim numbers.

Hon Annette King: Was the Governor of the Reserve Bank correct when he said: “The international financial crisis actually played little role in the early part of New Zealand’s economic recession. Rather, it was drought, falling house prices and higher petrol prices that dragged New Zealand GDP growth negative over the first three quarters of 2008.”, and has he put in place policies to control draught, higher petrol prices, and falling house prices; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has put in place policies to ensure that this economy is more resilient and will grow more strongly. That means avoiding the excesses that occurred in this economy from 2005 onwards when bad policy and mismanagement by the Labour Government meant that our export sector shrank to the point where there were no more jobs in it in 2010 than there were in 2000. That was a disgrace.

Hon Annette King: Was the International Monetary Fund correct when it stated soon after the election of 2008 that “New Zealand is in a better position than most advanced countries to face the global storm, given its sound macroeconomic policies, including a flexible exchange rate, low level

of public debt, flexible labour markets, and a healthy banking sector.”; if so, what has the Government done in the last 18 months to turn our economy into such a mess?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member is quoting the International Monetary Fund on those sound macro policies, why is the Labour Party now adopting policies designed to destroy all those sound settings? The Labour Party cannot have it both ways. The fact is that this economy was in recession from the beginning of 2008, it was left in a mess by the previous Government, and we are turning it round.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Was the Minister, in making his statement on 18 December 2008, concerned at the huge surge in public spending, from 29 percent of GDP to 34.7 percent of GDP that occurred between 2004 and 2008 as the Labour Government abandoned all fiscal restraint; if so, what measures are being taken to wind back spending?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, we were concerned about that. The primary action the Government has taken is that it has reprioritised $4 billion of that spending from the excessive back-office bureaucracy to effective front-line services, and it has put in place an annual limit of $1.1 billion of new spending. That is bringing much more fiscal discipline and much better stewardship of taxpayers’ money to the Government sector.

Hon Annette King: Was the International Monetary Fund correct when it said just after the election in 2008, when commenting on the global financial crisis, that the average advanced country was starting with debt of about 80 percent of GDP but that New Zealand’s gross debt was around 20 percent and that, in net terms, it had positive financial assets; and after the many examples I have given today—from the Governor of the Reserve Bank to the International Monetary Fund—is the Minister saying that these leading economists are wrong, and why does he continue to say that he inherited a mess when, quite plainly, he did not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have let the House know about all the measures of the mess the economy was in. Government debt was relatively low but the last Budget of the Labour Government resulted in this headline: “Treasury books a sea of red ink”. In the 2008 Budget, before the global financial crisis, the Cullen Government delivered 10 years of deficits. That is what it forecast. So even the one thing that was in better condition, Labour was in the process of wrecking.

Hilary Calvert: Does the Minister agree that Labour’s last term in Government demonstrates the urgent need for a taxpayers’ bill of rights that caps per-capita Government spending so that a desperate and dying Government cannot attempt to buy itself another term and would, instead, be forced to go back to taxpayers and seek their authorisation for further increases in Government spending; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is no doubt that the experience of those years has meant that this Government has had to tighten up, very considerably, on what was sloppy and ineffective and, in some cases, negligent management of public resources. A taxpayers’ bill of rights would be one way to bring more fiscal discipline to Governments, and we are willing to discuss whether that would be effective.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Has the Government estimated the cost to the taxpayer of the interest rate premium the Government is paying as a result of the Minister’s loss of credibility as Minister of Finance because of his housing scandal?

Mr SPEAKER: I rule that question out of order because the member has made an allegation that is totally inappropriate. The member cannot make that kind of allegation against another member of this House. The Standing Orders are very clear on that.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you ruling that there was no housing scandal?

Mr SPEAKER: I rule that it is inappropriate for a member in this House to claim in a supplementary question that there was a housing scandal. If the member looks at the Standing Orders—probably Standing Order 371—he will see that questions must not contain expressions of opinion in respect of that kind of thing. Whether it was a scandal is an expression of opinion, and

questions should not make that kind of allegation. I think the member is quite lucky I did not let the Minister loose, because the Minister might have dumped pretty severely on the questioner. [Interruption] Interjections should at least be humorous and, above all, not nasty. There is no need for nasty interjections in this House. If members want to get nasty they should get out of the House. While I am Speaker I have no—[Interruption] There should be no comments. I do not want to hear nasty interjections.

Amy Adams: What were some of the other significant economic problems facing New Zealand around the time of the 2008 general election?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I will give just a few indications of the problems this country had. Government spending had been growing at more than twice the rate of the economy, and at the same time the export sector had been in recession from 2003 to 2005. Over that period there were no net new jobs in agriculture, forestry, or manufacturing. By the end of 2008 inflation was at 5 percent, which was the highest annual rate for two decades. Real after-tax wages were falling, which left families worse off. A month later Treasury forecasts painted a very bleak picture of the Government’s books—never-ending deficits and ever-soaring debt.

Hon David Cunliffe: If the previous Minister of Finance was so hopelessly incompetent to mismanage the books in that way, why did the National Government appoint him to chair the country’s largest State-owned enterprise?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think he was actually not too bad, up to the point where that member became an Associate Minister of Finance.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a misrepresentation, and I want to give a clarification under the Standing Orders. I was not an Associate Minister of Finance in the year to which the Minister was referring.

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot use a point of order to do that, although I have some sympathy with the member’s feeling the need to do so. But he cannot actually use a point of order for that purpose.

Public Sector Spending—Unsustainable Increases

3. PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What are the consequences of unsustainable increases in public spending that lead to budget deficits getting out of control?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Countries that allow their deficits to get out of control can end up in considerable difficulty. For instance, I have seen reports overnight that Britain is being forced to make the largest cuts to public spending since World War II in a 5-year austerity plan that could cost nearly half a million jobs. Governments that let deficits get out of control find themselves in a position where they have to make drastic decisions rather than considered decisions.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How is the world economy performing this year?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that sometimes members have a vague crack at hitting ministerial responsibility, in supplementary questions. I do not think that that one did. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet and I am dealing with a point of order. The honourable member makes a perfectly valid point that the Minister has no responsibility for the world economy. However, I took the question to be asking the Minister’s opinion. Ministers’ opinions can be sought on a range of matters, so I have interpreted the question on that basis. On that basis I have allowed it, but I fully accept the point made.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you respectfully to reconsider your ruling. It was only a day or two ago that the Minister was taking credit for achieving lower inflation, which of course was a direct result of the crisis in the world economy, so he must—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The member will remember that one rule I insist on absolutely is that when I get to my feet members will resume their seat. That point of order

was definitely not a point of order, unlike his colleague’s, which I think had some merit. I ask the Minister to answer the question in so far as it seeks an opinion.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The world economy is certainly not performing well enough that Governments can afford to relax fiscal constraint. For instance, looking back at Britain, where the Government is making drastic cuts, public sector expenditure jumped by 40 percent over 5 years up to 2010. By way of comparison, Government spending in New Zealand jumped by 50 percent. That is, public spending in New Zealand was growing faster than in the UK. That is why it is vital that the Government sticks to its policy of fiscal constraint and cleaning up the damage done to our public services by the previous Labour Government.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What feedback did he receive on New Zealand’s economic performance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Among the feedback I received was approval for New Zealand’s fiscal constraint. International credit agencies, for instance, understand that if we allowed our Government expenditure to continue at the rate it increased under the previous Labour Government, we would end up in a position where we would have to make cuts as drastic as those in the UK. This Government has got hold of public finances, and if we manage well we will be able to avoid drastic cuts such as those being made in the UK.

Hon David Cunliffe: What are the consequences for the budget deficit of a deteriorating recovery described by Reserve Bank Governor, Alan Bollard, yesterday as “fragile” rather than the Prime Minister’s “aggressive”; if he knew that the deficit was growing, why did he continue with upper-income tax cuts that he knew New Zealand could not afford?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are a couple of points. As the member knows, the tax package was broadly fiscally neutral—that is, income tax cuts were paid for by increases in GST and property tax, and increased taxes on foreign owners of New Zealand assets. So the member’s assertion is simply wrong.

Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that the previous Labour-led Government cut net debt to zero, and at the same time halved gross debt and pre-funded New Zealand superannuation, leaving New Zealand, to quote him, in a “reasonable position in dealing with the uncertainty of our economic outlook.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said in answer to an earlier question, New Zealand Government debt levels by September 2008 were at relatively low levels, and that has meant the Government is in a better position to deal with the recession. That simply underlines the need for very careful management to stop our debt rising beyond control, and getting public spending under control. If New Zealand followed the policies Labour is currently advocating, then we would end up with very high levels of debt, reckless public spending, more unemployment, and a weak economy.

Incomes, Median Weekly—June 2010 Quarter Compared with June 2009 Quarter

4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: How much did median weekly incomes for all people from all sources fall in the June 2010 quarter compared to the June 2009 quarter?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The member has, I think, found the only income measure he can in which there is a measurement drop. He should read the Statistics New Zealand warning about using these figures: “Movements in average and median income statistics are influenced by many factors. As well as changes in levels of income, movements are also influenced by the composition”—

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two points to make in respect of the answer the Minister is giving. One is that there was an implicit flick at the question, in saying that the member had found only a certain data series. Secondly, he is now employing the tactic used by the Prime Minister yesterday, which is to explain to us how the data series is compiled. We understand that. The question set down is very simple: “How much did median weekly incomes for

all people from all sources fall …”. It is set out pretty simply and he should just answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the point of order. I say to the Minister that it would be helpful—it is a very straight question that is capable of answer, and the Minister should answer it. I was listening to see whether the Minister would answer it. I believe that an answer should be given, and then the explanation, perhaps, to follow. But it would be preferable to answer the question.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In order to explain this particular measure, I say that Statistics New Zealand states: “Movements in average and median income statistics are influenced by many factors. As well as changes in levels of income, movements are also influenced by the composition of the population from survey to survey.” The decline in median weekly income is $9, which Statistics New Zealand points out is not statistically significant. It could have dropped for any number of reasons, such as more children in the population, drops in interest rates—

Mr SPEAKER: An explanation like that at least was not critical of the question, but it was a very simple question and did not actually need quite such a long answer. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunity to explain it as supplementary questions come up.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister of Finance consider an income drop of $9 a week to be statistically significant to a family who, as Veda Advantage recently reported, are among the tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are finding they just cannot afford to pay their bills?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member well knows, the statistic he is using does not measure the change in the income of that family. It actually does not. All measures of the change in income of the family have gone up. The median income figure includes all sorts of stuff, including changes in the population, so the member should not use it to describe family incomes. He knows he is wrong.

Chris Tremain: What is the best measure of wage growth in New Zealand?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The best measure of wage growth has at least one characteristic: it has to be a measure of wages, which median income is not. It is not a measure of wages. The best measure is the one that determines the wage floor for New Zealand superannuation each year, and that is the movement in the after-tax average wage, which comes from the quarterly employment survey. This one is used because it is set out in the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act, which was passed by the Labour Government in 2001. If we look at movements in the after-tax average wage, we see that from 1999 to 2008 after-tax wages went up by 33 percent but inflation went up by almost exactly the same amount. This means that when we take out the effects of inflation, in the 9 years under Labour after-tax wages went up by only 3 percent.

Hon David Cunliffe: What does the Minister think would be a more accurate indicator for a struggling family in, I do not know, perhaps the Mana electorate? Would it be the average, which is skewed by, say, National-voting millionaires in Remuera, or does he think it would be the median, which measures the position of the person who is in the middle of the income scale?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Again, the member is employing deliberate obfuscation. The median he is using is not the median wage. The measure he is using includes the interest income of his millionaire mates in Parnell, or Mission Bay, or wherever it is; it does not measure wages.

Chris Tremain: How does wage growth of 3 percent over the period 1999 to 2008 compare with that of other periods?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a very good question. If we use the wage measure legislated by the previous Labour Government, we see that in the 9 years it was in office that measure grew by 3 percent. In the 9-year period from 1990 to 1999—that is, the previous 9 years—real after-tax wages grew by 15 percent. Obviously, we have not had a 9-year period since 2008 to enable a full comparison, but in less than 2 years since September 2008 real after-tax wages have gone up by 9 percent.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister consider it realistic or statistically significant to quote a measure of income that takes the average, not the median, and excludes the impact of Working for Families, paid parental leave, childcare, and the other factors that make up the social wage, and

does he think it fair and appropriate to include in National’s figures the effects of Labour’s 2008 tax cut?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do.

Hon David Cunliffe: In that case, based on the fall in median income of $9 a week, how long does he think it will take a person on the median income to save for a deposit on a home in Auckland, or has Auckland now become a place where, as Bernard Hickey said, “You can buy a house in Auckland, but you can’t afford to have a family.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have explained, the measure the member is using for income is not relevant to families who are trying to save a deposit on a house in Auckland. Those families have had a significant increase in their real after-tax wages. One of the reasons for that is pretty simple: they have had two rounds of tax cuts since this Government came into office. If they earn $48,000 or less, their top statutory tax rate is 17.5c. If they do another hour of overtime, they keep 82.5c, and that is a strong incentive for them to get ahead. The tax on their savings has been lowered as well.

Surgery—Increased Provision

5. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister of Health: What progress is the Government making in providing more surgery for New Zealanders?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I am pleased to advise the House that in the last financial year more patients have received surgery than ever before. The number of patients benefiting from urgent surgery rose by nearly 4,000 to over 158,000 patients, and the number of people coming off waiting lists and benefiting from elective surgery rose by over 8,500 to 138,483. This means that in the last financial year nearly 300,000 New Zealand patients benefited from surgery in our public health service—the highest number ever.

Nicky Wagner: What other reports has he received in relation to delivering more surgical services to New Zealanders?

Hon TONY RYALL: The number of patients receiving a surgical specialist assessment in the last year was up by over 12,000 on the previous year, to over 274,000 patients. This includes an increase of 1,100 patients receiving first specialist assessments in Auckland, an increase of 1,100 in the Bay of Plenty, over 2,000 more in Canterbury, and an increase of over 3,000 patients in the Waikato. This Government is delivering more front-line services, especially surgical services, to the people of New Zealand.

Hon Ruth Dyson: How does the additional surgery that the Minister is crowing about, of 8,607 patients, compare with the additional number of 11,816 patients for the 2008 financial year?

Hon TONY RYALL: Quite clearly, this Government is increasing the number of elective operations for New Zealanders. Since the time of the previous Government, about 20,000 extra elective operations are being performed. It is a tremendous record, and that member should stop trying to bring it down.

Hon Ruth Dyson: What is he going to do about the 3 percent increase in patients—that is, more than 2,000 people—who were admitted to hospital with preventable conditions, as revealed in the annual report of the Ministry of Health for the year ended 30 June 2010; a 3 percent increase?

Hon TONY RYALL: That is why we are providing more service in the public health service than ever before, with more doctors, more nurses, more operations, and more front-line services. This Government is also investing strongly in our home insulation programme, whereby five times as many homes have been insulated under this Government than under the failed crowd opposite.

Power Prices—Minister’s Statement

6. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Energy and

Resources: Does he stand by his statement that when facing power price increases consumers should “shop around”?

Hon PANSY WONG (Associate Minister of Energy and Resources) on behalf of the

Minister of Energy and Resources: Yes. Indeed, consumers are doing just that. In the month of September alone, 30,000-plus consumers switched suppliers, so I encourage consumers to check out the Powerswitch website. Once a household profile has been entered, a list of energy suppliers and their prices will be displayed in that geographical area.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: In advising consumers to shop around, what advice, then, does the Minister have for a New Plymouth consumer like Mrs Joann Farley, who got a nasty surprise from Genesis Energy, which charged her 15 percent GST on her power bill for the September period?

Hon PANSY WONG: I think the Minister of Revenue, the Hon Peter Dunne, has dealt with that very well in the House. For 2 days in a row the Government has made it very clear that in the transitional period it should have been 12.5 percent.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Given that response, what advice does the Minister have for another New Plymouth consumer, Mr Gowan Duff, who got an even nastier surprise from Genesis Energy, which charged him 15 percent GST on his power bill for the months of August and September?

Hon PANSY WONG: As I said, I encourage consumers and constituents to shop around. If the member is serious, she could advise the consumer about Powerswitch. An average small household, according to Consumer New Zealand, could save up to $442 and a large household could save up to $1,000, so consumers need to get on to the Powerswitch website. One of the energy companies, called Pulse Energy, is actually door-knocking on households—

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have listened as carefully as possible to the answer being given to us. My colleague the Hon Nanaia Mahuta asked about the situation of consumers living in New Zealand being forced to pay a tax imposed by the Government. This is not a question about switching between power companies; this is about a Government-imposed tax. She asked about a rate of 15 percent being applied to 2 months—August and September—and what we are hearing does not relate—

Mr SPEAKER: The member is getting to the substance of the question now. The question asked what the Minister would say to a person somewhere in New Zealand who received an account for the months of August and September with GST charged at 15 percent. The Minister was telling the House what she would say to that consumer. Far be it from the Speaker to judge the matter. I think, though, we had heard sufficient.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Given that response, who will door-knock on the doors of Mrs Farley and Mr Duff and tell them who will benefit from the backdated hike in GST on power of 2.5 percent for the August-September period: the Government or the power companies?

Hon PANSY WONG: If Labour is really as concerned as that, I hope some hard-working Labour members will go door-knocking and give them that very sensible message.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Why have the Minister and his Government failed to ensure that people are not hit unfairly, like Mrs Farley and Mr Duff, by the backdated hike in GST for the months of August and September?

Hon PANSY WONG: The National-led Government has done everything. We have made things very clear in respect of the power-switching area. But we have done more than that: the Government made sure that when GST increased there was a broad-range tax cut, which means that 73 percent of New Zealand income earners pay only up to 17.5 percent, and that most households are $25 better off. So this Government is doing something to make sure that people do not suffer like they did under Labour, when there was a 72 percent power price increase—72 percent.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I noticed that you were indicating to the Minister to wind up. I think it is really important that you are seen to be neutral, so when the Government is damaging itself you should let it go on rather than stop it.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Given the lack of an answer, I seek leave to table a document that shows that a consumer was charged GST of 15 percent for their September power-billing period.

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.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I seek leave to table a document that shows that a consumer was charged a GST rate of 15 percent for their power-billing period of August and September.

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.

Corrections, Department—Management of Parole and Home Detention

7. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Corrections: What progress has been achieved by the Department of Corrections to improve its performance in managing parole and home detention?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections): I am very pleased to report to the House that substantial progress has been made by Community Probation and Psychological Services since the Auditor-General identified serious shortcomings in February 2009. In September 2008, Community Probation and Psychological Services met 56 percent of its standards for parole, and 52 percent for home detention. I am delighted to say that in July this year it achieved 96 percent of its parole mandatory standards—up from 56 percent—and 88 percent of its home detention mandatory standards. This is a stunning turn-round for a service that has adopted a culture of excellence, accountability, and professionalism.

Todd McClay: That is such good news. How has Community Probation and Psychological Services been able to deliver such a significant lift in performance?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The department has been supported by an expert panel to implement a multi-year change programme to overhaul the delivery of its services. In particular, it has introduced new performance standards, boosted its management processes, and increased staff training. This Government also injected an extra $256 million into the probation service. That has allowed 246 extra probation officers to be employed. A great deal of work has gone in over the last 2 years to lift performance, and I am very, very pleased with the results.

Employment, 90-day Trial Period—Bargaining and Agreement Process

8. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Is it her intention that the extended 90-day scheme requires agreement between the parties following bargaining in a fair way?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: It is our intention that the 90-day employment scheme requires agreement between the parties and that the negotiations on the terms and conditions as agreed between employer and employee be conducted in a fair and reasonable manner.

Carol Beaumont: What avenues are there for employees to challenge the absence of bargaining to reach an agreement—for example, where employers advertise, or advise during an interview, that the job will have a 90-day trial period, and refuse to negotiate that term of employment?

Hon TONY RYALL: Firstly, it is important for the member and the House to acknowledge that this is about expanding opportunities for young people and others who want to demonstrate their value to employers. Quite clearly, the case that the member asked about is one where employees have the same options in relation to any other terms and conditions. They can continue negotiating and they can choose whether they want to take up the job offer under the terms and conditions they are discussing.

Carol Beaumont: How does the Minister consider that an employer stating that a 90-day trial period is a condition of employment constitutes fair bargaining?

Hon TONY RYALL: I suppose the parallel is with those employers who say they need someone to work on a Saturday. If there cannot be an agreement on the terms and conditions, then there will not be an agreement or a negotiation.

Carol Beaumont: Would employers be acting within the law if they stated that a 90-day trial period is a condition of employment, and then refused to consider a job applicant’s request that regular feedback on performance and opportunities for improvement within that 90-day trial period be written into the contract; if not, what remedies are available for the job seeker in that situation?

Hon TONY RYALL: The member is asking for a legal opinion in respect of that specific case. The amendments that have been made are about expanding opportunities for young New Zealanders and others to demonstrate their ability to add value to an employer’s activities.

Civil Defence—Exercise Tangaroa

9. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What lessons were learnt from Exercise Tangaroa?

Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister of Civil Defence): I am proud of the civil defence structure that we have in this country. This exercise tested the National Tsunami Advisory and Warning Plan, which has been updated and enhanced through lessons learnt from the tsunami threats that arose in New Zealand in September and October 2009. Importantly, in the past year, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has enhanced the tsunami plan, making use of new scientific modelling from GNS Science that allows for distinct threat warnings to be issued for 43 coastal zones. This is a tool that civil defence previously did not have. Another element tested by the exercise was the ability of civil defence to continually provide updates to the media so that the public are well informed. Journalism students from Whiti—

Hon Members: Whitireia!

Hon JOHN CARTER:—Whitireia Polytechnic stood in for the media, and I wish to thank those students for their participation.

Tim Macindoe: Who took part in Exercise Tangaroa?

Hon JOHN CARTER: More than 100 agencies successfully worked together. Exercise participants included all 16 regional civil defence emergency management groups, most local authorities, central government departments, emergency services, scientific agencies, welfare organisations, utilities and transport sector agencies, and some media. Of course, it is still important that people understand that it is what individuals know about how to respond that will help them to get through. Indeed, it is unfortunate that the only group that does not seem to take civil defence seriously in this country is the Labour Opposition.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have had a series of rulings from you about the nature of question time. This question was particularly interesting, as it came from Mr Macindoe. It appeared to be a straight question, and there was that nasty little flick at the end.

Hon JOHN CARTER: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I will hear the member, but only briefly.

Hon JOHN CARTER: This is a serious matter, and it is unseemly that while we are talking about a serious matter that can affect the lives of so many people, as we have seen in Canterbury, there are so many inane interjections from the Opposition.

Mr SPEAKER: To be fair on this matter, I do not believe there were a lot of interjections while the Minister was answering, and I think the point of order raised by the Hon Trevor Mallard is a reasonable one. Especially where a supplementary question is asked by one of the Minister’s own colleagues and the Opposition is not interjecting significantly, to then add an attack on the Opposition is just not reasonable. There are plenty of opportunities to do that in this question time exchange—plenty of opportunities—but Ministers should choose when. A supplementary question from one of their own colleagues when there is no particular level of interjection from the Opposition is not a time to do that.

Residence Applications—Fees Discount for Samoan Citizens

10. SU’A WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere) to the Minister of Immigration: What advice has he received since 14 August 2009 about the fee and levy discounts available to more than 1,300 Samoan citizen residence applications totalling in excess of $117,000 and whether there was a legal basis for his department’s charging regime at the time that the fees were paid?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Immigration): In the weekly officials’ report covering immigration matters dated 3 December to 9 December 2009, I was advised of the following: “The department has identified 741 Samoan citizens who, it appears, did not receive the $90 fee discount that is applied to Samoan citizens who apply for a residence visa or permit. All 741 customers will shortly receive a letter inviting them to provide bank details so the department can arrange a refund of the $90. The department has identified and corrected the administrative error which caused this problem to arise.” With regard to the legal basis for the department’s charging regime at the time that the fees were paid, I am advised that there was a legal basis for the discount, but that it was not appropriately applied. As soon as the error was identified, action was taken to try to find the people affected and to refund the overcharge.

Su’a William Sio: Why has he taken no action since August last year, when that overcharging issue was raised, particularly when the department’s legal advice concluded that charging those fees had no basis in law and that the department should adopt a more proactive refund policy?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: It is incorrect to say no action has been taken. Of those people, the department has written to the 733 for whom it had addresses, 157 have responded, and 145 have been refunded. There has also been an active campaign in the Apia branch and in the community in Apia to publicise this issue. So it is quite incorrect to say no action has been taken to remedy the situation.

Su’a William Sio: What should people make of the Minister’s management of the immigration portfolio when he has made a deliberate decision to withhold the reimbursement, given that the two available discounts represent an overpayment of more than $250,000?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That member is quite incorrect; I have made it clear that action has been taken. I would note that this overcharging began in November 2005 and went on for 3 years under the previous Labour Government. Within 8 months of a change of Government, the problem had been identified and action has been taken. So one could say this was a rather foolish question for that member to bring to the House.

Su’a William Sio: If the 2005 error was one of administration and the 2009 error was one of judgment, is this another example of a New Zealand ethnic community being treated with disdain; if not, how does he justify a do-nothing solution to problem involving a quarter of a million dollars and affecting 1,800 former Samoan citizens?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I think that member needs to revise his questions, as he has given answers to the preceding supplementary questions. It is quite clear that this problem went on for 3 years under Labour. It was not identified. As soon as we found out about it, positive action was taken. If there are any people out there who are due to receive a refund, all that they need to do is to get in touch with Immigration New Zealand and they will receive that $90 back.

Rugby World Cup—2011 Festival Lottery Fund Applications

11. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: How many applications for funding have been received by the New Zealand 2011 Festival Lottery Fund?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Internal Affairs): I am very pleased to tell the House that there has been an overwhelming response to this new fund, launched by the Prime Minister and myself in July. The Department of Internal Affairs has received 482 applications for grants from around the country, totalling around $70 million. There is $9.5 million available to support community festivals and events coinciding with the Rugby World Cup, which can include things

like concerts, fairs, exhibitions, street markets, and parades. Funding decisions will be announced in November.

Hon Tau Henare: What has been done to help applicants from the Canterbury region who were disrupted by the earthquake?

Hon NATHAN GUY: The disruption to the Canterbury region meant that many groups needed extra time to prepare their applications. As Minister I announced an 11-day extension to the deadline for those in the quake-affected area to ensure that Cantabrians had a fair go. We want to ensure that every region in New Zealand makes the most of the Rugby World Cup next year.

Chris Hipkins: When Murray McCully told him to establish the New Zealand 2011 Festival Lottery Fund to prop up John Key’s ever-diminishing party central plans, did he point out to him that establishing this fund would result in less money being available for many worthy community groups that rely on lottery grants for their survival; if he did not, will he concede that had a stronger Minister been in office, these groups may well have been better off?

Hon NATHAN GUY: I cannot believe the stupidity of that question. But can I answer it by trying to reassure that young member of this House that increased revenue for the New Zealand Lotteries Commission means that all other committees are getting the same allocation as last year— $153 million.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What criteria does he have in place to ensure that applications submitted to the fund by Māori recognise their unique contribution as tangata whenua?

Hon NATHAN GUY: That member will be pleased to know that the guidelines for the independent committee specifically require it to recognise the needs and aspirations of Māori and their protocol. The festival’s events are about involving communities and showcasing New Zealand’s culture, so I am sure that Māori will play a very important role in the Rugby World Cup.

Question No. 12 to Minister

GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to raise a question with you, and seek your advice on the lodging of questions to the Associate Minister of Education with responsibility for special education. That person is Rodney Hide. It seems that he may be in the House today and will be answering on behalf of the Minister of Education. I understand from the Clerk’s Office that I cannot put a question to Rodney Hide as Associate Minister because the Government has not yet provided delegations to the Clerk’s Office. In fact, I could put a question to the Hon Heather Roy, because, as far as the Clerk’s Office is concerned, she still has the delegation. This is difficult, for two reasons. One reason is that yesterday Mr Hide made a comprehensive announcement about the review of special education, and we should be able to hold him accountable in the House for that today. Maybe he will now answer on behalf of the Minister, but as far as we know he has the delegations. Anne Tolley put out a press release on 7 September announcing Mr Hide’s delegations. It seems particularly difficult for the Opposition to hold Ministers to account if we cannot actually ask them questions in the House.

Mr SPEAKER: The member raises a perfectly legitimate point of order. The facts of the matter are that where a delegation of responsibility is made to an Associate Minister by the Government, the Speaker and the House must be informed if questions are to be lodged as addressed to the Associate Minister. Delegations presented to the House on 29 July 2010 have not been re-presented to the House to take account of recent ministerial changes. The Speaker must know the nature of the delegation in order to determine whether a question is in order, so I cannot accept questions to a supposed Associate Minister if I do not have that determination from the Government. Of course, any Minister can answer the question. That is a matter for the Government.

GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thank you for that statement. I guess I am seeking your assistance as an Opposition member wishing to hold to account a Minister who has made public statements and whom the Minister of Education has announced is the Associate Minister. I ask whether you as Speaker can provide some

assistance to us to get from the Government the official delegations so that we can do our job and hold a Minister to account. I do not think it is good for Parliament that an Associate Minister can make statements in public, and then not be held to account for them here in the House. I seek your assistance in getting those delegations.

Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): I certainly accept Mr Robertson’s point, and we will be working to ensure that your office is properly informed. I also make the point that, even in terms of the delegations, if one reads the question that is put down, one will see that it is about resourcing. Of course, the Associate Minister of Education is not responsible for the resourcing of education; that is for the Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate that—[Interruption]—no, I will not hear any further points on this, because that last matter was not strictly a matter to do with the order of the House. The facts of the matter remain that it is up to the Government to advise its delegations of associate ministerial responsibilities. As at this moment, I have not had any advised changes, so the question must be addressed to the Minister of Education, but it is up to the Government which Minister answers the question.

Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister for Senior Citizens): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to help the House, I have taken note of that, and the matter will resolved.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.

Schools—2014 Goal for Students with Special Needs

12. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Education: How will she resource her goal of having 80 percent of schools operating on a fully inclusive basis by 2014?

Hon RODNEY HIDE (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of

Education: Since Budget 2009 the Government has committed an additional $69 million over 4 years to provide services and support to an additional 2,000 children a year. The additional resourcing is important, but funding alone will not make the difference needed to achieve the goal of 80 percent of schools being fully inclusive by 2014. Positive attitudes are at the heart of achieving inclusive schools. There is already over $450 million in the special education budget, and half of all schools are already fully inclusive, according to the Education Review Office, in their practice.

Grant Robertson: Given that answer, can the Minister confirm that the funding announced yesterday is the same funding that was announced in the 2009 Budget, and that no new resources are being allocated to achieve the goal of more-inclusive schools?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: No. As I said, positive attitudes are at the heart. But, in addition, I announced a package of $25.6 million over 4 years to give a further 1,000 children access to individual additional support. I also want to put this on record: I have confidence in the leadership and the teachers in schools and in the entire community to work for the best result for every child.

Grant Robertson: Does the Minister support the view of her Associate Minister that “attitude” will be the most important factor in creating inclusive schools, despite the fact that only 15 percent of the respondents to the review agreed with that, while 33 percent thought funding was the priority, or is this a continuation of the Prime Minister’s rescue plan for the economy: “Summer is coming.”?


Lynne Pillay: Can the Minister confirm that the $2.5 million worth of funding cuts for occupational and physical therapy in schools will not be reinstated despite students, parents, teachers, and therapists calling for it to be given back to our most vulnerable children?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: What I can say about that is that, unfortunately, that money was never put into the baseline of education by the previous Government.

Lynne Pillay: That’s no reason to cut it.

Hon RODNEY HIDE: Well, it cannot be cut if it was not in the baseline.


Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2)—Submissions

1. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial

Relations Committee: How many submissions have been received on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2)?

DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee has received 295 submissions on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2) and 7,554 form submissions.

Carol Beaumont: Is it the intention of the committee to express its regret to the submitter whose submission was rejected for being offensive—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat. That is totally out of order. The chair of the committee cannot predetermine what a committee may decide to do. So that question is, I am afraid, totally out of order.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think this is not a matter of predetermination. The member asked “Is it the intention of the committee …”. If the committee has such an intention, the chair can report that.

Mr SPEAKER: As I understand it, the committee has not reported to the House, so its proceedings would be confidential.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. But if, as I know is the case, the committee has determined on a matter of expression of regret—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Trevor Mallard:—and reports to the—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat immediately. I have made it very clear that that is one rule I insist on: members must resume their seats. The member is now debating the issue, and he is at serious risk if he is telling the House what has gone on in a committee before the committee has reported to the House. The member should not be doing that. The member may be aware of something, but that is confidential to the committee. He has no more right to inform the House of the deliberations of the committee than the chair has.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you then saying that the chair, on the agreement of the committee, cannot write a letter to someone expressing regret until the committee has reported? That would be a very new ruling. That is what the committee, I understand, has determined. Are you saying that that letter cannot go out, and the committee chair would be breaching privilege if he did so?

Mr SPEAKER: That is the business of the committee, as I would understand it, but it is not the business of this House at present. [Interruption] This should be heard in silence. This House cannot deal with the matter until it is reported. The committee, of course, is at liberty to conduct its business and its affairs, but I have to distinguish between that and what is proper for this House to consider. That was why I have ruled out the question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to keep going on, but I think it is new. My understanding is that a decision of a committee to, in this particular case, ask someone to resubmit, which must have involved a communication outside the committee—an further invitation to a submitter to make a submission to the committee—cannot possibly be privileged information to the committee. Therefore, to ask about the committee’s intention to do that is, in fact, within the Standing Orders. It is a request to an individual to make a resubmission. That must be something that is public. It is part of the chairman’s responsibility to sign the letter, if nothing else, and to express regret on behalf of the committee. I cannot see how that can possibly be done in such a way that the chairman cannot be asked about his responsibilities in this matter.

Mr SPEAKER: Listening to the member’s points of order, there seems to me to be a slight inconsistency. I understood that the member told me that the committee—and I have to be careful because I do not want to get involved in the business of the committee—had made a decision and sent a letter, but then, in a further point of order, the member spoke of an intention to send a letter. Either way this is the business of the committee. The chair is not responsible for the committee decision, and cannot answer in the House for that committee decision until the matter is reported back. If a press statement has been authorised and released by the committee and is in the public arena, the chair could indeed be questioned about that, but not about the committee’s intentions. I do have to be careful here. I will undertake to the member, because it is important, that if I have got it wrong in my ruling, I will come back to the House on the matter. I do not believe that I have got it wrong, but I am perfectly happy to accept that I may be wrong. If I am wrong, I will come back to the House on the matter.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Given that, can I ask for the opportunity to rephrase the supplementary question?

Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not think it is fair for me to allow a member to rephrase a supplementary question on behalf of another member.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER: No, the Standing Orders do not provide for another member in the House to ask a supplementary question, as I understand it, to another member’s question to a member. I realise that is a bit convoluted, but it has not been the practice. However, I now gather that the Standing Orders do not preclude it, so, given my ruling, I will allow the Hon Trevor Mallard to ask a supplementary question. I invite him to ask his supplementary question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Has the chair of the committee written a letter, or signed a letter, or considered a letter inviting another submission on this bill, and expressing regret?

Hon John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, you have just ruled that the committee’s business—and it has always been the Standing Order—is its own until it reports to Parliament. As you have said, if a committee issues a press statement and makes a public statement, that is one thing, but if the chairman is carrying out the business of the committee while it is going through its deliberations and considerations, that is a matter for the committee and not for the House. The House has been very careful over many years not to cross those lines. I would suggest that that question is now asking the chairman of the committee about the business of the committee, prior to it reporting to Parliament. If we go down that line, it starts to mean that where a submitter has made a submission in public before the committee, the House, before the committee has deliberated, could ask about that submission. I am not sure that that is where Parliament wants to go or needs to go, quite honestly. I would ask, Mr Speaker, that you reflect very carefully on your ruling in that regard, because it would mean that we may be opening up new ground.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Speaking to the point of order, very briefly, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the honourable member, very briefly.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I agree with a lot of what the Hon John Carter has said, but he did indicate that if the committee had issued a press statement inviting a further submission, or submissions, that would be all right. My submission to you, Mr Speaker, is that there is no difference between issuing a press statement and writing a letter that invites a submission.

Hon Member: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me rule on this matter, because I take it as a serious issue. The points of order have been raised in good faith, and I appreciate that, because we do not want to politicise in this House the important select committee process. The question, in fairness, did not ask about a committee decision that is still confidential to the committee; it asked whether the chair had written to invite a further submission, or something along those lines. I will invite David Bennett to answer the question in so far as whether he has written a letter but not in so far as whether he has considered something, because if he has written a letter that has been sent to someone out there, that

is, as the Hon Trevor Mallard has pointed out, not hugely different from issuing a press statement. It is a matter that is out in public in that a letter has been written to someone. So I invite David Bennett to respond to the question in so far as it covers whether he has written, as chair, to someone.

DAVID BENNETT: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you put the chairman of the committee in a dangerous position here. The precedent of the House is built on the nature of committee decisions and the work of committees being in committee until they have reported back to the House. If you are asking the chair about anything that may have gone on in the committee, then you are de facto asking the chair, in this case, to actually break that rule of thumb. So I would be very reluctant to answer that question, on the basis that it would create a precedent that would be in conflict with the traditional process of how committees operate.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me be very clear: if the Speaker rules the question in order, the member will answer it. Let there be no question about that. If the matter is a matter of a committee decision, and there has not been any communication with the public, then I do not expect the member to answer it. The question did not ask whether the committee had made a decision to do something, because that would have been out of order; the member asked whether the chair had invited a submission, or a further submission, or something along those lines—I do not remember the exact detail, and maybe the question needs to be repeated so that everyone can hear it. xxxfo But what I am indicating is that if the chair has taken action as the chair and sent a letter to someone, I believe that it is in order to answer that. I am not expecting the member to answer whether he is considering, or the committee is considering, some course of action; I am not asking the member to answer that. But if the chair has taken an action to write a letter to someone inviting a submission, then I believe that it is in order to answer that.

Hon John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Listening to this exchange I sense that the problem that the House now has is that there is information that the select committee has that the House is not aware of, and that it may have made a decision in the context of whatever that information is, and at this stage it is quite apparent that the chairman does not feel able to advise the House of it until he reports. Mr Speaker, why I got to my feet is to say that I think we may be getting into a very difficult area here in that although the ruling you made may be appropriate, we will not know until we know all the circumstances. I wonder whether in this instance we may not be better to ask you to give a considered ruling, rather than a direction at this stage, so that you as Speaker can get all the facts and then make an appropriate ruling. I do worry that although on the surface the ruling you made would apparently be quite an appropriate one, there may be other factors that you, and I, and the House are unaware of that put the chairman in a difficult position. I would doubt very much whether you or this House would want to do that to any chairman of a select committee. I just urge caution as we move forward on this position, given that we have had this issue before Parliament for many years.

Mr SPEAKER: We have taken quite sufficient time on considering the issue of order. The issue of order is pretty clear. The Speaker is not interested in the detail, because the Speaker has no right to be involved in the detail. The issue is one of the Standing Orders. In respect of the question, the chair of the committee could say that the committee has made a decision on a certain course of action and that he does not intend to divulge it to the House, and that would be a perfectly acceptable answer. Chairs of committees are grown up people, and they are perfectly capable of answering questions in this House, or they should not be chairs of committees. If that is the situation, it cannot be pursued further. The chair, though, of a committee is empowered to call for submissions. The chair does not need the approval of the committee to call for submissions. The chair can call for submissions, and can be asked in this House whether he has done that. The chair can be asked whether the committee has called for submissions. I want to make clear the only part of this question I feel the chair needs to answer, and the answer is up to the chair, depending what went on in the committee—and I do not want to know that. If the chair has taken action to invite a

submission or a further submission and that was not a decision of the committee, then the chair should answer the question. If it is a matter that was the decision of the committee, then it cannot be pursued further until the committee has reported. But the chair is answerable for the chair’s actions, and the chair does have authority over the calling of submissions. I make that clear. If the committee made a decision to call for further submissions, and the member wishes to advise the House that, then that is the end of the matter—it cannot be pursued further. If the member has, as chair, written to someone inviting a further submission, then that is a legitimate matter to be answered under the Standing Orders.

DAVID BENNETT: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The difficulty is that in many cases the chair may be acting in respect of a decision of the committee. If one terms the question in the way that Mr Mallard has, it in essence is asking the chair what the committee decision has been.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought I had made myself perfectly clear. If the matter was the subject of a decision of the committee, the chair need only tell the House that and that is the end of it—he does not need to answer the question. The decisions of the committee are not matters that the chair can be questioned on prior to reporting back. However, if the chair has acted independently to call for submissions, if the chair has acted without a decision of the committee to call for submissions, the chair can be questioned on that. Often chairs are asked in the House whether they have called for submissions or whether submissions have been called for on a certain bill. So if the matter was the subject of a decision of the committee, the chair needs only to tell the House that a certain action was taken in response to a decision of the committee, and that is the end of the matter. He does not even need to detail what action it was. If the question was the subject of a decision of the committee, that is the end of the matter. I invite David Bennett to answer the question.

DAVID BENNETT: In this case, the subject of the decision was a matter for the full committee, so there is no more to be said.

Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the answer.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think this is a matter for further consideration by you. I do not want to go on for too long now, but I ask you to think carefully about where we have got to on this. The traditional questions about decisions of committees, about calling for submissions and dates by which they are due—on which there have been lots of questions to chairs of select committees in the past—could not be asked if the committee was involved in the decision. We might be traversing new grounds if we end up with that. Can I ask you just to have a think about where we have ended up and the precedents, the areas that previously were subject to questions. There is no doubt that when a press statement had been issued on behalf of a committee by a chair, they could have been questioned about it in the past. I think they might not be, under your ruling.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member, and I do not need to hear further; the House has taken sufficient time. I hear the member and I will do that, because I do not want to have made rulings that compromise the conventions of the House in this particular matter—it is not my intention. But the member will note I have tried to accommodate his supplementary question, and I have tried to accommodate the concerns of the acting Leader of the House. If I have erred in any of my decisions today, I will most certainly come back to the House to clarify the matter further.


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