Questions And Answers April 13

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 — 9:11 PM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

1. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance : What reports has he received on the performance of the Public Service?
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Public Service—Reports

1. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the performance of the Public Service?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Today Treasury released a report benchmarking the back-office costs of 33 State sector agencies, which showed that in many instances the costs of functions like property management, human resources, financial management, and information and communications technology are higher than international benchmarks or higher than those of other agencies. The report concludes that Government departments could save more than $230 million a year through greater sharing, standardisation, and automation of administrative functions. These are savings that we would be keen to see Government departments get on and make, so that we can improve front-line public services.

David Bennett: How will the report change the way that the Public Service operates?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think it will change it in a couple of ways. One is just transparency. The Government is not taking particular action as a result of this exercise, but is simply publishing the results so that everyone can see, agency by agency, what the costs are. Secondly, it will be the responsibility of chief executives to implement any changes that they see fit. It is important that they own the savings they make and move those savings to front-line services.

David Bennett: Why is it necessary to find these savings?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the reason that there is potential for up to a quarter of billion dollars of savings is that between 2005 and 2009 Government spending increased by about 15 percent, which is twice the rate of economic growth. There is a lot of scope in the public sector to bring those costs back in line after a decade of extravagance.

David Bennett: What progress has the Government made in improving front-line services?

Hon Bill English: There are so many ways we can improve front-line services that it is hard to know where to start. One way that is published regularly in the newspapers is the quarterly reports on district health board performance across a range of health services, from emergency department waiting-times through to cancer treatment waiting-times. In addition to that, the Government has, for instance, lifted the number of front-line police, and that seems to be having some impact on the crime rate. There are a number of other ways that the Government is improving front-line services. We are not giving up; even if money is tight, we will continue to improve front-line services.

Cost of Living—Prime Minister’s Statement

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “this Government is working on two fronts to lower the cost of living for New Zealanders and their families”; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, because it is true. On the first front, the Government continues to support monetary policy that is focused on maintaining a low level of inflation. I might add that this is a point of difference between us and the Labour Party. On the second front, the Government is working to build a stronger economy that delivers rising income. Actually, that is also a point of different for this Government.

Hon Phil Goff: When the Prime Minister talked last week about this being a “monster year for dairy”, was he referring to the fact that butter has gone up a massive 65 percent in the last 2 years, and cheese 22 percent, with both due to go up by 10 percent and 12 percent respectively next week?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I was simply referring to the fact that high commodity prices actually support the New Zealand economy overall in terms of better jobs. Funnily enough, I am not alone in my thinking in that area. I read a very interesting speech, given on 30 September 2008, and I quote: “As a net exporter of food products, New Zealand is a beneficiary of high international food prices.” That speech was given by Phil Goff.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister recall saying in this House that New Zealanders “cannot afford to fill up their car or go to the supermarket checkout, and that they are going without, and why does the Prime Minister not do something about those people”, and why was it the Prime Minister’s responsibility for dairy prices and petrol prices then, but it is not his responsibility now?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because back then we had very poor levels of rising after-tax wages. That is because the Prime Minister of the day did nothing about it. I do note that on 8 March that very question of petrol prices was asked not just of me but of Phil Goff. The question from Corin Dann was “But is there anything you could do for petrol?”. Phil said “No”.

Hon Phil Goff: When the Prime Minister claims that people are better off, can he explain this: how is a person earning $40,000 a year, who got a tax cut last October of $22 a week, better off when that person now spends that entire amount each week just filling up their petrol tank and has nothing left to pay for other rising costs like lamb chops, vegetables, cheese, and butter—all up by over 10 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first thing that that person would want to do is vote National, because under Labour’s emissions trading scheme it will be a hell of a lot more expensive. That is the first thing. The second thing is that I am glad that the member raised the issue of someone on $40,000. Over the last 12 months, these are the facts when it comes to after-tax wages: the average wage in New Zealand has risen from $39,518 to $42,214, a rise of 6.8 percent, or, in real terms, a rise of 2.7 percent. The last Labour Government achieved 4 percent in 9 years—what a disgrace for New Zealand consumers!

Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister still denying that the rise in the cost of living in the December quarter of last year was the highest in 20 years, as he did a couple of weeks ago in this House, or have his staff put him right, by now?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As we know, that included GST and was compensated for, for all consumers. But while we are on numbers, let us just look at the rise in food prices for all of last year. According to Statistics New Zealand, the rise is 5.5 percent.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is very interesting, but it does not answer my question. The question was straightforward, as you will recall: it was whether he was denying that the last quarter had the highest price rise in 20 years.

Mr SPEAKER: The member’s wording was “Does the Prime Minister still deny”—from memory—“that the CPI rise in the last quarter was the highest for 20 years?”. That gives the Prime Minister, or any Minister, a fair bit of licence in answering that type of question—

Hon Phil Goff: Why?

Mr SPEAKER: It is seeking an opinion about the CPI. The question asked whether the Prime Minister denies that the CPI was the highest in the last quarter. That leaves a fair bit of latitude, and it would be wrong of me as Speaker to unfairly clip the wings of a Minister too much. However, I would not want the Prime Minister to go on for too long.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I will not go on for too long. If one looks at the rise in all food prices over the last 12 months, one sees that it was 5.5 percent, and that included the 2 percent increase for GST. In the last year of a Labour Government, food went up by 10.8 percent, on average, and there was no increase in GST then.

Hon Phil Goff: When the Prime Minister in February talked about delivering faster-rising incomes for New Zealanders and their families, why was it that in 2010 all he delivered, according to Statistics New Zealand, was a fall in the median income?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I go back to the rise in incomes over the last 12 months—which was 2010—which, based on statistics from Statistics New Zealand, went from $39,518 to $42,214. That was a rise of 6.8 percent in nominal terms, or 2.7 percent in real terms. In other words, we delivered 2.7 percent in real terms when Labour delivered 4 percent over 9 years.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called. I say to the Hon Dr Nick Smith that he is skating on thin ice. He made that interjection well after the point of order was called.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was, I think, according to all of your instructions, a very narrow question about the median income. The Prime Minister did not answer with regard to the median income; he used average income.

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being considered. I invite the member to compare the language used in the question with his own language in questions. He will observe that his own language is very precise when he asks questions. I accept that his colleague’s language referred to the median income—I absolutely accept that. But the Prime Minister, in answering the question, is disputing the information contained in it. The Prime Minister, obviously, in answering the question, is saying that average after-tax incomes may be, in his view, more important than median before-tax incomes. In asking that kind of question, in the way it was worded, it is my view that that is not unreasonable. I think it would be pedantic of the Speaker to try to constrain Ministers. Moreover, yesterday the member saw me stop the Prime Minister in full flight. When he was asked a straight question he went on to make a comment about the Opposition. Where I hear straight questions without implied criticism of the Government, I will insist on answers. Where members can help themselves is to take out of questions the language that gives Ministers the chance to get off the hook. Today we have heard too many questions that have language that let Ministers off the hook. I listen very carefully, and I will do my best; where the question is a straight question and a fair question I will do my best to make sure it is answered.

Hon Phil Goff: Is the rising cost of living, and the fact that New Zealand workers are earning a third less than their counterparts in Australia, the reason why every day in February of this year 139 New Zealanders left permanently for Australia—1,000 more for the month of February this year than February last year, according to the figures just released?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I dispute those numbers.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can it be in order to dispute numbers that I have just quoted from Statistics New Zealand, released today, and available to the Prime Minister and to you?

Mr SPEAKER: It is absolutely in order to dispute figures. When Ministers do dispute figures, of course, they place themselves at risk, as future questions can be put down on the Order Paper to ask for specific answers in relation to those matters. Ministers are entitled to dispute the content of questions, but they face further questioning when they do that.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek the leave of the House—

Mr SPEAKER: Is this a point of order?

Hon Phil Goff: Yes, a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, a point of order should be called.

Hon Phil Goff: OK. I seek the leave of the House to table the statistics just released proving the point that I have just stated, which was disputed by the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: We do not table recently released statistics, because they are available to all members.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order to avoid answering a question by disputing figures that are available to the Prime Minister publicly?

Mr SPEAKER: This is question time, in case the honourable Leader of the Opposition had forgotten that. It happens every day, and when Ministers dispute figures that the honourable member believes are proper figures, they open themselves to tighter questioning on that issue. It is a risk Ministers run. The sanction is in the tough questions—the member should not be interjecting. The sanction is in tough questions. Questions that insert or seek opinions are not tough questions. I accept that the final question from the Leader of the Opposition was a fairly precise question. But the Minister is entitled to dispute the information contained in it. I as Speaker cannot judge that, but Ministers leave themselves open to further tight questioning when they do that.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you, not now, to review your response to this, and especially the reflection that is made on the Government Statistician by the Prime Minister disputing his figures.

Mr SPEAKER: The member was doing perfectly fine with his point of order until that point. He is now debating the issue. The matter is very simple: I cannot judge the accuracy of a Minister’s answer. Ministers are absolutely entitled to dispute figures, but if they get them wrong, they leave themselves vulnerable. There are further supplementary questions today, there is another question time tomorrow, and members have the chance to pursue these matters.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You started your answer in the House saying it is question time. It is also answer time. It was a straight question—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat immediately. He will not dispute my ruling. The Minister gave a straight answer. He disagreed with the information.

Hon Phil Goff: He avoided—

Mr SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition will cease that or he will leave the House; he has the choice. I have ruled on the matter, and Ministers are absolutely entitled to dispute information contained in supplementary questions. They are even entitled to dispute information contained in primary questions. Even though it is validated, it may not be in the—the Leader of the Opposition needs to be careful. I do not wish to evict him from the House but I will not hesitate if he carries on down this line.

Police—Exclusive Economic Zone

Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): Thank you—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The Labour front bench—[Interruption] That just let them off the hook. [Interruption] Senior members should know better than that. I heard two members use totally unparliamentary language. I will not do anything about it on this occasion because of the responses from the other side. But the House will come to order. It may not have liked my rulings, but I am satisfied that I have ruled appropriately.

3. Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Police: What powers do the New Zealand Police have to protect the economic interests of New Zealanders in our exclusive economic zone?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): The police, who are operationally independent under section 16 of the Policing Act, deal with operational matters on a case by case basis and exercise their discretion as appropriate. The police’s ability to act is found in a variety of legislation. In particular, the Policing Act 2008 outlines the roles and functions of police, and they include keeping the peace, maintaining public safety, law enforcement, and crime prevention.

Hon Rodney Hide: What powers do the police have in respect of the protesters who at the weekend threw themselves in front of the Petrobras exploration vessel, forcing it to veer off course to avoid endangering them?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: In a general sense, it is understood that enforcement jurisdiction on the sea is covered by customary international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and New Zealand domestic law. Applicable New Zealand legislation includes the Crimes Act, the Summary Offences Act, the Maritime Transport Act, the Maritime Crimes Act, the Maritime Security Act, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Act, and the Continental Shelf Act.

Hon Rodney Hide: What is the point of the police serving notices on the protesters to stay at least 250 metres from the bow and the stern of the Petrobras exploration vessel, if the police are not prepared to enforce that order?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The Commissioner of Police and the police act independently of the Government, as they should do. I believe that they have full powers under the Acts I have just listed to take action should they wish to.

Finance, Minister—Statements

4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements on Q+A on 10 April 2011?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, particularly the comment about the Government having a long-term plan to lift economic performance and get higher incomes and more jobs.

Hon David Cunliffe: If he thinks that the wage gap with Australia is such an advantage, as he told Q+A, why did he not campaign on widening it at the 2008 election instead of campaigning on the need to catch up with Australia, which is what he said he would do but not what he has achieved?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I was just stating the obvious: today, there are New Zealanders whose jobs depend on businesses that are successfully competing with Australian ones. I know competition is a dirty word in the Labour Party, but out in the real world it is how one gets ahead.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does he agree with Bernard Hickey, who said Mr English’s tax switch is simply “not working”, the GST increase “has hurt a swathe of society that could least afford it.”, and “The tax cuts for those on higher salaries has not been saved and invested in job-creating export industries.”; if not, where are the rising wages and the new jobs to prove that Mr Hickey is wrong?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with Mr Bernard Hickey. If the Labour Party does, then it will reverse the tax changes—that is, it will put income taxes up and cut GST. Labour is quite free to campaign on that if it agrees with him.

Michael Woodhouse: What do recent figures on New Zealand’s real after-tax wages show?

Hon Member: That’s a good question.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a good question, because recently the Government has adjusted national superannuation, which includes a formula based on our real after-tax wages. Over the period since September 2008, real after-tax wages in New Zealand have grown by 10 percent. Over the comparable period in Australia they have grown by 6.2 percent. That means we have done better than Australia on real after-tax wages. But it is only a small step and we will not get too excited about it, because there is a long way to go.

Darien Fenton: Was increasing New Zealand’s minimum wage by a tiny 25 cents an hour from 1 April part of his strategy to attract foreign capital by having cheaper wages?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The increase in the minimum wage—which was, I think, the second one under this Government—strikes a reasonable balance between recognising the effects of the cost of living on people who are on the minimum wage, and on the other hand ensuring that a lot of people still have an opportunity to get a job for which an employer can afford to pay them.

Darien Fenton: In light of his statement that New Zealand’s low wages are an advantage and a way of competing, does he also view the Government’s industrial relations reforms, which remove workers’ rights, as an advantage because they further drive down wages and labour rates?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: All our policy is focused on achieving more jobs and higher incomes. Changes in labour market reform—for instance, the 90-day trial period—are allowing people who were otherwise shut out of the workforce and living on benefits better opportunities to get jobs, and therefore higher incomes.

Hon David Cunliffe: Which of the following does he consider to be his greatest contribution to improving New Zealand’s fiscal performance: widening the wage gap with Australia, overshooting the Crown liability on South Canterbury Finance by $700 million, signing a blank cheque for AMI Insurance before doing due diligence on the company, granting a $43 million loan to MediaWorks in an election year, paying $2 million for a “Tupperwaka” to float Pita Sharples’ boat with Ngāti Whātua, or finessing his family trust in order to get double the normal housing allowance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: None of those assertions are true.

Legal Aid—Funding

5. CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the Minister of Justice: What has caused the $402 million legal aid funding gap?

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): Two-thirds of the $402 million gap, which will emerge over 5 years from 2010-11, stems from decisions made in 2006 to extend eligibility for legal aid and in 2008 to increase lawyer remuneration. To be blunt, those changes were completely unaffordable and unsustainable then, and they are even more so now.

Chester Borrows: What steps is the Government taking to close this gap?

Hon SIMON POWER: Among other measures, we are changing legal aid eligibility, purchasing approaches, revenue collection, and court-ordered lawyer for the child services. I want to make it absolutely clear that none of these changes will affect cases involving vulnerable parties, the care and protection of children, or serious criminal matters. The changes will be implemented in 2011-12 and are expected to reduce legal aid expenditure by $138 million over 4 years. The changes are necessary to bring the legal aid growth curve back under control, while preserving access to justice for those who need it the most.

MediaWorks, Payment Arrangement—Confidence in Ministers Involved

6. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all Ministers involved in the MediaWorks frequency payment arrangement?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, as I do with regard to the other eight transactions that were entered into on the deferred payment schedule.

Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of his answer yesterday that he had not read Deloitte’s report, is it his practice to grant $43 million loans without reading the paperwork?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was not the Minister responsible for the loan. I make the point that the paperwork from Deloitte that the member is talking about was issued in May 2009. Cabinet considered the matter in October. The proposition we considered then was vastly different from the proposition that Deloitte reported on in May.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Who approved his answers to parliamentary written questions No. 2043 (2011) and No. 2044 (2011), in which he denied discussing the issue with any MediaWorks senior manager, when in fact he had discussed it with Brent Impey, the chief executive?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I did, and I corrected the answer as soon as I became aware of the issue. I would not describe our conversation as a meeting, which was the basis of most of the questions. Very brief, informal discussions took place, as Brent Impey said yesterday. The conversation was a couple of quick sentences.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Following that discussion, which he forgot when answering the questions, did he refer the matter to Mr Steven Joyce?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot remember the exact details, but there were discussions in Cabinet as the position worsened for all of the companies.

Petrobras, Petroleum Exploration Permit—Emergency Response Plan

7. DAVID CLENDON (Green) to the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources: Did Petrobras provide an emergency response plan outlining how they would stop a catastrophic oil leak or spill before the Government issued them a permit to explore for oil and drill off the East Cape?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): The Government awarded Petrobras a 5-year exploration permit that allows Petrobras to acquire and interpret 2-D and 3-D seismic data and to drill one exploratory well. If Petrobras decides to proceed to drilling an exploratory well, before any drilling operation can go ahead it will have to develop a discharge of management plan, which must be approved by the Director of Maritime New Zealand.

David Clendon: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was on notice and was quite a simple, straightforward question: was a response plan provided by Petrobras before the Government issued a permit? I do not believe that the Minister answered that question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member’s point of order is a fair one. The question was on notice, and the answer did not advise the House as to whether any emergency response plan had been provided prior to the issue of the permit. It may well be that the Minister thinks such a plan was not necessary, but as the question was on notice the House deserves an answer as to whether a plan was provided.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: If I could clarify by explaining the staged nature of the permit that has been made available to Petrobras, different steps are required at different stages. The 2-D and 3-D seismic mapping have to occur before an exploratory well could be drilled. If it were to be drilled, then at that point a discharge plan would be required.

Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My apologies, but again the question was not answered. It asked whether Petrobras had provided that report before the permit was issued. The Minister did not answer that question.

Mr SPEAKER: I believe on this occasion she provided an answer. As I heard her answer, she said that for the initial seismic mapping work that is being done no such plan was required. Therefore, obviously, no such plan was provided. That is quite clear from what she said. The members can question her further about that, but that was my understanding of what she said. So the answer is clearly no. The Minister explained to the House that the permit provided for only certain things to happen. If I am wrong on that, I invite the Minister to correct that understanding. I think it was a fair question on notice, and it deserved an answer, but I believe that it has now been answered.

David Clendon: Interpreting the Minister’s answer to the previous question as no, could she tell us why the Government is permitting any foreign oil company to explore and drill for oil in deep water without first providing an emergency response plan to be followed in the event of a leak or a spill?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I reject the premise of that question, actually. As I explained in my primary answer, there is a staged process within the permit. At each stage different steps are required. Since we have not reached the stage at which an exploratory well might be drilled, the particular response necessary for it has yet to be considered.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are now in a difficult situation. You interpreted, if you like, the answer the Minister gave as no, which we accepted, and therefore our point of order did not carry the day—she had answered the question. The Minister is now saying she did not say no. Therefore, she did not answer the question in the way that you interpreted. So she never answered the question, at all.

Mr SPEAKER: A—[Interruption] Order! A serious primary question was asked and I am taking these points of order seriously. Forgive me, but as I understood what the Minister said the second time round—and this may not be correct—I heard her say that because the staged permit does not at this stage provide for drilling, no emergency response plan was considered necessary. As I heard the Minister’s answer, she indicated that no such plan was required. None has been

given, because the staged permit that has been issued does not at this stage provide for exploratory drilling. If I have got that wrong, let us hear the correction.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The permit does provides for an exploratory well to be drilled, but only after the 2-D mapping and then the 3-D mapping stages have been completed. If the data is sufficient for the company, then it can go to the next stage, at which point further requirements would be triggered.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Was that a point of order?

Mr SPEAKER: As I consider it, it was actually the Minister giving a fuller answer. That was my interpretation of what happened there. Does that answer assist the members?

David Clendon: Recognising that the Minister may not be aware that a discharge permit is not an emergency response plan, does she agree with Dr Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment, who said this morning that there are deficiencies in environmental protection in the exclusive economic zone, where the Petrobras permit allows it to drill?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: If I could reply to the first part of the question, in fact my answer referred to a discharge management plan, not to a discharge permit as the member suggested.

David Clendon: Can the Minister tell us how a new piece of legislation will plug an oil leak in the event of an accident on a deep-water drilling rig?

Mr SPEAKER: There was such noise around the House that I could not hear the question. I ask the member to repeat it, please.

David Clendon: Can the Minister tell us how a new piece of legislation will plug an oil leak in the event of an accident on a deep-water drilling rig?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I do not know which new piece of legislation the member is talking about, I cannot answer the question.

David Clendon: Does the Minister expect that a team of 400 New Zealanders will be able to cope with a catastrophic oil leak or spill, when 7,000 US Coast Guard personnel and over 40,000 other emergency personnel were not able to contain the Deepwater Horizon leak for some 86 days?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring New Zealand is prepared for, and able to respond to, marine oil spills. The Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts who manage and train a team of around 400 local government and Maritime New Zealand responders. New Zealand has equipment and other stores strategically located around New Zealand. In addition, the Marine Pollution Response Service assists regional councils with exercise and oil spill equipment. The plan is responsive and is regularly evaluated to ensure it meets changing risk profiles. Should the pattern of oil exploration—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is an extensive answer to, clearly, a different question. Can I suggest that the member just table it?

Mr SPEAKER: I—[Interruption] The member is entitled to raise a point of order. The answer that was being given did not focus exactly on the question asked, and that was the dilemma. The question asked was whether the Minister believed that New Zealand’s 400 people involved in some kind of response team in the situation described could achieve more success than thousands of people in the United States of America did during the recent Gulf of Mexico spill. It was just an opinion being sought from the Minister. Admittedly, we got an interesting answer about how currently New Zealand responds to such an emergency, but that was not the question asked. The question asked was whether the Minister believed that our 400 people could do better than the US thousands. It is just an opinion being sought. I would be grateful if the Minister would answer it.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I was giving a rather long answer to the hyperbole that was in the question in order to reassure members that the plan is responsive and regularly evaluated—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Far be it from me to be your protector, but I think that if there had been hyperbole in the question, you would have ruled it out. Therefore, that statement was a reflection on you.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I am trying to get us through this particular question, and to get members some satisfaction on answers they are seeking.

Hon Rick Barker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To help the Green MP, could he rephrase his question to suggest that the Minister’s Hansard be used as an alternative to the bill to plug the hole?

Mr SPEAKER: Let us be reasonable and go back. The question was an opinion question. It was within the Standing Orders. An opinion was being sought. The Minister does not have to give any particular opinion, but the question should be addressed, one way or another, as it was asked.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The point I was getting to was that the plan is responsive and regularly evaluated to ensure it meets changing risk profiles. So should the pattern of oil exploration or production change, Maritime New Zealand would change its response accordingly, specific to New Zealand’s situation. Thank you.

David Clendon: Given that the Gulf of Mexico disaster was stopped only when a second rig drilled a relief well, does she expect Petrobras to provide a second rig in case there is a catastrophic leak in the exploratory well?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: This is asking me to—well, I am asking you, Mr Speaker, for a point of clarification. This is a hypothesis.

Mr SPEAKER: The House will be silent. Members are entitled to ask hypothetical questions, but, obviously, there is no precise answer to a hypothetical question. Whether a second rig would be provided to drill a second hole if anything went wrong with the first is a hypothetical question, and the Minister is perfectly at liberty to say—it is a hypothetical question seeking a view, and there is no precise answer to it.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Thank you for your guidance, Mr Speaker. The response would be appropriate to the circumstances.

David Clendon: My interpreting that as the Minister not expecting Petrobras to provide a second rig, does she have an estimate of the length of time it would take for a second rig to arrive in New Zealand to drill a relief well in the event of an accident?


Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora tātou to the Minister. Does she agree with Dr Apirana Māhuika that it was not Petrobras that was the genesis of the problems on the East Coast but, rather, the Crown; if so, what process improvements will she consider for future applications in order to ensure comprehensive and timely consultation with iwi?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am very open to suggestions on improvements, and I look forward to discussing these with Dr Māhuika and with others.

David Clendon: Given the significant environmental risks associated with deep-water drilling, and noting that the Gulf of Mexico incident involved over 50,000 emergency personnel and the spending of some US$39 billion, what resources are available in New Zealand to cope with a major oil spill that were not available to the US Government?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring that New Zealand is prepared, and it does so through the Marine Pollution Response Service.

Ministerial Vehicles—Replacement

8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Prime Minister: Does he agree with his Minister for Ministerial Services’ answer to a supplementary question on Question No. 11 yesterday, regarding whether he is in charge of processes in Ministerial Services: “It depends. It depends on the circumstances. I was not responsible for this particular instance, because it was not brought to my attention, and there was no reason for it to be.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. I was not responsible for the decision made by the department, as it was an operational matter for the chief executive.

Hon Members: Oh!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, members should read the Cabinet Manual. Section 3.5 of the Cabinet Manual states that Ministers “should not be involved in their department’s day-to-day operations.” However, I acknowledge that I am responsible for answering questions in the House on operational matters.

Grant Robertson: Is it his expectation that Ministers in his Government will read papers before signing them, particularly documents relating to the overall direction of their portfolios, such as statements of intent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. Yesterday in the House the member was making the claim that I had made the decision on the purchase of new BMWs. Let us actually quote from the statement of intent—

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is not what I did, and I take offence at that remark.

Mr SPEAKER: Members are entitled to raise points of order. I expected to hear a different point of order from the member.

Grant Robertson: I will give you another one, if you like.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am not very sympathetic with the point of order that the member has made, but to me he would have had a legitimate grievance given that he asked a very simple question: whether that is the Prime Minister’s expectation. The Prime Minister answered that; therefore the rest of the answer was really superfluous to requirements. I invite the member to ask a further supplementary question.

Grant Robertson: Does he expect Ministers in his—

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Let us go to the Hansard of yesterday, where the question from Mr Robertson—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no—no! We cannot litigate matters in that way. I have not supported the member’s point of order; I have simply pointed out that the member asked a very simple question about whether the Prime Minister expected Ministers to read important documents, such as statements of intent, prior to signing them, I think. The Prime Minister answered that; he said yes, he did. Going on further, given the simplicity of that question, was unnecessary, I think, and that is why I invited a supplementary question.

Grant Robertson: Does he expect Ministers in his Government to be aware of a major capital purchase within their portfolios, particularly one with some political risk attached to it; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I do. That is why I have changed the procedures with Ministerial Services. I am not actually responsible for the capital budget; that goes somewhere else. But I have changed the procedures, and I have made it quite clear to the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs that I expect there to be an improved performance when it comes to the no-surprises policy.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has he received any advice of any inconsistencies in Hansard yesterday about what was in the statement of intent for Ministerial Services as compared with what the member claimed was in it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I will quote from yesterday’s Hansard a question from Grant Robertson: “Is it correct that the decision to replace the VIP transport fleet was put to him, as Minister responsible for Ministerial Services, four times through March and April 2009, as part of the statement of intent process, and that as Minister responsible he signed off those documents … ?”. Let us quote from the statement of intent, which says: “The ‘Property, plant and equipment’ category includes expenditure on computer hardware associated with infrastructural asset projects, office fit-outs and associated furnishings, and cyclical replacement of the VIP transport fleet.” That is not a decision.

Mr SPEAKER: I call Grant Robertson. [Interruption] The House is getting pretty excited over this matter.

Grant Robertson: Does he think it is acceptable for the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services—

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I cannot hear the question that is being asked. The House will come to order.

Grant Robertson: Does he think it is acceptable for his Minister responsible for Ministerial Services not to have read a briefing on a major capital issue in his department until 2 months after he received it, and then to have read it only because, to quote the Minister: “I saw an item on the news concerning the replacement of BMWs.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That Minister reads a lot of very large documents, and when he sees a one-line reference to “cyclical replacement” it does not present a proposal to the Government. If a proposal had been put to the Minister, I am sure he would have remembered that. It never was.

Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table a Department of Internal Affairs briefing sent to the Prime Minister on 17 December 2010, which goes into some detail about the proposal.

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

Grant Robertson: Would he deem it appropriate for a Minister to take responsibility for an issue in his or her portfolio, such as the replacement of the vehicle fleet, when it is mentioned in four different briefings to him, when a driver tells him it is happening, and when his chief of staff is briefed on it by the department?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am responsible for answering questions in the House. As the Cabinet Manual says, I am not responsible for purchase decisions, because those are within the delegation to the chief executive. As I said, I was disappointed with the decision made by the chief executive, in that he did not inform me of it under the no-surprises policy.

Grant Robertson: Does he agree with John Armstrong that the key doctrine of ministerial accountability is weak and boils down to two words: “it depends”; or would he prefer the description “see no detail, hear no detail, speak no detail”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I respectfully do not agree with Mr Armstrong on that occasion. But I agree with the stuff he has been writing recently in which he has essentially been saying the Leader of the Opposition is making statements recently that are at risk of making Charlie Sheen look coherent.

Job Ops Scheme—Numbers

9. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister for Social Development and

Employment: How many young people have benefited from the Government’s job opportunities programme?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Thanks to the vision of this Government and the support of around 7,000 New Zealand businesses, over 10,000 young people have been given work through Job Ops. When we introduced Job Ops we were facing the worst recession since the 1930s, and this has made a real difference for those young people.

Jami-Lee Ross: What do we know about these young people who have completed a Job Ops placement?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We know that of the 4,577 young people who have completed their Job Ops placement so far, about 90 percent are not on a benefit. That is about 4,153 young people. Although it is not a requirement to record where they go, we know that 70 percent of those young people, or 3,190, have secured full-time or part-time employment.

Jacinda Ardern: Can she confirm that there are currently 58,000 young people not in employment, education, or training; and, if not, how many are there?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: According to the latest household labour force survey, for the group aged 15 to 24 years the unemployment rate is at 16.8 percent. In the December 2011 quarter there were 6,200 fewer 15 to 24-year-olds on the unemployment benefit.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the Minister might have some advantages, I think that quoting December 2011 figures is probably not amongst them, and maybe she might like to correct her figures.

Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Is this a further point of order?

Jacinda Ardern: It is. I also wish to clarify that my question was about what is titled the “neets”, which is young people not in employment, education, or training, as opposed to the household labour force survey.

Mr SPEAKER: I will deal with the point of order that is perhaps of more substance, although I appreciate the member’s point. The question was commendably direct, and contained no implied criticism whatsoever. It asked whether the Minister could confirm a certain figure in relation to a group of young people, and, if not, what the actual figure was. Maybe the Minister does not have that particular figure in the House, although the primary question would have alerted the Minister to this kind of likely supplementary question. I believe that the Minister should attempt to answer that question, although if she does not have the information that is fine, but it was a very simple question about the number of young people.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: First, may I correct my answer. It was indeed in the December 2010 quarter that 6,200 fewer 15 to 24-year-olds were unemployed. I do not have the actual number; I have the percentage in front of me, which is what I was giving in response to the member’s question. I do not have the “neet” number, but I have the percentage, which is considerably lower at 16.8 percent.

Transport, Minister—Confidence

10. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Transport?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Absolutely.

Clare Curran: What account has he seen of the economic benefit to New Zealand of increasing skilled employment and reducing unemployment in relation to the tender process for deciding which company will win the $500 million bid for the fleet of 38 electric multiple units for Auckland?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not seen that report.

Clare Curran: Is he aware that a KiwiRail board decision is imminent on deciding the successful bidder for Auckland’s electric multiple units?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I am not, and that would be an operational matter for KiwiRail’s board.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Has he been informed of, or received any report on, Sammy Wong’s 6- year relationship with Chinese rail companies?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Has he received any reports, formal or informal, that make him aware that Sammy Wong is the subject of an ongoing Audit Office investigation?

Mr SPEAKER: I guess that in so far as the Prime Minister has seen any reports he can answer.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was informally advised some weeks ago that the Audit Office was going to have a look at Sammy Wong.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is he prepared to work with the Minister of Transport to instruct the KiwiRail board not to proceed with the letting of any tender to a Chinese company until the Audit Office investigation of Sammy Wong is concluded?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That would be an operational matter for the KiwiRail board—who it purchases trains from.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter to the office of the Auditor- General from my colleague Pete Hodgson that was sent to the Auditor-General on the invitation of the Prime Minister on 15 December last year.

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 Trevor Mallard: I seek the leave of the House to table the reply of the Assistant Auditor- General Legal to that letter. It refers to a meeting that was held on it and indicates that an inquiry is under way.

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.

Youth Guarantee—Progress

11. PAUL QUINN (National) to the Minister of Education: What progress has been made on implementing the Youth Guarantee?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Heaps—heaps! We have done a number of things, including extending the number of wider Youth Guarantee places to 4,000, well beyond what was announced in the last Budget. Recently I announced the next step in the Youth Guarantee, which is to develop vocational pathways, which will allow students who are at risk of dropping out of the school system clear career and learning options. Those vocational pathways will cover five broad industry sectors: manufacturing and technology, construction and infrastructure, primary industries, social and community services, and service industries. Schools, tertiary providers, and trades academies will be able to offer those pathways from next year, providing clear ways to further tertiary education, apprenticeship, and work for young people.

Paul Quinn: What feedback has she had on the vocational pathways?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The support has been very positive. The Industry Training Federation has said: “By developing a broad range of vocational pathways, young people will not be pigeonholed into a future job, but gain skills that usefully lead to a career in particular industries. It is a brilliant use of the NCEA that does not require major change to the system, but redefines how that system can be used more successfully.” Business New Zealand has said: “It is essential that the business community, tertiary providers and schools work together to define these pathways to achieve the most productive results.” Delegates at the recent Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand conference were also very responsive.


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