Questions And Answers May 3

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, May 4, 2011 — 2:02 PM

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

1. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance : What will be the focus of the Budget on 19 May?
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)




Budget 2011—Focus

1. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: What will be the focus of the Budget on 19 May?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Budget will focus on three main areas: building faster economic growth around higher national savings, setting a credible path back to surplus and the repayment of debt, and rebuilding Christchurch over the next few years. At the same time, the Government will continue to protect the most vulnerable New Zealanders by increasing funding for health and education, and maintaining income support programmes.

Amy Adams: Why is it important for the Government to get back to surplus and repay debt?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As we came through the recession, it was appropriate that the Government ran larger deficits and borrowed a bit more to help protect New Zealanders from the sharp edges of recession by supporting jobs and incomes, but that cannot continue. The economy is now returning to more normal growth patterns. We need to reduce the need for extra borrowing and get the Government’s books back to surplus, and, in particular, we need to increase national savings so that we can decrease our vulnerability to external borrowing.

Amy Adams: How will the Budget contribute to the cost of rebuilding Canterbury, after the two devastating earthquakes?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Budget will allocate around $5.5 billion to rebuilding Christchurch over the next 3 years. About $3 billion of that will relate to the Government’s share of rebuilding local government infrastructure and roads, covering insurance excesses on schools and hospitals, temporary housing and land remediation, as well as demolition costs in the central business district, ACC costs, and the costs of business and welfare support. That funding will also include some contingency for land remediation, which is likely to be the biggest cost following the February earthquake. There is also around $3 billion worth of direct costs to the Earthquake Commission for meeting the insurance cost of residential property damage.

Amy Adams: What alternatives are there to the Government’s balanced and considered approach to managing the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are those who are to the left of the National Government who want to borrow and spend significant amounts of money that we do not have. That would cost jobs and push up interest rates. There are those who are to the right of the National Government who want to significantly cut spending on Government programmes, without regard for the consequences. This Government will continue to take a balanced and responsible approach.

Hon David Cunliffe: Why is not the focus of the Budget on relieving financial hardship on New Zealanders, given that Statistics New Zealand confirmed this morning that prices have risen more than twice as fast as wages in the last year?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member knows he is being misleading with the use of those figures.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we all know that what the member just alleged is a breach of privilege—

Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. The member could have simply asked the first part of the question. The member chose to include in his question a statement that was debatable. The Minister, in answering, picked on the statement in the second part of the question and disputed it. The Minister is perfectly entitled to dispute a statement added to the question that was not an essential part of the question. There is nothing that I can do about that as Speaker. Had the first part of the question been the only part of the question, the Minister could not have answered in the way he did. The member invited that kind of answer by adding his statement to the second part of the question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. All of that is right. You are absolutely right in that ruling. It was not the question that I was asking you to rule on; it was the statement made by the Minister of Finance that Mr Cunliffe was knowingly misleading the House. He said that Mr Cunliffe was knowingly misleading it. If he is doing that, he is breaching privilege and one is not allowed to allege a breach of privilege in that way.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member’s point that I perhaps did not pick up exactly the issue in his first point of order, but I listened to the Minister. The issue is one of deliberately misleading the House. The Minister did not accuse the Hon David Cunliffe of deliberately misleading the House. Misleading is a matter of debate, but the crucial issue is deliberately misleading the House.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just ask you to indicate the difference between knowingly and deliberately. I think if we allege that someone does something knowingly, we are alleging that they do it deliberately.

Mr SPEAKER: What I will do, just to avoid taking further time, is ask the Minister to be just a little more careful in his language, but there was nothing wrong with his focusing on the second part of the question.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is misleading the House, whether or not he does it knowingly. The fact is that the consumer price index of 4.5 percent includes the increase in GST. The increase in GST has been fully compensated for through our income tax package. The figures today show that in fact when we take into account the compensation for GST, we see that New Zealanders’ incomes are more than keeping up with inflation.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Leaving aside the debate about knowingly versus deliberately, the facts are that 1.9 percent of all—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat immediately. That is not a point of order. The member has further supplementary questions if he wishes to use them.

State-owned Assets, Sales—Prime Minister’s Statements

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements on the sale of State-owned assets?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. In particular, I stand by my statement that we will proceed with the mixed-ownership model only if it meets the following tests: firstly, that the Government maintain a majority controlling stake by owning more than 50 percent of the company; secondly, that New Zealand investors be at the front of the queue for shareholding and that we are confident of widespread and substantial New Zealand share ownership; thirdly, that the companies involved present good opportunities for investors; fourthly, that the capital freed up would be used on behalf of taxpayers to fund new public assets, thereby reducing the pressure on the Government to borrow; and, finally, that the Government be satisfied that industry-specific regulations adequately protect New Zealand consumers.

Hon Phil Goff: How did National’s sale of Contact Energy, which resulted last year in $100 million of New Zealand money going offshore, and since 1999 $1 billion going offshore, help New Zealand?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Foreign ownership can, from time to time, have benefits to New Zealand. We have seen that in the past, and I am sure we will see that in the future. But Contact Energy—

Hon Members: Oh!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are lots of private assets out there that might be bought, but Contact Energy is a company that is performing very well.

Hon Phil Goff: Does his statement that sale offshore of New Zealand’s State-owned, community-owned assets will happen in the future reflect the fact that though Contact Energy was to be sold to mum and dad investors, the majority ownership is offshore and 80 percent of the shares are owned by less than 1 percent of the shareholders?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the statement referred to by the Leader of the Opposition was a statement I did not actually make; anyone who wants to look at Hansard will see that I am correct. Let us be honest: the Leader of the Opposition has a lot of problems with his statements. He has put up a billboard that says: “Let’s not Labour”, but he missed out the word “have”; it should read: “Let’s not have Labour”. I agree with that.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Members are entitled to raise points of order, and the House will not react in that way unless members want to leave it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Again, I think it is a matter of whether the House has been misled. A billboard put up by Cameron Slater on the Labour Party website—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Trevor Mallard: —cannot be ascribed to—

Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. I invite members to look back at the question asked of the Prime Minister. I could not discern the question as the Speaker. I listened very carefully. I thought that if I was the Minister answering it, I would not know what the question was. It was a statement, and the Prime Minister made a statement in return in the same general subject area. I accept fully that the member would not have particularly wanted to hear that statement, but the remedy lies in asking succinct questions that are capable of answer. Then I will insist that Ministers respond properly and answer them.

Hon Phil Goff: How did National’s sale of the Bank of New Zealand to the National Australia Bank for $1.5 billion help New Zealand, when since that sale it has returned dividends to Australian shareholders of $12.4 billion?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Some asset sales have been good things for New Zealand. Others have performed less well. All I know is that under a Labour Government that Phil Goff was a member of, more were sold than were sold under a National Government.

Hon Phil Goff: If the average total return to the shareholders of the State-owned assets was 17.5 percent, as the Prime Minister has answered in this House, and if the dividend yield of the Stateowned power companies is 7.6 percent, why does it make sense to sell those assets and lose the dividends for ever to repay debt that currently costs 6 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The average dividend yield on the State-owned enterprises portfolio is 4.6 percent. The average Government bond rate is 6 percent. So in the first instance, that makes sense. But if the Leader of the Opposition does not want to apply risk as a factor, I have a suggestion for him. Why does he not go and borrow $60 billion and buy every company on the New Zealand Exchange, if he is so keen on the idea?

Hon Jim Anderton: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the majority of New Zealand’s Stateowned enterprises have already been sold? If selling most of New Zealand’s publicly owned assets has not to date fixed the economy, why would selling the rest of them make any positive difference?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes—by Labour.

Hon Phil Goff: Is the average dividend paid by the three State-owned enterprises over the last 5 years 7.6 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have the number to hand, but probably. But it applies also a risk factor. As I said to the member, if he wants to completely discount risk, why does he not have a policy of going out and borrowing $60 billion and buying every company on the New Zealand Exchange?

Hon Phil Goff: What gives the National-ACT Government the right to sell assets built by New Zealanders and paid for by generations of New Zealand taxpayers, when the majority of New Zealanders are clearly opposed to that policy?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is a shame the member was not giving that speech back in 1988, or whenever it was. The Government intends to sell off up to 49 percent of up to four companies that are currently in its stock. One of the reasons for doing that is to invest in more assets than we currently have. Is this microphone on?

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Prime Minister. Can we make sure that the Prime Minister’s microphone is activated, please. I invite the Prime Minister to try again.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I will start again. The Government’s intention is to float up to 49 percent but retain the majority of control of potentially four companies. It will use those funds to, amongst other things, purchase even more assets, so that at the end of this process New Zealand taxpayers will own more assets than they currently do today.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is that one of the policies that Dr Brash has indicated to him that he lacks spine on?

Mr SPEAKER: Members cannot ask that kind of—[Interruption] I am on my feet. The House will come to order. The member knows he cannot ask that kind of question. Members cannot impugn the integrity of another member of the House, and it has been known for a long time in this House that members cannot allege that another member lacks courage in any way at all. The member knows that, and that question was asked for other reasons; therefore, I am not going to allow him a further supplementary question to repeat it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I do not want to continue too much in argument with you, but I ask you to look at the tape. I did not indicate that the member lacks spine; I asked whether Dr Brash had told him that he did.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear what the member said, but we cannot allow that to be used as a strategy for making a similar—[Interruption] I am on my feet, and there will be silence all round. I accept that it is a day of tension, and there have been transgressions on both sides today. I ask the House to come back to a little more order, please.

Methamphetamine—Border Seizures

3. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki – King Country) to the Minister of Customs: What recent reports has he received regarding interceptions of methamphetamine by customs officers at the border?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Customs): Great work by customs officers resulted in $10 million worth of methamphetamine being seized at Auckland Airport last week. Customs officers searched the bags of one of the group and referred the group for a personal search. P was detected in their shoes. Three further members of the group of interest to the Immigration Service were then referred to the Customs Service, and the final six members of the group were also rounded up in both the customs hall and the airport’s domestic terminal. P was found inside the shoes of all 10 people. With the current street value of P being approximately $1 million per kilo, it means that the intercept was to the value of $10 million.

Shane Ardern: What is the significance of this bust in the New Zealand Customs Service’s fight against drug smuggling at our borders?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: The 10 drug courier arrests were the most made at any one time in any such event. To put the seizure in context, the Malaysians were found to be stowing

away around 8 kilograms of methamphetamine between them. That is almost half of the 18.6 kilograms that the Customs Service intercepted at the border for the whole of last year.

Vulnerable Citizens—Prime Minister’s Statements

4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “we’ve done as good a job as we can in the conditions we’ve got to try and help low-income New Zealanders”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Annette King: If he is satisfied that his Government has done all that it can to help lowincome families, will he accept the challenge from Melissa Voice in Timaru to walk a week in her shoes in order to experience how the rising cost of living is affecting people, because despite her being debt-free and budgeting carefully, the cost of basic items continues to rise and she has found that she is worse off than she used to be; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.

Hon Annette King: No, I am sure he would not. Is he satisfied that his Government has done a good job to help low-income New Zealanders, when city missions in Wellington and Wanganui have run out of food in their food banks for the first time since the 1990s, with many families being unable to make ends meet due to the rising costs they are facing, which are critically influenced by his Government’s decision to raise GST and to not properly compensate those people with tax cuts?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Hon Annette King: Has he had time to read the latest report out of Northland, which states that children there are more likely to end up in hospital with serious conditions than children in the rest of New Zealand, because people are struggling to pay their heating and food bills; if not, will he undertake to meet with the health professionals in Northland, so that they can tell him directly about the impact that his policies are having on struggling families?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.

Hon Annette King: Does he give a damn about people in New Zealand who are struggling, because every answer he has given today dismisses the true cases that are coming out all around New Zealand, based on the changes that his policies have made to families in New Zealand; if he does care, will he get out of his car and meet a few people and talk to them?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do.

Rahui Katene: Does he believe that the 2,000 Māori homes that are to be insulated as part of the $323 million negotiated in the emissions trading scheme agreement between the Māori Party and the National Government will help low-income New Zealanders; if so, how?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

SAS, Deployment in Afghanistan—Detentions

5. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Defence: Has New Zealand’s SAS detained anyone during its operations or joint operations with other forces since being redeployed to Afghanistan in 2009?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP (Minister of Defence): On 30 January the New Zealand SAS detained a mid-level Taliban commander in response to a tasking by the International Security Assistance Force, because the Afghan authorities, including the crisis response unit, were not available at the time. That person was transferred to a United States facility at Bagram, and is now being held at a joint US-Afghan facility at Parwan. The detainee is being monitored by New Zealand officials in accordance with our responsibilities under international law. The last visit to the detainee was by New Zealand officials on 25 April. His principal complaint was that he was unhappy at being held by infidels, but had no other concerns. I might note that on these issues the Government relies on the professional competence and honesty of the New Zealand Defence Force, and not on the unreliable, disproven allegations—

Mr SPEAKER: It was a very straightforward question. The Minister answered it very well, and we did not need the last bit.

Keith Locke: On how many other occasions have prisoners been taken, particularly given the fact that at the select committee hearing of the Defence Force in June last year the Government said that up until that point—that is, 2009-10—our SAS had been “in the vicinity” on 22 occasions when prisoners had been taken?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: I am advised that people have been arrested by the crisis response unit on 24 occasions when New Zealand has been in support. I might note that the crisis response unit is accompanied by a prosecutor from the Afghan Attorney-General’s office, who actually authorises the arrests.

Keith Locke: Does the Government accept any responsibility for the prisoners taken on joint operations between our SAS and the crisis response unit, or are we simply trusting the Afghan Government, which has a very bad record of mistreating prisoners in detainment?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: The Afghan authorities, of course, are the detaining or arresting authorities under those circumstances. However, we do understand that in the past the Afghan Government has had some deficiencies. That is why NATO’s International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul has a committee to monitor the conditions at the various facilities, including the National Directorate of Security at Kabul. A number of nations, including Australia and Canada, which directly transfer detainees to the National Directorate of Security, monitor those facilities. New Zealand has supplied a defence legal officer to the NATO – International Security Assistance Force headquarters to improve our own monitoring. We are advised that the NATO – International Security Assistance Force headquarters now regards the facility in Kabul as the detention facility of choice, and actually directs NATO – International Security Assistance Force nations to use this facility because it is in fact properly monitored.

Keith Locke: Will the Government make public the text of the agreement between the Afghan and New Zealand Governments, signed on 12 August 2009, on the treatment of prisoners, and publish it either in full or in an abbreviated form?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: This question has been asked before at the select committee, and indeed in this Parliament. The document is being kept confidential at the request of the Afghan authorities. However, I have indicated to the select committee that one of the provisions of the document does require the Afghan authorities to observe the norms of international law.

Keith Locke: What evidence did the Government obtain on the subsequent mistreatment of prisoners handed over by the SAS to American jurisdiction after the raid in Band e Timur in 2002, and does it square with the evidence that journalist Jon Stephenson obtained from those affected?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: It is certainly acknowledged that there was mistreatment in 2002. That was complained of at the time by our senior officers present at the time. Subsequently over the years under the previous Government, which included the current Leader of the Opposition, procedures were improved on the part of the New Zealand Government in that regard. But essentially that is the responsibility of the United States Government, which realises of course that the events that occurred back then would not meet appropriate standards.

Keith Locke: Has the Government done anything to follow up on the welfare of the Afghan civilians who were mistreated and tortured on that occasion, in order to provide some form of compensation, for example, given that it was the SAS that handed them over to mistreatment at that point?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: Well, the mistreating authority was in fact the United States; surely the responsibility must lie with the United States, not New Zealand.

Keith Locke: Will the Government allow an independent inquiry to be held, so that the hardwon evidence of the journalist Jon Stephenson and the evidence that the Government has can be put to independent examination, and the full facts of whether New Zealand is handing over prisoners to

mistreatment or failing to follow them up properly in Afghan detention can be brought out into the public domain?

Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: Can I say this: the New Zealand Defence Force has investigated the allegations by Mr Stephenson—particularly those relating to 2002. Those allegations have been proven to be false, and I am frankly surprised that Mr Locke continues to rely on those allegations, which have been proven to be false. I also say on this issue that the National Government—and, I would like to think, other members in this House—believes the information given to us by the New Zealand Defence Force. I believe Lieutenant General Jerry Matepārae and Lieutenant General Jones on this issue.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article by Jon Stephenson in the May issue of Metro—

Mr SPEAKER: We do not need to table stuff from recent magazines.

Economy, Rebalancing—Minister’s Statement

6. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “I have seen almost no criticism of the Government’s plan to rebalance the economy” given the statement from the chair of the 2025 Taskforce, Don Brash, that “There is certainly no evidence yet that current policies will deliver the kind of accelerated growth we need.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does he agree with the following statement from Dr Don Brash: “the Government is clearly off-track, not only on economic policy …”, or this one: “They’re not only overspending but they’ve given up on their objective of closing the gap with Australia.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with that. The member may be referring to Dr Brash’s role as chair of the 2025 Taskforce, which has made a number of recommendations, some of which the Government has picked up because it agrees with them, and some of which it has not picked up because it does not agree with them.

Hon David Cunliffe: Has he seen the following criticisms of his Government’s plans contained in the 2011 OECD economic summary of New Zealand: “private domestic demand has failed to bounce back … and little or no rebalancing has occurred.”, or: “Macroeconomic imbalances reflect too little savings.”, or that the economy stalled in 2010, despite record levels and terms of trade?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I have seen those comments and I take them a good deal more seriously than comments made by Labour members, who caused the severe problems in our economy in the first place.

Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Government’s plan for the economy failed, given that 3 long years after he and John Key were promising a brighter future GDP per capita has fallen 3 percent, and every time he has proclaimed signs of progress, Kiwi families have found the cost of living rising and their incomes stagnant or falling?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I disagree with the tone of those statements and a number of the facts in them. Most New Zealanders understand that the reason domestic demand has not bounced back is that they have too much debt; they are paying off debt and they are saving money because they are concerned for their futures. That is why they are not spending money in shops or paying too much for houses. To most New Zealanders, that makes good common sense. Clearly for Labour it is some indication of economic stupidity, and that is how far out of touch that party is.

Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that answer, has the Government’s plan for the economy not failed again when, after 2½ years, unemployment is up by 60,000 people, average wages grew just 1.9 percent in the last year, well below inflation of 4.5 percent, and the only people doing well seem to be millionaires like chief executive officers who, according to the New Zealand Herald, averaged a $200,000 pay rise in the last year on top of their tax cuts?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I disagree with the tone of the member’s comments and with a number of the facts contained in them. Despite the fact that we have had a significant recession, real

after-tax wages have risen more in the last 2 years than they did in 9 years under Labour, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Has the Minister contemplated changing any of his policies since the Prime Minister equivocated on the question of whether Don Brash might take his job?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the Prime Minister has full confidence in those policies and in his Ministers.

Earthquakes, Canterbury—Rebuilding Infrastructure

7. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: What process will the Government use to rebuild and restore damaged infrastructure in Canterbury?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): Today I was pleased to announce the formation of a contracting alliance that will rebuild Christchurch’s badly damaged ground level and below ground level infrastructure, including roads, water, waste water, and stormwater. This is an important step towards rebuilding and restoring Canterbury. Alliancing is an approach for developing complex large-scale projects where clients, consultants, and contractors from several organisations work together to meet quality, cost, and timeliness in their targets. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has worked with the Christchurch City Council, the New Zealand Transport Agency, and contractors to establish the alliance. I acknowledge the hard work of those involved. I look forward to the success of this project.

Nicky Wagner: Why was the alliance model chosen to rebuild Christchurch infrastructure?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: An alliance was considered the most appropriate and proven way of dealing with the problem when one does not know the full extent of the damage. It is the fastest way of completing the job, it offers flexibility in a fluid situation, it includes local companies— there will be lots and lots of work for local contractors as well as the five lead contractors—and it will get the job done in as timely a fashion as possible. The method has been used repeatedly by the New Zealand Transport Agency with great success. We expect that same success for the infrastructure rebuild in Christchurch.

Earthquakes, Canterbury—Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act

8. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister for Canterbury

Earthquake Recovery: Is he satisfied that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 provides him with all the powers necessary to facilitate the recovery of Canterbury?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): As the Minister responsible for earthquake recovery, I accept that the powers granted under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act were those considered most prudent by Parliament. In time, we will know whether they were satisfactory.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Is the Minister or his department, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, considering compelling the Christchurch City Council to sell any of its over $2 billion worth of assets?


Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Is there any provision in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 that prevents the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and/or the responsible Minister from compelling the sale of assets held by any of the local authorities governed by the Act?

Mr SPEAKER: In answering, I alert the Minister that if this is seeking a legal opinion as to what the Act means he has to be a little careful—but he could answer within that restraint.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Not only does that not appear in the Act but neither does any capacity, in my view, to outright compel councils to do that.

Brendon Burns: If the Minister does not plan to compel the sale of any local authority assets, why did he not agree to Labour’s proposed amendment to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act

legislation that would have guaranteed that no assets would be sold at his or the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s direction?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: For a very simple reason: the Christchurch City Council continues to be a properly elected body with responsibilities for recovery. The idea we might constrain it to a pre – 4 September balance sheet is completely irresponsible and demonstrates a lack of commitment to recovery by the member and his party.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will the Minister guarantee that he or his department, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, will not compel at any time the local authorities governed by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 to sell any of their assets—will he guarantee that?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The idea that there would be compulsion on the city council denies the fact that we are going to work collaboratively. The member may like for his own political means to try to push us into a corner, but neither this organisation nor the city council are going there, because—unlike him—we want a good job for the people of Canterbury, not some botchy, shoddy thing he thinks is acceptable.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I will take that as a no. In the event of any proposal to sell local authority assets to pay for the recovery, is the Minister prepared to apply the full weight of his office to prevent any such sale from occurring?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I said before that the Christchurch City Council is a properly elected body that makes its own decisions. If it decides to sell some properties it bought from Dave Henderson, that is its business, not this Parliament’s.

Government Expenditure—Percentage of GDP

9. Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Finance: By how much has Government expenditure increased as a percentage of GDP since he became Minister of Finance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Core Crown expenditure in 2008-09, the year in which we were elected, was 34.7 percent of GDP. I have to say that it had risen pretty rapidly from about 29 percent of GDP in 2005. Last year’s half-year update projected expenditure in the current year at 34.9 percent, almost unchanged from 2 years ago. That figure did not include the cost of the February earthquake, which will be largely accounted for in the end-of-year accounts for this year.

Hon John Boscawen: Can he explain why, when measuring total Government spending as a percentage of GDP, New Zealand’s tax freedom day falls 2 months after it does in Korea, and more than a month after Australia; and does he believe that the Korean national party and the Australian Labor Party “follow an extreme right-wing doctrine”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We could have an argument over what measures to use. In the Crown accounts, total Crown expenses include, for instance, all the expenditure by State-owned enterprises. We do not think that is a very useful definition. We use the core Crown expenses definition and, according to that, it has not gone up in the last 2 years. I might say that historically this argument has been had before. I know that the member will not mind me pointing out that, for instance, last time New Zealand had a significant recession—well, one of the previous recessions— a member of his party, Sir Roger Douglas, was the Minister of Finance. Expenditure as a percentage of GDP went up every single year that he was the Minister of Finance.

Hon John Boscawen: Does he stand by his Government’s concrete goal of catching Australia by 2025; if so, will he at least cut expenditure as a percentage of GDP to the same level as Australia’s?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to the first question is yes; for the answer to the second question, the member will have to wait for the Budget, but it is likely that Government expenditure as a proportion of GDP will peak this year and begin dropping. I am sure, with the support of parties that believe in smaller government, that will continue to drop.

Foreign Affairs, Minister—Confidence

10. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Foreign Affairs?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

David Shearer: Is he aware that the Minister of Foreign Affairs spent at least $75,000 travelling to Vanuatu by the Royal New Zealand Air Force in February this year to attend a meeting lasting just a few hours?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure of the exact cost; I would have to go back and refer to the paper the Minister would have sent. But I am sure the Minister would have done that only if it was believed to be in the best interests and the best use of taxpayers’ dollars to do so.

David Shearer: Can he confirm that he personally approved the trip as Prime Minister because he approves all ministerial trips overseas; if so, why did he not question the expense?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do, but I hasten to add that the actual cost of a trip often varies from that in the letter sent by the Minister, because that is only indicative. Often the trips come in under budget. If we want to talk about using defence assets and about whether they represent value for money, I can assure the member that no member of my Cabinet has used taxpayers’ dollars to get an RNZAF plane to jump—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

David Shearer: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have called David Shearer.

David Shearer: Will he now undertake to ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs why he did not use commercial airline services, which would have cost about $4,000 and not at least $75,000?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, because I accept the logic that was put forward by the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time.

Children, Protection—Green Paper Announcement

11. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister for Social Development and

Employment: Why has the Government announced a green paper on how we value, nurture, and protect children?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): We have announced the green paper because we believe we can do better by our children, particularly our vulnerable children. For too long too many of them have not had the best start in life.

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister, but I cannot hear a word of her answer. The previous—

Hon Ruth Dyson: You’re not missing much.

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Ruth Dyson knows that is naughty. When I am on my feet she should stop interjecting. She is not alone in her interjecting today, I hasten to add.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have announced the green paper because we believe we can do better by our children, particularly our vulnerable children. For too long too many of our children have had far from the best possible start. In fact, many have been in danger and have been unsafe, abused, and neglected. This is the first time we have had a framework for a multidisciplinary debate where families, community leaders, teachers, social workers, academics, grandparents, parents, policy makers, doctors, politicians, neighbours, and communities in general can get together and decide exactly where they want it to go.

Katrina Shanks: What will the green paper focus on and address?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The green paper is being written by a multidisciplinary team led by Dr Jo Cribb, with input from a front-line forum headed by Murray Edridge, and with Sir Peter Gluckman chairing a scientific and academic reference group. We are keen to consider such controversial issues in this age of sound bites. It is time we look at information sharing in order to protect children, at tracking at-risk children—and, perhaps, all children—greater use of schools

after hours, and mandatory reporting of child abuse. We normally stay away from those issues, but it is time this country debated them.

Hon Annette King: Does she recall saying before the 2008 election that in Government she was going to start a national debate about children; if so, why has she waited 2½ years to have a green paper written, which will be followed by a white paper and will perhaps, maybe, turn into some policy well after—3 years after—she became the Minister?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: When I became Minister there was a lot of work to be done to better protect children. We introduced the Never, Ever Shake a Baby campaign. We have supported the Auckland District Health Board with the Shaken Baby Prevention Programme pilot. We have put Child, Youth and Family social workers in hospitals. We have done First Response, we have put together an independent experts forum, and we have looked at intensive case management of teen parents. The member should look at the Budget for more to be done for the safety of children. It has been a very busy 2½ years when it comes to work on these children.


12. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Will he rule out appointing Don Brash as Minister of Finance at any time in the future?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I can absolutely rule him out for this term.


Content Sourced from
Original url

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: