Questions and Answers – July 18

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 — 5:23 PM


Housing Market—Prime Minister’s Statements

1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement of 19 March this year that the housing market is “going to take off”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, in the context in which it was made. The housing market had been pretty flat for some time, and I was expressing my opinion that things would pick up. In fact, we are already starting to see that. Quotable Value reports that sales activity has been significantly higher in the last few months than has been the case for several years, especially in Auckland. For the member’s benefit, I was not talking about a housing boom of the sort of the price bubble that we saw in the mid-2000s, though.

Dr Russel Norman: Given that we have a situation where house prices are rising at four times the rate of inflation and twice as fast as wages, according to official data, are we facing a situation of market failure that is seeing homeownership become impossible for more and more Kiwi families?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I mean, one thing I think we can rejoice in is that interest rates are at a 50-year low, and that is one of the big factors that assist people in terms of their homeownership. But there are recommendations from the Productivity Commission, in relation to its most recent report on housing, that I think would be worthy of Government attention.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it not the case that house prices are out of reach for typical New Zealand families on typical New Zealand wages, and that this is a major factor that is driving people overseas and forcing a generation of New Zealanders to watch their grandchildren grow up on Skype?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and if the member wants to visit Sydney or Melbourne he will come to realise that house prices are significantly cheaper in most parts of New Zealand than in Australia.

Dr Russel Norman: Why is the Government not taking measures to increase the supply of new, affordable, well-insulated housing—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the member’s question. The member may start again.

Dr Russel Norman: Why is the Government not taking measures to increase the supply of new, affordable, well-insulated housing to address the market failure to provide enough housing that ordinary Kiwi families can afford to buy?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is absolutely no market failure when it comes to insulating housing, and I am surprised the member raised that, because we happened to work together as political parties to see more homes insulated in the last 3 or 4 years of a National-led Government than had been for decades, virtually, I would suggest, under previous Governments. In terms of making houses more affordable and attainable to New Zealanders, one way not to do that would be to put a

capital gains tax on them, as the member wants to do. But if the member wants to support us in reform of the Resource Management Act so that we can—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the Prime Minister has gone on sufficiently there.

Dr Russel Norman: Did the Prime Minister hear the remarks from Fran O’Sullivan at the Local Government New Zealand conference, where Ms O’Sullivan particularly referred to the market failure around housing supply being a major intergenerational issue, whereby older New Zealanders have seen their house prices go up very considerably, but a younger generation of New Zealanders are struggling to be able to afford to buy their first home?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think if you went and spoke to any generation of New Zealanders, they would say that it is always quite difficult to purchase one’s first home. That is the case for most New Zealanders. They struggle and they save. But fortunately this generation of New Zealanders has the economic leadership of a National Government that is ensuring that interest rates are on their lows, that there has been a reform of the Resource Management Act, and that Maurice Williamson’s great work around licensed building practitioners, etc., etc, are all making the Kiwi dream of buying a home possible. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I say to the Labour front benches, I want to hear Dr Russel Norman.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister honestly believe that housing affordability has not changed over the last 10 to 15 years, and that it is much harder for younger New Zealand families to get on to the housing ownership ladder than it was 10 to 15 years ago and the Government has a responsibility to address that problem.?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I think it got a lot worse under Labour. That is because it just did not know how to do anything else than spend taxpayers’ money, force up inflation, and drive up interest rates, and it failed to respond to adjust the bits of the economy that would make housing more affordable, outside of interest rates, like the Resource Management Act. And that member, every time this Government wants to reform the Resource Management Act and make it—

Hon Trevor Mallard: Who passed the RMA?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: You passed it, and it was a complete and utter mess, Trevor.

Dr Russel Norman: When will the Prime Minister stop blaming the last Government and accept that we have a housing affordability crisis right now in this country, that young people are struggling to buy their first house and are leaving the country to get better opportunities somewhere else, and that his Government has a responsibility to do something about it, rather than just blame the Labour Party?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If that member really thinks that we have a housing bubble at the moment in the way that we had under the previous Labour Government, then, firstly, he is deluded and, secondly, he might want to ask the then Labour Government why it bothered to commission a whole report on housing affordability, of which it followed very little.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister tell us which party brought in the Resource Management Act, about which he is always complaining?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, we brought in the legislation drafted by the previous Labour Government. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members will be silent. I do not want anyone to have an early shower today.

Interest Rates—Performance and Effect on Economy

2. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Finance: How have New Zealand interest rates performed over recent years and what impact is this having on the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In the last week 10-year Government bond rates have fallen to a record low of 3.38 percent, compared with 5.75 percent 3 years ago. This reflects a general fall in global interest rates. New Zealand 10-year bond rates have maintained around a 2 percentage point margin over US interest rates, and that has been reasonably consistent over recent

years. Of course, part of the reason for these lower interest rates is poor growth performance across the developed world. The Government also believes that its policies have contributed to sound economic fundamentals, such as setting a path back to surplus. These rates are enabling households and businesses to save more and to pay off their debt.

Todd McClay: What impact are low interest rates having on New Zealand households?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The latest Reserve Bank figures show that the average residential floating mortgage rate is around 5.9 percent. This compares with almost 11 percent in late 2008. For a family with a $200,000 mortgage, that is a saving of around $200 a week or $10,000 a year. Lower interest rates are helping households to reduce their debt and increase their savings. As a result, total household debt has fallen from just over 155 percent of disposable income 3 years ago to 140 percent of disposable income now. This is positive, but New Zealand household debt levels have a long way to go to get to reasonable levels.

Todd McClay: How are low interest rates impacting New Zealand businesses?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Interest rates on corporate debt issues have generally fallen in line with lower interest rates overall. The average business lending rate has fallen to 6.04 percent as at May 2012, compared with 9.4 percent in late 2008. As with households, this is helping businesses to repay their debt, strengthen their balance sheets, and help them to get through difficult trading conditions, which, for some businesses, have now lasted 3 or 4 years. For those businesses that are doing better, it is helping to give them the confidence to invest and grow, employ new staff, and provide more jobs.

Hon David Parker: Does the Reserve Bank increase the official cash rate to restrain demand when economic activity is strong, and reduce interest rates when economic activity slows; if so, why is he so proud of low interest rates, which are the result of an economy that, under his watch, is barely growing?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: New Zealand actually has moderate growth. It is not a matter of whether—

Hon Member: Define moderate.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: These are simply the facts, and the facts are pretty straightforward. Partly because of subdued economic growth around the globe, interest rates are low. It happens that it is useful for New Zealand households, because in the last 10 years they ran record household debt to very high levels. Low interest rates are helping them to reduce that debt, and I would have thought that the member would be pleased about that.

Prime Minister—Statements

3. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he still stand by his statement “National will deliver a strong and stable Government”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement that “National will deliver a strong and stable Government—and build a stronger economy with less debt and more jobs.”

David Shearer: Does he believe the claim by the co-leader of his support party that his recent comments were “insulting” and “dissing” the Waitangi Tribunal, and is this helping him to deliver on his promise of a strong and stable Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not agree that those comments were in that nature, but what I do agree with is that the Māori Party in Government with National has provided a great addition to the Government. I think they have been strong. I think they have delivered great measures. Actually, it is no wonder the Māori members of the Labour caucus are so embarrassed, because they have achieved nothing compared with what the Māori Party has in Government.

David Shearer: In light of that answer does he believe his description of his meeting with the Māori Party tonight as a “regular one” matches that of the Māori Party, which says that walking away from its relationship with the Government is “something we’ll have to consider after the

meeting”, and is it possible that the Government’s split has these sorts of meetings regularly when dealing with the support parties?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We do have regular meetings with our partners, but at least the advantage for National is that we have got people who actually want to work with us, as opposed to the Labour Party.

David Shearer: If John Banks is charged with electoral fraud, will he stand him down as Minister?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is asking a hypothetical question. Let us be honest: the only person who is going to end up in court is Trevor Mallard.

David Shearer: Hypothetically, then, if one of his Ministers is charged with fraud, would he stand them down as Minister because they violate his ethical standards, which he stood up for?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is asking hypothetical questions, and I do not answer hypothetical questions.

David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did actually flag that that was a hypothetical question and I was genuinely interested—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

David Shearer: —in whether the Prime Minister would apply that standard to his own ethical standards.

Mr SPEAKER: It is quite a tricky one, this one, because members will know that we cannot actually insist that members answer hypothetical questions. I accept that on this occasion the member was testing a principle, but I cannot really force a Prime Minister or Minister to answer a hypothetical question, because it is a matter that may or may not occur, and it is a difficult one. The member is entitled to ask the question and the public can judge the answer that is given, but I cannot insist on a specific answer to a hypothetical question.

David Shearer: Does he believe he is delivering strong and stable government when one of his support partners is threatening to walk away and another could be charged by the police?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Again the member is making assumptions I do not think he should make. But let me say this. We have been the Government now for the better part of nearly 4 years. In that time I think New Zealanders are taking great confidence that we have strong and stable government, that we have a strong agenda for New Zealand, and that we are delivering economic growth as we have seen. With the greatest of respect, if anyone thinks that Labour and the Greens will be a strong and stable Government, they had better think again.

Health Services—OECD Report on Public Health Spending

4. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Health: Has he received the latest OECD report on public health spending trends over the past decade, and how does New Zealand compare with the other 27 countries surveyed?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I have seen the latest OECD report, which shows that from 2008 to 2009, before the impact of the world economic crisis, the OECD real average growth in health spending was nearly 5 percent, and New Zealand’s was 6 percent. With the financial crisis hitting the world in the 2009-10 year, the average increase in health spending for the OECD countries fell to zero, with many, including Norway, Ireland, Greece, and Denmark, actually cutting their public health spending. Despite the tight times, this Government has been determined to protect and grow our public health service, and, as a result, in the 2009-10 year, the latest year for which comparative data is available, I am pleased to advise that in total contrast to this dramatic reduction in average OECD spending, New Zealand had a 3.4 percent increase in real health spending—the third highest of the 27 countries.

Dr Jian Yang: What does the OECD say about improved services New Zealand patients have got from the increased funding, even though the funding increases are lower than during the boom times?

Hon TONY RYALL: Across the OECD, reductions in health spending have often translated into reductions in services for patients, but, despite the tough economic times and the slowing of the rate of increase in health spending, according to the latest OECD data New Zealand has had one of the largest increases in the number of patients being cared for or getting operations in our public hospitals. This stands in contrast to the previous Government, which doubled the health budget, and in real terms fewer people got operations.

Budget 2012—Student Loans

5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Did he or any of his staff ask the Treasury to model the impact of adding interest on student loans as part of Budget 2012 preparations?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As far as I can recall, no. As we made clear in the Budget, the Government’s policy is to keep student loans interest-free.

Grant Robertson: Why, then, did Treasury develop the aide-memoire, dated 18 January, Savings Associated with Adding 2% Interest to Student Loans, given the Government’s clear indication it was not going to reintroduce student loans?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think Treasury has produced a similar aide-memoire every Budget, because every Budget round starts with Treasury saying that we should save several billions more than the Government plans to save, and the list of savings becomes somewhat familiar from year to year.

Grant Robertson: Why, if he did not ask Treasury to undertake the work on adding interest to student loans, did it say in the aide-memoire that it does not have the data or the experience in modelling student loans to give anything more than preliminary information?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I suppose Treasury said that because it was true.

Rt Hon John Key: Is it true that the recommendations for savings that Treasury brought to the Minister were all policies that were implemented by the Labour Government, and does that speak volumes about what Treasury thinks of Labour’s economic management?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, Treasury maybe has a somewhat nuanced view of Labour’s economic management, but the public has a very clear view of it, which is that it is reckless, and they do not want a bar of it.

Grant Robertson: Does he still agree with the Prime Minister’s view that interest-free student loans are economic vandalism, and that he will fight them with every bone in his body? [Interruption]

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s policy has been quite clear—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member. It has, I think, long been out of order to refer to any member, especially the Prime Minister, as being a jellyfish. That is just not on, and the member should be required to withdraw.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! And it is just not on to make points of order like that either. The Speaker will be the judge of such matters.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Through the recession the Government has continued to support New Zealand households through maintaining interest-free student loans, Working for Families, and significant growth in early childhood subsidies, because of the Prime Minister’s view that in times of uncertainty New Zealand households need security, so we have kept those polices in place.

Grant Robertson: Can he guarantee that while he is the Minister of Finance interest will not be reintroduced on student loans?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and I can guarantee that that member in his capacity as tertiary spokesman will not raise one single significant issue related to the portfolio either.

Child Protection—Additional Social Workers in Schools

6. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Social Development: What announcements has she recently made on the Government’s expansion of Social Workers in Schools?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I am pleased that the first 50 of 149 extra social workers in schools will begin as schools start back this term. The first 50 additional social workers will cover 95 schools in Northland, South Auckland, and Hawke’s Bay. We announced the expansion of Social Workers in Schools to all decile 1 to 3 schools last year, expanding the coverage from 285 to 675 schools by mid—[Interruption] Hey, are you done? [Interruption] A bit more? Let us go. [Interruption] Are you ready?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I would ask members to be just a little more respectful, please. The Minister is only feet away from me, and I struggled to hear her answer. I just ask that interjections be a little more reasonable. I call Scott Simpson.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, I just thought I would take a moment to—I have not quite finished my answer.

Mr SPEAKER: But the Speaker determined the Minister had.

Scott Simpson: What role will the social workers play within the school community?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: To be fair and make sure that the Speaker can hear me and know when I have actually finished, the school staff can be the first to notice when something is not right with a child, and with problems increasingly complex and difficult, our new social workers in schools will work with children and their families to address these issues. I think it is really important to note that we will have social workers in the schools of over 131,000 children. This will cost the Government an extra $11.1 million, but, actually, I think it is an investment that is well worth it for those children who need it so badly.

Scott Simpson: How does this initiative contribute to the Government’s focus on protecting our children?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: This forms a significant part of our vulnerable children programme of action. Over the last 3 years we have taken significant steps to better protect our most vulnerable children. The addition of more social workers to more schools is part of this work. Complimenting this, we also announced an additional 96 Child, Youth and Family care and protection front-line social workers, 16 of whom will be supervisors. This expansion of front-line social workers will be so that we can work more intensely with those children who need it most.

Phil Twyford: Why has not even one of the first 50 new social workers been deployed in west Auckland, even though she announced the policy with great fanfare at a west Auckland school last year, and a full one-third of the schools in west Auckland are eligible?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I believe they are in the second tranche, but it is the ministry itself that did an analysis of where the need was most immediate. Not wanting to sort of have patronage and have them actually go where I would like them to be first, I have taken its advice on where they should be.

Schools, Class Sizes—Minister’s Statements

7. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by all her statements on class-size increases?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is it correct that the aide-mémoire dated 15 May entitled “Budget 2012: distribution of the impacts of staffing changes across schools”, which she received the day before she announced the policy, was in fact the first time she had seen a breakdown of how many schools would lose teachers under her class size policy?


Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Can she confirm her statement in the Education and Science Committee in public session today that she did not receive any information about a change in student-teacher ratios prior to her becoming the Minister of Education, and the first time she worked on this issue was in December 2011?


Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is she satisfied that she had properly considered the impacts of scrapping the technology teacher staffing; if so, why did ministry officials advise her a week after her announcement and the day before the actual Budget that she may want to consider options to improve the implementation of this policy change?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes; and to the second part of the question, they were operational refinements.


8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “I want to move quickly to help save jobs”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. That statement was made as I was announcing the 9-day fortnight scheme in March 2009. The scheme aimed to help keep people in jobs during the worst of the recession. I am advised that a total of 54 employers signed up to the scheme, supporting 4,702 employees. It saved an estimated 699 jobs.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that it was, concerning the statement, a job support scheme, does he plan to use any part of the announced savings from the cancellation of the Ōtaki-Levin expressway to save the 220 jobs that KiwiRail plans to cut due to budget constraints; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not in a position yet to confirm exactly the changes that KiwiRail may or may not make. That is an operational matter for it to ultimately announce. What I can say is that the Government is very supportive of Kiwi Rail. That is why we have put three-quarters of a billion dollars into the turn-round scheme. That is why the Government is forgoing a dividend from KiwiRail. It is part of a $4 billion turn-round for the company. It is also important, from the Government’s perspective, that it allows the management to get on and run the company as it sees fit.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If he is, therefore, so supportive of KiwiRail, will he intervene to stop the South Australian company Speno from being contracted to maintain 2,800 kilometres of New Zealand track, at the expense of local jobs?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have any details on that particular contract, but what I would say is that it would be against CER, I would have thought, for us to actually ban an Australian company from doing something in New Zealand. And it would not be in New Zealand’s interest, because New Zealand companies do an awful lot of work in Australia, and you certainly would not want to get into a tit-for-tat situation on that front.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Prime Minister prepared to hand out tens of millions of dollars in corporate welfare to people in Hollywood but not prepared to find $14 million to keep hundreds of New Zealanders in employment permanently in this country?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, in terms of the first point, that is simply not correct. What has happened is that the Government certainly changed the law to clarify the definition of a contractor, so that the Hobbit movies could be made in New Zealand. And that is a thing to rejoice about: 3,000 jobs from the Hobbit and two, hopefully, blockbuster movies—maybe a third one. I tell you what, the Labour Party and probably his caucus will be out there with their tongues out, begging for a ticket, when it comes to the premiere on 28 November—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Rt Hon Winston Peters. [Interruption] Order! I say to both sides of the House that when I am on my feet there will be silence. The Rt Hon Winston Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The poor chap is hallucinating. Given that KiwiRail is buying rail wagons from China, rather than building them in our own workshops in this country, and is now outsourcing in respect of the Speno contract—again, to an overseas company, from Australia—what does he propose to do to stand up to his statement that he seeks to save New Zealand jobs?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said in answer to the primary question, the particular comment around saving jobs was in relation to the 9-day fortnight, and we saved 699 jobs doing that. In terms of building the locomotives he is talking about at Hillside in Dunedin, I think most people would accept that that workshop probably does not have the capability to do it on a cost-efficient basis. It certainly can make other things—and it has. Hopefully, when it goes through the expressions of interest process it will find a buyer. But when it comes to saving jobs—or in this case saving a job—can I congratulate David Shearer, because, my goodness, the changes made to Labour’s caucus—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The right honourable Prime Minister has no responsibility for the Labour caucus. [Interruption] Order! The House has had some fun, but we need to conduct question time with reasonable demeanour.

Domestic Violence and Child Abuse—Call for Royal Commission

9. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his reported comments that the Government would need to seek advice before deciding whether a Royal Commission into domestic violence and child abuse, which Owen Glenn has offered to fund, was necessary?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my actual response to the question, which was “We need to consider all of the issues of what might come out of the royal commission.” That is something I have not taken advice on yet.

Jan Logie: Why does the green paper not deal directly with domestic violence, given that every year police attend 73,000 domestic violence callouts, and report that 70 percent of these cases also involve child abuse?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think if the member wants a very detailed answer, she really should put the question down to the Minister for Social Development. But what I can say is that the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children actually tangentially deals with that issue, because, by definition, vulnerable children are often subject to domestic violence.

Jan Logie: How can he tell this House that the Government is serious about domestic violence when it has recently closed the family violence unit in the Ministry of Social Development, cut funding to domestic violence education programmes, and reduced funding for the family violence sector to a state of chaos?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I reject the statements made by the member. I would not even put them as questions; I really would put them as statements. But let me just say this: in terms of the work we have undertaken in 2012 alone, the white paper on vulnerable children, which will be released later this year, has had over 10,000 submissions, which we will be looking closely at. The Health Committee has initiated an inquiry into preventing child abuse and improving children’s health outcomes. Obviously, there is the ministerial committee that is being led and co-chaired by Bill English and Tariana Turia, and there is an Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty. They are examples of just some of the background work we are doing that is informing the policies that the Government has been operating.

Jan Logie: Given all the international evidence indicates, as well as what our local police statistics indicate, a direct link between domestic violence and child abuse, given the evident severity of this problem in New Zealand, which is getting worse, and given the evident poor institutional response, how can the Prime Minister not commit to support an inquiry to find a longterm, sustainable solution to domestic violence, including child abuse?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think we take issue with the statement by the member that it is getting worse. The information we have is it is probably levelling off. In terms of the work the Government

has been doing, there are many, many strands of that. But if the purpose of the member’s question is to say does the Government support Owen Glenn using part of the very generous $80 million donation he has made into funding a Royal Commission of Inquiry, then the answer to that is no, we do not support that. The reason for that is that it is my own view that that is an incredibly generous act from Owen Glenn, but he would be better to spend the money on on-the-ground solutions within at-risk communities, because, frankly, this country has had a lot of inquiries over the last decade, and we need to move towards some practical solutions. He should use his money for that.

Jacinda Ardern: Does he agree, then, that the inquiry into the determinants of well-being for Māori children by the Māori Affairs Committee, the inquiry into preventing child abuse and improving children’s health outcomes by the Health Committee, the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty by the Children’s Commissioner’s expert group, and the green paper process into vulnerable children, means we have the evidence we need, but the issue lies in the Minister allocating in the Budget a mere $6 million to respond to all of this work?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. What I think is that there are a variety of different strands of information gathering and inquiring going on. And, frankly, having another one is probably not going to take us very far. This country has an issue when it comes to domestic violence, it has an issue when it comes to child abuse, but, actually, if Owen Glenn wants to use his $80 million—and it is an incredibly generous donation—I think if he went out to South Auckland and spent that money on the ground, in that community, he would make a bigger difference.

Housing New Zealand Corporation—“Smarter. Fairer. Faster.” Strategy

10. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing: What recent reports has he received on Housing New Zealand’s Smarter. Faster. Fairer. housing service?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction) on behalf of the

Minister of Housing: The Minister receives regular reports about the progress, implementation, and evaluation of the corporation’s new service delivery model. These reports include updates on the corporation’s customer services centre, which show there has been recently a vast improvement in the level of service customers are receiving. For example, the average time to answer a call for July to date is just 1 minute and 54 seconds, compared with 6 minutes and 53 seconds in April. Preassessments are now done at the customer services centre; this is a much more efficient process. The number of pre-assessments has more than doubled since the launch of the customer services centre programme. This shows that changes that the corporation is making are modernising the way it does business, making it quicker and easier for its customers to engage with the corporation.

Hon Annette King: Is it smarter, faster, or fairer to house people in squalor, for the Minister to never seek a briefing on the slum conditions some of his tenants are living in, to never seek an investigation into the many complaints about those conditions, and never question the safety of his tenants?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: No, because that is not the case.

Hon Annette King: Has he been advised that King Cobras gang members have accessed empty Housing New Zealand Corporation flats in Auckland, are squatting in them and selling drugs, and frightening the neighbours, and that the flats are now without proper security or a resident caretaker, because of his “Smarter. Faster. Fairer.” policy changes?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Nothing in the brief I received today mentions the King Cobras gang.

Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table written answers from the Minister of Housing telling me that he has never sought—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members know we do not table answers to written questions in the House; all members have access to those.

Dr Megan Woods: Under his “Smarter. Faster. Fairer.” policy, what priority would a family of five, including two sick children, living in a damp, poorly sealed caravan, parked in a relative’s driveway for the past 6 months receive from the Housing New Zealand Corporation?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: The Minister is advised that all cases reported to the Housing New Zealand Corporation are prioritised based on the level of need. It is a triage process that has worked for a long time, and those people who are in real need are dealt with quickly.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Is he satisfied that the Crown is a good landlord, given the state of overcrowding and poor-quality housing, and what will he be doing to improve the conditions of Housing New Zealand Corporation homes, particularly recognising that those living in crowded homes and in crowded conditions have increased risk of the transmission of certain infectious diseases?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Yes, the Minister is satisfied, but he thinks the Crown could always do better through the Housing New Zealand Corporation. However, the Minister wants to share some numbers with the House. The average money spent on maintenance of Housing New Zealand Corporation properties nationwide since 2008 has been $202 million. That is far more than the average spend of the Labour Government, which for a similar period was about $133 million.

Dr Megan Woods: Has he ever sat down with agencies and individuals working on the ground in the housing sector—such as the Baptist Church and other churches, health workers, and the Salvation Army—to see whether the Government can work with them to fix the housing crisis in Christchurch?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: It is always difficult to answer a specific question like that, but I am certain the Minister has sat down with a number of organisations and talked through the issues, just as most members in this House have done.

Drugs, Illegal—Police Operations

11. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister of Police: What recent successes have the Police had in targeting illegal drugs?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): More good news. I am pleased to advise the House that a 6-month campaign by police targeting cannabis growers and dealers throughout New Zealand has been a resounding success. As a result of the operation police seized and destroyed over 130,000 cannabis plants, with a potential value of $130 million; seized over 280 kilograms of dried cannabis, with an estimated value of $5.6 million; made 2,500 arrests; confiscated 327 firearms; and seized large quantities of methamphetamine, LSD tabs, Ecstasy pills, and large amounts of cash. I would like to congratulate all the policemen and policewomen involved in this operation and thank them for the work they are doing to keep our communities safe.

Mine Safety—Inspectors and Underground Mines

12. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Why has the Government not required the use of check inspectors in underground mines?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Because advice I have received is that check inspectors would not necessarily improve mine safety. A 2008 review of underground mining did not recommend check inspectors. Also, advice given to the Labour Government back in 2007 did not recommend check inspectors. Indeed, that report said: “Providing for a check inspector regime raises a number of difficulties … and the check inspectors proposal is potentially in conflict with the scheme of the HSE Act more generally … such as in its interaction with the duties of employers.” I presume this line of advice is also the reason why Labour did not institute check inspectors in its 9 years of Government. Having said that, I note that the royal commission is considering this matter and is due to report back in September.

Point of Order—Question No. 11 to Minister

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that I think you might have overlooked Mr McKelvie seeking to get a supplementary question at the last question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, members must rise to their feet if they wish to ask a supplementary question. I waited a moment, and I did not see the member rising to his feet and—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: We did see him start to rise, and he will not get his rubber stamp if—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will resume his seat, or the member will not get his rubber stamp either.

Mine Safety—Inspectors of Underground Mines

Darien Fenton: Why is it acceptable that despite several dangerous incidents in underground mines since the Pike River mine disaster, New Zealand laws and regulations remain essentially the same, and the newly established High Hazards Unit has no destined standards to enforce?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the Minister, did the Minister hear the question, because I must confess it was not—did the Minister hear the question?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I think the High Hazards Unit has actually proved its success as a $1.5 million investment. Even that member noted yesterday that the health and safety systems appear to have worked well at the Waihī gold mine. I think what is happening out there is that the High Hazards Unit is sending that very clear message that workplace safety matters. Can I also refer to a report by the New Zealand Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union that says what we have got, all of a sudden, is a far higher threshold in terms of interpreting the current law in New Zealand. I think that is good news.

Andrew Little: [Interruption] When the members are ready. In light of the establishment—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members can see that making comments like that are not that helpful to order.

Andrew Little: Apologies, your honour. [Interruption] We are rehearsing on this side, Mr Speaker. We are well-rehearsed. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House has had its moment of fun.

Andrew Little: In light of the establishment of the High Hazards Unit last year and its work with underground coal mines, what action has it taken to ensure there are functioning health and safety committees and health and safety representatives at underground metalliferous mines, as contemplated by the Health and Safety in Employment Act?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I think that you will find that with the operation of the High Hazards Unit there has been increased interaction with worker representatives, and I think the member will find that his own union actually states that safety standards in New Zealand are finally being taken to levels comparable to those in Australia. What I cannot understand, though, is why Labour members do not accept good news, why they have to be negative all the time, and why they have to say—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think that was not essential to answering the question at all.

Darien Fenton: Why will she not listen to the miners, including the New Zealand Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, who, after this latest incident in a series since the Pike River Mine tragedy, have again called for check inspectors and urgent improvements to mine safety regulations?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: As I have already said, the royal commission of inquiry will be addressing the issue of check inspectors, as will the independent task force that was appointed just recently to have a look into that matter. I will await those considerations. But I have had suggestions that we could wait until the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy reports back; I have also had suggestions that the Government must act now. Both those suggestions have come from that member, Darien Fenton. She cannot have it both ways.

Question No. 10 to Minister

CHRIS HIPKINS (Senior Whip—Labour): I seek leave of the House for us to go back to question No. 10 in case any members did not get the opportunity to ask their supplementary questions.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.


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