QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. BRENDAN HORAN (NZ First) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Is he satisfied with all aspects of the KiwiRail Turnaround Plan?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes, but there is room for improvement. The Government is backing the KiwiRail Turnaround Plan with an investment of $750 million over the last three Budgets. It is important to understand that this plan is mainly about freight and KiwiRail’s plan to make its business viable.
Brendan Horan: In view of the multiple faults that have been found in Chinese-built rail wagons and locomotives purchased under the turn-round plan, will the Government order an immediate Audit Office inquiry into KiwiRail’s contracting processes; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am comfortable that the decisions of the KiwiRail board have not been taken lightly and were the result of considerable analysis. The board is responsible for those investment decisions and making the best use of the Crown’s investment.
Brendan Horan: Is the reason that there has been no investigation into KiwiRail’s failure-ridden overseas contracts with China that Ministers interfered with the original locomotive tender and had it extended to allow Chinese countries to enter?
Hon TONY RYALL: I understand that the premise of the member’s questions is incorrect. I certainly do not think that this could be described as a failure at all. What it indicates is that there are some errors, and in a commercial way those problems are being remedied. The member’s other claims have been described as rubbish.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a point of order?
Brendan Horan: I am just asking about those claims being described as rubbish, when they were in the New Zealand Herald at the time—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The member cannot dispute an answer by way of a point of order. The member has further supplementary questions to dig into an answer given, but he cannot dispute it by way of a point of order.
Brendan Horan: Why did KiwiRail purchase locomotives from a Chinese company with a poor record, given that Malaysian Railways had to mothball 20 of them, due to severe technical problems?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am sure that the board of KiwiRail took into account all the information that was appropriate for them to take into account at the time of the decision. I think it would be fair to say that the KiwiRail Turnaround Plan is a significant challenge, and I think all New Zealanders would want to make sure that the board was taking all appropriate commercial steps in order to put that company on to a viable platform. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can both front benches please desist.
Brendan Horan: Was the term “Turnaround Plan” deliberately chosen to mislead the public, when the reality of what is happening to KiwiRail is mass redundancies, maintenance cutbacks, outsourcing, and privatisation?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think the definition in the description of a turn-round plan is quite appropriate. The previous Government spent close to $700 million to buy that business. It is the sort of business that has seen this Government have to invest another $750 million over three Budgets in order to help that business become viable, and the board is making decisions where it sees that as making sense.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With regard to maintenance cutbacks and New Zealand First’s concern for—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is not a point of order. Is the member seeking leave to table a document?
Brendan Horan: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: OK. The member must indicate what his point of order is. He is seeking leave to table a document?
Brendan Horan: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: The member may describe the document.
Brendan Horan: Well, as I was saying with regard to maintenance cutbacks and New Zealand First’s concern—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member must identify the source of the document and identify the document. It is not “with regard” to anything.
Brendan Horan: Thank you. I was getting there. This photograph was taken by concerned KiwiRail workers who are concerned about the safety issues arising from maintenance cutbacks in the Government’s KiwiRail Turnaround Plan.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that photograph, taken by KiwiRail workers. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Interruption] Order! I must be able to hear members.
Clare Curran: Has KiwiRail already paid, using Kiwi taxpayers’ money, for the second batch of Chinese locomotives, which have been put on hold due to serious systemic failures with the first batch, which cost the country $75 million?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not have that information with me, but if the member was to set down a question I would get that information to her.
Hon John Banks—Donations to Member’s Political Campaigns
2. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in relation to Hon John Banks, “The law may be very loose as I’ve said before, and the law may well need reforming and that’s something we’ll consider in due course but I’m comfortable with what he’s done”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
Grant Robertson: In establishing that he was comfortable with what Mr Banks had done, did he ask Mr Banks whether he was aware that he had received substantial donations from SkyCity and Kim Dotcom; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister accepted Mr Banks’ assurances.
Grant Robertson: Why is he comfortable to have a Minister in his administration whom editorial writers in both the Dominion Post and the New Zealand Herald have said should be stood down, and whom the police have established directly solicited and received donations, which he later claimed to be anonymous?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The test is whether the police decided to advance a prosecution, and they did not. Secondly, the Minister retains the confidence of the Prime Minister. In fact, there is a
history of Ministers who have actually been convicted of crimes retaining the confidence of the Prime Minister, such as the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, the Hon—[Interruption] Order! Members clearly heard a point of order called, and know they cannot interject under a point of order. I call the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: That member knows that fighting is not a crime under the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet, and this will desist. And that member knows that that was not a point of order. [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet, and if the member interjects like that any further, he will not have the chance to interject further this afternoon.
Grant Robertson: With reference to the Minister’s last answer, is the standard he is now setting for participation as a Minister in his administration that lying is OK so long as you can get away with it?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the standard is that the Minister retains the confidence of the Prime Minister. In this case he does.
Grant Robertson: Will he support the introduction of a bill that tightens up the laws on local electoral donations, including by making them consistent with the obligations on candidates in general elections?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Government would be likely to support such a law. It seems to make sense that the disclosure laws for local government political donations would be similar to those for central government political donations.
Grant Robertson: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave to introduce and set down for first reading the Local Electoral (Enhancement of Transparency) Amendment Bill, which makes the donation regime for local government consistent with that for general elections.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that he retains confidence in Ministers who lie?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not the intent of this Government to lower itself to the standards of the previous Government, where regular recklessness with the truth was almost a qualification to be a Minister.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister believe that John Banks told reporter David Fisher the whole truth when Mr Banks said that he “kept the finances of the mayoral campaign at arm’s length.”, given that the police found that Mr Banks had met with the chief executive officer of Skycity and received an envelope containing a $15,000 cheque, and that Mr Banks had personally solicited other donations from people like Kim Dotcom?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the Minister to answer this, there are, of course, issues of ministerial responsibility here. The Prime Minister is not responsible for what another Minister might say. I have not ruled the question out, but I just alert members that that is the case.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member can speculate about who said what to whom when. The fact is the police made a decision not to proceed with the prosecution, and the Minister retains the confidence of the Prime Minister.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Minister retain the confidence of the Prime Minister, when John Banks, as a Minister, said “I kept the finances of the mayoral campaign at arm’s length.”, and the police found that that was manifestly not true and that, as a mayoral candidate, he sought and received donations personally?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister takes the view that the Minister has conducted his role as a Minister to a standard that maintains the confidence of the Prime Minister. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That will be sufficient. I have already alerted that member that he is skating on thin ice. That kind of interjection is unacceptable. That is the last one.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I warn the member. This had better—
Hon Tau Henare: Sit down, Trevor.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That member will sit down. I am fast losing patience, because the member knows he has breached the Standing Orders of this House several times this afternoon, and I will not tolerate it any further. If he wishes to call a point of order, he may.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it now the ethical standard of the Key-Banks Government that Ministers can tell reporters statements that are manifestly untrue and that are found to be untrue by the New Zealand Police, and yet retain their jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member will be aware, the police conducted whatever investigation they conduct and made a decision not to proceed. The Minister retains the confidence of the Prime Minister. I think pretty much everyone agrees that the law as it applies to central and local government political donations should probably be better aligned.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was as to the ethical standard, as referred to in the Cabinet Manual, of the Key-Banks Government, and I have not heard an answer with regard to the ethics in the answer that the Minister gave.
Mr SPEAKER: The question sought an opinion in that regard, and I think the Minister on behalf of the Prime Minister gave a pretty clear answer in relation to compliance with the law, and I cannot require Ministers to give any particular answers when their opinions are sought.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that, but this was a question, not a point of law. It was about ethical standards, and the reason why that is relevant is because of the Cabinet Manual. The Prime Minister needs to have confidence in his Ministers that they are sticking to the Cabinet Manual, which speaks of ethical standards, and the Minister did not address that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! In fairness, the Minister on behalf of the Prime Minister has made it very clear that the member in question—the other Minister in question—retains the confidence of the Prime Minister. He has identified that the standard that is important is that the law has not been breached. If that is the standard in relation to the question the member asked, I cannot ask the Minister to identify any further standards. That was the answer the Minister gave.
Denise Roche: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave for the member’s bill the Local Electoral (Finance) Amendment Bill to be introduced forthwith, and for it to be set down for first reading as members’ order of the day No. 1 on the next members’ day.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. I take it is a different piece of legislation?
Denise Roche: It is indeed.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Economies, International—Effect on New Zealand
3. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the international economic situation and its impact on New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): There are a number of reports on recent developments in Europe and they are somewhat sobering. Spain and Italy continue to struggle. Spain is the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy and the world’s twelfth-biggest economy. A bailout of Spain would probably cost double that of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal combined. There is also come concern about Italy. The Italian economy is twice the size of the Spanish economy, and
is among the top seven economies in the world. The outlook for the one bailout that has been attempted in Greece is somewhat sobering, in that Greece is behind on its reform timetable, and discussions are now focusing on some last-chance options to keep Greece in the eurozone. Any significant change in the situation of these economies could have an impact on New Zealand.
John Hayes: Given the ongoing uncertainty in Europe, what is the outlook for the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think we are all adjusting to the ongoing uncertainty in Europe, because it could last for some years. The New Zealand economy is continuing to grow moderately. One impact of these events in Europe is that yields on New Zealand 10-year Government bonds has now fallen to 3.2 percent—the lowest interest rate we have ever paid for 10-year money. This rate reflects New Zealand’s status as a highly rated, stable economy with a prudent fiscal strategy.
John Hayes: Why is New Zealand considered to have a relatively strong outlook?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the important word there is “relatively” strong. By the standards of, say, 10 years ago, our outlook is pretty moderate. By today’s standards it is relatively strong. That is simply because other economies, such as Europe, the US, and Japan, are growing significantly more slowly than New Zealand, and our own growth rate is broadly in line with Australia’s. The relative strength of our economy is allowing New Zealand households to reduce their debt in a moderate and considered manner, without the significant cuts in standards of living, in incomes, or in Government assistance, which are increasingly applying across most developed countries.
John Hayes: What do recent interest rates and inflation data tell us about New Zealand and the world economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Our current inflation rate is around 1 percent, and, as I indicated earlier, our interest rates are at historic lows. On the one hand it is giving New Zealand households a bit of room to reduce debt as well as pay the interest on it, and that is good news; on the other hand, those low rates here and around the world are indicators that the outlook for the global economy is not that good. I would notice that there is a growing divergence in interest rates between those economies that are stressed, such as Spain and Italy, and those economies that are seen as safe havens, such as Germany, where people are now paying the central bank to hold their money—that is, negative interest rates.
New Zealand – Australia Migration—Effect on Regional Areas
4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement regarding migration to Australia “What’s the point of standing in the airport crying about it?”; if so, are the numbers of people leaving New Zealand from the regions being replaced by people moving into the regions from elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. I stand by my full statement, which went on to say “We’ve just got to compete.”, because I believe that that is the case. We need to compete for our young people by doing everything we can to provide more affordable housing and higherpaying jobs. As to the second part of the question, as I understand it, there are no regional statistics that specifically isolate the number of people leaving any particular region to move overseas. The statistics that do exist for population in the regions show that almost all the regions are increasing in their population. The one significant negative is in the Canterbury region, and that is for understandable reasons.
Hon David Parker: Has he seen figures showing that although young New Zealanders are leaving for Australia from every part of the country, inward migration is mainly into Auckland, and what is the consequence for the regions of New Zealand systematically stripping out a generation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I just do not agree with the exaggerated language the member is using about what is happening. The fact is that there has been internal migration in New Zealand to Auckland for quite a long time, and it is attractive to migrants. I might point out to the member that
in terms of total population change the only region in New Zealand that has seen a reduction in population in the year to June 2011 is Canterbury, for understandable reasons, and some of that may have turned round now. Every other region actually increased its population.
Hon David Parker: Well, then, did Whangarei lose more than 1,200 people in the last year alone to Australia, and did Ōpōtiki, Rotorua, Whangarei, Kawerau, Waimakariri, Kaikōura, Buller, and the Queenstown Lakes also lose more than 1 percent of their population to Australia?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, what we do know is that Waimakariri lost an ineffective MP and got an effective one at the last election—that is for sure. I cannot verify those figures. What I do know is that the Government is doing, and will continue to do, everything it can to support businesses to make decisions that will encourage jobs. I look forward to that member of the Opposition supporting the measures the Government takes to help businesses, to encourage the creation of jobs, and to make investment decisions much easier, not much harder, because that is how we get jobs.
Hon David Parker: Did Nelson lose 460 people to Australia in the last year, and did south Waikato, the far north, Gisborne, Marlborough, Central Otago, Taupō, Napier, Thames, Coromandel, Horowhenua, Invercargill, and Gore also lose more than 1 percent of their population to Australia, and how long can these communities go on losing population at that rate?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can only point out to the member that every region of New Zealand except for Canterbury had a population increase in the year to 30 June 2011. Any number of those regions the member referred to, one of which I represent, understand the reality that if you want to have more people in Gore, then you need to create more jobs, and you need to be as attractive a place as possible for investment and for businesses to grow. We know that the Opposition does not like businesses being profitable or growing—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has got no responsibility for that.
Tracey Martin: Kia ora. In light of the Minister’s earlier response, and with regard to the Government’s involvement in the Auckland Plan, does he accept that housing affordability and shortages in Auckland are being exacerbated by migrants into New Zealand being concentrated in the Auckland area, and is he aware of any plans to mitigate that impact; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am sure that the inward migration does put some pressure on Auckland infrastructure. That is unlikely to change, as our migration inflows are fairly steady and have been for quite a long time. What we are discussing with the Auckland Council now is the need for its planning laws to enable greater flexibility in the supply of new housing to respond to that demand, so that average Kiwis living in Auckland do not have to pay ridiculous prices to get into homeownership, as they do now.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he see any irony in concerns about population moving from the regions to Auckland being highlighted by a member of Parliament who moved from Dunedin to Auckland?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am not sure the Minister has any responsibility for that whatsoever. Normally I am pretty liberal on allowing questions, but I do not think there is any need for that question.
Hon David Parker: Has the Minister received any reports of anyone pledging that New Zealanders would stop waving goodbye to their loved ones; if so, has that pledge been fulfilled?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I believe it will be, because this is a Government that does not stand around, like the Opposition, wringing its hands about the fact that we live next door to the fastest-growing economy in the developed world. We are getting on with helping our businesses take advantage of that, so they can create more jobs and opportunities for young New Zealanders.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Discussions with Minister of Maori Affairs
5. Hon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Finance: Did the Minister of Māori Affairs discuss with him how the Crown would meet its Treaty obligation with respect to the Mixed Ownership Model?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, the Minister of Māori Affairs has discussed that issue frequently with me. This year the most significant of those discussions was earlier in the year when the Minister of Māori Affairs discussed with me and other Ministers the need to carry section 9 from the State-Owned Enterprises Act into the Public Finance Act in order to retain the obligation of the Crown to meet its obligations under the Treaty. It is our view, of course, that the part-sale of shares in these companies does not compromise the Government’s Treaty obligations or its ability to settle any particular claims that have been put forward.
Hon Tariana Turia: Is the Minister satisfied with the assurances of the Minister of Māori Affairs regarding protection of article 2 Treaty rights, and did his advice contradict that of water claimants who met with the Minister?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the Minister means did the Minister of Māori Affairs seek assurances about the Crown’s intention to protect article 2 Treaty rights, then he certainly did and those assurances have been given. In fact, the Government has gone to considerable lengths to ensure that it fully understands those rights, partly on the encouragement of the Māori Party, and to assure itself, and the Māori Party, and claimants that the sale of shares will not compromise the Government’s ability to protect those article 2 rights. I would assume that the Minister of Māori Affairs has passed on those assurances to water claimants, and I know that in a number of cases those claimants are keen to get on with discussions with the Crown to have their claims resolved, and are not participating in the action in the tribunal, and are not threatening subsequent court action, because they believe that discussion with the Crown is much more likely to see their claims resolved.
Hon Parekura Horomia: Did the Minister of Māori Affairs receive Crown Law advice regarding the effect of the Treaty clause in the mixed ownership model legislation and its ability to protect Māori interests in water?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: You would need to ask the Minister about that. In my experience, the Minister of Māori Affairs does not always agree with Crown Law advice and often takes a more assertive approach to ensure that, whatever the legal advice, the Government fully recognises article 2 and article 3 rights and is committed to protecting those rights. In fact, I think any number of claimants are starting to see that working directly with the Crown over those rights can be a more constructive process of settling them than going through the courts and opening up potentially years of litigation over some novel legal concepts that may not ever be resolved.
Hon Tariana Turia: What was the Government’s response to advocacy from the Minister of Māori Affairs that shareholders of State-owned enterprises should do nothing to prevent the Government from meeting its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s response to the Minister may not have been completely satisfactory to him, but that is part of the healthy discussions in a coalition. The Minister was seeking legislation that the Crown bind the private shareholders in the same way that the Crown is. We decided not to do that, as the member may be aware. The fundamental Treaty obligations are between iwi and the Crown, not private shareholders. The Crown assumes all the obligations of meeting whatever flows from the settlement of claims in respect of water, or these assets, or any other assets that claimants might succeed in obtaining.
Christchurch, Recovery—Potential for Sale of Council Assets
6. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: What advice, if any, has he received on the potential sale of Christchurch City Council assets to help pay for the rebuild of Christchurch?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): I received advice from Treasury and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority on a range of funding options for the rebuild of Greater Christchurch, to which the Government has committed $5.5 billion to date. Alongside the Christchurch City Council, I support the regeneration of our city, which will be enhanced by the central city development plan released on Monday. I publicly acknowledge the funding challenges for both the Christchurch City Council and the Government. Councillors and I have agreed to discuss, alongside our respective organisations, a sensible and achievable time line and funding programme for the delivery of the blueprint. I approach these discussions in good faith, as the thousands of city residents would expect us to do so.
Eugenie Sage: Supplementary—
Mr SPEAKER: Just before I call the member, did the answer actually say, yes, the Minister had received advice on the potential sale of such assets, or did it not? Because that is what the primary question asked.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is what the answer gave. I will repeat the answer. If the Speaker did not hear, I will repeat the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will resume his seat for the moment. This was a very specific question about advice on a particular matter—the potential sale of Christchurch City Council assets. Although the Minister has no responsibility for those assets, he does have responsibility for any advice he may have received. The Minister, if I heard him correctly, said he had received advice from both Treasury and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, but what he did not say in his answer was whether that advice covered the issue that the question asked about. If the Minister could clarify that, that would be helpful.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have given an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker did not hear the answer to the question asked.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have received advice from Treasury and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority on a range of funding options for the rebuilding of Greater Christchurch, to which the Government has committed $5.5 billion to date. Alongside the Christchurch City Council, I support the regeneration of our city, which will be enhanced by the development of the central city plan, released on Monday. I have publicly acknowledged the funding challenges for both the city council and the Government. Councillors and I have agreed to discuss, alongside our respective organisations, a sensible and achievable time line and funding programme for the delivery of the blueprint. I approach these discussions in good faith, as the thousands of city residents would expect us to do so. I intend to say no further on this matter.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The relevant phrase was “a range of funding options” in the Minister’s answer, but what he has not made clear is whether that range of funding options included the potential sale of certain assets, which is the question in the primary question—it is written down. Unless he is claiming a public interest defence, which I did not hear him say, then he needs to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister is asserting that it is not in the public interest to answer the question, that is absolutely the Minister’s prerogative to do that, but the question is a primary question, and if it is—
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have ministerial responsibility for the recovery; I have no responsibility for the Christchurch City Council and its finances. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister is absolutely correct in that matter, and I pointed that out previously. But what the Minister does have responsibility for is any advice he has received, especially advice from officials. In the Minister’s answer he has indicated he has received advice from Treasury. The question asked whether that advice covered the potential sale of Christchurch City Council assets. Now, that is a primary question on notice. If it is not in the public interest to provide the answer to the question, that is absolutely the Minister’s prerogative. The Speaker is not
going to second-guess that, but so far I just have not heard an answer to the question. If it is not in the public interest, I absolutely respect that. That is the Minister’s sole judgment, not the Speaker’s. But just to ignore the question—a primary question—is not on. This is Parliament. The House deserves an answer to a clear question—if it is in the public interest for an answer to be provided. The Minister has so far said he has received advice on a range of funding options. The question did not ask that; the question asked whether he had received any advice. It asked what advice, if any, he had received on the potential sale of Christchurch City Council assets to help pay for the rebuild of Christchurch. He may have received some on that; he may not have. But at the moment the House is none the wiser, and that is what is not acceptable in this Parliament.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just for clarity, because it was a very brief—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! I am on my feet. The Minister gave a perfectly clear answer.
Eugenie Sage: When will the Minister be revealing that advice and the discussions that he has had with the Christchurch City Council about the possible sale of council assets?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have not said that there are discussions with the Christchurch City Council about the sale of the assets. This is a particular concern for the Green Party. It is something that has been ramped up hard by the Green Party. The people who live in Christchurch know that there is a huge amount of work to be done down there for us to get back, and they have a $5.5 billion commitment from the Government, a plan that will revitalise the city, a number of other problems that the Government is trying to work through at the present time. Sitting around angsting over what may or may not be sold or where the money is going to come from is of no use until there has been a proper discussion between the two parties. That will now take place.
Eugenie Sage: Is the comment attributed to the Minister in today’s Christchurch Press: “the council would have to find a lot of funds, but it had options to deal with that.”, correct; if so, was he referring to selling assets?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I was referring to the fact that the Christchurch City Council has indicated in its annual plan that it is prepared to find, I think, a figure of around about $600 million, with perhaps a further $155 million towards the regeneration of city assets. By anyone’s measure that is a lot of money. I admit you could barely buy a broken-down railway company for it, but none the less, it is a lot of money. When it comes to the second part of the question, I cannot recall what the second part of the question was.
Eugenie Sage: If I could help the Minister, when he said that it did have options to deal with that, was he referring to the sale of assets to deal with the shortfall?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are a range of options. I note that the council has so far opted for very high rate increases for Christchurch residents.
Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister agree that the $30 million to $40 million in dividends that the Christchurch City Council receives annually from the trading companies in Christchurch City Holdings Ltd is a useful revenue stream that would be lost or reduced if those council assets were sold off or sold down?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am sure a revenue stream of that amount is useful, and no one would suggest it is not. But in the environment where you have got a provision on your balance sheet that means the city is very financially strong, you do that largely, I suspect, over a number of years to provide for the rainy day. If anyone wants to suggest that Christchurch has not had a rainy day, I think they would have a very hard battle to win.
Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister accept that several of the facilities proposed in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s blueprint for central Christchurch are bigger and more expensive than those planned by the Christchurch City Council, and that this creates a funding problem for the council?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think there are two things that are important here. Firstly, the Christchurch City Council made some provisions in its annual plan, as it was required to do. I did not think it was appropriate to use the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority powers to suspend that annual plan process, because there is a whole lot more that the council is doing and has to do outside the central business district and as a result of earthquake damage. So the place holder positions that it took, I think, were perfectly appropriate. It could not run ahead of the release of the plan. But there is a plan. It is a very good plan. It has been well accepted and embraced by the people of Canterbury. The member knows full well that there are around each of those proposals a range of funding opportunities that do need to be explored and will be discussed.
Eugenie Sage: Will the Government reconsider introducing a temporary earthquake levy, as proposed by the Green Party, given that the city council’s equity in Christchurch City Holdings Ltd is about $1.3 billion, and the levy would raise almost this amount in 1 year?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is not a levy; it is a tax. It is a tax that is going to be applied to all New Zealanders to look after Christchurch, if you believe the hype that the Greens say. The reality is that the Government is doing that. The Government has put up $5.5 billion. If the Green Party wants to say that it would support the $5.5 billion plus the extra money that might come from the increased tax, that is an interesting proposition. How you would fill up the gap between what is planned and the revenue stream that is proposed is beyond me.
Electricity—Generation from Renewable Resources
7. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: What reports has he received on renewable electricity generation in New Zealand?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Energy and Resources): As the National-led Government’s spokesman on ensuring that renewable electricity generation thrives here in our country, I am pleased to report that the ministry has said that renewable electricity generation was 77 percent in 2011, up from 74 percent in 2010. Although it is important to bear in mind that the level of renewable electricity fluctuates because of a number of factors, including lake levels, I am pleased to see us well on our way towards achieving the goal of 90 percent renewable generation by 2025.
Jonathan Young: Has he seen any forecasts on the future of renewable electricity generation in New Zealand?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Yes. Forecasting by the Electricity Authority shows that almost 3,700 megawatts of renewable generation is consented but not yet built. To put this in perspective, this implies that there are enough consented renewable generation projects to meet our demand growth out past 2030. On this basis it is clear that the renewable energy sector in New Zealand has a strong future.
Social Development, Minister—Discussions with Taylor Fry
8. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What was discussed at the three meetings she has had with Australian company Taylor Fry, known for its actuary services to the insurance industry?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister for Social
Development: What was discussed was the contribution that Taylor Fry could make to measuring the future cost of the benefit system, as one tool for helping to provide a sound footing for the investment-based approach to the welfare system. Taylor Fry provided Ministers with a wide range of information and advice. We expect the initial public valuation to be publicly released relatively soon, as we are making good progress on trying to evaluate the future cost of the current population on welfare so that we can take a more active approach with investing more public money, in order to reduce the future cost.
Jacinda Ardern: Why has Australian firm Taylor Fry been commissioned, at a cost of up to $1 million, to undertake an actuarial valuation of the welfare system in New Zealand, given that her department produced the Future Liability: Estimating time on benefit and the associated cost roughly 18 months ago?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because the Ministry of Social Development does not actually have the kind of expertise that will allow the Government not just to calculate the future costs but to differentiate the population. We want to move away from the model overseen by that previous Labour Government, which was to put money in the bank accounts of the most vulnerable New Zealanders and leave them to it. The Ministry of Social Development is good at that; it is not good at this, so we used some experts.
Jacinda Ardern: What evidence does the Minister have to suggest that her department is currently failing, given that Cabinet is suggesting a radically different funding model, whereby “a portion of … Social Development’s baseline funding could depend on their performance in meeting a target for reduction in the future liability.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The department does its best with the tools that it has. It happens that that has left us with 320,000 people, at least, on benefits, 170,000 of whom have been there for 5 years, and 100,000 of them have been there for 9 of the last 10 years. I know the Labour Party does not think we can do better than that. We believe we can and we are willing to invest $1 million in Taylor Fry, and, more important, $200 million in the last Budget, in doing more for the most vulnerable population, which is the young mothers of young children. That decision is directly connected to the investment approach informed by these experts.
Jacinda Ardern: Why is the Minister proposing to decrease her department’s baseline funding if there is growth in the number of people on a benefit who need support to move into work, and increase its funding when there are fewer people who need this support, as proposed by her Cabinet papers, and how does this represent an investment approach?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not surprised that the Labour Opposition, with its history of feeding off the misery of so many long-term beneficiaries, cannot quite understand—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I find it difficult to accept that that was an answer to the question asked. The question was seeking an opinion as to why the Government was doing something with the ministry. The Minister should come to the question asked.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, the investment approach does not consist necessarily of more money—technically—going into the departmental baseline, which is what the Labour Opposition would do. This is about spending more money on the beneficiaries. The best example I can give the member is that we have identified $2,800 young New Zealanders under 18 who have children. We are investing roughly $5,000 to $6,000 per head in those 2,800 young people to get them qualifications, to get them decent housing, and to protect them from violence and drug addiction, and we believe that is a sound investment in reducing our long-term welfare cost. That will not appear in the departmental baselines. It will appear in another part of the estimates, but it is a significant investment, which we believe will be effective.
Jacinda Ardern: Can he confirm that the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit and the unemployment benefit were lower under a Labour Government than since he has come into office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can. I can confirm that, which just confirms that on “Planet Labour” there was no global financial crisis.
Jacinda Ardern: Can she assure the House that she is the one with the primary responsibility for the investment-approach funding agenda, when other Ministers have signed off every single Cabinet paper on this issue, with one in particular signed off by Bill English as finance Minister, Bill English on behalf of the Minister of State Services, and Bill English on behalf of the Minister for Social Development?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister of Finance is a—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister. If the question was asked in seriousness, the members asking it should be silent enough to hear the answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, one would expect that such a busy and influential Minister would have his signature all over the place. What I can say on behalf of the Minister of social welfare is that [Interruption] Was it? Mr Speaker, I better start again.
Mr SPEAKER: I would be very grateful.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can assure that member that the Minister for Social Development is applying all her energy and capacity, which is enormous, to solving welfare problems that the Labour Party did not care about and could not solve.
9. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What investments are planned for improving health facilities in Wairoa?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The go-ahead has been given by the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board for a $5 million integrated family health centre in Wairoa. This medical facility on the Wairoa Hospital site will have a new clinical services block, a complete refurbishment of other areas to integrate mental and community health services, a complete IT upgrade, and an ambulance bay development. It will be incorporating significant numbers of health professionals: occupational health, physio, community health, Māori health, public health, diabetes—the list goes on. The building is expected to be completed within a year, and I would like to congratulate the community and the district health board on their work futureproofing health services for the people of Wairoa.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How is it that this district health board, which only 4 years ago was in financial deficit and getting worse, is now able to invest $5 million in an integrated health centre in Wairoa?
Hon TONY RYALL: What the Hawke’s Bay board has shown is that a financial turn-round can be achieved when a district health board focuses on getting its finances into balance. With this achieved, this district health board has gained the ability to determine how it invests its health resources in its community. This is in complete contrast to the out-of-control, rapidly rising, $150 million worth of deficits owed by district health boards that was left by the failed outgoing Labour Government. Turning round those deficits from a track heading towards $200 million has been a major achievement. I think the Hawke’s Bay board is a great example that expanded services can be delivered to local communities with the elimination of deficits.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Minister of Finance’s Statements
10. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he agree with the Minister of Finance that “The asset sales programme remains on track”?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Of course I agree with the Minister of Finance, a busy and influential Minister, especially since we have just started what he calls negotiations over next year’s health budget.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: If the asset sales programme is “on track”, then is he prepared to rule out a delay in the float, which he promised would be in the third quarter of this year, even despite 80 percent of New Zealanders being opposed to the sale?
Hon TONY RYALL: As the Prime Minister said today, a delay cannot be ruled out but it is too early to speculate. We are currently considering how we can incorporate the tribunal’s processes within the broad time line we are working towards.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: If the asset sales programme is “on track”, then was it his Government’s plan to inflame the Māori water rights issue and have the Waitangi Tribunal request a delay of the float of Mighty River Power—was that part of the plan?
Hon TONY RYALL: Certainly it is not part of the plan, but it is not to say that it is not expected. I think what is more important for New Zealanders is to find out whether the Labour Party supports the Māori Council claim on the water or not.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: If the asset sales programme is “on track”, then why has his Government cobbled together an uncosted loyalty bonus share scheme, potentially costing hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money, as outlined by one of his own Government agencies, in order to save face for the Prime Minister?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think what is quite clear is the fact that the use of loyalty shares is not unusual in these sorts of floats of Government-owned businesses. In fact, I think I saw a report that in Finland nine of the 14 floats involved loyalty shares—Finland. But the key question that needs to be answered in this House, yes or no, is: does Labour support the Māori Council claim on ownership of water, yes or no?
Adventure Activities Regulations—Implementation
11. LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister of Labour: What advice has she received regarding the implementation of the new adventure activities regulations?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Our international reputation is tied to our adventure tourism sector, with around 36 percent of international tourists taking part in an adventure activity whilst in New Zealand. That is why in November last year we introduced new regulations designed to ensure that adventure activity operators comply with the highest of safety standards. I am pleased to report that an estimated 99 percent of adventure tourism operators have now notified the Labour Group of their activity, following a joint effort between Government and the industry. This is a great start towards ensuring every operator is part of a safe and robust adventure activity regime by 2014.
Louise Upston: What are the next steps towards full implementation?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Earlier this week the first 16 safety auditors were announced. This is a key step in enabling operators to fully register under the new regulations. I am pleased to report that the first of the activity-specific guidelines—for canyoning— is due for release in the coming weeks, with a further two, caving and indoor rock climbing, to follow soon after. I have also had feedback from the industry that the recently launched Support Adventure website is enjoying a high level of usage and support. These are important steps to help ensure the safety of participants and the protection of New Zealand’s reputation as a safe and exciting tourist destination, which is central to New Zealand’s future economic success.
Christchurch, Recovery—Housing in Aranui
12. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing: What recent reports has he received on housing in the Aranui area of Christchurch?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): I receive a variety of reports on housing throughout Canterbury and Christchurch, including the Aranui area. The information is used to inform the wide range of Government initiatives that we are undertaking to help the people of Aranui and other Christchurch suburbs.
Hon Annette King: Did he receive advice from Housing New Zealand Corporation regarding living conditions for families in Aranui, including information about the 17 people existing on one property, seven of them in a two-bedroomed house, 10 others in caravans and a tin shed, sharing one toilet, a shower, and a washing machine; if so, does this sound like a housing challenge, or a housing crisis?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I have not heard a specific report about that particular tenant, but I do know that when I came in as Minister of Housing there were reports that over a third of the State houses right across New Zealand in 2008 were of the wrong size, in the wrong place, or in poor condition.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. I think the Minister said he had not received any reports on that particular question raised, and that was the end of the matter.
Hon Annette King: Has he received a report from the Earthquake Commission saying that State houses in the Aranui area that are boarded up and unable to be occupied are now assessed as liveable with repairs; if so, what urgent action is he prepared to take to make these houses available to desperate people?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Of the 500-plus houses in Aranui, 132, roughly, are vacant and damaged, 45 are currently on track for repair, and the others may be repaired but these repairs are $80,000 each. What the corporation is considering doing is subdividing these properties and building new State houses, rather than upgrading the old ones. Old State houses—old, mouldy, cold State houses—were under the Labour Party. We want to upgrade and insulate State houses, not just in Canterbury but right across New Zealand.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question specifically asked him whether he had received a report from the Earthquake Commission saying that State houses that were boarded up are now able to be occupied, with repairs. He did not answer that at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure. I accept he did not specifically say whether or not he had received that report, but he gave information about the number of State houses in the Aranui area that were boarded up, some that were available for repair, and what the Government planned to do about it. I presume he must have had a report to have that information. The thing is, the Minister does not have to answer every aspect of a supplementary question. I think it was a reasonable answer to the question in respect of the serious issue around State house availability in Aranui.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, you made a very valid ruling, I think, to the previous question, where you cauterised the Minister after he had confirmed whether, I think, he had received advice. The primary part of this question was not about those other related but extraneous matters; it was whether he had received a specific report from the Earthquake Commission, etc., etc. I would have thought that in order to be consistent with your first ruling—you ruled he had confirmed he had advice—all he has to do is confirm whether he received a specific report or not.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is all a matter of whether in an answer the Minister is treating the House with respect and giving information that seeks to answer the question asked. I accept that on the particular part of the question relating to advice from the Earthquake Commission, the Minister did not actually indicate that, but he got to the substance of the matter around availability of houses in the Aranui area. He did not try to claim that everything was perfect at all. He, I thought, gave the House very useful advice. The member has a further supplementary question now to check that out further. If the matter causing crucial concern is a report from the Earthquake Commission, that is obviously—given the answer just given—to be the subject of the next supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question is asking him whether he received a report from the Earthquake Commission. He talked about houses—how many, and how many they were going to repair. I wanted to know whether he has received a report from the Earthquake Commission. That was the fundamental part of this question. He did not answer it. It might have been nice, all the other things he said—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member is not to make a comment like that. Members have seen me; I try to treat the House evenly. They have seen me pull up a Minister on a primary question, face him down on it, and require him to answer to the House. This was a supplementary question, and the Minister did not try to play politics with it. The Minister gave information about State housing in the Aranui area. What the Speaker cannot know is the reason why questions are being asked. Clearly, if this particular Earthquake Commission report is of crucial interest to the member asking the questions, and the Minister has not covered that particular aspect, whether or not his information is based on that report or some other report the Minister has received, then that is obviously the subject for further questioning. If the member had wanted to know whether the
Minister had received that particular report, if the member knows of a particular report, the question should have been whether the Minister had received report such and such provided by the Earthquake Commission on such and such a date—end of question—then I could have insisted that the Minister answer that. But the member included more material in her supplementary question. I have got to listen to questions asked, and it is my view that the Minister gave a reasonable answer to that supplementary question. I accept he may not have answered the first part of it, but that is why further supplementary questions are available to—
Hon Annette King: So I’ll get an extra one, then?
Mr SPEAKER: No. The member has a further supplementary, indeed, and she may use it should she wish to.
Hon Annette King: Well, thank you, Mr Speaker. I will pursue that in another way. How many tenancy managers operating in the Aranui area have laptops to help them provide a “Smarter. Faster. Fairer.” service to the desperate people in the area—technology he said this morning was available to all tenancy managers now?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I have not talked to those particular tenancy managers. What I indicated, I think, this morning, through Radio New Zealand, is that the changes we are making in the Housing New Zealand Corporation are that tenancy managers will spend 70 percent of their time out of the office, visiting tenants, inspecting houses, and looking at maintenance programmes. They will have a laptop. They will no longer be stuck behind a desk in the office using whiteboards. We are moving to modern technology, not old technology, because those State houses are worth $15 billion, they house 70,000 families, and they deserve some attention and some modern servicing.