Questions and Answers – September 18

by Desk Editor on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 — 5:58 PM


1. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What measures is the Government taking to encourage businesses to invest, grow and create jobs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): A number of measures to support business confidence, because it is businesses that make the decisions to invest and employ. These include reforming the tax system to shift incentives towards working, saving, and investing, and away from borrowing, consumption, and over-investment in housing. We are also focusing on a faster path back to surplus to enable lower interest rates for longer, and to improve productivity, and, more important, quality of public services, and we are also continuing to review regulation and legislation where we have evidence that it is imposing unnecessary costs or inhibiting investment decisions.

Maggie Barry: As part of the Government building a more productive and competitive economy, which legislation is being reviewed?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have, for instance, reviewed and amended the Securities Act and the Employment Relations Act, and also, quite extensively, the building and construction legislation. We have removed 170 excessive regulations. We are undertaking phase two of reviewing the Resource Management Act to ensure that it reflects broader community expectations about job growth as well as the environment. Job growth is as important to the sustainability of our communities as the environment, and the two are certainly not mutually exclusive.

Maggie Barry: How does the Resource Management Act impact on investment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has over the last few years made a number of changes to the Resource Management Act, since it is the principal regulator of environmental impacts. A consistent theme of discussions with homeowners, particularly those who want to get into their first home, and investors is that they can be frustrated by the costs of delay and also by the uncertainty created by that delay. Our experience is that investors are willing to trade off limits on development and economic opportunity in return for certainty around Resource Management Act decisionmaking, and that will be part of the Government’s consideration in the second phase of reviewing the Resource Management Act.

Maggie Barry: What effect have the changes the Government has already made to the Resource Management Act had on investment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably the change that has had the most impact is to set a 9-month limit for consenting projects of national significance through the Environmental Protection Authority. This has given the proponents of large-scale projects, including the Government with its transport projects, much more certainty about the time frame for getting agreement on those projects, and is reducing the costs of what would otherwise have been very long delays. This, of

course, encourages those who do have larger-scale projects to look more favourably on those investments, because they will lead to more jobs.

Hon John Banks—Donations to Member’s Political Campaigns and Compliance with Cabinet


2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement given in answer to Oral Question No 2 on 1 May 2012, “my chief of staff spoke with Hon John Banks and sought an assurance from him that he had fully complied with the requirements of the Local Electoral Act in respect of donations. Mr Banks gave his assurance during the phone call and stated that he was not aware that Mr Dotcom had made the donation to his mayoral campaign”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

David Shearer: Does he stand by his statement that for a Minister to enjoy his confidence: “The test is: has he misled me?”

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

David Shearer: Is he aware of the sworn statement from Gregory Towers, a partner at Simpson Grierson, who said that Mr Banks told him in February this year, when Mr Banks was a Cabinet Minister, that he could not assist Mr Dotcom in getting medical attention in prison, because “that may backfire on Kim if it became known about the election support.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not read the report, but I have seen media reports. What I am aware of is that that is a statement from Mr Towers, not a statement from Mr Banks.

David Shearer: Is he aware of the dinner Mr Banks had with Kim Dotcom where Kim Dotcom offered him $50,000, to which he replied “No, not one cheque. Write two cheques out for $25,000 each.”, as cited in the sworn statement of Kim Dotcom’s security guard?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I am not aware of the specific dinner that the member is talking of, although I am aware that Mr Banks had dinner with Mr Dotcom. I am also aware that under the rules of the existing legislation it is quite within the rules to solicit cheques and donations on such a basis and comply with the law.

David Shearer: Can he assure the House that the changes to the Local Electoral Act that he is proposing will address the issues raised in the police files on John Banks?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I have not read the report, but I can say that this Government will tidy up that legislation, where that Government failed. A couple of years ago the Labour Party was not worried about this issue—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a pretty straight question.

Mr SPEAKER: The—[Interruption] Order! I think the question was answered, but I think the territory the Prime Minister was about to go into then was probably beyond the question asked.

David Shearer: How can he be 100 percent sure that the new amendments will address those issues when he actually has not read the police files on John Banks?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am certainly well and truly aware of the failings of electoral law. Funnily enough, so is the Labour Party, because if I was to quote from Prime Minister Helen Clark, she said through a spokeswoman that the electoral law was “confusing, contradictory and needed to be reviewed.” Guess what! Helen Clark and I worked it out. The shame is that Helen Clark did nothing about it.

David Shearer: Why does the Prime Minister refuse to read the police files on John Banks?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is not my practice to go and read police files. This will come as a great shock to the member, but the police are independent in New Zealand. They do their own investigations, and guess what! This is the bit that the Labour Party is not quoting. Guess what! The police said that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute—by the way, no case.

David Shearer: How can he continue to claim that John Banks did not mislead him, given that Mr Banks claimed that he was not aware of the donations from Kim Dotcom, in spite of the fact that he solicited the donation at a dinner at Dotcom’s house; asked that the donation be split in half so he could claim it was anonymous; thanked Mr Dotcom for the donations during a phone call; and, as recently as on 8 February this year, declined to assist Mr Dotcom, on the basis he had donated to Mr Banks’ campaign?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am confident of two things: firstly, that my chief of staff spoke to Mr Banks’ office and sought an assurance that he had fully complied with the requirements of the Local Electoral Act, and, secondly, that he was not aware that Mr Dotcom had made donations. Many of the things that the member is now claiming are within the law. By the way, there are many older members of this Parliament—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I think there has been sufficient answer.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Can the Prime Minister remember saying “This is not a Prime Minister in control. It is a Prime Minister in damage control … She should now act over Mr Field. Why are we waiting, Prime Minister? … Helen Clark is only interested in protecting her slim majority in Parliament.”, and what has changed, other than the Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: A couple of things. First, yes, I remember making that statement. Secondly, I am not surprised Trevor Mallard is on feet, because, quite frankly, David Shearer is going about as well—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Look—[Interruption] Order! I ask the House to settle down a moment. This is not going to be easy if it gets too testy.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is the Prime Minister still satisfied and will he rely on the police conclusion when the evidence now shows that John Banks lied to his chief of staff and/or the media on this matter; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The matter does not show that Mr Banks lied to my chief of staff—quite the contrary. Mr Banks complied with the law. You see, the Labour Party cares about the law today, but it did not care about it enough to change it. If you cared so much a while ago, change the law back then.

Hon John Banks—Donations to Member’s Political Campaigns and Compliance with Cabinet


3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that Hon John Banks has “got a version of events, others have got a different version. It’s not for me to forensically go through that”; if so, whose job is it to hold his Ministers to account for the veracity of their statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The member is referring to statements made to the police, whose job it is to assess the evidence before them. I have no responsibility for assessing evidence given to the New Zealand Police. However, I would note that the police decided there was “insufficient evidence to consider a prosecution under section 134(1) of the Local Electoral Act …”.

Metiria Turei: Why does the Prime Minister believe John Banks when John Banks says that he did not read his donations declaration even though he signed it, despite comments by John Banks’ ministerial press secretary that he did read the documents and that his campaign treasurer went over the declaration with him?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because I accept the Minister at his word.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table an email exchange dated 13 September 2012 between John Banks’ press secretary and a New Zealand Herald journalist where the press secretary first claims that John Banks read the declaration and later clarifies that John Banks’ campaign treasurer went over the form with John Bank.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that documentation. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Metiria Turei: Is it a new policy of the Prime Minister that Ministers are not responsible for documents that they sign, and is this a new “don’t read, don’t care” defence on “Planet Key”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I refer the member to the fact that the document was signed when he was not a Minister.

Metiria Turei: Will homeowners on “Planet Key” now be allowed to default on their mortgages and then claim it is OK because they did not read the documents; will business people on “Planet Key” now be allowed to sign illegal—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the member. I could not hear her question and it is important I can. I invite her to start again. Members must make it possible for the Speaker to hear the questions.

Metiria Turei: Will homeowners on “Planet Key” now be allowed to default on their mortgages and then claim it is OK because they did not read the documents; will business people on “Planet Key” now be allowed to sign illegal contracts under his new “don’t read, don’t care” defence?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know so much about “Planet Key”, but my expectations are it would be a lovely place to live, it would be beautifully governed, golf courses would be plentiful, people would have plenty of holidays to enjoy their time, and what a wonderful place it would be. But I would expect people on such a place—referred to as nirvana—to comply with the law, and that is what Mr Banks did.

Mr SPEAKER: Metiria Turei. [Interruption] Order! I want to hear this question.

Metiria Turei: Thank you. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the question.

Metiria Turei: Is there one standard for ordinary New Zealanders, who are legally responsible for any statement or contract that they sign up to, and another for the Prime Minister’s Ministers, who can put their name to whatever falsehood they like as long as they live on “Planet Key”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The question here is whether Mr Banks complied with the law, and it is our belief he did. As I was saying earlier, the law prior to the changes for central government would have seen many members of this Parliament do things that would be illegal today but were legal back then. There are also successful candidates who have funnelled money through trusts, for instance, which are legal when it comes to the law. I expect people to comply with the law. That is pretty simple.

Mr SPEAKER: Metiria Turei.

Metiria Turei: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear this question.

Metiria Turei: Will his Government now be changing the law so that enforcement agencies such as the Serious Fraud Office or the police can also apply his new “don’t read, don’t care” defence, or, again, is it only Ministers on “Planet Key” who are entitled to that privilege?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is missing the point. The point is whether the member complied with the law. The member may not like—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the right honourable Prime Minister, but I will not tolerate that kind of interjection. The member will not do that any further. He knows that it is contrary to the Standing Orders of this House to accuse another member of lying.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I will not entertain a point of order on the matter. I have ruled on that matter. There can be no interjections accusing any member of this House of lying. If the member wishes to raise a point of order, he may, but it will be on a different matter.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I would like to refer you to Hansard, Volume 633, at page 5055 and the comments that day of Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith.

Mr SPEAKER: I will look at them when I have time. Supplementary question, Metiria Turei.

Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister had not completed his answer.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister had long enough to answer it.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Oh, I was enjoying myself but.

Mr SPEAKER: Given the nature of the supplementary question, I think the Prime Minister had long enough to deal with it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister why a police incapacity because something was statute-barred at the time is being interpreted by him as being a compliance with the law by Mr Banks?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: First, it is my belief that the member complied with the law, because that is the assurance he gave me. Secondly, I refer to the press release from the police, who have said quite clearly that they had decided there was insufficient evidence to consider a prosecution. Thirdly, there are actually other examples in this House, which I will not bother going into, but there are some very esteemed members who have often said that looking at things, even when there was a prima facie case, would be trivial to pursue.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister about a specific position in the law that the police have taken. They said that this matter was statute-barred and therefore they could not take it any further. I—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Where is the point of order?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is he now the Speaker of the House?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am now on my feet. I am not sure how— [Interruption] Order! The Leader of the House should know better than that. He does not need to lower himself to that level. It does not help the order of the House for the member to do that. The member asked a question, and it would appear from what he is trying to say in the point of order he is raising that he wants the Prime Minister to give a legal opinion. If I am wrong on that, I am happy to hear the member further, but it must relate to order and not the quality of the answer given by the Prime Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not raising a question about the quality of the answer. I am asking a question about whether the Prime Minister even addressed the question I asked.

Mr SPEAKER: To save time, I am going to allow the member to repeat his question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Can I ask the Prime Minister why he is taking the police incapacity that they expressed—because any action by them against Mr Banks would have been statute-barred—to mean that Mr Banks complied with the law?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not; I am taking the member at his word.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Frankly, I think that if the Prime Minister can get away with that, he might as well just get up and say “Rhubarb!”, because—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! [Interruption] Order! No, no, the House will settle down. Order! I am on my feet, and the House will settle down. The question asked why the Prime Minister was not taking what the member alleges in a report in respect of something being statute-barred rather than—was choosing to interpret that the member has not broken the law. The Prime Minister’s answer to that was that he took the member’s word that he had not broken the law, and that is an answer to that question. I think when one analyses the question asked and the answer given, it may not have been exactly the answer being sought, but I have to accept that it is an answer to the question why the Prime Minister has done that.

Crime Prevention—Protection from High-risk Sexual and Violent Offenders

4. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Justice: What steps is the Government taking to better protect the public from imminent and serious sexual and violent offenders?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Today I have introduced the Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill. It introduces a civil detention regime to protect the public from the most serious sexual and violent offenders. Public protection orders may be imposed by the High Court, at the request of the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections, for offenders who have served a prison sentence for a serious sexual or violent offence and who still have a high risk of imminent and serious sexual and violent offending. This Government is committed to delivering on its election promise to keep the public safe from the worst sexual and violent offenders.

Mark Mitchell: How will the civil regime be managed?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It is anticipated that only between five and 12 offenders over a 10- year period would meet the legal test as posing a very high risk of serious sexual or violent offending. Offenders will undergo a comprehensive risk assessment to be put before the court. The High Court will determine whether the offender meets the test for imposing an order. Individuals subject to a public protection order will be housed in a residence located within the secure perimeter of a prison and monitored by staff. Conditions within the residence will be monitored by independent inspectors and the Ombudsman. Each resident will have a management plan that will set out any restrictions that they are subject to, as well as any identified needs. This detention regime is protective rather than punitive. Residents will have as many of the normal civil rights of ordinary citizens as possible without endangering the community. Public protection orders will be subject to annual review by a review panel comprising judges, parole board members, and psychiatrists or registered psychologists.

Mark Mitchell: How do public protection orders differ from other regimes for managing offenders on release from prison?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Extended supervision orders and preventive detention are not sufficient to protect the public from these very serious offenders. Extended supervision orders, which are set when an offender is released, can be made for up to 10 years for child sex offenders. They provide for an individual to be monitored and/or accompanied at all times. However, their conditions must eventually be removed. Public protection orders might be made for some offenders who are already subject to—

David Clendon: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is question time. What we are hearing is actually a first reading speech on a bill that was tabled today—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it has some merit. Question time is not a time to invite Ministers to give first reading speeches, as the member has just said. We will go on to Question No. 5.

Hon John Banks—Donations to Member’s Political Campaigns and Compliance with Cabinet


5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in answer to Supplementary Question No 3 in Oral Question No 2 on 1 May 2012, “The test is whether the Minister correctly applied and did everything in accordance with the law. I have received an assurance he did”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, because such an assurance was given at the time.

Grant Robertson: Is he aware that section 134 of the Local Electoral Act, which is the law referred to in the primary question, covers two offences relating to the provision of a false return: the first, section 134(1), which is about knowingly furnishing a false return, and the second, section 134(2), where it is an offence to submit a false return unless there is proof that there was no intent

to conceal facts, and where all reasonable steps had been taken to ensure the information in the return was accurate?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Grant Robertson: Is he further aware that in paragraph 39 of the police criminal assessment report of the John Banks investigation police conclude that their analysis of Mr Banks’ return was that it was a false return, in respect of his return of expenses and donations for the 2012 mayoral election?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member says so, and I am aware also that there was insufficient evidence to consider a prosecution.

Grant Robertson: Is he aware that in paragraph 40 of the police criminal assessment report in the John Banks investigation police conclude that as a result of the return being false the law was breached and the elements for a prosecution were met under section 134(2)?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and I just point out to the member that there are no charges being laid against Mr Banks. He has complied with the law.

Grant Robertson: In light of the police finding that John Banks had breached the law and that the elements for a prosecution had been met under section 134(2), why is he arguing that John Banks has done everything in accordance with the law?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because that fact is not proven.

Grant Robertson: If the test for John Banks retaining his confidence is that he has done everything in accordance with the law, why will he not read a report from the police that says that Mr Banks breached the law?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because I do not need to. The test is whether I can rely on the member’s word, and he has given me an assurance that he met the law. The police have quite clearly said there was insufficient evidence. There is a statute of limitations, and he has complied with the law.

Grant Robertson: Is the Prime Minister telling the people of New Zealand that his test is not whether a Minister broke the law, but whether the Minister got away with it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, the test is whether the member complied with the law. The member did.

Conservation Land—Milford Dart Tunnel Proposal

6. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Has she considered making the decision herself on Milford Dart Ltd’s concession application for a private bus tunnel, rather than delegating it to a Department of Conservation manager; if not, why not?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation): I have considered it and have been advised that there is a long-held convention, under successive Governments, that concessions under the Conservation Act are normally decided at departmental level. In fact, there have been more than 10,000 concessions considered under the Conservation Act in the past 10 years, decided by a delegated decision maker, not the Minister. Although this does not mean that intervention would never be justified, I am comfortable letting the normal process run its course.

Eugenie Sage: Why will she not make the decision herself, when the proposed private road tunnel would affect two majestic national parks and the internationally important Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am aware that there are many issues in relation to the application, and there is no doubt that this is a contentious issue. I have delegated this to the level of directorgeneral to ensure a robust process is followed, free from interference, whether political or otherwise, as is the long-followed practice. I would consider the decision to grant the Kaituna dam proposal during the final term of the Labour-Green Government was contentious also, and I note that this was, like all the others, delegated from the former Minister to the department.

Eugenie Sage: In leaving the decision to a departmental official has she taken account of the high public interest in protecting Fiordland National Park and Mount Aspiring National Park, with

25,000 people, more than 2,000 of them from overseas, signing a petition calling for Fiordland National Park not to be dug up?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: That member is able to make unqualified statements of opinion, but as Minister I do not have that same luxury as it could be seen as interference in the decision-making process. It would not be in the public interest for me to comment further at this stage as it could compromise or jeopardise that statutory process, and it is important to remember that either or both parties, the applicant and/or the objector, can seek judicial review of a decision not made in accordance with proper process.

Eugenie Sage: If the Minister will not give an assurance that she will make the decision on such a large private commercial use of two national parks, what type of commercial concession application would she decide, or does she want to avoid approving a development that would severely compromise the parks and the World Heritage area?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: The member is asking a hypothetical question. I am dealing with applications that are on the table at the moment that are going through their proper statutory process, free from political interference or otherwise.

Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister believe that an appropriate way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Fiordland National Park is to dig a tunnel in it and through Mount Aspiring National Park, and is she worried that instead of attracting tourists to visit a pristine Middle Earth, the journey will have to be rebranded as a visit to Mordor?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I can only repeat what I have already answered. That member is able to make totally unqualified statements of opinion. I am concerned with making sure that the proper process goes through its course, to make sure that there is less chance of judicial review from either side, and to make sure that proper process is obeyed.

Eugenie Sage: I seek leave to table a plan map produced by URS for Milford Dart Ltd showing the location of the proposed tunnel adjacent to the start of the Routeburn track walked by 11,000 people each year.

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

Denis O’Rourke: Is the Minister concerned that if the tunnel is built, it would irrevocably damage towns like Te Ānau, which are dependent on the slow tourism market, or does the Government just want to encourage large-scale low-employment operations that profit only a few wealthy investors?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: That is yet another unqualified statement of opinion. In relation to that question, I am more concerned that proper process is complied with free from interference, political or otherwise.

Businesses, Small—Compliance Costs

7. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Small Business: What changes, if any, has he proposed to the Minister of Commerce to the Companies Act 1993 to reduce the burden of compliance on small businesses?

Hon JOHN BANKS (Minister for Small Business): I am always considering recommendations that will help small business. I have been a small-business owner myself for 50 years, but as the Minister for Small Business I have not proposed any such changes to the Companies Act to the Minister of Commerce.

Dr David Clark: Will he propose any changes to section 377 of the Companies Act, regarding the penalties for a director making a false statement, to cover those who cannot remember, or just did not bother to read the statement before signing it?

Hon JOHN BANKS: No, I have not made any such proposal to the Minister of Commerce. I am not proposing any changes to the Companies Act, and I certainly am not proposing to raise the

minimum wage to $15, as it will turn big businesses into small businesses and put small businesses out of business, which is what that side of the House wants to do.

Dr David Clark: Will he be moving to amend the Companies Act so that those small-business owners who do not read statements that they sign and that are found to be false will be exempted from any prosecution; if not, why not?

Hon JOHN BANKS: I have not considered that, and I am also certainly not proposing to take GST off fruit and vegetables, because it would put a compliance nightmare—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Chris Hipkins: Can he answer the question now?

Mr SPEAKER: He has answered the question.

Jami-Lee Ross: If the Minister is not recommending any changes to the Companies Act, what other initiatives is the Government undertaking to help small business and reduce compliance costs?

Hon JOHN BANKS: That is a very good question from a fine member of this Parliament. I am always talking to my colleagues about how the Government can help small businesses and grow the economy. As Minister for Small Business—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I apologise to the Minister. The member asking that question has just as much right to ask a question as any other member, and the House deserves to hear the answer. There will be some respect for this House.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We were just checking to make sure that Mr Goldsmith was all right. He appears to have slunk down—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order.

Hon JOHN BANKS: Small business is the backbone of the New Zealand economy, and I am very honoured as member for Epsom to hold this portfolio. As Minister for Small Business I have launched an updated version of Start, Manage and Grow—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister again, and I say to the Labour middle benches that that is not good enough. The members are better than that, and they should display better than that.

Hon JOHN BANKS: As Minister for Small Business I have launched an updated version of Start, Manage and Grow your Business, which provides small businesses up-to-date information about how the Government can help them grow their business. I have also released a report on the Small Business Advisory Group’s recommendations, and will be coordinating the Government’s response to those recommendations. Further, this John Key – led Government has reduced the company tax rate and launched the Better Public Services initiative and the Business Growth Agenda, which will substantially assist people in growing their small business, which is what it is all about.

Dr David Clark: Should a small-business owner read all statements that they are required to sign under the Companies Act; if they do not do so, how would he describe them: a, negligent; b, careless; or, c, John Banks?

Hon JOHN BANKS: That member asking the question has never owned a small business, and I am certainly not going to propose removing the financial difference between working and not working by tampering with Working for Families, as the Greens want to do. I am not going to change the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act, as New Zealand First is proposing, because it will wreck the economy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest respect, I understand Mr Banks’ difficulty, but loud, obfuscatory answers are not what the House wants.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! There will be no—[Interruption] Order! I think there is some merit in the member’s point, because New Zealand First did not even ask the question and there were no excuses for bringing New Zealand First into the answer.

Welfare Reforms—Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill

8. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What changes will the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill make to the welfare system?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): We are making changes to New Zealand’s welfare system and turning it into one that has an active and work-focused investment approach. The bill has been introduced to the House and is expected to be read within the next couple of weeks.

Dr Jian Yang: What changes are being made to the current benefit categories?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: There will be three new main benefit types, which will replace the current seven. Jobseeker support will be for those actively seeking and available for work. Those numbers from the unemployment benefit will go up to about 135,000, as we include those on the sickness benefit and those on the DPB whose youngest children are 14 years or over. The new sole parent support, which will go down, because it has got those people who have their youngest children aged 14 or younger, will have around 88,000 people on it, on today’s numbers. The new supported living payment is for people significantly restricted by sickness, injury, or disability. However, it will go up, because it will also include those who are on the domestic purposes benefit caring for sick or infirm, which is for those looking after someone who would otherwise require hospital care.

Dr Jian Yang: How will the changes ensure a greater work focus?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We are placing a greater focus on work. The new jobseeker support will include those capable of work and also those who are temporarily exempt but soon will be able to work. Those currently on the sickness benefit will be now included in the jobseeker support, and will be assessed through their work capacity. I think the main difference is that we are looking at what people can do, instead of what they cannot, and then wrapping the supports round them so that they can get back to work quickly.

Jacinda Ardern: Will she guarantee every child in the home of someone who is subject to her social obligations a place in early childhood education and access to free doctors’ visits if they are under 6?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member has asked questions around this before, and I have always been quite clear. The social obligations say that we want to have children in early childhood education, we want kids who are school aged to be at school, we want them to be enrolled with a general practitioner, and we want them to get those sorts of obligations there. If they cannot because there are barriers or there are not places, then we will make sure that they are acknowledged, and they will not be sanctioned or penalised for that. We also know that there are empty spaces in early childhood centres that are not being taken up by children who are around that area and who would hugely benefit from that. So we want to support them into it.

Exchange Rate—Discussions with Reserve Bank

9. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: What discussions, if any, has he had with the Reserve Bank regarding the exchange rate in the past six months?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister

of Finance: The Minister meets with the Reserve Bank on a regular basis, and the exchange rate is frequently discussed as part of these conversations.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Were options for addressing the overvalued dollar included in these discussions, like the use of alternative monetary policy tools such as a soft cap on the New Zealand dollar or measures to limit the extent of short-term cyclical capital inflows; if not, why not?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: There are a range of issues that are discussed at those meetings, but in response to the member’s question, if you look at the policy targets agreement, in

section 4(b), there is the capacity for the Governor of the Reserve Bank to take a range of issues into account as well as inflation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I asked the Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: I think I can save time. The member indeed asked whether those particular issues had been discussed—issues to do with a soft cap on the value of the dollar; there was a further issue as well. It was a pretty straight question.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: On behalf of the Minister of Finance, I, obviously, have not been present personally at a lot of those discussions, but a full range of responses is discussed between the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Reserve Bank.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to have a look at that answer. The Minister got up and said: “On behalf of the Minister of Finance, I have not been at a lot of those meetings.” Well, clearly the Minister of Finance has been at all of those meetings.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not think the Minister was trying to be unhelpful. I think he was acknowledging that he is answering on behalf of the Minister; he was pointing out, in doing that, that he had not actually attended the meetings. I accept the language was less than perfect, but I do not think there was any attempt to be unhelpful.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Prime Minister said in April, as the dollar approached US82c, that “we’re considering what we can do to resist a rising exchange rate,” what did the Government have in mind?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I think the Government has been pretty clearly that the key here is actually increasing the competitiveness of New Zealand firms. It is not interfering directly in the exchange rate. So that is what our whole programme is focused on: increasing the competitiveness of the economy. Actually getting in and interfering with the exchange rate is not the recipe for economic success.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Are we to take from that answer that he asserts that the New Zealand Government has absolutely no way of influencing the New Zealand dollar down and now?


Schools, Canterbury—Proposed Closures and Mergers

10. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister of Education: On what date did she approve the proposal for changes to the schools network in Canterbury, announced last Thursday, and when were school principals and board of trustee chairs affected by the proposed closures first invited to a briefing on that proposal?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. In answer to the first part, Cabinet approved the education renewal plan for Christchurch, Waimakariri, and Selwyn on 20 August 2012, including a $1 billion investment. In answer to the second part, on 5 September a newsletter went to all schools, inviting them to a meeting on 13 September. This was followed up on 6 September by an email invite, and on 7 September hard-copy invites were sent to all schools. Further, the principal and board chair of proposed closing, merging, and relocating schools were contacted by phone the day before the announcement, at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 13 September. I personally met with most of the affected schools and then with all schools, outlining the Government’s proposal and opening the Ministry of Education’s third phase of consultation.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Why did she not brief the schools proposed to close before the day of the public announcement, to minimise the impact of unexpected news on the parents, who have relied on these schools for stability and normality in their children’s lives since the earthquakes?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: In weighing up all of the circumstances and factors, I chose to brief them first at 10 o’clock in the morning. The expectation was that the embargo until 2 o’clock would

give them the opportunity to speak to their schools. In the event, the embargo was extended to 4 o’clock, and was broken.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Is the consultation that boards are being asked to undertake, where closures or mergers are indicated, consultation as required under the Education Act to close or merge a school, or is it a genuine opportunity to influence a different outcome from the closure or merger proposals?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: We opened the third phase of consultation on 13 September. There will be specific processes unfolding, depending on the status of the particular school.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked that question very carefully because there are consultation requirements under the Act, and I do not believe that the Minister addressed the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The substance of the question was whether the consultation process would simply follow the requirements as spelt out in the Act, or whether there was an opportunity to actually influence the outcome of the proposal. If the Minister could help in her answer with that, that would be most helpful.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: To be clear—[Interruption] To be clear, to be clear—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member is not helping. I do not mean the Minister; I mean the member interjecting.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: To be clear, the third stage of consultation opened last Thursday, on 13 September. At the point that I formally begin the process under the Act, then that process will be followed and those particular schools will be notified.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can she confirm that any school earmarked for closure from January 2013 will not be required to close in 2013 unless they voluntarily select this option, and what steps can they take to remain open?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I have already said, the third stage of consultation opened on 13 September. Thirteen schools are proposed for closure, of which two have indicated that they wish to seek voluntary closure. The remaining will be on a time line that incorporates both this open consultation now and under the Act at a date that I am yet to define. It will be in the unfolding of that process that we will know what the subsequent steps and their time line will be.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table a statement from nearly 130 of the people who attended the Ōuruhia Model School meeting last night, asking for support around the fact that there is no major earthquake damage at their school, their school roll is steady, and they have a dedicated community and staff behind them committed to supporting the school.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to—[Interruption] Members are inquiring about the source of the document.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: It is a signed—

Mr SPEAKER: It is just a signed statement from a meeting.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: It is a signed statement from 128 people—128 people have signed this.

Hon Hekia Parata: Isn’t it a petition?

Hon Lianne Dalziel: It is not a petition—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a signed statement by 120 members of a community involved in this process. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Student Loans—Changes

11. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Revenue: How has the Government made the student loan scheme more affordable for taxpayers?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): The Government is committed not only to making the scheme more affordable but also to keeping student loans interest-free. Through a

number of measures that we have taken since coming to office we have been able to reduce the cost to taxpayers of student loans—the write-off—from around 48c in the dollar by 19 percent to now just 39c in the dollar. These savings allow us not only to improve our overall fiscal position but also to reinvest in quality tertiary education for future students.

Simon O’Connor: What actions has this Government taken to make the student loan scheme more affordable?

Hon PETER DUNNE: A number of actions have been taken. The most dramatic would be the announcement in August 2010 of a pilot programme to recover debt from overseas-based borrowers. That programme to date has brought in repayments of over $32 million, with a further nearly $3 million under payment arrangement. We have also reduced lending to students who are less likely to repay, including the introduction of requirements for academic performance, set limits on total support to encourage students to complete their study on time, and limited lending to groups who are less likely to pay back. And we have stopped lending to students who are in default on previous student loans. All of these moves help us not only to recover debt that is due but also to make the scheme far more affordable.

Question No. 12 to Minister

Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour): I seek leave of the House to carry over my question to a day when the Minister of Finance is present.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection. I call the Hon David Parker—[Interruption] Does the member wish to withdraw his question?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour): Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: OK. The member has that right, and that brings to a close questions for oral answer today.


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