QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Pike River Mine Disaster—Ministerial Responsibility for Departmental Errors
1. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast – Tasman) to the Prime Minister: Did Hon Kate Wilkinson have Ministerial responsibility for the departmental errors during her term as Minister of Labour which partially contributed to the deaths of 29 miners at Pike River?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Cabinet Manual is clear that Ministers are accountable to the House for the actions and inactions of their department, even if they have no knowledge of, or involvement in, those actions. The Minister made a decision that to honour the 29 men who died her department has to show New Zealanders that it takes its fair share of responsibility. As the Minister responsible for that department, she resigned her portfolio. That was the honourable thing to do.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Why is Kate Wilkinson still a Minister in Cabinet?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I pointed out, the Minister did take responsibility for the failure of the department, which is more than we can say for that member when he was a Minister. When Liam Ashley was beaten to death in the back of a prison van, he refused to resign and said he would stick around to fix the problem.
Hon Damien O’Connor: When would the consequences of a department’s systemic failure be so severe as to warrant a Minister to resign from Cabinet entirely?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Clearly, when that member was a Minister he did not think the consequences for Liam Ashley were sufficiently severe for him to resign. In this case, the Minister decided—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That Minister ended his last answer inappropriately, and he started this one here, to the second question, inappropriately, as well. The fact is that the questioner is asking about a Minister who retains one of her portfolios, having resigned only the other one. That is the question at issue here, and he should be asked to focus on it, rather than to attack another party’s questioner when that questioner did not change the policy and the National Party—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The point of order was fine till that last point. The member then entered into debating material, and he knows he should not do that. Points of order are not to score political points.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The question asked, effectively, for an example of when there would be sufficient severity. I think what Mr English was doing was giving clear examples of when there was a consideration of a matter that did not merit that severity, thereby allowing the member who asked the question to reach some of his own conclusions.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I check with the Minister whether he has finished his answer. The Hon Bill English, to complete his answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I was saying, in that example that I quoted they obviously were not regarded as sufficiently severe. In this case, the Minister made a decision that the results of the inaction of her department were sufficiently severe that she would resign. The Prime Minister retains confidence in the Minister, and, as he has explained, there is no indication that by the Minister’s actions or inactions she contributed to the disaster.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the warnings from the unions, given the warnings from the department’s own internal review that point to deficiencies, and given the letter I sent to that Minister in 2010, is it the standard of his Government that a Minister can remain in Cabinet despite the deficiencies in her judgment—the refusal to accept the warnings at least three times? What are the standards that deem a Minister should remain in Cabinet?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member mentioned the letter he wrote. It was a considered letter, and it was taken seriously and given a considered response by the Minister. In making that response the Minister relied on the advice of her department in exactly the same way as her predecessor, Trevor Mallard, had relied on that advice. As the royal commission report shows, that advice was simply wrong. The Department of Labour was not adequately monitoring a mine that it should have known to be dangerous.
Andrew Little: Does he agree that the failure of the department to take any further action on its options to introduce check inspectors or an approved code of practice for better worker involvement in mine safety, which were being actively considered in September 2008, is of such gravity that, when it is apparent that the failure has led to such a catastrophe, the Minister should resign?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister has resigned, in a way that, I have to say, was doing better than the example of the member who asked the original question. In respect of check inspectors and so on, it is possible that those kinds of changes may have made a difference. But I think what is shocking about reading the royal commission report is that the miners were aware of the danger, the company was certainly aware of the danger, and the Department of Labour absolutely should have been aware of the danger and acted on it. No one did, and we ended up with this awful tragedy. The Minister has, in a manner of real integrity, put her hand up and said that she would take responsibility for that.
Andrew Little: If, as the Minister said in part of his last answer, the company is at fault, will he support the urgent introduction of an amendment to the Crimes Act to create a crime of corporate manslaughter?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am advised that that is being looked at, and no doubt it will be looked at in the context of the legislative framework in New Zealand around ACC—which I know that member supports—which is the deal with New Zealanders that there is not liability for accidents. That is one issue that will have to be taken into account.
Economic Growth and Job Support—Progress
2. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Finance: What steps is the Government taking to support jobs as part of its programme to build a more productive and competitive economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Data today showing 7.3 percent unemployment underscores the importance of the Government’s broad investment programme and policy programme that is supporting jobs, building infrastructure, and increasing the productive capacity of the economy. This is challenging when the world economy is struggling to gain momentum. Today’s unemployment data has been above market expectation but does not change the Government’s plans to continue to back businesses to make the decision to employ another person, invest another dollar, and help reduce unemployment.
Todd McClay: How does New Zealand’s unemployment rate compare to other nations?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Can I say in the first place that the—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. The member asking the question had a perfect right to ask the question. It was not a provocative question; it sought information. We do not need that level of interjection.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Can I first say that the unemployment rate is, of course, too high. We want an economy where it is easier for people who are looking for jobs to find them. New Zealand’s unemployment rate is equal with that of Canada, lower than that of the US, lower than that of Finland, and much lower than the euro area unemployment rate of 11.5 percent. The OECD average unemployment rate is 8 percent. We do face significant head winds as Government and households rein in their spending and increase savings, at the same time as dealing with an elevated exchange rate and a sluggish world economy. We are on track for moderate growth in the short to medium term. We will continue to work to ensure that there are the best conditions possible for businesses to employ more people.
Hon David Parker: With 175,000 New Zealanders now unemployed and unemployment at the highest rate, of 7.3 percent, since 1999, when he was Minister of Finance under Jenny Shipley—is it the highest since then?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have not checked those facts, but I can tell the member one interesting fact. In 1999 there were 150,000 people on the unemployment benefit and today, at a similar rate of unemployment, there are only 50,000 people on the unemployment benefit. In respect of these figures, one story that does not quite fit is that the household labour force survey today shows an increase in unemployment mainly driven by increases in unemployment in Auckland, but the number of people on the unemployment benefit in Auckland is actually dropping. We have yet to find out why both of those things are happening at the same time.
Hon David Parker: Does he believe his Building a Brighter Future plan to create 170,000 more jobs is working, given that unemployment is 7.3 percent, the highest rate in 13 years, and the number of unemployed, at 175,000, is the highest number in 20 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, we do believe the plan is working because in the face of a slowing global economy New Zealand continues to create more jobs, it has a higher employment rate than Australia, and more New Zealanders in work than it has ever had. For those who are looking for jobs the infrastructure team in Christchurch is on the road around New Zealand trying to fill 1,000 places. I invite young New Zealanders in particular to apply for those jobs.
Todd McClay: How is the Government’s investment through the Business Growth Agenda supporting jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is investing itself through the Business Growth Agenda and its wider investment programme. Just to give some examples, there are 2,000 jobs in the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband, there are 1,600 jobs in the Transpower grid upgrade, there will be 1,000 jobs at the peak of the Wiri prison construction, there are expected to be 1,300 jobs at the peak of the horizontal infrastructure rebuild in Christchurch, and there are an estimated 1,000 jobs over the next 4 years on the Waterview motorway. This is employment the Government is providing directly, through its extensive infrastructure investment programme.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree that with long-term unemployment up 12.5 percent in the year to September 2012, long-term unemployment is the biggest cause of welfare dependency in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not. It is one cause, but as the Government’s welfare reform process has illustrated there are large groups of people in long-term welfare dependency, such as sickness beneficiaries—
Hon David Parker: They’ve gone up under this Government.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, actually they went up strongly under the Labour Government, even when the economy was growing fast. Despite the patchy growth of this recovery, those numbers on benefits are stable or dropping.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to an earlier supplementary question the Minister said that he could not remember the unemployment rate in 1999—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! There is not remotely a point of order emerging from this. There was nothing to do with the proceedings of the House. It seems the Minister wants to either add information or dispute information, and I am prepared to accept I am wrong and I will give the member a chance, but he must indicate very quickly what the issue of order is.
Hon David Cunliffe: With respect, the Minister seems to have contradicted his own memory and therefore may have misled the House—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! That is not a point of order. [Interruption] Order! It is nothing to do with the procedures of the House. The member is trying to make a political point, and that is not a point of order.
Hon David Parker: Which does he think is the worst indictment of his Government: the abject failure to meet his target of 170,000 more jobs, the record 175,000 unemployed, or the record 170,000 who have left to go to Australia since he promised he would reduce the number?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: None of those. Some indications of some of those—[Interruption] One indication of—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I guess if members ask the question, I imagine they want to hear the answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think they think the one who shouts the loudest will get David Shearer’s job. But in the end they are all just Davids.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have called on the Opposition not to interject so much, and the Minister is now getting provocative. That ain’t going to help.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to the member’s question is none, but for the member’s benefit some indications of success are that the number of people on benefits was 354,000 in January 2010, and it is currently 320,000; a significant drop. The number of people on the unemployment benefit was—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister of Finance was asked which was the worst indicator. He said none of the three that he was given were, and now he has gone straight off the question and is talking about something else.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I believe the Minister was asked not which was the worst, but which would he consider was his best achievement, I think—
Hon Members: No.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, it was the worst achievement, I apologise—the worst achievement. The Minister is perfectly entitled to say: “None of the above.”, but he should probably indicate if the— [Interruption] Order! He should probably, if he says: “None of the above.”, indicate which is his worst achievement.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, the worst indicator is that the number of people on benefits has dropped, from 354,000 in January 2010 to 320,000 in September 2012.
Hon David Parker: If the Government’s record of 175,000 unemployed is not its worst indicator, if the record 170,000 people leaving for Australia is not its worst indicator, and if its failure to achieve its target of 170,000 new jobs is not its worst indicator, what is its worst indicator?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have said, we believe that the indicator where we need to strive much harder to achieve more is an increase in the number of jobs. There are not enough jobs out there for the people who are looking for them, but it is pleasing to note we are making progress on the decrease in the number of people who are unemployed. For instance, the number on the unemployment benefit in January 2010 was 68,000—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! There was a very simple question asked and I think the Minister did answer that, and because it was such a simple question that should be the end of the answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know on occasion I have criticised you for assisting Ministers explaining to the House, but on this occasion I do not think anyone on this side heard the Minister indicate what he thought that the worst indicator was.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I think he has—
Hon Trevor Mallard: So he could not have answered it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister did. He indicated that the worst indicator was the issue of job availability. He indicated it caused the Government the most concern, and that was his interpretation of what the worst indicator was from the Government’s perspective.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the Statistics New Zealand unemployment data from 1998-99, which was the last time the unemployment rate was as high as it is today, at 7.3 percent.
Mr SPEAKER: The data was compiled by?
Hon David Cunliffe: The department of statistics.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there—[Interruption] Well, leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is objection. Apparently, this is a public document.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the Statistics New Zealand unemployment figures for 2006-07, showing that at 3.4 percent, under the previous Government—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Have these figures been figures that are released in the Statistics New Zealand release recently?
Hon David Cunliffe: Clearly, they are not available to the Minister of Finance—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a straight abuse of the point of order process. That is a straight abuse, because it is using the point of order process to try to put down another member of the House, and that is not on—not on. I politely—
Hon David Cunliffe: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. [Interruption] Order! And there will not be interjections. I politely inquired whether the information the member was seeking leave to table was information that was recently released by the statistics department. If it is information that can only be found through looking back over past series, I am prepared to put the leave to the House. If it is information that has been released today or in the last couple of days, then I am not prepared to waste the time of the House. I politely inquired that of the member—is this information information that was compiled by someone else, or was it was included in releases today?
Hon David Cunliffe: I do not wish to detain yourself or the House, and I appreciate the Speaker’s courtesy, Mr Speaker. The information was historical and the issue did arise because the Minister of Finance—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is all I asked—[Interruption] No, no, that is not a valid point of order. The issue is simply the member seeking leave to table a document. He has told me this information is not readily available. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Primary Industries, Ministry—Confidence in Director-General
3. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Does he have confidence in the Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister for Primary Industries): Yes, I do. I think the New Zealand Public Service is very fortunate to have leaders with the capability and the integrity the likes of Mr Wayne McNee.
Richard Prosser: How can he have confidence in the Director-General for the Ministry for Primary Industries when there have been no prosecutions relating to culpability for the biosecurity
breach that allowed the Psa bacteria into New Zealand, with devastating consequences for the kiwifruit industry?
Hon DAVID CARTER: Because, despite numerous reports into that incursion, no one can be sure how that particular bacteria arrived in New Zealand.
Richard Prosser: Is the real reason there have been no prosecutions relating to culpability for the biosecurity breach that allowed the Psa bacteria into New Zealand, with devastating consequences for the kiwifruit industry, that they might reveal the extent of failures by the Ministry for Primary Industries and its predecessor, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No, that is definitely not the case. I sympathise with the member putting a lot of work into this question. His research unit phoned my office a number of times yesterday, with questions such as “How do you spell Director-General?”.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill—Cost to
4. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: What are the estimated costs to the taxpayer resulting from the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading and Other Matters) Amendment Bill?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Based on the latest monthly carbon price of $1.73 a tonne, the changes proposed will reduce Government revenues by $105 million between 2013 and 2015.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table the Cabinet paper that identifies the cost as $328 million.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that Cabinet paper. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: How is the $328 million cost of his changes to the emissions trading scheme, as calculated by Treasury, consistent with his 2011 election promise that states: “We recognise the Government’s finances are under pressure and our changes to the ETS will be fiscally neutral.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Just to explain the difference in the numbers, the member is using the carbon price around the time that policy decisions were made, which was $6 a tonne. The estimate I have given the member is based on the latest monthly price of $1.73 a tonne. In fact, as of today the carbon price is around $1 a tonne. In fact, the drop in price indicates that the recession is having quite an impact on emissions, particularly in Europe, and that means less of a problem, and the Greens should be pleased about that. And now I cannot remember what the member’s question was.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am willing to repeat the question.
Mr SPEAKER: In fact, the Minister actually disputed part of the information contained in the question, and he is entitled to do that without further answer to the question. So the member cannot really ask for a further answer.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister familiar with this document that I hold up, which is the National Party policy at the last election—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: He’s probably forgotten.
Dr Russel Norman: —or has he forgotten? It says: “We recognise the Government’s finances are under pressure and our changes to the ETS will be fiscally neutral.” How are the changes to the emissions trading scheme, which are not fiscally neutral, consistent with this policy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can assure the member I am familiar with the document. As he would expect, as Minister of Finance I am always keen to see fiscally neutral policy change—in fact, policy change that saves money. In this case, as the member will see, the advice is clear from the
Cabinet paper that the complexities particularly related to Treaty of Waitangi settlements and undertakings and agreements that the Crown had made in respect of carbon credits would have made it very difficult to unwind previous arrangements in a way that would allow us to have a fiscally neutral policy. Given that it would cost $105 million over the next 2 or 3 years, that cost has to be incorporated into the Budget allowances, and prevents the Government from spending the money on other things.
Dr Russel Norman: Given his ambition to return to fiscal surplus by 2014-15, why is it that he prioritised spending between $100 million and $300 million on this policy to gut the emissions trading scheme, when there are so many other, much more important priorities for Government cash?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We looked at a range of solutions, and, of course, the Government was keen—consistent with the policies from the Opposition—to make sure that the cost of living for New Zealand households did not go up more than necessary when they are under pressure. So we looked at funding it from the Budget. The other proposition we looked at was just printing the money, but we were advised that that probably was not a good thing.
Dr Russel Norman: How will eliminating a price signal for agricultural emissions, as the changes to the emissions trading scheme do, incentivise farmers to adopt the technology developed by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, which, according to the centre, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from pastoral farming to 25 percent of the levels prevailing in 2011?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think we just have a different view about the state of that technology. There are some speculative options around, but from the Government’s point of view there is really no technology available to farmers to enable them to respond to the price signal, other than getting rid of livestock, which we do not think is that good an idea, because it would cut back New Zealand’s production. As it happens, probably a higher environmental priority right now for our farming community is sorting out the issues around water, which the Government is grappling with pretty intensively over the next 6 months.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora tātou. What is the estimated cost to taxpayers and the forest sector of not placing a cap on imported units, and does the Minister agree with the comments of another Government Minister, Tim Groser, in his speech to the Climate Change Iwi Leaders Group national hui in April 2012 when he said: “The Government also proposes to enable in legislation the introduction of a mechanism that would place a restriction on the proportion of international units a participant can surrender to meet their ETS obligations. Under current settings, there is a serious danger of New Zealand essentially exporting capital for no good reason resulting in a loss of economic welfare.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do agree with the Minister, and the Government is considering the policy issues related to both the capital export issue and the environmental integrity of some of the international units. The iwi leaders group made a very constructive contribution to what has been a series of challenging issues around the emissions trading scheme. That has been a positive engagement and we acknowledge their persistence and their patience in dealing with these issues.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept that the changes his Government is making to the emissions trading scheme are at complete odds with the advice from his own Green Growth advisory group, which reported earlier this year that many of our exports have very high carbon intensity, and that if nothing is done to address this, long-term damage will be done to our export sector in terms of market access and in terms of the premiums received for our exports?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, we do not completely agree with the Green Growth advisory taskforce. The Government thinks that an emissions trading scheme with its price signal is a useful policy. However, we have, through the last couple of elections, promised to moderate it, and those are the steps that we have taken. The member cannot have it both ways. On the one hand he says we should print money to lower the exchange rate in order to make our exporters more competitive; on
the other hand he advocates ramping up the emission trading scheme in a way that will make them less competitive.
Dr Russel Norman: How will eliminating a price signal for agricultural emissions help agriculture become a world leader in sustainability and product integrity, as demanded by the Riddet report’s transformational strategy to treble the value of our agricultural exports by 2025; and is not the key point that if we want our agricultural exports to be successful, they must perform well environmentally, and his emissions trading scheme does the exact opposite of that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I believe that—and the Government does—New Zealand agriculture is a world leader in sustainability. We are probably the world’s most efficient producer of grassproduced meat, wool, and milk products, and we intend to maintain that. The agricultural sector is incurring very substantial costs through the traceability of all animals in the National Animal Identification and Tracing System, and currently and, over the next few years through substantial investment in the control of effluent, so that we can maintain that environmental record.
Personal Explanation—Question No. 3 to Minister
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I seek leave to make a personal explanation in relation to an answer given by the Hon David Carter to question No. 3 today.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for the member to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Mr Carter said that an office of my party had rung his office, wishing to know how do you spell “Director-General”. My inquiries show that my office called Mr Carter’s office because Wayne McNee in the first reference in the website is referred to as “Wayne McNee, Director”—no hyphen, just a space—“General”, and then the next reference has a hyphen in it. She wished to know which was the correct one—without the hyphen or with it. [Interruption] Just listen, listen. Mr Speaker, this is a personal explanation; it should be heard in silence, as you know.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And it must be a personal explanation.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It is a personal explanation. I have made the inquiry of the only person who can supply evidence here.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member would just for a moment resume his seat. The dilemma— and I do ask members to be silent during a personal explanation—dilemma for the House is that what we are hearing is not a personal explanation. The member himself was not involved in this alleged activity, and therefore it is not a personal explanation. That is what is causing some, I think, concern across the House. Personal explanations are meant to relate to matters that affect a person personally.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Winston Peters has the floor.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): Let me say this here. The fact is that the House was—[Interruption] I will conclude this, but the fact of the matter is he drew attention to a matter that is to do with punctuation, not spelling, and then he totally misinformed the House—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! We are now getting into an argument by way of point of order. I am going to have to rule on this matter to sort it out for the House, and I am going to have to rule that a personal explanation must relate to something that affects a person personally. From what I have heard, I do not believe that it was the right honourable gentleman who contacted the Minister’s office. I do not believe that this matter affects the right honourable gentleman personally, at all. Matters to do with members’ staff or other things like that cannot be matters of personal explanation as far as I can see. If I am wrong in that matter, I apologise to the House—if I am wrong. But I think, you know, I cannot allow a personal explanation to continue that clearly is not actually a personal explanation.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the right honourable gentleman further.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What the Minister did—and I am asking your advice here—was throw into question the intelligence and education of a member of my staff, who I might add is an immensely more qualified academic—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! That is—[Interruption] No, order! We cannot have that. Members cannot, under a point of order, abuse another member. There is a new Standing Order. Where Ministers make allegations recklessly in answering questions, there is a procedure under the current Standing Orders that can be followed to sort the matter out. Where it does not involve a member personally, it is not a personal explanation. I apologise—I do not want to be unfair to the Rt Hon Winston Peters—but what I am hearing is not a personal explanation. That is why I feel I must terminate it.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What do we do, in the interests of this House and this country, to stop a Minister demonstrating that he is grammatically an illiterate—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! That kind of abuse is the kind—[Interruption] Order! I have already explained that there is currently a Standing Order that provides for members to take up issues where they feel a Minister, in answering a question, has made a reckless allegation. It is Standing Order 355. The member is perfectly welcome to do that, but he is not, and I will not tolerate further abuse of the point of order system. To me, it is totally unacceptable to use it to belittle another member of this House, so that will cease.
Social Development, Ministry—Resignation of Deputy Chief Executive
JACINDA ARDERN (Labour): Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me, I apologise to the member. I ask the House, please, to come back to order. I must be able to hear Jacinda Ardern.
5. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by all her statements relating to the departure of the Ministry of Social Development Deputy Chief Executive, Janet Grossman?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister for Social
Jacinda Ardern: Was she briefed by the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development on the reason for Janet Grossman’s departure?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The Minister for Social Development has been very clear about the reasons for the departure. On 14 June in the House she said: “She handed in her notice because, as far as I was informed, her husband has had job opportunities in the UK and she wishes to return back there.” That is the reason for it.”
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think I can foresee the point of order coming up.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Very straight question: was she briefed?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think I can see that. The question asked was whether the Minister was briefed on the reasons why Janet Grossman departed. The Minister, I think, implied in his answer that he was, but he should tell the House—it would be helpful if he told the House—whether or not he was briefed.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have said “as far as I was informed”.
Jacinda Ardern: Was the only reason she was given for Janet Grossman’s departure in that briefing or information that “her husband has had job opportunities in the UK and she wishes to return back there.”?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes.
Jacinda Ardern: Was Janet Grossman paid a termination benefit?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As you know, $97,000 was allocated across five people who left that year, and there will be no breakdown given, for privacy reasons, of the allocation to any of those five executives.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I very explicitly and deliberately just asked whether Janet Grossman was paid—
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can appreciate the member’s point of order. The member did not ask how much Janet Grossman might have been paid. She simply asked whether she was paid a termination sum. [Interruption] Order! The Minister, in replying, said that there were five people who departed, and he would not be advising how much anyone received. That was not the question. It did not ask how much she received; it asked whether she received a termination payment.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes.
Jacinda Ardern: Why was Janet Grossman paid a termination benefit if the only reason for her departure was, as the Minister stated to this House, that her husband had job opportunities in the UK and wished to return back there?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, this is a matter for the chief executive of the Minister of Social Development and the State Services Commissioner, but presumably it was in her contract.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 6, Simon O’Connor. [Interruption] Order! That is the end of that question. [Interruption] Order! I have called Simon O’Connor.
Science and Innovation—Government Initiatives
6. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: How is the Government using science to address some of the biggest challenges facing New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): The Government’s National Science Challenges initiative is designed to identify the key scientific questions crucial to New Zealand and fund them to make a difference to our future. From next week the Government is asking New Zealanders and the science community to put forward their ideas for science challenges. We have identified a number of illustrative challenges as starters for 10, including our rich seas, land and water, foods for health, advanced materials and manufacturing, protecting New Zealand’s biodiversity, fighting disease, our changing climate, and resilience to natural hazards. Cabinet will select the final science challenges in April 2013, following public engagement and advice from an expert panel chaired by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman.
Simon O’Connor: How can New Zealanders have their say in which science challenges should be included?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This Sunday will see the launch—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, obviously the Opposition—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This Sunday will see the launch of The Great NZ Science Project, a campaign to encourage New Zealanders to get involved in identifying our biggest science challenges. Television advertisements featuring New Zealand scientists explaining some of the illustrative challenges will stream from Sunday, and these will be supported by The Great NZ Science Project interactive website, through which the public can provide their feedback. I would encourage everyone to have their say on what they say are the science challenges facing New Zealand. The Great NZ Science Project campaign is also the perfect opportunity to help lift the public profile of science and encourage more young New Zealanders to choose a career in science. We have a long, proud tradition of creating outstanding scientists—[Interruption]—but I do not think Mr Cunliffe would ever be one, because he is indicating his ignorance right through the House this afternoon.
Public Transport, Auckland—Integrated Ticketing System and Snapper Card
7. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Transport: What assurances did Hon Steven Joyce give Snapper CEO Miki Szikszai in relation to Snapper’s participation in the Auckland integrated ticketing arrangement when they met on 3 March 2012?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): None.
Phil Twyford: Is he aware that Steven Joyce, shortly after becoming Minister, repeatedly sought official advice on whether it was possible to cancel the integrated ticketing scheme being set up by Auckland Transport because he thought that Snapper could just run it instead?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, but what I do know is that Mr Joyce did not meet Snapper chief executive officer Miki Szikszai on 3 March 2012, because he was not the Minister of Transport at that time.
Phil Twyford: I seek the leave of the House to table an email from the Minister’s office of 24 November 2008, in which he asks the Ministry of Transport: “Why do we need to spend $100 million on an integrated ticketing scheme in Auckland when Snapper has been provided privately?”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Phil Twyford: I seek leave to table another document. It is from the Minister’s office dated 16 December 2008 and it poses a number of questions to ministry officials, including “Can this project be stopped?”, “What would be the implications of stopping?”, and so on.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Phil Twyford: I seek the leave of the House to table another communication from the office of Steven Joyce, dated 16 March 2009, in which his office asks: “Is there a clause in the ARTA tender process which provides an out clause prior to the signing of the contract? Is there anything else that ARTA could reference as being a barrier to proceeding?”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the policy decision made by his predecessor Steven Joyce, which resulted in Snapper being allowed back into the integrated ticketing process against official advice, which led to delays, cost overruns, Snapper being kicked out of the project, and, now, the Auckland ratepayer facing a $20 million lawsuit?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Firstly, I think the assertion that Mr Twyford is making is wrong, just as the primary question he put on the sheet was completely wrong. What I would say is that there is nothing wrong with a Minister, in fact, trying to find out all the details of a circumstance in order to effect good public policy and save the taxpayer some money. It was always the position of the Government that there should be capacity for interoperability among different cards on the system.
Phil Twyford: Will he accept responsibility for the decision to allow Snapper back into Auckland’s integrated ticketing project; and will he indemnify the Auckland ratepayer against any legal action by Snapper, given that all of the evidence points to ministerial interference in the decision to allow Snapper back into the project?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, there can be no truth to the assertion that all the evidence points in a particular direction. What is true, though, is that the contract is with Auckland Transport and it is its responsibility as to how it all ends up.
Phil Twyford: Is he concerned about the comments from Mr Szikszai about the 3 March meeting, given that they indicate that Steven Joyce gave assurances that Snapper would be let back into the project, against official advice, and given the apparent circumventing of proper procurement processes with regard to the use of public money; will he refer this matter to the Auditor-General?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It depends on which 3 March you are talking about, because 3 March 2012, as mentioned in the primary question, is not a date on which the Hon Steven Joyce was Minister of Transport and he did not have a meeting with Mr Szikszai.
Crime Victims—Increased Support
8. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister of Justice: What is the Government doing to further protect victims from their attackers?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): It is unacceptable for victims of serious violent crimes to feel intimidated by their offender moving into their local area, near their home or workplace. I have today announced a new restraining order under the Harassment Act to protect victims from unwanted contact from a person who attacked them. The new order can restrict offenders from living in, or visiting, areas close to their former victims and from contacting their victims.
Ian McKelvie: What other action has this Government taken recently to support victims?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Putting victims first is a key priority of the Government. We have increased funding for the Victims Centre, enabling the Victims Centre freephone to take 1,500 calls per month, and to help more than 20,000 people through the Victims Centre website. We have also committed $1 million to expand the safe@home programme, keeping women and children safe from domestic abuse.
Broadband, Ultra-fast—2008 Projected Uptake
9. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister for Communications and
Information Technology: What percentage of New Zealand homes did the Government commit in 2008 would be connected to Ultra Fast Broadband within 10 years?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): To the best of my knowledge, in 2008 the Government did not make a commitment as to what percentage of homes would be connected to ultra-fast broadband. To clarify for the member, in 2008 the Government made a commitment to “drive the roll-out of a ‘fibre to the home’ ultra-fast broadband network …” to “… 75% of New Zealanders.”, and we are delivering on that promise with over 100,000 end-users now able to connect to fibre.
Clare Curran: What was the target uptake rate for people connecting to and receiving services through ultra-fast broadband in year 1, and what was the year 1 actual uptake in percentage terms?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I can tell that member that the target uptake rate across the build period in total is for final uptake to be in the realm of 40 to 45 percent, and of that, for households to be in the high 30s. We do not have uptake projections year by year, but I can tell the member that it is the Government’s expectation that the uptake would build very slowly and gradually as the build progressed, and that international experience tells us that uptake does not really start to take up until the network is more than half built. In regard to your question about the uptake numbers at the end of year 1, I do not have that in front of me, but I can tell the member that at the end of the most recent quarter, uptake numbers were 2,445 users, representing 2.4 percent of those built to date.
Clare Curran: Does she agree with the Commerce Commission that the ultra-fast broadband network will have just 20 to 25 percent take up by Kiwi households by 2019?
Hon AMY ADAMS: That is not my expectation.
Clare Curran: What is the Government’s latest target uptake for ultra-fast broadband by 2019 for Kiwi households connecting to and receiving services, and has she consulted with network providers, such as Chorus, about this target?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I think I answered that earlier, but to repeat, our expectation for uptake by Kiwi households to the end of the build period in 2019 is in the range of 30 to 37 percent. I think I said mid-30s before. We have consulted with the providers; that was a key part of the discussions in the lead up to the signing of the contracts.
Clare Curran: Does she stand by the Government’s 2008 election promise to have 75 percent of New Zealand homes connected to ultra-fast broadband in 10 years; if so, how is she going to achieve that, given just 0.18 percent of Kiwi households are actually connected to date?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The member clearly does not understand the difference between how many households are connected and our commitment to build a network available to 75 percent of New Zealanders. That was our commitment, and that is exactly what we are on track to do.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a speech given by the Prime Minister, although he was the leader of the National Party then, on 22 April 2008, in which he clearly—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! This is a point of order.
Clare Curran: —said: “Our initial goal is to ensure the accelerated roll-out of fibre right to the homes of 75 percent of New Zealanders.”
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a newsletter by the Rt Hon Lockwood Smith, dated September 2009, in which he said: “We want New Zealanders to have access to broadband at home, work, or school. National is delivering on its election promise to ensure ultra-fast broadband is available to 75 percent of New Zealanders over the next 10 years.”
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection—there is objection.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table the answer to an oral question by the Hon—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. We do not table answers to questions.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, Clare Curran. [Interruption] Order! This habit of just tabling endless marginal documents is frustrating for the House, but I recognise the member, Clare Curran.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, please get on with it.
Clare Curran: Thank you. I seek leave to table a report that states that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. Order! The source of the report?
Clare Curran: It is a report compiled by the Parliamentary Library—
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.
Clare Curran: —which clearly states that 2.4 percent of end-users are able to connect to ultrafast broadband as of today—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. [Interruption] Order! That is a sufficient description of the document. Leave is sought to table the document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a report of the Commerce Commission, the transcript of the unbundled copper local loop benchmarking review conference, which quotes on page 166 of Chorus’ expectation that 20 to 25 percent of people will be receiving—
Mr SPEAKER: Could we just check for the House whether it is page 166 or the whole document that the member is seeking to table?
Clare Curran: I am seeking to table the whole document.
Mr SPEAKER: It is the whole document. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Te Ururoa Flavell: In light of the percentages that the Minister offered the House earlier, can she advise what percentage of marae, kōhanga reo, kura, wānanga, iwi, rūnanga, and Māori health and social service providers she expects to be connected to ultra-fast broadband within 10 years as a result of the negotiations with the Māori Party?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Given the breadth of possible users that could fall within that definition, I am not in a position to give an exact percentage, but I can tell the member that all Māori health services and schools within the roll-out areas will have access by the end of 2015. The Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative programme will provide improved broadband services to Māori living in rural communities, and thanks to our work with the Māori Party we have set up Ngā Pū waea, who are focused on maximising the ability of Māori to connect to and benefit from the broadband roll-out.
Natural Health Products—Improvement of Regulation
10. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki – King Country) to the Minister of Health: What progress is the Government making on improving the regulation of natural health products?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill will regulate natural health products in New Zealand. It has been reported back with the support of all parties on the Health Committee. As part of its memorandum of understanding agreement with the Green Party, the Government has agreed to involve the Green Party at every stage in the development of these regulations, and I would like to acknowledge our work with it to date. I would also like to congratulate the Health Committee, and also the Labour Party and the New Zealand First Party, on their hard work on the bill, which has struck a fair balance between sensible regulation and protection for consumers.
Shane Ardern: How will the bill protect consumers of natural health products?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill will provide for low-cost, low-bureaucracy regulation, which will give the public greater confidence about the safety and integrity of natural health products. It will ensure greater transparency and accountability for the natural health market, but will not penalise makers or buyers of low-risk products by introducing needlessly tough costs for bureaucracy. Further detailed regulatory work will be undertaken in consultation with the industry, the Green Party, and the public. I look forward to the passing of this legislation in the next year or so.
District Health Boards, Targets—Critical Factors for Achievement
11. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health: Does he regard the input and engagement of clinicians and the public to be critical to the achievement of his targets for DHB performance?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, clinical leadership and engagement are fundamental to improving patient outcomes and achieving the Government’s six national health targets. For example, with our more heart and diabetes checks target, the ministry is supported by a clinical improvement group headed by Dr Paul Drury of Auckland and including eminent people such as Professor Jim Mann of Dunedin, and we thank them for their contribution.
Kevin Hague: What instructions or views has he expressed to anyone from the Southern District Health Board, the Ministry of Health, or the National Health Board concerning the disciplinary action being taken against Dr John Chambers, an eminent emergency medicine specialist at
Dunedin Hospital, for publicly expressing a dissenting professional view about how best to achieve his target for emergency department waiting times?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am aware of those matters. The chairman of the board, Mr Butterfield, has raised those with me, and I have said to them that that is really a matter that they as a board have to deal with.
Kevin Hague: Why has he used his influence to pressure the Southern District Health Board to take disciplinary action against Dr Chambers, through his direct interaction with National Health Board chief adviser Yvonne Bruorton?
Hon TONY RYALL: I wonder if the member could repeat his question?
Kevin Hague: Certainly. Why has he used his influence to pressure the Southern District Health Board to take disciplinary action against Dr Chambers, through his direct interaction with National Health Board chief adviser Yvonne Bruorton?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not know what the member is talking about. What I have to say is that I have had an opportunity to discuss that with the chairman, made it clear to him that it is a responsibility for the board, but have also made it clear to them that there are major issues in that emergency department that do need to be dealt with.
Kevin Hague: Is he prepared, in light of that answer, to say publicly now to the Southern District Health Board, the Ministry of Health, and the National Health Board that any instruction concerning Dr Chambers that they have inferred from his comments should be disregarded?
Hon TONY RYALL: All employment matters are the responsibility of the district health board. I would certainly not want anyone to ignore any views that I have given about the importance of improving the emergency department performance in Dunedin, but I do not think the member is really on the right track if he is suggesting that I have told everyone what they should be doing on their employment relations.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The supplementary question gave the Minister the opportunity to let those entities know that they ought to disregard any inferred instruction, if indeed they had perceived one. The Minister has not really addressed that in his remarks.
Mr SPEAKER: But he has disputed that he made comments that could be inferred that way, and I cannot ask him to answer it differently. That is the way he has answered the question, and I do not think I can ask him to answer it in a different manner.
Kevin Hague: I seek leave to table a portion of the Cabinet Manual relating to Ministers—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! We do not table bits of the Cabinet Manual.
12. TRACEY MARTIN (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied with the way schools are funded?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of
Education: Yes. The National Government has invested $9.6 billion into Vote Education this year—the highest amount ever—but, of course, there is always room for improvement.
Tracey Martin: Can the Minister assure the public that all New Zealand schools will be funded on a fair and equitable basis, and that the $3.8 million in State support received by Wanganui Collegiate School is consistent with this policy; if not, why not?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Yes.
Tracey Martin: Will the iconic status for funding, as bestowed by the Minister in her press release of 2 November on Wanganui Collegiate School, due to its age, also apply to Duvauchelle School, which was established 152 years ago, Burnham School, which was established 125 years ago, and other similar schools cited for closure in Christchurch; if not, why not?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The primary question does not go down to any specifics. Those specifics will actually have to be addressed in writing. I am sure the Minister will answer those when she can.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, perhaps you could assist me. The original question—the primary question—asked whether the Minister was satisfied with the way schools are funded. I am asking whether the iconic status for funding, which the Minister addressed in a National Party press release—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member, though, asked about three specific schools in relation to that. One was Duvauchelle. Forgive me, but I cannot recollect the other two. The Minister indicated in his answer that he does not have the detailed information on those schools. That is not unreasonable, given the breadth of the primary question.