QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Child Poverty-Numbers Affected
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “I am deeply concerned about every child in New Zealand who is in poverty”; if so, why has the number of children living in material hardship grown under his watch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I stand by that statement. The recent report by Bryan Perry says that the rise in non-income material hardship from 2006-07 to 2010-11, which the member is referring to, is “not unexpected given the impact of the GFC and the economic downturn.” Interestingly enough, though, the same report also shows that in 2007, after Working for Families had been introduced, and following a $7 billion surplus, there were between 170,000 and 240,000 children living in poverty, depending on the exact measure used. So that is the point, is it not? Labour had $7 billion and still had-
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
David Shearer: Does he stand by his statements that if the Government does not take action to provide food in schools “we are effectively punishing children for the sins of their parents.”; if not, what has changed since he has made those statements, other than that the number of children living in hardship has increased?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I stand by that statement. The Government has expanded Fruit in Schools, the Government has given money to KidsCan to fund more schools, and the Government has worked with other commercial entities like Fonterra to run programmes in schools. I go back to this question: in 2007, as an example, was there any child in New Zealand going to school hungry?
Hon David Parker: Yes, there was.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely, and there was a $7 billion surplus and they did not care about it.
David Shearer: In light of that last answer, will he back the proposal made by KidsCan today, where a $1.9 million investment by the Government would be matched by the private sector to provide 16,000 children in decile 1 to 4 schools with food; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We are not ruling out doing a bit more work with Julie at KidsCan, and we will go away and have a look to see whether there is some more we can do. But let me raise another question. In 2006 was there any child who went to school-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is actually the Minister’s job to answer questions, not to ask questions. [Interruption] Order!
David Shearer: Would he support a policy to ensure that private rental properties for lowincome tenants are upgraded, as recommended by the Children’s Commissioner, particularly as private landlords have been slow to take up the Government’s Warm Up New Zealand programme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the Minister for Social Development has already said that she will look pretty closely at, potentially, the warrant of fitness idea for landlords who receive the accommodation supplement. Again, they might want to have a look at it. But this is a Government that by 2013-from 2009-has insulated 190,000 homes at the cost of $347 million. This is a Government that in 4 years-
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was about private rentals, not about what the Government has done. In State housing-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Now one is getting as bad as the other. The member was-
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It was a good point of order, I thought.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member was perfectly at liberty to raise a point of order, but not to enter into the debate that way, though. I think that given the tit for tat we had better move on to the next supplementary question.
David Shearer: Will the Government adopt a measure of poverty; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, not a single measure of poverty. I think there are a number of ways of measuring poverty, but I think I will use this measure as one measure-that was, in 2007 after housing costs there were 240,000 children in New Zealand living in poverty, and that Government had-
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
David Shearer: Does he think that the $9 billion a year he spent on tax cuts, two-thirds of which went to the top 20 percent of income earners, giving the bottom 20 percent nothing, have been beneficial to children in poverty; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member has to stop consulting the Labour finance spokesperson to get his numbers, because they are always wrong. As we have been through before, the tax cuts were not only distributionally neutral, as has never been debunked by Labour, but, interestingly enough-[Interruption] We are in the silly season, so if they want to reverse the National Government’s tax programme in 2014 they can go ahead, because this year alone the Government got billions of dollars extra from those tax cuts.
David Shearer: I seek leave to table a document by Brian Easton-[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
David Shearer: -which backs up the figures that I just used about National’s tax cuts benefiting the-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The article is by Brian Easton but what was it published in?
David Shearer: It was on his website.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is readily available to all members.
David Shearer: It is not a well-known website, although it might be more well known now.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think we had better settle down. The House has had its fairly robust time.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou katoa. Does he agree with his statement on 3 July 2012 that “If you don’t measure, monitor and report on things, I don’t think you get progress.”; if so, does he agree that setting indicators and targets for the reduction of poverty is critical if we are to achieve the difference we want in the lives of some 270,000 New Zealand children?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I absolutely agree that you need to measure, monitor, and report on things. Therefore I have measured that this year the Government will spend $2.1 billion on family tax credits, 40 percent of which goes to beneficiaries. We have measured that this Government will give around $2 billion on subsidising housing through income-related rents and accommodation supplements. This year this Government will spend $1.4 billion on early childhood education. This year this Government will spend almost $5 billion on benefits, including $1.8 billion on the DPB. This Government will put $24 million into rheumatic fever. This Government will increase the
number of children going to early childhood education, and this Government-suffering the worst global financial crisis we have seen-has maintained all benefit entitlement. Not bad.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Is the Prime Minister pleased that in the relationship accord signed with the Māori Party 1 year ago today it was agreed that a Ministerial Committee on Poverty would be established to bring a greater focus to, and improve coordination of, Government-[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I want to be able to hear this question.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Shall I start again?
Mr SPEAKER: The member may start again.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Thank you very much. Is the Prime Minister pleased that in the relationship accord signed with the Māori Party 1 year ago today it was agreed that a Ministerial Committee on Poverty would be established to bring a greater focus to, and improve coordination of, Government activity aimed at alleviating the effects of poverty, and will he ask that the committee now demonstrate the leadership required to adopt a strategic framework for addressing child poverty?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I am pleased it has been formed. I have also myself been to that committee meeting and seen Russell Wills actually presenting to the committee his recommendations that were presented in the child report today. The Government will look at adopting some of those reports, but I go back to the point I made earlier that these have been difficult economic times and the Government has put more money in these areas. The people, I think, who should be ashamed in this country are the people who had a $20 billion surplus over 3 years and cared so little that-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has got no responsibility for that. Question No. 2, Todd McClay-[Interruption] Order! I would like the House to be just a little more reasonable with the interjections.
Economic Recovery-Support for Vulnerable New Zealanders
2. TODD McCLAY (National-Rotorua) to the Minister of Finance: What measures has the Government taken to support vulnerable New Zealanders through the aftermath of the domestic recession and global financial crisis?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Million-dollars-a-year tax cut for-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Now, look, I just asked the House to be more reasonable. The Minister has not even opened his mouth and the honourable-
Hon Trevor Mallard: I wasn’t interrupting anything.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am still on my feet. The honourable shadow Leader of the House is interjecting in an unacceptable way.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Despite difficult economic times, the Government has focused on assisting those most in need through the recession. We have adjusted all welfare payments for the cost of living. New Zealand superannuation has been increased by $194 a fortnight, or 22 percent, since 1 April 2008. We adjusted all benefits to compensate for the rise in GST. We have also invested significantly more in specific programmes designed to help New Zealanders off welfare and into work, because that is the single most important step households can take to help themselves. We have also embarked on a broad-ranging process of reform to reorganise the way that government interacts with those who are most vulnerable, so that we can encourage them on to a path of independence rather, than trapping them in dependence as our traditional structures have.
Todd McClay: What are some examples of Government initiatives focused particularly on improving the lives of vulnerable children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a long list, but these measures are focused on those who suffer the most deprivation, which is actually a different group-a smaller group-from those who find themselves in a situation of a low-income household. The initiatives include, though, the Better Public Services results targeted on increasing infant immunisation rates, which are now higher than
they have ever been in New Zealand, a reduction in assaults on children, and increasing participation in early childhood education, particularly for those from the most vulnerable households. This comes on top of extending the programme to improve the living conditions of tens of thousands of New Zealand children by insulating and heating 230,000 homes, which will include the insulation of all 70,000 State houses by the end of next year. That is not to mention the rheumatic fever programme and further funding for free under-sixes doctors’ visits.
Todd McClay: What recent reports has the Minister seen on the position of New Zealand’s most vulnerable children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Children’s Commissioner’s expert advisory committee today issued its report on solutions to child poverty, including 78 recommendations. We will pick up some of the ideas that we believe will work, and some of the issues that the report covers are already being addressed. For instance, there is merit in the suggestion of community hubs, and in a warrant of fitness for homes that access Government subsidies. The Government is already ensuring that beneficiary teen parents are in education and being helped into work. In fact, all 2,600 teenage mums under the age of 18 now have an organisation alongside them, supervising their progress. However, we will not support universal child payments. Families on the lowest incomes are in the greatest need, and any new spending needs to be targeted on them.
Todd McClay: What is the Government’s overall approach to addressing some of the issues raised by the Children’s Commissioner’s advisory group report?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Our approach is to work to protect those who are genuinely the most vulnerable by targeting more of the Government’s resources on those people and those families, rather than spreading resources thinly across all New Zealanders through universal programmes. We are also focusing on mobility-that is, assisting people out of the dependence in which they can often be trapped to take the steps, such as through education, through skills, through supported childcare, and through assistance into employment, towards independence so that they do not remain in poverty.
Child Poverty-Government Measures to Address
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader-Green) to the Prime Minister: When he said “we don’t want to see any New Zealand child suffer … children don’t get to make choices, they’re often the victim of circumstance” does that mean he will take tangible steps to ensure children don’t suffer because of circumstances beyond their control?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): We are taking tangible steps. If the member read the White Paper for Vulnerable Children, for example, she would see that we are introducing, amongst other things, child abuse prevention orders; new teams made up of local education, health, and social sector professionals, to respond to the needs of vulnerable children; a new system to draw together information from Government agencies and front-line professionals about vulnerable children, and to provide early alerts; and a new Child Protect line, to provide a single point of contact for all New Zealanders to report any concerns they have about children or young people. Together with a number of other initiatives, these represent the most significant advancement in child protection in many, many years.
Metiria Turei: How does his Government’s welfare sanctions regime, which deliberately takes money from the poorest children because of their parents’ inability to fulfil his social obligations, fit with his desire to ensure that children do not suffer because of the choices of others?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, as the member will be aware, the matter is before the select committee, so people can put forward their ideas. But whenever sanctions are applied-and there are examples where sanctions can be applied-the Ministry of Social Development, or the front-line Work and Income people, go through many, many steps before they get there, but there are, in the end, very good reasons why a sanction would be applied. They are also maintained at 50 percent
where there are other dependants. But, in the end, the idea of the sanctions is to see corrected behaviour. More often than not we use carrots; occasionally we are required to use a stick.
Metiria Turei: Does he think that the 36,000 children admitted to hospital in the past year for poverty-related medical conditions got there because of choices that they made; if not, will he now commit to extending free doctors’ visits to all children?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We are not in a position to extend free doctors’ visits to all children, but we have been in a position to extend free doctors’ visits to under-sixes, and I think if you look at the financial conditions that this Government has faced, that has been an important step. Secondly, I am not sure that it would be in the best interests of the very children she is talking about that we extend that policy on a universal basis, because children coming from very well-to-do homes actually can afford to have their parents pay. Let us target and focus more on those who are in need.
Metiria Turei: Has the Prime Minister talked to general practitioners about his view that parents of children over 6 who cannot afford to take their kids to the doctor should simply hope that the doctor will not make them pay; if so, what did the general practitioners say?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot recall a specific conversation on that, so I would not want to offer a view.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a transcript of John Key’s radio interview-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The source of this is?
Metiria Turei: The source of this document is from my own office-a transcript of the interview that was given.
Mr SPEAKER: A broadcast interview?
Metiria Turei: A broadcast interview.
Mr SPEAKER: No, we do not-
Metiria Turei: -showing the Prime Minister-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Members should know better than to use that process to try to enhance their statements, because we do not table transcripts of-
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have had rulings in the past about generally available transcripts of radio interviews, but whether radio interviews that are not now available to members-[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order and it should not be interjected on.
Hon Trevor Mallard: My understanding is that if that interview is not available for rebroadcast, and this transcript is available-not otherwise available-then it has been the practice to at least put it to the House. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I should have-[Interruption] Order! This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order! Both sides should come to order. I apologise to the member. I should have checked when the interview took place. If it took place a year or two ago, then no problem. If it is a very recent interview, though, then it is available. Such transcripts are readily available. I will just check with the member.
Metiria Turei: The interview took place yesterday, but there is no transcript of this interview available to members. So-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! To deal with the problem I will seek the leave of the House, and that will settle the matter.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. First of all, this whole ruling should change when the Prime Minister puts the issue in contention. He claims that he cannot remember what he said yesterday, and the second thing he said was-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now using the point of order process to try to score a political point. [Interruption] Order! The House will stop, and he will not do that. Sure, we could do that in the old days, but not anymore. The easiest way to settle this is to seek the leave of the House and I will do that. Leave is sought for that transcript to be tabled. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Metiria Turei: If the Prime Minister does not want to see children suffer, why has he immediately ruled out a universal child payment for the under-fives, despite the Children’s Commissioner’s group of experts recommending that it would make life better for a quarter of a million New Zealand children and be a genuine investment in the prosperity of our country?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because I think that in difficult economic times it is far better to channel those resources to those in need.
Metiria Turei: So if the Prime Minister’s priority is to target the poorest children, will he immediately approve additional financial support for the 170,000 children whose parents are beneficiaries, or, failing that, pass on the child support payments to those families, or, failing that, at least try to protect the jobs for their parents, 78,000 of whom no longer have work under this watch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government is channelling resources-significant resources-to those families, and the Government is working, in difficult economic conditions, to try to preserve New Zealanders’ jobs.
Metiria Turei: Given that kids have no choice but he does, what dollar value would he put on the lost opportunities of a generation of Kiwi kids who are trapped in poverty and who may not grow up to be the doctors, and lawyers, and artists, and gardeners, and even the Prime Ministers of the future, because his choice is to help out wealthy adults at children’s expense?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I utterly refute the last point. Secondly, it is a well-known statement of fact that I actually came from a very economically poor household, and it did not stop me becoming Prime Minister. What made me Prime Minister was that my mother, who was a solo mother, had the foresight to ensure that I got a decent education. This Government is doing more about that than those people over there have done. When they had $20 billion over 3 years in surplus-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The question was asked by the Green Party, not by the Labour Party.
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader-NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration when he told the House on 14 November that they will “need to meet health and good-character checks.”, when in fact Immigration New Zealand rules regarding visitor visas mean that most China Southern Airlines passengers will not be subject to any health or character checks at all?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member, really, if he has got very detailed questions, needs to put to them to the Minister of Immigration. But my understanding is that people, including the China Southern Airlines visitors who come to New Zealand, will still need to apply for a visa, and have all of those conditions met. What they will be waived is the economic test, because the number of miles that they have flown indicate that they have got the resources to go back to China.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he possibly have confidence in the Minister, such that he is now making that answer, given that the average length of stay in New Zealand for Chinese tourists is 5 days; how can he then continue to defend his Minister’s claim that they “still will need to meet health and good-character checks.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think the length of time that Chinese tourists stay in New Zealand has got anything to do with the question the member is asking. Chinese tourists tend to come for smaller periods of time at the moment. That is one of the reasons why we are working aggressively in that market to build up the length of time that they may stay in New Zealand, so that they become higher-spending consumers. That is true also in Japan.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister is being asked how his Minister of Immigration can make those claims when that is not what the law is, and it is
not what is being applied by Immigration New Zealand either. I am not interested about the high value of their visit-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member is now debating the matter. He can raise a point of order about whether or not his question was answered. In his question the member mentioned issues to do with how the Prime Minister could say what he said, given that they had stayed here only 5 days, if I remember correctly. What the member is now just raising by a point of order does not match exactly the supplementary question he asked. That is my dilemma in dealing with it. But he cannot debate the Prime Minister’s answer by way of a point of order. If the Prime Minister has not answered his question, that is one thing, but I do recollect that in the member’s question he related the issue of how the Prime Minister could say what he did, given that they stayed here only 5 days on average.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We can be as obtuse as we like about this, but the fact is that my question wants to know how a Minister can argue that there are health and good-character checks when there are not, under the rules, any such requirements at all for people who stay less than 6 months.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member feels aggrieved, I will invite him to repeat his-was that exactly the question he asked? I invite him to repeat it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: This is my question: given that the average length of stay in New Zealand for Chinese tourists is 5 days, how can he continue to defend his Minister’s claim in this House that they “still will need to meet health and good-character checks.”, when no such requirements are, at all, applied?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said to the member, if he wants detailed questions about immigration, he needs to put those down for the Minister. But if that is what the Minister told the House, I have no reason to deny that it is correct.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What confidence can you have in a Minister of Immigration who allows the Prime Minister to claim that one can be considered as a reasonably high net worth individual because they have travelled 40,000 kilometres, when a couple of trips back and forth between mainland China and Hong Kong gain such individuals frequent flier status?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have a global positioning system machine with me, so I cannot exactly tell you how far it is between mainland China and Hong Kong, but I suspect you might have to do a bit more than a couple of flights. But in principle there is quite a lot of logic in saying that if people can meet those frequent flier sorts of tests that China Southern Airlines have, they will likely be reasonably high-class individuals.
Mr SPEAKER: I call Brendan Horan. [Interruption] Order! I have called Brendan Horan.
Brendan Horan: Does the Prime Minister agree that natural justice and due process are relevant in the administration of the Immigration Act?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do, and I think it is important to be consistent when one is applying that. I know that selection of people when they come to New Zealand for visas is difficult, but when 171,000 a year are coming, that is really challenging. But when it is one of eight, you would think you would get it right.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You mean like you got it right with John Banks?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order. [Interruption] Order! The right honourable Prime Minister, both right honourable gentlemen, should desist. Thank you. The House will settle down.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did the Prime Minister on 28 November tell Parliament that Immigration New Zealand started to undertake work on the China Southern Airlines special deal from 4 September 2012 when, first, our Immigration New Zealand senior managers had enjoyed the hospitality of Chinese counterparts for months before September, and, second, a ministerial section in the Immigration New Zealand weekly internal newspaper visa pack, dated 24 August 2012,
confirmed that the China Southern Airlines deal would be effective from 1 September 2012, a full 4 days before the Prime Minister claimed the commencement of work on this issue?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because that was the advice I received.
Exchange Rate-Effect on Export Sector
5. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Compared to 2012, does the Reserve Bank forecast the New Zealand dollar (as measured by the Trade Weighted Index) to strengthen or weaken in the next two years, and does he believe this will make New Zealand exporters more competitive or less competitive?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yesterday the Reserve Bank recorded the tradeweighted index at 74.5. Its forecasts issue recently forecast that this will fall to 72.0 by March 2015. All other things being equal, the forecast fall in the exchange rate will increase the competitiveness of exporters. By comparison, the same index increased by 9 percent between March 2007 and March 2008, the period the member may recall.
Hon David Parker: In respect of that period, has he read reports of a politician in 2007 warning-and I quote-that “the New Zealand economy could not sustain exchange rates at US74c.”, and further saying that “it would lead to substantial job losses and closures.”, and was that politician the then Leader of the Opposition, John Key?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do, and that is exactly the point. Fortunately, the National Government took over the economic levers in late 2008. Since then we have focused relentlessly on the competitiveness of our businesses and undoing the damage of the previous Government, and that is why our exporters have sustained a higher exchange rate. They have shown great resilience over the last few years, and with the Government’s continued backing their performance will continue to improve.
Hon David Parker: If it is all going so well, why do the Reserve Bank, Treasury, and various economic forecasters show our current account deficit getting worse?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, compared with the period 2006 to 2008, when the current account deficit was 8 percent or above-that is, minus 8 percent or above-the forecasts now show it peaking at around 5.5 or 6 percent, which is a considerable improvement. But there is no doubt that where we do agree with the member is that the relatively high exchange rate is making it more difficult for this economy to rebalance more towards exports and away from domestic consumption. Our response to that is to focus on the competitiveness of our businesses. Every time we try to do something to make it easier for businesses to employ people, the Opposition opposes it because, fundamentally, it is against growth-
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Parker: How does he propose to reduce our current account deficit when, because of the overvalued currency, exporting is forecast to get even harder, resulting in even more job losses, and imports are forecast to become even cheaper, harming our local industries, yet monetary policy conditions continue to be myopically focused primarily on inflation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, actually, the monetary policy conditions have been loosening somewhat because our banks are finding that the costs of raising money on the international market are dropping, and this is being reflected in mortgage interest rates continuing to drop to the lowest levels that they have been at in 50 years. New Zealanders who go and borrow money today are paying less than they have at any time in the last 50 years. But in respect of the current account deficit, if we could just lower it, we would, but, actually, we cannot. We are focusing on supporting our businesses to be competitive and assisting them to make the decision to employ another person, invest another dollar, and sell another product successfully in our exports markets. One thing we will not be doing is hiring more photocopiers to print money, which is the Opposition’s policy.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
John Hayes: What reports has he seen on alternative proposals for managing the New Zealand dollar?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen reports that the best way to deal with the challenges of the New Zealand economy is to print money because that looks easier than actually making our economy more competitive. We completely disagree with those reports. They come from the Greens-Labour Opposition, and I think it is what it regards as “new thinking” about how to manage an economy. We are totally opposed to it.
Hon David Parker: In light of that last answer, can the Minister point to any example where the Labour Party has called for the printing of money? Because I do not know of it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not responsible for that, but I can say that the senior-
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The accusation was made in the last answer that the Labour Party had been doing exactly that, and I am asking him to clarify-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I hear the member. I think, given what the Minister had said, the question was not unreasonable, because Ministers can be questioned on anything they include in their answer. The question was a straight question of the Minister: whether he had seen any evidence-was it-of the Labour Party arguing for the printing of money as part of economic policy. I would like the Minister, the Hon Bill English, to answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: What I can say is that the senior economic spokesperson for the Opposition-
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Minister made a statement. He is being questioned on it. It is a straight question on it. He should answer it. The question is about whether or not the Minister had seen any evidence where the Labour Party had called for the printing of money.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It may be the case that I have been confused between the senior economic spokesperson for the Opposition and the Labour Party finance spokesman, and I will concede it is possible that the Labour Party has not said that, but what it has said is that it is breaking up the bipartisan consensus over monetary policy and it is going to go in a different direction. The Greens have said that that direction is printing money.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I gave members of the Opposition the chance to question the Minister on a matter that was important to them, and I do not think the interjections are actually that helpful and they will now stop. [Interruption] That is not helpful, either.
Business Growth Agenda-Building Natural Resources Progress Report
6. DAVID BENNETT (National-Hamilton East) to the Minister for Economic
Development: How is the Government encouraging the sustainable use of natural resources to support jobs and grow the economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): The Government has a comprehensive programme of initiatives to responsibly develop our natural resource – based industries and increase exports. These are detailed in the Government’s Building Natural Resources Business Growth Agenda progress report released this morning. It sets out how New Zealand is building jobs and growth from sustainably using its natural resources. It contains 49 separate initiatives that the Government is working on. I have here an autographed copy of the report, should the acting Opposition economic development spokesperson share his predecessor’s enthusiasm for receiving a personal copy.
David Bennett: What natural resources initiatives is the Government working on?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government is focused on making progress in a number of key areas. I will list just a few, by way of example: investment in oil and gas exploration, which received a significant boost today with Minister Heatley’s announcement of the award of the block offer 2012 exploration permits; we are making more changes to the Resource Management Act to speed up decision-making processes to give more investors more opportunities to invest; we are in the process of setting effective limits for water quality and quantity to provide more certainty to
businesses; and we have given the green light to the investigation of the Wairarapa Water Use Project, which has the potential to irrigate an additional 30,000 to 50,000 hectares of land in that region and boost the area’s GDP by around $400 million.
David Bennett: What is the key goal of the Government’s Business Growth Agenda?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The goal of the Business Growth Agenda is to support New Zealand businesses to become more competitive and provide them with more opportunities to invest and grow so we can have more and higher-paying jobs for New Zealanders. We have undertaken a comprehensive programme of around 250 initiatives across interconnected portfolios to build a more productive and competitive economy. The Building Natural Resources report is the fifth progress report alongside others on export markets, innovation, skilled and safe workplaces, and infrastructure. The sixth report, Building Capital Markets, will be published early next year.
7. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied with the state of children’s health in New Zealand; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): For the great majority of New Zealand children, yes. But for some children in New Zealand, the state of their health does need to improve, and that is why the Government, despite tight times, has spent billions extra to support these children and their families. Twenty-eight thousand kids, at 148 schools, are part of the rheumatic fever programme, 93 percent of children aged 2 are now fully immunised, over 90 percent of children under 6 are now getting free doctors’ visits, including after hours, and the Government has funded targeted additional Well Child visits. We have also received a number of new reports. We agree with some recommendations but not others, and we will be considering these over time.
Hon Maryan Street: Taking those statistics and figures that he likes to trot out into account, why have hospital admission rates for children with acute upper respiratory tract infections, viral infections, skin infections, dermatitis and eczema, and some vaccine-preventable diseases increased over the last 3 years, and what does he intend to do about it?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, some causes of hospitalisation have increased, whereas others have decreased. But overall the latest report, I think the Children’s Social Health Monitor, shows that we are having a reduction in those numbers of hospital presentations. The causes of those, of course, are quite multi-factoral.
Hon Maryan Street: Why do admission rates for socioeconomically sensitive medical conditions remain much higher for Pacific children, and then for Māori children, than for European and other children, and what does he intend to do about that?
Hon TONY RYALL: As I have said, there are indications that those hospitalisations are now beginning to reduce. What is the Government doing? We are doing a number of things. We have grown the number of doctors and practices that provide free visits to children by 25 percent, where we now have 93 percent of New Zealand children able to go to primary care for free if they are under the age of 5. We have extended that to after hours. We are also investing $24 million in a rheumatic fever programme and, very important, a number of Government departments have contributed to the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of homes that have benefited from the Government’s home insulation programme.
Hon Maryan Street: Why are rates of sudden unexpected death in infancy very unequally distributed, with rates for babies from the most deprived 20 percent being over six times higher than for babies from the least deprived 20 percent of areas, and over four times higher for Māori babies; and what does he intend to do about that?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, the Government is quite concerned about the rates of sudden unexpected death in infancy. The advice we have received is that there are two major interventions that could assist in reducing these numbers. One is reducing the prevalence of smoking, of which the Government has an unparalleled record of achievement. The second is in the area of providing
safer sleeping spaces. Quite a lot of activity is happening around the country in that area, including 4,000 pēpi-pods, which have been made available to new mothers around the country.
Hon Maryan Street: Does the Minister have any specific plans to address in the next Budget unequal health outcomes arising from poverty; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL: The member will have to wait until the next Budget to see those, but what I can tell the member is that in a series of Budgets this Government has invested in order to improve the health status of all New Zealand children. If I was to take, for example, immunisation, it was only 4 years ago that 67 percent of New Zealand’s 2-year-olds were fully immunised, with a marked contrast between Māori, Pacific, and European. Through the funding and effort of this Government we have now closed that gap to where 93 percent of New Zealand children are fully immunised and Pacific children are, I think, now at 96 percent fully immunised. So we have closed the gap through focus and effort, and that is certainly the Government’s record.
Oil and Gas Exploration-Permits Awarded for 2012 Block Offer
8. COLIN KING (National-Kaikōura) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What recent announcement has he made about Block Offer 2012?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Energy and Resources): This morning I had the pleasure of awarding 10 new exploration permits in the Taranaki, Pegasus, and Great South Basins following the success of Block Offer 2012. Strong interest in the permitting round proves that New Zealand is a key destination for both domestic and international investment in exploration, with bids from the Netherlands, Austria, Canada, the United States, Australia, and Japan alongside those from New Zealand companies. Responsible use of our abundant natural resources is a key plank in the Government’s Business Growth Agenda. Realising the potential of our petroleum resources will benefit the whole country through the creation of both new jobs and income for the Government to help funds things like schools, roads, and hospitals.
Colin King: What work will companies be undertaking as part of their exploration permit?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The purpose of exploration is to find out more about the resources that are within each of the areas and whether they are of a magnitude worth extracting. If they are, then we can have a robust debate about the benefits and risks of accessing that resource. Exploration permits are awarded for 5 years. Most of the exploratory work is unobtrusive, such as desktop mapping and seismic and aeromagnetic surveys. Contingent on that and what these surveys show, some companies may drill exploratory wells.
9. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she agree with the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society in relation to freshwater that “failure to act with decisiveness and urgency risks further environmental degradation and erosion of our international environmental reputation”; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister for Primary Industries) on behalf of the Minister for the
Environment: The Minister agrees with the need to act decisively and urgently on improving the way we manage our freshwater resource here in New Zealand, and that is why this Government has made improving water quality a priority.
Eugenie Sage: When will she act decisively and urgently to introduce strong national standards and rules for clean water, so New Zealanders can safely swim in our rivers, or is it acceptable that more than 52 percent of river sites monitored for recreational water-quality are unsafe for swimming?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The Minister is working very hard now on a substantial package of water reform that brings together many of the good reports from the Land and Water Forum. She hopes to have that work before Parliament early next year.
Eugenie Sage: When 50 percent of sites on Wairarapa rivers that are monitored for recreational water-quality are unsafe to swim at, how does she propose to prevent more water pollution from intensive agriculture, which is subsidised by this Government without strong national standards for clean water?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The member will have to wait until next year to see exactly how the Minister proposes to solve the water-quality issues in this country. But I do assure the member that this Government does treat it like a priority, unlike the previous Government, which established a programme of water inaction over 9 years.
Eugenie Sage: What message has the Minister got for New Zealanders who want to enjoy a hot summer’s day at their local river or lake but cannot go swimming, because in the words of her ministry: “There are many freshwater swimming spots which should be avoided.”?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The Minister’s message to all New Zealanders is following a decade of inaction by the previous Labour Government, supported by the Greens. This Government is absolutely focused on putting water quality and quantity at the top of its priority list.
Earthquakes, Canterbury-Government Response to Royal Commission Report
10. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour-Christchurch East) to the Minister for Building and
Construction: How quickly will he respond to the building performance, assessment and construction recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Building Failure caused by the Canterbury Earthquakes?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction): As the Government said when it released the final parts of the royal commission’s report, it expects to release a full response by early to mid next year.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can he assure the House that the regulatory system behind the building control system today would not allow a repeat of the sequence of events that ended in the tragedy of the CTV Building?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Yes, indeed, I can assure the member. Some of it was under the Labour Government and some of those changes have been under the current National Government, where we have done full accreditation of things like the building consent authority, and from December next year building officials who work within those will actually need to be qualified to perform the work.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can he confirm that specific concerns about poor seismic-resistant design were raised with him by the group of engineers who approached him in his electorate office in 2008, and will he now urgently review those concerns in light of the royal commission’s findings?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I presume the member is talking about the individual John Scarry raising it with me. He raised concern about the entire engineering profession in New Zealand, and about poor standards across modern building practice. I have got a copy of notes from the things that he said at the time, and what was interesting is that the CTV Building was built back in 1986, a time Mr Scarry was not referring to.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can he confirm that specific concerns about poor seismic-resistant design were raised with him by the group of engineers, which included Charles Clifton, associate professor of civil engineering and the structures group leader at the department of civil and environmental engineering, University of Auckland, and will he now review the concerns that were raised with him by the group of engineers, in light of the findings of the royal commission?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: By my recollection of that meeting some many years ago there were three at it. They made the claim again on this morning’s radio. Mr Scarry said two Prime Ministers-that is, Helen Clark and John Key-have both ignored him, and eight building and construction Ministers, which I presume is seven from Labour followed by me, have ignored him. He feels terribly ignored and the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand Inc. is ignoring him as well.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can he confirm that specific concerns about poor seismic-resistant design were raised with him in 2008, and will he now specifically review those concerns in light of the findings of the royal commission?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: It is very hard to recall the meeting. It was in an electorate office; it was not with officials. It was a couple of engineers: the two who have been mentioned plus one other. The general concern was across the entire engineering profession, that all the buildings that we were currently building were not up to standard, and I needed to do something. I have made it clear on a number of public occasions that if Mr Scarry can get the support of the engineering fraternity-that is, the Institution of Professional Engineers, the Structural Engineering Society New Zealand, and a whole lot of other engineering associations-and it backs his claim, which it does not, I will take it seriously.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: In light of the fact that the royal commission report volumes 5 and 7 acknowledge that the regulatory system behind the building control standards is more lax now than it was in 1986, which was the point that was raised with him, and given the recommendations for improvement, will he now review those matters that were brought to his attention all those years ago?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: All of the recommendations made by the royal commission will be looked at carefully and considered carefully, and then a final, considered view will be put by the Government. But I just do not accept that the current regime is more lax than it was back in 1986.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table an email that Charles Clifton-whom I described in one of my questions-emailed through to Radio New Zealand this morning after he heard people saying that the system today was nowhere near as dangerous as it was back then.
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.
Earthquakes, Canterbury-Government Response to Royal Commission Report
11. NICKY WAGNER (National-Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Building and
Construction: What is the Government doing in response to the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission’s full report?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction): Yesterday we released the final part of the report-that is, volumes 5 to 7-without a Government response, because we wanted the families who had lost loved ones in the earthquake to have access to the information as soon as possible. The full report was comprehensive-more than 1,100 pages-and contained 189 recommendations, including a number that will require policy and legislative changes. As I said before in answer to the previous question, we need to carefully consider the full report, and expect to issue a full and comprehensive official response early to mid next year. Lessons must be learnt from the Christchurch experience, and changes must be made.
Nicky Wagner: What changes is the Government proposing to improve the way we deal with earthquake-prone buildings in New Zealand?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Last Friday the Government released a consultation document around earthquake-prone buildings. We are proposing to introduce a mandatory time frame and process to deal with earthquake-prone buildings. This will shorten the existing time frame from an average of 28 years to 15, which breaks down to 5 years of seismically assessing all buildings, and then 10 years post-assessment of strengthening or removing those buildings. I must stress that the proposals out for consultation are simply proposals at this stage, and no decisions have been made. I encourage all New Zealanders to have their say, as any decisions will affect a large number of New Zealanders and communities right across the country. This process is about
ensuring we strike an acceptable balance between protecting people from serious harm and managing the economic implications of strengthening or actually removing the most vulnerable buildings.
12. CLARE CURRAN (Labour-Dunedin South) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Clare Curran: Does he stand by his statements regarding the draft Commerce Commission recommendations for wholesale broadband pricing, that “in its current form it would be very problematic” because “it substantially reduces the income of that company”, referring to Chorus, the Crown-back ultra-fast broadband network?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Clare Curran: Why does he want most New Zealand households to pay around $12 a month more for their phone and internet services than they otherwise would?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I would reject the proposition that they would be paying more. Secondly, I think it is important that New Zealand has a roll-out of ultra-fast broadband. Thirdly, it is quite correct that the Government has taken a very close look at that Commerce Commission ruling, which is an interim ruling.
Clare Curran: Does he believe that it is a fundamental principle of our telecommunications regulatory regime that the regulator is independent to carry out its role without interference or undue political influence?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Of course. They are free to go about their work. The Government then is free to decide whether it wants to adopt that.
Clare Curran: Will he rule out legislation if the Commerce Commission comes back with a final decision that his Government does not agree with?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Definitely not.