QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Schools, Partnership—Official Information Act Requirements
1. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Associate Minister of
Education: Why has he proposed exempting charter schools from the requirements of the Official Information Act 1982, something that the Ombudsmen have described as being “catastrophic”?
Hon JOHN BANKS (Associate Minister of Education): I am advised that the Ombudsman’s submission to the Education and Science Committee yesterday did not—did not—use the word “catastrophic”. The Government respects the Office of the Ombudsmen. However, it would be inappropriate to extend the jurisdiction of one of the Ombudsmen to partnership schools. They are not Crown entities; they will be private organisations. They are similar to the 5,000 licensed early childhood education and care centres, independent schools, private training establishments, and industry training organisations, which are not subject to the Official Information Act and the Ombudsmen Act.
Grant Robertson: Why should charter schools be less accountable to parents and the community than other schools?
Hon JOHN BANKS: Charter schools are going to be more accountable to the community. Let me tell the member, who has not read the legislation and does not understand it, that the ultimate safeguard, notwithstanding the obligations under the contract between the sponsor and the Ministry of Education, is that the Secretary for Education can at any time request any information from any partnership school, and that information is always subject to the Official Information Act.
Grant Robertson: Is he aware that the Ombudsman found that violence and bullying at Hutt Valley High School were inadequately dealt with through Ministry of Education and Education Review Office processes, and fully came to light only as a result of an Ombudsmen’s investigation, and why is he prepared to put the safety of children at risk by not having charter schools subject to the Official Information Act and the Ombudsmen Act?
Hon JOHN BANKS: It is interesting that he should raise that high school in the Hutt South electorate, the home of a former Minister of Education from the Labour Government. I have on reliable advice been told that it was Anne Tolley, a former Minister of Education in the National Government, who fixed the problem. But to answer the substantive question, the health and safety of children is of the highest importance at all schools—at all schools. There will be a higher level of obligation on partnership schools than on other schools—a higher level of obligation. The Government will ensure the health and safety of all children at partnership schools through a specific statutory duty that will be enforced through partnership schools’ contracts, and all information sought by the Ministry of Education will be sought and given subject to the Official Information Act.
Grant Robertson: What is he so scared of in his charter school model that he will not allow it to be held to account by the Office of the Ombudsmen, as the Ombudsman requested at the select committee yesterday?
Hon JOHN BANKS: Simply because, as I said in the answer to the original question, over 5,000 licensed early childhood education and care centres are not subject to the Official Information Act, independent schools are not subject to the Official Information Act, private training establishments are not subject to the Official Information Act, and industry training organisations are not subject to the Official Information Act. Why partnership schools? I ask the member why partnership schools?
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, is the Minister aware that private prisons are subject to the Official Information Act, and why is it that private prisons should be subject to the Official Information Act but not partnership schools?
Hon JOHN BANKS: There are no matters regarding prisons in the legislation. There are no matters regarding it. Why does the member not read the legislation? The ultimate test for that member is that the Secretary for Education can ask for any information at any time from any partnership school, which would be subject to the Official Information Act. Why do you not give partnership schools a chance? Twenty percent of kids are failing.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order. [Interruption] Point of order. A point of order has been called.
Chris Hipkins: That was a very animated answer, which did not address the question that my colleague Grant Robertson asked.
Mr SPEAKER: It certainly did address the question. It was a very animated question about why the Minister is scared of something.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was whether or not Mr Banks was aware, in light of his answer to the previous question, that private prisons were—
Mr SPEAKER: And I think he very adequately answered the question in a very lengthy process. It was very hard for the members to hear the answer—I was listening carefully—and that was because of a very excessive amount of noise coming from the member’s own benches. Are there further supplementary questions?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The problem with that answer was that it contained a series of questions of the person who was asking the question in the first place, which is not allowed here.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that, again, with respect, Mr Peters, it was the previous answer given where the Minister asked a question, which is not exactly appropriate, I agree. But in this case it was a robust exchange. Are there further supplementary questions?
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, Mr Speaker. We could not hear Mr Banks’ answer. We would like the question again because it is impossible to hear him.
Mr SPEAKER: You are not getting the question again, but it would certainly be helpful if when the Labour member asks a question his own side could refrain from the level of interjection we were receiving.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I respect the fact that we need to ensure that members can hear answers. The problem we had was that Mr Banks was not answering the question—
Mr SPEAKER: That is now questioning a ruling that I have made. I have categorically stated that in my opinion Mr Banks adequately answered the question, particularly given the tone in which the question was asked.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I simply ask you, then, to review the tape after this session, because I think it may be of assistance to you—
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion, for the benefit of the member, I will review the tape.
Grant Robertson: Is the Minister’s own experience in refusing to allow his witness statement on the Kim Dotcom investigation to be released under the Official Information Act influencing his decision to make sure that charter schools are not accountable under the Official Information Act?
Hon JOHN BANKS: There is no information in the bill before the select committee that has got anything to do with Kim Dotcom or any of his cronies.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, Grant Robertson. [Interruption] Order! There is a point of order being sought by Grant Robertson, which should now be heard in silence.
Grant Robertson: My question did not ask anything about a bill before the select committee.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that. Would the member please repeat his question.
Grant Robertson: As close as I can get to it. Is the Minister’s own experience with withholding his witness statement given around the Kim Dotcom donation affair influencing his decision to make sure that charter schools are not accountable under the Official Information Act?
Hon JOHN BANKS: The problem with the Official Information Act is that it is a reactionary process towards a question being asked to the statutory authority. What we are doing with the legislation is getting in front of that with robust contracts for partnership schools with the Ministry of Education. That means that at any time the Secretary for Education can ask for information, which then is subject to the Official Information Act, and I am supportive of that. And all my experience around the Official Information Act said that that is a good way to work.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We could try for third time lucky, but that did not answer the question. It was a fairly simple question on whether he was being influenced in the decision about charter schools by the fact that he has withheld information around the Kim Dotcom affair. It is quite a simple question. I have not had it answered.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that point. The only way we can attempt to get the answer is by attempting to do it for a third time. I invite the member to ask the question.
Grant Robertson: Is the Minister’s own experience of withholding his witness statement in the Kim Dotcom affair around donations to his mayoral campaign influencing his decision that charter schools should not be held accountable under the Official Information Act?
Hon JOHN BANKS: No, no.
2. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on wage increases in New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Everybody’s own circumstances are, of course, different, but average movements in wages across the economy are shown in the quarterly employment survey, the latest release of which came out last week. It showed that average hourly wages rose 2.6 percent in the last year, compared with inflation of around 0.9 percent. Average weekly wages rose by even more—2.9 percent—and the average wage is now over $53,000 a year before tax. So it is quite clear that, on average, wages in New Zealand are rising considerably faster currently than the cost of living is.
John Hayes: How does the minimum wage in New Zealand compare with the average wage?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The minimum wage is currently $13.50 an hour in New Zealand, which is half the average hourly wage of $27. The OECD’s database shows that this proportion is, in fact, the highest in the developed world, and that, on this measure, our minimum wage is, therefore, the most generous in the developed world as a proportion of the average hourly wage. In all other countries the minimum wage is under half the average wage—for example, in Canada, it is 40 percent of the average wage; in the UK, it is 38 percent; and in the US, it is 28 percent.
John Hayes: Do any industries stand out as having higher than average wage increases?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, a few industries do stand out. One of them is the manufacturing industry, where average weekly wages rose 4.1 percent over the last year, and that is actually not a
short-term thing. Over a longer period wages in manufacturing have also grown faster than average. Over the last 4 years average weekly wages in the manufacturing sector have risen 18 percent, compared with 13 percent in the economy as a whole. No doubt, that fact has been brought up and discussed at the Opposition’s manufacturing inquiry.
Hon David Parker: Has the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia grown larger over the last year; if so, will he be providing milestones for National’s promise to close the wage gap with Australia, given that it is growing rather than closing?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have that information to hand, but I do know that the member is very careful to talk about the wage gap, rather than the after-tax wage gap, which people actually experience. But again, if the member wants to talk about the differences between here and Australia, fundamentally, the main difference is the investments made in Australia in the resources sector over the last few years. That is the fundamental difference. If the member would like to reverse his party’s ambivalence towards the investment in the resources sector in the New Zealand economy, I am sure we could have a good discussion.
John Hayes: By how much have wages risen since September 2008?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The best measure over a longer period of time is, of course, growth in after-tax wages, because that takes into account factors like changes in income tax and GST. Since September 2008 the average wage after tax has increased by a total of—
Hon David Parker: And GST—how does it take into account GST? It doesn’t. It ignores GST.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Just wait, you will find out. Since September 2008 the average wage after tax has increased by a total of 22 percent, from a bit over $36,000 a year to a little bit over $44,000 a year. Inflation over the same period has totalled 8.5 percent. So it is a total of 22 percent in after-tax wages versus 8.5 percent inflation over the same period. Again, everybody’s circumstances are different, but it is clear that, on average, working New Zealanders have had a sizable increase in their standard of living over the last 4 years.
Hon David Parker: In light of his answer to my last supplementary question, has the after-tax wage gap between New Zealand and Australia grown larger over the last year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have those figures to hand—
Hon Members: Oh!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —I said that previously—but I am very suspicious, because the member is talking about only the last year, and we know that what he likes to do is go through series and series of data and find the little bit that he can do to get his story. The reality is that in this country the cost of living has gone up 8.5 percent over the last 4 years and people’s incomes after tax have gone up 22 percent.
Manufacturing Sector, Jobs—Household Labour Force Survey Numbers
3. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that “I would go back to the most rigorous form of measuring employment in the economy and in relation to the manufacturing sector. That is the household labour force survey”; if so, what was the net change in persons employed in manufacturing in the HLFS in the year to December 2012?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, I do agree with the Prime Minister’s statement. It is the most rigorous. But, as he has often also said, it is also a survey, and different measures can be contradictory. For example, the household labour force survey last week said there was a net loss of full-time jobs in the last quarter—sorry, jobs overall in the last quarter, actually, and an increase in full-time jobs—while 2 days earlier the quarterly employment survey, which the member is sometimes fond of quoting, said the number of filled jobs had increased over the same period. Turning to the second part of the question, the net change in persons employed in manufacturing in the household labour force survey in the year to December 2012 is 17,200 people.
It is worth pointing out that in the 2010 year the number of persons employed in manufacturing increased by a similar amount, while in the 2011 year the number was static.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He mentioned a figure, but he did not say whether that change was up or down in respect of the 17,000 figure he quoted.
Mr SPEAKER: I think, to clarify, can I ask the Minister just to repeat the second part, where he spoke to the specific second part of the member’s question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I will try to be helpful on that, Mr Speaker. Turning to the second part of the question, the net change in persons employed in manufacturing in the household labour force survey in the year to December 2012 is, as the member asserts, a decline of 17,200. As I said, it is worth pointing out that in the 2010 year the number of persons employed in manufacturing increased by the same amount, around 17,000, while last year, the 2011 year, the number was static.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with The Economist that “Deindustralisation and slow manufacturing productivity growth hurt a country’s ability to export and eventually lead it into balance-of-payments difficulties. As for tradable services, they too depend in the long run on a strong manufacturing base.”; if he does not agree with that, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I obviously have not seen that particular quote, even though I am an ardent reader of The Economist, but can I point out to the member that what he is referring to has actually been occurring in the Western World for many years, including in this country. In fact, since the 1970s the number of people working in manufacturing in this country has declined, as it has in the agricultural industry since it created mechanised tractors. That is actually—
Dr David Clark: So what are we doing about it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, if the member would like to pretend we can stop the world and go back to steam engines, he can go right ahead and present that to the New Zealand public, but actually productivity in the New Zealand manufacturing sector has grown at a faster rate than in many countries in the world, and if you just look today, the optimism in the manufacturing index today has gone to a 54 point positive, which is a positive thing for the manufacturing sector.
Hon David Parker: Given his reference to the manufacturing index in that last answer, why is it a good-news story when the employment indicator of the manufacturing index shows that manufacturing, which has lost 17,000 jobs over the last year, is in its eighth straight month of employment contraction?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the manufacturing sector—the Performance of Manufacturing Index that I referred to—shows manufacturing activity up 5 points from December to 55.2. He is correct in saying that employment is still in a negative indicator in this particular survey, but again the member pretends, as he often does, that the reality is that manufacturing jobs declining as productivity increases is a new phenomenon. It actually goes back 40-something years. It is tough for the individuals involved—I absolutely acknowledge that—but anybody who suggests he can stop that is trying to sell a snake oil solution.
Hon David Parker: Given the Minister’s preference to refer to value rather than jobs in manufacturing, why does he continue to claim the manufacturing sector is growing when the real value of manufacturing exports outside the primary sector has declined by 10 percent since 2008 and 5 percent in the last year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is being incredibly disingenuous. The manufacturing sector includes a whole range of things, including the primary sector, such as food processing— which was, actually, when I went to school, in manufacturing. The member is constantly trying to find himself a little statistic that tries to backfill the fact he claims that there is a manufacturing crisis. The reality is that it is difficult in every industry because of the challenging world conditions, but New Zealand businesses are doing a good job in growing the New Zealand economy.
Hon David Parker: Did National promise 170,000 more jobs at the last election?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I think the member was in the House yesterday when this question was asked. The answer is, of course, yes, and that was the Treasury forecast at the time. According to the quarterly employment survey we have had 54,000 new jobs over the last 2 years.
Asylum Seekers, Australian Detention Centres—Prime Minister’s Statements
4. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in regard to the Australian Government’s detention centres for asylum seekers that “the camps would be at the world standard we would expect from a developed economy like Australia”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Jan Logie: How can he call them “world standard”, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has found that the conditions in the Manus Island Detention Centre are “harsh” and “inadequate”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: During discussions on the weekend during which New Zealand indicated to Australia that we would take 150 asylum seekers, assurance was sought from the Prime Minister of Australia that the facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea are consistent with international standards, and she confirmed that.
Jan Logie: Why is he simply accepting Julia Gillard’s word that the camps are “world standard”, when politically neutral organisations like Amnesty International have described the conditions in the Nauru Detention Centre as “cruel, inhumane and degrading”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Because Julia Gillard is an honourable person.
Jan Logie: Are the conditions in this photo I am holding, taken by Australian Green senator Sarah Hanson-Young in the Manus Island Detention Centre, showing tightly packed tents and flooding in a malaria hot spot, “world standard”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think we need to realise that these people are desperate. They have come off very, very bad conditions in what are often very dodgy boats. It is a fact that they do have access to sewerage, to water, to health services, to mental health services, to the ability to practise their religion, and to stay fit. That is the assurance we have received from the Australian Government.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very simple question: whether the conditions in that photo were “world standard”. The Minister did not even attempt to address the photograph or the conditions therein.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not accept that point from you, Mr Gareth Hughes. I thought the Minister gave a very satisfactory answer to that question.
Jan Logie: How can he simply accept Julia Gillard’s politically motivated advice, when respected independent organisations like the United Nations, Amnesty International, and numerous other observers have repeatedly criticised the centres as substandard? Is this yet another example of the Prime Minister choosing to see no evil and hear no evil?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Politics is littered with people who have differing opinions, such as the senator who sent you that photograph.
Jan Logie: Given the overwhelming evidence of the substandard nature of the centres, will he now commit to personally visiting the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres before he considers sending asylum seekers arriving in New Zealand to such centres for processing; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The New Zealand Government has agreed to take 150 asylum seekers from facilities in Australia. That is going to be good for those people. I cannot commit the Prime Minister to visiting anything.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that this is a sovereign nation, why has the Prime Minister sold this country down the drain to the extent that Australia is now in control of the policy to do with our refugee programme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That statement is just as outrageous as some others that have come out of his caucus in recent days.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, a very obvious point of order. It would have occurred to you that he is required to tell us why the Government, typically, has sold the country down the drain, with the Australians now controlling our refugee programme. Diversions do not work here.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member would like to reflect on his own question and the tone in suggesting to the Prime Minister that our policy or our sovereignty have been sold down the drain, he should expect the sort of answer he got back from Mr Brownlee on behalf of the Prime Minister.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, your job is to find a question acceptable or not acceptable. It is not for the Minister to determine the question’s quality; it is yours. That is what you are there for. So if you found it to be insubstantial or wrong, you should have said so. You did not, and therefore it requires a proper answer.
Mr SPEAKER: And I think it got an answer commensurate with the quality of the question. It was a very marginal question, to be honest.
Jan Logie: I seek leave of the House to table this photo from Sarah Hanson-Young, the Australian Greens MP.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought by Jan Logie to table the photograph. Any objection? There is objection.
Jan Logie: I seek leave of the House to table the Nauru Camp: A Human Rights Catastrophe With No End in Sight report from Amnesty International.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a publicly available report?
Jan Logie: It is on its website but not that easy to find.
Mr SPEAKER: Then it is already available to every member to search for if the member wants to. I will not put the question.
Jan Logie: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would just actually like to question that last ruling, because if you do not know the right search—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is now a well-established convention here that if material is available on a website, then it is available to every member without the need to table such a document. I do not intend to put leave for documents such as that that are so freely available.
Jan Logie: I seek leave of the House to table the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mission to Manus Island.
Mr SPEAKER: Again, is that publicly available to members?
Jan Logie: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: I think, then, the member is now starting to trifle with the Chair by continuing to seek to table documents that are freely available.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I urge you to reflect on your ruling today, because a number of reports, be they from the OECD or another United Nations body, are regularly posted to the internet. I think it would have a stifling impact on MPs’ ability to access information if you defined this so broadly.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that the member has—[Interruption] I do not need any assistance. If the member has asked me to reflect on that decision, I will do so and make some ruling on Tuesday next week.
Conservation, Department—Progress on Cycleways
5. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Conservation: What progress is the Department of Conservation making, in partnership with the New Zealand Cycle Trail, to deliver the network of Great Rides as initiated by the Prime Minister Rt Hon John Key?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Fantastic progress is being made, with new cycle trails being opened practically every weekend this summer. In January were the openings of the Old Ghost Road Trail near Westport, the Tasman Great Taste Trail near Nelson, and the Homestead Run near Hanmer. This weekend the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is being opened near Mount Cook, and in a fortnight the Queen Charlotte cycle trail is opening. Later in March the spectacular Timber Trail through the Pureora Forest Park will be opened. That is a total of up to 960 kilometres of new cycleways.
Scott Simpson: What evidence has the Minister seen of economic benefits flowing from the Prime Minister’s cycle trail initiative?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There is strong evidence of the economic benefits in both official reports and in regions’ experiences. In the member’s own Coromandel electorate, the local council reports that the Hauraki Rail Trail was bringing in an average of $108 per rider, and that in the month of January—January alone—there were 10,000 cyclists on that route. I also know of two new businesses in my own Nelson electorate that have opened as a consequence of the cycle trails: a new cafe in Brightwater, which has been so busy that its staff now number 10, and a new cycle ferry business that has opened up in Māpua to provide a service for cyclists over to Rabbit Island.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Progress
6. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he have confidence that the Government’s asset sale programme is on track; if so, why?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes, because it is important that we control our nation’s debt, given the world’s intensifying debt crisis. However, the member might like to ask me the same question after a certain court ruling comes out.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why, when the chief executive of Contact Energy has announced the sacking of 100 staff because, as he stated: “electricity demand remains weak.”, is the Government still proposing to sell off at least two State-owned electricity companies this year, at the bottom of the market?
Hon TONY RYALL: Of course, the Government is selling a minority stake, or looking to sell a minority stake, in these businesses. The Government has always made it very clear that we will consider each of those individual sales in light of the market circumstances at the time, and the advice that we are receiving from our advisers is to continue preparing for sale.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that answer, does he stand by the statement he made on the Q+A programme on 17 June 2012 that “If the Government doesn’t get a good price, the Government isn’t going to sell.”, and does he agree with Brian Fallow who said recently: “It is folly to press on, full steam ahead, with partial privatisation of the State-owned power companies …”?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, the Government has always said that all of these decisions will be made in light of market conditions. Certainly, the whole market already understands what the likely future demand for electricity in New Zealand is. Our country has been growing in the last 3 or 4 years, and it is expected to continue growing. I am optimistic about those prospects.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will he give an assurance to the employees of Mighty River Power, Genesis Energy, and Meridian Energy that there will not be significant lay-offs following any partial privatisation of those State-owned electricity companies as has occurred with Contact Energy, a former State-owned enterprise, which was sold off by a former Government of which he was a member?
Hon TONY RYALL: As I am not their employer, I cannot give any undertakings in respect of that. But what I can say to that member is that the State-owned electricity power companies will report their half-year results in the very near future, and the member may want to pay attention to these results to get an insight into how those companies are performing.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does he still have confidence in the Chair of Genesis Energy, the Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley, former National Party Prime Minister, given she resigned as a director of
Mainzeal Property and Construction just prior to its collapse, and further, that she has offered no explanation as to her involvement in that collapse, but rather has hired former journalist Bill Ralston to act as a spin doctor to manage her reputational risk?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, and, as the Prime Minister has already noted, we have not seen anything that challenges Dame Jenny Shipley’s leadership at Genesis.
Fines and Reparations—2012 Progress
7. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister for Courts: What progress was made in 2012 in recovering court fines and reparations?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): The year 2012 was very good for the collections department. It brought in $225 million in outstanding fines by way of fines enforcement. The outstanding balance for fines at the moment sits at $576 million, which is down from $800 million when we came into Government in 2008. The amount of fines that are overdue now sits at 43 percent—although worrying, this is much less than the 56 percent that it was when we came into Government in 2008. These situations and improvements continue to reflect the importance of a robust fine system within our criminal justice system.
Katrina Shanks: How did new initiatives such as credit reporting overdue fines contribute to these results?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Credit reporting of fines has netted $7 million over the past 12 months that would otherwise have been unpaid. Data sharing with other agencies, which was projected to bring in $15 million in its first year, actually brought in $64 million in 2012. Stopping fine dodgers at the airport stopped almost half a million dollars from leaving New Zealand, and equipping our bailiffs with portable eftpos machines brought in another half a million dollars.
Trade, China—Governance and Financial Position of Richina Pacific
8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Did any of the reports referred to in his response to Question for Written Answer 09873 (2012) include the governance and financial position of the Richina Pacific group of companies?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister of
Foreign Affairs: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What was his reaction and what did he do when Richina Pacific was, first, described as a “surrogate Government agency” by the University of Auckland business school, given that the company was deleted from the NZX in 2009 due to inadequate corporate disclosure and huge financial losses; or, second, when Richina Pacific chief executive officer, Richard Yan, announced in September last year that Prime Minister John Key would open New Zealand House Shanghai within 2 months, when, as of 5 November 2012, in the written question that he has got, according to him as Minister no decision had been made on the property in Shanghai?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No decision had been made, and what Mr Yan had to say was for Mr Yan, but it did not accurately represent the facts of the matter. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in conjunction with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, was looking at a property, given that the lease of the current property expires on 31 October this year. They were looking at a number of options. Mr Yan approached them, and they were looking at such matters as the site, the structure of the building, and so on, but it was a long way away from getting anywhere near what the member has said in his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: So we are to believe that a man called Richard Yan has been making all sorts of statements internationally and widely broadcast, and he as the foreign Minister did nothing at all; or, for example, that when Richina Pacific chief executive officer Richard Yan asked Jenny Shipley to step down from the board of Mainzeal in December last year, did he find out what the reason for Mrs Shipley’s departure was, given the association with the Shanghai building that Mr Yan had been widely publicising?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, that is a very convoluted question, but what I will try to do is—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What’s the answer?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, I will give the member the answer to his rather scrambled question, and it is this: the Minister of Foreign Affairs cannot be responsible for any statements that Mr Yan may make. I have said to the member that what was going on was that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise—and it was happening at an officials’ level—were looking at alternative premises in Shanghai.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, what did he do as Minister when the Minister of Māori Affairs said that “New Zealand house [in Shanghai] is an enormous and generous gesture.”, or when, for example, as Minister he became aware of the enormous and generous gesture Mr Richard Yan had given to Mr Sharples?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It is Dr Sharples, actually, and that would have been an aspirational statement by the Minister of Māori Affairs when he looked at the property. But the situation is that, as I said, officials were looking at the property in Shanghai from a cost and construction point of view, and all other questions relating to Mr Yan or his company’s financial solvency would have come much further down the line.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a copy of Dr Sharples’—or Mr Sharples’— electoral return.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, again, it is something that is pretty freely available to all members, but it is over to the House. Leave is sought by the Rt Hon Winston Peters to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Prescription Subsidies, Change—Impact
9. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What reports, if any, has he received on the impact of increasing prescription charges?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Including articles, letters, ministry reports and such like, as well as other documents, I have received a number of reports—too many to detail here. The $2 increase per item, or a maximum of $40 a year per family, is the first increase in 20 years, which has helped fund cost pressures and new investments in the health service.
Hon Maryan Street: Is he aware of a University of Otago report last year that said that 276,000 adults were estimated to have found cost a barrier to picking up prescription items, even at $3 an item; and how did he factor this information into his decision to increase charges to $5 an item?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, I am aware of that survey. I am also aware that it did not have any comparative information from earlier years. There have always been some people who do not pick up their pharmaceuticals, and that is disappointing because support is available. In fact, almost onethird of all prescriptions filled in New Zealand are done so without any charge to the patient.
Hon Maryan Street: Is he aware that the chaos surrounding the prescription charge increase and the pharmacy contract with district health boards has meant that pharmacists are now charging anything from $5 to $10 a week for blister packs, on top of the new charges, so that a pensioner who has written to me recently in Christchurch and who requires 10 medicines daily now has to pay an extra $6 a week to get his medicines in this usable and reliable form, and that means forking out in excess of $300 per year extra for his medicines as a result of these changes?
Hon TONY RYALL: The changes in this question in respect of the prescription charge are unrelated to the other parts of the member’s question. The fact is that the increase in the prescription charge was implemented quite smoothly. What is important for people to realise with the prescription charges is that there is a maximum extra cost to any family of $40 a year. Once a
family gets a prescription subsidy card, it needs to pay for nothing extra over 20 items. This information is available in pharmacies, general practices, and on the Ministry of Health website.
Hon Maryan Street: Does he understand that the fee paid to pharmacists for dispensing medicines is linked to patients’ co-payments—that is, the $5 charge—and does he therefore acknowledge that it is costing people more than simply the $2 increase per item to pick up their scripts?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not think the member’s description has validity in light of the new transitional arrangements that we have in the pharmacy sector. But what is important to remember is that if members have constituents who feel that they are under pressure with the increased prescription charges, those patients should be advised to talk to their general practitioner or their pharmacist, or to make sure they can be in touch with Work and Income, which can provide support.
Hon Maryan Street: How does he reconcile the recent prescription charge increase from $3 to $5 an item with his statement of 11 September 2008, his guarantee of 30 July 2009, or his statement of 11 June 2011 that under National there would be no change to prescription charges, that the Government was not considering such an increase, and that that position would last for the term of the National Government; or is this another of National’s broken promises?
Hon TONY RYALL: I certainly think that that undertaking did stand for that term of that National Government. The fact is that the extra charges and the revenue that is being collected from these contributions are being reinvested in the health service in more services for cancer patients, more preventative health care, and expanding free after-hours doctors’ visits for kids under the age of 5. If any people are having difficulty meeting their prescription charge, they should talk to their general practitioner, their pharmacist, or Work and Income New Zealand.
Anzac Day Centenary—Commemorations at Gallipoli
10. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs: What progress has been made towards planning for the Centenary Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Veterans’ Affairs): I can advise that, following a recent review of the Anzac commemorative site by the Turkish Government, visitor numbers for the Anzac Day services at Gallipoli in 2015 have been set at 10,500 people. Of this number 2,000 places will be set aside for New Zealanders, 8,000 for Australians, and 500 for those from Turkey, other countries, and dignitaries. This 2,000:8,000 split is based on the approximate ratio of New Zealand and Australian casualties from the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. I want to record my gratitude to the Turkish Government for its ongoing support and generosity in planning for the commemorations, and its recognition of what Anzac Day means to both New Zealanders and our Australian cousins.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How will New Zealand’s 2,000 places be allocated, and how can people apply?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: As attendance in 2015 is expected to be well oversubscribed, places will be allocated through a ballot system in both Australia and New Zealand. There has been extensive public consultation. I am working with Veterans Affairs New Zealand to finalise details on how the ballot will be conducted, including how any weighting for specific groups might be given. I am hoping to announce those details before Anzac Day, as well as further information about how New Zealanders will be able to apply for one of the 2,000 places.
Question No. 9 to Minister
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour): I seek leave to table some items. I meant to do it at the end of my last question. I seek leave to do that now.
Mr SPEAKER: Could you briefly describe the items.
Hon MARYAN STREET: Certainly. I seek leave to table a photo of uncollected scripts piling up in a Porirua pharmacy because people cannot afford to collect them; Fairfax, dated 28 December 2012—
Mr SPEAKER: This is easily resolved. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour): I seek leave to table the December edition of Pharmacy Today, which is not a magazine that is readily available.
Mr SPEAKER: And this is easily resolved. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour): I seek leave to table two Treasury documents released under the Official Information Act. The first is: “Free and Frank advice on increasing the pharmaceuticals co-payment”.
Mr SPEAKER: And the other?
Hon MARYAN STREET: The other is dated 18 January, “The cost implications of changes to patient prescription fees”.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to those two Treasury documents being tabled? There appears to be none. They may be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour): I seek further leave to table an email from a Christchurch resident to Megan Woods MP concerning $300 extra per year required to be paid because of changes to prescription charges.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a document to Megan Woods MP. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. I am sorry, there was objection.
Broadband—Pricing of Unbundled Bitstream Access Services
11. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister for Communications and
Information Technology: Does she agree with Chorus’s assertion that the Commerce Commission’s draft decision on pricing for unbundled bitstream access (UBA) services could reduce annual earnings by up to $160 million?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister for
Communications and Information Technology: Yes, that figure is broadly consistent with the advice she has received.
Clare Curran: Will she rule out the wholesale price cuts to broadband over copper, which the Commerce Commission is recommending?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: What she has done is, rather than take the action that the member is asking about, bring forward a couple of reviews that will address the whole issue of the regulatory environment in this sector and, obviously, therefore, the pricing matters as well. Those are the telecommunications service obligations review, which was planned for around this time, and also the review of the wider legislative and regulatory framework, which was due to start at some point over the next few years. She has done that to create further certainty in the telecommunications sector.
Clare Curran: Why does she think New Zealanders should pay more for their phone and broadband connections than they otherwise need to in order to boost the bottom line of a private company by $160 million?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think that member is characterising it in a way that does not actually relate to reality. Of course, what applies at the moment is the regulatory framework set up under the previous Labour Government for unbundled bitstream access pricing. The draft decision by the Commerce Commission would apply, if it was taken through to its conclusion, from 2 years hence. What the Minister has decided, in light of the draft determination, is to bring forward the other two
reviews that were due to happen and actually resolve all matters at once, to get the regulatory certainty as we proceed into the very exciting fibre network technology that the Government has endorsed and invested in.
Clare Curran: Why should Kiwi households have to forgo price drops in their monthly phone and internet bills in order to keep Chorus afloat? If Chorus cannot do the job under its current contract within the very regulatory and legal environment developed by her predecessor, Steven Joyce, 2 years ago, then should not she be asking whether it is up to the job—or should she be asking whether he was up to the job?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the Minister would choose to answer the last of those legs of the question and say of course he was up to the job.
Wage Rates—Parliamentary Support Staff
12. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Finance: Would he support Budget 2013 including funding for Vote Parliamentary Service to ensure that parliamentary cleaners and other support staff are paid a living wage of at least $18.40 an hour?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Any considerations around Budget 2013, as the member is aware, are confidential until the Budget is delivered. But I would point out to the member that the Speaker is the Minister responsible for Vote Parliamentary Service. If the member has any questions about how money in that vote is spent or could be spent in that vote, she should direct those to the Speaker.
Julie Anne Genter: Why would his Government not show leadership and support a pay rise that would give the cleaners in Parliament a living wage and lift 37 families out of poverty, when it would cost less than the salary of one Minister?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think it is important to note that everybody, I think, wants to see real wages grow in the New Zealand economy for New Zealanders and their families. It is absolutely something that we are all—I think, most people in this House—are very passionate about. But, of course, for that to occur we have to do the things that allow that to become affordable. We have already noted earlier in this House this afternoon, in question time, the growth of the minimum wage in the New Zealand economy and the fact that the minimum wage is a relatively high proportion of average wages. But, fundamentally, for Governments and organisations and companies to be able to afford further increases in wages, that involves further productivity increases, more investment, and, for companies, more sales. It is those things that the Government is very focused on assisting with, in order to enable wages to continue to grow, and our record in this matter is actually pretty positive.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that the Minister said that everybody would like to see wages grow, but I did not hear an answer to my specific question about the Government showing leadership, and why the Government would not show leadership on this specific issue of the parliamentary cleaners’ wages.
Mr SPEAKER: There are two difficulties with your question. Of course, one is that it is not the Minister’s responsibility. Vote Parliamentary Service comes under the auspices of the Speaker. The second difficulty with your question is, of course, given in the first answer from the Minister: he is not at liberty to discuss Budget issues at this stage.
Julie Anne Genter: Is it fair and reasonable to back huge pay rises for the cheap executives of our State-owned energy companies while ignoring the needs of those who clean the Minister’s office for the minimum wage?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Obviously there are a range of questions in there, and none of them are actually directly the purview of the Minister of Finance, because the State-owned enterprises make their own decisions about how they pay all of their employees, and, of course, as I pointed out previously, in respect of the vote that the member is interested in, that is the responsibility of the Speaker. But, in a more general sense, we of course want to see wages continue to grow. This
Government has a reasonably good record, in the context of the global financial crisis, of seeing wages continue to grow—of real wages growing considerably faster than the cost of living. We would all like it to happen more, and the way to do that is for the New Zealand economy to work better. That is why the Government is working on more investment in the economy, improving productivity, and improving the skills of the economy. Those are the things that can make a real difference.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the Minister stand by his comments last night on Radio Live that some employers are unwilling to pay more than the bare minimum in wages, because they are greedy; should not the Government set an example and take a lead on this issue?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am obviously not aware of what the Minister may or may not have said on the radio last night, and therefore would have to give him the opportunity to see the transcript.
Julie Anne Genter: Has he read the wealth of literature, some of which was summarised recently in The Economist magazine, that shows increasing wages for lower-paid workers does not result in job losses and actually can increase productivity, increase consumer demand, and therefore lead to more employment?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I appreciate that there is obviously a range of views on this matter, but actually it stands to reason, of course, and in fact is supported by the Government’s advice around lifting minimum wages, that each time wages go up that does put pressure on job losses in the economy. The question is by how much, and, of course, we do tend to place the minimum wage higher every year. But we do all have to understand that there are trade-offs in terms of the number of people employed in the economy. The other side of the House spends a lot of time, understandably, encouraging the Government around job growth, and there is a balance in that space.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave of the House to table the Report of an Investigation into Defining a Living Wage for New Zealand, which shows that hundreds of thousands of Kiwi workers—
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of that document? Is it available to members via the website?
Julie Anne Genter: It was prepared by Peter King and Charles Waldegrave—
Mr SPEAKER: Is it publicly available and equally—
Julie Anne Genter: I am not aware of whether it is publicly available. I have a copy of it.
Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way is to put the question. Is there any objection to that document being—[Interruption] There is.
Julie Anne Genter: For the benefit of the Minister, I seek leave to table some of the research from The Review of Economics and Statistics, which shows that the minimum wage has actually—
Mr SPEAKER: The source of the document?
Julie Anne Genter: It is from the journal The Review of Economics and Statistics. It is behind a pay wall. It is an academic journal.
Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way to resolve it is that I will put the leave. Is there any objection? There is no objection. That document can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: That concludes questions for oral answer—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question. I apologise to the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Apologies accepted. Would National provide a pro rata contribution from its parliamentary funding, as New Zealand First has offered to do, so these hard-working cleaners working at Parliament, no less, sometimes with two jobs just to get by, can receive a decent top-up to a living wage; if not, why on earth not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Of course, I have to defer in all these matters to the members who have been in Parliament a heck of a lot longer than I have, and have had many opportunities over the years to address these issues. But, of course, unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your perspective—the Minister of Finance does not get to determine the allocation of parliamentary parties’ funding.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask him about the Minister of Finance’s determination. I am asking him would the National Party provide a pro rata funding top-up, as my party, New Zealand First, has offered to do? He can answer that question, can he not?
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no, he cannot, because he has no responsibility for it. Vote Parliamentary Service comes under the responsibility of the Speaker.