QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before we come to questions, I would like to ask you to, not now but with due consideration, rule on a question of order in relation to the transfer of question No. 1 today. I think as you are aware, this was originally lodged to the Prime Minister. It was slightly differently drafted, and it asked the Prime Minister’s opinion on the Prime Minister’s criteria. As you are aware, the question has been transferred. The Prime Minister has chosen not to answer the Leader of the Opposition’s question. I have been able to go back only to 2002, because that is as far back as the electronic records do show, and there is no example in the period 2002 to 2013 where the Prime Minister has been shown in the House to be unwilling to answer a question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, no, this is a factual matter—unwilling to answer a question from the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr SPEAKER: Has the member finished his point of order?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The last point that I would want to make is that the Prime Minister always holds information that is not available to other Ministers: the briefings from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the private briefings that he gets from business people in Auckland and in other places. When people want to question him on whether a particular criterion has been met, it is his mind and the briefings that he has had that are important, not those that the Minister for State Owned Enterprises has had.
Mr SPEAKER: As I understand the point of order that has been raised by the member, he is asking me not to disrupt the proceedings of the House today but to have a more significant look at it. I am only too happy to do that, but I do refer to Speakers’ rulings, which certainly give the Government the ability and the right to transfer questions as it sees fit. So we will proceed today— [Interruption] Order! And I am happy to meet the member after question time to further discuss that matter.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Criteria
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister for State Owned
Enterprises: Has the Government met the five criteria the Prime Minister laid out for proceeding with asset sales?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes. In particular, one criterion was that New Zealand investors would be at the front of the queue and that we would need to be confident of widespread and substantial New Zealand share ownership. At 10 o’clock this morning
the number of New Zealanders who had pre-registered their interest in Mighty River Power went over 400,000.
David Shearer: When the Prime Minister said that the third criterion would be that companies would need to present good investment opportunities for investors, with which international investors had the Prime Minister had discussions that have yet to be made public?
Hon TONY RYALL: In respect of that answer, of course I am not able to tell them exactly to whom the Prime Minister has spoken, nor am I able to comment on the nature of the investment at this time.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This just illustrates the inability of the Government to be able to answer a question from the Opposition.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question. He said he was unable to relate a conversation—[Interruption] Does the member have further supplementary questions?
David Shearer: When the Prime Minister said that the second criterion would be that New Zealand investors would need to be at the front of the queue for shareholding, from which of his former colleagues from financial markets had he received briefings on this issue?
Hon TONY RYALL: Look, I do not think the Prime Minister needs any briefings from people on putting New Zealanders at the front of the queue, because that is what this Government has done—400,000 people have pre-registered. They know that by pre-registering they are entitled to more shares than those New Zealanders who do not pre-register, and they know that there will be—
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a really straight question and this is not in any way close to an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: And it was adequately addressed. The difficulty I think that the member has is the barrage of interjection coming from immediately behind him. [Interruption] Order! Does the member have a further supplementary question?
David Shearer: Yes, I do. What warning did the Minister of Finance give to the Prime Minister about issues arising from the Contact Energy float?
Hon TONY RYALL: I know that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have had a large number of discussions over the Government’s mixed-ownership model programme. I am sure that the most recent discussion they will have had is about the 400,000 New Zealanders who have expressed an interest by pre-registering for shares in Mighty River Power.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to rule on whether that question was addressed: what warnings did the Minister of Finance give in relation to Contact Energy.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member, the Leader of the Opposition, to re-ask that question.
David Shearer: What warning did the Minister of Finance give to the Prime Minister about issues arising from the Contact Energy float?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have not been in any conversations where the Minister of Finance has given any warnings to the Prime Minister. What I do know is that the Minister of Finance will have told the Prime Minister that there were many New Zealanders who have expressed an interest in owning shares in Contact Energy and it still has one of the biggest share registries of New Zealanders of any company on the stock exchange.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer was not anywhere near the question. It illustrates the fact that if the question is going to be transferred to a lower Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
David Shearer: —that they will not be able to know what is happening in the mind of the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Here is the real problem—that the Opposition have not accepted that the question lodged in the first place was inadequate to stand for
the Prime Minister but most appropriately answered by the Minister for State Owned Enterprises— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it should be heard in silence.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: So showing his inability to shift the script, the member needs to recognise that if he keeps asking his pre-prepared questions to the wrong Minister, he will not get anywhere near the answers he wants.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Opposition does have a right to question the Prime Minister and the Speakers’ rulings, particularly the rulings of the previous Speaker, were quite clear that the more specific the question, the more specific was the answer we could expect. It is very difficult to ask the Prime Minister a specific question if the minute we put something specific in it, he uses that excuse to duck from it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard sufficient. At this stage I have said to the Hon Trevor Mallard, with regard to the point he raised, that I will have a look at that matter. It was accepted at the start that this question was put to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises. That is where the supplementary questions are going, and in my mind that question was answered quite adequately on the basis of the question that was asked by the Leader of the Opposition.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just ask, then, that in considering your ruling, you do look at the video and tell us what the warnings were that Bill English gave to John Key. That was not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister, when he answered, said that he was unaware of any warnings. It could not have been clearer than that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: And—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are now—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: —getting to the point where we are relitigating a ruling that I have made. If it is a fresh point of order, I will hear it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was standing to agree with you. It was impossible for the Minister for State Owned Enterprises to know what was in those briefings. That was the point that I made at the beginning, when I questioned the transfer. He could not answer for what was in the Prime Minister’s mind.
Mr SPEAKER: It is always very comforting when the Hon Trevor Mallard rises to agree with me.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Will the Minister make it part of his key criteria moving forward to ensure that the prospectus for the asset sales will “clearly and prominently explain that the Crown’s decision regarding its 51 percent shareholding must be ‘consistent with the principles of the Treaty’ ”, and how will this advice be enacted?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government has made it clear what its obligations are in respect of both the law and the views of the Supreme Court.
Hon John Banks: Could the—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the question.
Hon John Banks: Could the Minister for State Owned Enterprises tell me whether funds could be used from a secret bank account in New York to purchase shares in this initial public offering? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A legitimate question.
Hon TONY RYALL: That is a very good question, because if a New Zealander was one of the pre-registered 400,000 and they were able to get the benefits of that pre-registration in terms of their shares, they would have to pay for them. We would be unclear of whether the bank account was secret or not, but we would presume people would actually know they had a bank account.
Banking—Open Bank Resolution Scheme
2. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Will New Zealanders have money taken from their bank accounts to fund a bank bailout under his proposed Open Bank Resolution scheme?
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Hon Steven Joyce, my office has been advised that this answer may be somewhat longer than normal because it contains quite some detail for the member.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Finance): I do not agree with the way the member has characterised the open bank resolution scheme. In the highly unlikely event that a New Zealand bank failed and went into statutory management, the open bank resolution scheme would actually help depositors. The bank would reopen the next day and customers would have full or partial access to their funds, which would then be Government-guaranteed. That situation should be compared with two alternatives that would be on offer. One is that the bank would go into liquidation and customers may not have access to any of their funds for a long period. The other would be that the Government bail out a bank with taxpayers’ money, and that comes with potentially enormous fiscal costs, as we have seen with some countries in Europe. But, again, could I stress that this is a very unlikely situation. Our major banks are amongst the most highly rated in the world. They are well capitalised and have come through the global financial crisis in very good shape, and since then regulatory changes have strengthened New Zealand banks even further.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was quite specific—will money be taken out of their bank accounts to fund a bank bailout? I am still no wiser as a result of the Minister’s answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The answer was very fulsome. Does the member have further supplementary questions? You can delve into it with your supplementary questions.
Dr Russel Norman: What amount is likely to be taken out of mum and dad savers’ accounts under his open bank resolution scheme: will it be 10 percent of their savings, 20 percent of their savings, or whatever it takes?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have got to say that I am actually quite horrified at the member’s scaremongering at this point. It is a highly unlikely situation that the member suggests. The open bank resolution scheme is designed to protect the interests of depositors in the very unlikely situation that a New Zealand bank fails. I think scaremongering mum and dad investors about the sorts of percentages they might lose à la what has happened in Cyprus, which is an entirely different situation, is actually pretty irresponsible.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Having guaranteed the big end of town with the covered bonds legislation currently moving through the House, will he commit to implementing Labour’s proposal to protect the deposits of ordinary New Zealanders, which would ensure that the first $30,000 of all bank deposits is guaranteed; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I actually struggle with the member’s question because I am pretty sure sitting in this House over the last 3 years or 4 years that the member and his colleagues have been massively critical of the outcome of the Government’s bank deposit scheme in terms of its protection of finance companies’ depositors. Now suddenly he is of a view that somehow the Government should step in again and protect depositors—
Dr David Clark: Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it was not wasted—it was not wasted, at all. It was actually protecting the interests through the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme of New Zealand depositors.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, that did not even get anywhere near the question. I simply asked whether, having guaranteed the big end of town through the covered bonds legislation, he would commit to implementing the proposal we have put forward. He talked about the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme and responded to an interjection, but he never answered or even addressed that question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister said he did not accept the proposition that was put by the member. If the member wishes to ask further supplementaries, he has the ability to do so.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is the member questioning my ruling?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: No.
Mr SPEAKER: Then it is a fresh point of order?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It is, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: And it is not to do with the question that has just been answered?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: The Minister said he was struggling, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now relitigating the decision I have just made.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister saying that it is not part of the open bank resolution scheme to access depositors’ accounts in order to fund a bank’s bailout?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think possibly it might be helpful for the House, given that the member has raised the issue, to take it through what actually does occur with open bank resolution, which addresses the member’s question. Open bank resolution is one option for responding if a bank failure occurs. It actually helps depositors because it allows for a bank to reopen the next day, hence the name “open bank resolution”. It means that customers would be able to get full or partial access to their accounts and other banking services while an appropriate long-term solution to the failure of a bank is identified. Some of their deposits could be frozen in the short term, but the remainder would be available on the next business day, and would actually be Governmentguaranteed. If you look at the alternative—if a bank went into liquidation—that process would be complex and time-consuming, during which time customers would not have any access to their funds. In any event, the first losses will be borne by the bank’s shareholders. The open bank resolution follows the usual order of credit preference as much as possible. It is also not intended to be the only option in the event that a bank got into difficulty. I would also point out to the member that this has been in the public domain since 2011, and has been raised and addressed by the Reserve Bank a number of times since then.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Question time does not make sense if it is not also answer time. It was a very direct question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That was a very genuine attempt by the Minister— [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet, and if members want to stay to see the whole of question time they will be silent while I am on my feet. The Minister made a genuine attempt to explain open bank resolution. The answer may not be to the satisfaction of the member. The member has, at this stage, further supplementary questions if he wants to use them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister why he would prefer an open bank resolution scheme, which in part or wholly in extreme circumstances could see the depositor having all their money stopped from their use, rather than a very sound scheme announced by me in October 2008—[Interruption] Well, we were there before you even did the ballot, OK?
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In 2008. It would have this effect: it would have the effect of a Government guarantee for the first $100,000 of a deposit in a New Zealand – owned bank.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I could think of a number of issues with the member’s proposal immediately, because what he would be proposing to do would be to guarantee a certain number of deposits in a New Zealand – owned bank, which would mean that suddenly all the money would move, particularly in a difficult situation, like we have with the global financial crisis, from other banks that were not necessarily New Zealand – owned, and that would collapse the other banks, which I do not think would be in the interests of the financial stability of the New Zealand economy.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: They’re all foreign-owned.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Right, so we should actually—here is what Mr Peters is suggesting in a xenophobic way. It is that we should collapse all the foreign-owned banks into the New Zealand— thank goodness he was not in Cabinet during the global financial crisis.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he guarantee that mums and dads will have at least $1,000 left in their accounts after an open bank resolution of a failing bank?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is deliberately scaremongering yet again about the New Zealand economy. What I can say to the member is this—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: It is a relatively easy question to answer.
Dr Russel Norman: It is a straight question. He started abusing me—for what? He should just answer the question. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister please answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the member raises a hypothetical that is just impossible to answer, because he suggests that everybody should get $1,000 out whether or not they have got it in there. The point is this: in the very unlikely event that a bank falls over, there are two options. One is that people lose their shirts. The other option is that the taxpayer pays. The third option is the open bank resolution scheme, which ensures an orderly process that actually has the best chance of protecting a depositor’s deposits. Those are actually the options on the table. The member has criticised the idea of taxpayers bailing out depositors. He is presumably not in favour of depositors losing their shirts, so can I suggest to him that he look closely and positively at the open bank resolution scheme.
Dr Russel Norman: So can the Minister please explain to me whether his answer to my last question—will he guarantee that mums and dads will have at least $1,000 left in their accounts after open bank resolution—was no?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The point is that it is hypothetical and it actually does not take into account anybody’s situation. Look, I appreciate that the member would just print some money and give it back to the depositors, but actually—and here is a guy who claims to be concerned about people’s deposits—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a straightforward question, the Minister had answered it—time to wrap it up.
Mr SPEAKER: It was a very political question and it got a very political answer back again.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does he not draw a strong line in the sand and protect mum and dad deposits, as they do in Australia and the United States using deposit insurance, and pick a minimum that would be protected, such as $250,000, as is the case in Australia and the United States?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This is a member who is arguing against taxpayers stumping up for deposits one minute—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member please repeat his question.
Dr Russel Norman: OK. Why does he not draw a line in the sand and protect mum and dad deposits to a certain minimum level, such as $250,000, like they do in Australia and the United States? It is a simple question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I was pointing out to the member that what he is proposing is that, effectively, taxpayers stand behind those depositors, which is what happens, as I understand it, in these offshore arrangements. He is also proposing—
Dr Russel Norman: No.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, even if it is not the taxpayers, then all he is going to do is make the depositors pay insurance every year, for ever, against the unlikely event of this actually occurring. Actually, the far bigger issue the depositors would have with the value of the deposits would be if the Government got out the printing presses and printed money and inflated away the value of the deposits.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does he propose stealing savers’ money while they sleep, when a fairer alternative would be to have the banks pay to insure themselves against failure, like they do in nearly every other OECD country?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry, that is a preposterous political statement, suggesting you would steal money from people’s accounts. The member is outrageously scaremongering once again in his own political interests. He has an appalling take on the New Zealand economy. How he thinks that what he is proposing now fits with his idea to print money and inflate away the value of people’s deposits is actually completely beyond me. It is totally inconsistent.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a letter from January this year seeking information under the Official Information Act from Treasury about open bank resolution alternatives that it has explored—a letter that has not been met yet.
Mr SPEAKER: A letter from the member himself?
Dr Russel Norman: It is from my researcher to Treasury.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a letter from the Reserve Bank back to us saying that it would not be meeting our request within the time frame, because it does not have the information yet.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a letter from the Reserve Bank back to the Green Party. Is there any objection to that letter being tabled? There is. It will not be tabled.
Government Financial Position—Balance of Payments
3. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on New Zealand’s balance of payments?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Finance): Statistics New Zealand this morning released the balance of payments for the December 2012 quarter. This showed a current account deficit for the year ended December 2012 of 5.0 percent of GDP, up from 4.7 percent for the year ended September 2012. There was a decline in exports worth $1.3 billion for the year ended December 2012. It is pleasing to see New Zealand investors in foreign assets earning record high investment income, and foreign investors in New Zealand reinvesting over 60 percent of their earnings over the last year.
Todd McClay: What was driving the change in export earnings?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The value of dairy exports fell, due mainly to falls in dairy prices compared with a year earlier, although I would note that total dairy export volumes remain near record levels, and prices are expected to be higher in the next quarter. Crude oil exports were lower, and earnings from tourists declined due to lower spending, although the number of tourists visiting New Zealand is up. Overall, the significant growth that we have seen in the export sector in the previous 2 years has come off a bit in the last year, but, overall, exports are up 15 percent in the 3 years to January.
Todd McClay: What was the contribution of oil exports to the balance of payments, and what is the Government’s approach to increasing oil exports?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Statistics New Zealand reported a 26.6 percent fall in oil exports in the year to December 2012 compared with the same period a year earlier. That shows the importance of growing exploration and responsible development of our oil resources. There is encouraging progress in this sector. The Government has awarded 10 exploration wells on a committed work programme, totalling $82 million; Methanex has announced that new gas supply contracts will allow it to commence methanol production at its third train at Waitara; expansion of the Marsden Point oil refinery by 20 percent is under way; and the new Crown minerals bill to be passed by May of this year will streamline and simplify permitting processes.
Todd McClay: How is the Government contributing to reducing the current account deficit?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This is a very important point.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Oh really?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The current account deficit— It would be helpful for you, Mr Cosgrove. The current account deficit is funded by an investment inflow to New Zealand from foreigners, which totalled $3.9 billion in the December 2012 quarter, and $3.1 billion of this is the purchase of Government debt by foreign investors. That is why it is very important for the Government to remain focused on returning to surplus so it actually lowers its pressure to borrow on international markets, and we are on track to achieve this.
Health Services—Minister’s Statements
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements regarding “Better, Sooner, More Convenient” health care; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, within context. I also stand by my statement that 30,000 people were culled off elective surgery waiting lists and that real access to elective surgery was cut for New Zealanders over the 9 long years of the failed Labour—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Annette King: It had very little to do with the question, but however—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, it was answered.
Hon Annette King: When was he first informed that the orthopaedic clinics had been stopped at Buller Hospital 6 months ago and were unlikely to be reinstated for at least another 6 months according to the district health board?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would have to check my diary to advise the member of that. I am aware that those clinics have been suspended. They were not particularly regular before then, but it is expected that those clinics will resume as what has happened in Buller is rather than have those clinics provided by very expensive locums who have been flown down from Auckland, the orthopaedic service in the West Coast area is now being provided by Christchurch orthopaedic surgeons—as part of that closer transalpine relationship.
Hon Annette King: Well, in light of that answer, if his stated aim is to have “Better, sooner, more convenient care” in health services provided close to people’s homes, why are Buller patients now waiting twice as long for their first specialist appointment as they were before his “better, sooner” orthopaedic transalpine service was introduced last year?
Hon TONY RYALL: What I can tell you is that the access of West Coast people to orthopaedic services is far better than that of most other populations of that type around the country. Look, the district health board advises me—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He might like to answer the question I asked.
Mr SPEAKER: And the member might like to give him an opportunity to answer the question. [Interruption] Order! We are getting a perpetual barrage now from this side of the House when Ministers are attempting to answer the question. Before the Minister has a chance to sit down, it has been raised as a point of order by the member that the Minister is not answering the question. You have got to give the Minister an opportunity to answer the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you are getting a barrage, and it is unfortunate because it is often when you are ruling, but I think the problem is that Ministers traditionally have given a flick at the end of their answers. They have started off straight, and this Minister seems unable to do so.
Mr SPEAKER: It is certainly difficult when a Minister gives a flick at the end of the answer for me as Speaker to do much about it. The Minister was answering the question. I invite him to continue his answer.
Hon TONY RYALL: The people of the West Coast do have very good access to orthopaedic services. I am advised that services to Buller, actually at the Buller Health centre, are expected to resume once the new service has bedded in at the West Coast hospital. We have put in an extra $12
million into the West Coast District Health Board. We are providing more operations, and I can tell those people from Buller that, unlike under the previous Government, they will not be culled from the waiting lists.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, has he been told there are ongoing teething problems with the new orthopaedic service in Greymouth relating to a shortage of orthopaedic surgeons and the reluctance of Canterbury orthopaedic surgeons to work on the West Coast, leading to a 5-yearold girl having to be flown to Christchurch on the Solid Energy rescue helicopter for treatment for a broken arm?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would have to check the details of that claim from the member, because my experience from last week is that it cannot be relied upon.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. His comments were to denigrate me rather than answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was certainly a charged political question. The answer was a charged political answer. Again we have got the—[Interruption] Order! Again we have got the situation where the Minister is halfway through his answer and the member is raising a point of order about the quality of the answer. It has got to cease.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I ask you later to look at the answers from the Minister, because you are allowing unnecessary political swipes when there have been straight questions.
Mr SPEAKER: I assure the member that I always take the opportunity of looking back at the transcripts. Would the Minister like to complete his answer?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes. I have been assured by the chief executive of the West Coast District Health Board that the board expects to provide a very similar, if not slightly greater, amount of orthopaedic services on the West Coast, and you would expect that because we have put $12 million extra into the West Coast District Health Board over the last 4 years.
Hon Annette King: If there are 800 more doctors working in district health boards since National became the Government—a claim that has been contradicted by his own officials—why has the West Coast not received its share of this huge increase in doctors, so that its surgery can be provided closer to home with “faster treatment, and a better chance for a healthier life.”, all promised by him at the last election?
Hon TONY RYALL: Because the latest information I have is that on the West Coast we have 12 extra doctors and 29 extra nurses over the last 4 years. Because we have put quite a lot of extra money into the West Coast District Health Board, it is able to provide more services. We have got more specialist appointments and we have got more operations. We are working to make sure that we get best value for people. That is why it is making some changes in the way it delivers services, working closer with Christchurch, and that is pretty good for the people of the West Coast.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a cutting from the front page of the Westport News, not a very widely read paper—
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is available to members. [Interruption] Order! It is available to members if they so want to get it.
Grant Robertson: No, not in Kaitāia.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, it is, you can go and get it off the net.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table for the Minister’s benefit photographic evidence of the Solid Energy rescue helicopter—
Mr SPEAKER: If you really think that is going to inform the House better, I’ll put leave. Leave is sought by the Hon Clayton Cosgrove to table such a photograph. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will note when you go back and look at the tape of today that this Minister doubted my word over a question last week, and I want
to table evidence out of the Greymouth newspaper that a child was flown to Christchurch with a broken arm.
Mr SPEAKER: The paper is available to members if they want it. We are moving—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I deliberately waited until the question had finished. I think my point of order was alluded to by the Hon Annette King. It is not open to members to question other members’ words in the House. When a member makes a statement in the House, if it is not true and it is that sort of statement, you may not effectively call them a liar, as Tony Ryall did today—
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! I have heard quite sufficient.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I think that is an interesting point, because, in fact, in a question there should not be a statement, according to the Standing Orders. So if we get right down to the tight requirements of the Standing Orders in an answer, then we should it apply them in a question as well. So the statements that Mr Ryall refers to should never have been made in a question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the more important thing is that for any member to suggest that someone has been lying would be very serious. That is not what I took from the Hon Tony Ryall’s answer. What he was saying is that he would want the ability to go back and check the facts for himself. That is perfectly in order. There are many times that the word from one member is something that is questioned by another. This is a debating chamber.
Crime Prevention—Pre-charge Warnings
5. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Police: What reports has she received from Police on the success of pre-charge warnings?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): Pre-charge warnings were introduced nationwide in September 2010 as an alternative resolution to low-level offending, such as breaching a liquor ban or disorderly behaviour. In the 2011-12 financial year, police issued just under 22,000 precharge warnings, which freed up around 37,000 police hours. This is the equivalent of 21 additional front-line officers out in the community. The warnings also reduced the number of minor offences passing through the District Courts by 12 percent, freeing up the court system.
Mark Mitchell: What are the benefits of pre-charge warnings?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Pre-charge warnings are a commonsense and practical approach to policing. An offender is arrested and taken to the station, removing them off the street and away from a volatile situation. They avoid a conviction for stupid behaviour that would probably have led to diversion, but the warning goes on the offender’s record and is included in police crime statistics. An analysis of pre-charge warnings in 2011-12 found that nearly 80 percent of offenders were not arrested for a subsequent offence within 6 months of the receipt of a warning, showing that police are using their discretion wisely and appropriately, and that offenders are taking them seriously.
Housing Affordability and Availability—Auckland Plan and Timing
6. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Why did he tell the House that, even if the Auckland plan took effect in September, new subdivisions would not be available until 2016-17, when the advice he tabled from Roger Blakely of Auckland Council shows that if the unitary plan takes effect in September new land would be available two years earlier?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): Let me quote my exact words, as recorded in Hansard last Tuesday: “Even if the Auckland plan … took effect in September, it would not mean that new residential subdivisions would be dealt with on a … non-publicly notified basis.”—i.e., subdivisions would have to be notified. I did not say that they would not be available.
Phil Twyford: So who is right: the Minister, who says that the Auckland Plan will not deliver greenfield land until 2017, or Roger Blakeley of Auckland Council, who says that the council will have sections on the market by 2015?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member seems to be missing the point in the difference between when sections and residential subdivisions are notified or not notified. If the plan takes effect in September, as the Auckland Council suggests, it would enable some new subdivisions to come on stream, but they would need to be notified. That means a process of taking submissions and that means potential appeals to the Environment Court, and that can take as long as 2 years. The point I was making—and I will make it to the member again—is that we need to get a point in Auckland where new land is available on a non-notified basis, because, I think, as we all realise, that is what is required to free up land supply and deal with the sorts of issues that have been the focus of the latest report from the IMF.
Phil Twyford: If he does not want the metropolitan urban limit and he does not want the new Auckland Unitary Plan’s rural-urban boundary, precisely where is the boundary he is proposing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I had made plain that the metropolitan urban limit that currently exists within the Auckland Unitary Plan is a major barrier to housing affordability. That point has been made by the IMF, along with concern about interest rates going up for ordinary New Zealand families and businesses. I noted earlier questions from members of the Opposition who are concerned about the balance of payments. Well, why do they not support this Government in its attempts to free up land, rather than defending a metropolitan urban limit that has failed in Auckland?
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked where the member’s proposed boundary is for Auckland. He has not answered the question, and he has been talking for quite a long time.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to have a look at the transcript at the end of the day and see that the Minister made a very genuine attempt to address the question.
Phil Twyford: He did not address the question of where his boundary is.
Mr SPEAKER: He did address the question. The member has further supplementary questions if he wants to use them.
Phil Twyford: What is he saying: that he wants no rural-urban boundary, which will mean uncontrolled sprawl from Pukekohe to Warkworth; and why will he not come clean with Aucklanders and put up or shut up?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government’s position is very clear. We see the answer to Auckland’s housing challenges as a mix of both greenfield developments as well as brownfield developments. I am going to be meeting next Monday with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Auckland as this Government constructively works to deal with the housing affordability challenges in Auckland, because we, like members opposite, are concerned about housing being more affordable for New Zealand families.
Phil Twyford: How can he ask the Auckland Council to meet the Government’s demands, when those demands are completely undefined and he has steadfastly refused to tell the people of Auckland where he wants the rural-urban boundary to be?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government has made plain that we see having only 2,000 sections currently available in Auckland as not enough. This Government has made plain that in Auckland’s own plans about the number of—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member asks a question. He immediately sits down and carries on with a barrage when I am sensibly trying to answer the very question the member raises.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is entitled to finish his answer, and there will be silence from this side of the House while that happens.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government’s position is this: 2,000 current sections are not nearly enough. The Auckland Unitary Plan sets down that the point of both subdivisions being ready and future land to be zoned is less than half what Auckland’s own council’s targets say it should be. So in terms of what the Government is wanting, the Government is wanting the Auckland Council to
free up sufficient land to take the pressure off the housing market and to make housing affordable for Aucklanders.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not take this point of order, because I was scared of being thrown out, but I invite you to reconsider the ruling that you just made—that is, that the Government can interject, but the Opposition cannot. That is exactly what you said.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not my ruling at all. After yesterday in the House, there were calls to my office complaining about the level of noise. There have been interjections, particularly from the back of the House there, throughout the Hon Dr Nick Smith’s attempt to answer that question. The level of noise makes it very difficult for me to hear both the questions on many occasions and certainly the answers. I am asking all members to respect this House so that we can have an intelligent question time where we can listen to the questions and the answers.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that is what you meant, then that could have been what you should have said. You said members on the left—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now relitigating my answer. The noise at that stage was coming from this side of the House. I meant what I said.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I agree with you that it has become very noisy. I would argue the key problem is that the decision or the ruling of Speaker Smith that a straight question gets a straight answer is no longer being upheld under your new Speakership. That is creating disorder.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now questioning the competence and the bias of the Speaker. That is very serious. I am attempting to elicit sensible answers for members, but on many occasions members are wanting the answer designed to their satisfaction. That is not what question time is. The question must be addressed, but it will not necessarily mean that the question at all times will be answered to the satisfaction of the member asking the questions.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to agree with what Dr Norman said, but to make it clear that no one—and I do not think Dr Norman did—attributed bias to you. What he indicated what was that there is a different set of rulings, and they are quite different.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept there are certainly different styles. From the moment you have a different Speaker, you will have a different style.
Welfare Reforms—Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill
7. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: How will the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill back people off welfare and into work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Our reforms fundamentally change the way welfare is delivered in New Zealand. We are modernising the welfare system, making it an active rather than a passive system, through the investment approach. This legislation simplifies the welfare system, places a greater focus on work, and ensures that expectations and obligations are balanced with incentives and support.
Alfred Ngaro: Why are these changes to New Zealand’s welfare system needed?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Firstly, because people who need support deserve better than what the current system gives them. It writes many off to intergenerational welfare dependence. The lifetime cost of New Zealand’s current beneficiary population is $78 billion. This Government spends more than $7 billion on benefits a year. That is more than $20 million each day. But we say we are going to spend more on support, more on the wraparounds that are needed for these people, and more focus on helping them get ready for work.
Jacinda Ardern: What will the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill do specifically for the young university graduate who is on the unemployment
benefit despite having applied for 70 jobs since last year, other than change the name of the benefit she receives?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What would happen with that university graduate is that they would go through quite a different system when they go into Work and Income. Work and Income would look at their strengths and their weaknesses, and what they need in assistance to get jobs. More might be spent on actually getting them into the right training organisation so that they can get work-ready. It could look like a very different system for that university graduate. I could give you a hundred examples right now of people who have found work in the last week, showing that the system has worked very well for them, instead of the one little example that that member seems to like to come up with.
Alfred Ngaro: How do these changes ensure a fairer welfare system, balancing obligations and incentives?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We are requiring job seekers to be drug-free, ready, and workavailable; we are stopping benefits for those on the run from the police who have an outstanding warrant for arrest; and we have introduced new social obligations to ensure that the health and education needs of children of beneficiaries are met, so that they get the best possible start in life.
Jacinda Ardern: Should a sole parent be able to study to become a nurse or a social worker while on the DPB or in her new categories of sole parent support or job seeker; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It will depend on how that fits with their work-test obligations, so that will depend on the age of the youngest child. If they are aged under 5 years old, there will be absolutely no trouble in the parent studying full time. If they are aged over 5, there may be some part-time work obligations alongside of them, and the parent can still study if they are doing those.
Jacinda Ardern: No, they can’t.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, they can. They can perfectly well study and work 15 hours a week. In fact, most of us over this side did that. I know that the member would not be able to associate with that, but that is actually true. Parents can study part-time or full-time and also meet their part-time work-test obligations, which I think are entirely fair.
Dotcom Case—Role of Government Agencies
8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements on the actions and involvement of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Government Communications and Security Bureau in Operation Debut?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Grant Robertson: Does he stand by his statement that he was not briefed by the Government Communications Security Bureau about its role in Operation Debut either in his meeting on 22 December 2011 or in any subsequent meetings before September 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, with the exception of the day that I went over on the 27th, when the pin-sized piece of iconic thing was put up on the thing, but I was not told at that time.
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that Roy Ferguson from his own Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was present at the debriefing on Operation Debut that was held on 16 February 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot absolutely confirm that. It is most probably correct. I can confirm that the advice I have had from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is that it neither advised nor discussed with me the Government Communications Security Bureau’s involvement in the Kim Dotcom case prior to 17 September 2012.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How does the Prime Minister expect anybody to believe that the subject of Dotcom was not raised, referred to, or covered with him as Prime Minister and Minister responsible for the GCSB at a meeting he had with the Government Communications Security Bureau on 24 February, a meeting that took place 48 hours after the agency realised its mistake? Why would we believe that now?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it happens to be true and, to quote the member, “I deal in the facts, and only the facts.”
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that Ian Fletcher, the director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, was present at the debriefing on Operation Debut that was held on 16 February 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have advice on that matter. It may or may not be correct. You could put that down to his office and they will tell you.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an email from the Government Communications Security Bureau to the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand dated 15 February 2012, which lists the attendees from the bureau at the debrief, beginning with the director, Ian Fletcher.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that email. Is there—[Interruption] Members are asking the source of that email.
Grant Robertson: It is a court document.
Mr SPEAKER: It is before the court. I think that is very dangerous to table it.
Hon Member: No, it has been released.
Mr SPEAKER: It has been released? Then I will put the leave. It is for the House to determine. There is objection. [Interruption] Any member has the right to object.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to clarify that the document I was trying to table was released to me by the court last week, so it is not—
Mr SPEAKER: I think that was understood when I put leave, and on that basis it was still denied by members.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is a little unreasonable to leave the House or those who are watching the House under the impression that this document just had leave for its release declined on any old basis. The reality is it is a court document and it is not appropriate—
Mr SPEAKER: Any member has a right—[Interruption] Order! I do not need assistance on this. Leave was put by me. Any member has a right to object. They do not have to give a reason. Objection was taken; it will not be tabled. [Interruption] That sort of remark is not helpful to the order of the House. [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: Is he aware of this slide from the PowerPoint presentation given at the debriefing on 16 February 2012, which shows that the issue of the residency status of Mr Dotcom was discussed at that meeting?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I have not seen that particular document, but it is really important to understand that there is nothing new in what is going through here. There is absolutely nothing new here. When this matter was discussed last year I made it quite clear that there was a meeting that was held in the middle part of February where the issue of residency status for Kim Dotcom was discussed. It went off to the legal adviser at the Government Communications Security Bureau, who confirmed things were right. In fact, as I have publicly said, the advice from the legal team at the bureau was wrong. That is all in the public domain, and has been now for well over 6 months.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table this slide, freely released to me by the court, from a PowerPoint presentation given at the debrief on Operation Debut, which indicates that the residency issue for Mr Dotcom was discussed.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I put that, does anybody want further information? Leave is sought for that. That is an objection. It will not be tabled.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In seeking leave to table documents members have been asked to explain the source of the documents—in other words, who generated the document, the date of the document, and a brief description of the document. Members have never been asked in the House before to identify how they came to get the document, which is what the new precedent that seems to be happening—
Mr SPEAKER: I sought whether any further information was required. It was clearly going to be denied—it was denied. That is the privilege of any member of the House.
Grant Robertson: Is he aware of the affidavit of Detective Inspector Grant Wormald that he spoke immediately after the 16 February meeting to a Government Communications Security Bureau staff member who raised the issue that the interception of Kim Dotcom “may not have been lawful because of their residency status.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and it is the same answer as the answer that I gave to the question before this, which was that on that date there was a discussion about the residency status of Kim Dotcom. What happened was that the Government Communications Security Bureau went off to its senior legal adviser, Hugh Wolfensohn, and asked for advice about whether the operation was legal. The advice that was given—the best of the legal advice presented by Hugh Wolfensohn—was that it was legal. That was the position that everyone believed to be the case until early September 2012. As we now know, the bureau and Mr Wolfensohn were wrong.
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, how does the Prime Minister explain the affidavit that was put to the court on 17 September 2012 that indicates that the Government Communications Security Bureau was aware on 22 February that the surveillance was unlawful?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: An affidavit is what somebody believes. I am not sure which particular affidavit the member is talking about, but—
Grant Robertson: If you let me table it.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, they are court documents and this is a matter before the courts, but I go back to the same point. No one at any time in the last 6 months, to the best of my knowledge, has argued that point—that in the middle of February there was a discussion between, I think, the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand and the Government Communications Security Bureau about the legality of the work that was undertaken by the bureau. It went—well, the member shakes his head, but it is a statement of fact. It went off to the legal adviser at the bureau, who provided advice to it that it was legal. It later on proved to be wrong. That is what we have been saying now for 6 months—the Government Communications Security Bureau got it wrong.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an affidavit from a Government Communications Security Bureau staff member given on 17 September 2012 that indicates that this person learnt on 22 February that Mr Dotcom and his family were persons holding residence class visas and that this meant—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that affidavit. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Grant Robertson: How does he explain that he was not briefed about the role of the Government Communications Security Bureau in the Dotcom raids when the director of the bureau, two deputy directors, an assistant director, a unit manager from the bureau, a member of his own department, and senior members of the police were all present at a discussion about the fact that the surveillance of Mr Dotcom may well have been unlawful? How come he was not briefed?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Quite simply. I am not advised on any of the operational matters that the Government Communications Security Bureau is undertaking. In fact, that is not the standard practice, and it has never been the standard practice for the previous Prime Minister, either. If the member—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member wanted to make the case that I was going to be briefed as the Minister, which is actually the Minister responsible for the direction and the priorities of the agencies, but I was actually being briefed on every operation that was being undertaken, then the member is wanting New Zealanders to believe that I direct those operations in the same way that they would want the Minister of Police to believe that they were directing those operations. By the
way, as all the facts will show in the history of time, there is absolutely nothing different in my approach to the same approach that was taken by Helen Clark.
Grant Robertson: Why should New Zealanders not believe that this was, in fact, a cover-up when the Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, two deputy directors, an assistant director, a unit manager from the bureau, and someone from his own department did not report to him that there was unlawful surveillance that had taken place, which they knew on 22 February?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, one good starting point would be the Inspector-General, who actually—
Grant Robertson: He became involved in September.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, but he reviewed the file and came back and said: “This is how the error was undertaken.” I mean, the member can spin it any way he likes, but the reality of the situation is that a raid was undertaken, the Government Communications Security Bureau was involved, it believed it to be legally correct, later on it was questioned whether it was, it went—
Grant Robertson: They never even checked the residency status.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the point there is that the bureau ultimately went and checked with its legal adviser in February. The legal adviser went back and said—
Grant Robertson: After it was over—great!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, look, the member can go on and on and on, because he does not want to hear the facts. But if you want to hear the facts, we will run through it. It undertook a raid. Basically, it questioned whether it was right. It went and got legal advice. Its legal advice said: “You are totally entitled to do what you are doing.”, and it was wrong.
Flu Vaccine—Free Access
9. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Health: What is the Government doing to extend access to free flu vaccines?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: Around 400 New Zealanders die directly or indirectly each year from influenza. Last year the disease put more than 1,000 people in hospital, and nearly 50,000 people visited their general practitioner with influenza-like illnesses. The Government is announcing today that children under 5 who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or who have a history of significant respiratory illness will be able to receive a funded influenza vaccination this year, following a recent Pharmac decision. That means that from 1 April the parents of these children will have the option of vaccinating their under-fives who have conditions like asthma, which previously did not meet the funding criteria. That will better protect them from influenza.
Scott Simpson: What result would the Government like to see from the influenza vaccination campaign this year?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Last year around 23 percent of New Zealanders—that was around half a million—had a flu vaccination. The goal this year is to vaccinate more than double that number— 1.2 million people. The flu vaccination is available free to those who have the greatest risk of serious influenza complications, including New Zealanders over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with ongoing health conditions such as asthma or heart conditions. It is available from all general practitioner clinics.
Child Protection—Minister’s Obligations
10. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she have an obligation, as Social Development Minister, to ensure all policy she is responsible for will be good for children and their families?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Of course. That is why we have already introduced a number of policies that are in the interests of children, and, of course, we have
a number coming up. Our welfare reforms are ensuring they are in early childhood education, are visiting their general practitioner, and being Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checked. There is also the Children’s Action Plan, which is tackling the root issues of abuse and neglect and is getting in before they have to go under Child, Youth and Family. We are also changing how we contract with NGOs to give those services on the ground bigger flexibility about how they work with us. Those are just a few of what I could mention.
Metiria Turei: Why did the Minister then ignore the strong and persistent warnings from the Ministry of Health that her welfare reform sanctions for Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checks would cause “substantial negative impacts on families and to vulnerable children, including risks of increased maltreatment and neglect.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It would be fair to say that there is a range of advice that has come on as to whether or not sanctions within the benefit system are actually what is best for children. Certainly, what I have seen is that sanctions actually work and the advice I have got says exactly that. I could take you to the New Zealand Herald editorial of 13 September 2012, which I think wraps it up quite well. It said: “It would make the child suffer for the parent’s failing—but then the child is probably suffering anyway. A benefit cut would be preceded by three reminders to comply. Defiance to that degree would signal something seriously amiss.”
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a response to an Official Information Act request that I have made from a Ministry of Health brief comment seeking changes to the regulatory impact statement for the welfare reforms dated 25 July 2012, indicating substantial negative impacts on families from the sanctions and concerns about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: Did the health Minister, Tony Ryall, ask her to find less damaging alternatives to the financial sanctions regime for Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checks after he was urged to intervene by his Ministry of Health officials, who warned: “We anticipate that the sanctions would have a negative impact on the health of sanctioned beneficiaries and their families. We also expect that those sanctioned will be more likely to defer health care and present at emergency departments.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, it is the member’s own emphasis to say “less damaging”. We on this side obviously think it is incredibly damaging not to have your child enrolled for Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checks, with a GP, and with a primary health organisation. It is actually incredibly damaging not to have them immunised, and attending health care and being looked after when they actually need it. We see that as actually being worse for the child than what we are doing in saying please put your child first and get these things done.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question specifically asked whether the health Minister made a request to her based on information he had received from his own officials. She did not address that question at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to put that question again, but that was a very long question, which was part of the problem. If you make the question more concise, it is easier for me to ensure you get the question addressed.
Metiria Turei: Did the health Minister, Tony Ryall, ask her to find less damaging alternatives to the financial sanctions regime for Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checks after he was urged to intervene by his own Ministry of Health officials?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: A range of Ministers, including the Minister of Health—
Hon Annette King: She asked about Tony Ryall.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: —have been actually active in developing this policy around sanctions, and did bring to our attention other officials and their opinions. However, it is the belief of this side of the House that these reforms actually put the interests of children first. Actually, it is
best for them if they have Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checks, if they are actually enrolled with a GP or a primary health organisation, and if they are getting access to the kind of health care that they deserve.
Mr SPEAKER: For the benefit of the Hon Annette King, I invite her to have a look at the transcript. The Minister said a number of Ministers including Mr Ryall spoke to her, so the question was addressed.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a document, a response to an Official Information Act request, dated 25 May 2012 from the Ministry of Health, which is a report to the Hon Tony Ryall seeking that he ask the welfare reform Ministers to further investigate alternatives to the significant financial sanctions for non-compliance—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. It may be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: How can the Minister stand here with a straight face and tell the House that these reforms will be better for children, when the advice from the Ministry of Health says that there is no strong evidence that health-related social obligations are needed, expresses concern that there are risks to the Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checks if the checks are seen as a punishment or a sanction, and says that the best way to reach the families not receiving Well Child / Tāmariki Ora checks is by improving delivery, not imposing financial sanctions, which will lead to further harm to the child?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Hon Paula Bennett—any part of that question the Minister wishes to answer.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think that it is fair and reasonable to expect that these children are being put first. What we have done is people are given at least three chances to comply. To be sanctioned by 50 percent, and the maximum they can be sanctioned is by only 50 percent, they then have to have not complied three times. They then get ample opportunities to actually then comply and get that benefit put straight back on. Actually, to date, for those who have had a work test sanction on clients with children, there have been only 35 who have had a sanction longer than 8 weeks. One has to ask themselves, after all the contact that Work and Income have with them, why they have not re-complied within that 8 week period. I think that is entirely reasonable.
Drought Conditions—Government Response
11. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister for Primary
Industries: What announcement has he made on the drought in New Zealand?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Last Friday I announced that a state of drought has been officially declared throughout the entire North Island. This announcement means that extra funding will be available to rural support trusts that work closely with farmers providing support and guidance. Of course, rural assistance payments are also available from Work and Income in cases of extreme hardship, and the Inland Revenue Department can provide flexibility in the timing of tax repayments. I acknowledge that this has been a particularly tough time for farmers, and would like to assure them that this Government backs them.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What has the recent rain meant for drought areas?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The rain over the last few days has been a very welcome relief. It has psychologically lifted spirits. It has also meant that some green grass shoots have reappeared. Although we have received substantial rain here in Wellington, it is not widespread as many people think. I am continuing to closely monitor right across New Zealand.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What initiatives is the Government undertaking to reduce the impact of droughts in the future?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The last few months have shown that action is needed to take account of managing our water in a more productive manner. New Zealand does not have a water supply problem. We have a water storage problem. That is why the Government is investing up to $400 million on irrigation projects. We will establish a Crown company to oversee Crown investments in these schemes. I encourage all political parties to support this important infrastructure investment. It is good for productivity and good for the economy.
12. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery: Have allegations of fraud and corruption involving Canterbury earthquake recovery and rebuild contracts been raised with him as Minister; if so, what specific steps has he taken to address them?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): Yes, there have been allegations sent to my office, and these have been directed to relevant agencies for investigation. Research shows that there are considerable risks of fraud and corruption in postdisaster recovery, and this is why the interagency fraud group, which includes the police and the Serious Fraud Office, has been proactively monitoring the rebuild. This is in addition to processes put in place by the Earthquake Commission and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to investigate allegations. The Office of the Auditor-General is also closely monitoring the major expenditure in Canterbury.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How long did it take the Minister to find out that work had been scoped and invoiced for but not done? I will give you four examples. Ten piles were to be done. One pile was done and the others were not—nine were not—but they were all invoiced for. A removed, disposed, re-gibbed ceiling was not done but was invoiced for, which is common at the moment. Work to remove, dispose of, and replace lining, paper, and paint was not done but was invoiced for. Scaffolding was claimed to be used but was never ever on the property when the repair was done. How long did it take him to find out that this was going on, and what is the level of the fraud?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The project management office, which I assume was involved with the jobs that the Minister has spoken of—
Hon Judith Collins: The member.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: —the member has spoken of, sorry—has been aware right from the outset that there was potential for bad behaviour, and has therefore investigated these sorts of allegations. If the member wants to give me the details of those allegations, I am very happy to see them prosecuted further. Although the member can sit there and say that I am the Minister, there have actually been nearly 35,000 of these jobs completed. I am sorry, but I do not have the details of every one of them. If he has got information that someone is ripping off the taxpayer, put it on the table so we can sort it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the total cost of fraud and corruption detected in the Canterbury earthquake recovery and rebuild estimated to be between $130 million and $240 million, and, given countless warnings that this would happen, why did he allow it to happen?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not know where that figure came from. We do not want any fraud. That is why we have a proactive group of interagency authorities making sure that we do not get this sort of thing happening, and why if anybody is caught fraudulently invoicing the Earthquake Commission or the Fletcher EQR office, they will get dealt to.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If Fletcher Construction was overall project manager for most of the 33,398 houses that have been completed to date, and if it has charged for the scope of works for each house and invoiced that work, then what is the level of Fletcher’s involvement in this corruption and fraud?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This has got all the hallmarks of—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When the majority of contracts are scoped and an invoice is signed off by Fletcher’s, I am asking him what its level of involvement is. He started to say that it had got all the hallmarks of something. I want to know what the answer is.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the important point is that he had just started. If the member would allow the Minister to answer the question, please.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member is putting his question on the basis that he has information that, frankly, I do not have. So if he would like to give it to me, we will take it apart.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Minister has had over 3 hours to get the answer ready.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member raise his point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am getting to the point of order, but I am trying to justify why the point of order is a reasonable one—
Mr SPEAKER: Just get to the point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —that you should seriously consider. He is the Minister. He has had 3 hours to get this ready. He has got a whole lot of staff—
Mr SPEAKER: What is the point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order is that it ill behoves you to allow him to ask me for the evidence when he is paid to do that, and he has got hundreds of public servants to do that as well.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The question says: “Have allegations of fraud and corruption involving Canterbury earthquake recovery and rebuild contracts been raised with him as Minister; if so, what specific steps has he taken to address them?”. I am happy to table the answer—if he would not understand it if I read it—but I said yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister gets up, reads out the primary question, which was not the question he was asked to address and which I have raised my point of order on, and you find that acceptable.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is enough time wasted on this. The member asked the question. The Minister addressed the supplementary question satisfactorily.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a fresh point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is a fresh point of order. Are you saying that the Minister’s answer to my question was the same question I put in the primary question?
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am not. I am saying that the Minister adequately addressed the supplementary question.