QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Housing, Affordable—Prime Minister’s Statements
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement regarding first-home buyers “I don’t want to see tools implemented that lock them out of the market”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes. The sorts of policies that lock first-home buyers out of the market are planning regulations that restrict the supply of new housing to the market, and I am pleased that everyone now, except the Labour Opposition, agrees—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order from the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The Minister is on his feet and taking up Parliament’s time with a statement that has nothing to do with the question. I want you to bring him to order. He gave his as being yes—so that is it, and he should stop wasting Parliament’s time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! If members want to stay for the balance of question time, I suggest they behave themselves. The question was asked. The response was in order and was being given by the Minister before he was interrupted by the point of order. The Hon Bill English can continue with his answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The second policy that locks first-home buyers out of the market is very high interest rates, such as first mortgage rates of over 10 percent when Labour left office. Today they are 5 percent.
Hon David Cunliffe: Did the Prime Minister say in June, regarding first-home buyers and loanto- value ratio restrictions that “I’m pretty confident between the commercial incentives of the banks, and the judgment of the Reserve Bank, and the influence of the Government, we’ll be able to navigate a way where they stay in the game.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and the Reserve Bank consulted the Government regarding its loan-to-value ratio restrictions. The Government made its view clear. The Government also changed the policies in respect of Welcome Home Loans and KiwiSaver subsidies to ensure that, within whatever restrictions the Reserve Bank put in place, first-home buyers got a reasonable go. But the Government’s position has always been that the supply of new housing is much more significant in influencing house prices than the loan-to-value ratio restrictions put on by the Reserve Bank.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given the Prime Minister’s confidence, did the Minister of Finance in fact sign a memorandum with the Reserve Bank that contained no provisions to protect first-home buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes; and the memorandum would be quite an inappropriate vehicle for that kind of policy. It is a memorandum that sets out the macro-prudential tool kit available to the central bank, it is a memorandum that sets out the independence of the Reserve Bank in using that
tool kit, and it requires the Reserve Bank to consult the Government. In fact, it is one of the world’s most developed macro-prudential frameworks, and it is up to the Reserve Bank to independently exercise its choices. In respect of house prices, we are focusing on increasing the supply; unfortunately, the Opposition is not supporting us on that.
Louise Upston: What progress is the Government making to assist first-home buyers in the housing market? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of interjection is now unreasonable from this side of the House.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First of all, by doing everything we can to help keep interest rates low as long as possible, so that they remain closer to 5 percent, rather than 10 percent as they were under the previous Government. Secondly, we have reached agreement with the Auckland Council to bring 39,000 houses into the market over the next 3 years. We have passed legislation that sets up special housing areas, which will enable the Government to provide a fast track to councils that want to consent more houses more quickly, and we have changed the policy with Welcome Home Loans and KiwiSaver to ensure that first-home buyers get priority from banks.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister agree with the current Minister of Finance’s statement that New Zealand’s monetary policy is the best in the world and requires no change; if so, can he explain why his solution to the housing crisis is to have such low growth that interest rates stay low?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do agree with the Minister of Finance. I have to say that is not always the case, but in this instance it is. As for the member’s assertion about low growth, New Zealand’s current growth rate is in the top five or six in the developed world. The answer to housing affordability is not low growth; the answer to housing affordability is a faster supply of more houses on the ground. After 2 years of intensive work, the Government has now secured an agreement with Auckland City, and has in place the legislation that will enable that process to get under way as soon as possible.
Hon David Cunliffe: Did he, his existing Minister of Finance, or Treasury ever propose to the Reserve Bank that loan-to-value ratio restrictions not apply to regions with low or no house price inflation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think probably every possible variation of loan-to-value ratio restrictions was discussed among the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, Treasury, and the Reserve Bank as part of the consultation process. However, we kept in mind through those discussions, first, the independence of the Reserve Bank, and, secondly, that it is supply of more houses on the ground that will make the biggest difference. It is pretty clear that some of the reasons for the doubling house prices between 2000 and 2008 were planning regulations that restricted supply and bad Government policy that drove interest rates to 10 percent.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was not a general one that asked about every possible permutation; it asked about one permutation, and that was not addressed by the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was adequately addressed. The question was—[Interruption] Order! I am just ruling on that point of order. The question was very adequately addressed. I invite the member to go back and look at the substance of the question and the substance of the answer, to satisfy himself.
Louise Upston: Has he received any reports of support for loan-to-value ratios?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In so far as by the expression “loan-to-value ratios” we mean restrictions on particular loan-to-value ratios, yes, I have seen two reports. One says that “We support loan-tovalue ratios. We have been calling for them for ages”, and the second, from another person: “you’re wishing to explore the use of a package of macro-prudential measures. … And you’ll get no argument …from the Labour Party on that.” The first was Phil Twyford and the second was David Cunliffe, and I think he put the second one in his CV.
Hon David Cunliffe: Did his current Minister of Finance ever propose to the Reserve Bank, amongst the many tools that he talked about, that loan-to-value ratio restrictions would not apply to regions with low or no house price inflation; if so, why was he ignored?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to the first question is, I understand, yes, and the answer to the second question is that the Reserve Bank Governor is independent. His independence has been a pillar of New Zealand’s economic policy for 30 years, and in the end he made the decision about the loan-to-value ratio restrictions.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why does the Prime Minister blame the Reserve Bank, the retail banks, the Opposition, and the general public—everybody else other than his own Government—for his 5 years of failure on housing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply do not accept the member’s assertion. Interest rates are at a 50- year low, which has, given the elevated prices in New Zealand, made housing at those prices more affordable than they would have been. Secondly, we have worked intensively, particularly with Auckland Council but also with Local Government New Zealand, to implement a framework that allows for local decision-making in planning at the same time as a recognition of the wider economic impacts of runaway house prices. I accept that that has taken 2 or 3 years, but that is because of the participative and consultative nature of this Government, and now we are ready to bring thousands—literally thousands—of extra houses to the market.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a long enough answer to that question.
Metiria Turei: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koutou e te Whare. Will the Prime Minister commit to a large-scale affordable home building programme in order to meet what he calls a faster supply of mixed houses on the ground given that for young families in Auckland house prices have now risen at three times the rate of wages in the past 4 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer is yes, and in two ways. The first is through reconfiguration of the Government’s State housing stock. The Government is an owner of $15 billion worth of houses—70,000 of them. Not only are many of them inappropriate for housing people in serious housing need; many of them are appropriate for more development and densification. We will be a direct provider of medium-density housing to urban markets around New Zealand under that development strategy. Secondly, we are implementing, through legislation and local body accords, supply measures that will enable something to happen in Auckland that did not happen under the previous Government, and that is the building of affordable housing. For a decade in Auckland no affordable housing was built. In the next 5 years thousands of affordable houses will be built.
Metiria Turei: If his Government refuses to commit to a large-scale affordable home building programme, what comfort can he then give the typical first-home buyer who now needs to spend two-thirds of their take-home pay to service a mortgage on a start home in Auckland?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In case the member was not listening, I said yes to her question, not no. This Government is more committed to housing affordability than the last Government, which achieved nothing. As I outlined to the member, it is in two ways: one, through the Government’s own direct building and development, through its own portfolio, and, second, through the agreements we have with councils, which are now going to enable thousands of affordable homes that are funded by first-home buyers and others and built by builders, not by Government departments.
Metiria Turei: Why does his Government continue to allow housing property speculators to make tax-free income on their capital gains in housing investments, which forces up prices and locks young families out of homeownership?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First of all, people who trade in houses pay tax on the earnings. If they buy a house for the purpose of sale and they sell it at a profit, they pay the income tax rate on the gains on that house. I think that is a pretty important point. Secondly, a few years ago the Government did adjust the taxation regime as it applies to investment property. We are collecting hundreds of millions more in tax from that sector; I think it is as high as $700 million or $800
million more in tax. Thirdly, the most important influence on house prices is not conspiracies of speculators; it is conspiracies of planners who prevent the building of new houses in sufficient quantity to meet the growing demand in a growing economy.
Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Minister aware of comments during a recent television debate that one of the ways of making first homes more accessible was to reduce the value of everyone’s home; if so, what is the Government’s reaction to this inane proposal?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is the kind of chip-on-the-shoulder, vindictive stuff we can now expect from the Greens, and we are seeing more of it.
Metiria Turei: When will the Government give young families a genuine pathway to homeownership by leveraging the Crown’s low cost of borrowing and by using a modern version of the State Advances loan, such as the Greens’ Home for Life progressive ownership scheme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although there is some scope for supporting first-home buyers, for instance, through the Welcome Home Loan and KiwiSaver subsidies, we also should avoid the problems created in other housing markets by large-scale first-home buyer grants, which are shown inevitably and always to pump up house prices, therefore making it even harder for first-home buyers—because the Government simply subsidises the proceeds of a sale for the seller. We are not here to subsidise sellers and pump up what they get. The primary benefit for first-home buyers is to increase the supply of housing in a way that matches demand, so prices do not race away at 15 percent per annum. We want to reduce rising prices, not subsidise them.
Metiria Turei: Given that house prices have risen at three times the rate of wages in the past 4 years, and that the typical first-home buyer needs to spend two-thirds of their take-home pay to service a mortgage, will the Government simply concede now that its approach to housing has failed to stabilise housing prices and it is time now for the Government to discourage speculation, lead a building programme for affordable housing, and give young families a genuine pathway to homeownership for them and their children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is using measures of housing affordability that are not actually relevant to first-home buyers. For instance, the Roost Mortgage Brokers affordability index shows that although house prices have gone up—and that is true, and that is something we certainly want to slow down—interest rates have been so low compared to what they were when her party was in Government that housing affordability is roughly the same as it was 6 years ago. The risk many homebuyers face is that interest rates will at some stage rise, and they should keep that in mind.
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—Progress of Share Offer
2. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What recent progress has the Government made in its share offer programme—and particularly putting everyday New Zealanders at the front of the queue for shares?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Last week we registered the offer for the sale a minority shareholding in Meridian Energy. This is the largest initial public offering expected in Australasia this year. The document provides information to help New Zealanders decide whether to invest in New Zealand’s largest electricity company. The share offer is expected to open to New Zealanders on Monday, 30 September and close at 5 p.m. on Friday, 18 October. The final share price is expected to be announced on 23 November. We expect Meridian Energy to be listed on the stock exchange on Tuesday, 29 October. As with other offers in the programme the Government has made it clear that New Zealanders will be at the front of the queue, and we want at least 85 percent New Zealand ownership.
David Bennett: What offer features are being provided for New Zealand retail investors in the Meridian Energy share offer compared with large institutional or overseas investors?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is making it as easy as possible for New Zealanders to access information, and, if they wish, to buy Meridian Energy shares. The indicative price range for
New Zealand retail investors is $1.50 to $1.60 a share, paid over two instalments. The first instalment will be a $1 share, and the second will be no more than 60c a share, 18 months later. So the total price for New Zealand retail investors is capped at $1.60 a share, even if institutional and offshore investors pay a higher price. The indicative price range for them is $1.50 to $1.80, and there will be no price cap.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that his 2011 Cabinet paper stated that $3.1 billion would be raised from the sale of Meridian Energy, why has he not revised the promised $5 billion to $7 billion to be raised from asset sales, given that he now expects to receive only around $2 billion from the sale of Meridian Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the Prime Minister indicated, I think a week or so ago, we would expect the proceeds to be around the bottom of that range, around the $5 billion mark, which is $5 billion of cash that we will get from New Zealanders investing in a New Zealand company, which we will then reinvest in other public infrastructure. We are very proud that we can do that investment without borrowing from offshore lenders.
David Bennett: What does the Meridian Energy offer document say about forecasts for the company’s dividends, and what kind of return would they represent for investors in the share offer?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Given that investors will pay $1 of the issue price up front, they will receive dividends in full during the 18-month instalment period. This provides investors with a higher-dividend yield during that instalment period. Meridian Energy is forecasting a gross instalment yield of 13.4 percent over the first 12 months. The company’s underlying gross share dividend yield for New Zealand retail applicants will be around 8.4 percent to 8.9 percent for the same period. This is the forecast return if investors pay for their shares in full.
David Bennett: What alternative approaches to the share offer programme are available?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There has been some criticism of the share offer programme, but we do not take the political criticism seriously, because none of the people who have criticised it have promised to borrow the $5 billion offshore and buy back the company. I think that means that they do not really oppose the asset sales. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Order—if the member wants to stay for the balance of question time.
Resource Management Act Reforms—Environmental Protection
3. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister for the
Environment: Does she agree with the former Prime Minister and architect of the Resource Management Act 1991, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, that taken as a whole the proposed amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 will seriously weaken the level of protection given to New Zealand’s natural environment under the Act, and how will she address the concerns in particular related to the merging of sections 6 and 7?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): No. I do not agree with Sir Geoffrey’s assessment on the impact on environmental protection. The Resource Management Act reforms are a package with a large number of elements that all work together. For example, by improving our planning processes, having better use of national tools, and encouraging communities to make more decisions at the planning stage, it is my view that we will get more robust and enduring decisions that better weigh all of the needs of our communities and their cumulative effects. In respect of sections 6 and 7 specifically, we are continuing to talk with a number of parties about the optimal framing of those sections.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister agree that merging sections 6 and 7 into one list, forcing decision makers to choose one principle over another without clear guidance from case law, does protect the environment; if so, why have so many Māori submitters disagreed with this view?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, no, I do not agree that merging them has the impact the member suggests. In fact, the case law has been quite clear that decision makers have for some time become
used to exercising overall broad judgment, weighing up all of the factors to take into account in making their decisions. That is reasonably well settled, and, in fact, I would point out that some iwi groups submitted in support of exactly this change.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does she stand by the statement made on 10 August that “The changes aim to incentivise effective working relationships between iwi/hapū and councils.”, and how will this be done when the critical guidance in sections 6 and 7 will be merged together with no detail about whether local authorities can achieve this?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Yes, I do stand by that statement, and I point out that sections 6 and 7 are just one part of the Act, albeit a very important part, and actually some of the specific reforms in the package that we are proposing around reform of the planning pathways and iwi participation in planning is exactly some of what we are pointing to. I would also point out to the member that the package of reforms includes: elevation of kaitiakitanga from a matter that particular regard must be given to, to a matter that has to be recognised and provided for; clarity of the role of iwi and hapū in resource management planning, including a requirement for councils across all planning pathways to seek, and have particular regard to, the advice of iwi and hapū; provision for hearing and review panels to include members of tikanga understanding and perspectives of the local iwi or hapū; greater transparency around how iwi and hapū interests are considered by councils; requirements in section 32 reports for councils to specifically record how their consultation with iwi has progressed and how plans meet those concerns; stronger incentives for effective working relationships with iwi and hapū through stronger iwi planning agreements—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a very long answer, thank you.
Moana Mackey: Can she guarantee that any policy changes to restrict or remove the public’s right to submit, appeal, or protest against any application under the Resource Management Act will be clearly signalled when the amendment legislation is introduced to Parliament, and not done by a surprise Supplementary Order Paper during the Committee stage of this or any other bill, as Minister Bridges did with the protest ban under the Crown Minerals Amendment Act 2013 Amendment Bill and as she is doing today with an amendment to shut the public out of the consenting process under the exclusive economic zone legislation?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I point out to that member that our policy decisions from the National-led Government and the National Party have been announced for some months. A bill will come out in due course, which I am assuming members of the Opposition are capable of reading, but if they want help working their way through it, I am happy to take them through it. I point out to the member that the Supplementary Order Paper that she is referring to this afternoon was notified by us in a press release back in April, so exactly what her definition of “surprise tactics” is eludes me.
Moana Mackey: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
Moana Mackey: Thank you. The Minister actually did not answer the question of whether she could guarantee that she would not do that.
Mr SPEAKER: No, on the basis of the question that was asked, it was addressed satisfactorily by the Minister.
Whānau Ora—Confidence in Scheme
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Whānau Ora: Does she have confidence in the Whānau Ora scheme?
Hon TARIANA TURIA (Minister for Whānau Ora): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has she ever offered resources and staff, such as report writers, to prepare Whānau Ora commissioning agency bid documentation; if so, why?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did she give $500,000 plus expert help to the National Hauora Coalition to prepare its bid for Whānau Ora money; if so, why?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You will not be laughing shortly, gentlemen. Did she give $3 million to the Iwi Leaders Forum to prepare its Whānau Ora commissioning agency bid; if so, why?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: So is she saying that a document that came to her at Parliament on 8 August at 3.26 p.m., setting out these matters and detailing the matters I am talking about, was just made up?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I have no idea what the member is talking about.
Better Public Services Targets—2012-13 Conviction and Sentencing Statistics
5. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Justice: What conviction and sentencing statistics has she received for the 2012/13 financial year?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Statistics New Zealand has today published the conviction and sentencing statistics for 2012-13. This shows that the number of adults charged in court has decreased by a further 7 percent in the past year. Since 2008-09 the number of people charged with criminal offences has reduced by a huge 23 percent. This means the justice sector cooperation across police, courts, and corrections is working well, so there are fewer people in the criminal pipeline and our courts. The Government is committed to making New Zealand a safer place for all, and these statistics show that our initiatives across the sector are having positive results.
Scott Simpson: What other justice sector statistics have been released today?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The statistics published by Statistics New Zealand confirm that the crime rate is falling. The child and youth prosecution statistics show that the number of young people appearing in our court is the lowest in 20 years, down 45 percent since its peak in 2007-08, when another Government was in office. The statistics also show that the number of people charged with violent offences has dropped 19 percent over the last 5 years, and the number of people convicted of crimes has declined across all age groups, with the 17 to 19 year age group seeing the biggest decrease, with a decline of 18 percent. The key to reducing crime in the long term is to keep our young people out of the criminal pipeline and away from the courts.
Electricity Market—Treasury Advice on Tīwai Point Smelter
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Did the July 2012 Treasury report Project 14: Initial advice say that the closure of the Tīwai smelter would reduce the market price for electricity by “roughly 10 percent” and why in his answer to Primary Question No. 4 on 21 August 2013 did he not disclose that advice to the House?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): A fresh, new look with the same old questions.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Answer the question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is misusing the quote from the report. In answer to the first part of his question, the report cited a tentative conclusion by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to that effect against what it called a reference scenario over a 15-year period. The report’s conclusion was that the closure of the smelter would “likely lead to both positive and negative effects”. In answer to the second part of the question: for a very simple reason, which is that that July 2012 report was about Meridian Energy’s electricity price negotiation with Pacific Aluminium. The member’s question last month was in respect of cost-benefit analysis on the $30 million payment made by the Government.
Hon David Parker: Why did he omit to tell the people of New Zealand that the advice he had was that the market price for electricity could drop by 10 percent if he did not dole out the $30 million of corporate welfare, and why does he pretend to cry crocodile tears over jobs when he did not even ask for a jobs guarantee?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because there was not clear advice that the electricity price could change. The fact is that this was fundamentally a commercial negotiation between Meridian Energy and the smelter, with Meridian Energy facing the incentive to keep a large customer, and the smelter trying to get the most leverage possible off that incentive. The Government, at the end of that negotiation, then refused extensive subsidies asked for by Rio Tinto—
Hon David Parker: Is $30 million not extensive?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —but made a $30 million payment, which did enable the smelter to stay open. I am happy for the member to continue his campaign to close the smelter. He is free to go to Invercargill, if he really wants to put a sharp edge on it.
Hon David Parker: Is not the real reason he wanted to hide from the public the true cost of the $30 million corporate welfare deal for the Rio Tinto – owned smelter that this deal keeps electricity prices higher for all other New Zealand businesses and for all Kiwis’ bills at home?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, that is simply not correct. The core of the deal was a commercial negotiation between Meridian Energy and the aluminium smelter. I also do not agree with the member’s description of the payment. It is fascinating how it is called smart intervention if Labour does something about regional development, and it is some kind of seedy deal if we take action that helps preserve 800 jobs in one of New Zealand’s most rapidly depopulating regions.
Hon David Parker: How can he still pretend that the electricity market is competitive when the advice he had from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Treasury was that without his Government’s corporate welfare payment propping up Rio Tinto’s smelter, the market price for electricity could have dropped by 10 percent?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not agree that that was the advice. The electricity market is competitive. It is—
Hon Members: Oh!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, that is pretty clearly demonstrated by the valuations of the partially floated companies. Whereas the Opposition regards them as cash cows with no commercial risks, the market has made it quite clear that there are real commercial risks, and it has revalued the companies appropriately. The member cannot have it both ways—that the deal that we have got will not keep the smelter going for very long, but it would be a great thing if the smelter shut down.
Hon David Parker: How can he disagree with those who say that in his desperation to proceed with the Meridian Energy sale, he has provided yet more proof that the New Zealand electricity market is not competitive, therefore providing even more justification for the need for robust intervention to bring electricity prices down?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is completely wrong. In this case there was a commercial negotiation between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto, which came to a commercial conclusion. That includes the ongoing usage of electricity by the smelter for a well-defined period. The Government then made a payment that has had no influence whatsoever on the electricity market. It was simply a cheque written out to ensure the completion of the contract. The member will have to put up better arguments than that for a scheme that is followed by only one developed economy in the world, and that is a province in Canada.
Question No. 4 to Minister
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): Relating to question No. 4 this afternoon I seek to table an email that refers to the $500k that was related to the National Hauora Coalition, which the Minister denied, and also the commissioning agency grant to the Iwi Leaders Forum of $3 million—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that particular email. Is there any objection to that course of action? [Interruption] Order! Can I just clarify, is it one email? [Interruption] Order! Can I just clarify, are we tabling one email or two emails.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: One email referring to both sets of funds.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you. Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Benefits—Outstanding Arrest Warrants
7. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: How is the Government’s new warrants to arrest policy for those on benefits ensuring a fairer welfare system?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): As part of this Government’s substantial welfare reforms we said we would stop benefits for those who are on the run from the police with an outstanding warrant. Since this policy took effect on 15 July, 311 people have been matched and notification sent. Of these, 161 warrants have been cleared within 6 weeks of operation and 95 people have been sanctioned.
Melissa Lee: What process takes place before reducing or suspending benefit payments where there is an outstanding warrant?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The new policy means that beneficiaries who have an outstanding warrant to arrest for more than 28 days will receive a letter from Work and Income asking them to clear their warrant or face their benefit payments being stopped or reduced. They get another 10 days to clear it, but if they do not the benefit is stopped. The exception to this is for parents, who, as with all sanctions, never lose more than half of their benefit.
Melissa Lee: How often has the discretion of the Commissioner of Police been applied in highrisk offending cases?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We did make an exception for the Commissioner of Police to request an immediate benefit suspension for seriously high-risk offenders. To date this has happened in nine cases.
Sue Moroney: Does this policy help anyone on welfare to get a job?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What this policy does is make it fair, and people who are on the run from the police are held to account. They should not actually be getting taxpayers’ money to be on the run from the police. It is that simple. This policy is about being fair.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Sue Moroney: Point of order. You go. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is a point of order.
Grant Robertson: I think that Sue Moroney and I had the same point of order in mind. That was a very direct question, which the Minister did not answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite Sue Moroney to repeat the question, please.
Sue Moroney: To the Minister—another go. Does her policy—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Start the question again.
Sue Moroney: Does her policy help anyone on welfare to get a job?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, these people need to clear their warrants to start with, so currently they are actually breaking the law. We thought we might clear up the legal problems they have got and get them to account for that and then we will work on the job.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to say that that still did not address the question. I presume the answer is no, so we can just move on. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! On this occasion the question was then addressed.
Housing New Zealand—Referrals
8. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Has Housing New Zealand been referring people to live in campgrounds?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): I am advised that Housing New Zealand does not place people in camping grounds, but if an applicant has an emergency housing need, it will
refer them to a list of temporary accommodation providers. The list in Auckland has 21 emergency accommodation providers, none of which are camping grounds. I am also advised that in other parts of New Zealand, sometimes the list refers to a camping ground. I am further advised that the policy has not changed from the previous Government.
Phil Twyford: Is he comfortable that elderly people, some as old as 80, are being housed in camping grounds, or should they just be thankful for any kind of roof over their heads, under National, however inadequate and unprotected?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: My view is that camping grounds do not provide an answer for people’s permanent accommodation needs and that wherever possible we should try to accommodate those people in suitable permanent accommodation. That is why this Government, with Housing New Zealand, has got a record investment, and is building more houses than ever, but I do say that—
Hon Maryan Street: Have you checked out the Nelson camping grounds recently?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: —even in Nelson—as a constituency member of Parliament, I have sometimes had emergency housing situations where the appropriate answer is to have somebody in a cabin at a camping ground, rather than being out in the cold.
Phil Twyford: Has he seen the research done by Dr Christina Severinsen from the University of Otago, which suggests that thousands of Kiwis are living in camping grounds because they simply have nowhere else to go; if so, does his Government still think those people are making a lifestyle choice to live in a caravan?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I have seen that research. It is very interesting. It is based on 2007 census data—2007 census data. I would not temper to measure as to who might have been the Government in 2007. I will leave that to the House.
Phil Twyford: I seek leave to table the research by Dr Christina Severinsen, which suggests that thousands of Kiwis are living—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that particular research—
Phil Twyford: —in camping grounds, and it is not based on the census data.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not necessary. Leave is sought to table that particular research from the University of Otago. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Phil Twyford: Is he aware that Statistics New Zealand defines people living in camping grounds as homeless, and does that make him the “Minister for Homelessness”, now that there are 4,000 Kiwis on the priority waiting list—4,000—which is up 1,500 since 2012?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am advised that the current number on Housing New Zealand’s waiting list is just over 4,000. I am further advised that the number in November 2008 was 4,300— 4,300. I also note that the research from the census data defined the number of people as being homeless as being about 35,000 at the time of the 2007 census.
Phil Twyford: When is he actually going to start providing more houses, rather than fewer, given that in the last quarter the number of properties sold by Housing New Zealand exceeded purchases by 42 percent, demolitions exceeded new builds by 165 percent, leases expiring exceeded new leases taken on by a factor of six, and the number of State houses has declined by 500 in the last year?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It may not have been noticed by members opposite, but there was a little event in Christchurch involving an earthquake, which damaged 5,000 properties—5,000 properties. I can further advise the member that over the next 3 years, Housing New Zealand is investing $2.7 billion—a larger figure than at any time in Housing New Zealand’s history.
Aged Care—Nursing Initiatives
9. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Associate Minister of Health: What initiatives has she announced to showcase aged care nursing?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): The Minister of Health and I have launched Showcasing Aged-care Nursing, an online resource and video series showcasing new initiatives and innovative approaches to better support nurses caring for older New Zealanders. A key focus has been to upskill our dedicated aged-care registered nurses. This includes a new hot line to clinical experts for nurses in Counties Manukau and regular face-to-face time with specialists across a number of district health boards. There has also been a push to build better relationships between hospital-based staff and those in aged residential care facilities.
Paul Foster-Bell: What initiatives are in place to support nurses taking up a career in aged-care nursing?
Hon JO GOODHEW: In 2011 aged care was added to the hard-to-staff specialty list for nurses on the Voluntary Bonding Scheme. I am delighted to say that—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of noise is unacceptable. I invite the Minister to start her answer again.
Hon JO GOODHEW: In 2011 aged care was added to the hard-to-staff speciality list for nurses on the Voluntary Bonding Scheme. I am delighted to say that in 2013, 21 percent—that is, 59 out of 281—of the nursing graduates who enrolled in the scheme were either currently working or intending to work in the aged-care sector. But the Government has also been supporting training for nurses working in aged care. Since 2011, 736 nurses working in aged-care clinical service areas have undertaken either postgraduate or nursing entry to practice training, funded by Health Workforce New Zealand—736.
Hon Annette King: Having showcased aged-care nursing, is she prepared to require mandatory staffing levels in aged-care facilities, as recommended by the 2012 Caring Counts report from the Human Rights Commission, to ensure that nurses working in aged-care facilities are not expected to work longer hours than is safe?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The answer to that question is that there has for a long time been debate over whether the member’s suggestion would, in fact, improve the quality of the standard of care in aged residential care. In fact, this Government has made changes that really do ensure that the quality improves, like the spot audits that were introduced, third-party accreditation of aged residential care auditors—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question: was she prepared—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I invite the member to ask her question. If she could just start straight with the question instead of the bit at the beginning, that would be helpful.
Hon Annette King: Is she prepared to require mandatory staffing levels in aged-care facilities, as recommended in the 2012 report—the most recent report—from the Human Rights Commission, to ensure that nurses are not expected to work longer hours than is safe?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Like the member asking the question, this Government does not believe that that particular initiative would get the results that the member has suggested it would get.
Hawke’s Bay Water Management—Tukituki Catchment Proposal
10. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: When was he made aware that the Department of Conservation was preparing a submission that would address the potential effect of the proposed nutrient limits of the Tukituki Catchment Proposal?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): On Monday, 29 July I was advised that submissions closed that Friday, that the Department of Conservation was “evaluating the project”, and that there was a preliminary view that there was insufficient information on the nutrient
management. I asked for more information and a copy of the submission, and received that on Wednesday, 31 July.
Eugenie Sage: Given the Minister’s answer, and the fact that the department’s weekly report of 29 July clearly stated that the Department of Conservation intended to submit on the nutrient limits, how does he explain his comment that he had no idea that the submission existed until last week?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I can only quote Doris Johnston, the Deputy Director-General of Conservation, and she said this: “He never saw the draft submission that everyone’s been talking about. It was never provided to his office. It was an internal working draft by [Department of Conservation] staff …”. I think that is pretty clear.
Eugenie Sage: I seek leave to table part of the report from the Minister’s office, titled “Weekly Report: 29 July 2013”, which shows that the Minister was briefed on the submission and it included nutrient issues.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document, a ministerial update. Is there any objection? There is none. It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Eugenie Sage: Is it not a fact that once he knew the Department of Conservation intended to make a submission that went against his Government’s irrigation agenda, he raised concerns, which resulted in that submission being stopped dead in its tracks?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That is absolutely not true. Again I quote Doris Johnston, the Deputy Director-General of Conservation, who was very well respected under the previous Government in that role. She said this: “The Minister did not play any role in my decision making. He never told me his view.” So how could it be possible for them to have drawn any conclusion about my view? I simply asked for a full briefing and a copy of the submission.
Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister really expect the public to believe that the Department of Conservation’s U-turn on its proposed submission on water-quality rules in the Tukituki catchment within 48 hours of him being alerted to the issue had nothing to do with him?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I do. Can I quote directly from an email from a senior Department of Conservation planning manager, who said this before the submission was finalised: “I’m a bit concerned that from a manager’s perspective, the issue about whether we should be involved in the plan change.” That is, there were senior managers in the Department of Conservation who did not agree with the draft submission.
Eugenie Sage: Is it not the case that this review of the submission process that he wants is a sideshow and an attempt to distract from the real issue, which is his political interference with the Department of Conservation’s submission?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have said that the Department of Conservation should review the process around the Tukituki submission. The reason is this. This is a major project and the first I knew of the issue of the submission was just 5 days before. I would note that there is actually a Labour Cabinet minute that said that when submissions are made in the resource consent process, there should be a better process than what the Department of Conservation followed in this case. That is why it is being reviewed, and I think there are some lessons to learn from the Tukituki submission process.
Question No. 4 to Minister
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): Given the Minister for Whānau Ora’s denials in answers to question No. 4 today, I seek leave to table two further emails, one dated Thursday, 8 August of this year, which states: “We would like to take up your offer to provide resources and a possible writer of the initial documentation to meet the necessary requirements of a commissioning agency for the North Island.” It is addressed to Minister Turia. The second email is dated 18 August, where it is set out very clearly: “Also worth noting is that Minister Turia seems
willing to provide funding to assist iwi leaders to prepare their bid for this mahi.” Those two emails—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table two emails, one dated 8 August and one dated 18 August. Is there any objection to that course of action? There appears to be none. They can be so tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Question No. 10 to Minister
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is in relation to question No. 10, the one we were dealing with before the previous point of order. During his answer to the primary question and a later supplementary question, the Minister of Conservation first of all quoted the Department of Conservation and said that it was evaluating the project. It was a direct quote. Secondly, he quoted from an email from a Department of Conservation manager— again, a direct quote. He is quoting from official documents—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is easily resolved now. Was the Minister quoting from an official document?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Both the documents I referred to have been in the public arena and are on the Department of Conservation website.
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In terms of whether he was quoting from an official document, it is irrelevant whether it is in the public arena. If he was quoting from an official document, he has to table it.
Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way forward is to allow the Minister at some stage to table two documents that are freely available on the website.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): I am more than happy to. I thought the convention normally was that you were not allowed to table documents that were in the public arena—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. [Interruption] Order! On this occasion, if the Minister was quoting from an official document and the member has asked for it, it will be tabled in due course. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hawke’s Bay Water Management—Tukituki Catchment Proposal
11. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he still stand by his statement on the Department of Conservation submission on the Tukituki Catchment Proposal that “I did not give the Department an indication of what that submission would be”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Yes, and I also back that up with the record of the meeting taken at the time, which says that the only action I required from the department was for me to receive a copy of the submission when it was finalised. I also note the comments from the deputy director-general that I referred to in the previous question. She said “He never told me his view.”
Hon Ruth Dyson: Why did he say to reporters on Tuesday, 17 September: “I did not know that this draft document even existed until this morning.”, given that he was briefed on that very document on Monday, 29 July?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: In the meeting on 29 July I was told that the department was preparing a submission for when it closed on Friday. That does not give any great knowledge of whatever drafts there might be sitting within the bowels of the department. That is where the members in the Opposition are into faulty conspiracy theories.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table the note from the weekly report, explaining exactly what the content of the submission was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Has this document not been tabled earlier in the day?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The very document that you have asked me to table, which was asked for—
Grant Robertson: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am hearing from the Hon Dr Nick Smith. I am hearing from the Hon Dr Nick Smith, and if the member Grant Robertson wants to remain for the balance of question time, I suggest he remain in his seat and refrain. [Interruption] Order! I will give the Hon Annette King a last chance. I am not prepared to put up with constant bickering from the Labour front bench when I am hearing the Hon Dr Nick Smith.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The document that the Hon Ruth Dyson is seeking to table is the one that I was quoting earlier, which you have already asked me to table, and I shall do so.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it is also a document that was tabled prior to that, by Eugenie Sage, so it has already been tabled in the House today in question time.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I am talking to the Hon Ruth Dyson.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Could I speak further to that point of order. I am now challenged on my right to table a document. The Minister in his answers to an earlier question, question No. 10, referred specifically to the quote that the department was “evaluating” the project. He then referred to an email from a departmental staff member. Neither of those is in the document I sought to table.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There may be some confusion because there are a lot of documents being tabled at the moment. Earlier today Eugenie Sage sought leave to table the weekly ministerial update that had this item on its agenda. When Ruth Dyson attempted to table a document, I took it that she was attempting to table exactly the same. Could the member Ruth Dyson please clarify.
Hon Ruth Dyson: My comments were in relation to the comments that Nick Smith made. I asked that he be required to table the documents he referred to in his primary and supplementary—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That has already been—[Interruption] Order! That has been clarified, and those documents will be tabled. The member then took a point of order seeking to table a document that I believe that Eugenie Sage tabled perhaps 15 minutes earlier. Can we have that clarified, please.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Is it the same one that I am holding? Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: That is right. Well, I thank you all for your patience. We got there.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Now that we get to it, it is more of a general point that when a member seeks leave to table a document, clearly, you are within your rights to clarify what that document is. What we are seeing increasingly from Government members is that they stand up and take a point of order in opposition to seeking leave. We have a right to seek leave to table documents without points of order coming from the other side.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This has gone quite far enough. There was clearly some confusion with your honourable member Ruth Dyson attempting to table something that had been tabled earlier. I sought some clarification of that. Nick Smith then took a point of order, which actually assisted in clarifying for me that particular point, so we have now clarified it. The document that was sought to be tabled by Ruth Dyson has already been tabled, and we are not having documents tabled twice. Has the member the Hon Ruth Dyson got further supplementary questions?
Hon Ruth Dyson: I have.
Mr SPEAKER: Good. Go.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Why did he say in the House on Thursday, 19 September: “In early July a 34- page draft submission was prepared by the Department of Conservation. I did not know about that until this week.”, given that he was briefed on that very submission on Monday, 29 July?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The draft submission, the 34-page one, the one that referred to the Tukituki River potentially becoming toxic, is totally different from the brief note that she has wanted to table—[Interruption] Yes, it does. It is totally different. I simply quote again what Doris Johnston said: “He never saw the draft submission that everyone’s been talking about. It was never
provided to his office.” That is why I say that I had absolutely no knowledge that that 34-page draft submission had been prepared.
Hon Ruth Dyson: When item 5.4, the Tukituki catchment proposal, came up at his weekly meeting with Department of Conservation officials on Monday, 29 July, did he express any opinions at all in relation to the Ruataniwha water storage scheme, the plan change for water-quality standards, or the department’s proposed submission?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am going to quote exactly that document because it is of some controversy: “The department is evaluating the project. Submissions close 2 August. The department’s preliminary view is that there is not sufficient information.” I asked for more information and a copy of the submission. That is exactly what a responsible Minister would do.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What was his reaction to being told that a senior Department of Conservation staff member has resigned because of his political interference in the submission process?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have absolutely no knowledge of that. I would make two points. The first is that on—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member wants an answer, she should listen.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: On 1 September, as has been the subject of considerable controversy, hundreds and hundreds of staff changed position, with the restructuring, and dozens and dozens of staff were given redundancy on 1 September, as part of that restructuring. I have no knowledge that anybody associated with this controversy has resigned. What I further note is that nobody has resigned since this issue went into the public arena last Tuesday.
Partnerships—Department of Conservation and Air New Zealand
12. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Conservation: What benefits have been achieved for conservation and recreation from DOC’s partnership with Air New Zealand?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): The partnership with Air New Zealand, launched last year, has enabled species like kiwi, like whio like pāteke, and like the robin to be reintroduced to areas where they have not been for half a century, the laying of hundreds of pest traps, and the promotion of New Zealand’s Great Walks. This promotion has resulted in— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Shane Jones need not look behind him. It is his barracking that I am finding offensive.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The promotion has resulted in a record increase in the number of people doing the Great Walks last season and a record increase in the number of bookings ahead. It illustrates how conservation and business working together makes good sense. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It will not be that long a walk at all.
Nicky Wagner: How will the expanded partnership announced yesterday between the Department of Conservation and Air New Zealand change the focus of this work?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The new agreement announced yesterday more than doubles the programme, from $2.9 million to $7.4 million. We are taking the positive experience on land to the new conservation frontier, the oceans, where 80 percent of New Zealand’s endemic species live. The added bonus is that Air New Zealand will be promoting the advocacy of marine conservation and encouraging New Zealanders to replace their boots with snorkels and to get out and enjoy many of New Zealand’s marine reserves.