QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
GNS Science—Ruataniwha Plains Groundwater Modelling
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: Did GNS Science undertake work modelling the groundwater in the Ruataniwha Plains in 2012 and 2013; and was the contract completed fully?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Minister for Food Safety) on behalf of the Minister of Science and
Innovation: Yes, I have been advised that GNS Science undertook groundwater modelling work in relation to the Ruataniwha Plains during the 2012-13 year. I am advised GNS Science was contracted by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council for four separate pieces of work. Three contracts were completed and invoiced. One piece of work was not completed.
Dr Russel Norman: Did the Minister know that GNS Science scientists raised serious concerns about the accuracy of the regional council’s groundwater model, the fundamental information underpinning the work?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I am advised that the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council opted to change its management strategy for the Ruataniwha Plains. That is the reason that has been given.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member to repeat his question.
Dr Russel Norman: Did the Minister know that GNS Science scientists raised serious concerns about the accuracy of the regional council’s groundwater model, which was the fundamental information underpinning the report?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Just to build on my previous answer, I have said the reason why the contract was terminated, but from my perspective—and I am obviously answering on behalf of the Minister—he did not know that.
Dr Russel Norman: Were the GNS Science scientists working on the project pressured by the regional council into completing a report on the dam, despite their objecting strenuously to the accuracy of the information they were supplied to work with by the regional council?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: The first thing that I would say is that the contractual arrangements—and I want to make this point—between GNS Science and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council are not something that Ministers would ever be involved in the detail of, but the member does make an allegation in his particular question. I have no knowledge of that allegation.
Dr Russel Norman: Did GNS Science scientists insist on recording their concerns about the inaccuracy of the council’s groundwater model in their updated report, at which point the contract was terminated by the council?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I will just repeat what I have said before, which is that GNS Science has hundreds of contracts. The first time I became aware of this issue was today, so what the member is saying in terms of his question I cannot verify. But I would say again that the contracts between
GNS Science and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council are exactly contracts between them. There are hundreds of contracts every year. I cannot verify what the member is saying.
Dr Russel Norman: Was it not the case that GNS Science wanted to insert a disclaimer in its updated report, which was that it took no responsibility for the accuracy of the work because the model that the council provided to it was not fit for purpose—the model was not accurate?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Obviously, I am answering this question on behalf of the Minister, so if the member does want to provide me with further information, then I am happy to have a look at that. The second thing I would say is that I am not aware, again, of the facts that the member raises and I think that he should put them in writing to me. But, thirdly, the point I would make to the member is that he is raising issues regarding the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. I am acting for the Minister of Science and Innovation. If he has issues regarding a local authority, then I think there are other processes whereby he can raise those issues.
Dr Russel Norman: With regard to GNS Science, for which the Minister is responsible, is it the case that an early report in August 2012, provided by GNS Science to the council, has been used by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council in its application around the dam, rather than using the February 2013 amended report, which highlighted the GNS Science scientists’ concerns that the report was not accurate?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Again, I want to raise a couple of points. The first is that the gist of the member’s questions is around the actions of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. Again, I do not have responsibility for that. In terms of the allegations he makes regarding the involvement of GNS Science, I cannot verify the facts that he is saying, so I would ask him to put them in writing to me after question time.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister able to confirm that the contract between GNS Science and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council was terminated by the regional council when GNS Science wanted to put its written concerns into a report indicating that the results of the report would not be accurate because the model provided by the regional council was wrong?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: In one of my previous answers I gave you what I have received in terms of advice as to why the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council said the contract was terminated, and it is that the council opted to change its management strategy for the Ruataniwha Plains, meaning that the contracted modelling work was no longer considered relevant. I am also advised that this is not unusual for this type of work.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not the case that the change in management that the regional council was referring to was that the report it was getting from GNS Science was not the kind of report it wanted because GNS Science was determined to put into the report its concerns about the accuracy of the groundwater modelling that the regional council provided to it?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Again, I think that there are a number of questions that the member is asking that relate to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, for which I am not responsible. If the member has questions for the council, I suggest he contact the council directly. If he has a concern about a local authority, he might direct a question to the Minister of Local Government. But again, I repeat what I have said before. If there are things that he wants to provide further information to me on, I am happy to receive that after question time. In terms of the allegations that he makes, I cannot verify what he is saying.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister aware that two of the three GNS Science scientists who worked on the report for the regional council and raised concerns about the accuracy of the science provided by the council no longer work at GNS Science?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I cannot verify, again, the facts that the member raises. But what I would say to the member, again, is that from previous experience in terms of question time—and I cannot verify what he has said—there may be a range of reasons why particular individuals do not work for an organisation. It may have nothing to do with the various conspiracy theories the member is putting forward.
Dr Russel Norman: As the Minister of Science and Innovation, is he concerned that science is not being listened to in the Tukituki catchment process around this dam, the Department of Conservation’s scientific submission has been suppressed, the concerns of the Ministry for Primary Industries were suppressed, and now GNS Science scientists’ concerns were also suppressed?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I disagree with the assertions made in that member’s question.
Economy—Business Confidence and Employment
2. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the economy—and particularly indicators of business confidence and employment intentions?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): There have been reports for some time of increased business confidence. There are now some reports that that higher level of confidence is flowing through to positive hiring intentions. According to a report by recruitment company TMP/Hudson Global Resources, hiring expectations among New Zealand employers are at their highest level in 5 years. The survey indicates that around 33 percent of 1,000 employers surveyed intend to increase the number of jobs in their organisations in the next quarter. In the South Island around half of all employers surveyed intend to hire more people in the next quarter.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What were the main factors behind the improvement in the employment intentions of businesses in the last quarter?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There will always be particular factors for particular businesses, because more jobs are created business by business. The Hudson Report notes that there is greater confidence around household consumption and manufacturing. It also noted that employers who have missed out on opportunities due to limited resources—that is, due to not having enough people on their payroll in lean times—are now more confident because they want to build up their numbers so that they can pursue future opportunities and growth plans. For instance, this is reflected in 51 percent of employers in the construction, property, and engineering sector looking to hire more people in the next quarter.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What other reports has the Minister seen indicating a building momentum in the labour market?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a range of other indicators showing a positive attitude to the employment market. Online recruitment company SEEK reported that 91,000 jobs were advertised in the last 4 months—about 8,000 more than in the first 4 months of 2013. The strongest growth in job advertising came from design and architecture, up 35 percent; banking and financial services, up 26 percent; administration and office support, up 15 percent; and trades and services, up 23 percent. These are indications of intentions. Of course, we will be looking for signs that these intentions are followed through to more jobs on the payroll.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What policies is the Government implementing to help New Zealand businesses become more competitive and have the confidence to invest, grow, and employ more staff?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is not one single policy that makes a difference, and that is why the Government has set out the Business Growth Agenda, which details 300 initiatives across infrastructure, employment, education, natural resource management, and so on. Each of these initiatives is aimed to assist businesses to make the decision to invest another dollar and employ another person, and become more internationally competitive. We are also working on making sure that we can have a more flexible housing market, because a housing market with fast-rising prices poses a threat both to our financial stability and also to the competitiveness of businesses, which need the lowest interest rates and lowest exchange rate that we can have for as long as possible.
3. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: What concerns, if any, does he have about the level of “heavy metal” in tattoo inks in New Zealand?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Under this Government at the end of 2011 the Environmental Protection Authority introduced a new standard that sets the controls for tattoo inks, including labelling, safety data sheets, advertising, storage, and safe disposal. The Environmental Protection Authority also recently developed a voluntary guideline to manage the risks associated with the chemical composition of tattoo inks. I am concerned at the results of a recent Ministry of Health survey of heavy metal in tattoo inks, which found that 9 of 18 grams did not comply with the Environmental Protection Authority guidelines.
Barbara Stewart: Is he concerned about the number of young New Zealanders whose backalley tattoos by an unlicensed operator unnecessarily expose them to infections, scarring, or even cancer?
Hon TONY RYALL: The member sounds a warning that people do need to consider. Many people may not be aware that tattoo inks may pose harm from the chemicals from which they are made. Making the results of this survey available will provide useful information for tattoo artists when deciding which tattoo inks to purchase, and it does also provide information for those people who are deciding whether or not to have a tattoo.
Barbara Stewart: Will the Minister put tattoo kits on the list of medical devices in order to restrict sales to only those operators with licences?
Hon TONY RYALL: The primary response from the regulation side at the moment is the Environmental Protection Authority’s standard. That standard has voluntary guidance. It has essentially been in for the last 18 months. I think the member raises an issue that is similar to the issue of solaria. If it is clear that the industry is not responding sufficiently to the voluntary guidelines, then there will need to be another response from the regulatory authorities.
Barbara Stewart: Would the Minister consider following Australia’s example and introduce an age restriction or parental consent law in order to protect the health of young New Zealanders?
Hon TONY RYALL: My understanding is that I think that Parliament had an opportunity to vote on that in some legislation in the early 2000s, and voted against it. More particularly, I think that on the issue that the member has raised, quite rightly, about heavy metals in tattoo inks, the Environmental Protection Authority advises that it is not aware of those being regulated at a national level anywhere else. I think that what is important is the fact that people who are considering having a tattoo should learn about the various metals that are used in the tattoo procedure.
Barbara Stewart: Does he intend to take any action to remedy this situation for concerned parents; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Ministry has published the results of its surveys, including the brands, on its website, and has made that information available to the Tattoo Artists Association of New Zealand. The Ministry has asked the association to advise its members to use only inks that comply with the Environmental Protection Authority guidelines. The Ministry of Health has also sent the report to the district health board public health units, in order to inform their work with local tattooists on safety and hygiene. Again, those people who are considering a tattoo should make themselves aware of all the information that is available in respect of any personal safety risks.
Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister agree that unsafe practices by unlicensed tattoo artists, which put New Zealanders at the risk of hepatitis C and other blood-borne illnesses, should be prevented at all cost?
Hon TONY RYALL: We would be concerned about unsafe practices by those who are licensed and not licensed. One of those practices that we and the Environmental Protection Authority would like to prevent is the use of these tattoo inks with heavy metals that do not meet the compliance
requirement. That is the reason why we have made those results available and why public health units will be able to use that information to inform their work with local tattooists.
Conservation, Department—Draft Submission on Tukituki Catchment Proposal
4. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Conservation: How could he say on 17 September 2013 “I did not know that this draft document even existed until this morning” when his Weekly Report from 29 July 2013 stated a submission should be lodged “requesting that the Board requests further information by way of an independent peer review of the proposed approach to nutrient management and the potential effect of the proposed nutrient limits and targets on the freshwater values in the Tukituki catchment”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): The member half quotes the weekly report. What it actually said was: “The Department is evaluating the proposed plan change and resource consents. The Department’s preliminary view is that a submission should be lodged to the plan change …” That does not say that a draft submission had been prepared. I stand by my statement that I did not know until 17 September that the 34-page submission that was leaked existed.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Why did he say to reporters on Thursday, 19 September: “There was no mention to me of a draft submission. I did not know of the existence of a draft submission.”, when the agenda for his meeting with officials on Monday, 29 July outlined the submission’s contents, he was briefed on it, he expressed concern about it, and he asked for a copy of it to be delivered to his office the next day?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The submission that was delivered to me the next day was radically different from the 34-page document that was leaked. I can only quote Doris Johnston—who, I note, members opposite said told the truth—when she said: “He never saw the draft submission that everyone’s talking about.”
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In respect of the answer from the Minister, I do not believe it addressed the question that the Hon Ruth Dyson asked. Her question was very specific. He began to talk about other aspects of submissions, but not what she asked—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On this occasion I do not agree with the member. The question asked— [Interruption] Order! I will be asking the Hon Clayton Cosgrove to leave the Chamber if I get an interjection like that again. The question asked why the Minister said to reporters on a particular day—and I think the answer given by the Hon Dr Nick Smith adequately addressed the question.
Nicky Wagner: What advice has the Minister received on when the senior managers in the Department of Conservation saw the leaked 34-page draft submission?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am advised that Doris Johnston, who was on leave prior to my meeting on 29 July, had not read the leaked 34-page draft submission at the time of my meeting. I can also quote from an email the next day from other senior managers, which I am happy to table, which said this: “None of us have seen the submission or briefing”—that is the day after my meeting. I was clearly not alone in not being aware of the leaked draft.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Did he, or any of his staff, have any discussions with officials from the Department of Conservation in relation to their submission between his meeting with officials on Monday, 29 July, when the nitrate issue was going to be a key feature of the submission, and Wednesday, 31 July, when he received the final submission, with all the water quality issues removed?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Did he have any part in the decision to establish the Government fund for irrigation infrastructure from which $1.67 million has been granted for the Ruataniwha Dam project?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: For 3 years I was the Minister for the Environment. I had an intense interest in water issues. Included in that was achieving the National Policy Statement for Freshwater
Management. I had no direct involvement in the issues relating to the investments around irrigation. That was led by the then Minister for Primary Industries, who is currently the Speaker.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he agree with the comment in the briefing note to him from Wednesday, 31 July, which noted: “… the department is not submitting on the one-nutrient management approach as the conservation values of the Tukituki catchment do not justify the resource investment required.”, in light of the fact that the submission on that very point had already been written?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: In the substantive briefing that I received on 31 July, there were two substantive reasons given for not proceeding with a submission on the plan change issues around nutrients. The first of those was that the Department of Conservation accepted that the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) science was robust, and the NIWA science was different from what some staff at the Department of Conservation had. The second was that the amount of resource, the amount of money that would need to be spent, to contest the NIWA position—
Grant Robertson: They’d already done it.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, because they would require witnesses, and the evidence would be larger than what could be justified.
Nicky Wagner: When does the Minister believe the department changed its position and why?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The key Department of Conservation staff member who wrote the weekly report with the preliminary view, saying that we should lodge a submission on nutrient issues, wrote that on Thursday, 25 July. On Friday, 26 July he attended a full day’s meeting convened by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, with all the scientists and advisers from NIWA and the like. At the end of that meeting on the Friday, he told the regional council that the Department of Conservation’s submission was likely to focus on only the inundation issue and not the plan change issue over nutrients, subject to senior managers’ approval. That was 3 days before my meeting. On Tuesday, 30 July an email stated that he and the other planning managers “are not convinced we should be submitting on the plan change”, and that was confirmed as the department’s position the following day.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he agree with the comment in the briefing note to him of Wednesday, 31 July, which noted: “… the Department is not submitting on the one-nutrient management approach as the conversation values of the Tukituki catchment do not justify the resource investment required.”, given that the Tukituki catchment and estuary is a significant conservation area in the regional coastal plan, is noted as one of the areas with important natural and historic values in the Hawke’s Bay conservancy coastal environment, is a recommended area for protection under the department’s protected natural areas programme due to its ecological and biodiversity values, and is also being classified as being of national importance for fisheries?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This is another example of the member only half quoting the report. What that report actually said in the summary was that the Tukituki value was of medium value— that is the first thing. The second thing was that that report said that the Department of Conservation accepted that NIWA’s science was robust. They were they reasons that it chose not to submit on the plan change issue.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table two documents. Can I say, first of all, that they have been in the public arena but not for nearly a decade, which is why I do not think they are readily available now. The first is a publication by the Department of Conservation from December 2004, identifying freshwater ecosystems of national importance for biodiversity, which includes the Tukituki catchment.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave together on both documents. What is the second document?
Hon Ruth Dyson: The second one is called Water Bodies of National Importance, also from December 2004, published by the Ministry for the Environment, which also includes the Tukituki catchment.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table two documents, a Department of Conservation document from 2004 and a Ministry for the Environment document from 2004. Is there any objection to that being done? There appears to be none. Those documents can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table an email between senior Department of Conservation managers on 30 July that makes it plain that the senior managers were not convinced of the merits to submit on the plan change and that none of them on the Tuesday after I had the meeting had actually seen the 34-page document.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been well explained. Leave is sought to table that particular email. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is none. It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I just ask for your consideration in relation to documents where leave is sought for them to be tabled. It is particularly in relation to a previous document that the Minister sought to table after my request because he had been quoting from it. The document that was actually tabled was not the document referred to as the “three emails between”. In fact, so much had been deleted from one of the emails—not just the identifying points—that it was not comprehensible. So I seek your guidance about whether, when documents are sought to be tabled, those actual documents have to be tabled, and whether it has to be identified that large chunks of them have been removed.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Speaking—
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I will allow the Hon Dr Nick Smith to speak to that point of order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: With both the documents that I tabled earlier and the document that I sought to table today, the only thing that has been removed are the names of the Department of Conservation staff, and the reason I do that is that it is perfectly proper for us to have a good old robust in Parliament, but I do think that we owe some protection to the privacy of the department’s staff. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I need no further assistance. Could I just say to the Hon Ruth Dyson, who raised the question, that I suggest she look at Speakers’ ruling 149/5, which basically says that if any member seeks to table a document and grossly misleads the House in the description of that document, then it could potentially be a contempt, and members know what the means are to follow that up.
Welfare Reforms—Long-term Welfare Dependence
5. Hon PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made about the cost of long-term welfare dependency?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Today the latest annual valuation of the welfare system has been released. The June 2012 valuation shows that the current lifetime liability is $86.8 billion. Leaving aside the effect of interest rates adding $13.4 billion, we have actively reduced the liability by $3 billion due to fewer people being on benefit, particularly the unemployment benefit and the domestic purposes benefit. This is a strong indication that changes that this Government has made to the welfare system are working well and that efforts to reduce long-term welfare dependency are making a difference.
Hon Phil Heatley: What does the valuation tell us about young people?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We now know that youth spend an average of 18.9 years on benefit if they go on as teenagers, costing $239,000 over a lifetime. The average young beneficiary has a 43 percent chance of being on benefit in 15 years’ time, and 25 percent of youth are expected to be on a benefit 40 years after the valuation date. Sixty percent of those beneficiaries currently aged 30 to
39 came on to benefit as a teenager. This clearly shows that this Government’s focus last year on youth in the new Youth Service was exactly where our focus needed to be.
Hon Phil Heatley: What is the Government doing to actively target young people most likely to be on welfare long-term?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I have stated, we have focused welfare reforms on young people. It is where our focus needs to be. In Budget 2011 an extra $287 million was targeted at young people on benefits. This included child assistance for teen parents, and it included the card. It was about money management, it was about getting them into budgeting services, it was about making sure that they are in education, and it is making a difference. Budget 2012 included another $188 million for reforms that provide more support. The investment approach has changed the entire focus of the welfare system, and it is ensuring that we are putting support where it is needed most.
Sue Moroney: Is sending people without jobs off to Australia to get jobs the best strategy she can manage to reduce long-term welfare dependency?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That would be a no. There is actually a lot of work here, and there is a lot of—
Sue Moroney: That’s where they’re going.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, actually, most of them are not. The numbers that are going to Australia have reduced. The member might want to look up the facts to be assured of that. We are seeing more than 1,500 a week going off to go into jobs. That is just those who are going into jobs. Another 2,000 are going off to go into different directions and because relationships have changed, but, actually, 1,500 are going into jobs, which I think is pretty extraordinary.
Housing, Affordable—Auckland First-home Buyers
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What is the range of estimates, if any, of the number of first home buyers in Auckland who will be excluded from the housing market due to the new Loan to Value ratio restrictions?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No estimates have been provided on people excluded from Auckland or any other market. We need to keep in mind here that the measures taken by the Reserve Bank have been described by the bank as temporary measures in order to preserve stability in the financial system. What I can say to the member, though, is that in consultation with the Government the Reserve Bank advised that, on average, 30 percent of new lending by value is high loan-to-value ratio, and it was estimated that around 40 percent of high loan-to-value ratio lending is to first-home buyers. The bank also advised that of the 20,000 to 30,000 first-home buyers each year nationwide—and it is, apparently, difficult to identify all first-home buyers— 13,000 to 19,000 would obtain a high loan-to-value ratio loan and, of those, up to 12,000 will get a loan. The remaining 6,000 to 8,000 will make the choice of either looking at a cheaper property or delaying their purchase while they save a higher deposit. As the Reserve Bank noted at the time, these numbers are difficult to estimate, and, as important, they do not take account of the Government’s policy changes in support of first-home buyers.
Hon David Parker: Given that answer, is he joining Sam Lotu-Iiga in asserting that there are more cheap houses available to buy in Auckland that these first-home buyers just are not clever enough to find?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am simply outlining for him the choices that first-home buyers will be making.
Hon David Parker: There are no affordable homes in Auckland.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, if there are no affordable houses in Auckland, it is because under Labour none got built, whereas under this Government they are starting to get built. That is really good news. The fact is that first-home buyers—
Hon Member: Five long years.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, we welcome Labour’s support for our announcements of more houses on the ground sooner over the next few months.
Hon David Parker: How many affordable homes have been built in Auckland over the last 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Until we got agreement with Auckland Council that its planning rules were preventing the building of affordable homes, the answer is not many. Now that we have agreement from Auckland Council to change its plan to allow more affordable homes, we will be able to get on with building them. Secondly, the Government has been working through the Housing New Zealand Corporation to get into the provision of medium-density affordable homes, and I have to say that that has proven—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: They voted against it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Against? Those members voted against that, but we are continuing anyway.
Hon David Parker: Has he been advised by the Prime Minister why the Prime Minister claimed in June that there would be an exemption from loan-to-value ratio restrictions for first-home buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister did not claim that. What he said was that he gave his view to the Reserve Bank as part of the consultation. On this side of the House, though, oldfashioned as it may sound, we respect the independence of the Reserve Bank because we know what a mess this economy got into when politicians were setting interest rates and running monetary policy, and now the Opposition want to also run the housing market. The Reserve Bank’s independence is there in order to avoid a repetition of the dangerous situation of 2008, with which that Labour Party is familiar, and in order to secure financial stability and lower interest rates. The Prime Minister gave his view. The Governor of the Reserve Bank made his decision.
Paul Goldsmith: What steps is the Government taking to support first-home buyers and improve access to affordable housing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First of all, I say to that member and to the Parliament that the housing market in New Zealand faces two significant risks. One is that it becomes a source of the kind of financial instability we saw as recently as 2008, when this Parliament supported the Government writing a sovereign guarantee for over $100 billion of banking assets to make sure our economy did not go down the toilet. Whatever cheap politics there might be in part of the housing market, that is a fundamental responsibility of the Parliament and the Reserve Bank, and we are honouring that responsibility. Within the scope of that job the Government has moved to pass legislation to ensure that we can get more houses on the ground sooner. We passed that legislation, against the opposition of the Labour Party, just as it opposed the Auckland Housing Accord.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer has gone on quite long enough.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree that the harshness of the Reserve Bank’s loan-to-value ratio restrictions is due to National’s 5 years of failure on housing and tax policy; if not, why is the OECD concerned both about New Zealand house prices, especially in Auckland, and the tax biases that favour speculators over first-home buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No; and the OECD has not made that point either. In fact—
Hon David Parker: Yes, they have.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —it has not. If we think of the last 5 years, house prices actually dropped by about 10 percent for a couple of those years. During those years the Government started the process of creating the policy to ensure that we have more houses on the ground. Labour has opposed—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Again, that is a satisfactory answer.
Paul Goldsmith: What reports has he seen on alternative policies for first-home buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen a report just this morning that says: “… his utterances could be damaging to long-term confidence in the economy … It is hard to believe he would carry out the
promise to over-ride the Reserve Bank’s independence to exempt first-home seekers, if only because of the obvious risk to their equity.”—that is, getting first home buyers into houses that turn out to be worth less than what they paid—“… it would be easy to weaken the bank’s legislated jurisdiction and do untold damage to our economy. Mr Cunliffe’s stance is a worry.” That is today’s New Zealand Herald editorial.
Hon David Parker: Is the reason the Minister of Finance refuses to reform what is amongst the most favourable and distortionary tax laws for rental property investment in the world and refuses to take practical steps to improve housing affordability by building affordable homes that his party favours property speculators over first-home buyers, or is it just incompetence?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the member is wrong about that. We made changes to the taxation of property investment in the 2010 tax package, which is collecting over half a billion dollars of extra tax. It is much more effective than a capital gains tax that the member said would come into practice over 15 years. It is also very clear that a capital gains tax that does not cover all property is ineffective. They have got one in Australia and it has made no difference whatsoever.
Schools, Properties—Funding and Management
7. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Associate Minister of Education: What announcements has she made regarding school property?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Associate Minister of Education): This week I was pleased to announce a plan to transform the way that school property is delivered in New Zealand. Budget 2013 sets aside $134 million to support new schools and roll growth over the next 4 years. I announced that $70 million has been allocated to establish three new schools and 65 classrooms over the next 2 years. There will also be a programme focusing on specific schools that require major developments. The Ministry of Education is creating a fund of $300 million over 6 years to assist another approximately 30 schools to deliver essential infrastructure and modernise their facilities. These changes are about shifting from a one-size-fits-all approach to a system that provides greater choice and flexibility for schools and students. I have had amazing feedback across New Zealand. I am very proud to have made these announcements.
David Bennett: What specific measures does the new plan include?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: In addition to schools in Auckland, Hamilton, and Queenstown the plan focuses on eight areas, including investing in areas of growth, helping schools resolve outstanding property issues faster, providing greater support for major property works, and offering a more flexible range of property services to schools. The Ministry of Education is also establishing an education infrastructure service by the end of 2013 to offer schools a flexible range of property management services. There will also be a dedicated team to resolve longstanding complex property issues, and an advisory board to provide greater innovation, commercial expertise, and independent advice to the Secretary for Education and Ministers. This Government is committed to investing in education and making sure that our schools have high-quality infrastructure in order to achieve the best outcome for New Zealand students.
Bay of Plenty Region—Diagnostic Testing
8. BRENDAN HORAN (Independent) to the Minister of Health: How long does it take for microbiology samples to be taken from a patient in the Eastern Bay of Plenty until the sample is cultured in the Pathlab microbiology laboratory in Tauranga, and is he confident that the handling of samples and the time taken meets international medical standards?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): That depends on where in the Eastern Bay of Plenty the patient is and the nature of the sample taken from them. In response to the member’s second question, yes, I am assured that the standards, both national and international, are being met.
Brendan Horan: Is the Minister aware that many Bay of Plenty medical practitioners are concerned that they are taking samples from patients as early as 8.30 a.m. that in Whakatāne are not
collected from their practice until late in the afternoon and then have to be transported to Tauranga, which is well beyond the best-practice time of 2 hours stated in international medical standards?
Hon TONY RYALL: What I am advised is that every general practice in Whakatāne does have material available to them that allows them to put these specimens in a protective medium, which allows the medium to work to keep the microbiological sample testable within a period much longer than that—probably between 24 and 48 hours. So what the member will recognise is that there is a difference between the unprotected and protected microbiology specimens, and the storage and transport times vary between these. Unprotected specimens should be received by the laboratory within 2 hours. The only unprotected specimens produced in the Eastern Bay of Plenty are those generated within the hospital, and these are processed within that time frame. The general practitioner – generated microbiology specimens must be protected, and all general practitioners are provided with transport media and have specific instructions and requirements for their use. I am advised that the time lines for transport meet national and international standards.
Brendan Horan: Is the Minister aware that in many secondary schools where nurses are authorised to provide sexual health services, microbiology samples, including genital swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, are not uplifted until the end of the day, when the best practice requires the samples to be inoculated on to a culture medium within 15 minutes? Is he satisfied with the third-world standards under his watch?
Hon TONY RYALL: If the member actually reflects on what he has just said, he said that the international standard would be for a swab to be taken at Ōpōtiki College and be tested and on a substance—
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Petri dish.
Hon TONY RYALL: —or a Petri dish within 15 minutes. The hospital is at least 40 minutes away. So what the member said just does not make sense. I can assure the member that all the advice that we have received is that they are meeting international standards.
Brendan Horan: I seek leave to table an email from a medical practitioner in Whakatāne expressing their concerns about the time taken to collect—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been described enough. Leave is sought to table an email from a particular medical practitioner in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Brendan Horan: I seek leave to table a document from a medical specialist outlining how genital swabs ought to be inoculated on to a culture medium within minutes of collection.
Mr SPEAKER: This is leave sought to table a medical professional’s advice to the House on how swabs should be handled. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is none. It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Brendan Horan: I seek leave to table a letter from a doctor in Ōpōtiki stressing how literally hundreds of lab samples have been rendered useless by transport delays.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is the doctor’s name included?
Brendan Horan: Yes, the doctor’s name is included.
Mr SPEAKER: And the doctor is happy for that to be tabled?
Brendan Horan: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Brendan Horan: I seek leave to table a document from internationally renowned expert on microbiology Dr Mike Miller PhD, from Georgia, USA, stressing standards—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think, again, that has been adequately described. Before I put the leave, has the member got anything else that he wants to table as well? Can we get it all out in one go, and I will put the leave once.
Brendan Horan: I seek leave to table a letter from a secondary school sexual health nurse—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular letter. And the final document?
Brendan Horan: The final document is a letter from a secondary school sexual health nurse in Tauranga, stressing her concerns that samples are not collected—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table two particular letters and a report by a renowned expert whose name I have now forgotten. Is there any objection to that course of action? There appears to be none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Chris Auchinvole: What other progress is being made in relation to providing better health services to the people of the Eastern Bay of Plenty?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am delighted to tell the House that real progress is being made on the redevelopment of the Whakatāne Hospital. The project is due to be completed on time and on budget in early 2014. The Government has committed $65 million to the redevelopment of Whakatāne Hospital, including construction of a brand new hospital. The redevelopment will deliver, amongst other things, 98 new beds, an emergency department, and a high-dependency unit for patients who need more intensive observation, treatment, and nursing care than patients in a general ward. This is just another example of major investments being made by this Government, when the previous crowd only ever promised it.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With regard to your earlier reading, I would just like to say the first letter that I tendered was anonymous because of fear of repercussions from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his information. It would have been better if we had had it at the time. Question No. 10, Peter Dunne.
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is No. 9 first.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise. Question No. 9, Jacinda Ardern.
Homelessness—Children and Young People
9. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister of Housing: How many children and young people are currently homeless, as defined by Statistics New Zealand?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): There is no agreed definition of homelessness, and, by definition, it is actually difficult to capture this data because the census is collected via people’s addresses. A recent analysis, though, by the University of Otago of the 2006 census data identifies 8,500 people under 15 with severely inadequate housing, the majority of which is overcrowded. I note that in the period 2001 to 2006 the number in this group grew significantly. In contrast, this Government is investing $320 million on Project 324&5, which will reduce overcrowding, which is the biggest group across these numbers.
Jacinda Ardern: If he is on top of this issue and things really are getting better, why has the Downtown Community Ministry had client numbers double each year since 2008, as has Lifewise in Auckland, which is increasingly seeing young people and children without housing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I do not have specific information on the data from those specific organisations, but I would note that the number of people on the Housing New Zealand waiting lists was 4,300 in November, and at the moment it is not too different from that. That suggests that this is something of another manufactured crisis by members opposite.
Jacinda Ardern: On what—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of noise is making it hard for me to hear the supplementary question.
Jacinda Ardern: On what grounds does he believe Housing New Zealand waiting lists are a good measure of homelessness when he cut the list, changed the criteria, and does not even consider a boarding house to be homelessness for the purposes of Housing New Zealand?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Can I firstly address the issue of the definition of homelessness. In the survey the member quotes, it is referred to as “severely inadequate housing”. Sixty-five percent of those who are in that definition are in situations where there are too many adults and too many children in a household, and I note that that number grew very significantly under the previous Government. The second issue is whether I would consider people who are staying, for instance, in cabins or in emergency accommodation as being homeless. I would give them the definition of being in emergency housing.
Jacinda Ardern: Has the Minister for Social Development raised any concerns with him about young people’s access to housing given that 90 percent of young people Lifewise is working with are children who are leaving Child, Youth and Family care at 17 with nowhere to go?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: My colleague Paula Bennett and I have had extensive discussions, firstly, about the specific housing issues in west Auckland, and, secondly, about the concerns she has around younger people and getting them into better quality housing. I simply say to members opposite: watch this space in terms of the huge investment of $2.7 billon—
Hon Tony Ryall: How much?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: —$2.7 billion—the biggest investment ever in social housing, which is taking place under this Government and was announced in this year’s Budget.
Dr Megan Woods: Why, more than 3 years after the first of the Christchurch earthquakes and after his own officials estimated that there are 7,400 homeless people in the city, has he stood by while organisations like the Young Women’s Christian Association of Aotearoa have full waiting lists and are turning women and children away, and when the Christchurch City Mission has said it is extremely worried about the safety of children and that there is not enough happening?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I do not accept that there are 7,400 people in Christchurch without a roof over their heads. That is not true. It is true that there is a very large housing challenge in Christchurch. That is why we have settled with the insurance company and we are building a new house every single day in Christchurch. That is why we have built four temporary accommodation villages. That is why we have established the Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service. I could speak for over half an hour on what we are doing on housing in Christchurch.
Mr SPEAKER: I can assure the member that that will not be occurring in question time.
Manawatū-Whanganui Regional Planning—High Court Decision
10. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister for the Environment: Does the Government have any plans to introduce legislation to overturn the recent High Court decision on the Manawatū-Wanganui Regional Council’s One Plan?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): I have no intention to introduce legislation for the purpose of overturning the High Court decision on Horizons MW’s One Plan.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister accept that this decision sets a pathway for sustainable agriculture that would not be possible if the principles of the Resource Management Act were to be changed or watered down?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Absolutely not.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister’s stated intention to amend the Resource Management Act, if she can, to prevent regional councils making region-specific plans prevent the development of plans like the One Plan elsewhere in the country, and does she think she has a parliamentary majority to achieve that?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The member has quite incorrectly stated my intentions of the reforms.
Young Offenders—Boot Camps
11. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social Development: Does he support the continuation of boot camps for youth offenders?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development) on behalf of the Associate
Minister for Social Development: This Government does not operate boot camps for young offenders. But if the member is referring to the military-style activity camps, then yes.
Sue Moroney: Why has the Minister said that the boot camps model, as the Prime Minister called it, is going well when of those who have completed the programme, a massive 83 percent went on to reoffend in the first year alone?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think we need to have this in the context that these are our worst young offenders. Twenty-one thousand go to court each year, and of those we are dealing with recidivist offenders who are most at risk of going on to jail. The reason that he said this is that these young people were responsible for 660 offences in the 12 months before they went into a Military Activity Camp, and, in the 12 months after, they were responsible for 335 offences, which is a 50 percent reduction.
Sue Moroney: Is he disappointed, then, that Minister Bennett replaced Labour’s successful Te Hurihanga model, targeting the same group of offenders, which had 100 percent success rates—that is, no graduates offending in the first year after completion?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, because actually this is working for the worst offenders. So these are not those who are—
Sue Moroney: 87 percent.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member needs to catch up with the portfolio. What this actually is about is those who are locked up in a youth justice facility, and they are the worst youth offenders. Right? These are not the cherry-picked who were in Te Hurihanga; these are—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is now complete.
Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table the evaluation of the Te Hurihanga pilot, showing that these were the very worst offenders, and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need more of the description. I just need to know whether it is publicly available.
Sue Moroney: It is from the Centre for Research, Evaluation and Social Assessment.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it available to members easily on the website?
Sue Moroney: No, I do not believe so. It was in 2009.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular evaluation. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Mike Sabin: What other reports has the Minister seen on reoffending by Te Hurihanga graduates?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Two conflicting reports have been brought to the Minister’s attention. The first is a press release issued yesterday, stating that Te Hurihanga graduates had “a 100 percent success rate”, which we understand to mean that no young people had reoffended. The second is a statement in Hansard dated 10 February 2010 that says that four of the eight Te Hurihanga graduates had reoffended. What is so confusing about these two reports is they were both by the Opposition member Sue Moroney.
Sue Moroney: What is the cost to the youth justice system and to the victims of the 325 crimes that were committed by graduates of the boot camp model in the first year of completion?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The cost would have been far higher if they had not gone through a Military Activity Camp, because what we saw for those who did not was reoffending that was more severe and more recidivist. Offending has gone down, and the severity has as well.
Sue Moroney: Can the Minister confirm that the four re-offences she referred to before, from the Te Hurihanga model, were in the first year after completion of the programme?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not have that information in front of me, but what we have— [Interruption] Well, of eight who had come out of Te Hurihanga, four had reoffended. They are not comparable to those youth who are in a Military Activity Camp at all, because they are at a much senior level.
Sue Moroney: Why does the Government not save a lot of pain, misery, and cost, admit it got it wrong, and go back to the proven successful model—Te Hurihanga—trialled in Hamilton?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because that is not a proven successful model. They are not the same young people—they are not the same young people. Of the 23 who went through Te Hurihanga, they are not at the same severity of offending that these young people are. You are simply not comparing the same young people.
Interest Rates and Lending Practices—Legislation
12. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs: How will the Credit Contracts and Financial Services Law Reform Bill target loan sharks and protect New Zealand consumers?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Consumer Affairs): The Credit Contracts and Financial Services Law Reform Bill is the biggest overhaul of consumer credit law in a decade, and will make wide-ranging changes to consumer credit and repossession law. The changes represent a crackdown on unscrupulous lenders who prey on desperate people and leave them and their families trapped in a spiral of debt. These changes will usher in an era where lenders must act responsibly, where consumers must have the information they need, and where there are significant consequences for those who breach the law. Rewriting the rules for consumer lending forms an important part of the Business Growth Agenda of this Government to help boost trust and confidence in our financial markets.
Dr Jian Yang: What changes are proposed in this bill to ensure more informed borrowers and more responsible lenders?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The Credit Contracts and Financial Services Law Reform Bill introduces a wide range of changes to ensure more informed borrowers and responsible lenders. Lenders will have to take responsibility for the likely effect of the credit decisions they make for their customers. There will be better controls against misleading, deceptive, or confusing advertising of credit. I welcome cross-party support for this bill, and I encourage individuals and organisations to make submissions as it goes through its select committee process.
Carol Beaumont: What analysis has he undertaken of the damage caused to vulnerable families by the Government’s failure to deal with the issue of inadequate consumer credit laws and better regulate loan sharks, truck shops, and payday lenders over the last 5 years?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I can assure that member that this bill absolutely targets that behaviour of some individuals, which, sadly, exploits the vulnerabilities of many New Zealanders.
Carol Beaumont: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked “What analysis”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member please repeat the question? It was not answered.
Carol Beaumont: What analysis has he undertaken of the damage caused to vulnerable families by the Government’s failure to deal with the issue of inadequate consumer credit laws and better regulate loan sharks, truck shops, and payday lenders over the last 5 years?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Specifically, no specific analysis, but the identification of the problem has been there for quite some time, thus this bill has been introduced and is before a select committee.
Carol Beaumont: Why has he ignored the experience of the increasing number of overseas jurisdictions that provide for interest rate controls, and failed to provide for such controls in the Credit Contracts and Financial Services Law Reform Bill; is he genuine in his suggestion that people submit on this issue anyway?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I am genuine.