QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “One of the risks for us is that there’s heavily pronounced economic development in Auckland, but not in the rest of the country”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, that is always a risk, but it is not what I am seeing across the country.
Hon David Cunliffe: How does the Prime Minister explain the widening gap between Auckland and the rest of the country when most regions have seen a decrease in weekly incomes since 2008?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not believe that to be correct. If one looks at real after-tax median income and compares it between 2006 and 2013, it has gone up 11.8 percent in Auckland. I note that it has gone up 14.4 percent in Taranaki, where apparently everybody is leaving—well, that is what they told David, anyway. In Manawatū-Wanganui it has gone up 13.6 percent, in Northland it is 17.7 percent, and in Canterbury it is 14.1 percent. It would appear that the statement made by the Leader of the Opposition is one that he has just made up.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why has annual population growth in the regions halved under National from 0.9 percent under Labour to just 0.5 percent?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I really am truly shocked that the Leader of the Opposition would ask that question, after yesterday saying people in the regions have been left “with no choice but to leave in droves.” In answering that question, let us go to the census data—
Hon Steven Joyce: Released today.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —released today. Lo and behold, 15 of the 16 regions have gone up in population. In Taranaki, they have not actually left in droves; they have gone in in droves, probably because of the oil and gas industry and the rural sector there. It has gone up by 5.3 percent. I say this: under a National Government, yes, those people will get support for what they want to do. What those people will not get is—guess what? They will not get the living wage under David Cunliffe in Taranaki, because he wants to pay it to people in Wellington.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I noticed a couple of times there towards the end of the Prime Minister’s answer that you made as if to stand in order to sit him down. That answer was both long and largely irrelevant.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That might well be the opinion of the member. I thought the question was adequately addressed.
Hon David Cunliffe: How many of the 200,000 New Zealanders who have permanently left for Australia, seeking that brighter future under his watch, have left from our regions?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have the exact number, but I know this much: 625,000—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister made it clear that he did not have the information to answer that question. Anything else he says—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I will determine when the Prime Minister has finished his answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do know that under a Labour Government, 625,000 people left for Australia; I do know that in the last year of the last Labour Government, 35,000 people left; and I know that those numbers are falling to 27,000—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Your answer to Mr Robertson was that you determine when the Prime Minister has finished answering the question. Around about when were you going to do that, given that those last two sentences from the Prime Minister related to another administration and not his?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I give the same answer to the honourable member. I will determine when the question is answered when I am ready to do so.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In light of that ruling, can I seek some clarification then on what criteria were you judging that the Prime Minister’s answer remained relevant? He was addressing material that he is not responsible for.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will be determining when I decide the answer is sufficient. I will not hesitate, if I have reached that point, to ask whoever is answering the question to sit down.
Hon David Cunliffe: What does the Prime Minister intend doing, if anything, about the potential loss of up to 200 people’s jobs at Independent Fisheries in Christchurch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I have not looked at the matter in relation to Independent Fisheries specifically—specifically, I have not done that. But what I can say is that Independent Fisheries is based in Christchurch. Christchurch is one of the Government’s top priorities. Christchurch has had a 6.6 percent growth rate. Christchurch has $40 billion worth of investments going into it. This is what is really interesting, because when this Government stood up for 3,200 jobs in Southland, those people said to do nothing. This Government did something—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is sufficient.
Louise Upston: Has he received any reports on income growth in New Zealand’s regions?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I received a report saying that real median weekly incomes had dropped in some regions since 2006, including a drop of $45 a week in Southland. Then I received another report using official information from Statistics New Zealand showing that the real median weekly income had in fact grown in all regions of New Zealand by an average of 6 percent, and in Southland the real median weekly income had grown by $53 a week before tax and $76 a week when you take our tax cuts into account. So I wonder which one to believe: the Government Statistician or David Cunliffe? I am going with the Government Statistician.
Hon David Cunliffe: What will the Prime Minister say to the up to 90 scientists losing their jobs at Invermay Agricultural Centre near Dunedin or to the people of Dunedin who have already lost the jobs—closed down on his watch—at Hillside railway workshops?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first thing I would say to them is that the consultation process is ongoing, so that has not been completed. But, you see, when I go to Palmerston North—if a decision is made about what is happening at Invermay Agricultural Centre and those people are relocated to Lincoln or Palmerston North—and that is a seat, by the way, held by Labour, I will be saying that those people are coming to the regions from that area. You see, if I went to a Council of Trade Union’s speech, I would say the same thing to the media—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer was long enough.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Throughout the Prime Minister’s answers today, in almost every answer he has gone into material that either he is not responsible for or is not relevant to the question. I ask you to hold him—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I invite the member to consider the question that was asked and then the content of the answer. It was about 90 scientists who may lose their jobs at Invermay Agricultural Centre. The Prime Minister talked about consultation ongoing, and then talked about a visit to Palmerston North, and at that stage I rose to my feet. If the member is going to continue to interject, I will have no hesitation in asking Grant Robertson to be leaving the House.
Government Financial Position—Reports
2. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s financial position and especially progress in meeting its target of returning to surplus by 2014/15?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Treasury last week published the Government’s Financial Statements for the year ended 30 June 2013. They showed higher tax revenue and lower than forecast Crown expenses that helped to more than halve the Government’s operating deficit before gains and losses to $4.4 billion for that year. This compares with a $9.2 billion deficit the previous year and was considerably better than the deficit forecast in Budget 2012 of $7.9 billion, so it was $3.5 billion better than forecast in the last Budget. This confirms that the Government’s careful approach to fiscal management is working and that our focus on getting better results for the community is flowing through to better results for the Government’s books. Fortunately, we did not listen to all the advice from the Opposition about how to do this.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What has been the Government’s approach to stemming previously unsustainable growth in Government spending, and how was this reflected in the latest annual Financial Statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has taken a balanced approach, which has been to focus on the longer-term drivers of Government expenditure. Those longer-term drivers are often social failures—that is, the incidence of crime, welfare dependence, and lack of educational achievement. In each case, the Government is focusing on improving those results for the community, and that is flowing through to the Government’s books. So in the latest year, core Crown expenses came in at $70.3 billion, about $3.4 billion below what was expected in last year’s Budget. Part of this result was lower than forecast costs in Canterbury and part of it was lower expenditure by Government departments. We remain on track to reduce Government expenditure as a proportion of GDP to 30 percent by 2016-17, down from 35 percent of GDP in 2010-11.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: In respect of the Government’s financial position, does he stand by his statement regarding the bailout of Solid Energy that “As far as we’re concerned we’ve got a deal.”, and how does he reconcile that statement with the news that the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ is taking legal action to block the Solid Energy bailout?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do stand by the statement. Both the auditors and the directors of the company according to company law had to ensure the solvency of that company by 30 September. The Government has negotiated a deal with the banks that creates that position. The fact that the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ wants to take some legal action to prevent it being compelled to join the deal is really a matter for the bank. Our best advice is the bank has a very small chance of success. The irony is that if it succeeded in that legal action, the company may go into liquidation with the loss of a thousand jobs, and the bank would lose all its money. It may wish to consider that.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: Why is it important that the Government sticks to its successful economic and fiscal plan and continues to focus on returning to surplus?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are a number of reasons. One is that the New Zealand Government will continue to incur more debt until we actually get to surplus. At the moment Government net borrowing is still $110 million per week, down from a peak of $260 million per week in 2010-11. The second reason is that the Government has an objective of doing as much as it can to keep interest rates lower for longer, and a strong fiscal plan is likely to achieve that. Thirdly,
the fiscal results are secondary to the task the Government has set itself, which is to get better results from Government expenditure for the community. When we rehabilitate prisoners effectively, when we teach children how to read, when we keep young people in school and out of offending, we save a lot of money, and that is starting to work.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What will be the Government’s main areas of focus after it reaches a Budget surplus in 2014-15?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Budget 2014 will confirm or otherwise whether we get to surplus, although it does look pretty likely. We then want to reduce net debt to a prudent 20 percent of GDP by 2020. One has only to observe international events such as the potential threat of the failure to resolve the debt ceiling argument in the US to understand that the international financial markets in which we still borrow billions and on which we are dependent for sourcing a lot of our investment capital could be volatile and uncertain for New Zealand, so we need a prudent level of debt. The Government will also have other choices, such as resuming contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund or investing further in public services that achieve results for the community.
State-owned Energy Companies, Shares—Mighty River Power Buy-back
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that Mighty River Power’s buy back of $50 million worth of shares is “highly normal”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. Air New Zealand, for example, started the share buy-back programme last year and is planning to purchase up to $45 million of its shares. Infratil is planning a $65 million share buy-back. Telecom did a $200 million share buy-back last year. Comvita did a buy-back last year. This is normal business practice and the decision is made by the board in the interests of the company and its shareholders.
Metiria Turei: If Mighty River Power is charging so much for power that it has $50 million lying around and nothing better to do with it than buy back shares, what action has the Government taken, as the majority shareholder in the company, to ensure it reduces electricity prices for families and for businesses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We have a very competitive electricity market in New Zealand. People are free to choose. The member is making a huge mistake in showing her complete lack of knowledge of financial markets if she wants to conflate pricing with the capital structure of the company.
Metiria Turei: When power consumption in New Zealand is falling but electricity prices are rising at four times the rate of inflation, such that electricity companies are using the surplus cash to buy back their own shares, does he honestly believe that the electricity sector is working for New Zealand families and businesses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I think we have a competitive electricity sector. I say this to the member: it will be interesting to see when she goes knocking door to door to tell the least well off families in New Zealand how much they are going to enjoy paying $500 a year for her emissions trading scheme.
Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister confirm—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have called Metiria Turei, if she wants to continue with her supplementary question.
Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government, as the majority shareholder in Mighty River Power, prefers that it distributes $50 million in extra profits to shareholders in a share buy-back, rather than lowering its electricity prices by $50 million for families and for businesses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Whether the company engages in a share buy-back is a matter for the board.
Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister said that he had a mandate for asset sales, did he mean he had a mandate to sell strategic public infrastructure to a handful of wealthy investors and institutions, who would then get to pocket the excessive profits?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To start off, in the case of Mighty River Power, it is one of the most widely held shares in New Zealand. Secondly, at the last election the National Party had over 1 million people who voted for it. The election was, to quote the then leader of the Labour Party—and I know you have to go back a few now, but that was Phil Goff, and he said that asset sales were a referendum on the election. When about 90 plus percent of New Zealanders were opposed to smacking, the Green Party said, well, there should not be referendum and they should just ignore it.
Metiria Turei: If the Prime Minister believes he has got it right and asset sales have been a success for New Zealand, why will he not test that mandate by suspending the sales until after the referendum is held?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because in the 2011 general election virtually the entire election campaign was about the mixed-ownership model. National received the highest party vote in our party’s history under MMP. Labour—well, they got buried.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has adequately addressed that question. [Interruption] I have finished with the answer, thank you very much.
Education, Minister—Legal Obligations
4. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that she is fulfilling all of her legal obligations under the Education Act 1989; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes, because I am working hard to raise achievement for five out of five kids.
Chris Hipkins: Did she ensure that all available information informing her proposal to merge Phillipstown School and Woolston School was provided to the schools when the consultation period required under the Education Act began; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As this judgment is still within the appeal period and one or other of the parties may appeal, it would not be in the public interest for me to comment.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
Chris Hipkins: I did not ask in any way about the case that is before the court or the court’s judgment. I asked her about a consultation process under the Education Act that she initiated and whether she felt she had—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I thought in the question the member asked he referred to two schools, being Phillipstown School—
Chris Hipkins: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Well then, that is the crux of the court case, so the Minister’s answer was quite in order.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just clarify—you are not in any way questioning the ruling I have just given?
Chris Hipkins: No, no. It is some clarification.
Mr SPEAKER: Let us hear the fresh point of order.
Chris Hipkins: The clarification is that I did not ask her to comment on the court’s ruling. I asked her about decisions that she had taken. I am not asking her to say whether she agrees with the court. I am asking her whether she is satisfied with the decisions that she made prior to the court even considering the matter.
Mr SPEAKER: And I accept that the member is now raising exactly the same point of order again. The Minister said that because it was involving those two schools, and that is the court case, the Minister, because it is still within an appeal time, does not feel it is within the public interest for her to answer further. That is a satisfactory answer for the Minister to give.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister may or may not appeal this court case, but the matter is not sub judice at all until she does. That is the legal point, and the Speaker should have regard to it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need assistance on that particular point. The Minister did not say it was sub judice. What she is saying is that there is a possibility of appeals by either party, and on that basis she does not feel it is in the public interest to further answer. That is a legitimate answer for the Minister to give.
Chris Hipkins: Were all of the schools proposed for merger or closure in Christchurch provided with detailed information on the likely cost of her proposals, as against the retention of the status quo, during the formal consultation period required under the Education Act; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As the matters the member is inquiring about are contained by the judgment and it is still within the appeal period, one or other of the parties may appeal, and it would not be in the public interest for me to comment.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There were several dozen schools in Christchurch that were proposed for closure or merger. The court case that we have dealt with relates to only two. My question related to all of those schools. If the Minister does not want to address the issue that may possibly be subject to a court case, she could still address the rest of the schools proposed.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: This is a serious matter. It does involve the rights of a community to question decisions around this sort of activity. It is also the right of the Minister to determine what is in the public interest when it comes to answering these things. There should not be anything said in this House that might prejudice either position. That is the position the Minister has taken, and that is perfectly reasonable in the circumstances.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear from Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: The question that my colleague asked was not one that actually engaged at all with the proceedings before the court. He asked a question about facts, seeking facts from the Minister. The question did not ask for an opinion; it actually just asked her about a broader set. I wonder whether you could get my colleague to re-ask the question and we might be able to take the matter forward from there.
Mr SPEAKER: In regard to the very first supplementary question, I have no doubt that my decision was absolutely right. I accept the point that Chris Hipkins is making. This one was more general. At the end of the day, I am not going to be responsible for the answer that the Minister gives. She has said it is not in the public interest to answer it—on a number of schools in Christchurch—which, frankly, I find a surprising answer, but that is the answer given. I think the best way forward is that I will allow the member an additional supplementary question for him to use.
Chris Hipkins: Thank you. Were all of the schools proposed for merger or closure in Christchurch, other than Phillipstown School and Woolston School, provided with detailed information on the likely cost of her proposals, as against retention of the status quo, during the formal consultation period required under the Education Act; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As the question relates to issues dealt with by the judgment, which is still—
Hon Annette King: No, it does not.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, yes, they are. It is still within the appeal period, and one or other—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am having trouble actually hearing the answer. Can the Minister please repeat it?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As one or other of the parties may appeal, it would not be in the public interest for me to comment.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question specifically excluded the schools that have taken court action against the Minister’s decision. It is not unreasonable to ask her to answer for her actions, as required under the Education Act, in relation to a matter that is not before the courts, that has not been put before the courts, and, as far as I know, that no one is going to put before the courts.
Mr SPEAKER: To move the matter—[Interruption] Order! To move the matter forward, I am going to ask the member to ask the question again. I would hope that an informative answer could be given to the House.
Chris Hipkins: Were all of the schools proposed for closure or merger in Christchurch, other than Phillipstown School and Woolston School, provided with detailed information on the likely cost of her proposals, as against retention of the status quo, during the formal consultation period required under the Education Act; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As the matters the member inquires about are relevant to the judgment, which is still within the appeal period, and one or other of the parties may appeal, it would not be in the public interest for me to comment.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I presume that the Minister is using Standing Order 383(1), in order to say that the answer she is giving cannot be given consistently with the public interest. We are faced with an enormous difficulty on this side of the House if Ministers are simply going to invoke that, no matter what question is asked. I know that you have taken the attitude that you have given the member an additional question in the hope that the Minister will answer. I do not find it acceptable under the Standing Orders that you will now potentially move on from that. The Minister is obliged to give an answer that addresses the question. She cannot simply invoke the public interest randomly. It has to actually relate to a specific case. This does not.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point. I can ask the Minister, in answering the question, only to be informative to the House. At the end of the question, it is over to the Minister to decide how she answers the question. If she decides to invoke the public interest, then that is where the matter lies. I cannot insist on a particular answer from a Minister. I would have hoped that the answer would have been more informative.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although you cannot insist on a particular answer, it is your job under Standing Order 383 to ensure that the Minister addresses the question. Nobody is asking for a specific, particular answer. My colleague asked the question, which could be addressed in the public interest. He excluded the matters that you were concerned about earlier. It is your job to require a Minister to address a question. The Minister has failed to do that.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The member’s question was a clever way of getting in exactly the same position and trying to put the Minister in a difficult position. [Interruption] Look, yes, he is one of your more talented members—no doubt about that. However, if you go to Speakers’ rulings 172/5 right through to Speakers’ ruling 173/5, there are all of the rulings that the House has in front of it with regard to questions and answers, and it is very clear that the Minister has to make a decision about what is in the public interest. A Minister who is potentially engaged in further court action will often decide that it would not be fair to either party to progress the answer being sought by the Opposition.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member. If I could refer back to Grant Robertson’s point where he correctly pointed out that it is my job to see that the Minister addresses the question, in my opinion the Minister has addressed the question, but certainly not to the satisfaction of the member asking the question nor, indeed, to Grant Robertson’s satisfaction. [Interruption] Order! The member has invoked an answer that says it is not in the public interest to answer it. I do not find that at all helpful to the House or informative, but the Minister has addressed the question. I invite Chris Hipkins to continue his line of questioning.
Chris Hipkins: Is she satisfied that all of the schools in Christchurch on which she has made decisions to close or merge as a result of the formal consultation period, other than Phillipstown School and Woolston School, were provided with all of the information they needed to have a meaningful say in the consultation process?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As consultation was the subject of this judgment, which is still within the appeal period, and one or other of the parties may appeal, it would not be in the public interest for me to comment.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Given her responsibility under the Education Act, is she satisfied that all the reporting obligations of Te Kōhunga Reo National Trust and any subsidiary entity have been met?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Subsequent to that answer, has she received any advice from ministry officials or her advisers regarding inappropriate spending associated with Te Kōhunga Reo National Trust; if so, what action will she take?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, but notwithstanding that, the action I have taken is to call an urgent meeting of the national trust, which will be held this evening.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Have any matters been brought to her attention regarding Te Pataka Ohanga, requiring her to investigate the use of public moneys intended to achieve Māori language learning outcomes?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am aware of the allegations in respect of Te Pataka Ohanga. That is one of the reasons why I have requested an urgent meeting, and it will be held this evening.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Minister in answer to so many supplementary questions replied that it was not in the public interest, on what basis to do with the Standing Orders, constitutionally, or legally was she making that statement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I was making it constitutionally, so that we would not breach the separation of powers between the judiciary and Parliament, and I was making it legally on the advice that—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No separation of power matters arise here—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I’m making my point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need to hear it from the member. Will he please resume his seat. The member asked on what basis the Minister was giving those answers. The Minister gave a perfectly adequate answer to that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is required to be terse and to the point, and the point had to be in respect of the three issues put to her. If there is no court case pending or even contemplated, to the best of my knowledge, how could she possibly answer the question that way?
Mr SPEAKER: By opening her mouth and giving the answer that she did.
Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by all of her school closure and merger decisions in Christchurch other than her decision to merge Phillipstown School and Woolston School; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order.
Chris Hipkins: If the Minister is able to answer that she stands by her decisions, why is she not able to answer questions on the reasons for that, on which all my earlier questions were?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has now been given an answer that he is satisfied with on this time, and he is then going back and questioning earlier answers that the Minister gave. We have moved past that. I agreed with the member—I thought those answers were less than helpful to the House. They are the answers that have been given.
5. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Tertiary
Education, Skills and Employment: What recent reports has he received on the value of the international education industry to New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): I recently received a new report by Infometrics on the economic impact of international education in 2012-13. This report shows that the value of international education to the New Zealand economy is continuing to grow. It contributed $2.6 billion in 2012-13 and around 28,000 jobs. The sector has grown in value since 2008, despite a recent fall in international student head count due to the impacts of the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes. It is worth noting that international education is important not just for New Zealand as a whole but also for our regions— for example, in 2012-13 spending generated $177 million for Wellington, $165 million for Otago, and $152 million for Waikato.
Nicky Wagner: What steps is the Government taking to encourage growth in New Zealand’s international education sector?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Last week the Minister of Immigration and myself announced a package of new initiatives designed to help grow our international education industry further. The changes will make it easier for some international students to work during their studies, and allow streamlined visa processing in partnership with selected high-quality education providers. Furthermore, the lowest-quality providers will be prevented from enrolling international students. Together, these changes will help ensure that New Zealand remains internationally competitive and provides a good quality experience for students in New Zealand. Growing international education is not just about direct revenue; it is about creating relationships with countries that are vital for New Zealand’s future. International students who study here often go home to their home country and become great ambassadors for New Zealand, and maintain their links with this country.
Nicky Wagner: How will the changes enhance protection for international students in New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is important that we do look after international students, who travel a long way to come and study here. In addition to the legislative changes made previously in 2011, the Government is proposing further amendments to establish a new legal framework for enforcing the Code of Practice for the Pastoral Care of International Students, as well as a new disputes resolution scheme to resolve contract disputes. We need to remain vigilant to the risks of unscrupulous agents and providers. Although we are already making a number of legislative changes to deal with bad apples in the system, these changes will further strengthen our regulatory framework so that we keep looking after this very important industry for New Zealand and for the students who study here.
6. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: When he carried furniture into a Housing New Zealand tenant’s house, was he consciously comparing himself to Michael Joseph Savage?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): No, I leave such grandiose comparisons to the Leader of the Opposition. But it was a very useful opportunity to highlight our social housing policy of expanding 3-bedroom houses from that era to make them suitable for larger families through Budget 2013’s Project 324&5—our programme of insulating every possible State house to make them warmer and safer—and the priority that we are now giving to families on the waiting list with a risk of rheumatic fever, through changes to the social allocation system.
Phil Twyford: How does his performance as Minister echo Savage’s housing legacy, given that the chief executive of the country’s biggest real estate firm said a couple of days ago that “Due to LVRs, it’s a property investor’s dream at the moment because LVRs are keeping homebuyers out of
the market and reducing competition for the properties investors want to buy.”, and does the Minister agree with that statement?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: One of the most important factors for affordability in housing is interest rates, and the step by the independent Reserve Bank has made plain that without loan-to-value ratios, interest rates would go up higher earlier, and that would make the dream of homeownership so much more difficult—albeit, I note, that interest rates went up dramatically during the last Government by over 10 percent. That would be the worst thing for housing and homeownership.
Phil Twyford: How many of his rundown, surplus-to-requirement State houses in provincial New Zealand has he so far been able to unload on to unsuspecting first-home buyers, or was this just another stunt in his desperate attempt to cover up his broken housing policy?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would point out that the change is simply this: every year—
Phil Twyford: How many?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I will get to that. Every year over the last decade, 130 State houses a year have been sold. Labour sold them to speculators. What we are doing is changing the policy and giving preference for the sale of those surplus State houses to first-home buyers. I thought that was what Phil Twyford wanted us to do—
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister how many he had sold. That is all I asked him—how many.
Mr SPEAKER: And the answer given to the member was 130 per year.
Phil Twyford: No, no, no. That is how many are sold regularly. I asked how many under his newly announced policy, and he has not answered it.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to ask the question again. I may have misheard it.
Phil Twyford: How many of his rundown, surplus-to-requirement State houses in provincial New Zealand has he so far been able to unload on to unsuspecting first-home buyers, or was this just another stunt in his desperate attempt to cover up a broken housing policy?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That question was full of false assertions. What the Government— [Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Standing Orders require that questions are not loaded with a whole lot of unnecessary extra verbiage.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was certainly loaded. Most questions, and certainly most supplementary questions, are. The Minister can choose to answer it.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The policy has been going for—the properties came on to the market only about 10 days ago. Housing New Zealand Corporation reported to me today that there has been a highly—
Grant Robertson: None.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, there would not be any yet. I will tell you why—
Grant Robertson: Right, so none. That’s the answer, isn’t it?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well—
Grant Robertson: None. Sit down.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Actually, if you want to be a Minister, you need to be on this side, Grant.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will move on.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the New Zealand Herald, which said of his plan to sell old State houses in parts of the country where there is no housing crisis that it looks like “a Government struggling to find anything like the right answers” over housing policy, and that the Government is clearly “on the back foot over the issue of housing affordability.”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The FirstHome initiative of providing the opportunity for Kiwi families in provincial New Zealand to have a free gift of a 10 percent deposit from the Government is a good initiative, in just the same way that the Government’s policy of 39,000 houses in the accord for Auckland is a good initiative, and just as the Government’s expansion of KiwiSaver is a good initiative. The problem for the member opposite is that when I announce something in Auckland, he
says I am ignoring the provinces; when I announce something in the provinces, he says I am ignoring the big city. The simple answer is that you cannot please the members opposite.
Phil Twyford: Given that interest rates are heading north of 8 percent, the Government is sending people to live in camp grounds, Auckland house prices have reached record median prices, rents in Christchurch are skyrocketing, first-home buyers are shut out of the market, and property speculators are making a killing, will he be following the advice of National Party insider Matthew Hooton, who said that not even Bill English would support the Minister now and that he should be looking for a new career?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is news to me that Matthew Hooton is an insider, but I would say more widely that more has taken place around housing under this Government than during 9 long years under Labour in which house prices doubled, interest rates doubled, and the Labour Government spent less than half per year of what we are spending on rundown, cold State houses. I am incredibly proud of the action record this Government has on housing.
Education, National Standards—Working with Stakeholders
7. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Education: Does she believe that she has effectively explained National Standards to earn the trust of parents and the teaching profession; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes. There has been and continues to be considerable support from parents, principals, the boards, and teachers to work with national standards. The National Standards: School Sample Monitoring and Evaluation Project report, published annually since 2010, shows good progress made in the implementation of the national standards and a steady increase in teacher reporting to parents on national standards—from 79 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2012.
Metiria Turei: Why, then, does she think the national standards results advisory group doubts she has the credibility to explain national standards and is looking for someone with “acknowledged authority” to explain them instead?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The member is referring to the national standards aggregate data advisory group, which I convened, asking it to look at specifically the issues it has looked at. We have accepted all 11 of its recommendations, most of which have been implemented.
Metiria Turei: Will the Minister acknowledge that she has lost the trust of parents and teachers, as the national standards group suggests when it says: “Given the current distrust between schools and the ministry, the audience needs to have confidence that the teller of the story has credibility so the story is believable.”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: First of all, the member is imputing that the teller of the story was me, when, in fact, the advisory group was referring to all explanations given about national standards across the country. Secondly, only two schools out of nearly 2,100 did not report their national standards data.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request from the deputy secretary student achievement, showing the national standards advisory group outlining concerns about the lack of trust and credibility in the Government’s oversight—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that Official Information Act document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: Will the Minister resign now that her Government’s key education policy needs someone else other than her to make it believable, schools do not trust the Government on education, and she has lost two High Court cases over her illegal decisions to close schools? Where does the buck stop, if not with her?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: This is the second year of reporting of national standards and we have had only two out of 2,100 schools not reporting. It relates to 365,042 students for whom we now have public metrics about what it is we need to do to raise achievement. We have implemented Better Public Services targets, which we are making measurable progress on. Teachers, principals, boards of trustees, and parents are all focused on how they raise achievement. I am confident that our Government’s programme, which is focused on achievement, is achieving that very end.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was whether she will resign. She has not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member had simply asked that question, we might have been able to help, but the member went on and put quite a lot in it beyond that, and then finished with “Where will the buck stop?”. The Minister addressed the question.
8. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Associate Minister for Social Development: What new measures have recently begun to help prevent fraudulent criminal activity in our welfare system?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Associate Minister for Social Development): This week the Ministry of Social Development is starting a new low-trust – client regime that will involve a small group of beneficiaries who have been proven to be dishonestly taking money from the welfare system and put in additional checks for them to prevent them ripping off taxpayers again. They will face increased scrutiny on information they provide, be prevented from accessing services over the phone or the internet, and be required to meet face to face with the same case manager on a regular basis. Although they will still receive welfare support when they need it, these measures will make it harder for them to rip off the welfare system a second time.
Mike Sabin: How does the low-trust – client regime fit with other new measures the Government has introduced to prevent, detect, and punish welfare fraud?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: This is one of several sensible and targeted measures the Government has introduced to stop welfare fraud. It complements other measures such as increased information sharing, streamlined investigative procedures, and joint agency investigations, all of which started this year. These measures have already seen significant fraudulent benefits worth millions of dollars a year stopped, and people put before the courts to answer for their actions.
Mike Sabin: What views has he seen on the Government’s approach to welfare fraud and alternative approaches?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: The Government takes the view that fraud is fraud, whether it is dipping into grandma’s purse or the social fund, or taking welfare money you are not entitled to. It is all fraud, it is all criminal, and we make no apologies for treating it as such. Unsurprisingly, the feedback I have had from Kiwis out there has overwhelmingly been in support, but if that lot over there wants to turn a blind eye to crime—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is quite sufficient.
Oil and Gas Exploration—Risk Management
9. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by his statement that “there may well be” a relief rig present during the drilling of Anadarko’s exploratory deep sea oil wells; if so, can he guarantee that there will be a relief rig?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, I stand by my statement. Anadarko will undertake seismic surveying in the Pegasus Basin this summer. In the event that it proceeds to exploratory drilling, it will be required—along with many other requirements—to have a discharge management plan approved by Maritime New Zealand. It must convince Maritime New Zealand that it understands all possible adverse events, that it can model a series of event scenarios, of how it will deal with worst-case scenarios, and of what resources it will bring to bear. I am not
prepared to pre-empt that thorough regulatory process by assuming what will or will not be required. It could include a relief rig, though.
Gareth Hughes: Why should Kiwis believe his simplistic promises that nothing will go wrong with deep-sea exploratory drilling, when it took 86 days to plug the Deepwater Horizon blowout and he will not even commit to having a relief well in New Zealand while this dangerous drilling is under way?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not think that what I have been saying in many interviews has been simplistic. I think I have tried to run through the layered process that businesses have to go through, and the fact that some will not make it because it is so comprehensive.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister think his own uncontrolled blowout on Campbell Live last night did anything to reassure the people of Kaikōura that he can control a blowout 2.7 kilometres under water?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is very exciting to be trending on Twitter—whatever that means— but, look, I think I have tried to be reassuring to the people of Kaikōura that there are actually great benefits from oil and gas exploration and development, and that we have the systems and the process in place to make it very safe.
David Shearer: Can he understand why the community of Kaikōura is not reassured by the measures that he is proposing with the Anadarko exploration when it can see no direct benefits from the oil, and when the containment measures and response stand currently at three 11-metre dinghies?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I can understand fears about these sorts of things—I certainly can. Much of what the member has said is inaccurate. But the fact of the matter is that there will be direct benefits for Kaikōura if this goes from seismic surveying to exploration drilling, and then to production. There will be very significant benefits in terms of royalties that go to roads, better infrastructure and so on, and jobs.
Gareth Hughes: Is it not the real fact of the matter that the Minister is more focused on defending Anadarko’s reputation than he is on defending the environment and the economy, which relies on it?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think, as I made clear on a great TV show last night, that my interests are not in defending Anadarko; my interests are actually in ordinary New Zealanders getting higher-paying jobs. That is what oil and gas can, in combination with many other things, deliver.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I move that we give the Minister more time to dig himself deeper—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is very lucky he will be remaining in the House for the rest of question time.
10. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Has he briefed the Cabinet on the progress and details of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The Minister of Trade regularly updates his Cabinet colleagues on progress in the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As the member will be aware, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has the potential to be worth up to $4 billion per annum to our economy. That is something that we want New Zealand to be part of. A report about my recent travel to APEC and the Trans-Pacific Partnership meeting, which took place in Bali, will be filed with Cabinet in due course, as is normal after an overseas visit.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he intend, therefore, to brief the other MPs in the Government and, for that matter, Parliament?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, in the fullness of time, when a deal is concluded that the Government feels it wants to be a signatory of—as was the case with the previous Government— then that will go through the parliamentary process that is required.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I take that to be a no. Does he agree with the Malaysian Prime Minister’s recent comments that the Trans-Pacific Partnership goes beyond normal free-trade agreements, and his view is: “As you go beyond that, into areas of intellectual properties, investorstate dispute settlement, government procurement, state-owned enterprises, environment and labour, so you impinge on fundamentally the sovereign right of the country to make regulation and policy.”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, not necessarily. For a start off, I think one would have to look at all of the details of what is finally concluded. But if we take, for instance, investor-State dispute settlement provisions, we have signed those in the past. They were part of the China free-trade agreement signed by the Labour Government. They were part of the free-trade agreement signed with ASEAN and Australia. The simple reason why it is OK to do that is there were safeguard rights in those free-trade agreements.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would it be right for the Parliament of Malaysia, a far more recent democracy than New Zealand, to have the right to hear about this Trans-Pacific Partnership before it signs, or—
Paul Foster-Bell: When did that member change his tune on Asia?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I beg your pardon?
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, there is a moron up here, but he is saying some things that are rather dangerous.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member wants to ask his question, he will ask it. [Interruption] Order! The Hon Annette King has not ceased interjecting through the whole of this question time. If it happens again, I will be asking her to leave for the rest of the day. Would the member please start his supplementary question again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would it be right for the parliamentarians of Malaysia to be briefed before that Government signs any agreement, or the Congress in the United States to have been deemed to have a right to see what is in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whilst this Parliament and New Zealanders are not taken into the Prime Minister’s confidence?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, every Parliament has a different way of dealing with these issues. I cannot speak about the Malaysian Parliament, but what I can say is that as is standard, and as was standard with, for instance, the China free-trade agreement, which was handled by a Labour Government, it went through the proper and full process, as this will. It will go off to a select committee, where submissions will be made. To quote the Opposition member Phil Goff, he said last week that he understands why the Government is not releasing the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. He is a former trade Minister. He knows how these things work. [Interruption] Well, I am trying to defend you, which is better than what you do for yourselves. But, anyway, the truth of the matter is that Winston Peters and New Zealand First are opposed to freetrade—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is quite sufficient.
Oil and Gas Exploration—Regulation and Risk Management
11. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she agree with all the comments made by her colleague the Minister for Energy and Resources, Hon Simon Bridges, on Campbell Live last night relating to the regulation and risk management of offshore oil and gas exploration?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): In so far as his comments relate to my portfolio responsibilities, then broadly yes. I certainly agree that this Government has strengthened
regulation and risk management of offshore oil and gas exploration, with a significant, layered, and sophisticated process now in place to manage the risks associated with these activities. However, I would clarify that in respect of the non-notified classifications discussed, although these have been proposed and consulted on, no final decisions have yet been made.
Moana Mackey: Does she agree with Minister Bridges statement “This is not the Anadarko show or the John Campbell or Simon Bridges show.”, or has she explained to him that it is, in fact, the John Campbell show and that shouting him down for merely attempting to convey the concerns of the people of Kaikōura is not the best way to demonstrate that the Government is taking those concerns seriously?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, thankfully, I have no ministerial responsibility for John Campbell’s show.
Moana Mackey: When Minister Bridges stated “You made it very clear on that show that you wanted to get me in to provide a balance.”, does she believe he achieved that balance by accusing John Campbell of biased reporting because he did not make “one single positive statement” about the role of Anadarko in the worst environmental disaster in the history of the oil industry?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Amy Adams, in as far as she has ministerial responsibility.
Hon AMY ADAMS: If the member would like to find any slim relevance of any of that to my portfolio, I would be very happy to answer it.
Moana Mackey: It is called “the environment”, but anyway—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Moana Mackey: In the event of an oil spill, how long would it take to get the “400 people on call from Maritime New Zealand” out to the site 100 kilometres off the coast of Kaikōura in the three aluminium launches owned by Maritime New Zealand, two of which are based at the top of the North Island, given a top speed for the vessels of 13 kilometres an hour when fully laden?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Let me speak really slowly so she can follow me: I am not the Minister for maritime transport—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the Minister could assist the order of the House by standing and simply answering the question.
Hon AMY ADAMS: I am not the Minister for maritime transport, who has responsibility for responses to oil spills. I would have thought the member would know that.
Moana Mackey: That is reassuring. Does she think the Kaikōura community has every right to be concerned and angry about the proposed offshore drilling, given that today her Government will take away their right to have a say through a notified process—a right that was explicitly promised to them by the previous Minister of Energy and Resources, Phil Heatley, last year?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Amy Adams, in so far as she has ministerial responsibility.
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, I think the Kaikōura community would be very well aware that under Labour there was absolutely no public participation in any of these decisions because there was absolutely no process to consider the environmental impact. I think the community of Kaikōura would be delighted that under the National Government there will be now a full consideration, based on the science and technical information for each proposal.
Mental Health Services—Initiatives
12. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Associate Minister of Health: What initiatives is the Government taking to address mental health?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Associate Minister of Health): Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and I wish to recognise the very many mental health workers and volunteers who every day make the lives of many vulnerable New Zealanders better. The Government has made significant progress in addressing mental health issues in New Zealand, particularly amongst young people. Initiatives include the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project, the Children’s Action Plan, Addressing the Drivers of Crime, Youth Forensic Services Development, the Suicide
Prevention Action Plan implementation, maternal mental health, and, in partnership with the Māori Party, the Whānau Ora initiative. In addition, the implementation of Rising to the Challenge: The Mental Health and Addiction Service Development Plan 2012-2017 provides a positive direction for mental health and addiction services delivery and improvement for the next 5 years.
Dr Jian Yang: What reports has he received about the impact on mental health – related problems following the Psychoactive Substances Act coming into force?
Hon TODD McCLAY: District health boards and mental health professionals have reported both reduced presentations and a reduction of severity of adverse effects following the passing of the Psychoactive Substances Act, both in emergency departments and mental health units. This is a direct result of the reduction of the availability and supply of psychoactive substances. Concerningly, there are reports also that some members of this industry are not being responsible and are looking to target those New Zealanders who have mental health issues. I have spoken recently with the regulator, and through the use of regulations and cooperation with the police it is our intention to focus on this irresponsible behaviour.
Tracey Martin: In light of the answer to the primary question, can he inform us how many services are being provided around the youth mental health area in the far north, considering recent clusters of youth suicides in that area?
Hon TODD McCLAY: It is clear around the issue of suicide that it is a great challenge that many communities in New Zealand face. Recently we had statistics put out by the coroner that I recognise say there is some progress, amongst sorrow, in suicide numbers. In particular, around men, Māori, and young people the numbers have dropped, but I would say that any level of suicide is too high in New Zealand. I am happy to provide the exact numbers of services and beds available to the member afterwards. But this is an issue that communities all over New Zealand face. It is absolutely a tragedy when people of all ages take their lives. I think what we need to do is look for ways to find some of the very good work that is being done in some parts of the country and emulate that on a community-by-community basis.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter to me from the Lakes District Health Board showing that mental health funding to the NGO sector in that district health board was cut in the last financial year.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter to the Hon Annette King. Is there any objection to that course of action? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.