QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economy—Forecasts and Business Confidence
1. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received about forecasts for the New Zealand economy and how are these being reflected in levels of business confidence?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): We are now regularly seeing reports showing that the economy is continuing to strengthen, producing more jobs and higher incomes. In particular, an authoritative source is the International Monetary Fund’s annual World Economic Outlook, which forecasts that New Zealand would this year and next year have the fifth-highest growth rate out of 35 developed economies. New Zealand’s growth rate was picked to be 2.5 percent for each of the next 2 years. The average growth rate for advanced economies was less than half that, at 1.2 percent. Closer to home, the BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Services Index rose to its highest level since the survey began in 2007. The September ANZ Business Outlook shows business confidence at its highest level since March 1999.
Paul Goldsmith: In light of improving business confidence, what reports has he seen about staff-hiring intentions amongst businesses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, it is important that high levels of confidence convert into higher levels of jobs, but if you do not have the confidence first, you certainly will not get the jobs following. The ANZ report I referred to in my previous answer says: “Employment and general investment intentions remain rock solid at +19 and +20 respectively”—that is, on net 19 or 20 percent of businesses are going to expand their hiring and their investment. TradeMe’s vacancy data shows that vacancies advertised on that site rose by 9.6 percent in the last quarter, compared with the previous quarter. The head of TradeMe jobs was quoted as saying: “We’re becoming confident that the buoyancy in the Kiwi job market isn’t a temporary affair … It reflects an increasing confidence as employers look to boost investment in new staff.”
Paul Goldsmith: How is an increase in employment intentions likely to flow through to wage growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has been very focused on higher incomes as well as more jobs, through what have been some pretty challenging economic circumstances. Nominal wage growth remains subdued, but this needs to be seen in the context of subdued consumer inflation. The New Zealand Income Survey, released a couple of weeks ago, showed that the median weekly wage and salary income increased by $844, or 4.8 percent, between June 2012 and June 2013. Wage growth has to be based on business confidence, improved profitability, and good economic momentum.
Paul Goldsmith: What are the latest figures on inflation, and how is that likely to affect households and the wider economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The CPI came out today showing a rise of 1.4 percent in the year to September. About half of the increase was attributable to higher petrol prices and seasonally higher vegetable prices. The long period of restrained inflation and low interest rates has been significant in helping New Zealand households get on top of their debt and enjoying the benefit of real increases in wages, even though they have had relatively low wage increases. This is a lot better than the picture just 5 years ago, where inflation was running at 5 percent instead of 1.4 percent, and first mortgage rates were 10.5 percent, instead of 5 percent when Labour left office.
Hawke’s Bay Water Management—Department of Conservation Submission on Plan Change
2. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by the statement made on his behalf on 25 September “The Minister was aware that the Department of Conservation was working on a submission. He was not aware of the content of the leaked draft submission until Tuesday, 17 September”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can the Prime Minister stand by that statement, given that Nick Smith’s 20 May weekly report discussed submission content and said that the Department of Conservation had concerns with the approach to nitrogen and phosphate monitoring, 3 months before the Minister claimed to know?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that particular report in front of me, but what I do know is that the weekly report of 29 July did indicate, within two sentences, that there was a lodging of a submission to be made in the name of the director-general, and on 31 July the Minister received the report.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a summary of the Minister’s weekly reports, which the Prime Minister clearly has not been briefed on by his Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Interruption] Order!
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There may be some confusion—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is the member seeking now to table another document?
Hon David Cunliffe: I am seeking to table the cover sheet to the question for written answer that attached the weekly reports from the honourable Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is now sought to table—[Interruption] Order! Leave is now sought to table the cover sheet. Is there any objection? No, there is not. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can he continue to support Nick Smith, given Dr Smith’s claim that he first asked the Department of Conservation to give him a copy of the submission on 29 July, and when his 24 June weekly report states that he required it to be approved by him on 17 June—17 June?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because I am advised that that is correct.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the particular extract from the weekly report, which shows that the advice the Prime Minister received—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought now to table—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is seeking to table a document. Is the member seeking clarification?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Is the member seeking clarification?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! The point is that I am dealing with a point of order to table a document. I will put that leave, and then if the member wants to raise a point of order, that is perfectly in order. Leave is ought to table the particular document outlined by the Hon David Cunliffe. Is there any objection? There is not. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it proper to seek leave to table documents that have been provided by way of written answer to a question? Because both documents that the Leader of the Opposition has sought leave for have been provided to the House by way of answer to a written question.
Mr SPEAKER: I am happy to clarify that. If I am clear that the document has already been clearly made available—and I expect members when they seek leave to table a document to make that known to the House—in that case there seems to be little point in tabling the document. On this occasion Mr Cunliffe sought to table two documents. I was unaware whether they were freely available and on that basis I then put the leave to the House. It is for the House to determine.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to clarify the point for the member. The Prime Minister, in answering both the supplementary questions that David Cunliffe asked, said that he was unaware of the material. That is the practice in which you have previously said it is OK to table documents—to help clarify matters in the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I will just tidy that up for the benefit of the member, because it is not strictly a point of order. What we have said in the past is that documents can be tabled if they further inform the members of the House. As to whether a Minister stands up and says they have no knowledge of that, etc., that is not the purpose of tabling a document; it is about giving further information to members.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the information of the House I can confirm that the information that has just been tabled by leave was, in fact, received by the Opposition only this morning and is still subject to the standard 3-day stand-down before its publication as a question for written answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for that. Leave was put for the documents to be tabled. That is the end of the matter.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can he have confidence in Nick Smith when the Department of Conservation raised water quality concerns in May—May—and told Smith that it was preparing a submission, Smith asked to approve it in June, and yet the same Minister claimed to know nothing about it until September?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that the member is attempting to conflate and draw inferences from a whole lot of material, which he cannot. The simple facts of life are that on 29 July at his weekly meeting he received a report that had two sentences in relation to the submission. On 31 July he received the report. And I refer the member to Doris Johnston, the Deputy Director-General of Conservation, who said, amongst other things, that “He never saw the draft submission that everyone’s been talking about” and “the Minister did not play any role in my decision-making.” So the member can conflate things as much as he likes, he might bamboozle his Labour caucus, but he will not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! That answer is quite sufficient.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in Nick Smith, given Smith’s claim in response to a question on notice that he first knew that the Department of Conservation was preparing any submission was 29 July, given that the Minister’s weekly reports show he had already been briefed on it on 20 May, 17 June, and 24 June?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It really does not matter how many times the Leader of the Opposition looks at the press gallery; it will not be any more convincing, because it is not correct. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Question No. 3.
Science and Research Funding—National Science Challenges Initiative
COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura): What recent announcements has the Government made about investment in the National Science Challenges? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I ask for a little less interjection and barracking from the left-hand side of the House. Would the member please read the question again.
3. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What recent announcements has the Government made about investment in the National Science Challenges?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Recently I released the request for proposals for the first three National Science Challenges, with $470 million worth of funding available over the next 10 years. The three challenges that will receive funding in the first tranche are: high-value nutrition, up to $180.8 million over 10 years, focusing on foods that develop health benefits and contribute to economic growth; resilience to nature’s challenges, up to $201.4 million over 10 years, strengthening New Zealand’s resilience to natural hazards; and the deep south, up to $88.1 million over 10 years, understanding how the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean affect our climate and the environment. The request for proposals for the first three challenges will close in December. Proposals will be assessed by an independent assessment panel, and decisions on challenge proposals and funding allocation will be made by the Government’s science board. A request for proposals for the remaining seven challenges will be issued in February next year.
Colin King: Why is the Government investing in National Science Challenges?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The National Science Challenges are designed to take a more strategic approach to our science investment, by targeting a series of medium and longer-term goals that, if they are achieved, would have a major and enduring benefit for our country. The challenges provide an opportunity to align and focus New Zealand’s research on large and complex issues, by drawing scientists together from different institutions and across disciplines to achieve a common goal through collaboration. New Zealand has a complex and reasonably fragmented science system. Aligning and focusing research in this way will help the Government get better value from our investment in science and research.
Colin King: What investment is the Government making in research, science, and innovation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: A very good question. I know the Opposition never tires of hearing the answer. Research, science, and innovation are key drivers of economic growth. They make New Zealand businesses more competitive. We have increased total funding for science, innovation, and research across Government to $1.36 billion in the current financial year, up from $1 billion 4 years ago. In Budget 2013 we allocated an additional $75 million over 4 years for business research and development grants, and $31 million over 4 years for repayable grants for start-up businesses. We have co-invested $684 million in the Primary Growth Partnership to co-fund 16 programmes with industry, and we have established Callaghan Innovation, to get our best scientific ideas out of the lab and into the market place sooner.
Dr Megan Woods: How many of the 10 selected National Science Challenges explicitly seek to stimulate an innovative, high-value manufacturing sector through investment in research in the physical sciences and engineering?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There is one specific science challenge in the areas of technological innovation. Fortunately for the member, there is a whole organisation called Callaghan Innovation—which she may have slept through being set up by the Government—which, separate to the National Science Challenges, is specifically devoted to developing research and development opportunities for New Zealand businesses. I believe it will be one of this Government’s proudest achievements.
4. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Metiria Turei: Would it not be wiser for him to reserve his decision regarding confidence in John Banks until after the courts have decided whether he has committed criminal fraud?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have the luxury of doing that. The member asked me the question now.
Metiria Turei: Does the fact that Skycity’s Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Morrison, was a witness in John Banks’ preliminary hearing and is likely to give evidence if there is a future criminal trial affect his confidence in John Banks’ ability to make an objective decision about the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill?
Hon Judith Collins: It’s outrageous. This is before the courts.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I will kindly follow the member’s advice. The matter is before the courts and I will not be discussing it.
Metiria Turei: Has the Prime Minister been advised in writing by John Banks that he has a potential conflict of interest in relation to the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot recall getting a record of that, but I would need to check my files.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister require John Banks to formally advise him that a conflict exists, as the Cabinet Manual requires, given that the Skycity chief executive officer could be required to give evidence in court about John Banks and that the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill relies on John Banks’ single vote to pass?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Look, the matter is before the courts and I do not intend to make any hypothetical assessment of it.
Metiria Turei: How can he consider that John Banks does not face a conflict of interest when the chief executive officer of Skycity needs Mr Banks’ single vote to ensure that the casino secures a massive increase in business, and that same Skycity chief executive officer is in court giving evidence that could sink John Banks’ political career?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not accept the proposition from the member.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a document produced for me by the Parliamentary Library identifying two members of Parliament who have abstained from voting because of conflicts of interest—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If it is the voting record of this Parliament, then it is freely available to members.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Conservation, given his statement: “I expect high standards from my Ministers … if they don’t meet the standards I set then I will obviously take action if necessary”, and if it is proven that the Hon Nick Smith’s statements around the dates he was first briefed on the Ruataniwha dam issue and the submission from the Department of Conservation are incompatible with the truth, as evidenced by the Minister’s own weekly reports, will he ask the Minister to resign?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, I have confidence in the Minister.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given his refusal to express confidence in his Minister, is it within the high standards he expects of Minister Nick Smith to ensure that the Minister has bent over backwards to get his department not to stand in the way of special interests making massive windfall gains from this partially publicly funded project?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My assessment of the Leader of the Opposition’s portrayal of this event is very much like that of his regional statistics. He is making it up.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister seriously telling this House that he is genuinely unconcerned about allowing one of his Ministers, who is dependent on the Skycity chief executive
officer, who could make or break that Minister’s political career, to have the deciding vote on a deal that is worth more than $400 million to the Skycity Casino? Is it really of no concern to you?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not accept the proposition from the member about the Skycity convention centre, which, I understand, these days the Labour Party is now supporting quietly.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 5, Brendan Horan. [Interruption] Order! The level of noise coming from this particular corner is getting to the stage when I will have no choice but to pick one of the noisiest and ask that person to leave.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I might be able to help explain some of the noisiness, because the Prime Minister is just making things up in his answers—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order, and the member will be very lucky to see the balance of question time.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you explain how the Prime Minister has responsibility for the Labour Party’s policies; if not, why was that comment—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order. If the members continue to raise invalid points of order, if they continue to do that, I will be asking them to leave.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise a point of order under Standing Order 383(2) about the Prime Minister’s last answer, where he included a matter that he is not responsible for, which was entirely incorrect and not relevant to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to go back and look at the question that was asked. It was a question with opinion.
Hon David Cunliffe: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No. If it is a fresh point of order, I will hear it, but if the member is now questioning my point of order, then I will be asking the member to leave. So if it is a fresh point of order, I will hear it, but I want to be quite clear—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a fresh point of order. I seek your guidance as to the difference between a ruling that says that a point of order is not a point of order, and a ruling that says that a point of order on a matter like, for example, Standing Order 383 is a point of order but one that you do not find meets your threshold. What is the difference?
Mr SPEAKER: The member is now questioning my ruling. I invited Grant Robertson and I invite the member to have a look at Hansard. When a question is asked, it should equally be short and concise. But when it is asked and it includes quite a lot of additional prose, it will likely get a political answer back.
Grant Robertson: Point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a fresh point of order?
Grant Robertson: Yes it is, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Does it in any way question my earlier rulings with—
Grant Robertson: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member resume his seat. If the member wants to raise a fresh point of order, I will hear it, but if it in any way questions a decision I have just made in the last 5 minutes, then the member will be leaving the Chamber.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise a point of order under Standing Order 383(2) and make clear that the answer the Prime Minister was giving was to a question from Metiria Turei. It was not a question from this side of the House. The Prime Minister then introduced material that was irrelevant, and under Standing Order 383(2) he was out of order and you should have ruled him out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I accept the point that the supplementary question was from Metiria Turei. I equally now invite both the Hon David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson to study that question. It was a very loaded question when it was asked and it got a political answer back.
Hon David Cunliffe: Point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just clarify again. I just—[Interruption] Order! This is a point of order, but I just want to give Mr Cunliffe exactly the same warning that I gave Mr Robertson. If it is a fresh point of order, I will hear it. If it is in any way attempting to question or to relitigate what I have just determined, then the member will be leaving the Chamber for the balance of question time. Fresh point of order—
Hon David Cunliffe: Clarifying the point, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am not accepting clarification of a point. I have ruled.
Hon David Cunliffe: Then I decline to raise the point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can certainly raise a point of order, but it must be a fresh point of order.
Energy and Resources, Minister—Statements
5. BRENDAN HORAN (Independent) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by all of his recent statements?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes.
Brendan Horan: After saying on Campbell Live that there were eight deep-water wells in New Zealand, is the Minister concerned that he may have misled New Zealanders over safety concerns, when the deepest operating well is only 125 metres, virtually a puddle compared with the 2 to 3 kilometre depths proposed off the South Island?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, that is not correct. There have been eight deep offshore wells drilled in New Zealand’s history, as I said on Campbell Live.
Brendan Horan: Is the Minister concerned that there have been 2,590 earthquakes recorded by Geonet along the east coast of the South Island since 2008, and will the Minister take personal command of one of the three 8-metre oil recovery dinghies when the inevitable disaster occurs?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: With the greatest respect to the member, linking earthquakes to any of these sorts of things has no basis in science.
David Shearer: Does he think that the people of Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa, whose power prices have risen by $108, will agree with his statement that “we have a system that delivers what New Zealanders want … at a competitive price.”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes.
Judicial Proceedings—Trans-Tasman Dispute Resolution
6. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Justice: What recent steps have been taken by the Government to make it easier to resolve cross-border disputes between New Zealand and Australia?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Last week the Attorney-General of Australia and I launched new trans-Tasman proceedings arrangements between New Zealand and Australia aimed at making a court case between parties located on different sides of the Tasman more like a court case between people in the same country. The new laws will give businesses and individuals greater confidence when operating across the Tasman. It will be easier to start proceedings against a party in the other country, require people to give evidence, and enforce court decisions in the other country. This is another important step in developing closer economic relations between New Zealand and Australia.
Paul Foster-Bell: How will these arrangements make it easier for conducting trans-Tasman dealings?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: We have one of the most open economic, social, and trade relationships in the world. Last year total trade between our countries was $25.5 billion. Increasing internet use, ease of access to Australian markets, and the speed of doing business today mean we need to have confidence that our legal systems will support trans-Tasman relationships and business contracts. From 11 October this year people have been able to ask for their cases to be heard in their
own countries. They will be able to appear before a court in the other country by video or audio link, and they will be able to manage or suspend enforcement of a wide range of civil court judgments from the other country.
7. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received in the last month of New Zealanders receiving inadequate health services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): As the member will be well aware, I receive more than 100 ministry reports a month, many of which outline the real progress that the Government is making in delivering better health services, but also a few that indicate that some health services do need to be improved. One report I have received outlined unacceptable waiting lists, which led to a decision to send 30,000 patients to be culled off the hospital waiting lists under the previous Government. But now 40,000 more patients a year are getting elective surgery.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware of a report in the last month in the Dominion Post headed “Flood of rest home complaints”, which includes cases of frail older New Zealanders suffering from bullying, surgery delays, malnutrition, poor medication management, and bone fractures, with staffing issues being raised as an ongoing problem; if so, how does this satisfy his 2008 expectations 5 years on that “It is vitally important to maintain public confidence in the standard of care being provided in the country’s rest homes.”?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government certainly acts very quickly on any concerns that are expressed about the standard of care of our older people in rest home facilities. What I can advise Parliament is that we continue to invest very strongly in aged residential care. We are spending more money than ever before, with a particular focus on dementia.
Hon Annette King: Did he read the report in the past month in the Taranaki Daily News headed “New prescription fees a bitter pill for some patients”, in which Taranaki pharmacists have stated that some patients are finding it difficult to pay the increased fee and that it was a struggle for people with multiple scripts, with larger families, and on lower incomes; if so, how many of these people were surveyed by the Ministry of Health in a survey that he claimed showed that more people were picking up prescriptions than last year?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Ministry of Health’s annual report will be released tomorrow, which actually will debunk the member’s attempts to bluster up a problem.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member asked two questions—
Hon Annette King: But that didn’t start to address either of them.
Mr SPEAKER: I am waiting to hear the answer to either of the questions asked.
Hon TONY RYALL: The ministry’s survey to be released tomorrow shows that the proportion of people reporting that cost had prevented them collecting a prescription in the last 12 months has declined for adults and children between 2011-12 and 2012-13. It shows, for example, that the number of adults reporting costs related to prescription for not picking it up reduced from seven to six for adults, and seven to four for children. The Government is investing more in medicines, and, in fact, the total number of funded prescriptions has continued to increase.
Hon Annette King: Has he seen the report in the Otago Daily Times just 8 days ago headed “Financial pressure blamed”, which states that the Southern District Health Board is under so much financial pressure that it is affecting its ability to buy equipment, it cannot replace equipment in the normal time frames, and that replacements can be made only if an item actually breaks; and how will the cost-saving plan that he has imposed on this board ensure that patients receive adequate health services?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government’s plan with funding to the Southern District Health Board saw it get an extra $17 million last year from our Government. The budget is now a record
$818 million at the Southern District Health Board, which continues to provide more operations faster than when that member was the failed Minister of Health.
Hon Annette King: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What a silly Minister. Did he read the report in the Dominion Post in the last month headed “Low-cost clinics at crisis point as funding dries up”; if so, why did he give false hope and false information to such clinics with his announcement that they had received an 85 percent increase in funding, which he called “Our significant increase”, when, in fact, under his four Budgets they have received a 9 percent increase in total, and his latest announcement for the 2013-14 year equates to just $5.60 per patient per year for the sickest, poorest patients in New Zealand and will not make a difference to these clinics?
Hon TONY RYALL: This Government is putting $16 million extra into supporting low-cost practices. But I have also seen a number of reports with headlines that that member might be interested in: “Surgery delays taking heavy toll”, “Surgery delay hits cancer clinic”, “Surgery delay for elderly”, “Waiting time doubles for heart surgery”—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Almost all of that answer from the Minister was about matters for which he is not responsible, and none of it was answering the question that he was asked.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If members want a concise answer, it is important they ask a concise question. [Interruption] Order! The Hon Clayton Cosgrove will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that interjection.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Now the member will leave the Chamber for the balance of question time. [Interruption] He will leave the Chamber. Hon Clayton Cosgrove withdrew from the Chamber.
Housing, Affordable—Auckland Special Housing Areas
8. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister of Housing: What progress has the Government made in addressing Auckland’s housing supply issues over the past two weeks?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): On Thursday, 3 October we formally signed the Auckland Housing Accord with the unanimous support of the Auckland Council. We also announced the first 11 special housing areas in Auckland last week, made possible by the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act, which was passed in the last session of Parliament but opposed by members opposite. It will enable the first tranche of 6,000 new sections in Auckland, which is crucial, given the supply of sections has dropped from 4,500 to just 1,700 over the past decade.
Alfred Ngaro: How long has the land at Weymouth sat vacant, and how has this Government’s programme helped bring the very positively received community development for housing over 1,000 people to fruition?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Despite house prices doubling and there being acute shortages and overcrowding issues in South Auckland, these 16 hectares of public land sat vacant all of last decade. Four actions by this Government have enabled this exciting development to proceed. The first is the Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki-makau-rau Treaty settlement, led by my colleague the Hon Chris Finlayson. The second is the housing accords and special areas legislation, which enables the subdivision to be fast tracked, and the first homes to be completed mid – next year. The third is the Social Housing Reform (Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Amendment) Bill, which opens up the income-related rent subsidy to other social housing providers, and so has encouraged them to invest tens of millions of dollars in these houses. The fourth, and final, is the Government’s own Social Housing Fund, which is directly investing $29 million into this Weymouth project.
Denis O’Rourke: Will the Minister give an assurance that the special housing areas proposed for Auckland will produce no less than 39,000 sections in the next 3 years; if so, how will he ensure this?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, the accord does provide for 39,000 houses over the next 3 years— 9,000 in year 1, 13,000 in year 2, and 17,000 in year 3. We have a special officials’ group between the council and the Government, and it is required to report monthly to the governance group, which includes me and Paula Bennett, as my Associate Minister—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked a question on how many sections would be provided—not houses. Anybody could tell you that you could put six houses one on top of the other if you liked. He was asked a question about sections, and he should be asked to answer it.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The question from the member was how I would ensure that the number of houses that were built were doing so, and I have set out the process by which that will be monitored.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There were certainly two questions. The second part was how would he ensure—I am at a loss to understand the point the member is making. If they are going to ensure that 39,000 houses are going to be provided, that will require 39,000 sections for the houses to go on, will it not? To clarify the matter, if I have misunderstood the original question from Denis O’Rourke, I invite him to ask the question again.
Denis O’Rourke: Will the Minister give an assurance that the special housing areas proposed for Auckland will produce no less than 39,000 sections in the next 3 years; if so, how will he ensure this?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The accord sets a target, as I have said, of 39,000 houses with the Auckland Council over the next 3 years. The way in which that will be monitored is by the joint officials’ group that has been established between the Government and the council.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I ask that the Minister make an attempt to—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! The Minister has now had the question twice. He has answered it. He has answered, I think, the second part particularly, rather than the first part. The member asked two parts to the question, and he certainly got an answer that addressed the question. If it is not to his satisfaction, I can do no more.
Alfred Ngaro: What other Government housing initiatives took effect over the adjournment that will also help address the challenges in housing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: On 1 October the Government’s changes to the KiwiSaver first-home deposit subsidy scheme took effect. These increase the housing price cap in Christchurch by $100,000, from $300,000 to $400,000; in Auckland by $85,000 up to $485,000; and in many other areas by $50,000. They also increase the income cap from $100,000 to $120,000. These combined changes will enable a further 25,000 families to pull together a bigger deposit for their first homes over the next 4 years. The other change on 1 October was a trebling in the number of Welcome Home Loans. These are particularly significant because they are exempt from the loan-to-value ratio limits from the Reserve Bank, and they will see an additional 6,000 families helped into their first homes.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the comments of the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, who said yesterday that the “relatively slow response of housing supply” is one of the reasons for loan-to-value ratios; if so, why has it taken 5 long years for the Government to announce its first building programme in Auckland?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government has had a very active programme over the last 5 years, in which there has been good, solid progress. The question I have got for the member— [Interruption] House prices doubled in 9 years, and Labour did absolutely zip.
Hon Craig Foss: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am finding it very difficult to hear many of the answers. I am not far away but the barracking and bellowing from the other side is making it impossible to hear the answers. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Every member has the right during question time to hear the question and the answer. The level of noise was relatively loud from this side.
Denis O’Rourke: Why has the Minister told developers that they need devote only 10 percent of developments to affordable homes when prices are already well out of the reach of most first-home buyers?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: A developer is hardly going to build a house that he cannot sell. They are in the business of building things that they can sell. I think a better way to describe it is the amount of houses that are going to be built through the accord and the special housing areas that are low cost. In one of the special housing areas, the Weymouth subdivision, there is going to be 100 percent low-cost houses for families. I can assure the member that many of the other special housing areas, as they come to the qualifying development stage, will also have requirements for building lower-cost houses.
Denis O’Rourke: Given that the costs of consents and development contributions average only 4 percent of the cost of a new home, according to Local Government New Zealand, by what means will the Minister ensure that a minimum proportion of new sections will be affordable, when all he has said about this so far is: “Alongside freeing up land supply, we need to constrain the impact of development contributions on section prices, get better value for building materials, make [efficiencies] in building consents, and improve productivity in the [building] industry.”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The research shows that the biggest increase in house prices has been in the section price, and the reason section prices have become so expensive is that their supply has been very deliberately limited through the Resource Management Act with tools like the metropolitan urban limit. If the member wants lower-priced sections, he should support my colleague the Minister for the Environment and her Resource Management Act reforms, and the member would have voted for our special housing areas legislation that frees up the land and gets lower-priced sections.
Denis O’Rourke: Will the special housing areas so far proposed have a requirement for smaller sections designed for modest-sized family homes, as a means of reducing total capital cost; if not, why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Under the accord that we have with the Auckland Council, the primary rules in those special housing areas about the section sizes will be determined by the council. The council has made plain that its desire is to move to smaller sections where they can be well designed. But I point out to the member that the only way we can bring those extra special housing areas and the smaller size sections into place is because of that special housing areas legislation, which that member vigorously opposed.
Education, Minister—Legal Obligations
9. 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): Fakalofa lahi atu, Mr Speaker. Yes, particularly as I have today announced that over $400 million is to be invested in secondary schools in the greater Christchurch area.
Chris Hipkins: Did she instruct the Ministry of Education to provide all schools being proposed for closure or merger in Christchurch with all relevant information so that they could have informed input into the consultation process required under the Education Act 1989; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The recent judgment on Phillipstown School focuses on the specific sections of the Education Act relating to consultation. 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. However, all consultation information provided to schools can be found on the Ministry of Education website.
Chris Hipkins: Is she giving consideration to appealing the High Court’s ruling, overturning her decision to merge Phillipstown School and Woolston School; if so, on what basis?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The recent judgment on Phillipstown School focuses on the sections of the Education Act relating to consultation. As this judgment is still within the appeal period, and I and one or other of the parties may appeal, I will continue to consider my options and take advice. It would not be in the public interest for me to comment.
Chris Hipkins: Did the High Court rule in favour of Phillipstown School’s request for the merger decision to be overturned; if so, does she expect the school to appeal the decision that they won, or is she just using her own indecision about whether or not to appeal the case as an excuse to avoid answering questions on yet another botch-up that she has made as a Minister?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: There is no indecision. As a responsible Minister, I am considering options, taking advice, and not commenting at this time in case one or other of the parties appeal during this period. It would not be in the public interest for me to comment.
Chris Hipkins: Did the courts earlier rule that her decision to close Salisbury School in Nelson lacked common sense and amounted to “an abrogation of the responsibilities involved in making a decision”; if so, how many more times do her decisions need to be overruled in court before she will actually start to genuinely listen to the feedback that communities are giving her?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I cannot comment on the specifics of the first judgment, because I do not have it in front of me. In terms of listening, I can point the member to the consultation information provided on the Ministry of Education website, and the member will be able then to review all of it.
Regional Population Growth—2013 Census Data
10. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Statistics: What does the latest release of Census data show in regard to population growth in the regions?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Statistics): The information released this week from Statistics New Zealand shows that all but one region grew in size of population since the last census in 2006. This shows that the Government is delivering on its priority to develop a stronger economy. The data released is a far cry from the Hon David Cunliffe’s inept prediction—
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to draw your attention to the Speakers’ Rulings supplement, page 8, Speaker’s ruling 154/2A, made by the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith on 13 November last year, in which he ruled that “It is not reasonable to use questions from the governing party or its support parties to attack other members of the House.”, which is exactly what this question is designed to do. A Minister cannot use a patsy question from—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I accept the bulk of the point of order being made. The answer was satisfactory until the Minister attempted to revert back to something that was under a previous administration, which was not his responsibility.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I was actually referring to a statement from the Leader of the Opposition from last week.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not helpful, as I have just ruled.
Jacqui Dean: Which regions in particular have grown the most?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: The Auckland and Nelson regions both grew by more than 8 percent, followed by the Waikato with 6 percent. That was nearly 23,000 people, so it is huge. Waikato was, in fact, again one of the areas highlighted by Mr Cunliffe’s press release where he said that the Taranaki was not growing.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In his answer, the Minister has now directly challenged the ruling you had just made. A moment ago you asked my colleague Clayton Cosgrove
to withdraw and apologise, and then threw him out of the Chamber without giving a reason. The Minister has directly challenged—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat, otherwise he will be accompanying Mr Cosgrove shortly. I think the Minister made a fair point, though. He was not referring to a previous administration; he was actually referring to a relatively recent statement by an Opposition member. I was possibly a bit hard on him the first time, but I think the question has now been adequately answered.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a fresh point of order?
Chris Hipkins: It is indeed a fresh point of order. Perhaps if I could go back to the Speaker’s ruling that I first referred to.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just check that this is a fresh point of order.
Chris Hipkins: Absolutely. It is Speaker’s ruling 154/2A. I appreciate that you might not have it in front of you so you might not have acknowledged it. What it says is: “It is not reasonable to use questions from the governing party or its support parties to attack other members of the House.” There is a further Speaker’s ruling immediately after that, which says:“Ministers should not bring another political party, which has not been involved in the questioning, into an answer.” In this case, this is a Government question to a Government Minister. The Labour Party has had no role in this question. It does not matter whether it was an action of the previous Government or a statement that David Cunliffe has made recently. The Minister has no responsibility for it. We are not a party to this question.
Mr SPEAKER: I have accepted the point the member has made, and the question is now concluded. This is a debating chamber. Consider the questions that are being asked today right across the Chamber. Many of them are very loaded questions. If you want a sterile environment with short, sharp, crisp questions with no opinion at all and answers accordingly, I can work to deliver that, but I do not think it would be in the interests of this Parliament. It certainly would not be in the interests of New Zealand democracy.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the last point of order that I will raise on the matter. I absolutely accept that where members of the Opposition ask questions that are political in nature, the Government has the right to attack back in a political fashion. The issue at question here is that this is not a question that the Opposition is in any way a party to.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now just repeating the point of order he has already made, and I have ruled on it.
Chris Hipkins: So are you ruling that these are now out of order?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Does Chris Hipkins also want to take an early shower? Well, then, I suggest that he stops interjecting.
Freshwater Management—Department of Conservation Submissions
11. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: How many submissions did the Department of Conservation make on regional, district or city plans or regional policy statements in 2012/13 that related to water-quality issues?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): The department’s interests in water quality are mainly where it relates to freshwater fisheries, as the Ministry for the Environment is the lead agency on these issues. In that year 24 Resource Management Act submissions were made on plans and policy statements, and most, if not all, had something in them that might relate to water quality.
Eugenie Sage: Why was it appropriate for the department to make 24 plan submissions, including at least nine on water-quality issues, but then not make a submission on proposed plan change 6 for the Tukituki catchment, which will enable New Zealand’s largest proposed new dam and irrigation scheme?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The decision about the submission, as Doris Johnston has said, was made by her. When I have inquired into the department as to why it made the decision not to submit, the reason was that when the Department of Conservation managers met with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the Cawthron Institute scientists, they concluded that their science was robust and that it would have been a huge amount of resource to contest what NIWA had concluded about the water-quality issues in plan change 6.
Eugenie Sage: Why did the department say in its submission on Southland’s proposed regional plan change 13 on dairy farming: “Inappropriately sited or poorly managed land use, including dairy farms either by themselves or in combination with other activities have the potential to significantly adversely affect water quality …”, but yet decide not to submit on water-quality issues on plan change 6 for the Tukituki catchment?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I think the point that the member makes on the department’s submission on Southland is that it followed exactly the same process as in respect of Tukituki—that is, the decision was made by the department. In some cases it contests the science that is in a plan and sometimes it accepts it. In the case of Tukituki the department concluded, as is on the public record, that the science from NIWA was robust in respect of plan change 6.
Eugenie Sage: Is it the reality that there will be fewer or no departmental—
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I seek leave of the House to table the report where the Department of Conservation says that NIWA’s science on plan change 6 was robust, because the member Ruth Dyson—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is that information already freely available to members to seek?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, it is.
Eugenie Sage: Is it the reality that there will be fewer or no departmental submissions on water quality in future on his watch because he does not want the Department of Conservation highlighting the water pollution problems with his Government’s irrigation agenda?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Of course not. I point out to the member that the Resource Management Act is 20 years old, and it was not until I was the Minister for the Environment that we actually got a national policy statement delivered on water quality. Labour, when in Government with the Greens, did absolutely nothing in terms of putting rules in place around water quality.
Eugenie Sage: The Minister talked a lot about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a point of order?
Eugenie Sage: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister talked a lot about what he had done as Minister for the Environment but did not answer in terms of his ministerial responsibilities.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has addressed the question. It may not be to the member’s satisfaction, but the Minister has addressed the question.
Telecommunications Infrastructure, Pricing—Prime Minister’s Statements
12. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he now accept that his statement that Chorus “will go broke” is incorrect; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement, which is: “Basically, if the Commerce Commission ruling stands there’s a chance Chorus will go broke.” I do not accept that this statement is incorrect.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of the Prime Minister’s comments that “It’s not a view that’s come off the top of my head.”, that he received a phone call from the chair of Chorus New Zealand that probably informed him of the matter, and that officials briefed him with “commercial-inconfidence” information”, upon what information has he based his view that it “could go broke”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is based on both the public statement made by Chorus and the “inconfidence” advice received by Cabinet, which aligns with the public statement made by Chorus.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Australian and New Zealand stock exchanges have said that there is no reason to be concerned that Chorus New Zealand Ltd has breached its continuous disclosure requirements, and that the market must therefore have been fully informed, what information has he based his statement on that is not otherwise available to the market?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I think that the member himself misrepresents what the NZX actually says. Secondly, I based it on the information that was received in confidence, which aligns with the public statement made. If you go back to the statement I made, I said “if the Commerce Commission ruling stands there’s a chance …”, and the Commerce Commission ruling has not stood yet; it is a draft determination.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Prime Minister consult with the Minister for Small Business and the Associate Minister of Commerce on the financial health of Chorus, or is that irrelevant now that he has been sent to trial for fraud?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Nice try—no.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can he, as Prime Minister, have made statements about Chorus New Zealand Ltd based on “commercial-in-confidence” information not generally available to the market, without breaching the Securities Markets Act?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because they are in line with the public statements made by Chorus. If anyone knows about breaching those, I think it is Mr—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is sufficient.
Hon David Cunliffe: Which of the following three options is true: either, a, Chorus New Zealand Ltd misled the Prime Minister; or, b, Chorus New Zealand Ltd failed to disclose the same information to the market provided to his Government; or, c, he has displayed “ineptitude and commercial naivety by his ham-fisted comments” about Chorus New Zealand’s financial liability?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am going with “d”—that my caucus sings in chorus with me, unlike his caucus.
Hon David Cunliffe: Supplementary question—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Your own colleagues are not supporting you today with the level of interjection.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister accept that he is dancing on the head of a pin to justify one of the largest handouts of corporate welfare in New Zealand history, violating a statutory process, at a cost of around $150 a year to every Kiwi family?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No..