Questions and Answers – November 20

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 — 10:29 PM


Prime Minister—Statements

1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon David Cunliffe: Given that he told the House yesterday that he had no idea whether ACC or the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, as shareholders of New Zealand Oil and Gas, had voted against paying compensation to the Pike River families, has he since bothered to check?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I can confirm that as independent fund managers and as minority shareholders in New Zealand Oil and Gas, ACC and the Superannuation Fund voted against that motion. That motion, if carried, would have seen New Zealand Oil and Gas, a 29 percent shareholder in Pike River Coal, pay out on behalf of the other 71 percent. Of course, ACC and the Superannuation Fund are a small proportion of the 29 percent. However, I am concerned to see reports that the Leader of the Opposition would instruct ACC and the Superannuation Fund in making investment decisions that are, by statute, independent. The Leader of the Opposition’s position is probably unlawful.

Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that answer, does the Acting Prime Minister believe that it is possible for the Government to recover any of the money from the corporate parents of Pike River Coal, or is he just giving up on the miners’ families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Certainly, I am advised that there is no legal mechanism by which the Crown could pursue that company. No one has given up on the miners’ families. The advice I have seen is that families of the miners have been paid around $5 million by ACC, and we would expect that the longer-term support for those families will amount to some $20 million.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by Simon Bridges’ comment that Cabinet did not discuss the Government’s moral responsibility to the Pike River families; if so, does he not think that they deserve better than that?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do support the Minister of Labour’s comments. The Government’s moral obligations are met through the statutory systems put in place to support these families. In this case that system has supported them to the extent of around $5 million so far, and we would expect that the extent of just ACC support will amount to some $20 million for the families. As I said to the House yesterday, the Crown needs to bear in mind, in discussing how to deal with these families, the fact that every day in New Zealand families experience tragedies they would rather avoid, and they would have every right to expect equal treatment with the Pike River families.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by the statement of the Hon Christopher Finlayson that “The Government is fully aware of its obligations to these families.”, but did nothing on

compensation; if so, does that mean that the Government decided that it has no legal or moral obligations to pay compensation to those families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have answered those questions previously. The member is carrying on as if there has been no support for these families, and that is simply incorrect. I will just reiterate the facts around ACC support, according to my advice. About $5 million has been paid to these families through ACC on the same basis as any other family that suffers a workplace or accident death, and we expect that the full support for these families will amount to around $20 million. Every other family in New Zealand that experiences a tragedy, which may be less high profile and less politicised by the Opposition, has a right to expect equal treatment to the Pike River families.

Hon David Cunliffe: Why does the Acting Prime Minister think that putting the burden on an accident compensation corporation that actually voted against compensation going to the families is a sufficient answer, when this is the only case where a Government department glossy has been found culpable, when a Minister has resigned, when 29 miners lie dead and still buried under the earth, and that Government is walking away from its moral obligation to the families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It does not matter how often the member says it, he needs to understand that every New Zealand family who experiences a tragedy—and every day there are some— deserves equal treatment to the Pike River families. The Government has fully supported these families through the statutory processes, it has committed millions of dollars to the recovery of the bodies, it has met its moral obligation to take all the steps recommended by the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy to ensure that these tragic events do not occur again. But, finally, the Government has to act on behalf of all New Zealanders. Every New Zealand family who suffers a tragedy deserves equal treatment. And I challenge the Leader of the Opposition to show me a family who has lost someone in a workplace tragedy who should be treated less carefully and less supportively than the Pike River families.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Acting Prime Minister agree with the founding shareholder of New Zealand Oil and Gas, Gordon Clout, that the company should “remove their bilkers, man up, face reality, and demonstrate humility to financially support the hurting and grieving families.”; if so, why will his Government not do the same?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have explained to the member, and I will go through it again, the families have had the benefit of $5 million of payments from ACC so far, and they can expect a further $15 million of support. The Government has committed, I think, $10 million to the recovery of the bodies. We have met our moral obligations by implementing all of the royal commission recommendations, to ensure that this does not happen again, including a very considerable commitment of taxpayer resources to a new workplace safety agency. I reiterate my final point. The Leader of the Opposition needs to show us a New Zealand family who lost someone in a workplace accident that should get less than the Pike River families, and I do not think he can.

Health and Safety, Workplace—Forestry Industry

2. Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Māori Party—Tāmaki Makaurau) to the Minister of

Labour: What is he doing to improve industry standards and to resource safety inspectors appropriately in order to respond to analysis from the Chief Coroner that the forestry sector has the nation’s highest rate of workplace injury deaths?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): I thank the Minister for the question. This Government released the Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forestry Operations in December last year, which clearly lays out what is expected of industry. In August I announced the Working Safer reform package, which will see significantly increased funding for workplace health and safety, and will especially target high-risk industries like forestry, on an operational level, as an example. I am advised that in the past 10 weeks alone, inspectors have carried out 135 workplace assessments across logging operations nationwide, and this proactive enforcement work is continuing.

Hon Dr Pita Sharples: In addition, what immediate initiatives has the Minister put in place on the ground to address safety standards in the forestry industry, given that 188 serious harm notifications were made last year—the highest number in the last 5 years?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: There are a number of initiatives, but I think that probably the most significant on the ground, as the Minister has said, is the one where inspectors are going to every single forestry operation in the country—as I say, 135 so far. By the time that is finished—and those inspectors are doing it with some pace—it will be some 300, and there has been a range of enforcement actions taken already, such as written warnings and infringement notices, and in some cases, actually closing down the operations for safety reasons.

Hon Dr Pita Sharples: Has the Minister received any feedback from the families who have lost loved ones in forestry accidents on what they recommend is needed to stem the tide of fatalities in the forestry sector?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, I have had conversations by telephone in my constituent office with whānau members of people who have passed away through forestry, and the message they give me loud and clear is that they want action, and that, I think, is what this Government is delivering through the approved code of practice, through visiting every forestry contracting operation, and through WorkSafe New Zealand, which starts next month and is receiving significantly more funding to deal with high-hazard industries such as, importantly, forestry.

Darien Fenton: How can he insist that his approved code of practice is adequate when the sixth forestry worker killed this year was working in the pitch black of night, invisible to workmates, and the approved code of practice says only that “Where night work is required, the employer shall ensure that the level of illumination does not cause a hazard.”?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think the approved code of practice is necessary but not sufficient, and, as I have made very clear, there is quite a number of other things we are doing. I think what is confirmed by the coroner’s case study on forestry, which Pita Sharples has referred to, is that, actually, the things that are the focus of that approved code of practice—tree-felling and breaking out, which contribute to a significant number of these fatalities—are the big issues, and are what, as I say, the approved code of practice focuses squarely on.

State-owned Assets, Sales—Progress

3. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Finance: What recent announcements has the Government made on the next steps in its share offer programme, which is freeing up money to invest in new public assets without having to borrow from overseas lenders?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Last night we announced the Government had successfully issued 20 percent of the shares in Air New Zealand. The shares were placed at $1.65 each—

Hon Trevor Mallard: And they’ve dived this morning.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: —yes, was it not a good deal—and raised $365 million for taxpayers. The Government has retained 53 percent of the airline, and when Air New Zealand resumed trading today 88 percent of the company was owned by New Zealanders. This is the latest step in the Government’s share offer programme, which has now raised almost $4 billion, which has been placed in the Future Investment Fund for investing in priority public assets.

Simon O’Connor: How did the Government ensure that New Zealanders were at the front of the queue for shares in Air New Zealand?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Shares were offered to New Zealand sharebrokers for on-selling to New Zealanders. A condition of New Zealand brokers participating was that shares were allocated only to clients who met the New Zealand client test: having an IRD number, a New Zealand bank account, and a New Zealand address. The Government achieved its target of at least 85 percent New Zealand ownership. The Opposition cannot make up its mind whether that New Zealand ownership

is rich mates of the National Party or poor mums and dads who have been ripped off—we have heard both from the interjections today.

Hon David Cunliffe: Why were the shares available only to a handful of select brokers at incredibly short notice, while other Kiwi mum and dad investors were shut out?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The nature of the offer was determined by the fact that the company is already listed on the stock exchange, and that means that mums and dads, whether they have a sharebroker or not, could buy shares any day of the week at the market price, more cheaply than the price for which they were sold yesterday, and today they can buy shares at the market price. We are satisfied that we have achieved 85 percent—in fact, 88 percent—New Zealand ownership.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table an email I received this morning that states: “As a current Air New Zealand shareholder, I was looking to buy more shares in the Government selldown. I rang my bank, which I have shares”—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The email has been adequately described. I will put the leave. [Interruption] The question has been asked whether anything has been redacted. [Interruption] Order! The name has been—

Hon David Cunliffe: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Allow me to put the leave first, and then if there is a point of order, I will take it. Leave has been sought to table an email. The name has been removed. There are no further redactions. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your assistance in this matter. The Leader of the House has seen fit to impugn the integrity of the member, who has said that he has received an email. To prove it, I have sought to table the email, but the Government has refused leave to have that tabled.

Mr SPEAKER: I put leave. Leave was refused by the House. Any member has the right to deny leave. Is the member now raising a point of order that he has been offended?

Hon David Cunliffe: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: If offence is taken, I am unsure of the remark that could have possibly offended the member. I presume you are referring to an interjection from the Hon Gerry Brownlee. Can I ask Mr Brownlee, if he offended the member, would he stand and withdraw that remark.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I do not think I offended him. Of course I do not.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will stand—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I found him out.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will stand and withdraw the comment that offended the House and Mr Cunliffe.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you might reflect on exactly what has been asked for here, and give the House a ruling as to where offence intersects with being found out.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] No, I do not need any assistance. As I said, I did not hear an offence that came from this side of the House that I would have thought offended the member. The member said that he was offended. That is the end of the matter. If a member takes offence, he has a right to ask that that member withdraw and apologise for the comment. There is the difficulty that I have to judge every time as to whether it is reasonable that a member was offended. On this occasion, because I did not hear the remark, I accepted the comments from the Hon David Cunliffe.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Accepting that ruling, I wonder what reflection you might have for the House on when a senior member of the House directly challenges your ruling through a point of order. I have noticed you being very hard on members of this side of the House when they have done that and threatened them with ejection. I wonder whether the same thing applies to the Leader of the House.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not think the point made by Mr Brownlee was like that. He was asking as to whether, when some remarks are thrown in a political chamber, they can be considered as

offensive or not. That is a line-ball call on many occasions. I have made the call that on this occasion I will accept that the member was offended and we move from there. I cannot give a categoric assurance where a ruling might go next time; it depends on the remark.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The published Speakers’ rulings make it very clear that when a member is asked to withdraw and apologise, they are not then allowed to comment on that matter. That is the end of the matter. What Gerry Brownlee then did was raise another point of order where he commented directly on the matter.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I certainly accept that members should not then further interject or refer once they have been asked to withdraw and apologise. That is accepted. But the member Mr Brownlee then raised a reasonable point. There are some remarks that are traded across this House that may, to some person, take offence, because some people are more sensitive than others. That is something I have to determine on the occasion.

Simon O’Connor: How has Air New Zealand performed under the mixed-ownership structure introduced by the previous Government?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I want to acknowledge the foresight of the previous Labour Government in setting up the mixed-ownership model for Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand has performed very well under this structure and it would be regarded as probably the best-managed small airline in the world. I also note that the previous Government was flexible about the degree of ownership of Air New Zealand. The airline was initially 82 percent owned by the New Zealand Government. By the time we came to float 20 percent it had reduced to 73 percent ownership, which means a Labour Government reduced Government ownership in Air New Zealand by stealth or without recognising that it was happening. We have no doubt that if the airline had been 100 percent Government-owned it would not have performed nearly as well as it has, and on behalf of the taxpayer I thank the Labour Government for its foresight. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary question, the Hon Clayton Cosgrove. [Interruption] Order! I have called the Hon Clayton Cosgrove.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: How can he claim that the asset sales programme is a success when the three sales to date have raised $1 billion less than he promised the New Zealand people?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, that is not correct. The proceeds will be less for the reason that one of the companies, Solid Energy, is simply not appropriate for public sale. We are very pleased to have just a shade under $4 billion in the bank, which we will be spending rebuilding Christchurch, building new hospitals, and revamping modern learning environments all around New Zealand without having to kowtow to foreign bankers the way that the Greens and Labour want us to so that our children can have decent schools.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: In respect of that last answer, how can he say that the asset sales programme is a success when the amount raised from the sell-down of Air New Zealand will pay for only 36 hours of Government operational expenditure at the same time as the Government continues to borrow $424 million per month and when net debt has increased by $5.087 billion in a year? Is that kowtowing to foreign bankers or what? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member has a right to ask the question. Now we have all got a right to hear the answer.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is successful because tens of thousands of New Zealanders now have direct ownership and probably a million have indirect ownership of these assets. The Government has $4 billion from New Zealanders who want to invest in large New Zealand companies, which we will use to invest in decent public housing, modern public schools, and rebuilding Christchurch while Labour and the Greens will have to go crawling to foreign bankers to get that money. We do not have to; we got it off New Zealanders.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister believe that there is public support for the asset sales programme in light of polls showing two-thirds opposed, and will he take the upcoming referendum on asset sales as a measure of public support?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: What I think is a fact, whether that member believes it or not, is that there was public support for a Government that transparently campaigned on selling assets. I also happen to think that there is public support for the Government investing in public assets using money from New Zealanders who have the opportunity to invest in large New Zealand companies rather than doing what that member wants, which is to borrow even more from foreign bankers. Quite why he prefers to deal with foreign bankers rather than New Zealand savers is beyond me.

Simon O’Connor: What reports has he seen supporting the Government’s share offer in Air New Zealand?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There has been a range of comment in the last 24 hours indicating that the Government got a pretty good deal here. We have sold the shares for $1.65, which was the market price, when normally this kind of sale would involve a discount. That means $365 million that is now in the Future Investment Fund, which we will be able to use to invest in better classrooms for our children, a modern hospital in Christchurch, and we are able to do it without going and borrowing the money from foreign bankers, like Labour and the Greens want to.

Dr Russel Norman: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I am just waiting for a bit of silence.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister stand by his reported comments that he plans to take non-voters in the upcoming referendum as supporters of the asset sale programme?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not recall those comments. What I did say, I think, is that we would expect a reasonably low turnout. I know that the Opposition parties are disappointed that there is no marching in the streets about the sale of Air New Zealand, but then why would there be? The Labour Government invented the mixed-ownership model. It was proven to be successful and we built on that success. It is no wonder that New Zealanders are not quite as worried about this as the Greens and Labour, who seem more concerned about doing better business with foreign bankers than giving New Zealanders the opportunity to save.

Dr Russel Norman: Will the Minister accept that if there is a majority No vote in the upcoming referendum—the best opportunity for the people of New Zealand to have their voice on this specific issue—the people of New Zealand do not accept his asset sale programme?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: What is surprising is that for a party that says that it believes in the voice of the people, it seems to regard the 2011 election as some kind of illegitimate intervention in the reign of the previous Government. The fact is that we campaigned transparently on this policy, and I invite that member in the next campaign to campaign transparently on the impact of his climate change policy on household costs, and we will hold him to the same standard as we met on asset sales.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a simple question, which the Minister did not address, which was whether he would take a majority No vote in the referendum as the people of New Zealand opposing—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member to relook at Hansard and have a look at the question. The question then talked about “is it not the best opportunity for New Zealanders to have their say.” The Minister then responded and said that the best opportunity, in his opinion, was the election that was held in 2011. The question was adequately addressed.

Health Services—Elective Surgery

4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his answers to Oral Question No. 9 yesterday?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, within the context they were given and, in particular, that a record 23,000 patients received orthopaedic treatment in the last year.

Hon Annette King: In light of his answer yesterday that there are “two separate figures” relating to patients waiting for surgery: those on a waiting list at a certain date and those “who did not even

get on the waiting list”, can he inform the House how disabled and sick a patient must be before they can get on the official waiting list?

Hon TONY RYALL: That is a clinical decision that would be made by the various clinicians who are assessing those patients. What I can tell the member, though—and thank you for the opportunity to be able to say this—is that in the last year we have provided 40,000 more elective operations—compared with 5 years ago. That is a really significant achievement.

Hon Annette King: As he sets the level of funding that the district health boards receive, thereby influencing the priorities they implement, does he believe that a patient who suffers the pain of bone graunching on bone, who is forced to climb stairs on his hands and knees, sounds sick enough to get on his official waiting list for surgery?

Hon TONY RYALL: The first thing I would say is that if that member wants to bring that case to me, I will look into it. It is better to help patients than to use them. On the second issue of funding, this Government has put in an average of $500 million a year extra into the health service and millions more into elective surgery. What is interesting about all these questions is that the Opposition parties have been promising to cut back on elective surgeries.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Melissa Lee. [Interruption] Order! I have called Melissa Lee. By the sound of it there was an interjection, which I did not hear. If a member took objection, then stand and raise that objection with me. I have called Melissa Lee.

Melissa Lee: What reports has he received confirming that in June 2005 there were around 31,000 patients booked in for assessments or surgery, waiting over 6 months, and what reports has he seen of surgeons’ views as to what happened to these patients?

Hon TONY RYALL: An independent review by the Office of the Controller and Auditor- General confirmed that in June 2005 around 30,000 patients were waiting over 6 months. I have seen many other reports that around 30,000 patients were summarily removed from these lists soon after this, by Government edict. Amongst these was a report of 74 of the Canterbury District Health Board’s 80 surgeons signing a letter condemning Labour’s waiting list cull of 5,000 patients off Canterbury’s list.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is sufficient. [Interruption] Order!

Hon Annette King: Does a patient who was dumped from the waiting list earlier this year and now takes at least eight painkillers a day, who cannot sit without wincing, and uses crutches to get about, sound sick enough to get on his official waiting list, after 5 years of his stewardship?

Hon TONY RYALL: If the member is referring to the case that was in the Christchurch Press a few days ago, it is my understanding that that person was not on a waiting list, so the claim is not valid. However, that patient is being considered by the Canterbury District Health Board. But the great news in Canterbury, of course, is that in the last 5 years at the Canterbury District Health Board we have increased elective surgeries by 48 percent, compared with a 13 percent cut under Annette King.

Hon Annette King: Does a patient who has lost the ability to stand, whose general practitioner can no longer manage his pain, and he is likely to go into a wheelchair, forcing him to sell his home, sound sick enough to get on his official waiting list, or does he have to stay on the hidden list and remain just one of the Minister’s figures?

Hon TONY RYALL: Let me review this straight away. There is no hidden list. That is about as reliable as Annette King’s Official Information Act request, where the number was inexplicably changed.

Hon Annette King: I wish to table two documents, in light of the Minister’s claiming—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just describe the two documents.

Hon Annette King: The first is a letter from the Waikato District Health Board, stating that 376 patients were denied surgery and sent back to their general practitioners because they could not—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is adequately described. The second document, please.

Hon Annette King: The second one is a letter from the MidCentral District Health Board, stating that 161 patients were denied surgery and sent back to their general practitioner.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will put the leave for those two letters—one from the Waikato District Health Board and one from the MidCentral District Health Board. Is there any objection to those two letters being tabled? There is none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table an editorial from a small provincial paper—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. If members want to search for that, they can find it for themselves.

Business Growth Agenda—Progress

5. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister for Economic Development: How is the Government’s Business Growth Agenda helping to strengthen the New Zealand economy?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): The Business Growth Agenda is a detailed and comprehensive programme to encourage businesses to make new investments to build jobs and long-term growth for New Zealanders, and it is working. Today the OECD released its latest economic outlook report. It is forecasting growth for New Zealand reaching 3.6 percent in the calendar year 2004. This forecast would put New Zealand growth rates in the top six for developed economies—above the OECD average of 2.4 percent and actually much better than Australia’s at 2.7 percent. The OECD is also forecasting an improvement in the current account deficit, forecasting the deficit—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, a Minister has got to be relatively accurate. We do not want to hear about—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to know what the point of order is. Debating the answer is not a point of order; that is a debate—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, you have not heard it yet.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, then I want to hear it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, you are going to hear it now if you sit down and I will give it to you.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will be lenient because the member has the next question, but if he treats the Speaker like that in the future, he will not be here for the balance of question time. [Interruption] Order! I invite the member to quickly come to his point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The point of order is that he gave the growth report for 2004—9 years ago. That is my point.

Mr SPEAKER: That may well be the point, but I do not think that is the fact.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to check the Hansard—

Mr SPEAKER: I will check the Hansard. I invite the member to resume his seat.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Perhaps a little more slowly for the member—the OECD is forecasting growth for New Zealand reaching 3.6 percent in the calendar year 2014, Mr Peters. This forecast would put New Zealand growth rates in the top six for developed economies—above the OECD average of 2.4 percent and much better than Australia’s at 2.7 percent. The OECD is also forecasting an improvement in the current account deficit, forecasting the deficit will narrow from 4.3 percent of GDP to 3.6 percent of GDP in 2014. The Government’s relentless focus on encouraging investment via the Business Growth Agenda is clearly working.

Dr Jian Yang: What steps is the Government taking to encourage further investment for jobs and growth for Kiwi families?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Business Growth Agenda is a comprehensive programme of work that encourages investment. On Monday the Minister of Finance and I released a 2013 progress

report, which updates progress on the approximately 350 separate initiatives. It builds on access to the six key inputs business needs to succeed: growing and adding jobs, capital market access, natural resources, infrastructure, skills, and innovation. It includes initiatives like oil and gas exploration, the apprenticeship reboot, more flexible labour market conditions, the Government’s series of Resource Management Act reforms, the mixed-ownership model, the New Zealand International Convention Centre, and the roads of national significance, to name just a few. The interesting thing—and New Zealanders will note this—is that the Opposition opposes almost every one of those initiatives.

Dr Jian Yang: What initiatives in the Business Growth Agenda are aimed at helping the construction sector?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The construction sector is, of course, one of the largest sectors in the New Zealand economy. It generates annual revenues of more than $30 billion and employs around 170,000 people. A big challenge in the sector is to grow skills training to help meet these skilled employment requirements for the coming construction boom. The Government’s revamp of the apprenticeship scheme in the apprenticeship reboot is seeing very big numbers of people signing up for construction apprenticeships. We have also spent approaching $60 million in expanding priority trades at institutes of technology. That has led to an expansion of trades facilities around the country, including in Wellington, where today I was pleased to be able to announce the development of a $13.6 million Regional School of Construction by the Wellington Institute of Technology and Whitireia Community Polytechnic.

Immigration, Minister—Confidence

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): This question is to the Minister of Immigration and asks—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): The Prime Minister, rather.

Mr SPEAKER: Can the member start again.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): Nothing like a bit of accuracy.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration; if so, why?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister) : Yes, because he is a competent, hard-working Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration when the Minister’s department is failing its own internal quality assurance checks, ignoring the Auditor- General’s 2009 inquiry findings, and running Immigration New Zealand as a visa-stamping factory?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not believe that those things are true, but I understand that visas do have to be stamped at some stage.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration when Immigration New Zealand’s own internal quality assurance results indicate that over 20 percent of the decisions made by Immigration New Zealand are of poor quality, which means that tens of thousands of wrong decisions are being made each year?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not sure that that is what the numbers mean but it is a good thing that Immigration New Zealand has its own internal quality assurance process. We would not be surprised if it achieved less than 100 percent, or top quality. But we would expect, where it does fall short of 100 percent, that action is taken to improve the quality of those decisions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration when that Minister has ignored the Auditor-General’s recommendation that Immigration New Zealand should focus on the quality of migrants, rather than quantity, as stated in the inquiry report, which reads as

follows: “review the emphasis on target setting in Immigration New Zealand branches to ensure that the quality of visa and permit decisions is not compromised;”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: My understanding is that the Minister and the department have paid a good deal of attention to the Auditor-General’s recommendations and are implementing them.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration when he is concerned only about having an overall net positive immigration to New Zealand so that the number of New Zealanders leaving to Australia is somehow neutralised and does not reflect poorly on the current Government’s policies?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would disagree with the assertions of the member. The number of migrants coming in is pretty similar to what it has been for some time. The change in migration numbers is because there are a lot fewer New Zealanders leaving. We look forward to the member’s support for the policies that are going to continue to retain more New Zealanders here and have less migration out.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Bit late now! How can he have confidence in the Minister of Immigration, who said yesterday in this House that there is no evidence that people-smugglers were selling opportunities to immigrate to New Zealand and that the Australian journalist was perpetuating, in his words, “a heinous lie”, when half an hour later he was outside talking to journalists and admitting that the department alone was now investigating 30 cases, just as we alleged? How can he have confidence in an incompetent Minister like that?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister does have confidence in a Minister who understands that people-smugglers will say all sorts of stuff, particularly to the media, about what they can deliver. If people-smugglers in the Asia-Pacific region are promising that they can get people to New Zealand for $40,000 or whatever it is they pay, then he needs to be reassured that when people who pay that amount of money turn up at our border, they will be dealt with decisively.

Schools, Christchurch—Funding for Building and Redevelopment Projects

7. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: How much of the over $1 billion announced for refurbishing Christchurch schools last week will come from money the schools were already due to receive in the form of regular property funding, leaky buildings remediation, and insurance payouts?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): As I said yesterday to the honourable member, it is no secret that a combination of funding is reflected in the $1.137 billion investment in Christchurch, including any insurance payout that is yet to be determined. However, I want to be as helpful as I can. The current working provision we have is approximately $400 million of ministry baseline funding and over $700 million extra funding, including any insurance payout. Only the most jaded and graceless would be anything but delighted with an investment of over $1 billion to provide a better education for the children and young people of Christchurch. This investment is a combination of funding—much like Mr Cunliffe’s grasp on the leadership, some—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That part will not help the order of the House.

Chris Hipkins: Did she receive a report in June last year that showed that the Ministry of Education had been planning before the quakes to spend up to $710 million over 10 years on Christchurch schools anyway; if so, how on earth did she come up with the figures that she gave in her answer to the primary question?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I cannot speak to the specific June report from last year that the member is referencing, but the Ministry of Education routinely makes provision for total school networks. If what we are being accused of is prudent money management, then we are happy to be accused of that. We have continued to update the provision for Christchurch as more detailed information has come to hand, and that is what has been reflected in the final announcement that I made.

Chris Hipkins: Did she receive and consider up-to-date population and demographic projections—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am very close to the member and I cannot hear the question.

Chris Hipkins: Did she receive and consider up-to-date population and demographic projections for the greater Christchurch area, before making the final decisions that she announced last week—

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I can tell that the Minister cannot actually hear the question that is being asked.

Mr SPEAKER: Is the microphone not working? [Interruption] Order! I have a suggestion. We will try it with a lot less intervention and noise coming from other seats in the House.

Chris Hipkins: It would take all the fun out of it. Did she receive and consider up-to-date population and demographic projections for the greater Christchurch area, before making the final decisions on the proposals she announced last week; if not, why not?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: We use continuously updated projections on demographic growth and, more specifically, on projections for actual school rolls.

Dr Cam Calder: How will the recently announced investment in Christchurch contribute to raising achievement for all children and young people?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The investment we are making in Christchurch will give schools modern facilities, including better access to the latest technology. Students will be able to take advantage of a citywide digital learning network that extends curriculum choice and allows them to study in ways that better suit their preferred learning style. Improving the quality of education so that more students can succeed is a vital part of the renewal of greater Christchurch. That is why we have invested over a billion dollars in the next 10 years to provide a modern centre of learning for the children and young people of Christchurch.

Chris Hipkins: Are public-private partnerships being considered for the rebuild of existing schools that have not been considered for merger or closure as part of the renewal process; if so, why?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: They might be, because we are interested in a range of procurement approaches. The reason why we might be particularly interested in public-private partnerships is that they take on the whole-of-life management of the property, thus liberating the principal to focus on raising achievement of the students at their school.

Chris Hipkins: Will communities have the ability to reject the use of public-private partnerships for the rebuild of their local school if they wish to; if not, why not?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The purchase decisions that are related to over a billion dollars will be driven by what the best outcome is for the particular school community, as well as what the most prudent use of taxpayers’ money is.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked—

Mr SPEAKER: Can I ask the member to repeat the question. The Minister may not have heard it.

Chris Hipkins: Will communities have the ability to reject the use of a public-private partnership for the build or rebuild of their local school; if not, why not?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: If a public-private procurement method is chosen for a community, that community is fully involved in the design, because the public-private partnership is there to build what is required, not determine it.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps we want to give the Minister another go—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Raise the point of order.

Chris Hipkins: Once again, the Minister has not indicated whether or not communities will ultimately have the say in whether or not they want a public-private partnership.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Hon Gerry Brownlee.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: You ruled yesterday on the issue of “Yes” and “No” answers. The Standing Orders make it very clear that a “Yes” or “No” answer cannot be sought by a member. This question, given that it has been repeated twice now, effectively goes right to the heart of demanding a “Yes” or “No” answer.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought, before the Hon Mr Brownlee rose to his feet, that the member has now had two goes at the same question. He has not got an answer about whether the community will have the right to reject, and I accept that he has not, but he has had two goes at it. On this occasion, I think the Minister—certainly in the second answer—attempted to address the question. The question has been addressed. The member can use further supplementaries if he so wishes, but Mr Brownlee is quite right. Speaker’s ruling 167/5, by Jonathan Hunt, clearly says—and it was used yesterday—that a member cannot insist on an answer that is a “Yes” or “No” answer.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I just clarify that this is not a point of order relitigating a decision?

Chris Hipkins: No, it is not at all.

Mr SPEAKER: Good. Then I will hear the point of order.

Chris Hipkins: It is just a clarification from the ruling you have just made, as to whether or not the standard that you are applying is that the Minister attempt an answer or address the question. The Minister certainly attempted an answer, but it did not address the question.

Mr SPEAKER: That is relitigating exactly the ruling I have given. In my opinion, the member on a—[Interruption] Order! The Minister has now on two occasions attempted to address the question. My ruling, which I had given the member, which he is now questioning, is that on the second occasion, the Minister addressed the question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Again, I just want to clarify that the point—

Hon Trevor Mallard: Well, I am going to ask you to explain your answer, and the reason is—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! That leads to disorder. If the member wants to come and see me afterwards he can do so. I have ruled. If the member wants to raise a fresh point of order, I will happily hear it. But if we are going to get the situation where we are having relitigation of points of order, that in itself leads to disorder.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Repeatedly, in Speakers’ rulings, Ministers have been required to address the question. You appear to have set a new standard requiring Ministers to attempt to address the question. I am asking you whether that was deliberate.

Mr SPEAKER: No, what I am saying is that the answer must be relevant to the question. I make a call on every question that is raised in this House. I have ruled that the answer given by the Minister, although not delivering the answer that the member Mr Hipkins wanted, was certainly relevant and addressed the question.

Offenders, Monitoring—GPS Use for Offenders on Extended Supervision Orders, Parole, and

Work Release

8. LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister of Corrections: What recent updates has she received on the use of GPS technology to monitor offenders?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Corrections): GPS technology was introduced in August 2012 to provide 24-hour monitoring of high-risk offenders in the community. Since that time 146 offenders have been subject to GPS monitoring. The use of that has allowed the Department of Corrections and police to take immediate action when these offenders have gone into prohibited areas. GPS also means that these offenders know that they are under constant 24-hour watch from Department of Corrections staff, rather than just regularly reporting to their probation officer. So far, 15 offenders have been monitored going into exclusion zones. As a result, seven of them are now back in prison, with the rest facing further sanctions or due to appear in court. Without the use

of GPS technology, the Department of Corrections would have been unaware that these offenders had breached their conditions.

Louise Upston: What other steps is the Government taking to make further use of GPS technology to monitor offenders?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: We have extended GPS tracking to allow a greater number of lowsecurity prisoners to participate in the Release to Work programme, which gives them valuable work experience outside the wire ahead of their release. Sixty prisoners out of a total of 146 monitored on GPS have been on the Release to Work programme. We are also looking at ways we can extend 24-hour monitoring to offenders convicted of serious domestic violence offences, to better protect their victims. The Parole Board has imposed GPS monitoring on two of these offenders so far, and the Department of Corrections is looking at how it can increase this number further by providing comprehensive family violence risk assessments to the Parole Board.

Oil and Gas Exploration—Prime Minister’s Statements

9. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by the Prime Minister’s statement to the New Zealand petroleum industry annual conference that “This Government is very clear, we won’t let cowboys operate here in New Zealand”?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes.

Gareth Hughes: Why is the Government allowing the very company that was partially responsible for the world’s worst ever oil spill to drill in New Zealand, and how does that match with not letting cowboys operate in New Zealand?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The very premise of the question the member asks is wrong. The US Government did not find that Anadarko was to blame for Deepwater Horizon.

Gareth Hughes: How is Anadarko not a cowboy when it knowingly and expressly approved BP’s riskiest cost-cutting and time-saving proposals, which were a major factor in that spill?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not responsible for Anadarko. The fact of the matter is that it was a passive shareholder. It had no involvement in the operation of the well, no personnel on board the facility, and no decision-making power as to how that operation was operated.

Gareth Hughes: How is Anadarko not a cowboy when it has also been responsible for six other spills of greater than 7 tonnes, including one in 2007, when it lost well control and released 1,061 barrels?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I would need to confirm that. My clear understanding is that it has not been responsible for any major incidents as an operator.

Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister immediately make public the oil spill modelling and the oil spill response plan for Anadarko’s Taranaki well, so that people get to know what is at risk before the drilling starts?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think this member has asked this question before. The position is very clear. They are not publicly available, in the sense that they are not on some website right now, but under the Official Information Act, he knows what to do.

Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table a response from Maritime New Zealand, saying that it cannot release Anadarko’s oil response plan until it consults Anadarko.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, it’s normal practice.

Mr SPEAKER: Is that an objection?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No.

Mr SPEAKER: No, there is no objection. The paper can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Gareth Hughes: Is the reason why the Government is suppressing this information that it does not want the people of New Zealand to know the potential consequences of a spill and what it would take to clean it up?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: There is no suppression.

Gareth Hughes: Why is the Government risking our environment and our economy by allowing Anadarko, the Texan cowboys behind the world’s worst ever spill, to conduct risky deep-sea drilling in our waters?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not accept any of what the member has said. I think that we have in this industry the highest environmental and health and safety practice operating in New Zealand today. I am very confident that our environment is secure well into the future.

Housing, Affordable—International Reports

10. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Housing: What international reports has he received on how housing affordability can be improved and what lessons can New Zealand learn from these experiences?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): This week’s public report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that first-home buyers in Australia have dropped to the lowest level ever. This is despite Australia having a capital gains tax and some restrictions on overseas home purchasers. The median multiplier of house price to median income from Demographia is 8.3 in Sydney as compared with 6.7 in Auckland. The median house price in Sydney is $810,000 as compared with Auckland’s $582,000. And Sydney median house prices have gone up by 13 percent as compared with 10 percent in New Zealand. The lesson that has been drawn from Australia is that if we are serious about helping first-home buyers, it is cost and supply of housing that need to be addressed. That is why the Government is focused on those real issues.

Mike Sabin: What advice has he received on new policy options that are being explored in Australia to help improve housing supply?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The main focus is on increasing land supply. The consensus is that too little land has been made available for housing, and state Governments are looking to fast track land supply and simplify planning processes to make housing more affordable. I also note that they have announced policies to enable the transfer of significant State housing stock from State to community housing organisations. I note that none of the state Governments in Australia facing challenges over housing affordability are proposing massive State housebuilding programmes.

Mike Sabin: What reports has the Minister seen from the OECD on housing markets, and what does it recommend for improving affordability?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The OECD has undertaken a comprehensive study following the collapse of house price bubbles in many countries as part of the global financial crisis. The report is particularly critical of rigid land-use regulation, and notes that house price bubbles were most severe in countries with rigid land supply. That is why this Government has this year passed the housing accord and special housing areas legislation to free up land and fast track the supply of new housing.

Human Rights, Sri Lanka—Prime Minister’s Statements

11. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement with regard to his conversation with the British Prime Minister the Rt Hon David Cameron, about Sri Lanka, that: “I just sort of said to him ‘where do you think it’s all going?’ I mean, like us, I mean I think everybody is now really focused on what’s the next steps going forward”?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs): The member is, of course, quoting the Prime Minister out of context by omitting his immediately preceding sentence. Asked whether Prime Minister Cameron had raised with him the question of an inquiry in Sri Lanka, the Prime

Minister commenced his answer with “No, he didn’t raise it.” Quoted in context, the Prime Minister’s answer is clear, unambiguous, and, of course, correct.

David Shearer: Was the Prime Minister or the New Zealand Government ever asked by David Cameron to support his position to promote an independent inquiry into human rights abuses and war crimes in Sri Lanka, and why did the Government choose not to support it, if that was the case?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I was not present for the meeting that the Prime Minister held with Prime Minister Cameron, but I can make clear the Government’s position on this matter. As the member will know, what happened in Sri Lanka, particularly in the period leading up to the cessation of the conflict about 4 years ago, was nothing short of a major human tragedy. It is also a fact that the United Nations Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka, having investigated those matters, found very significant and serious fault on both sides. The Government believes that there should be a process to hold those responsible to account, just as it believes that there should also be a process for achieving reconciliation and also devolution in the north, where elections in September provide the opportunity to devolve power to the chief minister and his Tamil-led party.

David Shearer: In light of this answer, will the Government support an independent inquiry at the Human Rights Council meeting in March, as the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, is proposing?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: The Government believes that there should be accountability and an independent inquiry through some mechanism, whether it is one sponsored by the Human Rights Council or otherwise appointed. Certainly, it is a good way forward. With regard to the UK prospect of a resolution at the Human Rights Council, depending on the actual wording contained in the resolution, we may well support it.

David Shearer: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s comment about President Rajapaksa that “Domestically he’s extremely popular, and that’s because people do now feel safe,” or does he believe the reports of the United Nations Secretary-General and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who say exactly the opposite, that the Sri Lankan Government has not investigated nor stopped human rights abuses and that Tamils in the north certainly do not feel safe?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I think the Prime Minister was very accurately reflecting the results of the elections in Sri Lanka, which demonstrated that President Rajapaksa’s Government must have been popular to have achieved such a significant election victory. It is also true to say that the elections held in September in the north demonstrate that there is a significant desire for Tamil autonomy in that province. They won 30 of the 38 seats, and the chief minister is a significant figure and a former judge in the Tamil-led party there. Both the statements that the member has quoted are therefore correct.

David Shearer: Given that we have received an elephant in exchange for the human rights of the people in Sri Lanka, can we expect him to bring home a bear from Russia in exchange for the rights of gay athletes at Russia’s Winter Olympics?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: The question of an elephant for Auckland Zoo is one that Auckland Zoo has been pursuing for over 2 years. If the member kept in touch with his constituency he may well have known that. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member asked a question. The Minister now has every right to answer that question and he is attempting to do so, but the level of interjection coming from my left-hand side is making it very difficult for me to hear that answer. Hon Murray McCully.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: As I have already indicated in an earlier answer, the Government regards the events that occurred a few years ago in Sri Lanka as nothing short of a major human tragedy. We, therefore, believe that these are matters that should be appropriately taken up with the Sri Lankan Government, that accountability should be pursued, that devolution—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I will not warn a member again on my left-hand side. I have got to my feet on the second occasion now asking members to give the Minister a fair go. I cannot carry on doing that. I will be asking a member to leave the Chamber.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I will repeat. The Government regards what occurred in Sri Lanka as nothing short of a major human tragedy. We believe that those responsible should be held to account, and also that devolution should occur to benefit the people in the north of Sri Lanka. We do not believe that these matters should be trivialised in the manner that that member wishes to.

Drinking-water Supplies—Fluoridation

12. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does the Government support the fluoridation of water supplies?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Associate Minister of Health: Yes. There is no doubt that the science shows that there are benefits for families from fluoridation and that the levels of fluoridation in water are safe for New Zealanders. At this time the Government considers fluoridation a local community decision.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Government considering or prepared to consider shifting the responsibility for making decisions regarding the fluoridation of local water supplies to district health boards rather than to local government; if not, why not?

Hon TONY RYALL: The Government is yet to formally—

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you just clarify a matter for us? The Associate Minister to whom this question was directed is who?

Mr SPEAKER: The Associate Minister, in my advice, is the Hon Tariana Turia. Clearly on this occasion that answer has been transferred to a Minister present in the Chamber. Can I ask the member—[Interruption] Order! I am going to ask the Hon Peter Dunne to repeat his question because it has been interrupted.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Government considering or prepared to consider transferring the responsibility for the fluoridation policy of local water supplies from local government to district health boards; if not, why not?

Hon TONY RYALL: The Government is yet to formally consider the Health Committee report. However, it has been a long-term position of the Government that fluoridation of public water supplies is a decision for local communities to make, and that the Government’s role is to make sure that local councils are supported when they decide to use fluoride, not to make the decision for them.

Hon Peter Dunne: Can it be taken from the Minister’s first reply that fluoridation is a priority for the Government; if that is the case, in the light of the select committee report tabled earlier this week, what is the Government doing to give effect to that priority?

Hon TONY RYALL: The Government is doing quite a lot to give effect to the priority that we put on fluoridation. The Ministry of Health supported the three district health boards in an unprecedented effort to fight back against the orchestrated campaign of misinformation from those who are against fluoridation. This was really the first time ever that there was a totally concerted effort by public health authorities to get that message out. We congratulate the three communities that strongly endorsed fluoridation of their community water supply.


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