Questions and Answers – December 11

by Editor on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 — 4:53 PM

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Commerce Commission—Minister’s Statements

1. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Finance: With regard to the Commerce Commission, what was he implying when he told NewstalkZB that the Government does not want “another episode where there’s such a significant impact from a decision based on our regulation”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I was not implying anything more or less than what I was actually saying. Recent decisions within our regulatory structure have been a source of some uncertainty. The Government is interested in considering whether our regulation delivers the stability necessary to attract investment to our infrastructure businesses to ensure that customers get the best possible service with the latest possible technology. That is what we mean.

Hon Peter Dunne: What does the Minister say to those who suggest that his so-called health check or even his comments from this afternoon are merely code for seeking to nobble the Commerce Commission for not giving the Government the decision it was expecting on the Chorus case?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I know that the member would never infer that, but to anyone else I would say that that is simply not the case. If one thinks of the Commerce Commission as the referee, it applies the rules as it finds them, and we need to do a health check on what the rules are that it is applying.

Hon Peter Dunne: What assurances can the Minister give the House that as a result of this review, or whatever he wants to call it, the powers of the Commerce Commission will not be weakened and that its autonomy will be enhanced?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As far as I am aware, the Commerce Commission has fairly impressive autonomy now, so whether it can be more autonomous, I think, would be yet to be seen. But I do not imagine that the Government will be looking at the powers of the Commerce Commission at all. The commission will be free to continue as an independent statutory body, as it always should, just as the Government is free to look at the rules that the Commerce Commission applies.

Clare Curran: Does he accept that regulation is necessary in the provision of network-based services because the New Zealand public spends a significant proportion of their disposal incomes on energy and communications, and excessive charges take money out of the rest of the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think the member would be surprised to hear me say that, yes, we do believe regulation is necessary. Governments of all colours in New Zealand have spent the last 20 years trying to get the right balance of, on the one hand, investment that improves the quality of our infrastructure and therefore services to our families and households, and, on the other hand, ensuring that those who own that infrastructure do not make excessive profits. It is a shame that her

party is looking to disrupt 20 years of investment in electricity regulation, which is now among the best in the world.

Clare Curran: Is it not the case that the Commerce Commission made its decision about copper prices based on the requirements set out in the 2011 legislation amendments to the Telecommunications Act, and if the significant fall in copper prices was not expected, why was his Government not informed of this possibility at the time?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is actually a very good question from the member. It is a bit of a puzzle that sharemarkets, which are normally quite good at evaluating probabilities around price tracks, for instance, clearly got it wrong in this case, and maybe everyone else did as well. That is really the main reason why we are interested in doing a health check.

Finance, Minister—Performance

2. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Which, if any, is his greatest failing in 2013 as Minister of Finance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): This question does test one’s humility. Without doubt, though, my greatest failing as a Minister of Finance was, as it has been for each of the past 5 years, underestimating the damage done to this economy by the previous Labour Government, and overestimating the ability of Labour members to understand that and apologise for it.

Hon David Parker: Which of his achievements is he most proud of as Minister of Finance—is it the widening gap between the rich and the poor; the collapse of Solid Energy; shutting first-home buyers out of the market with failed housing policies, leading to loan-to-value ratios; 150,000 unemployed; or the three botched asset sales that came in $1 billion short and did not achieve widespread New Zealand ownership?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Just to deal with a couple of those things, actually the asset sales programme has been a success. I know the Opposition members are envious of the $4 billion that the Government now has in the bank. Secondly, the gap between the rich and the poor is actually closing. I do regard that as an achievement, given the circumstances of the global financial crisis and the severe stresses on this economy. More New Zealanders have more jobs and higher incomes, and there is some real confidence in New Zealand’s future.

Hon David Parker: If he does not like that list, is he most proud of borrowing more than $400 million a month; the uncertainty around Chorus, ultra-fast broadband, and his Government’s threats to overrule the Commerce Commission; the $30 million corporate welfare subsidy paid to Rio Tinto without a jobs guarantee; Skycity; the sluggish Canterbury rebuild; or is it the 265,000 children living in poverty that he is most proud of?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not agree with any of that. When the member mentions debt, what we can say is that it is $4 billion less than Labour would have, because we have gone ahead and partially sold down some Government-owned companies. Actually, in respect of the debt, the Government is quite happy that it has followed a sensible programme. We have borrowed pretty extensively to rebuild Christchurch, to support New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens, and to support our households through a difficult time precisely because we have a plan to get back to surplus and repay that debt. That has been sensible, moderate economic management, which, I have to say, few developed countries have been able to copy.

Andrew Williams: Does he consider New Zealand’s net international investment debtor position of $151 billion as at 30 June 2013, which is equivalent to 71 percent of gross domestic product and $35,000 of debt per man, woman, and child in New Zealand, as further evidence of the failure of his Government’s economic policy; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member will know, that net international investment position is the result of accumulated habits of New Zealanders over the last 30 years. In the circumstances of a pretty significant recession, I actually think it is a bit better than we expected. Given the prospects

for our export industries and the growing resilience and confidence of New Zealand businesses and households, I would expect it is going to continue to improve gradually over the next 3 to 5 years.

Hon David Parker: How will his billion-dollar shortfall on asset sales impact upon the $84 billion of spending his Government has already promised from the $6 billion Future Investment Fund?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member seems to have his billions a bit mixed and matched between different parts of the Government Budget. There is a pretty simple fact. When we sold the shares in the Government companies, we handed out share certificates to tens of thousands of New Zealanders, who are the proud owners of shares in large New Zealand companies, and they gave us $4 billion. So the taxpayer has $4 billion where it used to have 49 percent of the companies, and we can now go and invest that in public assets. The Opposition has yet to rise to the challenge of promising to buy back the assets, although it says it is so firmly opposed to their sale.

Hon David Parker: Has he received any requests from the Minister of Science and Innovation to use the Future Investment Fund to fund research into whether the moon landings were faked, so as to satisfy his desired coalition partner?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English—in so far as he has ministerial responsibility.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, we have not, but I have had requests to investigate some of the even wackier ideas that come not from small parties but the Labour Party. They are policies that would be very bad for New Zealand, and we will be investigating some of them and testing those next year.

Tim Macindoe: What further progress has the Government made in 2013 in improving the range of negative economic indicators it inherited 5 years ago?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, I would say the credit for progress goes to the households and businesses of New Zealand, which have dealt with difficult circumstances with remarkable resilience and fortitude, and they are achieving results. The economy is growing 2.5 to 3 percent—one of the fastest growth rates in the OECD. We are on track to surplus by 2014-15—one of a handful of countries that will achieve surplus by that time. Back in 2008 the current account deficit was over 8 percent of GDP and it currently sits at less than 4 percent of GDP. Five years ago inflation was running at 5 percent. It is now running at just over 1 percent. Five years ago mortgage interest rates averaged almost 11 percent. Floating rates are now less than 6 percent, although forecast to rise somewhat next year. The tradable sector, which went into recession in 2007, is now succeeding, and we are particularly gratified that the manufacturing sector is expanding and even more gratified that the regions are expanding, many of them at a faster rate than in Auckland.

Hon David Parker: Will he agree that arguably his greatest failure as Minister of Finance in 2013 was not to use the Future Investment Fund to purchase Gerry Brownlee a larger kilt to prevent overexposure to the market, or would that have required an extraordinary appropriation?

Mr SPEAKER: In so far as the Minister has responsibility—the Hon Bill English.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I understand that the traumatic event to which the member is referring occurred in 2012, which is outside the current Budget cycle.

Export Sector—Performance

3. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on progress in lifting New Zealand’s export performance and New Zealand’s progress toward paying its way in the world?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): It is conventional wisdom in New Zealand that when we run a high exchange rate, our exporters suffer. It certainly has been a headwind for them, but they have made commendable progress. The export sector has been supported by the Government’s wide-ranging programme to make it easier for the sector to invest and create jobs. We have been helped by the world markets. Our merchandise terms of trade rose 7.5 percent in the September quarter—the largest monthly rise in 40 years—with export prices rising faster than

import prices. Our terms of trade are at their highest level since 1973. This is certainly helping exporters to deal with the headwind of a high exchange rate, backed up by sound Government policy.

Jami-Lee Ross: How is New Zealand’s progress in rebalancing the economy being reflected in the latest official data on the current account?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Statistics New Zealand recently issued national accounts data for the March 2013 year. It included significant upward revisions to estimates of, for instance, spending by overseas investors, and this has boosted service exports. As a result, the review lifts levels of household and national savings while reducing the annual current deficit from 4.5 percent to 3.9 percent. That is, we are doing better on the current account and on savings than we thought we were before—certainly significantly better than the 7 or 8 percent current account deficits in the 3 years to 2008. The upward revision lends some weight to the idea that New Zealand is making progress with its external position.

Jami-Lee Ross: What trends does the Minister expect in New Zealand’s trade with markets in the northern hemisphere over the next few weeks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am reliably informed that New Zealand’s trade with northern hemisphere markets will result in a significant increase in merchandise exports in the next few weeks. Government officials expect consumer imports to spike on the evening of 24 December and continue well into the morning of 25 December. We do not propose to take corrective action to address this trade imbalance. These bountiful imports will be distributed to young New Zealanders by an unshaven benefactor who craves popularity and is invariably dressed in red. Although he shares Santa’s enthusiasm for handing out free stuff with no idea how to pay for it, on this occasion I am not referring to the Leader of the Opposition and his little green elves.

State Sector—Protection of Integrity

4. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of State Services: Does he have any plans to introduce greater protection for New Zealand’s state sector integrity systems, including the public service, in the wake of Monday’s Transparency International New Zealand report?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises) on behalf of the Minister of

State Services: A lot of work is already being done to further improve transparency and integrity and to combat bribery and corruption. New Zealand’s efforts in this area are regularly recognised, including by Transparency International, which rated New Zealand first equal in its latest perceptions of corruption rankings, which were published just last week. The Government welcomes Transparency International’s views on how we can continue to improve our public systems and deliver better public services. We will be considering the recommendations in that report carefully.

Hon Maryan Street: How does he plan to address the concerns expressed in the report about an erosion of the convention that public servants provide the Government of the day with free and frank advice, an apparent weakening of the quality of policy advice that public servants provide, and perceived non – merit-based appointments to public boards?

Hon TONY RYALL: Ministers do expect to receive free and frank advice from officials, as that member will know from her previous roles. In fact, the State Sector Act has recently been amended to include new stewardship requirements on chief executives, which specifically include the requirements to provide free and frank advice to Ministers and to maintain the capacity to offer free and frank advice to successive Governments. The amended Act also includes the responsibility of chief executives to be responsive to matters relating to the collective interests of the Government.

Hon Maryan Street: Is he aware of a culture of fear developing in the Public Service, resulting in officials being unable to give free and frank advice, especially in the Ministry of Health and the Department of Conservation; if so, does he intend to do anything about those relationships between Ministers and officials?

Hon TONY RYALL: I have to say, I do not agree with that at all. If there is a culture of fear in the Ministry of Health, I have got to say that it is not working, because if you have read any of the national newspapers in the last week, you will have found out that people are not at all backward in coming forward with their views.

Hon Maryan Street: Does he agree with the report that the intrusion of central government into local government decision-making has caused people concern; if so, how does he intend to address this?

Hon TONY RYALL: This Government has a mandate, particularly in respect of the Resource Management Act, to improve those processes in local government. Clearly, the legislation is a key part of that. Most people in New Zealand think that that is a jolly good thing.

Grant Robertson: How can he have confidence in the integrity of the State sector information and communications technology systems when the department responsible for the overall oversight of information and communications technology, the Department of Internal Affairs, has its own information and communications technology project that is now requiring a doubling of resources and a 5-year extension just to have any outcomes at all?

Hon TONY RYALL: As the acting Minister, I am not in a position to be able to comment on that. What I do know, though, is that this Government takes very seriously the need to have high performance in respect of these issues. As the member knows, we have had difficulty around one particular project in the education sector, and that is informing better performance elsewhere across the State sector.

Trans-Pacific Partnership—Ratification Process

5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Trade: Does he stand by the answer given on his behalf yesterday, regarding the process for ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, that “the member misunderstands the process that these things go through. She suggested that Cabinet will ratify the agreement; Cabinet will not. In fact, Parliament ratifies the agreement.”; if so, why?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Trade): The Minister for Economic Development, as Acting Minister of Trade yesterday, may have been a little imprecise in his phraseology on behalf of the said Minister of Trade. As a result, the Minister of Trade has asked the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment to act on his behalf and make the following clarification today: it was not, strictly speaking, correct to speak of Parliament ratifying the agreement per se. In fact, Parliament examines the treaty and then considers any subsequent legislation that may arise from the treaty, but it is the Government that finally ratifies the treaty once Parliament has given its consideration on the treaty and on treaty-related legislative matters.

Dr Russel Norman: So when he said yesterday that Parliament ratifies the treaty, not Cabinet, he was wrong, and, in fact, it was he who misunderstood the process, not Julie Anne Genter?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It was not the Minister of Trade per se who misunderstood the speaker; it was the Minister who was speaking on the Minister’s behalf in Parliament yesterday who misunderstood the situation. He, of course, has been told by the Minister not to speak for the Minister today and that the Minister would get another Minister to speak on his behalf.

Dr Russel Norman: So when Steven Joyce told the House yesterday that Parliament ratifies the treaty, not Cabinet, Steven Joyce was absolutely wrong?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is fair to say that Mr Joyce got it wrong yesterday. It is a very rare thing, but it is Christmas. The Minister of Trade has had a strong conversation with Minister Joyce, and Minister Joyce has undertaken to speak very nicely about the Minister of Trade in the House today.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister of Trade confirm he has got something else wrong in that he has caved in to the United States over Pharmac, which will now see affordable medicines for

New Zealanders put at risk at the hands of big US pharmaceutical companies, a sin he and his colleagues promised never to do?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. In fact, the Minister of Trade was actually quoted on, I think, Radio New Zealand National this morning, speaking from Singapore, saying the following: “It will not end parallel importing. It will not involve higher prices of pharmaceutical products. That was never really the issue. The issue is to try and preserve the underlying Pharmac model. There’s been outstanding policy success for New Zealand under successive Governments, and I am very confident that that will not be put at risk.” That is slightly at odds with Mr Peters—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, does he stand by his comment “I can give you a categorical assurance that New Zealanders will not be paying higher prices for their pharmaceuticals as a consequence of TPP.”, and if New Zealanders do end up paying higher prices for their medicines, contrary to what he has just said, will he do the decent thing and resign?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: On behalf of Mr Groser, I have again perhaps been disloyal to him, because, actually, Mr Peters is right. He of course went on to say exactly that: “I can give you a categorical assurance that New Zealanders will not be paying higher prices for their pharmaceuticals as a consequence of TPP.” I do not think he can be any clearer than that.

Hon Phil Goff: Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership prevent Pharmac from buying lower-priced goods or generic drugs, and will the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement make New Zealand vulnerable to being sued if it legislates in the public good in areas like the environment and health if that cuts across multinational profits?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is getting into a whole range of things that are, of course, part of the discussions that will be ongoing, although I think it is very clear from the media coverage of what are purported to be leaks from the negotiations that New Zealand has been arguing its case very strongly and has been seen as doing that by critics from all parts of the spectrum. But I can only repeat, in regard to the Pharmac matters, what the Minister of Trade himself said on the radio this morning, and I think that that has already been read to the House.

Dr Russel Norman: Will the Minister make a commitment in this House that New Zealand will not sign up to the investor-State dispute provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would enable multinational corporations to sue the New Zealand Government in international courts if this Parliament were to pass laws that those multinationals did not like?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, I cannot address those matters specifically because, frankly, we do not yet know where the various chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership will land. What this Government and this Parliament will get to see at the end of that, presuming that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is successfully concluded, is a whole range of things, and we will have to consider those in the round in terms of whether we want to take up, and participate in, that agreement. The reality is this: if we can achieve an agreement that is of high quality and suitable for New Zealanders, that would create great opportunities for growth and prosperity for, for example, the manufacturers that the member seems occasionally concerned about, and for other people across New Zealand. We can achieve that with a high-quality agreement.

Dr Russel Norman: Will he commit his Government to ensuring that Parliament has a binding deciding vote on whether New Zealand ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement if it is signed next year?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: We covered this in the answer to the first question. The process, which was set up by the previous Labour Government, is that Parliament examines the treaty and considers any subsequent legislation that may arise from a treaty, but it is the Government that finally ratifies the treaty once Parliament has given its consideration on the treaty and on any treatyrelated legislative matters. That is the process that the previous Government set up, the process that was adopted for the China – New Zealand free-trade agreement, and it is the process that this Government would anticipate taking place should the Trans-Pacific Partnership be agreed to.

Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister concerned that the public of New Zealand may be confused as to whether it is Parliament or Cabinet that ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership, given that Mr Steven Joyce is confused as to whether it is Cabinet or Parliament that ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Mr Stephen Jacobi has been all over the radio confusing people as to whether it is Parliament or Cabinet that ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think we have uncovered a conspiracy of Stevens misbehaving and reinforcing negative perceptions! It is very clear, and, in fact, the Minister of Trade and the Minister speaking on his behalf have today made the situation very clear. I could go through it again for the member if he so wishes. Parliament examines the treaty and then Parliament considers any subsequent legislation that may arise from the treaty, but it is the Government that finally ratifies the treaty once Parliament has given its consideration on the treaty and on treaty-related legislative matters. I do not think I could be much clearer than that.

Dr Russel Norman: Has the New Zealand Government made any commitments in the Trans- Pacific Partnership negotiations to support the establishment of investor-State disputes mechanisms in any final Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is once again trying to get the Government to finalise the agreement today in the House, which, of course, cannot be done, because there has to be an agreement that is discussed between 12 separate countries. Again, if an agreement is completed, it will come before Parliament, and Parliament will have the opportunity to examine it.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was about the position of the New Zealand Government. The Minister may say it is not in the public interest to answer that question, but I would like an answer as to what the position of the Government is.

Mr SPEAKER: You got an answer. The member may not be happy with it, but the Minister was saying that because negotiations have not concluded, the Government cannot make that commitment.

Tertiary Education—Links with Asia

6. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and

Employment: What is the Government doing to strengthen New Zealand’s economic and education links with Asia?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Today I announced that 89 outstanding New Zealand students have been selected to study at top education institutions in Asia next year as part of the inaugural round of the Prime Minister’s Scholarships for Asia. The scholarships cover study periods from 6 weeks to 2 years for undergraduate or postgraduate study in a range of ASEAN countries and China. The students will study in areas linked to New Zealand’s economic or trade agenda, including business studies, law, food technology, design, and languages. Funding of $9 million over 5 years for the scholarships was provided in this year’s Budget as part of the Government’s internationally focused growth package.

Dr Cam Calder: What is the purpose of the Prime Minister’s Scholarships for Asia?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is a very good question. New Zealand’s international linkages are going to become increasingly vital, right through the 21st century, particularly in Asia. We need more smart young Kiwis who have spent time living in Asia, building people-to-people links, and getting to know the many different countries, cultures, and economies. New Zealand students will also undoubtedly act as ambassadors for our country abroad, helping to promote the quality of our education system and New Zealand more generally. The applications for the next round of the Prime Minister’s Scholarships for Asia will open in January of next year.

Dr Cam Calder: What steps is the Government taking to increase the number of students studying in New Zealand?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Prime Minister’s scholarships are about getting more young Kiwis into institutions in Asia but, of course, we also want more young people from around the world to

come to study here as well. Recently the Minister of Immigration and I announced a suite of changes to help continue growing the size of New Zealand’s international education sector. The changes will make it easier for some international students to work during their studies, and allow streamlined visa processing in partnership with selected high-quality providers. Furthermore, the lowest-quality providers will be prevented from enrolling international students. Together these changes will help ensure that New Zealand remains internationally competitive, provides a goodquality experience for students in New Zealand, and creates more jobs for New Zealanders in the international education industry.

Hon Shane Jones: Why does he spend more time dining and tweeting in Asia than visiting the regions of New Zealand, where he is regarded as championing gas and leaving a foul odour?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Dear oh dear! Actually, I travel around New Zealand very, very regularly, and the only time that they ever saw Shane Jones was when he was one of the three amigos in “Labour’s Got Talent”, and they haven’t seen him before or since.

Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order. We are required to hear it in silence. What is the point of order?

Hon Shane Jones: I just want to test what part of that answer reflected—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! When you consider the question that was asked, it was adequately addressed.

Minimum Wage—2014 Review

7. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What factors will he take into account when considering whether the minimum wage should be increased in 2014?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): The Government’s objective is to keep increasing the minimum wage over time to protect the real income of low-paid workers while minimising job losses. In line with that I will consider inflation, wage growth, restraint on employment, and other relevant factors. I have yet to receive recommendations from officials and no decisions have been made.

Darien Fenton: How will he take into account that 40 percent of the parents of the 265,000 children living in poverty are in paid work yet not earning enough to feed their families?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I take into account the fact that we have raised the minimum wage every single year that we have been in Government. We have the highest minimum wage in the Western World relative to the average. But, of course, we continue through great pieces of legislation like the Employment Relations Amendment Bill to do everything that we can to raise wages overall, which, of course, does have an impact on poverty.

Darien Fenton: Will his consideration include the fact that the minimum wage has declined by 5c an hour in real terms since his party has been in Government?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I dispute that, given, as I say, we have raised it every single year. We have the highest minimum wage relative to average wages in the Western World. I think, of course, I do not want to pre-empt where we go with the minimum wage early next year, but I will take into account a wide range of factors.

Andrew Little: Will the Minister factor in the likely drop in wages for low and middle income workers as a result of his Employment Relations Amendment Bill, reported back today, with its emphasis on reducing collective bargaining rights and loss of protections for vulnerable workers?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The premise of that question is entirely wrong because that bill will not have that effect.

Carol Beaumont: In light of the news today that the median wages in South Auckland have fallen by up to 17 percent and that income inequality is growing, what measures will he take to ensure that working people get to share in the productivity gains and wealth they have created over many years?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The questioner is simply wrong in literally everything she said in her question. The fact of the matter is, as I have said, we have lifted the minimum wage every single year. We have the highest minimum wage in this country relative to average wages in the Western World, and in absolute terms it is higher than everywhere else except, I think, four other countries.

Disputes Tribunal—Changes

8. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Justice: What recent announcement has she made for proposed changes to Disputes Tribunals?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Yesterday I announced changes to the operations of disputes tribunals as another part of modernising and improving access to justice. The monetary threshold for bringing disputes to a disputes tribunal will be lifted to $30,000 from the current level of $15,000, or $20,000 if parties agree. In addition, the qualifications or training requirements for referees are to be improved. The operation of disputes tribunals will be made more open and transparent by requiring hearings to be held in public. Decisions will be in writing and published online unless there is good reason not to do so. I expect to introduce a bill to the House next year to implement these changes.

Scott Simpson: How will these changes contribute to the Government’s Better Public Services targets?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The Ministry of Justice is committed to modernising our courts and tribunals to make it easier for the public to have their disputes resolved quickly, efficiently, and transparently. Disputes tribunals provide a simple and inexpensive way to resolve disputes. Increasing the threshold for disputes tribunals will mean that up to an additional 800 disputes will be dealt with each year in addition to the 16,000 to 20,000 cases the tribunals already handle. Improvements to the qualifications or training of referees will improve the quality and efficiency of decisions. Requiring the decisions to be in writing and published online brings the tribunals in line with proposed changes to all courts, as provided for in the Judicature Modernisation Bill, which was recently referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee. Publishing recent decisions online ensures that decisions are accessible to the public.

Education, Minister—Performance

9. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by all of the decisions she has made this year as Minister of Education?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes, in all the circumstances they were made, and the decision I stand by most is the decision to invest $9.7 billion in education in New Zealand, the most ever invested in education in this country.

Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her decision to try to close Salisbury School given that Justice Dobson concluded that it was common sense that the risk of sexual abuse for girls with impaired intellect was likely to increase, and that “No great leap in logic is required to recognise the validity of concerns …”, and that her arguments amounted to “an abrogation of the responsibilities involved in making a decision”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, I do stand by the decision I made in the circumstances at the time. We were concerned with how we would ensure we provided the full range of services to those young people who have special education needs along a continuum, from those who had minor needs to those who had most intensive needs. It was never our intention to do away with a residential option. At the time we felt that two met that need. In the event, the judge disagreed with us, but I stand by the decision I made at the time.

Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her decision to force the merger of Phillipstown School and Woolston School given that that decision was also overturned by the courts and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars that should be being spent on education instead being consumed in legal fees because of her botched up process?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do stand by the decision I made in the circumstances at the time. As the judgment has made clear to those who have actually read it, the judge felt that the Ministry of Education had carried out the consultation in good faith and that there was one element only that needed continued consultation, and that was to do with the costs. We have subsequently continued the consultation with Phillipstown School, and I met with the board last week.

Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her decision to make the Secretary for Education fall on her sword, at a cost to the taxpayer of $425,000, given that it was a ministerial decision to increase class sizes in last year’s Budget, a ministerial decision to propose closures and mergers for schools in Christchurch, a ministerial decision to close Salisbury School, and a ministerial decision to sign off on the implementation of Novopay, and yet no Minister has been held to account for all of those debacles?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: That was not my decision, so it should be directed to the Minister whose decision it was. But can I point out that under this Government, despite the huge and tragic challenges of the Canterbury earthquakes, we have closed less than a quarter of the total that that party closed—over 280—in the time that it was in Government.

Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her decision to stick with the failed national standards, given that her own ministry has advised her that national standards have incorrectly measured the achievements of around four out of every 10 students, that fewer than half of the parents surveyed believe that national standards provide a valuable record of their students’ learning, and that, overwhelmingly, teachers and principals are saying that national standards have increased bureaucracy for little educational gain?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do indeed stand by our Government’s decision to implement national standards because, unlike the Opposition, we want to know how well each and every one of our children is doing in every classroom in every school in this country. What we do know is that over 2,100 of those schools returned their national standards report. The member continues to focus on one—yes—useful piece of research that informs us how we may proceed, but, indeed, in the particular survey that the member keeps referring to, about 50 percent of those surveyed actually replied. That would be 180 schools out of 2,568. Of the 180 schools that replied, less than 40 percent related to parents. Of the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement, which had a sample of over 2,500 schools, parents overwhelmingly said—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Tracey Martin: Kia ora. Does the Minister stand by her ministry’s recent decision that looks to restructure staff funding for Pasifika students requiring English language learning support so that some schools will now have to seek funding from charitable organisations in order to maintain these successful programmes, and how does this align with her Government’s achievement aspirations for this group of priority learners?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do stand by the decisions we are making in the Ministry of Education because we have seen year on year since members on this side of the House came into Government a rise in the achievement of Pasifika students. In early childhood education we have the highest level of participation ever. At secondary level we have the highest level of National Certificate of Educational Achievement achievement ever—

Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. Does she stand by the decision—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. [Interruption] The member will resume her seat. The Minister started her answer by saying that she stands by the decision.

KiwiRail—Confidence in Board

10. BRENDAN HORAN (Independent) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he have confidence in the Board of KiwiRail Holdings Limited?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes, because it is worth appreciating that although the previous Government purchased KiwiRail for $690 million just before the 2008 election, KiwiRail runs at a loss, with a net loss after tax in the last financial year of $175 million. The board therefore faces a very big challenge and ongoing tough decisions to make KiwiRail viable, but it has the support of this Government, which has invested $844 million over the past 4 years to assist in the KiwiRail Turnaround Plan.

Brendan Horan: Does he approve of the way KiwiRail runs the interisland ferries, with abysmal maintenance, propellers falling off in a way that John Clarke would be proud of, and the negative impact on our international reputation; if not, will he sack the board?

Hon TONY RYALL: I have no intention of removing the board. The Government does have confidence in the board of KiwiRail. It has got a huge job. This is a business that has not made a profit while it has been under Government ownership. We have put $844 million in. The previous Government bought it for $690 million. So it is a really big job, and we are committed to supporting the board as it gets the business turned round.

Brendan Horan: In light of the ongoing and increasing economic impact of the Aratere falling apart—the severe disruption to businesses, families, tourists, and our international reputation— whom, if anyone, will he hold accountable?

Hon TONY RYALL: As the member will know, in respect of the well-reported incident relating to Aratere’s propeller, the cause of the shaft that drove the propeller to snap is, at this point, unknown. It would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of that before the investigations are resolved.

Health Services—Quality and Safety

11. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Associate Minister of Health: What reports has she received on improvements to the quality and safety of the New Zealand health system?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): Today I received the first quarterly report of district health board performance against the four quality and safety markers. I am pleased with the progress made compared with the baseline data that was released in June this year. For example, 11 out of the 20 district health boards are now assessing 90 percent of older patients for the risk of having a fall while in hospital. That is up from only five district health boards in June. Fourteen district health boards are now achieving at or above 70 percent compliance with hand hygiene practices, and the average nationally is 71 percent. More district health boards than ever are using the World Health Organization’s Surgical Safety Checklist.

Katrina Shanks: How were these deadly serious quality and safety markers selected?

Hon JO GOODHEW: The quality and safety markers track progress in reducing harm caused to patients in the areas of falls and health care – associated infections in surgery. Errors in these areas are major causes of serious adverse events in our hospitals, and there are proven interventions and practices that reduce patient harm. Clearly, that is something the Opposition is not interested in. An example of it is the use of the World Health Organization’s Surgical Safety Checklist—a common-sense approach to ensuring that the correct surgical procedure is carried out on the correct patient.

Katrina Shanks: How do the quality and safety markers help New Zealand patients, both those who are mobile and those who are not as mobile?

Hon JO GOODHEW: In terms of helping New Zealand patients, the use of new safety procedures has seen bloodstream infections caused by the insertion of central line catheters virtually eliminated from hospital intensive care units. Fewer infections mean less time in hospital and less pain and suffering for patients. Each infection actually causes a cost to the health system of $20,000. This is indeed better as well as being sooner and more convenient discharge.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In light of the fact that—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! What is the point of order?

Grant Robertson: The point of order is that in light of the fact that it is Katrina Shanks’ last day and probably her last question, on behalf of the Opposition I would like to thank her for her contribution to Parliament and wish her well in the future.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank Grant Robertson for raising that point of order, and I extend my best wishes to Katrina Shanks, as well.

Ministers—Confidence

12. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, because they are a group of competent, hard-working, and energetic Ministers, who are delivering a stronger economy, a safer community, better public education, cleaner water, more support for the most vulnerable, and a massive rebuild in Christchurch.

Kevin Hague: Is he confident that his Ministers are delivering the results that matter for New Zealanders, given that one in four children is living in poverty, unemployment is as high today as when the recession ended 4 years ago, more kids than ever are going to hospital with preventable diseases, New Zealand is plummeting down the education rankings, over 60 percent of rivers are unsafe to swim in, greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise, the ultra-fast broadband roll-out is in crisis, and the asset sales have been a costly disaster?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I appreciate that the Greens have a different view of progress than the National Party. That is, their view of progress is that anything that looks like another job for another person is pollution and should be stopped. They are very consistent about that. We, however, do believe we have made progress. There are 53,000 more jobs in the New Zealand economy than last year, and the Greens, I think, probably opposed every decision that was related to those new jobs. I just want to say to those New Zealanders benefiting from those 53,000 jobs that we are right behind you, and the Greens are trying to stop you. Those people will decide how to vote next year.

Kevin Hague: Well, then, who does he rate as his best-performing Minister? Would it be the Minister of Finance, who managed to turn $6 billion worth of public assets into $4 billion of cash, losing money for everyone along the way except for brokers, lawyers, and admen; the Minister of Education, who has overseen a record drop in our kids’ international achievement ranking; would it be the Minister for Economic Development, whose Skycity deal was described by the Auditor- General as “poorly planned and executed”; or could it be the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, who seems to spend most of his time losing court cases to Cantabrians who just want a fair—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Bring the question to a close, please.

Kevin Hague: Well, I will just—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Bring the question to a conclusion.

Kevin Hague: Or, alternatively, the Minister for Social Development, who cares so much about child poverty that she cannot bear to know how many children are suffering?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said before, we might have a different view of Ministers’ progress. Certainly, all those Ministers have made fantastic progress in their portfolios. If the Prime Minister was here, though, and if he was asked to say who was the most competent, he would probably say it was the Minister of Finance, but the Minister for Social Development says she is better.

Kevin Hague: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in his own ability to choose able Ministers, given that this year he has had to sack Ministers from two of his support parties, and is it not true that to lose one support party Minister may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose both looks very much like carelessness?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think most New Zealanders are familiar with the idea that the Prime Minister is not uncomfortable with discussing his pretty special capacities to carry out most political

tasks, including selecting his Ministers, and that is why he remains today the most popular Prime Minister—consistently—whom New Zealand has ever had. [Interruption]

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know this is coming late in the piece for this year, but I wonder whether you could consider the propriety of people clapping like that every time some Minister vaguely tries to answer a question. [Interruption] No, no—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You will not see it in other respectable Western Parliaments. It is a habit that is creeping in from one side of the House. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member has asked me to consider that matter and I will.

QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS

Trans-Pacific Partnership—Release of Information

1. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Member responsible for Member’s notice of motion

4 : Why did he lodge the notice of motion directing Trade Minister Hon Tim Groser to table any final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement before it is approved by the Cabinet?

Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Member responsible for Member’s notice of motion 4): Under New Zealand’s current constitutional arrangements the executive has the power to ratify international treaties, without those treaties being approved by Parliament. Hence I believed it was important that Parliament state for the record, by this notice of motion, that it believes that the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement must be made public before Cabinet ratifies, or otherwise, the treaty.

Gareth Hughes: Does he think it is important that all members of the House and all New Zealanders have the opportunity to read the final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement before it is approved by Cabinet; if so, why?

Dr RUSSEL NORMAN: Yes; the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, if ratified, will place significant constraints on the ability of the Government of New Zealand to regulate in areas such as health, education, and environmental protection. That is why I believe it is important that this Parliament and all New Zealanders are given the opportunity to examine the text before Cabinet ratifies it, or otherwise.

Trans-Pacific Partnership—Release of Information

2. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Member responsible for Member’s notice of motion

4: Why did he think it was necessary to lodge the notice of motion at this time directing Trade Minister Hon Tim Groser to table any final text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement before it is approved by the Cabinet?

Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Member responsible for Member’s notice of motion 4): This motion is particularly relevant at this time because trade Ministers in the Trans-Pacific Partnership nations have indicated that they plan to have another round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in January next year, when Parliament is not sitting, and the danger is that in the absence of Parliament Cabinet will ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement regardless, using the urgent process set out in the Standing Orders.

Gareth Hughes: Why is it important for the motion to be before the House today?

Dr RUSSEL NORMAN: It is important that the motion is before the House today because this is the last sitting day of the year. Before the House can meet again, there will be another round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. The executive has the constitutional power to ratify the agreement before Parliament even meets again. So it is important that Parliament makes it clear that it wants to see the text before Cabinet ratifies it or otherwise. That is why this motion is very important today.

Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment

Bill—Purpose

3. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Member in charge of the Social Security

(Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill: What is the intention of the Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill?

TRACEY MARTIN (Member in charge of the Social Security (Clothing Allowances for

Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill): Kia ora. The intention of the bill is to correct an anomaly inside the legislation that creates an inequity between orphans and unsupported children being cared for by their kin and unsupported children being cared for by foster parents, with regard to the clothing allowance and access to it.

Richard Prosser: Why is the Social Security (Clothing Allowances for Orphans and Unsupported Children) Amendment Bill needed and needed now?

TRACEY MARTIN: Because these children, as orphans and unsupported children, need no less support from their country when they are cared for by kin than orphans and unsupported children need when they are cared for by foster parents. These children and families are struggling due to circumstances beyond their control, and the current legislation is unfair and discriminatory.

Sentencing (Protection of Children From Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill—Purpose

4. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Member in charge of the Sentencing (Protection of

Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill: What is the intention of the Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill?

Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (Member in charge of the Sentencing

(Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill): I thank the member for that excellent question. The bill brings a unique focus to the way in which New Zealand deals with criminals, and criminals who continue to ignore the right of our children to a safer and more secure environment. The Sentencing (Protection of Children from Criminal Offending) Amendment Bill seeks to make criminal offending in the presence of a minor an aggravating factor at sentencing.

Denis O’Rourke: Why is the bill needed?

Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR: Once again, an intelligent question. There is speculation out there by some people that there is no need for this bill because existing legislation can deal with this. The truth is that current legislation has not been able to acknowledge the severity of criminal activity that occurs in the presence of a minor. Although punishments have been handed out to those who have been convicted, it is often for the crime committed, not for the damage caused to the children involved.

SuperGold Health Check Bill—Purpose

5. ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) to the Member in charge of the SuperGold Health

Check Bill: What is the intention of the SuperGold Health Check Bill?

BARBARA STEWART (Member in charge of the SuperGold Health Check Bill): The intention of the SuperGold Health Check Bill is to provide SuperGold Card holders with an entitlement of three free doctor’s visits in an attempt to prevent unnecessary hospitalisation, which is a huge cost to our health service. Andrew Williams: Why is the SuperGold Health Check Bill needed and needed now?

BARBARA STEWART: Prevention is always easier than cure. Encouraging seniors with a minor ailment to go to the doctor will ensure that it does not deteriorate. Based on Ministry of Health statistics, the cost-benefit analysis estimates that preventing only 1 percent of seniors from hospitalisation will ensure the programme is fiscally neutral, which means it will pay for itself.

ENDS

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