QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economic Programme—Effect on Interest Rates
1. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government’s economic programme helping to keep interest rates lower during this economic cycle, compared to the previous economic cycle in the mid-2000s?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Some increase in interest rates is inevitable in a growing economy, and the Government will do what it can to ensure that it does not put pressure on rising interest rates. In particular, we need to avoid the mistakes of the previous economic cycle under the previous Government, where Government spending picked up rapidly, house prices soared, and household debt increased sharply. This left households facing floating mortgage rates of almost 11 percent by 2008 and business interest rates exceeded 9 percent. Of course, these high interest rates dampened business and investment growth and sent the export sector into recession. Floating mortgage rates have fallen to below 6 percent for a family with a $200,000 mortgage. That has been a saving of around $200 a week compared with what they were paying in 2008, and you can be sure that they will not want to go back to 11 percent interest rates under a Labour Government.
David Bennett: What steps is the Government taking to keep Government spending under control, and how will this help take pressure off interest rates?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Two areas where the Government can work to avoid putting pressure on rising interest rates are through housing market regulation and Government spending control. As the Reserve Bank regularly points out, careful Government spending will help to keep interest rates lower for longer. If the Government makes large cash injections into the economy when it is growing significantly and house prices are already high, then interest rates will be pushed up further, bearing in mind that New Zealand households still have quite high levels of debt. The Government has set a target of returning to surplus next year by understanding the cost drivers that lie behind Government spending and getting control of those.
David Bennett: What approach is the Government taking to improve housing market regulation and how will this contribute to preventing a damaging spike in interest rates?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Rapid increases in house prices are damaging for the economy because they put pressure, through a high exchange rate, on our export sector. They are a challenge for the Government because they put pressure on the Government to fund the affordability gap for households that cannot afford rising mortgages, and they are unfair on individuals who are trying to enter the housing market. Demand for housing is rising, and a turn-round in migration flows is likely to push demand even higher. Unfortunately, our planning rules and attitudes within our councils and, to some extent, the Government have restricted the supply of new houses that can be built in response to this demand. This is why the Government has passed legislation in this House,
opposed by Labour, to streamline planning rules and is working with the Auckland and Christchurch councils to significantly increase the supply of housing over the next 2 or 3 years so that low and middle income families can benefit from homeownership and so that we can avoid high interest rates and have a healthy export sector.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was such a long answer, I wondered whether perhaps you had nodded off in the middle of it, because—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order and it will in itself lead to disorder.
David Bennett: What progress—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just ask the member to please cease that loud barracking while I am calling for a supplementary question.
David Bennett: What progress is being made to increase the supply of new housing as part of the Government’s wider programme to address issues around housing affordability?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The decisions on the supply of housing rest with councils, but the Government can make it easier for them to make decisions to improve the supply of housing. Statistics New Zealand last week reported that the trend for new dwelling consents is at its highest level since September 2007 and double the level of March 2011. So there are some signs that the supply of housing is increasing, but if we are going to avoid significant ongoing increases in house prices and, therefore, even higher interest rates, we need councils to make more positive decisions for more housing supply.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister accept that the 20 percent increase in electricity prices over the last 5 years in addition to the 20 percent rise in house prices, particularly in Auckland, are putting pressure on the Reserve Bank Governor to increase interest rates, and that his Government’s failure to control the inflation coming out of those two sectors is part of the problem as to why families are going to face higher interest rates?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not accept that, and for one simple reason: the rules around housing have been made by councils, and it is important that we work with councils so that they understand that when they are making rules about a denser city or a more liveable city or rules that are anti – urban sprawl, those decisions impact the whole economy. Particularly, they can have a damaging impact on our export sector, which council planners do not historically think about very much. So we all have a job to control Government spending, to make our electricity market more competitive, and to work with councils for more housing supply, and if we do our job, New Zealanders will enjoy lower interest rates than they otherwise would.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister believe that the 20 percent increase in electricity prices over 5 years—more than twice the rate of inflation across the rest of the economy—is a sign of a competitive market in the electricity sector, or is it a sign of a failure of the competition in the electricity sector?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The rate of increase in electricity prices is half what it was when that member was in Government. It was 8 percent per year, I think, for 9 years. So this Government has taken the step of making the market more competitive. That is proving now to slow the rate of increase. Part of the increase of electricity prices is an investment programme begun by the previous Government, which was necessary, to spend hundreds—in fact, billions—on upgrading the strength of our electricity grid to ensure security of supply, and now the effect of that investment is flowing through into prices. But the market is more competitive. The last thing New Zealand needs is someone coming in, destroying the competitive market, putting us back 20 years to where, I think, Brazil is, and us having to go and learn all the lessons again.
Dr Russel Norman: With regard to the electricity market, does he believe it is a sign of a competitive market when demand falls and prices rise?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, in the long run, if demand keeps falling, prices will eventually come into line with that. But I can tell you that the market is much better at sorting that out than that member ever would be if he became the Minister of Energy, because his policy is all
about Russel Norman setting the prices. In fact, a better way to do it is electricity companies knocking on doors, as they are now, all over New Zealand, offering big discounts.
Power Prices—Current Figures Compared with 2008
2. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: How much more is an average New Zealand household that uses 8,000 kWh of power annually paying for electricity per year as of November 2013 compared to November 2008, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment’s latest Quarterly Survey of Domestic Electricity Prices?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): On average, $70 more per year or, adjusted for inflation, $30 more. I would note that for the period 2000 to November 2008 the average increase was $90 per year or, adjusted for inflation, $60. I think that it is also important to note that the quarterly survey does not capture the discounts and deals that consumers can get from retailers—for example, up to 15 percent prompt payment discounts are commonplace. These are not taken into account in that survey. Thanks to the Government’s reforms of 2010, the system is more competitive than it has ever been and substantial savings are available for consumers who choose to shop around.
Dr Russel Norman: Can he confirm that according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment the weighted average price of electricity to families increased by 20 percent from November 2008 to November 2013—an increase of $360 a year for the typical family, according to the ministry?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. My understanding is that it is an average of $70 per year or, adjusted for inflation, $30.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he support the Electricity Authority’s new inquiry into large electricity price increases that have been announced in recent weeks, and does he now concede that there is a problem with power prices?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Minister supports the Electricity Authority’s approach to regulating this market—the Electricity Authority, of course, being an initiative of this Government to improve the performance of the electricity market, which it quite plainly has done because the cost increases for electricity are approximately half what they were in real terms under the previous Government. I think it is important that the Electricity Authority independently regulates and manages the market, and that we encourage as much competition as possible, and that is what this Government is doing.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with Steven Joyce, who yesterday told an energy conference that the Greens-Labour plan to reduce power bills by $300 a year was “a ‘solution’ in search of a problem”, or does he agree that a $360-a-year increase in power prices is actually a problem for Kiwi families?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, surprisingly, I do agree with Mr Joyce. He went on to say that it was “a hastily thrown together press release designed to wipe millions of dollars of value from companies about to be listed under the mixed ownership model.” I agree with that. He said: “It was politically motivated and economically responsible.” I agree with that. He said: “to call it a ‘policy’ is to elevate to something it quite clearly is not.” I agree with that. And he said: “There is basically no international precedent for the opposition’s ideas.” I agree with that too.
David Shearer: I have here in my hand—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is the member seeking a point of order or a supplementary question?
David Shearer: A supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please ask his supplementary question.
David Shearer: And I am. On behalf of the people who have sent me their electricity bills, which have gone up by up to 14 percent, my question to the Minister is: does he believe that electricity prices are currently rising too quickly?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Nobody likes it when prices go up. That is a given. But the prices of electricity have gone up less than the actual after-tax wages of New Zealanders, which have gone up 23.4 percent since September 2008. I do not care what the member has got in his hand. There is no way he can argue that point.
David Shearer: Does he disagree, therefore, with the people who have written to me saying their bills have gone up by up to 14 percent, and does he say to them that it is not a problem?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said, nobody likes it when prices go up. The way to deal with that is to have more competition, and that is what this Government is encouraging—more competition. I would encourage the people who have written to Mr Shearer not to waste their time doing that, but to spend their time searching for opportunities, through the switching website for example, to reduce their power costs, because that is actually what is happening to those people who are giving that a go.
Wage Rates—Government Policy
3. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What will he do to “spread some of the benefits of growth” when hourly wage rates have only grown by 1.6 percent in the year to December 2013, which is close to 0 percent in real terms, when 45 percent of listed corporates have double-digit profit growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The member continues to use the wrong numbers on wages. Last year, average hourly wages went up 2.9 percent compared with inflation of 1.6 percent. The year before, they went up 2.6 percent compared with inflation of 0.9 percent. The year before that, they went up 2.8 percent compared with inflation of 1.6 percent. The member mistakenly uses the labour cost index, and deliberately, as a way of measuring what wages people earn, and it simply does not measure that.
Hon David Parker: Does the labour cost index measure the change in hourly rates from year to year, and did that show growth of only 1.6 percent in the year to December 2013?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The labour cost index is an index of labour cost, like the CPI is an index of consumer cost. It does not measure what people earn. What people earn is measured by the quarterly employment survey. For the last 3 years wages have gone up over 7 percent at a time when inflation has been around 4 percent, so real wages have been rising.
Jami-Lee Ross: By how much have wages after tax grown in the past 5½ years, and how does this compare historically?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Since the September quarter of 2008, real after-tax wages have increased by 12.9 percent. In other words, the average wage, after you allow for inflation and tax, has gone up 12.9 percent in a little over 5 years. Those have been 5 pretty difficult years, but it compares well historically. For example, over the 9 years from September 1999 to September 2008, real after-tax wages rose 4.4 percent, not 12.9 percent as it has in the last 5 years. Average workers have been considerably better off under this Government than under the previous Labour Government, because their after-tax wages have gone up much faster, despite the fact that we have had a major recession.
Hon David Parker: Do the census figures published in the New Zealand Herald just before Christmas last year show that the median income in Māngere and Ōtāhuhu had dropped by 16 percent, and in Ōtara, Papatoetoe, and Manurewa had dropped by 17 percent since the previous census, and does this represent the brighter future that he promised these hard-working New Zealanders 5 years ago, or is it the census that has got the figures wrong?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I would have to look at the details—
Iain Lees-Galloway: It’s called the census, Bill—the census.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, because he keeps using the wrong measure for the increase in wages—it could be that he is using the wrong measure for statistics. But I can tell you that if the people in those suburbs have been hit by the recession, what they need is a growing economy with
more jobs, because the one thing that will lift those wages is getting jobs. If there is one thing that Labour and the Greens are against, it is more jobs, because every policy that this Government has introduced to give those people more hope has been opposed by Labour and the Greens.
Hon David Parker: How can he deny that the benefits of growth are not being shared fairly when homeownership is now at its lowest level in more than half a century? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The question was to the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The fact that house prices are rising pretty significantly does mean that people who currently own houses in some places get a greater share of the increase in wealth, and people who are locked out of the market do not get the benefits of those wealth increases. The best thing that the Opposition can do to help that is support the Government’s measures to improve the access of low and middle income people to the housing market. So far the Opposition has opposed all of the measures that the Government has taken to give low and middle income New Zealanders better opportunities.
Hon David Parker: How can he deny that the benefits of growth are not being shared fairly when rental prices have increased by around 15 percent, on average, across New Zealand over the past 3 years, yet wage rates have increased by only 5.5 percent? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon David Parker is asking the question to the Hon Bill English.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. I now require an answer from the Hon Bill English.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You were looking at me. I know I asked the question. It is those members who need to know who is going to answer it.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. That is creating further disorder in the House.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: They have had a very good answer and now they will get an excellent one.
Mr SPEAKER: And I would be grateful for an answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member is concerned about the impact of the cost of housing on inequality, then he should support the Government’s measures, like special housing areas, which are designed precisely to reduce that inequality. In fact, the reason the member talks about housing as a driver of inequality now is that the measures of income inequality do not suit his argument. He has had to concede that the rich are not getting richer and the poor getting poorer, that that is simply not true, so now he is trying to change the argument.
Hon David Parker: How can he deny that the benefits of growth are not being shared fairly when there are now more than 360,000 children and older people living in poverty, and many of those children are living in the households of working parents?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We could argue about the fact that the measure he is using, which uses median incomes, overlooks the fact that all of those people he is talking about—children and older people—are in households that have had significant increases in their income, despite the fact that there has been a recession. In fact, the version of poverty the Government is most focused on is persistent deprivation, which is the hard end of poverty. That is where people really get trapped for life. We are advancing a programme of improving housing options, reducing welfare dependency, and dealing with the most difficult families constructively, in a way to give them the opportunity to get into work and realise their aspirations.
Oil and Gas Exploration—Classification in Exclusive Economic Zone
4. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for the Environment: What recent announcements has the Government made on the classification for drilling for oil and gas in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Last week I announced that activities involved in exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the exclusive economic zone will be classified as non-notified discretionary under the new exclusive economic zone legislation regulations. This
completes the classifications of all components of the oil and gas extraction process. Operators will now be subject to Environmental Protection Authority oversight for each of the four stages. Initial seismic surveying and prospecting is monitored as a permitted activity, then separate discretionary marine consents are required at the exploration stage and any production and decommissioning phases and, as part of that, are fully assessed for the actual and potential effects of the activity on the environment and existing interests. For the first time, the environmental impact of the full cycle of the oil and gas process in the exclusive economic zone will be overseen and minimised by a robust, independent regulator.
Jacqui Dean: How will New Zealanders get to have a say on oil and gas activities occurring in the exclusive economic zone?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Until now the public has never had the right to have a say on activities taking place in the exclusive economic zone, including drilling for oil. Now before an oil company can make a single dollar of profit it has to go in front of the people of New Zealand and make its case in a full public process. This is in clear contrast to the period between 2000 and 2008, when 36 wells were drilled in the exclusive economic zone, including four production wells, with no public comment and no opportunity for submissions. In addition, during the exploration phase, the applicant is now required to have consulted with iwi and affected users, and the Environmental Protection Authority has the ability to call for evidence from any parties it determines necessary.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table a document. It is available on the Ministry for the Environment website, but it is incredibly difficult to find, so—
Mr SPEAKER: Just briefly describe the document.
Gareth Hughes: It is a summary of submissions that found that only four people out of 22,000—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If members want to search for that, I am sure they are capable of finding it.
Question No. 5 to Minister
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I seek leave of the House to hold this question over until Tuesday as an additional question to see whether the Minister of Justice—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought for this particular question to be held over.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is actually the third time today that that member has made reference to someone not being here. He made a point at the end of that point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard enough. I moved to put the leave very quickly, but if the member did refer to the absence of any member in this House, that is completely out of order and it is not to happen again. The member has sought leave for this question to be held over. I am putting that leave. Leave is sought to hold that question over. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It does go back to the ruling that you have made. It has been a long-term ability of members to ask and on occasion be granted the ability to hold over Ministers’ questions when they are not available—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need any further assistance. There is no problem with the member seeking leave, but referring to and highlighting the absence of a member from the House is out of order. Members can seek leave but they do not need to highlight the absent members. All members, on many occasions, are away from this House when they are on other parliamentary business. That is accepted. The Standing Orders are quite clear that members must not refer to the absence of a member in this House. The member has sought leave, I have put the leave, and that leave has been denied. That is the end of this matter, and Grant Robertson can proceed with his question.
Justice, Minister—Potential Conflict of Interest
5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Justice: When she told the House yesterday “I had previously told Oravida that it could not use my name or photograph to endorse or promote its business products or services” when was that and what specific circumstances did it relate to?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister of
Justice: It was in October and related to her upcoming trip to China. The Minister made those comments orally when she was approached to visit the Oravida branch in China. She was invited to visit its China branch last year when she was at Oravida’s Auckland office opening in October last year and mentioned she would be travelling to China on ministerial business.
Grant Robertson: Did she or her office follow up with Oravida whether or not it had used her name or photograph, following her visit to its Quay Street building in October to open its new offices?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I very much doubt it. One does not go on some kind of jihad or super-inquiry to find out whether a photograph is being used. The Minister is very photogenic. Her photo would be taken on many occasions, unlike that member’s. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And that sort of answer does not assist the order of the House.
Grant Robertson: Why, given her responsibilities as Minister of Justice, was she opening the offices of Oravida in Auckland in October?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: She supports New Zealand Inc.; that is why she did it. When she was in China, she also supported New Zealand Inc. by going down and having a flat white at Cafe Flat White, which is a company with very strong New Zealand interests. There is nothing surprising or underhand in any of this. She is a loyal New Zealander.
Grant Robertson: Did she ever make contact with the Cabinet Office about a potential conflict of interest, given her husband’s directorship of Oravida, before this week?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I doubt it. It would be a bizarre proposition to seek the permission of the Prime Minister to pop into Cafe Flat White in Beijing for a cup of coffee or into Oravida for a glass of milk.
Grant Robertson: From whom at Oravida did she receive the invitation to visit its Shanghai offices: was it her husband, who is a director of the firm; was it the Prime Minister’s golf buddy Stone Shi, who donated more than $55,000 to the National Party; was it Peter Goodfellow, the president of the National Party, whose company is a supplier to Oravida; or was it Julia Xu, with whom she was going to Hong Kong a month later?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not know the exact name. I would practically guarantee it would be none of those people. But in answer to the member’s unpleasant question, I will find out and tell him.
Better Public Services Targets—Youth Guarantee
6. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: How is the Youth Guarantee Scheme helping the Government achieve the Better Public Services target of 85 percent of all 18-year-olds achieving NCEA Level two or an equivalent qualification in 2017? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just might have to ask for the family discussion to cease. Thank you.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Ha, ha! Last month I released the first Youth Guarantee monitoring report by the Ministry of Education. The report showed the real difference that the Youth Guarantee scheme is making to the achievement of at-risk young people. The report showed that in 2012, 83 percent of 18-year-olds in Youth Guarantee secondary-tertiary programmes—including trades academies—achieved the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) at level 2 or equivalent, compared with 70 percent of a similar group of young people who had not participated in trades academies. There
has also been a similar improvement for students in Youth Guarantee fees-free courses in tertiary education. For 2012, 62 percent of 18-year-olds in fees-free tertiary courses had achieved NCEA level 2 or equivalent, compared with 52 percent of a similar group who had not participated.
Colin King: Why did the Government introduce the Youth Guarantee scheme?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: A level 2 qualification is enormously important. It gives young people opportunities for further education and employment, and equips them for modern life. Frankly, if they do not obtain at least a level 2 qualification it gets very challenging. The reality is that some students are more motivated to learn and pass qualifications away from a traditional school setting, and if the Government does not provide opportunities for those people, they simply leave school altogether with no qualifications at all—an outcome that would be bad for them, bad for the Government, and, of course, bad for New Zealand society. The recent monitoring report showed that because of Youth Guarantee, around 1,000 more young people remained in education at age 17, and many more of them achieved NCEA level 2.
Colin King: How is the Youth Guarantee scheme being expanded in 2014?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This year there will be around 10,000 places for Youth Guarantee feesfree courses, and another 4,500 places in secondary-tertiary programmes. We are also expanding the Youth Guarantee scheme to 18 and 19-year-olds participating in fees-free tertiary qualifications at foundation levels. Because of Youth Guarantee, trades academies, and, of course, the new vocational pathways, we are confident that every single teenager has a fees-free path to a level 3 qualification, giving them access to training and skills. Last year I also announced that all fees-free level 1 and 2 education will be for 20 to 24-year-olds, as well. That means anyone under the age of 25 who is yet to obtain a level 2 qualification will be able to obtain one fees-free, whether that is at a secondary school, or through Youth Guarantee or a tertiary provider, such as a private training establishment or a polytechnic. This is a very significant commitment to the achievement of New Zealand’s young people.
Women’s Affairs, Ministry—Confidence
7. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister of Women’s Affairs: Does she have confidence in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs given their 2013 Annual Report shows that six out of seven policy outcomes have stayed the same or gone backwards in the last past year; if so, why?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister of Women’s Affairs): Yes, I do have confidence in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The seven policy outcomes referred to in the annual report are aspirational targets where the ministry seeks to achieve improved results for women through influencing and informing other departments’ and ministries’ work. When seeking to effect real change, it is necessary to aim high. I thank the member so much for allowing me, ahead of International Women’s Day on Saturday, to expand on the great work that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs is doing, and I look forward to many supplementary questions to further expand on a topic I feel very strongly about.
Carol Beaumont: As the Minister is “interested in addressing the factors that still hamper women’s success”, what steps has she taken to promote the addressing of pay inequality like that faced by aged-care workers receiving wages just above the minimum wage?
Hon JO GOODHEW: In terms of actually addressing what is the gender pay gap, which in New Zealand is currently at 10.1 percent—therefore, it is higher than it should be, because no pay gap is really what we should be aspiring towards—the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has looked at the many reasons why in a workforce there is gender bias that stops women from getting ahead. Additional to that, there are tools—and I am going to give you one very good example—that will actually make sure that young women choose to be in non-traditional areas of work. I can use as a good example the Occupation Outlook app that the Hon Steven Joyce has actually launched, which gives women the opportunity to see how they can improve their incomes by choosing the sort of
qualification where they will get a good income, and they can have a pathway that leads to them having a higher income.
Carol Beaumont: What efforts has the Minister made to advise her colleague the Minister of Labour about the issue of equal pay for work of equal value, which would lift women’s wages and improve their economic independence?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I am able to report that I speak with many of my colleagues about the issues that face women. However, I do not ever presume to tell them how to do their jobs.
Carol Beaumont: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fail to see how that answers a very specific question about talking to the Minister of Labour about equal pay for work of equal value.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I think on this occasion it actually did address the question. What we will do to move things forward is I will allow the member an additional supplementary question. In my mind that question was addressed. I accept it was not to the member’s satisfaction.
Carol Beaumont: What assurances has she sought from her colleague the Minister of Labour about the gendered impact of changes to collective bargaining, which could lead to a driving down of wages for women workers?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I note that the member talks about a hypothetical possible result. I have many conversations with my colleagues about outcome improvements for women, and these conversations will continue.
Carol Beaumont: What representations has she made to the Minister of Justice or other Cabinet colleagues about improving rape prevention education in schools?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I am able to say is that amongst colleagues we are looking at every avenue in terms of addressing sexual violence, and that includes talking to other colleagues, including the Minister of Education, the Minister of Police, the Minister of Justice, and other Ministers across the whole spectrum. This is a Government that has set a Better Public Services target to reduce crime and violent offending, and we have seen—
Sue Moroney: Oh, whoopee!
Hon JO GOODHEW: The member may not be interested, but she may not realise that women are overrepresented in the statistics, and we have seen real change, a real lessening of violent crime, and at the same time we are able to say that that means that many women are better off.
Sue Moroney: As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day this weekend, will the Minister vote against the second reading in Parliament next week of my bill to extend paid parental leave to 6 months, and thereby keep her record intact as being the only Minister of Women’s Affairs in New Zealand to have ever voted against paid parental leave?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there is ministerial responsibility, the Hon Jo Goodhew.
Hon JO GOODHEW: In so far as I have ministerial responsibility, what I can say as Minister of Women’s Affairs is that the current Government is looking at changes to the number of weeks under paid parental leave. However, this is a Government that seeks to actually balance the books, unlike the previous Government. In doing so, we have to make difficult but necessary fiscally sound and responsible decisions—something that certainly did not occur to the previous Government.
8. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Courts: How is the Government improving the way the Disputes Tribunal works to make it easier for New Zealanders to resolve civil disputes?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): I have been determined to create a modern 21st century justice system that better serves the needs of court users. In disputes tribunal, that means allowing online applications so that people can apply quickly and easily—anytime, anywhere—which is something a quarter of applicants are taking up; it means centralising the processing of applications to speed up processing times and to leave court staff to focus on administering court cases; it means getting key tribunal decisions published online to make
processes more transparent; and it means empowering our court staff and supporting tribunal referees in trying new ways of working to provide a quicker and better service.
Scott Simpson: What difference are parties to cases seeing from these improvements in the way the disputes tribunal operates?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Our modernisation initiatives are making a measurable difference in the speed at which disputes tribunal users get results. Online applications and centralised processing mean that it rarely takes more than 2 days for applicants to get a hearing scheduled and 90 percent hear back on the same day. Our focus on faster delivery has resulted in a 15 percent drop in the age of cases last year, falling from 75 days to 64 days. This means the roughly 350 individuals and businesses who come to the tribunal each week are spending less time resolving disputes and more time getting on with their lives and businesses.
Internal Affairs, Minister—Ministerial Requirements
9. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What action, if any, has he taken this year to show the Prime Minister that he has met the highest ethical standards required by Section 2.53 of the Cabinet Manual?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Internal Affairs): All my actions since becoming the Minister of Internal Affairs have been in accord with all of the provisions of the Cabinet Manual.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he take responsibility to ensure that all answers the Prime Minister gives in this House in relation to the Minister’s suitability to hold office are accurate, and if they are in any way inaccurate, that the Prime Minister is given accurate information in order to correct his answer?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Answers that the Prime Minister gives, like answers that any Minister gives, are the responsibility of the person giving the answer. I have confidence in the answers the Prime Minister has given.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Have all answers the Prime Minister has given in relation to the Minister in the House this year been accurate?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Peter Dunne, in so far as he has ministerial responsibility.
Hon PETER DUNNE: I am confident that they are, but the ultimate responsibility—as rests with me in the case of questions asked of me—rests with the Prime Minister in respect of questions asked of him. I think he demonstrates day by day, week by week, in this House that he is more than on top of those matters and can best any of the questioners who are seeking to outwit him.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he approach the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s office following the Prime Minister’s answer to question No. 10 on 19 February in relation to the making available of the draft Kitteridge report on the Government Communications Security Bureau, wherein the Prime Minister said that he relied on the Minister’s assurances in this House to inform the Prime Minister that he has never given any such assurance in this Chamber?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I refer to my previous answer about responsibility for answers, and I have not discussed these matters with the Prime Minister around the timing of that question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is he prepared to make the Prime Minister’s statement I have just referred to in relation to his suitability to hold his current office accurate, albeit retrospectively, by today assuring the House that he did not make the draft Kitteridge report on the Government Communications Security Bureau available to a Fairfax journalist.
Mr SPEAKER: I will leave the Minister to answer the question, but again the member is now going into something that, in my opinion, the Minister, as the Minister of Internal Affairs, does not have responsibility for.
Hon PETER DUNNE: This question has been asked in a variety of forms over recent weeks. It has been answered by the Prime Minister and me, and I stand by those answers.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Has he discussed his oneirataxia with the Prime Minister?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I have discussed a number of things with the Prime Minister, but, frankly, the meaning of that word escapes me and I am sure it is something that if I had a dictionary I might bother to look up.
Pacific Island Communities—Skills Training
10. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs: What steps is the Government taking to lift the skills of Pacific people in New Zealand?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Minister of Pacific Island Affairs): The National-led Government has introduced a range of programmes and plans to lift the skills of Pacific people. For example, Budget 2013 included the funding for the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Initiative. That is $43 million in funding over 4 years to provide greater opportunities for young Pacific people to gain qualifications and better employment prospects. The Government is also supporting Auckland University of Technology’s Manukau campus expansion, and this will see the number of fulltime-equivalent students at Auckland University of Technology increase from the current 940 fulltime-equivalent students to 4,100 fulltime-equivalent students by 2020, and almost half of these students will be Pacific.
Alfred Ngaro: How is the Government helping to raise the achievement of Pacific students?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Government programmes such as Pasifika Power Up, Youth Guarantee, Achievement 2013-17, and trades academies are making a significant contribution to lifting achievement. Last month Minister Parata announced that National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 2 achievement among Pacific students in 2013 had risen to 71.8 percent. That is an increase of 16.5 percent since 2008. Tertiary course completion rates for Pacific students at all levels were up to 74 percent in 2012, and that is compared with 54 percent in 2007. Yesterday, of course, Minister Joyce announced the new Tertiary Education Strategy 2014-19, and one of its six priorities is about boosting the achievement of Māori and Pacific students.
Su’a William Sio: Given the Minister’s responses that his Government is so successful in doing things to lift the skills of Pacific people in New Zealand, will he also take the credit for lifting Pacific people not in education, employment, or training from 16.7 percent in 2008 to 20.1 percent in 2013?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I do not have those figures to hand, but what I can say is that since this Government has been in power, and since the second quarter of 2009, the number of Pacific people employed has gone up from 97,700 to over 108,200—over 11,000 more people are employed.
Canterbury, Recovery—Human Rights Commission Report
11. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Does he accept the conclusion in the Human Rights Commission’s report Monitoring Human Rights in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery that “many people affected by the earthquakes continue to experience deteriorating standards of living and impacts on their quality of life that go beyond the immediate effects of the disaster”?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery) on behalf of the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: No, the Minister does not accept this conclusion as there are considerable programmes of work under way to improve residential conditions in Christchurch. This includes the Winter Make it Right campaign, which is focused on increasing the winter resilience of homes in Greater Christchurch and is also being made available to help those with housing issues following this week’s floods. Other work includes the residential advisory service, the Ministry of Social Development’s support services, the provision of temporary housing, and the completion of more than 150,000 home repairs by the Fletcher EQR programme. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority also regularly surveys and monitors well-being in Canterbury and there is a team within the department focused on social and cultural recovery.
Denis O’Rourke: Given that reply, does the Minister agree with the chief commissioner that there needs to be new kinds of people-centred thinking, especially to ensure that people have secure, habitable, and affordable homes?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I know that the bulk of the commissioner’s report actually relates to issues around housing, and I can assure the member that those issues are all being worked through by the Government under a number of agencies. In respect of the different ways of thinking, I can assure the member that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority is leading a number of communityled initiatives such as the Choice Christchurch summertime events and other projects. We are working through supporting communities in their homes and in their own ways to deal with these issues, and I think we are doing it successfully.
Denis O’Rourke: What does the Minister say to the thousands of Christchurch people who are now facing a fourth winter since the quakes without a secure, warm, dry, affordable, and properly repaired home?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I think the Minister would certainly be the first to acknowledge that the times have been incredibly difficult for those in Canterbury who are still seeking to resolve their claims, but he would equally reiterate that this has been an event of unheralded proportions. The fact is that they are incredibly difficult issues that are being worked through. But I would suggest to that member that he, like all members in this House, ensures that members of the public in Canterbury are made aware of the services available to them, like the Winter Make it Right programme to make urgent weathertight and heating repairs to properties, like the Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service to provide housing where that is needed, and like the residential advisory service and the complaints service to help them progress through their claims.
Denis O’Rourke: With the already historically high home rentals still increasing faster than anywhere else in New Zealand, what does the Minister say to Christchurch people who are having to pay those rentals, such as the person who told me recently that the best he could do, for a fourbedroom house for his family, was to agree to a rental of $980 per week while his own home is still under repair?
Hon AMY ADAMS: As I mentioned, a number of the issues referred to in the commissioner’s report relate to these housing-based issues, and they are being looked at and considered by the Minister of Housing. I am sure that if the member wants to put specific issues to the Minister of Housing, he would be happy to come back to him. What I would say to him is that the Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service has been set up for the very purpose of helping to connect homeowners in need of short-term accommodation with the available housing.
Denis O’Rourke: What does the Minister say to the thousands of people who are still suffering interminable delays because their insurers and the Earthquake Commission cannot even agree whether their repairs will be under the $100,000 cap or over it?
Hon AMY ADAMS: What we would say to them, as I said before, is that this is an incredibly difficult period for people in Canterbury. We are aware of that. We acknowledge that. But it does not take away from the fact that this is an unprecedented event not only in its size but in the complexity of the issues. Everybody engaged in the process is doing all that they can to resolve it as fast as possible.
Denis O’Rourke: What does the Minister say to the people whose homes are being repeatedly flooded because of dysfunctional and unrepaired drainage systems?
Hon AMY ADAMS: There is no doubt that the flooding events of the last week have been incredibly difficult for a community that is already dealing with more than it should have to deal with. There are a number of issues around that, one of which is that this is being regarded as a onein- 100-year flood. The timing of it is cruel and not fair on the people of Canterbury, but it is what it is, and the reality remains that everybody is working as hard as they can. Perhaps that member
should direct his queries to the Christchurch City Council flood prevention strategy and see where that is at.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Has he apologised to John Key and Cantabrians for turning the Prime Minister’s statement that “No one will be worse off as a result of these quakes.” from a promise of hope and support to a lie?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I completely reject the assertion in that question.
Solid Energy—Discussions with Indian Government Ministers
12. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Has he had any discussions with any Indian Government Ministers about selling Solid Energy assets?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): He met with the Indian Minister of Steel, Shri Beni Prasad Verma, on 30 January this year. His message was that the Government openly encourages international investment in our petroleum and minerals sector, but that matters relating to joint developments are commercial matters. He did not engage with the Minister of Steel on selling Solid Energy assets, and nor would that be within his responsibility as the Minister of Energy and Resources.
Catherine Delahunty: How does he reconcile his response to the primary question with the comment made by the Indian Minister of Steel following this meeting: “We are looking forward to the Government of New Zealand … allocating mineral assets to Indian public sector companies on a Government to Government basis.”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: He too has read that comment. The Minister of Steel made a number of comments during the meeting, but the Minister of Energy and Resources was very clear that any discussions in regard to commercial arrangements needed to be had with Solid Energy and did not engage with him on comments that he made.
Catherine Delahunty: Can he confirm that there are no planned Government to Government allocations of New Zealand coalmines or mining rights to Indian public sector companies?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes. From time to time individual companies—including, for example, Landcorp and Solid Energy—buy and sell assets, but there is no plan for a Government to Government interaction in that regard.
Catherine Delahunty: Therefore, will he rule out the partial sale of Solid Energy or the sale of Solid Energy’s coalmines or mining rights to any foreign Government or foreign public sector company?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is not his responsibility, but I would make the point to the member that, actually, New Zealand State-owned enterprises do buy and sell assets from time to time. They do under this Government; they did under the previous Government, according to how it works. The member may have noticed that Solid Energy is in some difficulty, and I am sure that it is exploring all its options.