QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Oil and Gas Exploration—2014 Block Offer and Conservation Land
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he think conservation land, designated as ecological areas, should be opened up for petroleum exploration as part of Block Offer 2014?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, and, as the member knows, any operator wanting to undertake exploration activity within these areas would need to first meet all the regulatory requirements, including obtaining an access agreement from the Department of Conservation and resource consent under the Resource Management Act from the relevant local authority. Let us remember that the block offer is a call for exploration bids, and that exploration itself is just the first step in a long process that may or may not lead to production.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Conservation Act, which applies to all Ministers, says that every designated ecological area “shall so be managed as to protect the value for which it is held.”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Orikaka Ecological Area was created to protect important great spotted kiwi habitat, and how is allowing bulldozers to rip open this area to pave the way for gigantic drilling rigs protecting the value of this special place?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am glad that the member can name an ecological area, because on radio this morning he could not.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Answer the question. [Interruption] Order! I invite the Minister to answer the question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: But we take these issues very seriously. That is why I said in my primary answer that there is a layered process, which this is merely the beginning of. The sort of issues that Mr Norman is raising will be processed and considered by the Department of Conservation and also through the Resource Management Act process.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Kaniere Ecological Area was created to protect dense rimu hill forest and habitat for long-finned eels and short-jawed kōkopu, and how is allowing bulldozers to rip open this area to pave the way for gigantic drilling rigs protecting the value of this special designated place?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not aware of that. It could be one of the ecological areas that the Labour Party consented when it was in Government, and when Mr Norman’s party was propping it up.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Te Wharau Ecological Area was created to protect a relatively isolated pākihi and mānuka shrub land ecosystem and a fernbird population, and how is
allowing bulldozers to rip open this area to pave the way for gigantic drilling rigs protecting the special value of this special designated place?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I will just speak to the member. It strikes me that this is scaremongering by the member, simply because that is a party that says no to all development, no ifs, no buts. Actually this is a party on this side of the House, and on its better days—
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is making no attempt to address the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I agree. The member will repeat the question for the benefit of the Minister.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Te Wharau Ecological Area was created to protect a relatively isolated pākihi and mānuka shrub land ecosystem and a fernbird population, and how is allowing bulldozers to rip open this area to pave the way for gigantic drilling rigs protecting the special value of this special designated place?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not aware of any of the emotive claptrap that the member is talking about.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Mount Hārata Ecological Area was created to protect unmodified red beech – dominant forests and wildlife habitats that are particularly important to birds, and how is allowing bulldozers to rip open this area to pave the way for gigantic drilling rigs protecting the value of this special designated and legislatively protected place?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I refer the member essentially to my earlier response to the last supplementary question. But I think it is worth understanding here that ecological areas in this block offer are entirely on the West Coast. The West Coast has had mining and conservation coexisting, for the most part harmoniously, for well over 100 years. There has been consenting in ecological areas under both the National Government and the last Labour Government, which the Green Party propped up and did nothing to stop.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he respect the wishes of New Zealanders who love our precious places and wildlife, not to mention the Conservation Act, by refusing to grant petroleum exploration permits over any designated ecological areas?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Absolutely. That is why under this Government a third of New Zealand is conservation estate and 13 percent is schedule 4. We have a very clear policy that we are not touching any of that. In relation to the other parts of the conservation estate that are not in schedule 4, as I made clear in my answer to the primary question, we have absolutely got robust processes, through the Department of Conservation and through the Resource Management Act processes, post the very start of it—which is exploration, indeed, that we have consulted on.
Inequality, Economy and Social—Income Gap
2. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he believe that the Government’s policies have reduced income inequality; if so, does he agree with the IMF that rising inequality slows economic growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The evidence shows that inequality in New Zealand has been flat or slightly declining since the mid-2000s. We also believe that a number of the measures the Government took through the recession certainly prevented inequality from worsening at a time when the Government was very short of revenue. But I welcome the member’s interest in the IMF’s view, because among its recent comments on New Zealand, the IMF emphasised the importance of ongoing fiscal discipline to a sustainable economic recovery. Nowhere in the statement does the IMF refer to inequality, and that is for a very good reason in respect of New Zealand—that inequality in New Zealand has not increased over the last 10 years.
Hon David Parker: Well, then, do I take it that the Budget that is upcoming will reverse the 40 percent of the 2010 income tax cuts that went to the top 10 percent of income earners?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. If the member bothered doing his homework, he would have seen that at the time of the 2010 tax package, we published detailed distributional impact measures, which showed—
Dr David Clark: Must be rubbish.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. Those measures showed that the combination of income tax cuts and an increase in GST and, effectively, a billion-dollar increase in property taxes meant that that tax package was distributionally neutral.
Hon David Parker: Is he so out of touch that he thinks that inequality is not getting worse, when 74 percent of New Zealanders believe that the gap between rich and poor has increased under his Government, or does he side with the 3 percent who think that the gap has narrowed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That member may be a stranger to the facts, but I am not. The measuring system of the previous Government, which, I understand, was a Labour Government, was such that regular reporting on inequality was carried out by highly qualified professionals. That is the information on which we relied for the statement that inequality in New Zealand has not got worse in the last few years.
Grant Robertson: Everyone else is wrong.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I accept that some people believe that. The fact is it is not correct.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the results of the Herald-DigiPoll, which showed that 74 percent of New Zealand—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The point has been made. The Herald-DigiPoll is available to all members.
Hon David Parker: How can he justify being out of touch with the 74 percent of New Zealanders who say that inequality has increased when homeownership has declined to its lowest rate in 50 years under his watch?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not sure the member is correct about the homeownership figures, but in any case we look for—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: They got worse under Labour.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, under Labour house prices doubled, which probably did not help. But despite the severe damage Labour caused to the housing market, we would like to see the Opposition parties support Government efforts to increase the supply of housing by helping us persuade councils to allow more new houses to be built more quickly.
Louise Upston: What recent reports has he received from the IMF on the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The most recent report from the IMF did not refer to inequality as a constraint on growth, for the very good reason that inequality in New Zealand has not worsened. It did note that New Zealand has broad-based economic growth and increasing business and consumer confidence. It said that the Government’s fiscal management and monetary policy has helped to deliver improved resilience against future shocks to the economy. It considers that the steps taken by the Government to alleviate housing supply bottlenecks will ease pressures in the housing market, and in the long run, I believe, those steps will help to ease inequality in New Zealand, because one of the biggest drivers of inequality is the high cost of housing.
Hon David Parker: Does he deny that the current annual student turnover rate at decile 1 primary schools, which is a shocking 52.8 percent per annum, is a further symptom of rising inequality, and is this further evidence supporting the findings of the OECD that inequality is having a major and negative impact on educational outcomes in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with all of that. The interesting thing about the OECD work is that it shows that economic inequality in New Zealand has among the lowest levels of impact because of our education system. Part of the reason for having public education—in fact, the main reason—is to overcome the inequalities of birth and inequalities of opportunity. That is why this Government is so strongly focused on helping our system be more effective in overcoming
economic inequality. Another reason there is high transience in those schools is that the State housing system does not meet the needs of those with serious housing need. That is why the Government is changing that policy next week.
Hon David Parker: Why can the Minister not see that rising inequality under National goes against the egalitarian values that New Zealanders hold dear, is making educational outcomes worse, and is holding back economic growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a very simple reason we do not believe those things, despite the fact that the member does, and that is that the measures of inequality in New Zealand and the facts demonstrate that it has not got worse. That is not a political assertion or an ideological conviction; it is the facts as laid out in the annual report from the Ministry of Social Development, which was set in place by the previous Government. On “Planet Labour” I know facts have very little impact, but on Planet Earth and in New Zealand the facts matter.
Louise Upston: What comments has the International Monetary Fund made previously about the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the light of recent discussion about the history of the New Zealand economy, I looked for the IMF reports from 1975. That seems to have been the focus of economic debate in the House, but actually I could not find any. Instead, I went to the 2008 IMF report, where the IMF talked about a number of issues facing New Zealand, including what it described in careful bureaucratic language as “rapidly appreciating house prices”. It noted that in response to rising inflation the official cash rate reached 8.25 percent and homeowners faced floating mortgage rates of 11 percent. The current account deficit was 8 percent. All of those numbers are about double what they are now, and they are measures of the wreckage that the previous Labour Government did to the New Zealand economy.
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—Progress
3. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making with its share offer programme to free up capital to invest in new public assets without having to borrow more from overseas lenders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is making very good progress. Last month the Government confirmed that Genesis Energy shares had been priced at $1.55 in the share offer book build, which was the first stage of the offer. The general offer opened on 29 March and closes tomorrow. The total proceeds from the share offer will be up to $726 million, with $620 million already committed through the book build, so we will hand $726 million of share certificates to investors and they will hand us $726 million in cash. That means that the Government will raise $4.7 billion on behalf of taxpayers from the four share offers. That means we will be able to use that money to build hospitals, build schools, maintain KiwiRail, and roll out ultra-fast broadband without having to go and borrow from the Opposition’s obvious friends, the overseas bankers.
Hon Tau Henare: What percentage of Genesis Energy shares is expected to be held by New Zealanders after the share offer is completed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Right at the start of the programme, the Government set a target of 85 percent New Zealand ownership. I know that many people were sceptical at that time that 85 percent New Zealand ownership could be achieved. In the case of Genesis Energy, it is expected that around 88 percent of Genesis Energy will be owned by New Zealanders at the completion of the share offer, so Kiwi investors have been at the front of the queue for shares. What that demonstrates is that New Zealanders are quite capable of making their own decisions, without having to rely on the Government, about investing their savings in large, successful New Zealand companies. Quite why anyone would want to take that opportunity away from them is hard to understand.
Hon Tau Henare: How many of the objectives that the Government set for the Genesis Energy share offer and the wider share offer programme have been met?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Despite the best efforts of the Opposition and the Māori Council, we have achieved all of the objectives that we set. I am pleased to report that the four objectives were 51 percent Government ownership, which has been achieved; New Zealanders at the front of the queue, which has been achieved; companies that provide good opportunities for investors, which has been achieved; and the freed-up capital being spent on new public assets, which has certainly been achieved. The Government is satisfied that industry-specific regulation continues to protect New Zealand consumers who, in the long run, are the ultimate beneficiaries of this programme.
Hon David Parker: And what about the money? Has his objective regarding how much he was going to raise been achieved; if not, what is the difference? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I particularly want to hear the answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. We set the—[Interruption] Well, a far-sighted Government back in 2011 set a range of $5 billion to $7 billion in a programme that included Solid Energy. Solid Energy has dropped out, and so with one less company we almost got to $5 billion—$4.7 billion. But I can assure the Opposition that that is enough money to buy some things and build some public assets in election year.
Hon Tau Henare: What new public assets will the Government buy using proceeds from the share offer programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it is a very, very long list, but I will limit myself to just a few. The Government has so far allocated just $2 billion of the $4.7 billion. This includes $426 million for redeveloping the Christchurch hospitals, one of the largest single public construction projects for a long time; $50 million to speed up the School Network Upgrade Project, so our children can have access to the best technology; $94 million for the fourth year of KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan; and a substantial contribution to building the new schools in Christchurch.
4. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: Does he agree with the conclusion in the 2012 New Zealand Transport Agency commissioned report by Opus International that coastal shipping, followed by rail, are the most cost effective modes of transporting freight over long distances in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): The statement included in that question comes from a very simplistic reading of that report, as it depends on which item is being freighted at any one time. What that report did was take one container and send it on five different modes around New Zealand, and it concluded that that was an exhaustive way of working out what was the best way to transport any goods around this country. So I do not agree with the statement in its entirety.
Denis O’Rourke: Why has he rejected the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s initiative to invest $5.5 million of ratepayers’ money over 5 years to re-establish a rail service on the mothballed Napier-Gisborne line if the Government makes a similar modest investment of $3 million to $4 million in repairs to the damaged track and other infrastructure, so that a locally established company can lease the restored line and purchase the rolling stock from KiwiRail?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Because I have great respect for the ratepayers of that district. Secondly, what I would tell the member is that if you look at the freight demand coming out of the area right now, for 2 months of the year it puts an extra 17 trucks on the road per day, and that is all that is in the increase. We have looked at that proposal. It comes from a group of people who are very keen on the idea, but it simply does not stack up. If we supported it, it would be a tragedy for the New Zealand taxpayer, and it would be a bigger tragedy for the ratepayers of the Hawke’s Bay.
Denis O’Rourke: Is the Minister aware that the council and the Napier Gisborne Rail Establishment Group consider that his ill-considered rejection of the initiative is based on a
significant misunderstanding of their proposal; if so, will he now reconsider it in the comprehensive manner that it actually deserves?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: We have considered that proposal in a very comprehensive way. What I would say to the member is that if the Hawke’s Bay people are so keen on funding that rail line, why do they need the relatively modest part from the Government, as he suggests? If it is so good and it is going to work so well, why do they not just come along and say: “Let us have the track, so that we can make it all work.”?
Denis O’Rourke: Does the Minister accept that this region cannot depend solely on a narrow winding State highway when the log harvest alone heading for the Port of Napier is expected to go from 90,000 tonnes per annum at present to around 900,000 tonnes within a few years, adding at least 180 more logging truck movements 6 days a week on a road that is already congested with heavy vehicles; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It will not matter how emphatic the member is in asking a question loaded with bogus facts. The reality is that no logs have travelled on that line at any point. Secondly, the so-called wall of wood has been promised for decades. Thirdly, until it does materialise, until it is there, why on earth would you expect the Government to put the head of the ratepayers in that district in the noose for some people who, in the end, will not accept that their figures are not good enough to make it work?
Denis O’Rourke: Does the Minister confirm that the creation recently of nine new passing areas on State Highway 2 between Napier and Gisborne at a cost of $4 million, made possible by a special Crown contribution and the National Land Transport Programme allocation of $9 million to $10 million over a 3-year period to improve the condition of that highway for a large increase in truck movements, means that the Government will continue to favour expensive but relatively minor road improvements over a rail restoration proposal with a much better cost-benefit ratio in both the short and long terms?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If this member keeps on putting these figures in front of us, David Cunliffe is going to reconsider his coalition options. There is no way that anything he has said makes any sense. Yes, we put more money into making that road safer, because, surprisingly, 97 percent of all the freight coming out of that area has always gone on the road.
Denis O’Rourke: Are there any plans to extend electrification of the rail network, and, in doing so, retain the valuable human resource of the expert and skilled team that is undertaking the Auckland rail network electrification; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Certainly not on the Gisborne to Napier line.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: This is a point of order, and I want to hear it in silence.
Denis O’Rourke: The question had nothing to do with the Napier-Gisborne line, and was a general question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to, on this occasion, ask the member to repeat the question.
Denis O’Rourke: The question was this: are there any plans to extend electrification of the rail network, and, in doing so, retain the valuable human resource of the expert and skilled team that is undertaking the Auckland rail network electrification; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Not at this point.
5. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: What recent reports has he seen on the funding of hospitals in New Zealand ?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I have seen reports that show that despite tight financial times this Government has increased funding for health by an average of $500 million a year and that health will again be the top priority for more investment in the upcoming Budget. I have also seen a report that showed that despite nearly doubling the health budget more people
thought the health system had got worse. The report noted: “It is inconceivable that a Government could spend so much money and make the system worse.” Of course, this report was from the Dominion Post in 2007 and referred to the previous Labour Government.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Who was the Minister?
Hon Annette King: Not me. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If some members want to get away early to clean up for the reception tonight, they may well get the chance.
Hon Annette King: Oh, no Mr Speaker, I am enjoying it. Will he dismiss the concerns of the representative of senior doctors in our hospitals who said last week that staff shortages and underfunding are putting hospitals under intense pressure, and we now have a health system that is prone to “erratic decision-making, heavy-handed management, and gaga behaviour”; if so, why?
Hon TONY RYALL: Of course I would completely reject that assessment from the union. That union increasingly looks like a branch of the Labour Party, and that statement certainly confirms it.
Hon Annette King: With district health boards like Waikato having 61 nursing vacancies and 18 senior doctor vacancies, and the Southern District Health Board having 58 nursing vacancies and 12 senior doctor vacancies, leading to staffing shortages and pressure on existing staff, should staff publicly state their concern and distress over unsafe working conditions and stressful staff levels, or are they just being union activists?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think it is perfectly legitimate for staff to use the appropriate processes if they have any concern in respect of patient safety. What I would have to say is that if it is correct that there are 61 nurse vacancies in the Waikato, it would be nice if the member also said that there are actually 2,000 nurses employed by the Waikato District Health Board, and that 61 certainly sounds more like 3 percent, which is nowhere near the big shock, horror story that that member would like to portray.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that there has been in increase of 18 percent in older New Zealanders turning up to emergency departments over the last 4 years, and that this is now leading to huge staff pressure, staff burnout, low staff morale, and concern at patient safety; if so, is this just union members talking?
Hon TONY RYALL: Quite the opposite. I think the health service is providing better care for older people when they present to the emergency department. It is faster and better than it has ever been, and quite different from when that member was a Minister in a Government where old people languished on trolleys in corridors under bright fluorescent lights for days on end.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that some district health boards are now implementing service reductions, driven by budgetary constraints—particularly in home care—so they can meet the pressure in hospitals, for example, in the Capital and Coast District Health Board where Official Information Act information shows that on average there has been a 37 percent reduction of service to people requiring home care over the last 3 years?
Hon TONY RYALL: More money than ever is being invested in home-care services right across New Zealand. The Government has more money put in there. I think last year’s Budget put more money into home-care services as well. There has been a very significant investment.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you heard my question—
Mr SPEAKER: I did hear your question.
Hon Annette King: —and it was not about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard the question. I now have to decide. The question effectively was: “Is he aware of increasing pressure on home care because of financial pressure?”. The Minister answered that by saying there was more money being debated. The question has been addressed. If the member has a further supplementary we will listen to it.
Hon Annette King: No, but I’d like one.
Mr SPEAKER: I am sure the member would.
Methamphetamine Action Plan—Reduction in Supply
6. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Police: What steps is the Government taking to reduce the supply of methamphetamine and its precursors into New Zealand?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): This week the Minister of Customs and I announced $1.1 million will be used to place a police attaché officer in Guangdong Province in southern China for a 2-year trial to work, strengthening our relationship with Chinese enforcement agencies. This police officer will help to identify organised criminals attempting to smuggle methamphetamine and its precursors into New Zealand. This funding will also be used for Customs Service and police staff to take part in targeted operations in China. Southern China is used by criminals to source precursors and smuggle them into New Zealand, and this programme is expected to result in a significant disruption to this trade. New Zealand and Chinese agencies are already producing excellent results, and this initiative will support them to be even more effective in keeping these drugs and precursors out of the country.
Mike Sabin: How are the illegal profits from those in the methamphetamine drug trade being used to fund this initiative?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The funding for this initiative is from money recovered under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act and is a key part of the Government’s Methamphetamine Action Plan. When this plan was established in 2009 the Government committed to using the money recovered from criminals to target the drug trade and help those affected by it to get treatment. In other words, the criminals are paying us to catch them and treat their victims. It is a nice irony. Since the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act came into force, $39.4 million has been forfeited to the Crown, over half of which has come from methamphetamine-associated offences. Alongside this programme, initiatives funded from the proceeds of crime include an increase in residential alcohol and drug treatment, enhanced front-line screening at the border, and the training of drug dogs to detect large amounts of cash.
Question No 5 to Minister
Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai): I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request from Southern District Health Board showing there are 58 nurse vacancies and 12 senior doctor vacancies.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular Official Information Act request. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai): I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request from Waikato District Health Board showing it has 61 nursing vacancies and 18 senior doctor vacancies.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular Official Information Act request. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Student Achievement—New Teaching Roles
7. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that no student will be worse off as a result of the establishment of the new category of Expert Teacher; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes; because supporting a culture of collaboration within and across schools will help raise achievement for all kids, because expert teachers sharing what they know and how they work will mean that best practice can become common practice, and because this Government is investing $359 million to create better career
pathways and lift student achievement. But there is a lot more work to do with the sector working group.
Chris Hipkins: What evidence did she rely on when determining that no student’s educational progress would be impacted by the removal of their regular classroom teacher for up to half the time?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: A range of evidence, most of it set out in the Best Evidence Synthesis, but also McKinsey and Company, Helen Timperley, Michael Fullan, and Viviane Robinson, all of whom have talked about the need for a collaborative culture to be established. Most recently, last year the OECD came and studied the professional learning communities and acknowledged that New Zealand was leading the community in this regard.
Chris Hipkins: Why should students and their parents have confidence that the creation of expert teachers will result in a higher quality of education for them, given that if they are fortunate enough to have a teacher who is deemed to be an expert, they will be rewarded by having that teacher taken away for up to half the time?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is not so. We already have the situation in New Zealand where expert classroom teachers share their expertise across the system, between classrooms, and across schools. Also in the package, if I could refer the member to the actual detail in the Cabinet paper, it makes clear that it also funds inquiry time, it funds relief time, and it funds collaborative practice, all of which are characteristics of top-performing education systems—most particularly, Singapore and Hong Kong, which that member wrung his hands over last year when we were discussing Programme for International Student Assessment results. These two systems were second and third for all three areas, so it made sense to go and have a look at what they are doing, and they are doing a number of these things.
Chris Hipkins: Who will the expert teachers be accountable to—the principal of the school they are employed at or the executive principal overseeing the group of schools they will be working in 2 days per week?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Subject again to the caveat that I have made several times that we are still working through the details on this with the working group, the employment relationship will remain. It will be undisturbed between that teacher and their employing board. Accountabilities as they are now are different for different purposes. So for an achievement challenge that that school, in which that expert teacher is employed, has participated in agreeing to, then it will be accountability for the achievement of that particular challenge.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Chris Hipkins. [Interruption] Order! There were quite a number of complaints about the level of noise in the House yesterday through question time. I expect my office will be getting similar complaints today. I ask members to please cooperate and have a reasonable level of interjection.
Chris Hipkins: Why is the Government’s goal not ensuring that all New Zealand students are taught by expert teachers, given that it is limiting the number of the new rolls to around a thousand across the country, or around 2 percent of the teaching workforce? Why do the 98 percent of other kids not get to have an expert teacher as well?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: This is exactly what this initiative is aimed at: growing excellence across the system, not uniformity as that member is probably interested in. In fact, one of the pieces of research that I refer to is McKinsey and Company of 2009, which said that when a student is taught by an excellent teacher for 3 consecutive years, it can make 53 percent difference. Professor Hanuschek from Stanford has also said that expert teaching over 4 consecutive years can eliminate all aspects of socio-economic difference. So what we are trying to do here—
Chris Hipkins: So take the expert teachers away.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I know it is complicated; I do understand that. What we are trying to do here is build excellence across the system.
Tim Macindoe: What reports has the Minister had on benefits of a collaborative education system, beyond what she has already told us?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have had many reports on this topic, but I would like to quote one that caught my eye from last year: “The real challenge that we should be addressing is how we allow every New Zealand school to be a great school and how we support every teacher in every classroom to be an absolutely outstanding teacher. All of the research from New Zealand and internationally shows us that quality teaching is the biggest in-school influencer of student achievement. We could talk for hours about the out-of-school influences, and there are many and I acknowledge all of those. But within the school, quality teaching is the critical factor.” Who said this? It sounded so much like me that I thought it was me, but it was Chris Hipkins on 29 May in his speech in Committee on the Education Amendment Bill.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order, and I certainly hope it is a genuine point of order.
Chris Hipkins: It is, Mr Speaker. It was an excellent speech. I seek leave to table it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a practical point of order at all.
Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes—Progress
8. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: What update can he give on the Government’s Warm Up New Zealand home insulation programmes?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): I am delighted to announce that 250,000 homes have been insulated since 2009 under the two Government programmes Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart and Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes. Under the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme, 238,000 homes have been insulated; it had an original target of 188,500 homes. Already, 12,000 homes have been insulated under the Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes project, which started late last year. I want to thank third-party funders, insulation service providers, and local authorities, which have worked together with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority to help make these programmes such a stunning success.
Jonathan Young: What reports has the Minister seen on the success of the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I saw a report late last year from the co-leader of the Green Party that said: “Heat Smart is a Green success story.” I would like to thank my friends in the Green Party for supporting the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme, developed in 2009, which is helping keep homes warmer and drier. It is telling that the Green Party’s biggest success ever has come with the National Government, despite propping—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is unnecessary to the answer.
Jonathan Young: What reports has the Minister seen on reducing electricity bills?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I have seen one report promising to bring power prices down. I have seen another very close in time promising to just limit the growth in power price rises, which is, of course, exactly what this Government has done. Both were from David Cunliffe, so, with his flipflopping, it may be a blessing—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is enough for that answer.
Phil Twyford: What percentage of the homes insulated under the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart and Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes programmes are private rental properties, given that the Bryan Perry report shows that 50 percent of children growing up below the poverty line are living in cold and damp private rentals?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am happy to give the member a percentage in writing. I can tell him that more than 32,000 rental properties have already been insulated, and under this new scheme— and I have been and visited a home in Māngere that was a rental that is being insulated as well— that is continuing.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. What progress has been made on achieving the milestones negotiated with the Māori Party in its relationship accord to target 20,000 low-income homes for home insulation and ensure that every State house built before 1978 that can be practically insulated will be insulated?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Can I firstly thank the Māori Party for its input in the development of the Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes programme. I am pleased to say that we have met both those milestones negotiated with the Māori Party, and, in fact, under the two Warm Up New Zealand programmes, we have insulated 110,000 low-income homes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the Māori Party’s Warm Up New Zealand policy that relates to Ngati Porou and Ngāpuhi, the two warmest areas where Māoris live.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are not going to get into the process of tabling other political parties’ manifestos.
9. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement, “Taranaki is one of the leading regions, if not the leading region in the country.”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, and for a number of reasons. If I could beg the House’s indulgence, I will go through a few quickly. It is an important question. Firstly, Taranaki is a strongly performing region economically. The GDP per capita in Taranaki is the highest in the country. Secondly, its average household income is the fourth or fifth highest in the country. Thirdly, its unemployment rate has been below the national average for many years now, including through the global financial crisis. Fourthly, its population has been growing strongly despite unsubstantiated rumours that there was a widespread exodus from the regions. Fifthly, there is a very good set of local MPs, who talk their region up—National MPs— instead of talking it down. Sixthly, it is a beautiful part of the country, one of the most beautiful parts of the country—but I might be biased because I was born there.
Andrew Little: How does he reconcile that glowing summary and the statement I quoted earlier with the news yesterday that yet another 25 highly skilled workers will now lose their jobs, this time from the heavy engineering firm Fitzroy Engineering, which follows 15 job losses earlier this year at Tenix engineering—another heavy engineering firm—125 jobs lost from Fitzroy Yachts, and other engineering firms struggling to keep their workforces occupied?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think we have just had a demonstration of the point that you can talk a region down or talk a region up. The reality with employment in this country is we have roughly 250,000 jobs created each year, and 250,000 jobs lost. The member raises an interesting question about engineering jobs in Taranaki. I can tell him in response about a particular experience that I had recently when I was visiting a boatbuilder in Wanganui, who wanted to hire some of the 120 workers who had lost their jobs in Taranaki. He could not hire any of them because they had all been snapped up by other Taranaki businesses.
Andrew Little: Can the Minister confirm that GDP per capita for Taranaki has now declined for its third successive year and is nearly $4,000 less than its peak in the last year of the most recent Labour Government?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot confirm that for the member but I can confirm that in terms of GDP—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are encouraged to ask direct questions. That was a very direct question, and, remarkably, the Minister could not confirm it. There is nothing more to say in his answer.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I entirely agree with Grant Robertson.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: The question has been answered. If this is a point of order that the Minister is raising, I will hear it.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is the first opportunity to address the point of order. The point of order is that I was going on to give some GDP information that may—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I appreciate what the Minister is raising. The question was could he confirm that GDP per capita had declined for the last 3 years, and the Minister got up and said no, he could not confirm that. That is the end of the matter.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you effectively just ruled that members of this House can expect a yes or no answer? That is the effect of what you have ruled.
Mr SPEAKER: No. What I have said is that the Minister was asked a relatively direct question and the Minister said he could not confirm that. That is a sufficient answer for today. I am happy that that question has been addressed, and now we are moving on.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: This is a point of order, but I want to issue the same warning to the Hon Gerry Brownlee that if you are now attempting to relitigate a decision I have just made, that will lead to disorder and I will treat it quite severely. Is it a fresh point of order?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, it is. Having established that yes or no answers cannot be required from the House—
Hon Annette King: This has got nothing to do with that.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Hang on—all things lead on. Do we now accept that erroneous material presented in the House has to be confirmed or denied by Ministers?
Mr SPEAKER: No. My job here is to listen very carefully to the question and to listen very carefully to the answer. The circumstances are inevitably quite different with most questions. I listened very carefully to the question, I listened very carefully to the answer, and I have ruled that that question has now been addressed. The member can disagree with that. He has every right to. But once I have made a decision, it is made.
Andrew Little: What commitments is the Minister prepared to make to ensure that the highly skilled engineering workers of Taranaki can be retained in the region, and will he commit to a longoverdue upgrade of State Highway 3 north or join with Port Taranaki to upgrade its infrastructure and readiness for offshore oil emergencies or do anything to show that the Government takes regional development in this region and others seriously?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Absolutely. I will commit on behalf of this Government that this Government will continue to encourage investment in the oil and gas industry in that region, which it is encouraging today. Actually, all of the oil and gas industry and the other industries around New Zealand that I meet say “Thank goodness for this Government because we know that if we had the other option of Labour and the Greens, there would be no growth and there would be no new investment.”
Andrew Little: Given the contribution of the Taranaki region to the New Zealand economy through royalties and heightened tax receipts, does he not accept that it should get more back from central government than just the expansion of a 100-metre bridge—the only thing to show after 6 years of being represented by a National MP?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is wrong in his assertion. There has actually been an excellent summary published by Treasury in the last year that shows that Taranaki has received more back than it has put in, in terms of Government expenditure, as most smaller regions do because of the economies of scale of larger regions. Taranaki does benefit. Taranaki knows it benefits. That is why it keeps electing National electorate MPs in the three seats in the region.
Senior Citizens—Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention
10. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: What recent announcement has she made about elder abuse and neglect prevention?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for Senior Citizens): Earlier this week I announced that I have committed $170,000 to establishing two new services. These services will build on the
Government’s commitment to raising awareness of and addressing all forms of elder abuse and neglect. The Government currently supports a total of 24 elder abuse and neglect prevention services around the country, costing $1.6 million a year. Elder abuse and neglect happen in many ways and are often well hidden in families and communities. Sometimes there are no obvious signs of abuse, particularly when it is financial abuse.
Jacqui Dean: Where will the new services be located, and why were these communities selected?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The Ministry of Social Development has worked closely with Age Concern to map elder abuse across the country and identify areas with unmet need for elder abuse and neglect prevention services. Wairoa and Kawerau were identified as areas of high need that currently have no funded services, and Rotorua was not far behind. One service will be in Wairoa, and the second will be in Rotorua and will also service Kawerau. The Ministry of Social Development will be contacting potential providers shortly.
Health, Associate Minister—Statements
11. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement that “he has absolutely nothing to hide” in regard to any potential conflicts of interest in regard to his duties as the Associate Minister of Health?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, I do.
Denise Roche: Does he consider that there is the potential for a conflict of interest when the Minister who oversees funding for gambling harm minimisation is also chair of an organisation that seeks pokie funding; if not, why not?
Hon PETER DUNNE: No, I do not; the reason is simple. The organisation that I chair I established in 1993. One of its local activities is to organise an annual Christmas parade, which 25,000 people enjoy. It seeks funding from local trusts to organise the floats for that parade. I have never taken any part in those funding decisions.
Denise Roche: Does he consider that he has met the requirements of the parliamentary pecuniary interests register for the last—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has no responsibility as a Minister for the register of pecuniary interests; it is a responsibility that all members of Parliament have because they are members of Parliament. There is certainly no ministerial responsibility. I invite the member to rephrase her supplementary question.
Denise Roche: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will do. Does he consider that he is meeting the high standards required of Ministers in the Key Government with his duties as Associate Minister of Health, given his failure to declare his interest in the Northern Wellington Festival Trust until 2013?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I have declared my interests in that committee and in a number of other activities. Maybe I should have done so earlier, but that was an oversight. It is certainly in last year’s declaration, this year’s, and future declarations to come. As I said in my response to the member’s primary question, I am confident I have absolutely nothing to hide in this respect.
Denise Roche: Does he declare that it is acceptable that he is the Minister dealing with gambling harm and he did not declare interest in an organisation that receives pokie funds until 2013?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I have already answered that question. We can go round and round in circles here. I have nothing to hide. I have never attempted to do so. I welcome any scrutiny on the matter.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Will the Minister consider reopening the tender from the Problem Gambling Foundation?
Hon PETER DUNNE: That tender process was, from memory, commenced in 2012. It was carried out independently of Ministers by officials. I was not made aware of the outcome of the process until it had been completed. That was on 19 March this year. As a consequence, given the robust way in which it was carried out, I have absolutely no intention of interfering in that decision.
Denise Roche: When did he inform the Prime Minister that he chaired a trust that sought and received pokie funds? Was it before or after the Prime Minister gave him the role of Associate Minister of Health?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I cannot recall exactly, but it has been a subject we have discussed many times in quite a jocular way, principally because photographs have appeared in newspapers of me dressed as Santa’s elf in the Christmas parade.
Denise Roche: I seek leave to table parliamentary research showing that the Minister did not declare his interest in the Northern Wellington Festival Trust until 2013.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just need the source of the document.
Denise Roche: Parliamentary research from the Parliamentary Library. It is all in one document.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that it may not be available to members, I will put the leave and the House can decide. Leave is sought to table that—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is the member wanting to speak before I put the leave?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Yes. Just as a warning, I think there are some pretty strict rules that came in with the last Standing Orders change as to the ways that members are allowed to draw attention to breaches in pecuniary interests, and I think doing it this way is not one of them. I just want to warn the member that she might in fact get herself into some trouble if it was allowed to be raised in this manner.
Denise Roche: I withdraw that, but I do have another supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Denise Roche.
Denise Roche: Does he regard that he is fit to be the Associate Minister implementing solutions to problem gambling, given his links to the pokie industry; if so, why?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I have no links to the pokie industry. If the member assumes that the fact that an organisation that I chair seeks funding for a Christmas parade is some dastardly crime, then she is from a vastly different world than I come from. I have nothing to hide and will continue in that role.
Justice, Minister—Visit to China
12. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Justice: Does she know the name and employing department of the Chinese official that she had dinner with in Beijing on 20 October 2013 on her ministerial visit to China; if so, is the reason that she has refused to tell the House that information because she believes it is not in the public interest to do so?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): I have no ministerial responsibility for that matter.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was submitted in the normal way through the Clerk’s Office and to you. It was accepted, therefore the Minister must answer the question. She has ministerial responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes. I want to draw to the Minister’s attention the Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings that say she has a duty to answer a question. That answer is far from helpful to the House. She can answer it in anyway she likes, but to simply say she has no responsibility when the question has been authenticated and processed to be placed on the Order Paper is, I think, most unsatisfactory. I will invite the member to repeat the question.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What then does that do for the interpretation of Speaker’s ruling 153/1, which basically says that “The primary condition for asking a question of a Minister is that the Minister has ministerial responsibility for the subject matter of the question. If there is no ministerial responsibility, there can be no question. An opinion that is sought from a Minister must relate to a matter for which the Minister has responsibility.” Speaker’s ruling 153/3, on the same page, goes on to say: “The Speaker has no way of knowing which Minister is responsible, in the role of Speaker.” What I am concerned about here is that the
only person who can fully know where ministerial responsibility stops and starts is the Minister themselves. If they say, in fact, they have no ministerial responsibility for that, in the past there has been a decision made that the public would make a judgment about that, not the Opposition.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty I have with that argument from the member is that there has been a series of questions now for some weeks and the Minister has on many occasions addressed the questions to my satisfaction. So I do not think at this stage she can now claim she has not got ministerial responsibility. I do not accept that. I can equally refer the Hon Gerry Brownlee to rulings, particularly to Speaker’s ruling 173/1. It is a relatively lengthy ruling, but I will read it for the benefit of the Minister: “A Minister must give an answer ‘if it can be given consistently with the public interest’. The Minister is instructed under [Standing Order 383(1)] to consider the public interest in framing a reply. In considering consistency with the public interest, the Minister may address such principles as privacy, commercial sensitivity, or national security. But, ultimately, the judgment of whether a particular reply is consistent with the public interest is for the Minister to make. It is not a matter for the Speaker to judge. Nor is it a matter for the member asking the question to suggest that because the member considers the matter to be a matter of public interest, the question should be answered in a particular way.” I am going to ask the member to repeat the question.
Grant Robertson: Does she know the name and employing department of the Chinese official whom she had dinner with in Beijing on 20 October 2013 on her ministerial visit to China; if so, is the reason that she has refused to tell the House that information because she believes it is not in the public interest to do so?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It was a private dinner. I have no ministerial responsibility to explain it.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In your ruling on the Minister’s first attempt to answer this, you made mention of the fact that we have had a number of questions about this. You also granted an urgent debate, in fact, around these matters because, as was put in the question, this was a ministerial visit paid for by the taxpayer. For the Minister to now decide that she does not feel like answering the questions is not acceptable. It is a breach of the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I cannot assist the member to that extent. It is certainly not helpful for the Minister to take this attitude, but I want to refer to two further Speakers’ rulings in this regard. Speaker’s ruling 173/3 says: “It is not obligatory on a Minister to answer a question. It is certainly customary but there is no sufficient reason for saying it is binding.” Furthermore, Speakers’ ruling 173/4 says: “The Speaker cannot force a Minister to give an answer to a question and has no responsibility for the quality …”. I think it is a very unsatisfactory answer that has been given by the Minister. I am not responsible for that. This House and the public will judge that for themselves. But I invite the member to now continue with his supplementary questions, and I give him one additional supplementary question as well.
Grant Robertson: Did she discuss with the directors of Oravida what the role of the Chinese border official was before she left New Zealand?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It was a private dinner. I have no ministerial responsibility for it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, I thought my colleague was going to take a point of order. It was a very direct question, and it asked about an action to do with a particular individual, and it had to do with before she left New Zealand. It was nothing to do with something that actually occurred at the dinner; it was a question about whether she received any advice on this matter from the directors of the company before she left New Zealand, and it has been established previously in the House that she had discussions about this dinner before she left the country.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order, Speaker’s ruling 151(2) is also quite instructive here, inasmuch as it says: “The Minister primarily concerned is presumed to be the person to decide whether it is a question related to that portfolio or whether it is misdirected.”
Hon David Parker: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need assistance on that point. I think today we have moved well past that with my saying that this question has been raised in various forms now for some considerable amount of time. At this stage of the proceedings, for the Minister of Justice to now claim there is no ministerial responsibility is, in my mind, as I have said to this House, a very unsatisfactory answer. I invite the member Grant Robertson to ask his supplementary question.
Grant Robertson: Did the New Zealand ambassador tell her that he did not think it was appropriate—
Hon Annette King: No, no, the other one.
Grant Robertson: Oh, sorry, do you want the previous question?
Mr SPEAKER: I am inviting the member to repeat his other question.
Grant Robertson: Sorry, Mr Speaker, I did not hear you say that. Did she discuss with the directors of Oravida what the role of the Chinese border official was before she left New Zealand?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I took part in a private dinner. I do not have ministerial responsibility for that.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has previously admitted in this House that she should have made reference to this in her report to Cabinet after she made her visit to China. What is the remedy for the Opposition in respect of serious allegations where the Minister will just not answer any questions?
Mr SPEAKER: The remedy available is for the member Grant Robertson to continue his line of questioning. I cannot force the Minister to answer the question. I am not responsible for the answer, but, as I said earlier, people will judge the answers for themselves.
Grant Robertson: Did she tell the New Zealand news media that she should have put this dinner in her formal trip report to Cabinet, thereby making it a matter of ministerial responsibility?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Actually, I should not have, because the Cabinet Manual makes it very clear that only matters of importance should, in fact, be put in. In fact, when I had a look at the manual, I noticed that actually having dinner is not something that anyone would consider a matter of national importance, unlike that member might think it is.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was a specific one. I asked whether she told the New Zealand news media—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On this occasion, I am ruling that the Minister has actually addressed that question. [Interruption] Order! I invite the member at this stage to continue his supplementary questions.
Grant Robertson: Did the New Zealand ambassador tell her that he did not think it was appropriate for him to attend this dinner?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have no recollection of the ambassador saying that to me.
Grant Robertson: Did Stone Shi ask her not to name the official who was at the dinner?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: This was a private dinner and I have no ministerial responsibility for it.
Grant Robertson: Why was she prepared to say that the official at the dinner was from a border control agency but she is not prepared to say which border control agency?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I advised the media because that was the advice I received from the Prime Minister’s office.
Grant Robertson: Was the Prime Minister wrong to give her that advice?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: One day that member might realise that Prime Ministers are always right.
Grant Robertson: Was the senior Chinese border official at the dinner someone who could influence whether or not Oravida’s products could enter into China?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It was a private dinner. I have got no ministerial responsibility for it.
Grant Robertson: Supplementary question?
Mr SPEAKER: I think in actual fact the member may well have found that his number of supplementary questions has expired.
Grant Robertson: Given the ridiculous answers I have been getting, I seek leave to be allowed to ask one more question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not think seeking leave would be a good idea for the member. Because there was some confusion earlier, I will allow one more question.
Grant Robertson: Can she confirm that she believes she has no obligation to the New Zealand taxpayer to tell them the name of a senior Chinese official that she met with along with her husband’s fellow company directors at a dinner arranged before she left New Zealand, despite taxpayers shelling out $30,000 for her to go on that trip?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have no obligation to discuss a private dinner not paid for by the taxpayer and at absolutely no expense to the taxpayer.