QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Prime Minister—Statements on Unemployment
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “In the end we need to get the unemployment rate down”; if so, why is unemployment still at 6 percent five years after the recession?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; we are actually 3 years out of recession, and the unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 7.2 percent to the current 6 percent. The labour market is definitely strengthening. The number of people with a job increased by 84,000 last year, which was the strongest employment growth in a decade. Currently 69.3 percent of people aged 15 and over are in the labour force, which is the highest participation rate since the household labour force survey began in 1986. As I said yesterday, Budget forecasts will show the unemployment rate dropping to 4.5 percent by the end of 2017.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that answer and despite the only 8,000 jobs added the year before, why will his Government not work harder and match Labour’s commitment to reducing unemployment to 4 percent—4 percent—by 2017, or is he and his Government no longer ambitious for New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I can see an insight into the personality of the Leader of the Opposition, which is that, clearly, he writes to Santa and still hopes for the Easter bunny.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I ask the Prime Minister to refer to Speaker’s ruling 176/3, where it says that starting an answer to a question with a political attack will lead to further disorder in the House.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yesterday the Leader of the Opposition came out with a wish—a wish that unemployment was lower. It was not a policy, not a plan, but a wish. So I say to the Leader of the Opposition that if he wanted to join and support National with the reforms to employment law that we have undertaken, if he wanted to support the Government on oil and gas exploration, if he wanted to support the making of The Hobbit movies in New Zealand, if he wanted to support the speeding up of the Resource Management Act, if he wanted to support the capping of the public sector administration, and if he wanted to support the special housing accords—all of those things—then I might take his wish seriously. Otherwise he should stick to Santa Claus and the Easter bunny.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why does the wannabe All Black not put 4 percent unemployment on his wish list, when Labour achieved 3.9 percent on average over 5 years when last in office; I ask him again—has he given up being ambitious for New Zealanders?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is one thing to have a pipedream; it is another thing to have a plan. The Government has a plan for New Zealand, which is working.
Hon Members: What plan?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I know that the members get a little bit excited, but a wish does not make a plan and never will.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why will the Prime Minister not show us the plan, when there are still 31,000 more people unemployed today than were forecast in his own 2011 Budget, which was, of course, handed down after the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am more than happy to table the Business Growth Agenda, which has— how many points—350 individual points. The second point I would make is there are more people in employment in New Zealand today than ever in the history of this country, and, thirdly, every time the Government comes up with a proposal to help people in work it is rejected. Yesterday the Labour Party did not come up with an alternative Budget. It came up with a wish list of two things. Labour hopes the surplus will be lower, and it hopes the unemployment rate will be lower. Well, there are a whole lot of people who hope David Cunliffe will no longer be—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order, and it will be heard in silence.
Hon David Cunliffe: The Prime Minister has no responsibility for Labour Party policy, however he may wish he had a plan like it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The difficulty I have with that point of order is that in an earlier supplementary question the member himself brought in the Labour Party’s plan of action.
Hon David Cunliffe: What use is his glossy Business Growth Agenda when unemployment is still 50 percent—five-zero percent—above pre-recession levels, when other developed countries like Germany and Japan now have unemployment lower than it was 6 years ago when he and his unambitious Government took office?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It may come as a great shock to the member but there has been a recession, which we actually inherited from Labour, a mess in terms of the spending we inherited from Labour, and the global financial crisis, not to mention Christchurch. Again, if the member wants to just imagine things, he should keep going. But if he wants to be taken seriously on economic policy and have that debate during the campaign, he is going to have to trot along to Television One with a lot more than a wish list.
Hon David Cunliffe: Which of the following best describes the so-called mess he inherited from the last Labour Government: was it “net debt equals zero”, was it “the lowest unemployment rate in the Western World”, was it “some of the lowest inequality since his previous Government took office”, or, in fact, is the $60 billion that he slapped on the country’s credit card his responsibility and his responsibility alone?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member wants to look at responsibility for a lot of that debt, he should just pick up a mirror, because in reality the Government inherited a whole bunch of programmes and expenditure that were either poorly targeted or unaffordable. The member just needs to go and look at the record. For the last 5 years of that Labour Government, it increased expenditure by between $2.7 billion and $3 billion a year. The simple facts of life are that more people are in employment in New Zealand than ever before, and the Labour Opposition is opposed to every pro-growth initiative that is out there.
2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Is his expressed confidence in the Minister of Justice because he has confidence in all of her statements made around the Oravida issue?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I have expressed confidence in the almost 6 years Judith Collins has been a Minister. She has made a significant contribution to the Government and New Zealand in the portfolios she has held. I have also expressed my disappointment in the Minister that the cumulative effect of her interactions with Oravida in China may give rise to the
perception of a conflict of interest. It was unwise for the Minister to have put herself in this position. I made it clear to Ms Collins that she needs to better manage any situation that could give rise to a perception of a conflict.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is the case, Prime Minister, and that is all it is, why did Judith Collins fail to honestly disclose the benefits she received, which she is required to do under our law?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have no responsibility for that. If the member is implying that she has some benefits that she should have put on her pecuniary interests, that is a matter for the member.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Then why has he publicly and in this Parliament hitherto expressed confidence in Judith Collins, when she has concealed pecuniary interests—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is exactly the sort of question I referred to in my substantive ruling. [Interruption] Order! The member will sit down.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: This is an outrage.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that remark.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will withdraw and apologise. Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: And he will now resume his seat. That question is a direct reflection on a member of this House, and I am ruling it out of order. The member may have further supplementary questions he can use, but if that tone of questioning continues, I will move to the next question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did Judith Collins, according to this document here, which is from the Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament, in her declaration fail to declare pecuniary and other specified interests—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think we are going—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! I fear we are going down the same track, but I am going to invite the member to ask his question again. Again, if it has a personal reflection on a member of this House, I will rule it out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in Judith Collins, when, under this document—which I am happy to table and which, you, as Speaker, would have read—she failed to declare pecuniary and other specified interests in her declaration to the registrar, as were not disclosed in the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament 2013? I seek leave to table—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I ask the right honourable Prime Minister to answer the first part of the question—why can he have confidence in the Minister—which is perfectly in order, I will say that if the member is making those sorts of allegations, I remind the member of the proper way to do so, and that is in writing to the Speaker at the earliest opportunity.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is obviously making some sort of allegation, which he would need to substantiate. I have not seen any and he needs to show us.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister when, as disclosed in this document, which I am going to table, the Minister failed to disclose, as required by law, substantial benefits, and yet over 2 months earlier confidentially disclosed them to him as Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is the same answer as the one before.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wish to table two documents. One is Judith Collins’ return to the Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament 2013—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no need to do that, because that has been tabled. [Interruption] Order! That has been tabled already in this House. The second document?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table a report to Cabinet signed off by Judith Collins, dated 7 November 2013, where she refers to, confidentially—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been described. It is obviously a Cabinet report, a travel document. Is it a Cabinet travel report?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is a report to Cabinet. That is what I said at the start.
Mr SPEAKER: That is right. So the document—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. The purpose of tabling a document is to inform members. The member seeks leave to table a document. He gives a brief description so that members know what the document is. It is not the opportunity to make further political statements. It is the opportunity for me to decide whether that information would be valuable to members, and then I put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular Cabinet document. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is not. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister make that previous answer—that he had no knowledge—when under the document I have just tabled, dated 7 November 2013—
Hon Tau Henare: You said it was secret.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It was a confidential report to Cabinet—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member carry on with his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister claim to have no knowledge, when the Minister of Justice advised him on the date I gave of the following: that the Chinese Government had provided, to use her words, “substantial support for all meetings, accommodation in Beijing, and transportation and facilitation …”—all of which are required to be declared to the Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We would have to go and check with the pecuniary interests register, but if the member is basically making the allegation that, because she was on a visit where there was a private meeting, she used, basically, Government-funded things or that that is a pecuniary interest, then my understanding is that, amongst other things, one of the dinners was actually in the hotel and she did not use any transport.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that I made no mention of any dinner or anything else. I am talking about substantial support—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member is now disputing the answer that was given by the Prime Minister, it is my job to rule here, and in that case the Prime Minister addressed the question. The member will resume his seat. On that occasion the Prime Minister addressed the question—maybe not to the satisfaction of the member; that is very possible. Then the way forward is not to dispute the answer that was given by the Prime Minister but to ask further supplementary questions.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has he claimed no knowledge of Judith Collins’ receiving the benefits that she referred to when she wrote to him months before the declaration, giving evidence of benefits that are required to be declared, and yet she did not publicly declare them when she returned that report at the end of 2013?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is not what I said. What I made quite clear was that I do not understand the information the member has got or the allegation at the time he actually asked that specific question. As I said, he should have made those allegations. If there is some irregularity with her pecuniary interests, we will have a look at them. On the face of it, it does not actually sound like that to me, but we will go and check it. From what I can see, if the member could just speak a bit more clearly, it might help everyone, including the media.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If it was good enough for other Ministers—and they all did, including Mr Coleman—to declare such travel and hotel payments by other Governments, because it is required under the law of this country to declare them, why did that Minister not declare them and, more important, why, when he found out much earlier that she did not declare them, has he not sacked her?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We will need to check the specific details around the pecuniary interests. There are a whole lot of different rules that govern this area, but I would not be entirely surprised if Mr Peters is completely, utterly wrong, like normal.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having received a copy of the pecuniary interests declaration, which does not show these benefits required by law, and knowing that on 7 November the Prime Minister
received a report of those benefits, why was Judith Collins engaging in a cover-up, and why did he as Prime Minister, with that foreknowledge, join that cover-up as well?
Mr SPEAKER: That, again, is a very marginal question. I will leave it to the Prime Minister to answer it.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is no cover-up, but because the member is, I think, actually failing to make much coherent sense at all, maybe I will take the unusual step of asking the question and answering it. If the member is asking whether she should have included something in her pecuniary interests declaration, the answer is that I do not know, but guess what? I will go and check.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question—Brendan Horan.
Brendan Horan: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I could have some assistance from David Bennett, I would be grateful. Is this a point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, it is a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Then I will hear the point of order first.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I came to the House today with a copy of the 2013 pecuniary interests declaration that the Minister of Justice had completed. I came also with information that the Prime Minister knew months before that date—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member come to the point.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point is, in the interests of fairness, why on earth did you stop me from asking legitimate questions?
Mr SPEAKER: I am very tempted to ask the member to leave the House for that inference.
Brendan Horan: If the leader of a party had a leader’s budget of, say, $2.5 million, the equivalent to seven MPs, and he used it as a private slush fund—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member please resume his seat. There is no prime ministerial responsibility for the budget of a political party. That question is out of order.
Grant Robertson: In light of his statement to the House last Wednesday in reference to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade papers released about Judith Collins’ trip to China that “all the way through it talks about a private dinner.”, how does he explain the email exchanges as late as 16 October where the Minister’s office is asking why the dinner is not included in the official visit programme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It was a generalisation. Maybe I should have said “most of the way through”.
Grant Robertson: Are all of his answers about Judith Collins generalisations or does he actually have to answer the facts—that this was until 16 October an official dinner, not a private dinner, and that, actually, he misled Parliament last week?
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister can answer any of those questions.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is quite wrong. In my opinion it has been a private dinner the whole way through.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an email from the Minister of Justice’s office to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 16 October asking why the dinner was not part of the visit programme.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I put the leave, is the member aware of whether that document has already been tabled in this House? [Interruption] Order! The member is seeking leave to table that particular email between the Minister of Justice’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is worth noting—and perhaps you might like to clarify for members—that if members find that someone has done
something that is irregular and is outside of the Standing Orders, for example, matters relating to pecuniary interests, that the first point of call should be to the Privileges Committee, not necessarily to the House at a much later time. The same would apply to the document that Mr Robertson received under the Official Information Act, released some weeks ago.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need assistance from the honourable member. If there are any suggested irregularities with the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament, then the first port of call is actually to the Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament, and that is to be undertaken as a confidential matter. As I pointed out in a substantive ruling earlier, if there any serious allegations of potential corruption, etc., then the way to raise those is directly with the Speaker at the earliest convenience.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was involved in the drafting of the Standing Order that you are referring to, and members have two choices. They have a choice of bringing something up for correction with the registrar and through the Privileges Committee, through that route, or all members have a right to bring up those matters in the House. But if they do, they exclude their ability to take it to the Privileges Committee. They have always been left with the dual track.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his contribution.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can we have your view on that, because you just got up and gave a ruling and said that MPs were prohibited from raising those issues in this House. Mr Mallard has rightly put what I understand to be the correct position, and you have just previously warned members they cannot do that. He has put to you an alternative view that I think is correct. I want to know what your view is on that before someone else has to put up with wrong rulings from you as a Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you. I invite the member to look at page 139 of the Standing Orders, and it is in Appendix B, from memory, and to read clause 17. There he will see the procedure where there is any doubt around the way a register of interests has been filed by a member. The best course of action is to take it up with the registrar himself, and we have that case with a report being tabled in this House, I think, at the beginning of last week, on the first such investigation that the registrar undertook.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I make this comment only because I think it is starting to feel like you are being dragged into an arrangement where—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wonder why.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Rt Hon Winston Peters will leave the Chamber immediately. [Interruption] The member will leave the Chamber. Rt Hon Winston Peters withdrew from the Chamber.
Hon Tau Henare: Pick up the smoking gun on your way out.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Does the Hon Gerry Brownlee wish to continue with his point of order?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes. It is certainly making the point that—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am listening to a point of order at the moment.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Given that the line of questioning related to information that came from a Cabinet note about a Minister’s travel, I think it is important to get on the public record so that there is no lack of clarity among those who might be reporting this afternoon that Ministers are not— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I have to ask another member to leave the Chamber for interjecting through a point of order, I will not hesitate to do so. Would the member please carry on with his point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The point is that Ministers are not required to declare ministerial travel on their private, pecuniary interests. That is accounted for in another way, and that is exactly how Mr Peters came by the information that he tried to suggest today was in fact a breach by the Hon Judith Collins. It was not.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the point that the member has made.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Hon Trevor Mallard and the Rt Hon Winston Peters are correct. Looking at page 138, Standing Order 16(1), it says that a member—
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, can you give me that reference again?
Hon David Parker: Standing Order 16(1) states on page 138: “A member who has reasonable ground to believe that another member has not complied with his or her obligations may request that the Registrar conduct an inquiry …”. It is not a must; there are alternatives.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the point that the member is making.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you for fairness. You asked the Rt Hon Winston Peters to remove himself from this Chamber because he shouted out during a point of order. I ask you to remove the Hon Tau Henare for exactly the same reason, when he shouted out across the Chamber while you were still on your feet.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member raises a fair point. The Hon Tau Henare does not help the situation by interjecting on a point of order. The right honourable member Winston Peters was not ejected from this House for speaking through a point of order; it was for the very derogatory comment he made with his interjection. [Interruption] Order! I will hear from Tracey Martin.
Tracey Martin: The Rt Hon Winston Peters shouted out: “I wonder why.” Is that any less offensive than: “Pick up the smoking gun on your way out.”?
Mr SPEAKER: On reflection I think the member makes a good point.
Hon Tau Henare: If it helps, I’ll go.
Mr SPEAKER: And the Hon Tau Henare has beaten me to it. Hon Tau Henare withdrew from the Chamber.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just speaking to the point of order that Gerry Brownlee raised earlier, I want to make clear that in terms of what material that Ministers do have to place on their pecuniary interests, I think it is interesting to note that the Prime Minister and others have declared on their pecuniary interests register where a foreign Government has contributed to travel costs, for instance, whereas I think Mr Peters was making the point that Ms Collins did not do that.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This might help clarify things. If one goes to the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament, it quite clearly states in the overseas travel section: “You do not need to include overseas travel in this section if the costs were incurred by yourself, a close family member, the Crown, or by a government, a parliament, or an international parliamentary organisation as part of an official parliamentary visit overseas.” It is not required.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And there is one more point that is important here. There is not a prime ministerial or ministerial responsibility for a member’s failure around an inaccurate declaration of pecuniary interests. All members of Parliament here have a responsibility to fill in their pecuniary interest forms. That is their responsibility; it is then not a ministerial or prime ministerial responsibility.
Budget 2014—Government Spending
3. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What trends are emerging in the Government’s spending and revenue, and how will these be reflected in Budget forecasts on Thursday?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Last Friday Treasury released the Government’s financial statements for the 9 months to the end of March. The operating deficit before gains and losses was $1.66 billion for the 9 months, which was $199 million larger than forecast in December. Core Crown expenditure was $423 million below forecast, at $52 billion for the 9 months. Revenue in the 9 months was $2.6 billion higher than at the same time last year, but around $800 million below forecasts in December. The Budget on Thursday will confirm that we are on track for a small surplus next year, followed by increasing surpluses.
Maggie Barry: What do the Crown accounts tell us about the growing economy, and how will the Budget this week build on recent gains in supporting more jobs and better wages?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Crown accounts show that although Crown tax revenue remains below that forecast by Treasury 5 months ago, it is $2.6 billion higher than at this time last year, or 6.3 percent, reflecting a growing economy. It is the result of more taxpayers in more jobs earning higher wages. This is in line with strong recent employment market data. The Budget this week will confirm that the Government remains on track to surplus. However, getting back to surplus is not the end point. We want to continue to support the strength of the economy, with more people getting more hours of work in more jobs. This will help to ensure surpluses in the future.
Maggie Barry: What steps is the Government taking to ensure that New Zealand families share in the gains of a growing economy and that everyone pays their fair share of tax to fund Government programmes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The families whose members are one of the 84,000 New Zealanders extra in employment compared with a year ago are benefiting from the momentum in the economy. Average weekly wages increased by 3.2 percent in the past year, well ahead of inflation; 15,000 New Zealanders came off welfare and into work; and 29,500 fewer children are living in benefitdependent homes compared with 2 years ago. Everyone is paying their fair share of tax. As the Prime Minister announced yesterday, the Inland Revenue Department will receive $48 million in the Budget over the next 5 years to boost tax compliance. This builds on the Government’s wider programme, which has allowed the Inland Revenue Department to collect more tax from the hidden economy, the property sector, and aggressive tax planning and fraud. So far this has increased the Government’s gross tax revenue by around $500 million over recent years.
Maggie Barry: What recent statements has he seen about the improving Crown finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I saw some statements last Friday claiming that core Crown expenses were $423 million higher than forecast and that tax revenues are falling. These statements are actually the opposite of what is correct, and I was pleased to see that a second press release was made to correctly reference the $423 million of spending. Unfortunately, the press release still got the second statement wrong by claiming that revenue had fallen. Numbers are clearly not the author’s strong suit, but that was Mr Parker from the Labour Party.
Question No. 2 to Minister
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to my colleague, David Parker. I just want to make a point of order in reference to the Prime Minister’s point of order referring to what does not need to be disclosed under Appendix B, clause 8(2)(e) of the Standing Orders. It says “any government, parliament, or international parliamentary organisation, if the primary purpose of the travel was in connection with an official parliamentary visit.” Ms Collins was on a ministerial visit, of course, so she should have declared it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Points of order should not be used for that. That is very much a debating point.
4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context they were made. I particularly stand by my answers to the previous question, when I said that numbers are not the member’s strong suit after two glaring errors in a press release last week. I guess that is why Labour produced an alternative Budget with no numbers in it, because Labour does not even rely on its own numbers.
Hon David Parker: Does he stand by his 2010 Budget statement that “Unemployment has already fallen to 6 percent.”; if so, why is it that 4 years later, the unemployment rate is still at 6 percent?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do stand by those statements. As members will recall, if they remember the 2010 Budget, it forecast 174,000 additional jobs in the economy by mid-2014. That forecast is pretty much on track. Of course, the job market has had to absorb a fast turn-round in New Zealanders leaving for Australia. Fewer and fewer New Zealanders are going. In fact, they are staying home in large numbers. The job market has had to absorb them, and that has meant the unemployment rate has not fallen as fast as we would have liked it to.
Hon David Parker: Does he stand by his 2011 Budget statement around asset sales that “The expected revenue from offering minority stakes in these five companies is between $5 billion and $7 billion.”; if so, did he raise $5 billion to $7 billion from the sale of State assets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is overlooking the numbers, as you might expect. We sold four State assets, not five. For the four, we got $4.7 billion, and we are very pleased that we are able to put that cash in the Future Investment Fund, a fund that we can now use to build more schools, renew our hospitals, and underpin our infrastructure investment. The member will be hearing more about that over the next few days.
Hon David Parker: Does he stand by his 2012 Budget statement that “New Zealand’s household savings rate is positive for the first time in a decade, and is forecast to increase to almost 4 percent by 2016.”; if so, why is the household savings rate now negative?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do stand by the statement. Of course, any forecast has to be borne out by what actually happens. But it is worth noting that the member usually ties savings rates to the current account deficit, and the current account deficit is now running at less than half of what it was when he left office. We owe the world a lesser proportion of our GDP by quite a significant margin. When we came in, our international obligations amounted to about over 80 percent of GDP, and they are currently 65 percent.
Louise Upston: Does he stand by his previous statements about forecast job growth, and how has the employment market performed against those forecasts in recent years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Any forecast of jobs is dependent on the confidence of businesses to invest more capital and employ more people. That is where new jobs come from. They do not come from the Easter bunny. In New Zealand, in Budget 2010, the forecast was for 174,000 additional new jobs by mid-2014, and Budget 2011 forecast 171,000 jobs would be added by mid-2015. The latest household labour force survey essentially confirms that those forecasts have turned into reality, but what lies behind that reality are businesses and workplaces willing to invest another dollar and, therefore, employ another person, not just have wish lists.
Hon David Parker: Does he stand by his 1999 statement as Treasurer that Labour’s then promise to get unemployment to under 4 percent was impossible, on which he was proven wrong by the Labour Government having an average of 3.9 percent unemployment for 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: At least the member has moved on from relitigating the 1975 election. Now he is relitigating the 2008 election. Labour still believes that the public got it wrong in throwing out that Labour Government, which did so much damage to the economy. Well, we never quite got to test that theory, but many New Zealanders are pleased that the country’s economic management has become more steady and more prudent. It has taken a longer view and supported the people who actually make the decisions about jobs, which are businesses and workplaces, not Governments.
Question No. 2 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I seek leave to table a document that defines an official parliamentary visit as meaning one that is part of the approved official travel programme administered by the Office of the Clerk.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of that document?
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is the Registrar of Pecuniary—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That information is freely available to members.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: This is a point of order. Order! [Interruption] Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This sort of thing is going to go on and on, so I would suggest that those who are interested in this story take a look at page 12 of the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specific Interests of Members of Parliament, clause 8(1)(a) and then the notes under (i) through to (iv), which makes it very clear that “You do not need to include overseas travel … if the costs were incurred by yourself, a close family member, the Crown, or by a government, a parliament, or any international parliamentary organisation as part of an official parliamentary visit overseas.” Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard enough. What we are now seeing from both members is the use of the point of order system to seek leave to table a document as a means of continuing a political debate.
Green Technology—Government Initiatives
5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Will he have any specific initiatives to support investment in green technology in his budget on Thursday, given a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise that shows the potential market share that New Zealand could capture of the green-tech industry would be worth between NZ$7.5 billion and NZ$22 billion to the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The member will have to wait for the Budget on Thursday. If he visited businesses around New Zealand, he would see them investing in green technology all the time. The largest freezing works in New Zealand, in my electorate, has spent tens of millions on a plant that recycles all the waste, dries it, and then burns it to meet the energy needs of a very large industrial site. It did not need a green bank or any other particular subsidy to make a sensible investment decision. The Government, of course, funds research, which is under way, in areas of new technology, vehicle fuel-economy labelling, improved efficiency of commercial fleets, encouraging alternative forms of transport that are less carbon intensive—among any number of other initiatives. This is all part of the Government’s Business Growth Agenda, which is supporting businesses to take advantage of New Zealand’s green growth opportunities.
Dr Russel Norman: Has he heard, as I have heard on my many visits to businesses around New Zealand, support for a green bank initiative, and will he adopt the Green Party’s Green Investment Bank initiative to establish a fund to partner with the private sector so that we accelerate investment in green technology and pave the way towards a smarter, greener economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are any number of businesses that would be quite happy to, I think, play with taxpayers’ money at low or subsidised interest cost and quite possibly lose it, because it is not their money. No doubt the Greens are being lobbied by those businesses, and, in fact, probably have received a large donation from a member of the public who is advocating—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That will not help the order of this House.
Dr Russel Norman: With regard to having large amounts of taxpayer money to spend on its favourite projects, how is the Government’s $400 million irrigation slush fund going? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will allow the Minister a fair bit of licence.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The irrigation fund has, I think, made a commitment of some $8 million to the irrigation company out of an appropriation of around $400 million, and that $8 million is subject to some pretty strict commercial terms. We would expect to get the money back.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he think the Conservative Party Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, made an error when he set up a green investment bank, which has over £3 billion to invest in green projects?
Mr SPEAKER: As far as there is ministerial responsibility, the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, it is up to any other Government to follow its own policy. But I think I would say to the member that, in the first place, where these investments add up, New Zealand businesses are making them all over the place. The Green Party does not have any monopoly on environmental efficiency. Good straightforward New Zealanders do these things when they make sense. Secondly, we would be quite wary of setting up some kind of bank subject to political direction, because the track record of those things and the track record of so-called higherprofile greentech investment seems to be pretty poor, and you would almost certainly lose the money.
Tim Macindoe: What reports has he received on recent investments in so-called green technology companies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I see a range of reports, but one could characterise Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, and Genesis Energy as companies that have invested intensively in renewable electricity, to the point where New Zealand has one of the highest rates of renewable electricity in the world and around about 200,000 people took the opportunity to buy shares in those companies. That has been a very positive report—much more positive than what I see is a notably risky investment done by the Green Futures Superannuation Fund. It is allowed to take its punts, like everybody else. Unfortunately, by investing in Windflow Technology, we are told, it lost most of its money. That is not to say that every green investment loses money. Many of them are quite successful. It just seems to be that those that have the most political advocacy tend to be the riskiest.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has nearly half a billion dollars invested in low-carbon energy projects, is getting an average return of 7.3 percent over the life of the projects it is investing in?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I was not aware of that. I would agree with the member that investment in renewable energy, for instance, can yield significant returns. That was part of what attracted 200,000 new shareholders to our renewable energy companies. The point I suppose I am making is that the high-profile symbolic greentech investments with political support tend to be very risky. I would also point out that some of those investments in Australia will be made, for instance, in wind farms. In New Zealand we have, I think, the only unsubsidised wind farming industry in the world, which operates very successfully, generates returns on investments, and certainly meets the member’s criteria for green technology investment, but does not need a Government subsidy to succeed.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister explain why it is OK, as the Government has promised, to spend $400 million subsidising irrigation projects, but the Government does not wish to provide any support in the form of a green investment bank or anything else in clean technology, which is not only good for us economically but is good for us environmentally?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply do not agree with the member’s assertion that the Government provides no support for green technology. We have an extensive science and research programme that is publicly funded, and a significant chunk of that spending is precisely on better environmental technologies and understanding the environmental impact of current or new technologies. So the Government is quite open to better suggestions about where more money could go for environmentally balanced economic growth. We have just found that the track record of some of these more politically driven greentech investments is pretty poor. In fact, if a politician strongly backs them, it is almost certainly the case that they will lose money.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is the Government subsidising the oil and gas industry to the tune of about $46 million and subsidising the irrigation industry to the tune of about $400 million?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I think I pointed out before, the actual amount that has been invested in irrigation schemes is $8 million, and that investment has been done on a commercial basis. In respect of the oil and gas industry, it is actually fairly significantly taxed, and I am not sure what subsidy the member is referring to. That tax is paid by every household in New Zealand. I am sure that it would prefer that it was not penalised, as an industry, with significant taxes on its products, but we believe that reflects the right balance of user-pays for roads and pricing the environmental externalities of those products.
Employment and Job Creation—Progress
6. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: What progress has the Government made in lifting employment in the New Zealand economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Very good progress. The household labour force survey that came out last week showed that 84,000 more New Zealanders are in work compared with 1 year ago. This represents a 3.7 percent increase in employment in the last year, which is the largest annual increase since December 2004. The labour force participation rate is now up to 69.3 percent, which is the highest participation rate in the New Zealand labour market since records began. Wages are also rising significantly faster than inflation. Over the past year, average ordinary weekly earnings rose by 3.2 percent, as compared with CPI inflation of 1.5 percent.
Andrew Little: No, you’ve got that wrong.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: And the member opposite hates that, but it is true—a 3.2 percent increase in ordinary-time weekly earnings, as compared with CPI inflation of 1.5 percent. Average hourly earnings rose by 2.5 percent.
Dr Cam Calder: How are the job projections made before the 2011 election tracking?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Very well. Budget 2011 projected job growth of 171,000 people over the 4 years from 2012 through to 2015. I am pleased to report to the House that we are currently running almost exactly on track to achieve that target, with employment growth of 131,000 jobs to date since then. The Government’s comprehensive Business Growth Agenda to encourage investment in the New Zealand economy is working. Growth is increasing, jobs are being created, wages are rising, and business and consumer confidence is at record levels. People are moving to New Zealand and far fewer people are leaving.
Dr Cam Calder: What reports has he seen about risks to further job creation in the New Zealand economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have seen a variety of reports on policies that could be proposed that would cost New Zealanders jobs because they would discourage investment. Such policies could, perhaps, oppose international investment, free trade, the dairy industry, oil and gas exploration, expanding aquaculture, expanding irrigation, or faster resource management decisions. I have seen policies that would force up wages artificially and cost tens of thousands of jobs. I have seen policies that would introduce big new taxes on a productive industry, which provides jobs and wages for Kiwis, to subsidise unprofitable companies. All of these approaches would cost massive numbers of jobs and reduce investment, and they completely contrast with a wish to grow the number of jobs and sustainably reduce employment, which is completely impossible if the policy ideas move in the wrong direction. Of course, one person did know that: Shane Jones, and that is why he has left.
Inequality, Economic—Wage and Salary Earners
7. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Is he satisfied wage and salary earners are getting a fair share of the economy?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): Yes. Growth in our economy has been strong over the past year. The latest quarterly employment survey shows that wages are growing around 1 percent higher than inflation and the average full-time wage over the past 2 years has increased around $3,000. This Government is committed to continuing to grow the economy, ensuring everyone gets a fair share.
Andrew Little: What practical measures will he take to avoid a repeat of the situation of 46 percent of wage and salary earners, nearly half the workforce, not receiving a pay rise last year, during a period of economic growth, as confirmed in last week’s labour market statistics?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: We have raised the minimum wage every single year we have been in office. We have made sure that we have got employment reforms—the starting out wage, and the 90-day trial. We know that the policies of the other party on that side go in exactly the opposite direction. For example, its increase in the minimum wage overnight to $15 would see 5,000 people out of jobs. What we also know is that we have 2.5 percent average wage growth; weekly earnings are much more than inflation. Strong results under this Government.
Andrew Little: Can he confirm that the increase in the labour cost index, which measures the change in the price of labour, is 1.6 percent—about the same as the rise in the cost of living— meaning that the value of wages did not improve at all last year?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: We know that that is not the figure that his party used when it was in Government, and for very good reasons. Under the quarterly employment survey numbers, it is very clear that average weekly earnings rose 2.5 percent and we have seen inflation go up 1.5 percent, so that means real Kiwis are earning more real money. [Interruption] I know the member does not like that. I appreciate he is channelling Arthur Scargill. But on this side of the House we see wages going up, and more people, 84,000 more people, in jobs.
Andrew Little: Does he think his measures to curtail collective bargaining are consistent with his claim that wages are rising and his aim to raise them; if not, why is he pushing ahead with that measure, despite receiving more than 10,000 submissions opposed to the changes?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: We are making law fairer, more flexible, and pro-jobs. I appreciate bargaining has a part to it. But, actually, wars of attrition between parties, which ultimately are fruitless, do not do employers or workers any favours. On this side of the House we know that the 90-day trial period, the starting-out wage, and various other reforms we have made are making a real difference, and the proof is in the pudding with 2.5 percent weekly average wage increases, higher than inflation, and last year 84,000 more people in jobs.
Andrew Little: In light of growing expressions of concern from workers, such as those at Steel and Tube and the Canterbury District Health Board, who cannot get a decent pay rise, except without industrial action, and from the growing army of chief executives, such as those from the The Warehouse and the BNZ, who complain that their pay is too much, does he accept that income inequality in New Zealand is now intolerably extreme, and what is he going to do about it?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I appreciate that averages are average for a reason, and there are still people doing it tough. But the member opposite is denying the objective facts that, actually, his party relied on in office—earnings rising 2.5 percent, a percentage point higher than inflation, and 84,000 more jobs. So that there are more real people getting more real money under this Government.
Grey Base Hospital—Redevelopment
8. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister of Health: What recent announcement has the Government made about the redevelopment of Grey Base Hospital?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Last week the Government announced that the business case for the new $67 million 60-bed hospital facility on the West Coast has been signed off and the project is now moving to the final design phase. Virtually the whole hospital will be new. Grey Base Hospital will be the biggest hospital investment per head of population in the country’s history, and the Government is committed to futureproofing health services on the West Coast.
Chris Auchinvole: What facilities will be provided at the new hospital?
Hon TONY RYALL: The redeveloped hospital facility will have a bigger maternity unit, a new emergency department, an intensive-care unit, and three state-of-the-art operating theatres. There will also be an integrated family health centre on the Grey Base Hospital site. This modern facility is great news for the people of the West Coast, and I would like to acknowledge the member for his support and encouragement throughout the process.
Prime Minister—Discussions at Fund-raising Event
9. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Prime Minister: Did he discuss matters relating to his official prime ministerial role when he attended a fundraising dinner at the Museum Hotel in September last year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No, because I did not attend a fund-raising dinner at the Museum Hotel in September last year.
Holly Walker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. In the situation where a question has been accepted by the Clerk’s Office, with authentication as worded, is it appropriate for the Prime Minister to then question the factual basis—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need assistance. The question was asked; the Prime Minister answered it.
Holly Walker: Does he see a problem with the Prime Minister being a drawcard at fund-raising events that explicitly charge for entry, at a price that ordinary New Zealanders—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I suspect that this is a question that I am going to rule out of order, because it is heading in the exact direction of what we had last week. But I could not hear it well enough to rule at this stage. I invite the member to ask it again, but if she is implying that members of this Parliament are being induced to offer favours by collecting money, that question may well be ruled out of order.
Holly Walker: Does he see a problem with the Prime Minister being the drawcard for an event that explicitly charges for entry at a price that ordinary New Zealanders could not possibly afford?
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow that.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I wear a number of hats. One of them is as Prime Minister but, equally, I can attend fund-raising events, which I do for numerous causes and charities, and also for the National Party. When I do that I am quite free to do that, acting as a member of the National Party and a member of Parliament. The Cabinet Manual makes that quite clear. One thing I am sure of, though, is that I have never gone to a fund-raising event that includes Kim Dotcom. He is too busy organising his—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Holly Walker: Does he stand by his own statement that “being Prime Minister is really a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year job” or does he now wish to add that National Party fund-raising events are the exception to this rule?
Mr SPEAKER: Rt Hon Prime Minister—either of those questions.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Of course, in one context it is a 24/7 job, but the Cabinet Manual makes it quite clear that Ministers and the Prime Minister can go to these types of events. I can assure the member, for the good order of the House, that on Saturday night I will be taking my wife out for dinner and I will be going as a loving husband, not as Prime Minister.
Holly Walker: Has his chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, ever accompanied him to a National Party fund-raising dinner in a work capacity; if so, what was the work-related purpose for that visit?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Wayne Eagleson, my chief of staff, operates in a number of capacities. One is as chief of staff to me as Prime Minister; the other is to me as leader of the National Party. His pay is actually split for that reason. Therefore, he is quite entitled and free to come to these events. I do know, though, that he does not go with Russel Norman up to the Dotcom mansion, and he would never go to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption]
Grant Robertson:Thanks to the Attorney-General for that interjection. In light of the Prime Minister’s answer, I seek leave to table a document entitled “Chinese National Party donor emerges as biggest shareholder in Doctom’s Mega”.
Mr SPEAKER: The source of that document?
Grant Robertson: It is the National Business Review, but it was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now trifling with the Chair and will resume his seat.
Brendan Horan: Has he had any discussions at fund-raising dinners about public funding being used as a personal slush fund by the individual with responsibility for administering such a fund, and what would he think of an individual who did use public funding for that use?
Mr SPEAKER: In as far as there is ministerial responsibility—I am struggling to find it but I will allow it. I hope the Prime Minister can assist.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I have not, and I would be very, very surprised if they did. If they did, that person might need to amend their pecuniary interests, as Winston Peters did in 2007 and as David Shearer did in 2012 and as 12 members of this House did in 2012.
Schools—Treatment of Head Lice
10. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made about helping parents deal with the nits epidemic?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): There are some odd days in Parliament. Thanks to nearly $1 million in Government funding, KidsCan will be putting special chairs in 117 low-decile schools and then funding combs, treatments, and specialist nit-busters—
Hon Annette King: What a nitwit policy this is.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I cannot hear you. Spit it out. Come on. What is your problem?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That just shows the difficulty we get into with this constant barrage of interjection coming across the floor. Would the Minister please complete her answer.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Sorry, Mr Speaker. So we have got 117 low-decile schools and then funding for combs, treatments, and specialist nit-busters to treat the kids for nits. Kids will be treated as many times as they need to be treated to get rid of their nits, and their parents and siblings can also get treated in order to eradicate the pests from the whole family, if necessary.
Melissa Lee: Why is treating nits so important?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is more than just a hassle. It is more than just a hassle. Some children are getting serious infections due to untreated nits, which can require hospital treatment. I heard the story last week of two young 6-year-old girls who actually had their heads shaved just to get rid of them. This new programme will reach 24,000 children and their families and will go a long way to helping those low-income families.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the answer to that question the name Judith Collins never came up once. The Minister is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member please learn a bit about the Standing Orders. That is not a legitimate point of order.
Melissa Lee: What kind of response has she had to the announcement?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I get are constant cries that we are not helping out those lowerincome people who actually have got real problems, and this is a problem where we are helping. Labour now does not like it, yet a week ago we were not doing enough to help those people. We have had a fantastic response from parents. We have had a fantastic response from beneficiaries
who want to become nit-busters. We keep hearing from hairdressers. Schools are lining up to get this initiative into their school. If anything, we are getting a cry for it to go wider.
Sue Moroney: Why is the Minister trumpeting this nitwit policy that required Russell School to rip out a disabled access toilet to install the nit chair she used as a publicity stunt, that is funded from money she took from the food in schools funding, that was not even discussed with schools as something they wanted, and in which she hopes the nitpicking will be done by beneficiaries?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, to address that, schools have actually been crying out for assistance to work with those low-income families. They do see it as an epidemic. In regard to the disabled toilet, there is another disabled toilet at the school, and neither has been used for more than 8 years. Actually, the member should listen to families out there, who are embracing this initiative and, if anything, would like it to be going wider.
Question No. 11 to Minister
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): This question, No. 11, was originally set down for the Minister of Tourism, and we would regard this as a question that he should be answering, so I seek leave of this House for this question to be transferred back to the Minister of Tourism rather than—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now wasting the time of this House. [Interruption] Order! If the member wants to stay for the balance of question time, he had better start behaving himself. The Speakers’ rulings in this regard are quite clear. The Government can put the question to whom it thinks is the most appropriate Minister, and that has been done on this occasion. Question No. 11—Darien Fenton. [Interruption] Order! Both sides of the House need to settle down. [Interruption] Order! And that includes the Hon Annette King, for the second time today. Would the member stop barracking across the Chamber.
Adventure Tourism Sector—Safety
11. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Is he confident that the risks and safety of participants in adventure tourism activities in New Zealand are being appropriately managed?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): Adventure activities are inherently risky, and the safety of those who take part is an absolute top priority for this Government. We put in place the adventure activities regulations that require all operators to have safety audits in place by 1 November this year. I am confident that this will lead to a stringent, best-practice safety regime in our adventure tourism industry.
Darien Fenton: How is he fulfilling the promises he and the Prime Minister made to grieving families to clean up safety in the adventure tourism industry when progress has stalled around safety audits because of his failure to properly resource safety audit providers?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The resources are entirely appropriate for the job at hand. We are ensuring that we meet 1 November by having auditors put in place to do an excellent job in this area, and also ensuring that tourism operators are supported by WorkSafe by making contact with all of them, and that they are audit ready and motivated for the task that they must fulfil to bring this industry to world’s best practice.
Darien Fenton: Will the outstanding safety audits be completed before the deadline of 1 November this year, given that Outdoors New Zealand is the only provider left and has no money left to conduct the rest of the audits?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am confident of that. I characterise it as an initial slowing of the auditing system prior to speeding up again.
Hon Members: Oh!
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: And if the members want to hear, I am very happy to outline the position. Of course, Outdoors New Zealand has transferred its audit business to another operator, but there are other auditors coming into place through the recognition process—
Darien Fenton: That’s not true.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: —at least two, Miss Fenton—and I am very confident both that the auditors are in place for the job and that the operators are motivated and supported to do this job to ensure that we have world’s best practice.
Darien Fenton: How can he get more than 400 audits completed in less than 6 months, even if new providers or funding are available?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, as I have said, by having excellent auditors who are going through the recognition process at the moment and by having motivated and supported providers of tourism activities. All of those things are in place. We have got the regime and we have got the resources, the auditors, and the operators, so I am confident we will meet 1 November.
Darien Fenton: Will he allow adventure activity operators to take the risk of operating their businesses beyond 1 November if they have not been audited for safety and if there have been no audits to ensure they meet the standards he implemented under the health and safety adventure activity regulations?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, given all of the answers to the previous primary question and supplementary questions, I am confident we will meet 1 November, so that question does not arise.
12. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Revenue: What recent announcements has he made regarding this Government’s ongoing tax compliance work?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Minister of Revenue): Yesterday the Government announced an extra $132 million for the Inland Revenue Department to bolster its tax compliance activities and for chasing up unfiled returns. This is on top of the nearly $200 million investment already allocated through Budget 2010 and Budget 2012 for tax compliance and debt collection work. It is conservatively estimated that the new funding will generate a gross increase in Crown revenue of around $300 million over the next 5 years, which builds upon the extra $106 million already generated through the focus on unfiled returns since July 2012.
Jami-Lee Ross: What have been some of the results of the Government’s investment in tax compliance to date?
Hon TODD McCLAY: It is important to note that the vast majority of New Zealanders voluntarily and responsibly pay their fair share of tax. However, the Government is determined to catch up with those who do not, by going after debt, outstanding returns, hidden economy activities, aggressive tax planning, fraud, and property compliance. The results of this work have been nothing but spectacular. In 2013 $45 million of additional revenue has been collected through hidden economy tax-avoidance initiatives, a return of $5.60 for every $1 invested. In the area of noncompliance through property speculation, the taxing of capital gains identified $53.8 million—that is, $8.42 for every $1 invested. In going after aggressive tax planning—for instance, the use of dodgy leadership trusts—we identified $206 million in discrepancies, a return of $42.90 for every dollar spent.
Jami-Lee Ross: What other reports has he seen regarding this Government’s focus on people paying their fair share of tax?
Hon TODD McCLAY: I have seen reports in the media from the Opposition that claim the Government has been going easy on tax dodgers—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are now straying into an area where that is a media report. It is not official. There is no ministerial responsibility.