Questions and Answers – November 4

by Desk Editor on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 — 5:01 PM


Islamic State Conflict—Government Response 1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader – NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Is he committed to an open and transparent Government on issues where New Zealand may soon be involved in conflict in the Middle East?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): As I have previously said, the Government is looking at a range of options to contribute to the international coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL is a brutal organisation that deserves the strongest of condemnation. It is my intention to be as open and transparent with New Zealanders as I can responsibly be about the issue of such a potential contribution.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why then has he delayed including the public in, to use his words, “a mature conversation” about the Islamic State threat until after the election and, indeed, until this week?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: During the course of the election campaign there were questions raised about ISIL, and I clearly remember making quite a number of comments. One of the problems was that I was about the only person in the entire Parliament who wanted to talk about policy and issues of that matter—certainly, I do not remember that member being in that position.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that in June he was giving the public of this country his personal assurance that the Government would not be involved, why has the Government been selectively releasing information about the Islamic State threat rather than keeping the public fully informed on the nature of the threat it poses to New Zealand?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the situation in Iraq is evolving, and I think all members of the international community would acknowledge that. Secondly, tomorrow, as the member is probably aware, it is my intention to give a major speech on the issue that I think will actually spell out for New Zealanders both the range of options available and a sense of the risk, domestically, regionally, and internationally. Finally, my understanding is that with the agreement of the Business Committee there is going to be a ministerial statement in the House tomorrow by myself. There will be a wide-ranging debate. We have ensured that all political parties, even those that have fewer than 6 members, will be able to be part of that debate. It is my expectation that New Zealanders, from their lounge rooms to this Parliament, will want to debate what contribution, if any, that New Zealand might make. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What assurances can the Prime Minister give that New Zealand will not commit military forces to meeting the Islamic State threat unless there is the United Nations’ sanction for military action?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first thing I would say is that the member really will need to wait until he sees the speech tomorrow and then he can draw his own conclusions on that question. But, secondly, in terms of the United Nations, one area we are following is the United Nations resolution in relation to foreign fighters. That is something we have been closely following, and that is the very reason why the Government is putting up some proposals, which will be included in the speech tomorrow, to address that issue. I will take a moment to thank the Labour Party, which I understand is supporting it, and I hope that New Zealand First will support it because it has had the same briefings from officials that the Labour Party has.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that answer, why would the New Zealand public not regard the Prime Minister’s so-called mature conversation on the Islamic State issue as a smokescreen and window-dressing, when critical decisions have already been made by the Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No decisions have actually been made by the Government yet, except for the ones in relation to humanitarian aid, where we have previously made contributions, I think, of up to $13.5 million. So no decisions have actually been made. Some decisions may well be made in the future, and when people get a chance to see my speech tomorrow they will decide that. I simply say to the member that the issue here is not about whether we are trying to withhold information from the New Zealand public; the issue here is about protecting the New Zealand public from a threat that is credible internationally, regionally, and domestically.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not true that Cabinet has already made a decision on this matter; if it is true, what confidence can the public have that all the material decisions about New Zealand’s role in relation to the international response to the Islamic State threat have not already been made by the Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Unless the member is the 21st member of the National Cabinet, then he knows something I do not. But outside that, no decisions have been made by Cabinet.

David Shearer: Given that he has stated that any New Zealand deployment would be “there for a reasonably significant period of time”, what would he define as the exit point, or the point at which it had finished its job?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I would urge the member to closely look at the speech tomorrow; he will have a better understanding when he sees that. Secondly, the point I was making is simply that if you look at something like Afghanistan, in reality, when the Labour Government committed New Zealand’s resources and forces to Afghanistan, I am not sure people would have thought it would be for the 11 or 12 years that we ultimately stayed, but that was the length of time required. I think, realistically, whatever takes place in a country like Iraq is not something that is going to be very short term. Whether that is 2, 3, 4, or 5 years I do not know, but if the member is asking me whether something was of the order of 6 months, then I would say that if that decision was made, then it would be no.

Budget 2014—Support for Vulnerable New Zealanders 2. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What Budget approach is the Government taking to ensure that New Zealanders in genuine need receive targeted and effective support through public services?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is building on its approach of the past 6 years, which has focused on delivering for people better results from public services and targeting spending on its services where we can get a return from effective delivery. During our first term, we capped the public sector head count, reprioritised spending towards front-line services, and extracted an efficiency dividend from the public sector. In our second term, the Better Public Services programme started to deliver measurable results in meeting some of New Zealand’s most (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) challenging issues. The introduction of the investment approach to welfare has demonstrated a marked improvement in Government decision-making and policy delivery, and reduced welfare dependency. We intend to build further on this and other programmes.

Jami-Lee Ross: How will the Government’s approach to delivering better public services be reflected in its preparation of Budget 2015?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Budget 2015 will involve continued restraint in Government spending, and the Government is bringing in a set of tools that demonstrate that what works for our communities—what makes them safer and better educated, for instance—also works for the Government’s books. As the Prime Minister has confirmed, one of the Government’s priorities for this term will be helping children and families in material deprivation and hardship. In particular, the Government will focus on children and their families at risk of poor education; criminal justice; and employment results. Many of these families are not well served by current public service arrangements. This will require extra resources for initiatives that focus on children and their families in need, and achieving results for them. The Government expects this will require a combination of some new investment but also significant reprioritising of money from existing spending that does not work.

Jami-Lee Ross: What specific steps will the Government take in preparing Budget 2015 to ensure initiatives focus on delivering better results for New Zealanders in need?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Social sector agencies will work to extend and further evolve the investment approach that the Government has developed over recent years. This will include identifying solutions for the most at-risk groups who need individualised assistance based on their local and family circumstances; recognising and challenging the effectiveness of existing spending and policy delivery involving children and families, communities, and providers and developing these solutions; and expanding ideas based on data across public agencies, which tell us where these families are, when they need help, and which ones need investment in them. We plan to have an open working relationship with external providers, academics, community groups, and others who use public services.

Jami-Lee Ross: What will be the next steps in the Government’s focus on delivering better services and support for the most at-risk children and their families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Through the Government tender system the Government is issuing a request for information to help target spending on social services and get better results for children and their families who are most at risk. This is the next step in a process that will see ongoing involvement of social service providers, front-line staff, and communities. In particular, we want to help those most at risk and the hardest-to-reach New Zealanders. So Treasury will go out to a range of groups, seeking feedback on how existing services work, how they can be improved, and how they can be better targeted.

Marama Fox: Does the Minister agree with the chief economic adviser for Allianz that unless developed nations hike minimum wage rates, income inequality will continue to engulf those economies; if so, what initiatives will he take to lift the minimum wage and ensure outcomes are improved for New Zealanders in genuine need?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have not seen the advice from the Allianz economic adviser, but I can inform the member that the Government has consistently lifted the minimum wage each year. In fact, New Zealand’s minimum wage is, I think, second-highest in the OECD as a proportion of the average wage. So the Government will continue to weigh up the balance of lifting incomes for those on the minimum wage by increasing the minimum wage, but not at the expense of putting them out of work. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

State-owned Assets, Sales—State Housing 3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Acting Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “Well if we were selling Housing New Zealand the corporation or 25 percent or 49 percent, yes that would be an asset sale”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Annette King: Why does he think that selling House New Zealand bureaucracy would be an asset sale, but selling up to 22,000 of its houses, worth around $5 billion, would not be an asset sale?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the member is making it up. I have never said that we are going to sell that many houses; I am simply making the point that if Housing New Zealand sells some homes, as it did under the previous Labour Government—about a thousand of them—then I do not class that to be an asset sale.

Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, will there be more houses built or bought by the Government to replace the number of State houses sold under the great State house sell-off?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I can guarantee is that there will be more people accommodated under income-related rents and, therefore, having accessibility to affordable homes. In the end, the real point here is that we want to see more New Zealanders getting access to that very low-cost level of housing, and it is much more sensible to ask community housing providers and others with access to income-related rents to do that than simply for Housing New Zealand to buy them.

Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, does he stand by his statement that the fastest way of moving people out of poverty is to deliver more income-related rents; if so, how is he going to get the houses to apply those subsidies without simply subsidising private landlords?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the only people who can get income-related rents are community housing providers or Housing New Zealand. The Labour Party fundamentally knows so little about rents that it cannot even work out what a capital gains tax is going to do, and therefore it cannot even work out who gets an income-related rent.

Hon Annette King: What discussions have taken place with social housing providers in light of theMonte Cecilia Housing Trust, an important provider, saying yesterday: “The Government seems to be able to make announcements one day and then tell us ‘well we’ve not really done the detail’.” the next day. Is that not what you would call a shambles for it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot tell you exactly what discussions have been held because I am not responsible for that, but there are a wide range of community housing providers—I think there are about 30 in total, actually. My understanding is that there have been—[Interruption] Thirty-two, thank you. My understanding is that there have been quite wide-ranging discussions. But what is clear is that the Government’s intent in this area has been foreshadowed for quite some time. What we are endeavouring to do is to make sure that the social housing sector in New Zealand grows.

Hon David Cunliffe: This is the worst ramble of the year.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the worst ramble of the year is from the four wannabe leaders who cannot even turn up to Parliament.

Hon Annette King: Does he agree with theAuckland Community Housing Providers Network that “Selling housing at a time of shortage makes no sense unless the funds from the sales are invested back so that there is a net increase in new social and affordable housing.”; if not, why will he not commit to this?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Certainly, if one was just solely selling a Housing New Zealand house and there was no other replacement in the form of a community housing provider or somebody else who could provide a house, of course that would make no sense because the amount of houses available to low-income people would be, by definition, reducing. The Government’s whole plan here is to increase it. But just before the members opposite—

Sue Moroney: No, that doesn’t increase it. They’re just shuffled from one place to another. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, Sue Moroney should just be quiet for a second and listen to this important point. If members opposite want to get all excited about selling things, then maybe the member should remember that she was part of a Government that sold Southern Hydro—

Hon Phil Goff: Come on!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —that is right, Phil—for $1.6 billion. It was 16 percent of the assets of Meridian Energy.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer has now moved well past the question that was asked.

Hon Annette King: When the Prime Minister said a moment ago that their policy was very clear, why did he not make it clear during the election campaign that they intended to sell—

Hon Members: We did.

Hon Annette King: No, no. The Prime Minister said yesterday that he could not make it clear because no one wanted to talk about housing. So why did he not tell the public that he intended to sell a significant chunk of State houses, some of them to property speculators?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: A few things. Firstly, as I pointed out yesterday, the Labour Party was fixated with talking about everything other than policy, and we know where that took them. Secondly, interestingly enough, this is a story from 26 February 2014 and it is titled “English talks up big state housing reform”. That was, by the way, quite a few months before the election. Thirdly, I have had a flick through the Labour Party election manifesto, and I never saw any part of its manifesto talking about selling 16 percent of the assets of Meridian—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I thank the Prime Minister, but that is not his responsibility.

Hon Annette King: Is the Prime Minister saying that in the numerous public meetings he held, the four leaders’ debates, the whistle-stop tours, and the hundreds of opportunities for selfies, he never had even a nanosecond to tell those he met that he intended to flog off billions of dollars of State houses because he thought that the Labour Party was busy talking about something else?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The point I was making was, first, it was in our policy; second, the Minister of Finance had given a speech at the start of the year on it; and, third, my main point was that the Leader of the Opposition did not want to talk about it and neither did anyone else. They wanted to talk about every other little trumped-up scandal but they did not want to talk about policy. That is why, by the way, Labour polled the worst result in living history of the Labour Party for 92 years. So if you want to go and have a re-run of the election campaign and talk about policy, you might do better—but, oops, you do not have a leader to do that.

Hon Annette King: I seek leave—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have not called the member yet.

Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table the 2002 election result, when the National Party got—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard enough and there is no need to do it.

Kevin Hague: Does the Prime Minister guarantee that all proceeds from the sale of State houses will be used for social housing purposes?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No decisions have been made yet on what the proceeds will go to, but what I can guarantee the member is that as a result of this policy, more poor and vulnerable New Zealanders will have an affordable roof over their heads. I would have thought that if the member wanted to stop playing politics and start caring about the poor people, he would come over and support the National Government.

Kevin Hague: Well, if it is not resolved what the proceeds will be used for, what else might they be used for besides social housing purposes?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said, that decision has not been made. In the fullness of time it will be, and we will be happy to stand on the policy and the record of this Government. But what I do know is that as a result of this policy, more New Zealand families, more vulnerable families, will have an affordable roof over their heads. I define that as a success. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Science and Research—Funding 4. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What recent investment has the Government made in high-quality investigator-led research?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Earlier today I announced the results of the latest round of the Marsden Fund. A total of 101 projects from many of New Zealand’s top researchers have been approved and will receive between them $56 million in funding from Marsden Fund grants over the next 3 years. The Marsden Fund, which is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, aims to enhance the quality of research and support the advancement of scientific knowledge in New Zealand. Since we came into Government we have increased our support for this fund by 38 percent, despite the global financial crisis, from just under $38 million annually in 2008 to $52.4 million annually this year.

Paul Foster-Bell: What sort of programmes will receive Marsden Fund grants?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Interest in the Marsden Fund continues to grow, with 1,222 applications received for this round. The level of competition has resulted in a high degree of quality amongst the 101 successful applicants in diverse areas such as investigating the behaviour of atoms and molecules under extreme pressure and temperature, exploring the higher incidence of heart failure in diabetics, fine-scale imaging of the Alpine Fault, and probing the origins of high-energy cosmic rays. Through our support for the Marsden Fund we are investing in high-quality investigator-led research to generate new knowledge, which creates long-term benefits for this country.

Paul Foster-Bell: Why is investigator-led research so important?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Excellence in research is key to New Zealand becoming a more innovative nation. Encouraging investigator-led research through the Marsden Fund and other programmes is instrumental in further developing advanced research skills and helping attract and retain top research talent for New Zealand. Although the value of a project might not always be clear at the outset, investigator-led research generates ideas, expands the knowledge base, and contributes to the development of our skill base. It is part of the balanced approach that this Government is taking to science and innovation funding.

Export Sector—Projected Growth 5. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour – Dunedin North) to the Minister of Finance: Based on Treasury’s PREFU forecasts, how much faster will exports have to grow relative to the rest of the economy from the March 2016 year to 2025 to achieve the Government’s 40 percent export target?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): If the member does not mind, I will just explain the basis of the numbers so that we do not have endless questioning on this, using different numbers. The target the Government set is for real exports of goods and services as a percentage of real GDP. On that basis Statistics New Zealand reports that the real exports of goods and services have increased from 31.9 percent of the real economy in 2009 to 33.3 percent in 2013, despite the headwinds of a recession, the global financial crisis, and the high dollar. The member, of course, uses the nominal value of exports of goods and services, which includes, for instance, increases and decreases in the prices of them. We do not think that it is an adequate measure of the degree of export intensification in the economy. The Business Growth Agenda update earlier this year said that the ambitious 40 percent target will not be easy. It will require New Zealand to roughly double total exports by 2025. In terms of the question, real exports would have to grow by just over twice the rate of the real economy to reach the Government’s export target of 40 percent of GDP.

Dr David Clark: Is the fact that exports have fallen from close to 33 percent as a proportion of the economy when he took office to now under 30 percent a sign of the success or failure of his goal of rebalancing the economy towards exports? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon BILL ENGLISH: My having indulged the member with an explanation of the basis of the target, he then proceeded to completely ignore the explanation. The target is real exports of goods and services as a percentage of real GDP. In the most common terms, it is the volume of goods and services as a proportion of the volume of the economy. The member is using the nominal measure, and the nominal measure includes changes in price. So, for instance, the drop in the dairy prices would mean a drop, under his calculations, in exports as a proportion of the economy. We do not think that is the best measure. It is a measure, but it is not the best measure. So I simply disagree with the member’s assertion. Whatever numbers he is using are not related to our target.

Dr David Clark: Is the fact that, even with terms of trade at a 40-year high, the OECD says we will have the second worst current account deficit in the developed world this year, and the IMF says we will have the worst, a sign of the success or failure of his goal of rebalancing the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member should be a bit careful about asking that question, because at the peak of the last economic cycle under the previous Government, the current account deficit was minus 8 percent of GDP—minus 8 percent—and I think currently it is at less than half of that. So, yes, that is some success.

Dr David Clark: Does he really think his aim of rebalancing the economy is achievable given that, even with New Zealand’s terms of trade at their highest in a generation, because of the good fortune of historically high dairy prices, under his own economic settings we still have a current account deficit, and exports as a proportion of the economy are declining?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply disagree with the member’s assertion that exports are declining. The price of some of them has declined—there is no doubt about that—but the measure of the real volume, as a proportion of the total volume of the economy, has grown. I mean, this is one difference between the Government and the Opposition. We believe New Zealand exporters have done very well over the last 4 or 5 years, despite difficult circumstances; the Opposition thinks they are hopeless. Well, most of them, I think, supported this Government in the election and back our policy mix, which is encouraging them to become more competitive, and the numbers I have quoted show some progress, but certainly not enough. The target is 2025, and we believe that if we continue to pick up the pace under sensible policies, the export sector may be able to get there.

Dr David Clark: Why does he think getting further and further away from his own target is a sign of success?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are not getting further and further away from our own target. We are getting a bit closer, despite the fact that circumstances have been pretty difficult. And if you are looking at the rate of progress over the next 4 or 5 years, as the high level of construction runs through and in Christchurch and Auckland we catch up, then there will be more resources—for instance, more people available to go to the export sector. So I would expect some progress over the next few years, and then a faster rate of progress from about 2018-19 onwards.

Prime Minister—Statements 6. GARETH HUGHES (Green) on behalf of Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Gareth Hughes: Does he stand by his statement made yesterday that “There hasn’t been a single fossil fuel electricity power plant established in the 6 years we’ve been in Government”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Gareth Hughes: Does he remember personally opening the McKee 100 megawatt gas-fired power plant, which contributes to climate change from releasing fossil fuels, on 21 March last year, and perhaps this photo of the Prime Minister opening it will jog his memory?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and a lovely photo. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Gareth Hughes: Is the Prime Minister now saying that apart from the McKee plant, which he personally opened, his Government still, though, has not opened a single fossil fuel electricity power plant in the 6 years he has been in Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The correct term should be coal-fired power plant.

Gareth Hughes: Well, does the Prime Minister remember personally opening the Stratford 200 megawatt gas fossil fuel – powered plant in Taranaki on 31 May, and perhaps this photo of him opening it—and, in fact, commemorating the plaque—will jog his memory?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and I am touched that the member has so many photos of me. If he wants, I will sign them, and he can take them back after playtime.

Gareth Hughes: Well, when the Prime Minister—[Interruption] Let us get back to the important issues, eh? When the Prime Minister said—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did not catch the interjection, but can the member just stand and ask his question.

Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I took offence at the ageist remark from the Prime Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did not hear the interjection, but it is probably a time for all members to just settle and toughen up a bit. I invite the member to ask a supplementary question, otherwise we can move on.

Gareth Hughes: Well, when the Prime Minister of New Zealand stated that the country was on the right track, was the Prime Minister aware of this briefing to his Minister for Climate Change Issues, released under the Official Information Act, which clearly states: “The gap is growing wider between our climate change targets and the reality.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Gareth Hughes: Is New Zealand on the right track regarding climate change when it is ranked in the top 10 countries, according to the Fraser Institute, for policies that support fossil fuels and the oil and gas industry, yet has dropped below Saudi Arabia in the rankings of support mechanisms for renewables?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, the country is on the right track. The member can play games with all sorts of silly little numbers if wants to, but the reality is that this is one of the few countries in the world that actually have an emissions trading scheme. This is a country investing very heavily in science and research in relation to the biggest area of greenhouse gas emissions we have, which is agriculture. This is a country that is working hard to make sure that we reach our 90 percent renewable target. What that member is really saying to New Zealanders is that he wants to put them out of work by closing down their factory or whatever it might be, or he wants to charge consumers a lot more. That is, again, why, when we went to the polls and he explained that to the public, they firmly rejected his policies.

Broadband—Usage 7. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Communications: What recent reports has she received on the use of broadband internet by New Zealanders?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): Last month Statistics New Zealand released its annual internet service provider survey. This report shows the rapid change occurring. In just the last year New Zealand has tripled the number of fibre connections. Internet speeds are increasing, with twice the number of New Zealanders now able to access speeds over 24 megabits per second. We are using twice as much data. Businesses have also grabbed the opportunity that greater connectivity provides, with a tenfold increase in connections with large data plans. These results reiterate the importance of this Government’s $2 billion commitment to faster broadband.

Hon David Cunliffe: How’s the update going?

Hon AMY ADAMS: Very well, thank you, Mr Cunliffe. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Melissa Lee: What further steps is the Government taking to ensure a greater number of New Zealanders have access to faster internet and improved connectivity?

Hon AMY ADAMS: Although the statistics are improving, we think that more can be done to ensure as many New Zealanders as possible have access to improved broadband services. Our ultra-fast broadband and Rural Broadband Initiative programmes are ahead of schedule and within budget, and during the election National promised to extend the successful ultra-fast broadband programme to reach at least 80 percent of New Zealanders, an extra 200,000 people. We also promised to invest an additional$150 million in rural connectivity, covering improved rural connectivity, and a $50 million investment for mobile blackspots. This new investment will build on the already strong increase in connectivity that this Government is delivering.

State Housing—Housing Stock in Porirua 8. KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) to the Minister responsible for HNZC: How many Housing New Zealand properties along Esk Place and Hazard Grove in Porirua will be demolished and sold; and is he aware of any other planned Housing New Zealand sales in the Porirua area?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): Firstly, can I tell the member that decisions on the day-to-day management of these homes are an operational matter for Housing New Zealand, and the Minister does not make decisions. No decision has been made yet by Housing New Zealand regarding the use of land on these locations, but Housing New Zealand does advise that three vacant multi-unit blocks containing 15 units at Esk Place and Hazard Grove will be demolished. Housing New Zealand advises that a total 23 vacant properties are for sale in Porirua—around 1 percent of the New Zealand housing properties, which number 2,681. I am pleased the member asked the question, because it highlights a number of aspects of what needs to change. Twenty of the 23 for sale are three-bedroom houses. The majority of the 63 people on the waiting list in Porirua want one-bedroom homes, not three-bedroom houses. So Housing New Zealand cannot really use those homes effectively for people off the waiting list. It needs to change its stock so it has one-bedroom homes for single-person households, not three-bedroom homes, which were appropriate 50 years ago. Housing New Zealand advises that it will reinvest according to need in Wellington and that may be in the Porirua area or it may be where demands for social housing are high.

Kris Faafoi: Has the fact that these properties have been damaged while awaiting earthquake strengthening led to the decision to demolish and sell the land?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply cannot answer that question.

Kris Faafoi: Will all funds raise from the sale ofHousing New Zealand properties along Esk Place and Hazard Grove be earmarked for the construction of new Housing New Zealand properties in the same community, or will it simply go into the consolidated account?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think almost certainly these funds will be recirculated inHousing New Zealand Corporation. As I said, part of the reason there are 23 properties for sale in Porirua is because 20 of them are three-bedroom houses, and the people on the waiting list in that area are a majority of single-person households, so Housing New Zealand Corporation will be changing the nature of its stock across Wellington to accommodate the changing needs of the tenants. After all, I know it sometimes seems odd to the Labour Party, but we care more about the tenants and meeting their needs than about the Government owning houses that are no longer efficient or effective in meeting the housing needs in Porirua. What is the point in keeping all the three-bedroom houses when we do not have people who need them?

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like you to reflect on the answer the Minister just gave—not the first part of the answer but the second part of the answer. That was a very straight, factual question from Kris Faafoi, which did not contain any attack on the Government. Instead, what we got from Bill English was a long dissertation on what he thought the (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Labour Party’s position is. That is going to lead to a very lopsided question time if that sort of thing is going to continue.

Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly reflect on the answer that was given. The initial part of the Minister’s answer was actually a very, very genuine attempt, in my opinion, to answer the question that was raised. I accept there was some political connotation in the latter half of the answer. I will have a look at it for the member.

Kris Faafoi: What is the profile of potential buyers of the land left vacant by demolitions on Esk Place and Hazard Grove?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not the local real estate agent so I cannot help, but I imagine there are many young New Zealand families who may find a three-bedroom house at reasonable value in Porirua quite an attractive option compared with others. We certainly do not agree with the Labour Party policy that the Government must continue to own those three-bedroom houses when there are not significant numbers of people on the waiting list who can use them. If the Labour Party thinks we should be putting single people into three-bedroom houses, then it does not understand what the tenants want. The tenants who live on their own want single or double-bedroom houses, not large, cold three-bedroom houses on big sections or in multiple blocks that they find hard to maintain. We are just trying to respond to tenant need. Labour is obsessed with owning all the State houses.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is long enough.

Kris Faafoi: Why does the Government think that there will be interest from private investors in social housing on land left vacant by his planned demolitions at Esk Place and Hazard Grove, given there has been no interest from private investors in social housing for the nearby plot of barren land on Calliope Crescent, owned by Housing New Zealand?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Those are all matters for Housing New Zealand, but I do not see any reason why New Zealand families trying to get their feet on the bottom rung of the homeownership ladder, possibly with the assistance of the Government’s Homestart package, would not be interested in three-bedroom units in Porirua or, if those units are demolished and something else is built, why they would not be interested in shifting there. I have great confidence in that community. It is a stable, community-orientated kind of place, which is attractive for families to move to.

Kris Faafoi: I seek leave to table two documents, the first one being a photo of some vacant houses that will be soon demolished on Esk Grove—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That information will not help the House. [Interruption] Order! What is the second document the member wants to table?

Kris Faafoi: This is a picture of the vacant land—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. The member needs to have a look at the Standing Orders and the reason for tabling documents—[Interruption] Order! When I am speaking to the member I do not expect him to continue interjecting. The purpose of tabling documents is if it is something that is informative to the House and something that is difficult for members to obtain. The purpose of tabling documents is not to further make a political point.

Better Public Services Targets—Reduction in Reoffending 9. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Corrections: How is the Department of Corrections working to meet the Government’s Better Public Services target of reducing re-offending by 25 percent by 2017?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Minister of Corrections): The Department of Corrections is working hard through a targeted and innovative programme of initiatives to meet our Better Public Services target of reducing reoffending by 25 percent by 2017. This will mean 4,600 fewer offenders returning to the corrections system and 18,500 fewer victims of crime by 2017. We are doing that by investing in programmes such as increased alcohol and drug abuse treatment, greater access to education, skills training, employment programmes, expanded reintegration services, and (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) innovative rehabilitation programmes for prisoners. We are committed to working with our partners in the community and across the justice public and private sectors to move people away from a life of crime and, ultimately, away from a life in prison.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: Why is alcohol and drug abuse treatment so important in helping to reduce reoffending?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Good question. Drug and alcohol abuse is a major driver of crime. More than half of New Zealand prisoners have substance abuse problems, and more than 50 percent of crime is committed by people under the influence of drugs and alcohol. We have made remarkable progress to date on tackling this issue. In 2013-14 alone there were 24,678 alcohol and other drug interventions delivered to prisoners and community-based offenders. This is a 95 percent increase on the previous year, and a 105-fold increase on interventions delivered in 2008 under the Labour Government. As the new Minister, I will be putting a special focus on these particular programmes by tackling this issue and breaking the cycle of dependence. We can help people lead a life free of crime once they leave prison.

Accident Compensation—Fraud 10. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister for ACC: What is ACC’s latest estimate of fraud occurring within the scheme, and what percentage of this fraud is being detected?

Hon NIKKI KAYE (Minister for ACC): I am advised that ACC estimates fraud by a measure that looks at projected savings made as a result of fraud investigations. For the 2013-14 financial year, ACC identified projected savings to the scheme due to fraud investigations of $23.6 million. If the member was to compare this in terms of total claims paid, $23 million would represent about 0.8 percent.

Barbara Stewart: How many staff does ACC have to counter fraud within the scheme?

Hon NIKKI KAYE: Forty.

Barbara Stewart: What confidence can the public have in ACC estimates of fraud, given the recent New Zealand Herald revelation of a draft Serious Fraud Office report indicating fraud on a massive scale with the ACC scheme, and the poor performance in this area of the former Minister for ACC?

Hon NIKKI KAYE: I believe that the public can actually have huge confidence. As I said before in the House, that was a survey of about 2,000 files, and what was very clear was that that was not 8 to 10 percent in terms of fraudulent files; that was 8 to 10 percent of files that needed another look. Just to give the member an explanation on that, it might be that they saw an increase in billing hours, for example, but when they looked behind that, they saw a range of reasons—perhaps more people were employed. So I think people can have a lot of confidence that that was a ropey report and that ACC is doing a huge amount in this area.

Prime Minister—Statements 11. Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour – Wigram) to the Prime Minister: When he said “someone told me” in an answer to Oral Question 12 on 29 October 2014 regarding the transfer of information from himself in his capacity as party leader to himself as Prime Minister, who was that person?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): You have got me—it was me. I did it.

Dr Megan Woods: Given the Ombudsman has previously ruled in relation to the divide between party leader and Prime Minister that distinguishing between information generated in one capacity or another is primarily a matter of fact and can be established in the circumstances of a case, what are the facts and circumstances that distinguish his communications with Cameron Slater as being undertaken as party leader rather than as Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is pretty clear, if you want to go and have a look at Jonathan Hunt ruling, that he makes it quite clear that the Prime Minister is answerable for any statements made as Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister is not answerable for actions taken in a non-ministerial (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) capacity, whether as Leader of the Opposition or leader of a political party. I fondly remember Helen Clark making that distinction to this House for a very long period of time in relation to taxpayer money that was used for a Labour Party pledge card.

Dr Megan Woods: What were the facts and circumstances that meant he decided that the Hon Maurice Williamson was acting as a Minister when he called the police regardingDonghua Liu, even though the former Minister claimed he was acting in his capacity as a National Party MP?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is a determination that I make in relation to someone’s capacity to hold a ministerial warrant. A ministerial warrant is held by a member at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. It has got nothing to do with the demarcation line.

Dr Megan Woods: When Judith Collins talked with Cameron Slater while she was a Minister, was she acting in her role as a Minister?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: You will have to ask her. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to assist the colleague to my left.

Dr Megan Woods: Given that he has implied that he has discussed with Ministers their interactions with Cameron Slater, as stated in written question No. 7441, how did he have discussions with Ministers not in his capacity as Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that particular question in front of me, so I cannot repeat the question because I do not have in front of me, but it is quite clear that it is possible—in fact, it happens all the time—for a person in my position to hold a variety of different authorities. One is as Prime Minister, one is as leader of the National Party, one is as MP for Helensville, and one is as an individual citizen. That is exactly what Helen Clark said. The reason that Megan Woods has been put up to ask these questions is that no person who was around when Helen Clark was—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just assisting the member to get some silence before I hear the point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave, in regard to the Prime Minister’s answer, to table the Sigmund Freud 1921 thesis on the mental condition of people who talk to themselves.

Mr SPEAKER: And we are not about to waste time by putting that leave.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: I have dealt with that matter. If the member wants to raise—[Interruption] Order! I have dealt with that matter. Question No. 12, Todd Barclay. [Interruption] Order! Can the House please settle so we can get—[Interruption] Order!

Renewable Energy—Initiatives 12. TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What update can he give on Government-funded renewable energy initiatives?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Last week I was pleased to welcome and support the launch of New Zealand’s first region-wide wood energy heat hub in Southland. The Wood Energy South hub is a joint venture between the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and Venture Southland that will see them partner with local businesses, schools, and health care facilities to help them convert to cleaner renewable wood energy. The hub will also work with forestry companies and fuel suppliers to establish a sustainable supply chain using some of the 300,000 tonnes of wood waste generated in Southland each year. This is a unique opportunity for Southland to be a leader in the use of the renewable energy.

Todd Barclay: What savings are expected as a result of the Wood Energy South hub initiative in Southland?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: From a modest investment by the Government of $1.5 million, with private investment expected to at least match this funding, we expect up to 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year could be saved. This is equivalent to taking 2,500 cars off the road. The (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) renewable heat hub initiative is just one of four programmes the Government has committed $5 million to, to encourage businesses to become more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprints.


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