Questions and Answers – February 11

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 — 5:27 PM


Prime Minister—Skycity Convention Centre 1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his promise to New Zealanders that “the construction of the new convention centre will not cost taxpayers or ratepayers a cent”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my statement in relation to a $402 million convention centre as agreed on 5 July 2013. Following the completion of preliminary design work by Skycity, which includes enhancements to previous designs, Skycity notified us that the cost of the centre would be higher than the agreed $402 million. The Government is now negotiating with Skycity on a range of options, which include holding them to the original agreement of a $402 million convention centre.

Andrew Little: Why did he promise New Zealanders a free convention centre when he knew that clause 11.47 of the Skycity deal says “either party may pay the other cash” if construction costs change?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The contract has been in the public domain for a very long period of time and anyone can read that. The Government’s preferred position is that Skycity completes a convention centre for $402 million. The contract has always been there and the parties are free to walk away from it if they want to.

Andrew Little: Why is he talking about giving Skycity more money when his own finance Minister told a select committee today that he would rather walk away from the deal?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What we have confirmed is what we know, which is that there is an agreement to build a convention centre for $402 million, and that is the Government’s preferred position. What we also know is that on 19 December 2014 Skycity lodged its resource consent application, and it indicated at the time that the construction costs were larger than what it had thought—$470 million to $530 million. Skycity clearly indicated there is a hole. The Government’s preferred position is that Skycity builds it for $402 million.

Andrew Little: Whose advice will he take on this issue: Bill English, who is trying to save the Budget, or Steven Joyce, who is trying to save his backside?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not like to choose between the children, so I will probably take both their advice.

Andrew Little: In light of the huge benefits to Skycity from this deal, including a 28-year exclusive licence extension and 230 more pokies, why has he failed to keep his promise to New Zealanders for a free convention centre that is not an eyesore?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We have not failed to keep our promise. In fact, actually the member seems to be making the point that we have been making for a very long period of time, which is that the preference of the Government is to build a convention centre that actually has no cost from the (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Crown. Interestingly enough, even though Labour members publicly come and say that in this House, that does not stop them going off to their box for entertainment, or quietly behind the bike sheds telling them they support it.

Andrew Little: Why will he not be straight with New Zealanders for once and just admit that the deal has blown up in his face?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is getting a little tiring with those sorts of things. The reality is that the Government’s preferred option is that a $402 million convention centre is built. The Government’s preference is that there is no Crown money to be put in. Skycity has indicated that it would prefer to build a convention centre that is a bit bigger, with slightly different designs, and it is claiming that there are escalating costs that are slightly higher during the time it has taken place. The Government therefore is having those discussions, but at the core of the whole argument the question that has to be asked is whether New Zealand is better if it has an international convention centre in Auckland. In my view the answer to that is yes.

Andrew Little: In light of that answer, will he rule out giving more money to Skycity for its convention centre?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not going to conduct negotiations for the convention centre here in the House, but what I can say is that the Government’s preferred position is that Skycity pay for the convention centre at $402 million. But we will see how that goes, and assuming that we get there at $402 million, I will look forward to the Labour Party supporting the deal.

Economic Programme—2015 Priorities 2. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What are the main priorities for the Government’s economic programme in 2015?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): We will pursue four priorities that we believe will underpin a stronger economy and a stronger community. They are responsibly managing the Government’s finances, building a more productive and competitive economy, delivering better public services, and continuing to support the rebuilding of Christchurch. The Government’s next steps, consistent with these priorities, will be outlined in the Budget, which will be delivered on 21 May. Building on the current momentum, it is important that we focus on achieving not just solid economic growth but sustainable economic growth year after year.

Jami-Lee Ross: Under the Government’s economic plan, how is New Zealand performing compared with other developed economies?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We perform reasonably well due to the hard work and positive attitude of New Zealanders over recent years. Our economy is growing, employment is increasing, wages are rising faster than the cost of living, and New Zealanders are benefiting from a period of stable lower interest rates. We are growing new industries such as information and communications technology and high-tech manufacturing, and strengthening existing industries successfully such as the food industry, tourism, and international education. This is a much more positive picture than most other developed economies, and New Zealanders should be proud of what they have achieved.

Jami-Lee Ross: Since Treasury issued itsHalf Year Economic and Fiscal Update in December, what updated data has been issued about economic growth, commodity prices, and inflation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The progress of the New Zealand economy is against the background where there are significant fluctuations in data across the global economy. Since the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update before Christmas, which forecast further strong growth for New Zealand, we have seen oil prices fall by 40 percent, taking retail petrol prices to their lowest level in 4 years, and annual inflation dropping to less than 1 percent—that is, 0.8—and could be headed lower. Despite an upward correction in the past week, petrol prices remain low, suggesting that inflation can stay subdued. We have also seen a turn-round in the persistent drop in dairy prices, which is consistent with the forecasts—at least the Government’s forecasts—for the dairy sector. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Low inflation combined with low interest rates and weak global commodity prices are generally good for households, but they will make it a bit harder for the Government to balance this Budget.

Jami-Lee Ross: What examples does he have of particular sectors of the economy contributing to growth, more jobs, and higher incomes?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The data would indicate that the manufacturing sector continues to make an important contribution to more jobs and higher incomes. The performance of the manufacturing index is up since November by 2.1, currently at 57.7. A number above 50 means the sector is growing. So despite claims of a manufacturing crisis, manufacturing has now been in solid expansion for 27 consecutive months, which is delivering some of the 80,000 new jobs in the last year and rising real incomes.

Prime Minister—Statements 3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Metiria Turei: Why on earth should New Zealanders have to pay $130 million to make Skycity’s privately owned convention centre “bigger and more flasher”, as he said yesterday?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: New Zealanders will not be paying $130 million for that.

Metiria Turei: How much does he expect New Zealanders will have to pay to make Skycity’s privately owned convention centre “bigger and more flasher”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government’s preference is that it pays nothing and that is why it was surprised that the Green Party did not support the deal, because now she seems to be very attracted to a convention centre that does not cost anything.

Metiria Turei: What other benefits to Skycity is his Government negotiating other than cash or gambling concessions to help Skycity meet its shortfall for its bigger and flasher convention centre?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not going to go into the negotiations that are being held with Skycity because that would not be beneficial to anybody, except to say that the Government’s preferred position is that the Crown does not have to make any contribution to a $402 million convention centre.

Metiria Turei: When did the Government lift the restricted covenant on the Television New Zealand (TVNZ) land that prevented Skycity from building anything other than a convention centre on that land?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have those details with me. You would need to refer that to the Minister who has been responsible, Steven Joyce.

Metiria Turei: Why did his Government ignore advice from officials that the TVNZ land was more valuable to Skycity if it was being used for a hotel and therefore Ministers should recalculate the value of the deal to Skycity?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I just simply do not have those details. You would need to ask the Minister responsible.

Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I have a point of order and I wish to hear it in silence.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table advice to Ministers obtained by the Green Party showing that officials advised them in January last year that the TVNZ land is more valuable to—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just need—[Interruption] It has been explained enough. I need the source.

Metiria Turei: The source is Official Information Act information provided to the Green Party.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh, it’s on the website.

Metiria Turei: No, it is not publicly available. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Mr SPEAKER: I will—[Interruption] Order! I will put the leave and the House can decide. Leave is sought to table that particular Official Information Act document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

Metiria Turei: How could the Prime Minister have possibly negotiated a worse deal than one that increases gambling harm to New Zealanders, virtually gifts a casino a prime piece of public land to build a glitzy hotel on, and now leaves taxpayers with a bill of $130 million just to make Skycity’s building more flasher?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would reject the basis of the member’s questions, but what I would say is that as the Minister of Tourism I can say that the evidence supports strongly the view that an international convention centre in Auckland would not only create a lot of jobs during the construction phase, but actually bring tens of thousands—arguably hundreds of thousands—of people to New Zealand over time to go to conventions. The evidence shows that those convention dwellers spend more than the average tourist when they come to New Zealand. We know that people who come to conventions come back with their families and travel around New Zealand. That is the reason why if you look at pretty much every state in Australia they have an international convention centre. Personally, I happen to think that if a convention centre can be built in Auckland along with another big hotel there, that would add to what would be an impressive part of downtown Auckland and service the economy well. But we know the member is opposed to economic growth—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The answer—[Interruption] Order!

Employment—Reports 4. ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What reports has he received on employment growth in New Zealand in the last year?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Very good reports. Last week the household labour force survey for the December quarter of 2014 was released. It shows employment was up by 1.2 percent, or 28,000 people, in the December quarter. For the year of 2014, 80,000 more jobs were added to the New Zealand economy. That is an increase of 3.5 percent. That growth continues the trend of recent years. Over the last 2 years 146,000 extra new jobs have been added to the New Zealand economy. That is the strongest job growth over 2 years in a decade. In fact, 180,000 more people are in work than when we came into Government in 2008, despite the global financial crisis. This Government is focused on creating opportunities for investments that grow jobs in the New Zealand economy.

Andrew Bayly: What other progress in the labour market did the household labour force survey show?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The survey showed a record high participation in the labour market of 69.7 percent. That is the highest since figures began in 1986. This means that unemployment rose slightly to 5.7 percent despite the strong job growth. It shows more people entering the workforce. It also showed broad-based job growth continuing in a range of regions and industries around the country, with 22,300 more jobs in Auckland over the year, 17,400 in the Waikato, 15,800 in Christchurch, 15,600 in the Bay of Plenty, and 7,500 more in Northland. Other highlights included strong growth in wages, with hourly wages up 2.6 percent over the year, ahead of inflation at 0.8 percent, and a continuing improving story for Māori and Pasifika peoples, with 10,000 more Māori in employment over the year and the unemployment rate for Pasifika people falling 2.5 percent.

Andrew Bayly: How does New Zealand’s unemployment rate compare with the OECD average?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is an interesting question the member raises, given that it was alluded to in the House yesterday. Our unemployment rate of 5.7 percent for quarter 4 is well below the OECD average of 7.2 percent, and ranks us as 10th equal. I should note for the House that, contrary (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) to some claims made yesterday that New Zealand was No. 1 in the OECD before the global financial crisis, 10th is actually exactly the same ranking held in the quarter prior to the global financial crisis commencing in 2008. It is a slightly strange thing. It is also the same as when Labour left office. I would also note that the same member who made this reference in the House yesterday described, in a press release last week, the situation that we are seeing in New Zealand as a jobless recovery, despite the strongest job growth over 2 years that New Zealand has seen in a decade. So I think that member might want to be a bit more careful with his facts.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Exactly how does job growth help the New Zealand people when he and his colleagues dished out approximately 70,000 foreign student work visas last year, and who is the new work going to—New Zealanders or somebody else?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It did not take long to bang that drum.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Answer the question.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. I wish to hear it in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing this is a new year, you are very loath to tolerate any questioner loading up their questions with such comment. I think that to make sure this year starts off in the right vein he should be stopped in his tracks right now.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member may not have heard, but I did immediately stop the Minister and told him to answer the question.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The point I would make to the member is that, actually, the international students coming to New Zealand create something like 30,000 extra jobs in the New Zealand economy on their own—

Hon Member: Which they do themselves.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. In fact, when we have tested that proposition of the member, we have found that, actually, there are more jobs created by having the international students in the New Zealand economy than by the work that they do themselves. So the international education story for New Zealand is a very positive story that creates about $2.85 billion of value in New Zealand on an annual basis.

Skycity Convention Centre—Funding 5. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Economic Development: How much extra money, if any, is the Government prepared to give SkyCity as part of the convention centre deal?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I have been clear all the way through that our least preferred option is to provide any funding to Skycity for the convention centre. We are in the process of discussions, and I am not prepared to conduct those discussions in the public domain, as that would undermine our position. However, obviously, the outcome of any such negotiations and discussions would be reported publicly, and I will advise the member at the time.

Dr David Clark: When will he front up and tell taxpayers how much of their money he is planning to spend to save a deal that he promised would be free?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The deal that we are talking about, of course, is a deal to build a $402 million convention centre—which the Labour Party opposed, by the way, but now suddenly seems weirdly in favour of. In due course I will advise the member—

Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have tried to make my questions particularly straight today. It was a question about the time frame. The Minister has gone off on a tangent—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There was so much noise coming from there. I apologise to the member—I did not hear his point of order when he raised it. By the time the point of order was recognised, the Minister was about to, I think, answer the question. So if we can allow the Minister (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) to complete—[Interruption] Order! The level of interjections coming from my left is getting to a very unsatisfactory stage. I do not want to start this year by asking members to leave, but if we are going to have members interjecting while I am on my feet, those members leave me little choice. I am going to ask the Hon Steven Joyce to complete his answer, at which stage I will determine whether that answer has been addressed.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: What I was saying is that there is no formal timetable at this stage for the conclusion of discussions; nor is there any commitment to pay any money at this time.

Dr David Clark: Why should taxpayer money be given to a casino company that in the last 6 months alone made a net profit of $66.6 million?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There is no requirement to do so at all, but the discussion is about the construction of a convention centre. It has agreed to build one for $402 million. It has come to us with a concern about extra costs. We are currently evaluating those. We are currently discussing with it its process of procurement, and so on. Any change to the agreement would be agreed by the parties when they decide to do so, and in the meantime the agreement that is afoot is at $402 million.

Dr David Clark: Is he aware that the value of Skycity shares surged by $76 million yesterday on the back of comments about a taxpayer-funded bailout, and does this not just show that Skycity knows it has the Government over a barrel of its own making?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I would be very surprised if the price of a Skycity share went up by $76 million in 1 day, but I know that the member is a very clever Treasury analyst, so maybe he knows a little bit more about it than we do.

Dr David Clark: I seek leave to table a document showing that the market capitalisation of Skycity rose by $76 million on the day of the Prime Minister’s announcement—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I need the source of the document.

Dr David Clark: The source is the Parliamentary Library.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not want to hear—[Interruption] Order! I will put the leave on this occasion, but the point of tabling is for further information for members; it is not to make a political point. On the basis that this could better inform members, I will put the leave. Leave is sought to—

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: No, I am putting the—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Leave has been sought to table a document. I therefore need to put the leave, and then I can hear a point of order subsequent to that, if you wish to raise one. Leave has been sought to table this particular document. Is there any objection? There is objection. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order was that the member was talking about the share price of the company—

Hon Member: How is this a point of order?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I am just getting to the point.

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

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Then he sought to give some information that was in relation to a separate matter, which is the overall market capitalisation of the company, and that is actually a different item, which is why I did not expand on the answer to the question as to why we felt the need to deny leave.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That was not strictly a point of order, but I accept that the description within the question and the subsequent tabling of the document probably did not tally as well as I might have hoped. But, anyway, we are moving forward.

Dr David Clark: When he proudly announced in July 2013 that Skycitywill meet the full costs of the convention centre, was he meaning full costs in a strict legal sense or more in a pretty legal kind of way?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I was referring to the fact that Skycity would pay the full cost of building a $402 million convention centre, and that is still the case. It has proposed that there are (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) some additional costs, and it has come to us to discuss those costs, so we are discussing them. But let us be clear: we know that under the Opposition the $402 million would have been left on the table.

Prime Minister—Statements 6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, especially that one when I said yesterday that “There’s no dye in these locks, baby.”

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, how come the curtains don’t match the carpet? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member managed to hear it, I will—

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I take offence that the member is telling New Zealand he has seen my carpet. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I expect the House now to return to some sort of decorum.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he stand by his statement in regard to the Skycityconvention centre when he said: “It’s a day of celebration, actually for Auckland and for New Zealand.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What is to celebrate when the Auditor-General found Skycity receives special treatment and stated that there were “inappropriate considerations” and “connections between political and business leaders”, with even Treasury expressing “strong concerns that private benefits to Skycity will exceed public benefits to New Zealanders”, now exacerbated by his recent promise?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the point of celebration is that if a convention centre of world-class standards can be built in Auckland without taxpayers putting in any money, then, as I said back then, I think that is a moment of celebration.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he think it is fair that when the nation’s books are in the red and Skycity has just recorded a $66 million half-year profit—even though it looks like it was subsidising the Adelaide development—it should be taxpayers who have to stump up the cash for the convention centre?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My preferred position is that Skycity pay. It seems to be today that Opposition members are defeating themselves, having spent 2 years, if not longer, telling the Government how wrong it is that it sought to find a way to fund a convention centre without putting in taxpayers’ money. Today they are outraged that there could be any taxpayers’ money. They cannot have it both ways.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is the Prime Minister’s new position, what happened to this statement, which reads as follows: “…what the government spends in its budget is not the Government’s money; it is money the Government has taken out of the pay packets of hard-working New Zealanders. It is money that could otherwise be used to pay the mortgage, buy kids’ shoes, or pay the power bill.”—guess who said that—if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, clearly a very intelligent and sensible person said that, because it is quite correct. That is the reason the Government’s preferred option is that it does not put any money into the Skycity convention centre.

Prime Minister—Human Rights 7. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “we’re actually going to stand up for human rights …”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Catherine Delahunty: Will the Prime Minister be instructing his Associate Minister of Trade, Todd McClay, who is in Saudi Arabia this week negotiating a trade deal, to make any deal (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) conditional on stopping human rights abuses such as the 83 beheadings last year for so-called crimes including homosexuality and blasphemy?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would be surprised if the Government made that a condition, but what the Government does do through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and through its representations by embassy staff in the region is to continuously indicate that we are opposed and outraged by human rights abuses.

Catherine Delahunty: If his Government is standing up for human rights, why did it invite former Sri Lankan PresidentMahinda Rajapaksa to the Cricket World Cup when he is under investigation by the United Nations and when his regime was responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of Tamil civilians?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am advised that one of the Ministers invited him when he was in Sri Lanka. That would have been because at the time he was the President of Sri Lanka. He was democratically elected by the people of Sri Lanka. We recognise that Government and it is quite normal to invite people under those circumstances.

Catherine Delahunty: Will he be calling on Sri Lanka to allow the independent United Nations investigators into the country to investigate war crimes, or does he only care about human rights when asked to go to war by the Unites States Government, which uses torture such as waterboarding?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has not been asked by the United States to go to war. The Government, to the best of my knowledge, has not even been asked by the United States to provide people to support training of Iraqi forces in Iraq. The Government is considering what it can do to try to stand up against the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. I think many New Zealanders would support my view, which is that to have a terrorist group that is as brutal as this, New Zealand cannot just turn a blind eye to that. I am amazed that that member is opposed to that, but maybe she needs to watch the news a little bit more.

Mike Sabin—Briefings 8. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Police: On what date, if any, was the first of any briefings given by the Commissioner of Police or his staff to him, his predecessor, the Prime Minister, or any of their offices in relation to the reported investigation into Mike Sabin?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Police): Responsibility for police investigations rests solely with the police, not the executive, and it is important that this constabulary independence is maintained. Any comment on the existence or otherwise of any particular investigation is for police to comment on. Despite widespread speculation in the media and from the Opposition, police advise me that they have declined to confirm to media any investigation regarding Mr Sabin, and it is not for the Minister to get ahead of police in discussing unconfirmed operational matters. It is not appropriate nor in the public interest for me to discuss details relating to whether I may have received or provided details on a specific police matter.

Kelvin Davis: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was about a date that he received the briefing, which he is responsible for—a briefing from the police commissioner.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but as I listened very carefully to the Minister’s answers, he is effectively saying to this House that he is declining to give that information because he does not feel it is in the public interest. That—[Interruption] Order! That is a judgment call that the Minister has the right to make, and I accept and respect the Minister in making that judgment call. You have the right to ask further supplementaries.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take that that is the judgment that you have made about what the Minister said. The issue for us on this side of the House is that the Minister did not actually say that he did not believe it was in the public interest. He made a number of other statements about why he did not want to answer, but if that is what is being invoked, we on (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) this side of the House need to be very clear about that, and I certainly was not from the Minister’s answer.

Mr SPEAKER: Certainly what I took from the Minister’s—[Interruption] I will allow the Minister to clarify.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I can confirm that the last sentence of my reply said that it was not appropriate nor in the public interest, etc., etc.

Mr SPEAKER: That is what I heard as well. Moving forward, we will ask for supplementary questions from Kelvin Davis.

Kelvin Davis: Why is it not in the public interest for him to disclose when the first briefing to the Government occurred?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I refer to my primary answer. I think I made it very clear why I thought that, and I maintain that.

Kelvin Davis: On what date did he or his predecessor or the officers first inform the Prime Minister’s office?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I refer to my primary answer and I have nothing further to add.

Kelvin Davis: Did he or his predecessor, when they knew an MP was the subject of a police investigation, seek and/or receive an assurance that the MP was not a Minister; if not, why not?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I refer the member to my primary answer. I have no further comment as it would not be in the public interest.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister agree with this statement: “People should be able to be safe in their home, and it’s a very serious issue for the country. It’s a really serious question when you start saying that 89,000 to 90,000 homes are visited every year because there’s a domestic violence,”; or further—“Often what had happened in the past was that if you had a domestic situation—say the husband was drunk and looked like he was going to be abusive to his wife or the children—the police had to go through quite a process to get a restraining order. We changed the law to allow that to be a much more rapid fast process”—his words—“so it could happen instantly.” Those are words from the Prime Minister. Do you agree with them?

Mr SPEAKER: This question is a long way from the primary. I will allow the Minister to answer it, but he has leeway in doing so.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The question strays a long way from the primary question, and without understanding the context in which the comments were made, it would be inappropriate for me to make a detailed response, but, generally speaking, yes.

Kelvin Davis: Is it still the practice of the commissioner or his staff to brief the Minister on cases of significant public interest as part of the weekly briefing?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In accordance with Cabinet guidelines, yes.

Housing Affordability and Availability—Progress 9. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister for Building and Housing: What progress is the Government making in increasing the pace of new house construction and expanding Government support for first home buyers?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): The number of new homes consented in 2014 topped 24,000, or over 2,000 per month. This is double the rate of 1,000 per month when we became the Government in November 2008, and is the highest number in years. The $9.5 billion investment in residential construction last year is the highest on record in both real and nominal terms. The biggest increase has been in Auckland and greater Christchurch, where we are now building over 600 new homes per month in each. This rate in Auckland is treble the rate of 200 per month when Labour left office. The rate of house builds in Christchurch is at an all-time high and has doubled since 2012, showing the momentum of Christchurch’s housing recovery. The next step is our KiwiSaver HomeStart scheme, which will assist 90,000 young families into their (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) first homes. This $430 million programme starts on 1 April and doubles the support for buying a new home.

Sarah Dowie: What other reports has the Minister received confirming the strong growth in residential construction?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The GDP data for the construction sector shows growth of 12 percent in 2014 to a record $14 billion per year. The National Construction Pipeline report shows growth expected this year of a further $4 billion, a further $3 billion in 2016, and another $2 billion on top of that to an expected all-time high in 2017. The household labour force survey data is equally positive. This has shown job growth in the construction sector of 21,000 additional building staff over the past 3 years. We now have 136,000 people working in the building industry, which is the highest number ever for New Zealand. I am also encouraged by the growth in building apprenticeships, which saw an all-time high last year of 5,500 new apprenticeships. This is up 70 percent on 2013 and more than double the number of the average Government.

Sarah Dowie: Does the Minister agree with the conclusions of theProductivity Commission in 2012, and the Motu study, and the Registered Master Builders Federation study this year on house prices that the largest cost increase over the past two decades has been in the price of land and sections; if so, what steps is the Government taking to address this?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, the Government does agree that the biggest problem is around land and section prices. That is why in 2013 we passed the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act, which has now seen 100 special housing areas gazetted, with a capacity of over 43,000 homes. The longer-term response has to be reform of the Resource Management Act. It is the primary legislation that governs subdivision, the supply of sections and rules controlling intensification, and also redevelopment. Our proposed amendments will speed up the plan-making process, give greater weight to housing supply and affordability, and streamline the consenting process.

Housing Affordability and Availability—Measurement 10. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Does he stand by his statement that the Massey University home affordability index is the “comprehensive” and “neutral” measure?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): Yes, there are three housing affordability indices: fromDemographia, from Roost Mortgage Brokers, and from Massey University. The key difference is that the Roost and Massey indexes include interest rates, whereas Demographia includes only house prices and incomes. I appreciate that members opposite would prefer to exclude interest rates from the equation. They are at a 40-year low and half what they were when we came into Government. I note that interest rates have consistently been lower under National Governments over the last 50 years.

Phil Twyford: Is he aware that the Massey University housing affordability index declined by 14 percent last year, that Auckland is now among the 10 most unaffordable cities in the world, and that average Auckland house prices went up $80,000 dollars last year according toQuotable Value New Zealand—all on his watch—and how many extra affordable homes will be built now that we have three Ministers paid to fix the mess that his policies created?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I note that last year we built over 24,000 homes, the highest number in years, which shows that progress is being made. In respect of the Massey University housing index, the most interesting factor is this: the worst index was recorded in 2008 when housing affordability was 26 percent worse than what it is today—so there goes that. It was 26 percent worse in 2008. I will not be so uncharitable as to mention which party might have been in Government in 2008.

Phil Twyford: When the Reserve Bank Governor recently warned the Government that much more needed to be done to build more houses, was he referring to the fact that consent numbers in Auckland are only a little more than half of what the city needs just to stand still, and that 18 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) months after he announced his special housing areas only 20 houses have been completed as a result of his accord; or is the housing crisis just someone else’s fault?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Last year in Auckland we built 600 houses per month. When we became the Government only 200 houses per month were being built in Auckland, so we are making three times the progress. In respect of whether we need to do more to improve housing supply and affordability, members on this side of the House say yes. That is why we are introducing HomeStart on 1 April, and that is why, with the ACT Party, a key priority is Resource Management Act reform this year. It will be interesting to see whether members opposite are interested just in hot air or in further legislative reform that will help Kiwis who want to buy a home.

David Seymour: Given that it is important to learn from the past, could the member reflect on some of the factors that may have led to the Massey University index deteriorating every year but one from 1999 to 2008?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Over that period house prices in New Zealand doubled. Over that same period interest rates went through the roof. So in all of New Zealand’s 150-year history, in all of the 23 Governments that have been privileged to sit on this side of the House, the worst record of all in respect of homeownership and affordability was the last Labour Government. [Interruption] That is absolutely true. Interest rates went through the roof, house prices doubled, and that is why this Government’s reform agenda with support parties is so important for giving Kiwis a fair shake at being able to own their own home.

Phil Twyford: Why are homeownership rates dropping, and why does the Minister continue to blame the Resource Management Act for National’s housing crisis when under the last Labour Government we were building twice as many houses as he is currently building under the same Resource Management Act?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Let us get some facts right. The member has just claimed that Labour was building twice as many houses as we are. Last year we built 24,000. Two times 20 is 48,000. I challenge the member to tell me what year New Zealand built 48,000 houses, because my officials tell me it has never happened and he is dreaming.

Roading—Accelerated Regional Roading Programme 11. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on delivering the Government’s Accelerated Regional Roading Programme?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Excellent progress. I was delighted recently to announce that work is set to start on the long-awaited Normanby overbridge realignment project betweenHāwera and Eltham in Taranaki, which is one of the first to get under way as part of the Government’s $212 million Accelerated Regional Roading Package. The Normanby overbridge and its approaches have been the site of a high number of crashes over the years, with too many ending tragically. That is why the Government has sped up the realignment by fully funding this $10 million project.

Dr Shane Reti: How is the Government’s Accelerated Regional Roading Package supporting Northland?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I am glad you asked. The Government has committed funding of $10.5 million to bring forward by 5 to 6 years the Akerama curves realignment and passing lane project on State Highway 1 north of Whangarei. Construction on the project will get under way this year, and once completed it will improve journey time and reliability for freight, and will significantly reduce deaths and serious injuries. The Government has also committed $15 million to $20 million of funding, subject to the usual investigations, to bring forward the loop road north to Smeatons Hill safety improvements project on State Highway 1 south of Whangarei. The stretch of road is a major one for logging trucks and is very narrow in some sections. The project will improve journey time and reduce the risk of crashes—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does the candidate know where that is? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: —at the intersection. I doubt it. With hundreds of million worth of roading projects committed, the message to the people of the north is clear: unlike the Opposition, this Government backs them.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry but the member has used his allocation of supplementary questions today.

Defence, Minister—Statements 12. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Defence: Does he stand by his statement this morning that comments about sending troops to Iraq being the price of being part of the club were “unfortunate”?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Defence): The comment that the questioner refers to was from a Radio New Zealand interview this morning. The topic of the interview was related to the possible contribution New Zealand might make to the fight against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), and I made it clear that my comment referred to comments made by the British Foreign Secretary, clearly confusing “club” for “family”. I stand by my comments.

Hon Phil Goff: When this morning on radio he described the comments of his leader, the Prime Minister, as being unfortunate, was that because currying favour with other club members is a poor reason to give for putting the lives of New Zealand soldiers at risk?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: As I have just said, that was not my intention. I misunderstood the intent of the question from the radio interviewer, and I confused two things: club and family. I stand by comment—meant to be that the British Foreign Secretary’s comment last week, saying that we were part of the family and expected to turn up, was inappropriate.

Hon Phil Goff: If it is not for the reason of being part of the club, what is the justification for putting Kiwi soldiers in harm’s way to train the Iraqi army when 10 years and $25 billion worth of efforts by the United States to train that army has failed to end the incompetence, the poor leadership, and the corruption of that army?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: For a start, there has been no decision to do any of the things that Mr Goff is suggesting. We have been very open with the public that we are looking at how we might contribute to the fight against ISIL, and if anybody wonders why we are even looking at it, they have only to look at events in Sydney this morning.

Hon Phil Goff: Why do human rights abuses by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) apparently require our military intervention when years of similarly appalling abuses by Boko Haram and by President al-Assad of Syria have attracted so little comment and no action from his Government?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The first point would be that this Government does condemn those atrocities committed by the people the member lists. There is no question about that. But when there is an opportunity to do something, as there may be, as we conduct our investigations, then that becomes a point where you do do something about nipping in the bud the very organisation that appears to be funding a lot of these other ratbags around the world.

Hon Phil Goff: Why was he pretending yesterday that contingency training for an Iraq deployment was about to begin when his own office admitted more than 2 months ago, on 2 December, that that contingency training for deployment was already under way?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is the popular interpretation Mr Goff likes to put on things. What happened before Christmas, I am informed, is that the Chief of Defence Force did say he wanted some people trained for a general mission to the Middle East. We have made it specific that they should train for Iraq. New Zealand troops are very good at training and becoming familiar with the culture they are going to be entering into, and that is why they have such a good reputation around the world. It is appropriate that they make some preparations, but I stress again that no (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) decision has been made. The information we need to make that decision is not available at this point.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek to table a quote from the Minister’s own office, by his spokesman, saying that the contingency had already started for—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is effectively a press release the member is seeking to table.

Hon Phil Goff: Oh, it would have been quoted in the media. I probably got it from the Parliamentary Library.

Mr SPEAKER: I am not prepared to put the leave.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Unlike a previous Minister of Defence, I am not led by the nose by staff in my office.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! And that is not a point of order.


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