Questions and Answers – February 17

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 — 10:18 AM


Prime Minister—Statements

Hon Steven Joyce: Are you announcing?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: All in good time, Sunshine—all in good time.

1. 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.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he stand by his statement in regard to Skycity that “I would hate to see some sort of eyesore constructed downtown.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and the good news is that I do not think that will be the case.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did he choose to announce that taxpayer funds may be given to Skycity on 10 February, just 1 day before Skycity announced its mid-year results?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I did not; what I did do is not take any options off the table, because negotiations had not been completed. I answered questions from, I think in the initial instance, Corin Dann, Television One’s chief political reporter. I guess the difference between my career and his is that I answer the questions and he does not.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That will not help the order of the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is the case, my question is: why did he say “I would hate to see some sort of eyesore constructed downtown.”, and make that statement on 10 February—and have full regard for the fact that he controls the press statements from his office, not the media itself—when this information was known on 19 December?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because I would, and because I was asked on 10 February.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has he seen the massive increase in the share price for Skycity as a consequence of his precipitate, thoughtless comments, and what is he doing as Prime Minister, as the epicentre for market manipulation?

Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Prime Minister, either of those supplementary questions.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, no.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many times has he met with Skycity investors and management since they announced on 19 December that they would need more funds?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would need to check formally with my office to be absolutely 100 percent sure, but from memory the only person I have seen from Skycity whom I can recall in that (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) period of time from 19 December 2014 to today was Chris Moller, because I saw him in his capacity as head of the cricket.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that a deal was struck with Skycity weeks ago, and well before he made his comments, and that part of that deal was to publicly keep all options open until after Skycity’s mid-year results were announced, in order to increase Skycity’s share price?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I wish it were true that a deal was done a few weeks ago. It would have saved me last week’s little hassles.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister not understand how the market would be influenced by comments from his office, and why did he make them, having regard to the fact that they were likely to boot the price up, as they did, by a massive $76 million?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Last week I was asked questions about whether it would be possible, in theory, for the taxpayer to make some contributions to Skycity on the back of their request. As I said at the time, I am not taking anything off the table. In reality, a deal was agreed with Skycity on Friday and confirmed by its board over the weekend. That is the sequence of events, and that is the way those things happened.

Grant Robertson: The board often meets in the weekend.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, they did on that particular occasion, when they needed to get things settled down.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table two documents prepared by FinData on the movement of this share price as a consequence of the Prime Minister’s statements.

Mr SPEAKER: It is marginal whether I should even be putting the leave in that it is information that is available to the public, but for the benefit of the House, and it may be informative, I will put the leave and the House can decide. Leave is sought to table those two documents. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice this year you keep making exceptions to a rule that was pretty well established. Those documents are quite public. The point had been made, I think, during question time, so the support of it with a public document is not necessary, but the House is not going to decline someone tabling a public document. The purpose of having that come into effect as a sort of Speaker’s ruling was to stop taking the House’s time over stuff that is available to members.

Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the point the member has made. Perhaps at the start of this year I am being too generous with some members. I will have a look at it. The Minister is quite right to point out that information that is not generally available and will inform the House is the sort of information we expect to have tabled. But, at the end of the day, when I put the leave it is entirely over to any member of the House to object if they do not think the tabling is going to be relevant.

Rt Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the good order of the House, as I said to the House earlier in answer to Mr Peters, I will need to check with my office absolutely about Skycity people, but I do recall that Peter Treacy was at a function I was at, about a week or so ago. I assume he would be included as part of the management. But I will get him the full list.

Skycity, Convention Centre—Confidence in Ministers Involved in Negotiations 2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in Hon Steven Joyce given his statement that SkyCity reducing the size of the convention centre by “around 10 percent would not cause the Crown too much concern”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I do. Steven Joyce did not want to put extra money, last week, into the convention centre, but it looks like Andrew Little did on the radio.

Andrew Little: Given the deal lays out precisely detailed gambling concessions in return for a 3,500-seat convention centre, if the convention centre is smaller, will Skycity’s concessions also be reduced? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I think what the deal does is lay out for a $402 million spend, and what we can see from Skycity is that it will be spending at least $402 million and probably more.

Andrew Little: What has Skycity given in return for being allowed to build a smaller convention centre, or is this just a gift from us to it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To start off, the plans have not actually been approved by the Government, but what the Government has done is acknowledge that some of the points that Skycity makes are fair. There has actually been an escalation in some of the costs, but overall Skycity has a very strong interest in building a world-class convention centre, despite actually what the member says, which is that no one is interested in coming to New Zealand, which is an interesting position to take if you one day want to be the Prime Minister. I am pretty confident they actually will.

Andrew Little: Can he confirm that under the deal he has negotiated on our behalf New Zealand taxpayers could now get a smaller convention centre for the same regulatory cost as before?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The final convention centre actually has to be agreed by the Government and that is for the purpose of it coming back. What the Government has done is given Skycity the changes in its legislation that account for about $402 million of benefit in return for at least $402 million being spent. That is the salient point.

Andrew Little: Will he bring this new, downgraded deal back to Parliament, given this House approved extra pokies and other concessions in exchange for a 3,500-seat convention centre, not a smaller one?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member needs to see what Parliament agreed to, which was a $402 million convention centre. I would say also that Skycity started with a plan at 33,000 square metres and moved it up to 38,000 square metres, so let us see how it finally goes. But last week, from what I could see, the member seemed in favour of a free convention centre—actually, in favour of putting in a few more million of taxpayers’ money—and after all of that thought that nobody wants to come to New Zealand. Interesting response.

Andrew Little: Which 10 percent of the convention centre is actually going to be cut: is it the roof, one of the walls, the windows—what is going?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I am absolutely confident that Skycity will build a world-class convention centre, where many people will come and be part of world-class conventions there. But here is an interesting point. Labour members will be able to kick the tyres on this when they go and visit the Skycity box for their rugby and entertainment, because we know that they are going to sneak behind the bike sheds—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I do not think that answer will help the order of the House.

Andrew Little: Why did he go around the country promising a free 3,500-seat convention centre when now he cannot deliver it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I did do was go around the country and promise that there would be a world-class convention centre provided without taxpayer support, and guess what! That is happening. What I did not do was go on the radio last week and say: “Yeah, we could toss them a few million.” What I did not do was go on the radio last week and say: “No one wants to come to New Zealand.” It is going to be a good deal for New Zealand. A world-class convention centre, no taxpayer funds—deal done by the National Government.

Budget 2015—Announcements 3. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Finance: What announcements has the Government recently made about Budget 2015?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Last week I announced that Budget 2015 will be delivered on Thursday, 21 May. It will show the Government’s ongoing commitment to protecting the most vulnerable New Zealanders, restraining spending, and ensuring that our public finances (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) continue to improve and that our economy becomes more productive and yields higher incomes for New Zealanders. We have made good progress on all these areas, and we would expect to make further progress in Budget 2015, including on supporting Christchurch’s rebuilding.

Simon O’Connor: What progress has been made in achieving the Government’s fiscal goals?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have made steady progress over recent years to the point where the deficit has shrunk significantly from a peak of 9 percent of GDP. Net core Crown debt is expected to peak in the current fiscal year at 26.5 percent of GDP and then reduce to under 20 percent by 2020. A residual cash surplus is now expected in 2017-18, a year earlier than previously forecast. We could, of course, have made more rapid progress on reducing deficits and reducing debt, but the Government has pursued a balanced fiscal policy, protecting the most vulnerable New Zealanders, maintaining public services, improving the management of spending, and gradually moving towards a fiscal surplus without major disruption.

Simon O’Connor: How will Budget 2015 contribute to achieving the Government’s fiscal goals?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is under discussion right now as we move into the Budget process. But I will continue to implement those features of the Government programme that have turned out to be pretty successful, and that is continued restraint across public services, a strong focus on those factors that drive our spending, particularly the New Zealanders with the most complex problems, and continued investment in the kinds of innovation that is leading to more economic growth and more jobs. We have an unusual situation this year, though, where we have solid economic growth but remarkably low inflation. This is restricting the growth of the tax base, and therefore Government revenue. This will pose a particular challenge through this Budget round.

Simon O’Connor: How is the Government’s commitment to responsible fiscal management contributing to its wider economic programme?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the Government can continue to provide better public services with the same or less money, it benefits everybody. It removes pressure in a growing economy that might flow through to higher inflation and higher interest rates, and the Government has contributed in that respect to mortgage rates, which are currently just above 50-year lows, benefiting every household in New Zealand that has a mortgage. Along with the Government’s programme of microeconomic reform through the Business Growth Agenda, this is helping to create conditions where business is confident in investment. We see business investment growing, and in the long run that is what underpins higher incomes and sustainable jobs.

Economy—Operating Surpluses 4. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: How many operating surpluses, if any, using the Total Crown OBEGAL measure, has the Government posted in its six years in office?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has not posted any operating surpluses in its 6 years of office, starting with the one we inherited in 2008-09, which was a deficit of $3.9 billion left behind by the previous Government, and that was when the economy was growing fairly significantly. Since then we have moved steadily, as I pointed out before, to repair the fiscal damage left by the previous Government, but also to deal with recession and earthquakes, and we have not made bad progress.

Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, what is Treasury’s forecast for surplus or deficit in this current financial year, the year that he and John Key promised New Zealanders we would finally see a surplus?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury’s forecast for the 2014-15 year, I think, currently stands at around minus $500 million. That is a small deficit. That is after a number of forecasts of surplus. But it could be that they have taken too much notice of that member, who, of course, has been opposed to every aspect of fiscal restraint exercised by this Government in the last 6 years. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Grant Robertson: Is it correct that his Government rejected officials’ advice that would have seen ACC levies cut by $658 million, given that the worker and earners’ account is more than fully funded?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think we did reject that advice, as we reject a lot of officials’ advice, because often officials’ advice is unbalanced and does not take into account all the objectives of the Government. There is no particular item that makes surplus achievable or not achievable. Budgets are put together in the whole, counting expenditure on health, education, corrections, innovation, science, and research, and that will continue to be the case in this Budget as well.

Grant Robertson: Given that answer, is it correct that officials have advised the Government that ACC levies will be $60 a year more for the average household, and for businesses with more than 10 staff $1,500 more, simply to help him manufacture a surplus in his Budget in May?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member may not be aware of this, but all these issues were canvassed in detail, I think at the time of the last Budget. I would expect the member to go and do a bit of homework on that Budget. As I said before, the Government has made decisions about ACC in the same way as it decides, for instance, to give schools an increase in their operational budget, or allocate $400 million or $500 million to health. It is just part of putting a whole Budget together, and ACC is one of many decisions that add up to whether there is a surplus or not a surplus.

Grant Robertson: Will he guarantee to New Zealand workers and businesses that they will not be paying more than they need to in ACC levies simply to help him manufacture a Budget surplus?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course I can say that. Of course, you have got to remember that any decisions about ACC levies are based on forecasts, and the forecasts almost always turn out to be wrong. They are either too high or too low, and in retrospect you can see that. So this Government has taken a conservative view of both increasing and decreasing ACC levies, and along the way has ignored officials’ advice to increase them too far. And we have not always taken notice of officials’ advice to decrease them too far.

Joanne Hayes: What was Treasury’s forecast for Crown debt levels when the National-led Government was first elected in 2008?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen a number of such reports, because all sorts of people make it more challenging for the Government to return its finances to surplus. One such report is a photo of a picket-waving protester calling for more Government spending outside the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment offices here in Wellington. Another involves a photo of the same protester calling for more Government spending outside Statistics New Zealand here in central Wellington. A third involves the same individual complaining about efficiencies in the public sector. The individual in both the photos is Grant Robertson, the current finance spokesman for the Labour Party, who says we should have made bigger surpluses sooner, somehow by spending more Government money.

Joanne Hayes: What reports has he seen on policies that would make it even more challenging for the Government to return its finances to surplus?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There have been a range of other reports from Opposition spokespeople, not just the Labour Party—

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister of Finance has no responsibility for Opposition spokespeople, which is what he is now going in to describe the words of.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not see how the member knows that at this stage. I did not hear that from the Minister. If the Minister is about to attack the Opposition or the Opposition spokesperson, then that is not in order. [Interruption] I will allow the Minister to finish his answer.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not uncommon to find individuals or groups in our community who advocate that the Government should get to surplus sooner and, at the same time, that it should increase spending against a given amount of revenue. These things cannot both happen at the same (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) time, but those are clearly the individual and groups whom Grant Robertson, Labour Opposition finance spokesperson, is listening to.

Cabinet Ministers—Ministerial Decisions 5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Are Cabinet ministers accountable to the public of New Zealand for their ministerial decisions?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

METIRIA TUREI: Have members of his staff advised Ministers to answer “No comment.” to questions in order to shut down reporters who are inquiring into Government scandals?

Mr SPEAKER: The right honourable Prime Minister, in so far as there may be ministerial responsibility.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I reject the proposition of the member.

Metiria Turei: Well, then, are Ministers simply following his lead in responding with “No comment.” to political questions, after he refused to say when he first heard that the police were investigating Mike Sabin?

Mr SPEAKER: I will leave it for the Prime Minister, but there is no ministerial responsibility for that.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: When Ministers answer questions, as the member will be aware from theCabinet Manual, they must have regard for the public interest, and sometimes that means it is not in the public interest to discuss some issues at certain points of time. They can include matters of national security, foreign affairs, personal privacy, and matters before the courts. Although, in fairness, the member has never been in Government, and the Greens never have, so they probably do not know how it works.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister stand by his 2010 decision to publish ministerial credit card usage in the interests of “greater transparency and public scrutiny”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and I think this Government has shown how open and transparent it is.

Metiria Turei: Well, then, how can the public scrutinise Paula Bennett’s management of her ministerial credit card when she responds with “No comment.” to questions about her role and the $1,200 misuse of that card?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member misrepresents Paula Bennett. She does not have a ministerial credit card.

Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister OK, then, with the Minister for Economic Development not commenting on questions about a $1 million furniture spend-up at his ministry; if so, what does he and Mr Joyce have to hide?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, in the last part of the question, nothing; in the first part of the question, I understand that he was on a plane, and, like a good former Minister of Transport, he would know the rule is that you do not have your phone on when you are in a plane.

Metiria Turei: What does his Government have to hide, now that Ministers in charge of billions of dollars of public money are regularly answering with “No comment.” to questions about their spending?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has nothing to hide. There will be times, as I pointed out earlier, when it is not in the public interest or possible for a Minister to answer, but those situations are few and far between, if you actually look at the thousands of parliamentary questions, Official Information Act requests, and various other written questions that we answer. What I find on this side of the House is that we have a team of people who know each other well, work together well, and get on well. What I notice with the Greens is—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! There is no responsibility. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Children—Government Assistance 6. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What is the Government doing to assist children as they head back to school?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Before I answer the question, could I just acknowledge the death today of Celia Lashlie, who is a woman who worked tirelessly and fearlessly in the social sector. In reply to the question, to support those looking after vulnerable children we have paid nearly $4.65 million this year in start-of-year grants to families receiving the unsupported child’s benefit or the orphans benefit. This is helping more than 9,500 children right around New Zealand, with each carer receiving between $400 and $550. These grants help carers buy essentials like uniforms and stationery and other necessities to help settle children into the new school year. The applications for grants do not close until 28 February. They can apply online, and I encourage all those carers who qualify to do so.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How do these grants contribute to the Government’s focus on supporting vulnerable children?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: These payments recognise the valuable role that family carers play by stepping up to help raise vulnerable children, often after raising a family of their own. So we want to make their job of raising children as easy as possible, and to help with the costs that come with starting a new year is a tangible and practical way to do so. I am really pleased that so many families are applying for these grants. Grandparents and other extended family members do phenomenal work in putting the needs of our vulnerable children ahead of their own, and we are giving them a helping hand.

Housing New Zealand Corporation—Land Holdings 7. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister responsible for HNZC: What is the projected change in percentage and absolute terms of Housing New Zealand’s land holdings in both area (hectares) and dollar value over the next three years?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): Housing New Zealand advises that over the next 3 years, based on its current asset management strategy, it expects to acquire around 3,900 new homes and divest around 3,500 that are primarily the wrong type or in the wrong place. This is part of its business-as-usual programme. Specific properties for divestment and acquisition have not yet been individually identified, so I cannot answer the member’s question in detail or confirm changes in land area or value. These figures exclude recent announcements from the Government’s social housing reform programme and they could change because the asset management strategy will be updated in view of the social housing programme after a strategic review in the first half of this year.

Phil Twyford: Will he guarantee that all of the up to 8,000 State houses he plans to sell by 2017 will be sold to non-profit community housing providers and none to private interests?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, because it may well be, for instance, that the 1,300 or 1,400 houses that are unusable—that is, because they are earthquake-prone or otherwise they cannot be tenanted—may well be houses that no social housing provider would want. It may be that other stock is simply in a place where there is no demand for social housing. The member needs to bear in mind that in any given year Housing New Zealand sells 300 to 500 houses directly into the private market, and we do not see any reason why that should change.

Phil Twyford: What proportion of the up to 8,000 houses he plans to sell by 2017 does he expect to be sold to private interests as opposed to non-profit community housing providers?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: You know, if the member is concerned about, for instance, the scheme where we sell houses to tenants—in some cases with assistance—we intend to continue doing that. I cannot give the member an answer about what proportion. That will be driven not by some ideological view about how many houses a Government should own; it will be driven by the needs (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) of tenants. If Housing New Zealand owns houses that tenants do not need or that are not appropriate for tenants, then it will divest those houses.

Phil Twyford: How will he prevent houses sold to community housing providers being sold on and ending up in the hands of private landlords and property speculators?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As we get closer to the process of testing the market on selling some tenanted houses to social housing providers, there will be a discussion about the extent to which there are safeguards for the tenant. But I would have to say that the Government is not that concerned about retaining forever access to any particular house. That is because of the track record Governments have of making tenants go into houses the Government owns even if they are not that suitable for the tenants. So our overriding priority, which that member does find hard to understand, is the tenants: looking after their serious housing need, giving them security of tenure while their need remains, which in some cases is 20 years, but also assisting them back into housing independence, because many of them do not need to be in a social house for ever.

Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. It concerned whether the Government will be able to prevent houses being onsold. The Minister gave us a seminar on the social housing policy and the reasons for it, but did not actually address the question.

Mr SPEAKER: If I recall the question right, there was also talk about safeguard for tenants and the Minister spent quite some time talking about the tenants being important, so on this occasion—well, the member can shake his head all he likes, but I have determined that the question has been addressed.

Phil Twyford: Can he confirm that the Government is considering offering a Government guarantee to community housing providers to secure the finance because, as everybody knows, a bank will not lend money on a house that cannot be onsold?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know what the member is referring to there. The Labour Party may not have noticed, but the private ownership of houses is not a deep, dark secret in New Zealand. In fact, he might find that a vast majority of houses are owned by those nasty, profit-making, private individuals. I know that it is Labour’s policy to own every house in New Zealand, but we take a slightly more balanced view.

Phil Twyford: Is he surprised that Major Campbell Roberts of the Salvation Army says he is “irritated” by the Government’s social housing policy when the Prime Minister says things like he would be amazed if the likes of the Salvation Army were hesitant to get involved if it saw a way to make money off the investment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, Major Campbell Roberts has made an outstanding contribution to the development of social housing policy in the last 5 years. He was part of the original advisory group, which made it very clear to this Government that the Government was doing a poor job of State housing and that there were much better alternatives for enabling people to live better lives if we dealt with their housing needs more effectively. I have had many discussions with Major Campbell Roberts over the policy. He raises any number of interesting and sometimes difficult questions, but there is no doubt that his purpose and ours is the same: to do a better job for New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens, and that is what we are setting out to do.

Smoke-free Aotearoa—Plans 8. MARAMA FOX (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Associate Minister of Health: What plans does the Government have to achieve smoke-free Aotearoa by 2025?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Associate Minister of Health): The Government is committed to a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025, but we recognise that it will not be achieved by one measure alone. Our Government has worked hard with our partners the Māori Party in this important area, and I do want to acknowledge the work done by the previous Minister Tariana Turia. We have introduced significant legislative changes, including increasing taxation levels, increasing the penalties and fines for those selling to minors, as well as removing retailers’ ability to display (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) tobacco products. In fact, as a result of some of the changes we have seen an improvement in the daily smoking rate, from 18 percent in 2006 under Labour to 15.5 percent in 2013. I am currently taking advice on a wide range of further options and initiatives, including further tax increases, banning smoking in cars with children, media and health promotion campaigns, the role of e-cigarettes, and many other options for that target.

Marama Fox: Given that we are now identified as world leaders in smoking cessation initiatives through the work of the former associate health Minister, is the Minister prepared to continue this momentum and commit to banning smoking in cars; if not, why not?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I am committed to continuing the momentum to reduce the rates of smoking in New Zealand. At this stage there is no plan to legislate to ban smoking in cars. However, I have asked officials to prepare advice for Ministers on this particular topic in respect of children passengers, along with many other initiatives to achieve our goal to be smoke-free by 2025.

Marama Fox: Can the Minister provide any reasons, given that he is yet to receive a briefing, why banning smoking in cars would not contribute positively to the decrease in effects caused by inhaling second-hand smoke?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: As I have said previously, I have asked officials to prepare that advice for Ministers on this topic. Once I have that advice I will be able to give a more informed view on the effects of and the extent to which smoking in cars affects other passengers, especially children.

Traffic Fines—Driver Licence Stop Orders Initiative 9. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister for Courts: How successful has the Government’s new Driver Licence Stop Orders initiative been in collecting unpaid traffic fines during its first year?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Courts): Last February this Government introduced driver licence stop orders. These give the courts the power to suspend the driver’s licence of people who refuse to pay their overdue traffic fines. In the past year nearly 20,000 have either paid or started to pay their overdue traffic fines, bringing in $20.4 million to date. With only 27 licences currently suspended, along with 11 more that were suspended but have since been cleared, it is great to see that people are getting the message that they need to do the right thing and pay their traffic fines before they risk losing their licence.

Jono Naylor: What results can she report from other new powers that this Government has given the courts to enforce fines?

Hon AMY ADAMS: This Government has added to the powers that the court has to enforce court fines and reparations. This has helped bring down overdue fines from $400 million, when we became the Government, to around $240 million today. We have introduced new data-matching with the Inland Revenue Department and the Ministry of Social Development to help find people dodging their fines. Since we started this programme in 2012 we have collected $207 million. We have also allowed courts to share information with credit agencies when people refuse to pay their fines, and this has seen a further $86 million in previously unpaid fines being cleared.

Employment Relations—Zero-hour Contracts 10. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Is the Government planning to ban zero-hour employment contracts; if not, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: May I first note for the member that his leader last week claimed that the Minister for Economic Development had responsibility for zero-hour contracts, and, of course, he does not. Although the term zero hours means different things to different people, the (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Government does have concerns with some of the reported aspects of some of the so-called zero-hour contracts, and I have asked officials to look into those allegations and report, as part of our current review, into employment standards. I am primarily concerned with practices where mutual obligations are unbalanced, and we will address those as required. However, we do not have plans to ban employers and employees from having legitimate casual agreements that suit both parties.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Can the Minister describe to the House what he believes a zero-hour contract is and how it differs from a casual agreement?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There have always been legitimate working arrangements called casual employment agreements, and these arrangements work as and when required. The employer does not guarantee the individual any work, but the individual is also not obliged to accept any work or be exclusively available for that employer. Employment relations, of course, require mutual obligations; where flexibility is important for both employers and employees, casual employment arrangements can strike this balance. However, there are sometimes practices where there is a relationship of mutual obligations that are inconsistent with good faith. The sorts of things that the Minister has asked officials to report back on specifically include agreements that unnecessarily restrict lower-skilled workers from undertaking alternative employment; rostering practices, including short-notice cancellation of shifts; and also other matters that have been brought to attention in recent times, including inappropriate pay deductions, such as service station attendants having pay docked for customer theft.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Will his proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act require permanent employment agreements to include regular hours of work?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It depends on whether the member is referring to permanent, part-time, fixed-term, and full-time employments, and those matters are covered in the law today. What we are talking about specifically here is a certain type of casual contract where perhaps—and I stress again that it is being investigated currently—individuals are having onerous requirements placed on them when their contracts are very much on a casual basis. Those are the things we will be investigating and the Minister does not plan to make announcements today on exactly what changes to the legislation would be made at this time.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Does he appreciate that people on zero-hour contracts do not have the flexibility that a casual contract gives them, and does he also appreciate that people who are on zero-hour contracts cannot get a loan or a hire purchase agreement because they cannot demonstrate certainty of income, or that they have to rearrange childcare from one week to the next, or that they suddenly lose hours without any warning? How does that make life better for people on those contracts?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: We are in danger of violently agreeing on this concern, and the simple fact of the matter is that we will be investigating these matters. As I said previously, there are legitimate casual agreements, but it is important that onerous obligations are not placed on employees when they do not have defined hours in which they will be working, and that is the exact stuff that we will be investigating.

Tim Macindoe: What reports has the Minister seen of other unconventional employment contract arrangements?

Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there are reports that are of ministerial responsibility—the Hon Steven Joyce.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I saw a report of a particularly strange one just this day. A long-serving self-employed professional was hired for what he describes as a small freelance job. He dutifully carried out the work and provided follow-up notes and also an invoice for payment. The issue in this particular case is that the professional, a journalist, was not paid. Four months have now passed. Numerous phone calls and emails have been made with apparently no response. This is obviously not a zero-hour contract. It could perhaps be better described as a zero-payment contract—the (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) employer in this case being then leadership aspirant for the Labour Party, one Andrew Little, the current Labour leader.

Self-employed Business—Reports 11. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister for Small Business: What reports has he received on the increased number of self-employed businesses in New Zealand?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): Labour market statistics show that self-employed businesses grew by nearly 35,000 in the year to December 2014. New Zealand’s 3.2 percent GDP growth is enabling business growth across the country. Small and medium enterprises, many of which are self-employed businesses, contribute nearly a third of New Zealand’s GDP. Amongst other things, the National-led Government has reduced costs by lowering company tax; reduced ACC levies; made it easier to employ staff, with the 90-day trial period; will be helping the way small businesses interact with the Government, with the New Zealand small business number; has introduced the starting out wage—I could go on, but I realise that time is limited.

Brett Hudson: What are some of the specific Government initiatives that are helping small businesses?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: The voluntary 90-day employment trial period reduces the risk for a business of hiring an employee, and has been invaluable for the growth of small businesses. The latest data shows that 64 percent of small and medium enterprises have taken on new staff in the past year using trial periods. The introduction of the starting out wage is another initiative that is lowering the barriers for business to hire young and inexperienced workers.

Brett Hudson: What factors might hinder self-employed businesses from employing staff?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: Having greater certainty when hiring staff is essential for small and medium enterprises in New Zealand and, of course, job growth. Dropping the 90-day trial and dropping the starting out wage would be devastating for the growth of New Zealand small businesses and jobs in New Zealand.

Jacinda Ardern: Can he confirm there were approximately 61,000 enterprise births in 2008 under a Labour Government compared with 48,000 in 2014 under National?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I do not have the exact figures with me but I can confirm a very large explosion, if you like, in the development of loss attributing qualifying companies, which are small companies set up to exploit tax advantages and distortions set up by the previous Labour Government.

Jacinda Ardern: Why when many small businesses are spending more than 10 percent of their turnover on tax compliance has his Government in 7 years done absolutely nothing to assist, especially when the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants has laid out a very precise plan of what he could do to assist?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: As I noted, National actually lowered the tax rate to 28 percent for companies and aligned trusts and various other taxes to remove the distortions under the previous Labour Government. I do note—and the member and the accountants do make a point—that cash flow is very important for small businesses, absolutely crucial, so it would really help if people paid their bills when due, such as invoices received and not paid after 4 months, Mr Little.

Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012—Amendments 12. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he intend to amend the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 in light of the Environmental Protection Authority rejecting both the ironsands and phosphate seabed mining applications?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): I am intending to introduce an exclusive economic zone amendment bill tomorrow, but the decisions on it do not relate to those (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) two specific applications. The decisions on it were actually made in early December, prior to the legal processes on either of the two applications that the member mentions being finalised.

Gareth Hughes: Was he one of the Ministers whom Chatham Rock Phosphate’s Managing Director, Chris Castle, said he met with and who assured him that changes would be made to the Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act; if so, was seabed mining discussed at that meeting?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, I do not recall meeting on that application and I would have declined to do so because the application by Chatham Rock Phosphate is still subject to appeal. A key component of the exclusive economic zone legislation is the decisions on individual consents being made at arm’s length by the Environmental Protection Authority. I would note, though, that when the Government passed this law—and this is the first time New Zealand has had any law for environmental protection in the exclusive economic zone—the Green Party voted against it and said that it was a charter for mining.

Gareth Hughes: Did the Minister meet with Chris Castle, and does the Minister agree with Mr Castle, who is quoted in the Otago Daily Times saying: “Changes will be made soon. The wheels are already turning. Then it’s going to get easier.”, speculating that his company may be in a position to submit another mining application to his Environmental Protection Authority?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I do not intend to comment on that application. It is still in the period subject to appeal and it is not appropriate, when the decision rests independently with the Environmental Protection Authority, for me to comment on anything other than the law, for which I am responsible.

Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I acknowledge my question had two legs. The second part of the question, the Minister said he did not want to address. If that is the case, I ask that the first part of the question be addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The rules are quite clear. Supplementary questions should have one question, not two. The Minister chose to answer the second one, and certainly addressed that. If the member wants to go back and look at Hansard he will actually see that the first question he did ask was answered in the previous question, anyway.

Gareth Hughes: Can the Minister guarantee that the changes made to the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act under his proposed new legislation will not make it easier for seabed miners to gain Environmental Protection Authority approval?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member will note that in the briefing to the incoming Government from both the Environmental Protection Authority and also from the Ministry for the Environment they expressed some concerns about this new legislation. The Government is giving consideration to some amendments, but this is a very balanced blue-green Government that wants New Zealand to be able to take the economic opportunities to grow jobs and incomes, but to do so in an environmentally responsible way. I can assure the member that if there are amendments to the Act, they will be consistent with that philosophy.


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