Questions and Answers – February 19

by Desk Editor on Thursday, February 19, 2015 — 5:22 PM


Better Public Services—Targets 1. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in its programme to get better results from public services?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Today we released the update of results from the Government’s Better Public Services programme. This programme measures results in ten areas set out by the Prime Minister in 2012 where we believe not only that we can but that we should make a real difference to the lives of New Zealanders. The results include reducing assaults on children, reducing long-term welfare dependency, improving educational achievement, increasing immunisation, and reducing the incidences of rheumatic fever. I am pleased to say that the latest 6-monthly update shows we are making progress in all of our results. Our challenge now, though, is to keep progress going as we try to help people who are harder to reach or address problems that are simply more difficult to resolve.

Alastair Scott: What changes has the Government announced to the Better Public Services programme?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: This is a Government that believes that it should be transparently accountable for what it is trying to achieve for New Zealanders. This programme certainly is going to be challenging, because today we have confirmed we are going to make three of our targets more difficult. We are extending the target to reduce welfare dependency beyond those who are somewhere near ready for work to people on all main benefits, including those who may not have worked for some time. As we have already signalled, we are changing the overall crime target to require a 20 percent reduction by 2018, where the previous target was a 15 percent reduction by 2017, because we have already achieved a 15 percent reduction in crime. We are also lifting the target to increase the workforce skills of people aged 25 to 34. Our aim is that 60 percent of all 25 to 34-year-olds have a level 4 qualification by 2018, up from the previous 55 percent by 2017.

Alastair Scott: What new approaches is the Government taking to get better results from public services?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are a lot of new approaches, but a few of them matter quite a bit. In particular, we are shifting the focus to individuals, their families, and communities, rather than focusing on our Government departments. This is because to turn round intergenerational welfare dependency or lift National Certificate of Educational Achievement results further for groups who have a long record of low achievement, we have to understand what is going on in the homes and lives of these people. That will allow us to find better solutions to what have been longstanding and difficult problems. These answers may not always come from the Public Service; they may come from other organisations that know a lot more about our customers than we do. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Alastair Scott: How do these changes fit with the Government’s continuing programme to restrain its spending?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Achieving better results is at the heart of the Government’s programme to restrain its spending. Where the previous Government had a model that spending more was the result that it was after, what we are trying to do is actually get results for people. We are finding that that often means better use of information and reorganisation of Government services and changing the philosophical approach—for instance, to Whānau Ora—rather than spending more money. So although we have had tight spending constraints in recent years, we have been able to achieve better results with our public services.

Corrections, Department—Management of Phillip John Smith Case 2. MAHESH BINDRA (NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections: Was there a Victim Notification Register Alert generated for Phillip Smith at any stage prior to his temporary release from custody in November 2014; if not, why not?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: Yes, I am advised that on every occasion that Phillip Smith was temporarily released from prison, his registered victims were informed in accordance with section 35(1)(a)(i) of the Victims’ Rights Act 2002. In respect of the November release, victims were notified on 20 October 2014.

Mahesh Bindra: Why were Smith’s victims not informed of his release prior to 6 November, as they should have been, since, in the Minister’s own words, “Phillip Smith is subject to the Victim Notification Register and his victims are recorded on it.”?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I refer the member to my primary answer, and that is that they were, indeed, notified prior to his release and, indeed, immediately following advice that he had not returned to Spring Hill prison in the time required.

Mahesh Bindra: Can he give an assurance to this House that convicted murderer and paedophile Phillip John Smith is currently on the victim notification register?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: It is hard for me to give a 100 percent guarantee, but I am assured that the victim notification register has not changed since his return to prison, and therefore the answer would be yes.

Mahesh Bindra: Is it not a fact that this murderer and paedophile was not on the victim notification register and that this is the real reason his victims were not notified, and that the Minister and his department covered this up by putting him on it retrospectively?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: It may be that we are talking about direct notification versus other forms of notification. I am advised that a registered victim can appoint another person to receive on their behalf any notice that is given to the victim. This person is referred to as an appointed representative. The representative is required to make all reasonable efforts to receive information on the victim’s behalf and ensure that the victim is given and understands the information that has been received. There are four victims registered for Phillip Smith. Two of the registered victims have authorised another of the registered victims to be their appointed representative and have done so since the time of their registration.

Government Financial Position—Return to Surplus 3. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that he would post a “meaningful surplus” in 2014/15; if so, what approximate dollar figure would constitute a meaningful surplus?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I stand by that statement. In answer to the second part of the member’s question, in the current circumstances of low interest rates and inflation that could be heading to zero, any surplus will be meaningful. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Grant Robertson: Why, then, if any surplus at all would be meaningful, did he and John Key make that promise the centrepiece of two election campaigns, and would not a failure to post a decent surplus actually mean he had broken his promise to New Zealanders?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The centrepiece of our election campaigns were the outstanding leadership of the Prime Minister and the very good management of the economy, which is helping lead to higher incomes and more jobs. We are on track to surplus, but, of course, it would be easier to achieve that if that member stopped organising protests in Wellington against any constraint on the Public Service, as he regularly does.

Jami-Lee Ross: What progress can the Minister report on the Government’s track to surplus?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Our record is one of steady improvement in the movement towards surplus, in what I might say were somewhat trying circumstances. For instance, a deep recession followed by an earthquake, where the Government has contributed $15 billion to the rebuilding of Christchurch. So I can report that from a large deficit of around $18 billion, current forecasts have us headed towards surplus over the next 2 years.

Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, why then, knowing about the global financial crisis and the recession, did he promise to New Zealanders for two elections in a row that a meaningful surplus would be reached in 2014-15?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because we believe that is achievable. We believe that, uniquely among developed countries, we are able to protect the most vulnerable, not reduce any entitlements, improve our public services and get better results, maintain stability in our public services without large-scale change, and get back to surplus. I admit to the member it is a bit difficult, but we are just about there.

Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm his answer to the primary question that a surplus of $1 will constitute a meaningful surplus in his world?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. As I said, any surplus will be meaningful, but they are likely to be larger if that member stops organising protests against restraint in the Public Service, as exhibited by him here in this photo with his megaphone protesting outside Statistics New Zealand against reasonable constraints.

Grant Robertson: Does the Minister think he might be able to manage a “$1 Bill” surplus because he is overcharging New Zealanders $178 million because the ACC worker and earner accounts are fully funded, and why will he not give New Zealanders a fair go and not overcharge them for ACC?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not agree with any of that. As I said to the member, the Government has been consistently conservative in the way it has handled ACC levies, and we have had smaller increases than officials recommended and smaller decreases. But even in that context, by 1 April next year we will have reduced ACC levies by $1.5 billion per year, the equivalent of a moderate tax cut for every household in New Zealand.

Grant Robertson: Given that he is satisfied with a $1 meaningful surplus, will he now not give New Zealanders back the $178 million that he has ripped off them from overcharging them for ACC?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: ACC is giving back something like $450 million of ACC levy cuts on 1 April, including a reduction of $130 for every New Zealander who registers a car. That is not a bad effort.

Partnership Schools—Application Round and Criteria 4. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Education: Is she planning to undertake another Partnership School application round this year; if so, will any new schools be required to target the same priority learner groups as existing Partnership Schools? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe e te Mana Whakahaere. E te mema, tēnā anō hoki koe. Ngā mihi nui huri noa i tō tātou Whare. [Thank you, Mr Speaker. Acknowledgments to you the member as well, and to all throughout our House.] No.

Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I clarify whether it was no to both parts of the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I think we can take it that it was no to the first part of the question.

Catherine Delahunty: Will she urgently—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise. Point of order, Grant Robertson.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt Catherine Delahunty, but it is a primary question to which there are two parts, so the Minister does need to answer both of them. It could be no to both—I do not know.

Mr SPEAKER: I think it would clearly be no to the second, but if the Minister wanted to help by saying no, and no—[Interruption] Order! Would the Minister like to assist the House and clarify the answer.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You stray into dangerous territory if we accept what Mr Robertson has just said. If you read the question, it says “if so”. It should be abundantly clear to the whole House what the answer was.

Mr SPEAKER: I would have thought it was abundantly clear, but clearly there was some confusion to the left of my chair. I was seeking whether the—[Interruption] If the Leader of the House wishes to stay for question time, he also needs to be reminded that when I stand to my feet to rule on a point of order I expect silence. It is over to the Minister as to whether she wants to assist the House on this occasion. The answer clearly addresses the question, maybe not to the satisfaction of those who have interpreted the question in a slightly different way. I invite the Minister if she wants to assist, but she certainly does not have to.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I am not planning to undertake another partnership school application round this year.

Catherine Delahunty: Therefore will she urgently publish the assessments of the current partnership schools so that we can all be sure that these students currently are in a safe learning environment?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have long made it a practice that when I have considered assessments and reports and made decisions they are published, so all of those in that category are on the website. If they are not yet there, it is because I have not yet made a decision about them. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Ask the supplementary question, please.

Catherine Delahunty: Is she concerned that rather than targeting disabled and high-special needs pupils—one of her priority learner groups—partnership schools are avoiding them because they are difficult and expensive to teach?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I reject that utterly. In the performance standards that make up the agreement for these partnership schools they are required for their rolls to include 75 percent of priority learners, but we do not specify exactly which priority learners make up that 75 percent. All existing partnership schools meet that standard and exceed it.

Catherine Delahunty: Can she confirm that there was not one single high-needs pupil enrolled in any partnership schools last year?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I can confirm that there has been no application for an Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Scheme – funded student at a partnership school, as the member was advised at a select committee yesterday. That does not in turn mean that there are not students with special needs enrolled at these schools. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request response establishing that there are no high-needs students at partnership schools.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular Official Information Act response. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled.

Catherine Delahunty: Does she agree that it is statistically unlikely for 3 percent of all students to have high needs but none of them were enrolled in partnership schools when the schools were required to target them?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I do not agree, because the specification of who priority learners are includes Māori, Pasifika, children from low-income homes, children with special needs, and those with permutations of all four. But we do not prescribe to the schools specifically which group of needs they should look for. They are required to enrol the students who turn up, in the same way as every school in New Zealand is.

Catherine Delahunty: Is the Minister saying that it does not matter whether there are no disabled children targeted attending these schools; so long as there are plenty of Māori or Pasifika kids, or kids with other problems, we do not need to worry about them?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am most definitely not saying that and I hope that is not what the member is saying either. We want New Zealand schools that attend to the needs of every child, and the partnership schools have a standard higher and more prescribed than any other school. They are required to have 75 percent. They meet or exceed that.

Catherine Delahunty: How can partnership schools do a better job than State schools in educating priority learners when they are not even targeting or enrolling children with the highest special needs?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The member fundamentally misunderstands our general education system, which is that all schools are required to enrol the students who turn up. Schools do not go around hunting for particular kinds of students in order to satisfy this member’s decision as to what is appropriate or not. We have challenges across our system and our education system responds extremely well, and we have diverse options available. Partnership schools make up nine of 2,543 schools. Let us give them a chance to help these kids be successful.

Employment and Skills Training—Progress 5. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What progress is the Government making to boost workforce skills?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Very good progress. Earlier today I announced that, in fact, better-than-expected progress has seen the Government revise our workforce skills target to 60 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds having a qualification at level 4 or above by 2018, having already almost achieved our initial target of 55 percent by 2017. Increasing the target shows that the tertiary education system is making very good progress in boosting workforce skills since it was set. The new target of increasing to 60 percent by 2018 will be very challenging. The public sector agencies will need to work well together with all players in the sector and employers to deliver on this goal.

Jacqui Dean: Why is it important to boost workforce skills?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is very important that we keep increasing the level of skills in our workforce to support a growing and more productive New Zealand economy. We know that a higher-skilled workforce supports better innovation and productivity and higher wages for New Zealanders. That is why, for example, we have worked in partnership with the industry training organisations and employers to improve industry training and we have introduced New Zealand Apprenticeships. Of course, last year’s apprenticeship reboot also helped to grow numbers. Industry training enrolments at level 4, including New Zealand Apprenticeships, were up significantly on 2012.

Jacqui Dean: What other initiatives are under way to boost workforce skills? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The results released today show that the work we are doing to improve performance in the sector is paying off. We are, of course, expanding the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Initiative, which started out at 500 places and is now heading towards 3,000 places, and we have a commitment to take it to 5,000 places. We are boosting the number of engineering students, and there is a target to meet the OECD average in the number of engineering graduates. Importantly, we are making study and employment outcomes of careers more accessible to students through things like the Occupational Outlook report and app, which link people’s education choices to what they can expect in the world of work. This will help students make better study and career choices and it shows the benefits of higher-level study.

Partnership Schools—Authorisation Board 6. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she have confidence in the Partnership School’s Authorisation Board; if so, why?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā anō koe. Yes; because the board comprises high-calibre, successful practitioners, educationalists, and well-respected individuals.

Chris Hipkins: How can she have confidence in the authorisation board, given that it advised her to open the trouble-prone Whangaruru School—which she did against the advice provided by the Ministry of Education—a school that has subsequently been beset with bullying, drug use, absenteeism, management infighting, staff turnover, and poor educational outcomes?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have full confidence in the board. It has taken into account all of the issues when it made its recommendation. When we observed that that particular school was having difficulties, I asked the board to provide some mentoring, and it has done that. I would just like to correct the member’s characterisation. I did in fact take into account the ministry’s advice, and I made my decision having taken it into account. The advice actually related to the readiness of the school property.

Chris Hipkins: Did the Ministry of Education advise her that Whangaruru’s application “did not adequately communicate the need for the school in this area”, that their “approach to behaviour for learning and creating a safe learning environment for their students was not well articulated”, and that the proposal “did not create a compelling argument for the establishment of the school”; if so, why did she go ahead and approve it anyway?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am glad to see that the member has taken advantage of the papers freely available. Yes, I did have that discussion with the ministry, and we did go through the fact that in this area there have been longstanding issues of underachievement, and that we needed to look at what some other options might be for these groups of children, and that is what we have done. But, yes, there are problems with this school.

Chris Hipkins: Did the Ministry of Education provide her with advice that indicated that its analysis had highlighted reservations with 58 percent of Whangaruru’s application, with 32 percent of those categorised as serious or unacceptable; if so, did she accept that advice, or did she simply pay it as much attention as the time she took to pay attention to the red flags on Novopay, when she approved that as well against advice?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I take all of the advice that is provided by the Ministry of Education seriously. We have full discussion—

Hon Trevor Mallard: You just don’t take it.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Taking advice does not mean accepting it, and it does not mean ignoring it. I took its advice, considered it, and made a decision.

Chris Hipkins: Is she refusing to release the Education Review Office report into Whangaruru School, which was due to be released imminently 6 months ago because it has shown just how seriously that school experiment has gone off the rails; if not, why will she not release the report?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I understand that that report will be ready for release next month. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Chris Hipkins: Has she received any advice from the Ministry of Education suggesting that any member of the partnership schools authorisation board has any conflicts of interest; if so, what was the nature of that advice?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not aware I have had any such advice.

Building and Housing, Minister—Performance 7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Does he think he is competently fulfilling his ministerial responsibilities; if not, why not?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): Yes, but thankfully my responsibilities do not extend to matching the carpets and the curtains.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is what goes for a joke over there. When he was made aware last year that tens of thousands of tonnes of cement had been imported to New Zealand that according to the import company’s own test results failed to meet recognised industry standards, what, if anything, did he do about it?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I did note some social media reports last year about high-alkali cement. I have been assured by officials that imported cement must meet the New Zealand standard, that the Drymix product referred to does in fact meet that standard, and, provided that it is mixed in accordance with the concrete standard, that the product is fit for purpose. I would also invite the member to be careful as there are competition issues in the building industry and some people would rather that imported product did not compete with other products. If we are in fact to get better value for money, it is important that there is active competition in all building materials.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When he was made aware that imported cement alkali levels resulted in a condition called concrete cancer, causing expansion and cracking in concrete and major structural problems, what, if anything, did he do about it, seeing as it was also brought to his attention by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: When the issue was brought to my attention I raised it with officials. They assured me that the products did meet the standard. The officials also made contact with the New Zealand concrete association, and it too was satisfied, in its report, that the product was up to standard.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that this dodgy cement was used in the $40 million Manukau District Court upgrade and Fonterra’s $120 million UHT factory at Waitoa, plus dozens of other buildings around the country that are now facing serious long-term adverse consequences? Why did he not, in those circumstances, competently carry out his ministerial responsibilities and not rely upon a trade – paid for, conflict of interest report?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: My own expertise is in landslides rather than concrete. I have relied on advice—

Hon Member: That is right.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: —well, actually, there was a bit of a landslide, I noticed, on 20 September last year. But I have to say that on the technical issues of the suitability of cement and concrete I rely on the expertise of people who are suitably qualified, and I suggest they are more qualified in that area than the member.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When he says—[Interruption]—pardon? You want to say something, junior?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am very keen that the member now carries on with his supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When he says that concerns were brought to his attention, why did he, as a competent Minister, not rely upon a biased report—which his own officials had brought to his attention—but rather order core samples to be taken from the sites mentioned for chemical analysis by an independent certified laboratory, rather than turn a blind eye to what is now looking like potentially rotting buildings? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: When the matter was brought to my attention I sought advice. I was reassured that the cement meets the New Zealand standard. I challenge the member to table a technical report that shows it does not meet the standard. For the member’s information, the technical issue is this: high-alkali cement is allowed under the New Zealand cement standard, provided that when it is properly mixed and made into concrete the alkali content does meet the concrete standard. And I am assured that both those standards are met by this product.

Small Business—New Zealand Business Number System 8. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister for Small Business: How will the New Zealand Business Number system make it easier for small business to interact with the Government?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): The New Zealand Business Number aims to make it easier, quicker, and less complicated for small businesses to interact with the Government. We have already allocated 1.1 million New Zealand Business Numbers to registered companies. Small businesses will have to provide the Government with information only once. The number will automatically be shared across Government agencies. The New Zealand Business Number is a core initiative of the Government’s Better Public Services for business (Result 9) programme, which works in collaboration across a number of agencies, making sure that joined-up Government services are not a one-off event but an ongoing commitment from agencies to improve interaction with the Government. A business reference group of 1,200 small and medium sized enterprises has been tracking progress in this area. A survey over the last 6 months reports a net 7 percent reduction in reported effort since 2012 and a substantial improvement in reported performance by Government agencies.

Brett Hudson: What other initiatives are there to make it easier for small business to interact with the Government and access the information that they need?

Hon CRAIG FOSS:, the Government’s website for small businesses, brings together information from across government and explains it in a way that makes sense to small businesses. has recently released a new tool called Compliance Matters, bringing together compliance requirements from across government into one easy-to-use tool. A business simply enters its industry, stage, and type, and the tool will list all the requirements that are relevant for across government, linking off to the relevant agencies for more information. This allows small businesses to access information quicker and enables them to spend more time on what they do best: business.

Brett Hudson: Has he seen reports outlining initiatives that would lead to businesses having to spend more time interfacing with the Government?

Mr SPEAKER: Provided the answer is within the ministerial responsibility, the Hon Craig Foss.

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have seen reports on proposals to add new and complex requirements, and taxes even, on to small businesses. This would mean small businesses spend more time on administration and dealing with Government obligations, and less time on growing their businesses and hiring Kiwis. If we want businesses to grow and employ more people, the last thing they need is new, complex, complicated capital gains taxes and water taxes, as proposed by the Opposition.

Jacinda Ardern: Can he confirm that according to his own Cabinet paper “Larger businesses and industry representative organisations strongly support extending the New Zealand Business Number, but smaller businesses were less enthusiastic.”?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: The member should get up with the times and perhaps get out a bit more. The reference group and many companies dealing with many small businesses across the country have now in fact come on board and are endorsing the opportunities that the New Zealand Business Number provides. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Social Development, Minister—Confidence 9. CARMEL SEPULONI (Junior Whip—Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she have confidence in the ability of the Ministry of Social Development to exercise financial due diligence?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Yes.

Carmel Sepuloni: What confidence does she have in the ministry’s ability to responsibly manage taxpayers’ money, given that in 2013-14 six ministry officials spent an average of over $30,000 on “other expenses” for international travel, including a ministry official’s nearly $50,000 taxpayer-funded 5-day trip to Melbourne?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I say first that that member needs to do a bit more homework because, in fact, that particular $50,000 payment was for a 2-year postgraduate study for the chief legal counsel of the Ministry of Social Development. I think that that was money was well spent.

Carmel Sepuloni: Why should the ministry fork out nearly $30,000 for “other expenses” for the Minister’s private secretary’s trip to London, Paris, New York, and Honolulu in May 2014?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The Ministry of Social Development is involved in a great deal of reform. We have welfare reform, a reform of Child, Youth and Family, and I would expect that we would be looking to countries overseas for their answers to some of the issues that this country is facing. I would say that if we are learning from other countries, that, again, is money well spent. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! A little less interjection through the answers would be helpful, and the questions.

Carmel Sepuloni: Does she agree with the response from the Ministry of Social Development’s chief executive officer about the $3.1 million increase in external contracting, the $3.4 million increase in advertising and public relations costs, and the trebling of funding of international travel being a drop in the bucket compared with the overall ministry’s budget; if so, why?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: First of all, I am not exactly sure what the chief executive said, nor in what context, but what I am sure of is that this chief executive is responsible for a budget of about $23 billion, delivers services and support to over a million New Zealanders across the spectrum, and manages about 10,000 staff. I am sure that he came along expecting the Opposition to ask him questions about things that New Zealanders are really worried about, like the unemployment rate, support for solo parents, and support for people in our communities who are disabled and sick, not to ask him about minute expenditure that is well explained in public relations campaigns that respond to concerns around teenage sexual violence, and also around campaigns to help elderly with enduring powers of attorney. Those are the sorts of things that were explained to the member in the financial review yesterday.

Carmel Sepuloni: How can she claim that this misspending is minute or not significant when it amounts to $5.4 million, and the Ministry of Social Development’s programmes that it was forced to defer in the last Budget due to lack of funding came to only $7.2 million?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I did not say that this money was misspent; in fact, I disagree entirely with that proposition. I am surprised that the Opposition thinks it is not worthwhile responding to huge public concern in the wake of the Roast Busters case to actually make sure that there is an education programme on giving young teenage New Zealanders tools to protect them against sexual violence. That was one part of the expenditure that that member was criticising yesterday. As I say, a campaign that gave good information to our seniors on the meanings, on the concerns, around an enduring power of attorney was another one of those increases in expenditure that the member raised yesterday. I am surprised that the Opposition does not think that they are worthwhile.

Carmel Sepuloni: Is the reason she thinks her ministry’s extravagant expenditure is OK that she thinks that all those people without work are living pretty good lifestyles because of their, as she says, “little bit of dole, cash crop, and kai moana.”? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: What I would say in answer to that question is that the member needs to stop playing to the media and actually do some homework and make sure that the accusations she makes are correct, because of the three accusations that she put to the chief executive yesterday, three were incorrect.

Food Labelling—Irradiation 10. STEFFAN BROWNING (Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: Will she assure consumers that irradiated food labelling requirements will be enforced immediately in light of reports that irradiated fruit is being sold in New Zealand without the appropriate label?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for Food Safety): I can assure New Zealanders that requirements for irradiated food to be labelled are enforced. The Ministry for Primary Industries takes any reports of unlabelled fruit and vegetables seriously, acts on any complaints received, investigates, and, where necessary, will undertake enforcement action.

Steffan Browning: Considering that some irradiated fruit labelling printed in 4-point font is so small that many customers cannot read or see it, will she assure New Zealanders that she will enforce more visible labelling for irradiated products immediately?

Hon JO GOODHEW: I can assure the member that today I have raised the size of the font of the labelling with officials, because I heard through the media yesterday that it was a problem. I would urge members of the public who have a belief that they cannot read the labelling that must be there to make a complaint about that, and I can assure you that the Ministry for Primary Industries will enforce the necessity to have the fruit and vegetables labelled.

Steffan Browning: On the basis that there is in fact no labelling in some cases, can she guarantee that labelling requirements will be improved and enforced before she approves the importation of 12 more types of irradiated fruit and vegetables?

Hon JO GOODHEW: There are a number of issues that I will try to deal with one by one in that question, because they are important. First of all, to clarify for the member and the House, since the beginning of 2013, there have been 10 complaints of incorrect or missing labels. All were investigated and all were substantiated. Therefore, action was taken on every single one of those. The Ministry for Primary Industries will take those complaints seriously and will work to protect to New Zealand. In reference to the other products that the member has raised that are currently proposals, these have not been gazetted yet. There is no import health standard for those new products, but—and I take issue with the member on this—the labelling requirements are already significant and clear, and the Ministry for Primary Industries will enforce those labelling requirements; they do not need to be changed.

Steffan Browning: Given that New Zealanders really want to know what is in their food, when will she monitor and enforce labelling for GE in food ingredients, in products that are currently on our supermarket shelves?

Hon JO GOODHEW: What I can assure the member is that any current regulatory or legislative requirements for labelling will continue to be enforced by the Ministry for Primary Industries, but I would urge the member, upon hearing of any alleged breach, to make sure that the Ministry for Primary Industries knows about it, as a priority, perhaps even at the same time as he takes it to the media.

Biosecurity Management—Screening Funding

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is the Minister for Primary Industries according to my sheet.

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: This question is for the Minister for Primary Industries. It is a shame he is not the Minister for Biosecurity.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think to progress, just read the question. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) 11. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast—Tasman) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Was the Government’s decision to cut 100 percent bag screening indicative of the priority the Government places on biosecurity?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Yes. This allows the Ministry for Primary Industries to target more resources at high-risk passengers. The only people who go through the green lane are assessed by a Ministry for Primary Industries officer as low risk, and they are still likely to be screened by sniffer dogs. X-rays are just one tool that the Ministry for Primary Industries uses to manage biosecurity risks. Analysis shows that passengers coming through the green lane have a higher compliance than those who do not. We are constantly exploring ways to improve and we will be looking at tougher measures, but it is too early to say what they might be.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Given that Biosecurity New Zealand has previously said in its strategy that screening all bags halves the risk of incursions, why did his Government stop screening all bags in 2012?

Hon NATHAN GUY: We have a multi-layered, world-class biosecurity system. We still have a process—a very robust process—on border control. The member needs to be aware that there are four pathways that we focus on: cargo, craft, mail, and passenger. The member also needs to be aware that we have increased funding in biosecurity, we have got more front-line quarantine inspectors working on biosecurity—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have heard enough and it is clear that that member, the Minister, is not answering the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why?

Mr SPEAKER: Because I told him to. If the member had listened more carefully to the answers, he would realise that that question was quite definitely addressed.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have we reached the point where a senior member of the Opposition is not allowed to raise a point of order without being treated rudely by the Speaker?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member felt I addressed him rudely, I apologise. [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. What I am saying is that it is important for people to listen to the answers, and in that case, if the member goes back and studies the answer, he will see that the answer certainly addressed the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I carefully listened to the answer with great acuity of hearing, as good as you—as good as you, I am assuring you. The question was about a certain specific procedure that was ceased in 2012. None of that in the Hansard will cover that, as you said, so why do you not listen to the answer yourself?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is the sort of comment that is very unnecessary to this Chamber. I invite the member, as I have already once, to go back and look at the Hansard. It might not be the answer Mr O’Connor was hoping for, but it certainly addressed the question.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the statement on his ministry’s website that “Fruit fly is most likely to arrive with plane passengers bringing infested fruit in luggage.”, page last updated 19 February 2015, will he reinstate 100 percent X-ray screening; if not, why not?

Hon NATHAN GUY: Well, if the member listened to my primary answer—I am not sure that he did—I said that the Ministry for Primary Industries has a real target on high-risk passengers. I also went on to say that we are continuing to review the biosecurity system to ensure that it is world-class, multi-layered, and, indeed, my No. 1 priority as Minister.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Why has he not acted sooner to reintroduce 100 percent bag screening, given that there have been at least three fruit fly incursions in the last 2 years?

Hon NATHAN GUY: If the member listened to the answers that I have been trying to give him today, and if he had a look at the pathway analysis on the Ministry for Primary Industries website, (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) which he obviously has not looked at, that will confirm that indeed there are four pathways where an egg or larvae could have come in. Importantly, the member needs to realise that we have never had a breeding population established in New Zealand, which goes to show that the 7,500 traps in New Zealand are working.

Joanne Hayes: What are some examples of the emphasis this Government places on biosecurity?

Hon NATHAN GUY: That is a very good question. In the last 2 years we have roughly doubled the number of dog detector teams, we have got 15 new X-ray machines working at our international airports, we have got 130 new front-line quarantine inspectors, and we have got two portable labs. We have stepped up a very quick response to this detection of one Queensland fruit fly in Auckland at the moment. The member will also be aware—he might have forgotten—that we are investing $68 million in a new biocontainment facility in Wallaceville, and also we have brought in Government industry agreements where the kiwifruit and the pipfruit industries are sitting around with the Ministry for Primary Industries and working closely with it on preparedness and response.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Did he or his officials raise any concerns with the Prime Minister as Minister of Tourism about the increased risks to biosecurity when the proposal to cut 100 percent X-rays was being considered?

Hon NATHAN GUY: The whole of Cabinet made the decision to make the change.

Hon Damien O’Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question is very clear: did he or his officials raise concerns? It is as simple as that.

Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty—

Hon Damien O’Connor: To the Prime Minister—sorry, just to clarify for the Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty was that I doubt whether the Minister was actually the Minister at the time. But he said that the matter went before Cabinet to meet.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I have a point of order from the Hon David Parker. I hope it is more helpful than the last one.

Hon David Parker: In respect of your last point, the Minister has responsibility for the actions that happened under the watch of prior people in that role. He might say “I don’t know.”, but he has responsibility.

Mr SPEAKER: He did not say “I don’t know.”; he said the matter had been raised before Cabinet, which means that the Prime Minister certainly was present for the discussion. So in that regard the question has been addressed.

Hon Damien O’Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am just wanting clarity because—

Mr SPEAKER: If the member now is—[Interruption] Order! I just want to be clear. I have ruled that the question has been addressed. Is the member now relitigating that matter?

Hon Damien O’Connor: I am just wanting an answer.

Mr SPEAKER: I have given an answer as to whether the question has been addressed. If the member wants to raise—[Interruption] Order! Resume your seat. If the member wants to raise a fresh point of order, that is legitimate. If the point of order is now relitigating a decision I have made as to whether that question that has been raised by the member previously has been addressed, then I have given a ruling on that, and to continue to relitigate that matter will bring this House into disorder.

Hon Damien O’Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that. The question would be, then, what is appropriate as an answer from a Minister who may not be aware of what has happened previously. I accept—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Now the member is starting to waste the time of this House. The member will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! Unless the member wants to make an early departure from the House, I suggest he sit down. Question No. 12— (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member please resume his seat. I am on my feet. If the member wants to raise a fresh point of order, I would be delighted to hear it, but if the member is going to raise a point of order relitigating a decision I have just made about the adequacy of an answer, that again is leading to disorder, and I will deal with the member quite severely if that happens. Does the member have a point of order?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am going to ask you this question because, frankly, it is to do with your explanation to the questioner. The questioner wanted to know whether the Minister or his officials raised an issue with a specific person or body. What we got was that the decision was made by the whole Cabinet. I am no wiser, and nor is he, as to the particularity of that question. If that is an offence, I am willing to take the consequences.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I thought that the answer was very, very clear. Firstly, the member is obviously asking questions based on some official information he has already received, most likely—

Hon Damien O’Connor: No, I haven’t. I wasn’t.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, look at the website; it is all published. One of the things that are most salient here is that when all of these things are put before Cabinet, the Prime Minister is sitting there chairing it. So he is saying, effectively, that not only did the Prime Minister see it but the whole Cabinet saw it. I appreciate that the member’s limited experience of these matters might mean he does not know how that works, but there is some information for him.

Mr SPEAKER: The matter has been dealt with. The answer was satisfactory. The question was whether the Minister had taken the matter to the Minister of Tourism. As I recall it, he said he had taken it to Cabinet, which means that all Ministers were there. So certainly the question has been addressed, and I should think that if the members think carefully about the answer, they will know that the answer has given the information that was required.

Canterbury Earthquake Memorial—Progress 12. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: What progress has the Government made on the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial?

Hon NICKY WAGNER (Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): On Tuesday, six shortlisted designs for the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial were released for public input. The memorial will honour those who died or were injured during the Canterbury earthquakes, acknowledge the suffering of those who lived through them, and recognise the heroism of those who were involved in the rescue and recovery operations. More than 330 designs were received from 37 countries. Each of those shortlisted designs is outstanding, and any one of them would make a fine tribute to Christchurch and Canterbury.

Nuk Korako: Kā mihi anō. How can members of the public have their say on the memorial designs?

Hon NICKY WAGNER: The public can view each of the designs and have their say online, on the Christchurch Central Development Unit website, until 15 March. Alternatively, people can go and see the designs on display in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, alongside the Canterbury Museum, and post their opinions. The public input will be considered, along with further feedback from the bereaved families and seriously injured, an evaluation panel of professional experts, and the memorial leadership group.


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