Questions and Answers – February 24

by Desk Editor on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 — 8:36 PM


Prime Minister—Statements 1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement with regard to the deployment of troops to the warzone in Iraq that “I don’t think that’s a matter for a Parliamentary vote”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Andrew Little: Given that Parliament has to approve paying the Defence Force, has to approve buying the tools it needs, and has to declare war, does he not accept it is right that Parliament should have to approve sending our troops to war?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is no convention that there will be a parliamentary vote, and history shows that in many cases there has not been. The Labour Government, as I pointed out a few moments ago, when it sent the SASin, in a combat role, did not actually take that to a parliamentary vote.

Andrew Little: Is not the reality this: the only reason he will not put the decision to deploy troops to Iraq to a vote is that he cannot get the approval of this Parliament?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. Every 3 years this country has a vote on the leadership shown by political parties. I am quite happy to put my leadership, when it comes to the safety and security of New Zealanders, to a very widespread vote in 2017.

Andrew Little: Given his Government’s failure to secure a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi Government, is he absolutely sure that a diplomatic passport gives the right for our troops to be armed and to defend themselves if necessary?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That position is yet to be decided, but I am totally confident—totally confident—that our forces, when they go for their training mission, will have all the legal requirements to carry out their functions.

Andrew Little: Does he think that waving a diplomatic passport will get our troops out of trouble following a shooting in Iraq, especially when the Iraqi Government has specifically refused to sign an agreement giving our troops rights over there? Is that the kind of risk he is prepared to take with our troops?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is actually quite wrong in parts of his question, but I can say that the matter was raised with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, who gave us every confidence that the position would be resolved to ensure our forces have the absolute protection required.

Andrew Little: Is being part of the club worth sending our soldiers to war without the authorisation of Parliament, without a plan, without legal authority, and without any guarantee of their safety?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are 62 members who have decided that they, in some part, will play a role in standing up to evil, in standing up to people who threaten New Zealanders and our values (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) and principles. I suspect, actually, it was a very similar number when Helen Clark decided to send the engineers to Iraq. I suspect it is the same situation as when Helen Clark decided to send the SAS in a combat role. As is so often the case, what we see from Labour is that it does one thing in Government and says another thing in Opposition.

Andrew Little: Why does he not support Labour’s position to actually give the Iraqi Government the help that it has asked for—humanitarian support and reconstruction expertise?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: A number of things—firstly, we are already giving humanitarian support, $14.5 million. Secondly, I would make the point that in our meeting with the Iraqi Foreign Minister the No. 1 thing that he asked for was security training—so the training of Iraqi security forces. I will make this one final point. It is a slightly warped sense of risk when the Leader of the Opposition thinks that the role New Zealand should play should be conducting air strikes when we do not have that capability, as he has publicly said, and, secondly, the reconstruction of roads, schools, and hospitals outside the wire, in an environment where they would be subject to improvised explosive device attacks, attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—

Hon Member: You’re making it up again.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, you cannot do them behind the wire, sunshine.

Prime Minister—Statements 2. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “Just passing everything by the barest of majorities isn’t the right way to govern a country”; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, in the context it was given. This comment was made when National had a provisional majority to govern alone following the election in September. It referred to the fact that I intended to work with other parties where possible, and I do that.

Dr Russel Norman: If the Prime Minister thinks passing legislation with bare majorities is not the right way to govern, how is sending troops to Iraq, with no majority, the right way to govern?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member is quite incorrect, actually. The authority and responsibility for making decisions to deploy Defence Force personnel is one that rests with the executive. It always has, and that is why Helen Clark chose to send our SAS forces, in a combat role, to Afghanistan, not only without a parliamentary vote—she did not actually have the courtesy to tell the country they were going.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister accept that sending troops into a combat zone is part of the functionality of a Government and is part of governing a country; if so, how can sending troops to Iraq, with no majority, be the right way to govern a country?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government makes decisions on behalf of the people of New Zealand and it puts those to a test. I remember in 2011 when the entire election was dominated by the mixed-ownership model. Despite the fact that we had the single-biggest result prior to the 2014 election of a parliamentary party under MMP, and despite the fact that the Labour Party and the Green Party Opposition got an absolute trouncing, the member still did not want to accept the word of the people. The problem with Russel Norman and the Green Party is they want to accept the word of the people only when it suits their argument. When the people believe in something different from them, all of a sudden they are the idiots. It is a very sad way to treat the people of New Zealand, Mr Norman.

Dr Russel Norman: If the Prime Minister wishes to test this decision he has made to send troops to Iraq, against the will of the people, as represented by the 120 members in this Parliament, why does he not put a motion on the floor of this Parliament and we will see if he has a majority?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I have said so often before, the convention is not that, and that was not the case when Helen Clark made the very numerous decisions that she did. In the end, we test these things every 3 years. But I will say this. We all understand the domestic risks from the Islamic State (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). We understand those risks, and we understand those risks from New Zealanders. I just look forward to the political leaders who have spoken in opposition today being the ones who come forward if something goes wrong to those New Zealanders. It will be very different, boy.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it not just a simple truth that the decision the Prime Minister has made today to send troops to Iraq has actually put New Zealanders at more risk?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Quite the opposite. A stronger ISIL is one that has more outreach, more resources, and more capability to actually inflict pain, torture, and kill New Zealanders.

Dr Russel Norman: When he said that sending troops to Iraq was the price we paid for being part of the club, what exactly did he mean?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I meant that New Zealand for a very, very long period of time has worked with other countries to provide support to other countries because in return New Zealanders get support. There are 62 nations, actually, that are part of the coalition effort, and we help each other in a variety of different fields in support. That is why Governments make these decisions, because they know, in my view, that they are strongest when good nations get together to stand up to bad and evil forces. That is something the member does not know, because he has not been in Government, but any party that has knows that.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it not actually the case that the club he was referring to was the “Five Eyes” club; if that is not the case, then why did he not correct the interpretation, which was widespread throughout the New Zealand media for more than a month, that the club he was actually referring to was the “Five Eyes” club, not the 60-odd nations he is now referring to?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is quite incorrect. Actually, a number of people asked my office, because I was overseas at the time, and my media team made it quite clear what I was talking about. It is a shame the member will not get a chance to talk about those matters, because he is persona non grata when it comes to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Economy—Government Revenue and Half-Year Update Forecasts 3. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on trends in Government revenue and how does this compare with forecasts in the Half-Year Update in December?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Last week Treasury released the Government’s financial statements for the 6 months to December. They show higher than expected tax revenue and lower than expected operating expenses, which contributed to an operating balance deficit of $990 million for the 6 months to December. That is $380 million smaller than the one that was forecast by Treasury in the half-year update. The Government considers that a strong economy and responsible fiscal management can deliver a surplus when the final accounts are published in October this year. However, it remains to be seen whether the additional tax revenue above forecast persists for the rest of the financial year.

Paul Foster-Bell: What were the drivers of the better than expected out-turn on the Crown accounts?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Tax revenue was a bit above forecast: GST was about 1.7 percent above the forecast and corporate tax was 3.1 percent above the forecast. Customs and excise duties were $46 million above the forecast. Core Crown expenses were a bit lower than the forecast. We have yet to see whether corporate tax, which is notoriously variable from a forecaster’s point of view, and increases in GST persist through the rest of the year.

Paul Foster-Bell: What steps has the Government taken to return its books to surplus?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has focused particularly on two aspects. One is policy that underpins a growing economy that can deliver more tax revenue. We have also focused on reasonable constraints on expenditure. We could have got to surplus sooner if the Government had pursued the kind of large-scale drastic cuts that Governments in other developed countries have (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) pursued. However, we have chosen a more considered and incremental path. It does mean that getting to surplus depends less on drastic spending cuts and more on continued growth and revenue.

Paul Foster-Bell: What approaches to fiscal management would make it more difficult for the Government to reduce debt?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Other approaches would be opposing every single Government measure to constrain spending and debt, joining union protests calling for unsustainable increases in public sector spending, and advocating policies that persist with previous spending and borrowing that Treasury forecasts would push New Zealand Government debt to very high levels. This is the approach of the finance spokesman in the Labour Party.

Economy—Debt Levels 4. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: What is the additional amount of gross debt that the Crown has taken on since the Government was elected in November 2008?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Gross debt in 2008-09 was $43 billion. At the time Treasury was forecasting that it would rise to $125 billion by this year. In fact, forecasts now show that gross debt will reach $80 billion. That is a reduction of $45 billion on the forecasts inherited by the incoming National Government. That does not take account of the fact that in 2008-09 those forecasts did not, because they could not, include the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes and the generally slow recovery from the global financial crisis. So, in the circumstances, the Government has pursued prudent and balanced policies that have led to an increase in gross debt, and if we continue on our current path that debt will start to reduce in the next year or two.

Grant Robertson: Despite that answer, can he actually confirm that New Zealand’s gross debt has gone up by $51 billion under his watch and now represents 36.1 percent of GDP, an increase of 18.2 points since he took office?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The figures will be roughly pointed in the right direction, although I cannot confirm the actual figures, but it is a bit ironic coming from a party that has advocated more spending the whole way through the last 7 years.

Grant Robertson: Further to that answer, can he confirm that net debt is currently $66 billion, or 28.1 percent of GDP, compared with $12 billion, or 6.8 percent of GDP, in 2008, a fivefold increase under his watch?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, it is roughly that, although the percentage of GDP is too high because Statistics New Zealand have rebased the GDP number and it is actually closer to 25 percent. But of course the Government has followed a balanced policy where, with regard to net debt, we have tried to minimise the amount of borrowing in the face of the recession and the earthquakes on the one hand, and exercise pretty careful constraint on Government spending so that we do not run debt out of control. Every recommendation that party has made would have ended up with higher levels of debt.

Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table a paper from the Parliamentary Library that shows that the figures I just gave on net debt are in fact accurate.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular Parliamentary Library document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

Andrew Bayly: What steps has the Government taken to reduce Crown debt?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Just by way of example, if I look at the Government’s new spending and revenue initiatives over the past six Budgets, net of reprioritised spending, over six Budgets that new spending and revenue have totalled less than $2.7 billion over those six Budgets. By comparison, the equivalent number for the six Budgets of the previous Labour Government was $20 billion over six Budgets. So the Government has sought to minimise the increase in debt in the face of difficult circumstances by controlling its spending very carefully, at the same time as improving (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) public services and supporting the most vulnerable. We believe that we have got the balance about right.

Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand is now paying $10.4 million in interest each day to service the debt built up under his watch?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may be around the figure. Of course, it would have been higher if we had listened to that member when he protested outside public service buildings around Wellington against any spending restraint.

Grant Robertson: I do not think any of that—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a point of order?

Grant Robertson: Yes, it is. I was going to say that I do not think any of that material was relevant to the answer, but if he—

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

Andrew Bayly: What progress has been made in achieving the Government’s fiscal goals?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have indicated, we have made measured and incremental progress. We could have gone faster—there is no doubt about that—if we had done what other Governments have done and fired thousands of civil servants. We could have gone slower if we had listened to the finance spokesman for the Opposition and spent a lot more money and run up a lot more debt. But we think we have got the balance about right. The operating balance has shrunk significantly from a peak of around $18 billion to around an estimated $500 million for this year. That is very significant progress.

Grant Robertson: Is he satisfied that he is fulfilling his promise to New Zealanders to “reduce total debt to prudent levels” by incurring gross and net debt levels of $85 billion and $66 billion respectively?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and I think the election showed that New Zealanders, on average, are pleased that they have got a Government that understands that to achieve those things you need to exercise restraint in spending, whereas the Opposition finance spokesman has been protesting around Wellington, outside public service buildings, that the Government is not spending enough.

Prime Minister—Statements 5. 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: When he said: “This Government has already undertaken a range of work to protect the most vulnerable New Zealanders.” and that became an issue in the Northland electorate and in his own organisation, what did he do about it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One thing is the creation of 7,500 jobs with the goodwill of commercial and business people of Northland since that statement, I think.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That answer, with respect, has nothing to do with the question I put, which was, going off his quote, to do with vulnerable New Zealanders.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the question—I can assist the member if he resumes his seat—finished with “So what is the Prime Minister doing about it?”. The Prime Minister then told the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister gave this quote in a speech on family violence.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I have ruled that the question has been addressed. If the member wants to take further supplementary questions to try and delve into the issue, I invite him to do so, but I will not take the member continually now questioning a ruling that I give in this House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Prime Minister has said in a speech on family violence: “This Government has already undertaken a range of work to protect the most vulnerable New (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Zealanders.” and that issue arises in the Northland electorate with connection to his own organisation, what did he do about it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has taken a number of steps when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable from family violence. We could list those for you, but they include everything from the work that Paula Bennett did when she was Minister for Social Development right through to the work that Anne Tolley is carrying on today.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Prime Minister said in the same speech: “A great example of this is the recent passing of the Vulnerable Children’s Bill, which ensures that New Zealand’s most at-risk children get priority,” and that became an issue in his own organisation in the Northland electorate, what did he do about it other than to try and cover it up?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! In so far as the Prime Minister feels there is ministerial responsibility, he can answer the question—no? He does not have to.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has been working hard on a range of different issues, and vulnerable children are a great example of the work we are doing.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When he said in the same speech to do with family violence, children at risk, and vulnerable children: “It is time we learned we must not ignore it, nor should we accept it,” and this became an issue in the Northland electorate within his own organisation and with an MP in his own caucus, what did he do about it other than to cover it up?

Mr SPEAKER: I can see very little ministerial responsibility, but if the Prime Minister wishes to address the question, he can do so.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In Northland there is a Children’s Team that has been established there, and the Government is doing great work in that area in Northland.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking the Prime Minister—and the question included this—about the issue of allegations of family violence to do with his own organisation and own his caucus. I asked him for specificity, and he is not giving me anything at all.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. You are asking the question of the Prime Minister in his ministerial responsibility. He does not have ministerial responsibility for actions within his organisation or his caucus.

Environment—Rise in Sea Level 6. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he agree with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that a 30 centimetre rise in sea level “may not sound much” but “will be significant at a national level” in New Zealand?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Yes, but we need to be open about the considerable uncertainty in projections. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report projects a rise from now to 2050 of between 10 centimetres and 27 centimetres, so the parliamentary commissioner is at the most pessimistic end of that range.

Eugenie Sage: Does he agree with Local Government and Environment Committee chair, Scott Simpson, that the primary concern with the parliamentary commissioner’s investigation into sea level rise is its potentially detrimental financial impact on the owners of coastal property, and is that why he has chosen not to use the Resource Management Act to develop a national policy statement or a national environmental standard for sea level rise to help local authorities in their climate change adaptation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member misrepresents the comments from my colleague the member of Parliament for Coromandel. The reason the Government provides guidance to local authorities to plan for a sea level rise of between 0.5 metres and 0.8 metres over the years through to 2100 is that the science says that over that period it could be anywhere—and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says this—between 0.28 metres and 0.98 metres. That is a huge range. The idea that you can simplistically regulate, when the science is not that simple, is (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) the reason the Government has not provided a national environmental standard but is instead providing guidance for local authorities.

Eugenie Sage: I seek leave to table an email from the Buller District Council chief executive officer, Paul Wylie, which says, in relation to that council’s work on climate change risk assessment, that the council will look to central government for some national—

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular email from Paul Wylie. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I seek leave to table the guidance that my Ministry for the Environment provides for all local authorities, including the Buller District Council, on the level of sea level rise that they should plan for.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I put the leave, can I just be clear that it is not something that is easily available on a website?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Oh, it is easily available. It is quite clear—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There will be no need for me to put the leave.

Eugenie Sage: Given the significant impacts of sea level rise such as increased coastal erosion and increased flood hazard risk, why are councils being given just some 2008 guidance and being left to deal with the issues themselves, rather than being supported by central government?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No matter how much the member wishes, there is not the level of definitiveness in the science to tell local authorities over the period to 2100—or, for that matter, in the period to 2050—exactly what level of sea level rise there will be. No amount of wishful thinking will provide that exact science.

Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister think it is responsible for his Government to implement policies that have New Zealand on track to double our emissions in the next decade while providing little practical support to local government in how it tackles issues such as coastal erosion, where it controls future development, and how it reduces the risk of sea level rise?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would be happy to challenge the member and say that this Government has made more progress on constraining greenhouse gas emissions than any Government since this issue arose. If you look at the growth in emissions between the year 1999 and 2008, when the Green Party propped up that Government, we saw record increases in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. What you have seen under this Government is record increases in renewable energy and I am proud of it.

State Housing—Social Housing Purchasing Strategy 7. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Social Housing: How will the Ministry of Social Development’s social housing purchasing strategy lead to better outcomes for tenants?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): An important part of the Government’s social housing reforms is the Ministry of Social Development’s new role as the purchaser of social housing places. The Ministry of Social Development is already conducting a social housing purchasing trial in both west and south Auckland that provides community housing providers and Housing New Zealand with information about who needs a house and where so they can offer people houses and services that meet their needs. This will lead to more choice for tenants. It means that it is all about them and their needs, not necessarily about the Housing New Zealand home that may be in the wrong place and the wrong size.

Stuart Smith: What kinds of tenancies will the Ministry of Social Development be able to purchase for people?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The whole idea of the purchasing strategy is that it will allow the Ministry of Social Development to purchase a variety of tenancies that will suit the unique needs of the individual. It could, for example, purchase a short-term place for a man coming out of prison with a community provider that specialises in drug and alcohol issues to help him reintegrate and (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) then to move to independence. For a single mum leaving a violent relationship, it might be that it secures a 10-year tenancy that means she is getting a wrap-around service over a long period of time—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Speak to John Key about it. Talk to John Key, not me.

Hon PAULA BENNETT:—and that member, if he ever needs it, should knock on the door and we might look for him, as well.

Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has referred to an official document in her answer. Can I ask that the document be tabled?

Mr SPEAKER: I just need to clarify: was the Minister using an official document?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, I do not think I did.

Mr SPEAKER: She was not.

Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Both the primary question and the Minister’s answer referred to the Ministry of Social Development’s social housing purchasing strategy. I would ask that that document be tabled—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member needs to understand that if the Minister was quoting as she gave an answer from an official document, the member can ask for that to be tabled. [Interruption] Order! On this particular occasion, the Minister may well have referred to a development within her ministry, but she was not using it in the House. She does not have to table it.

Stuart Smith: How will the strategy help grow the community housing sector?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: In order for tenants to get better services, the community sector will need to grow. The sector currently provides about 6 percent of social houses. As we know, Labour supports this policy, as we have heard from its members in the past. They are committed to the community housing sector having access to income-related rent subsidies, to capital grants, and to stock transfer. We heard Phil Twyford himself say that we need, particularly in our bigger centres, large-scale urban developments backed by private sector developments and community housing organisations. This is all about that strategy of providing more for tenants and focusing on their needs.

Iraq—Defence Force Deployment 8. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Defence: What is the level of risk assessed by the New Zealand Defence Force if its personnel are deployed to Iraq and what force protection would be provided for them?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Defence): Force protection has been determined on the advice from the Chief of Defence Force, and I trust his professional judgment. I am not going to undermine his responsibilities or the security of our forces by providing the detail asked for by the member.

Hon Phil Goff: When the Australian Government is prepared to say that it believes the risk of deploying trainers is high, why is the Minister of Defence and the National Government denying that important information to New Zealanders?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not think it is in the interests of the public or the personnel we are deploying for these matters to be discussed. If the member wants to persist in saying that this is something we should be discussing, he needs to look back over the record of a previous Government that did not even tell New Zealanders they were deploying into combat zones.

Hon Phil Goff: Given the importance of a Government’s decision to put its soldiers in harm’s way, should not a deployment be put to the vote in this House in the same way as it was in 2001 when Labour deployed the SAS into Afghanistan and this House passed by 105 votes to seven a resolution supporting the New Zealand deployment to Afghanistan, contrary to the inaccurate and misleading assertions of John Key a moment ago? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The date that the member refers to, of course, relates to a time when we had a responsible Opposition in this House, not the riff-raff we have got there at the moment.

Hon Phil Goff: Why are we sending New Zealand troops into a high-risk environment when the training outcomes are expected to be low because New Zealand trainers cannot make a difference to the deeply entrenched corruption, the incompetent leadership, the sectarianism, and the low morale of the Iraqi army?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I notice that the member, as he is asking that question, is referring to his own notes. I suggest that he stops talking to himself in the mirror, because he is getting just far too much misinformation from himself.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I can sense what the point of order is. I am going to invite the member to re-ask that question.

Hon Phil Goff: Why are we putting Kiwis into a high-risk conflict environment when the training outcomes are expected to be low because of the incompetent leadership, the deeply entrenched corruption, the sectarianism, and the very poor morale of the Iraqi army, which our trainers cannot have any influence over at all?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I reject totally the points that are made by the member and suggest that they are made simply to try to give some credence to the very, very sad commentary that he is delivering the nation on this matter.

Hon Phil Goff: Why have we agreed to send New Zealand soldiers into Iraq without a status of forces agreement, which is the normal part of the protection that Kiwis serving in another country would have?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It would be good if the member kept up with what is actually happening. What is announced today is that the Government is giving the New Zealand Defence Force the go-ahead to prepare for deployment with the expectation that, all going well, it would be deployed at some time in May. One of the conditions around that is ensuring that we do have appropriate legal protections for our defence forces. I do not think that the fixation the member has on a particular type of protection is reasonable, given that there is only one country out of 22 currently in Iraq that uses that particular protection. I just think that it is wrong for the left to come in here and insist that unless there is this specific type of protection available, then everything is wrong. It works for 22 other countries. We will negotiate something that will give our men and women in the mission the protection they need.

Hon Phil Goff: Is Lieutenant-General Tim Keating, Chief of Defence Force, correct in asserting that of the 143 New Zealand Defence Force personnel we are putting in harm’s way, only 16 of those are specialist trainers—only 16 of 143 being put in harm’s way?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Let me just reject the concept that we are deliberately putting troops in harm’s way. Every precaution is being taken to ensure that they are as safe as possible in difficult circumstances. The Chief of Defence Force has advised us that if we were to send a group of as many as 16 who are specialist trainers, then they would need other support, and we have not been stinting in allowing him to put together a mission that has all those supports in it. It is ridiculous for the member to start making a big deal of force protection at the start of his question, and then start getting outraged because we have got force protection that he thinks is too much. What is it, Mr Goff? Are we protecting them or not?

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. From that very long answer, was the answer actually yes?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member can go back and look at his question—[Interruption] Order! The member can go back and look at his question and he will see that the question was certainly addressed. It may not have been to the member’s satisfaction, but it was addressed. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Small Business—Support 9. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Small Business: What steps is the Government taking to support growth for small business?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): A strong and growing economy, with low interest rates, helps to create an environment that supports small business growth. Policies limiting the amount of extra Government spending, lowering personal and company tax rates, and focusing on sustainable jobs have contributed to GDP growth of 3.2 percent and low interest rates. In addition to getting the macroeconomic policies right, the Government’s Business Growth Agenda is also helping small business growth. These policies are creating an environment that is better for business.

Melissa Lee: What evidence has he seen that shows these policies have contributed to small business growth under this Government?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: According to the most recent 5-year MYOB Business Monitor report, New Zealand small and medium sized businesses are now showing the highest revenue growth in more than 5 years. The report shows that almost twice as many businesses reported a rise in revenue performance compared with 2009. The report, which canvassed over 1,000 small and medium enterprises over 5 years, indicates how business conditions have significantly improved. This is another example that under a National-led Government small businesses are more confident growing their businesses and hiring more Kiwis.

Melissa Lee: How does the current environment, which is helping to contribute towards small business growth, compare with the environment in 2008?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: Small Kiwi businesses are now more confident as they are now operating in a growing economy and are enjoying low interest rates. This is in contrast to 2008, when the economy had been in recession for 1 year prior to the global financial crisis, and mortgage rates exceeded 10 percent. To continue this growth and to enable small businesses to employ more Kiwis, the last thing they need is high extra spending policies and more complex taxes, as proposed by the Labour Opposition.

Biosecurity Management—Resourcing

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member should have addressed it to the Minister for Primary Industries. The question will stand, and the Hon Nathan Guy will answer the question. 10. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast – Tasman) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Does he consider that cuts the Government has made to biosecurity have contributed to the current fruit fly outbreak?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): The assertion in that question is factually incorrect. Overall biosecurity funding is now $9 million more than when we took office. In the last 2 years we have significantly increased the number of detector dogs, we have added 130 front-line quarantine officers, we have 15 new X-ray machines, we have two portable response labs, we have introduced Government-industry agreements, we have announced we are building a $68 million biocontainment laboratory, and the list goes on.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just waiting for a little bit of assistance here.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Is it not true that in the first year of the National Government, $2 million was cut from the biosecurity budget, 54 front-line staff were fired, detector dog numbers were cut, and since then the hard-working front-line biosecurity staff have been unable to maintain an appropriate level of biosecurity at our borders?

Hon NATHAN GUY: No. The member over on the other side cannot even read a question that is down on the sheet correctly, so—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I dealt with that matter earlier. Would the Minister just answer the question? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon NATHAN GUY: I have. I have answered it.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I rose to my feet; I could not hear the answer because of the barracking the Minister’s comments caused. I have asked the Minister to answer the question.

Hon NATHAN GUY: We have increased funding by $9 million extra since we came into office, we have established more front-line quarantine inspectors, we have introduced 15 new X-ray machines, and we have significantly increased the dog detector teams. So I do not know where that member gets his information from.

Hon Damien O’Connor: How does the Minister justify his elimination of 100 percent bag screening in 2012 and the subsequent four incursions of fruit fly, given the statement from own department that “Fruit fly is most likely to arrive with plane passengers bringing in infested fruit in luggage.”?

Hon NATHAN GUY: It is interesting, because X-rays are just one of a combination of tools that are used at the border, and what is really interesting for the member—and he may have forgotten—is that when there was 100 percent screening, from 2001 to 2008, we still had significant incursions under the Labour Government. They were varroa, painted apple moth, didymo, fall webworm, red fire ant, and Asian gypsy moth, which required aerial spraying over Hamilton in 2003—and the list goes on.

Hon Damien O’Connor: If the Minister considers, as he so often states, that our biosecurity system is world class, how does he explain that in 2010 we had Psa in kiwifruit, and the great white butterfly; in 2013 we had an animal limb in palm kernel expeller, black grassweed, the red-vented bulbul, and the live bamboo longhorn beetle; and in 2014 we had white peach scale on kiwifruit, and onion fly in imported garlic? How many more unwanted pests and diseases need to arrive before he resigns?

Hon NATHAN GUY: That member obviously does not realise that there was a whole list of incursions under the Labour regime. We have very much a world-class system in New Zealand, and the reason I say that is that we are one of the few countries in the world that has a proven history of successful eradication of pests, whether it is fruit fly, white-spotted tussock moth, the Asian gypsy moth, or even termites. We have proven to the world that we can eradicate pests, and we will continue to do that.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Can he confirm that an audit of the new direct exit system introduced by his Government, at the same time that he removed 100 percent X-ray bag screening, found failures in the system that resulted in risk items getting through into New Zealand with 80,000 people; and why did he not reinstate at that time 100 percent X-ray bag screening?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Nathan Guy—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon NATHAN GUY: Biosecurity officials are focused on those that have the highest risk, and the green lane actually has the best compliance rate. The member needs to realise that we have strengthened the biosecurity systems. We are putting in 100 percent dog detection screening. All international passengers coming into our international airports have 100 percent screening, and the member also needs to realise that there are four pathways that we are focused on: cargo, craft, mail, and passenger. We will continue to strengthen the biosecurity system as it continues to evolve with new technology.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Given that in the past 4 years border security monitoring funding decreased by 2 percent in real terms but international visitors increased by 13 percent, and international cargo imports increased by 19 percent—meaning biosecurity staff were expected to do 15 percent more work with 2 percent less funding—how can he claim that we have a world-class biosecurity system?

Hon NATHAN GUY: I cannot verify that member’s facts and figures, because he is known to get things wrong, but what I can say is that the budget for biosecurity is $9 million higher now, under this Government, than when we came into office, and the member should not forget that. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Consumer Affairs—Powers of Repossession Agents 11. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs: What actions is the Government taking to limit the powers of repossession agents?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): Recently I joined the Associate Minister of Justice in announcing new laws that will better protect consumers from those repossession agents who act in an unscrupulous manner. From 6 June 2015 all repossession agents must be registered, with fines of up to $40,000 for those who breach those rules. Those new requirements are one of a number of changes focused on increasing consumer protection under the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Amendment Act 2014.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What other requirements of repossession agents is the Government implementing?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: From 6 June 2015 creditors will be allowed to repossess an item only if it is specifically identified in the credit contract, and repossession agents will no longer be permitted to take certain essential items, such as beds and cooking equipment. The new changes will also prevent someone from becoming a licensed repossession agent if they have committed certain crimes, including violence and dishonesty offences. Increasing consumer protection through an enhanced repossession agent licensing regime is just another important part of our Business Growth Agenda.

Social Development, Minister—Statements 12. CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by all her statements?

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

Clayton Mitchell: Why did she backtrack on her recent statement regarding migrant workers: “We must be careful we don’t fill up all the spaces with immigrants”?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: In fact, I did not backtrack. That was part of a very long, complex interview and the Gisborne Herald, when I complained about those comments, actually printed a retraction and the full transcript of the radio interview that I had completed.

Clayton Mitchell: Can she explain why New Zealand job seekers are not equipped to take the spaces she talks about, like the thousands at the Cricket World Cup in seasonal positions that so many migrant workers have come here for?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said in that radio interview that the member referred to, this is a very complex issue, so we have to be very careful. The Government is very clear that it wants New Zealanders to have access to jobs first and foremost. So everything that we do—through Work and Income, through our immigration policies—is predicated on that. But there are times when our growers, in particular—and the member comes from an area that needs seasonal employment—tell us that there are times when New Zealand workers are not enough, and we have to provide for migrant workers in order to get those crops to market.

Clayton Mitchell: Would the Minister support tax breaks for employers so that they can afford to payFirst World wages and reduce the number of job seekers, instead of taking the cheap option of abusing the goodwill of migrant workers; if not, why not?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, it is a bit rich, coming from a party that does not even believe in migrant workers. But, however, there is a great deal of support offered to employers in order to ensure they give support to the New Zealand workers. The issue I was discussing in that radio interview is the difficulty where we have some isolated rural communities where there are not the jobs available and other areas where there are jobs available. That is why this Government has put into place the 3K to Christchurch initiative, and almost over 1,000 people now have taken advantage of that. We have been able to move mainly young people into good jobs, good paying jobs, down in Christchurch. This Government intends to roll out more of that sort of support to make sure New Zealand workers get those jobs. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)


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