Questions and Answers – May 26

by Desk Editor on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 — 5:48 PM

Questions to Ministers

Prime Minister—Statements

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

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Metiria Turei : Does he stand by his reported statement that no one had been disadvantaged by the move to scrap the $1,000 KiwiSaver kick-start payment?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member might want to table the source for that because I cannot recall it.

Metiria Turei : Has the Prime Minister seen that New Zealand ranks 22nd out of 24 countries in the OECD for savings, and will his removal of the $1,000 KiwiSaver kick-start contribution make this poor savings record better or worse?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Firstly, savings records have improved under this Government. Secondly, there are multiple ways of measuring those things. And, thirdly, the removal of the $1,000 kick-start contribution will not make a blind bit of difference to the number of people who join KiwiSaver.

Metiria Turei : What evidence does the Prime Minister have that the sign-up rates for KiwiSaver will not be affected?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : That is the formal advice from the Inland Revenue Department, and it is supported by the view that the people who are joining KiwiSaver are essentially doing so because it is now well organised within the workplace. Some of the big scheme providers are extremely well organised. We have got about 15,000 to 20,000 people joining in a month. I would be very, very surprised if it changes at all as a result of this.

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister agree with the Service and Food Workers Union, which said that low-paid workers said that they would be the hardest hit by his decision to axe the kick-start?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Definitely not. The lowest-paid workers will be supported by the fact that the Government increased the Working for Families contribution by $12.50 a week. They will also be supported if they were ever on a benefit by the increase of $25. But, overall, I do not think the removal of $1,000 that people would get in 40 years’ time will be that material.

Metiria Turei : Has the Prime Minister seen that savings in New Zealand are currently concentrated in the top one-fifth of all income earners, and will his removal of the $1,000 KiwiSaver kick-start make saving for those in the bottom four-fifths of income earners easier or harder?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, it is logical, actually—and, I suspect, consistent around pretty much every OECD country—that those who earn the most technically save the most, because savings, of course, is foregone consumption. It is one of the very reasons why this political party will never be means testing New Zealand superannuation, as Labour is now promoting.

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister understand that wealth inequality in New Zealand is twice as large as income inequality, and will his removal of the $1,000 KiwiSaver kick-start strengthen or weaken the incentives for all New Zealanders to build wealth through savings?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think it is important to remember that KiwiSaver is a scheme where after you put in your 3 percent contribution, employers put in 3 percent and the Government puts in the member’s tax credit. If you look at all of those numbers over the normal sort of 45-year working period for most people, $1,000 is immaterial.

Budget 2015—Economic Programme and Support for Vulnerable New Zealanders

2. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Finance : How does Budget 2015 continue the Government’s plan to manage the public finances while supporting the most vulnerable?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has continued its plan to be careful with spending and to choose carefully where it allocates new spending. As a result of that, despite fiscal constraints, we have continued an ongoing programme of supporting New Zealand families to get ahead. This has resulted in a number of changes. From 1 April this year paid parental leave increased by 2 weeks to 16 weeks. It will increase by another 2 weeks next April. On 1 April the adult minimum wage increased to $14.75. New Zealand superannuation increased by another 2 percent. From 1 July this year children under 13 will have access to free GP visits and free prescriptions. From 1 April next year the benefit rates for beneficiary families with children will go up by $25 a week.

Tim Macindoe : How will Budget 2015 support more jobs and higher wages for New Zealand families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : One of the most important things we can do for vulnerable families is to assist the parents into work. When they are in work, of course, it is important for them to see the prospect of steadily rising incomes. This is occurring. The Budget forecast shows 194,000 extra jobs since late 2010, and another 150,000 jobs are expected by 2019. Average annual wages have increased by $5,700 in the last 4 years and are forecast to rise by a further $7,000 to where the annual average wage will be $63,000 a year in 4 years’ time. We can assist more people into work because there are more jobs, and when they are in jobs both the minimum wage and the average wage will continue to rise.

Tim Macindoe : How will the Government’s $790 million child hardship package deliver more support for the families who need it most?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The evidence shows that those families who are most in need are those who are persistently on low incomes, for a long time on benefit, where there are children. Therefore, the Government’s package is targeted at lifting the benefit rates for families with children. This is the first time that core benefit rates have been increased, apart from inflation adjustments, since 1972. We also recognise that low-income working families are under pressure, and so there are increases in the minimum family tax credit and in the base rate of the in-work tax credit. And, in addition to that, childcare assistance will be increased. The package targets around 160,000 families, with 300,000 children, on incomes of less than $36,350 per year.

Tim Macindoe : What other measures were progressed as part of Budget 2015 to support vulnerable New Zealanders?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The Government is continuing to advance its social investment approach, which is aimed at resolving some of the most complex social and family problems that there are in our community. Outside of the child hardship package, the Budget also provides over $100 million for these further initiatives, and they are initiatives aimed at breaking the cycles that lock families into long-term dependency; that is, the cycles of drug and alcohol addiction, criminal offending, persistently low incomes, low educational achievement, and domestic violence. This Government is not afraid to try to address those issues directly, because, in a sense, it does not matter how much income those families have, they have got more serious long-term problems that need sustained support in order to resolve them.

KiwiSaver—Kick-start Contribution

3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Why has he reneged on his commitment made in 2011 that “the $1,000 kick-start for new KiwiSaver members will remain as it is now” by removing the kick-start in this year’s Budget, and did he renege on any other commitments in the Budget?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Those comments were made with respect to KiwiSaver changes in Budget 2011—when Labour’s policy was from about four leaders ago—raising the retirement age at the time. As I said, the Government intends to reduce the amount of money it has to borrow from overseas to put into KiwiSaver, and increase the amount of genuine savings from the private sector. That is precisely what we have done. The only reneging I have seen since the Budget has actually been from the Labour leader, who spent Friday talking about means testing, then sort of reneged, then went—

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Andrew Little : Why has he broken his promise made last year to invest $212 million in regional highways, with Budget 2015 allocating less than half that amount over 3 years?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Sorry, could you just repeat the question? I could not hear one word—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I will ask Andrew Little to repeat the question.

Andrew Little : Why has he broken his promise made last year to invest $212 million in regional highways, with Budget 2015 allocating less than half that amount over 3 years?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : You really need to direct that question to the Minister of Transport, because there will be a logical explanation. We are totally committed to those roads, but they will be accounted for in a certain way.

Andrew Little : Why has he broken his promise made in September last year to create 150,000 jobs in 2 years, given that the Budget shows him missing that target by 50,000 jobs?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member is wrong, again.

Andrew Little : Why has he broken his promise made in September last year to increase the average wage by $7,000 in 3 years, given that the Budget shows the average wage will rise only half that much?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think the Budget showed that wage growth over the next 3 will be about $7,000. Prior to that it was $5,600. But what is true is that average wages are growing faster than inflation under this Government, something that the previous Government could not achieve.

Tim Macindoe : What reports has the Prime Minister received on other approaches to managing retirement savings policy?

Mr SPEAKER : Provided it is within the prime ministerial responsibility, I call the Rt Hon Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have seen a number of conflicting reports on other approaches to retirement savings policy. One included a question about means testing New Zealander superannuation. The answer was: “Yep, I don’t think we can avoid looking at that.” and “You’ve got people over 65 able to keep on working, earning a good income, working alongside people who are doing the same or similar work not getting it. Is it right that the person over 65 on a full-time income should also get this income supplement?”.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! Would the Prime Minister resume his seat. This answer is only going to lead to disorder.

Andrew Little : Why has he broken his promise made last year not to impose new taxes, by putting a new levy on people entering and leaving the country and hiking the levy on broadband users, bearing in mind the Oxford Dictionary says a levy is “a tax raised by levying”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : We have not broken our promise. What we have done is ensure that there will be more money for biosecurity. Mr Little can spend all his time in question time asking these questions if he wants, but the real question is: will he get back on side with his caucus who now hate him because he is polling 25 percent because he wants to means test New Zealand superannuation? It ain’t going well, Andrew.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Before I call the honourable member Tim Macindoe [Interruption] Order! Before I call him I will need him to be aware of Speaker’s ruling 154/2A: “It is not reasonable to use questions from the governing party or its support parties to attack other members of the House.”

Tim Macindoe : What measures has the Government taken to ensure its retirement savings policies are sustainable over the long term?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : What an excellent question. We have set out a responsible path for overall Government spending so that current settings for New Zealand superannuation are both affordable and fully factored into our long-term forecast. As Treasury notes, New Zealand’s current superannuation costs are quite low by world standards, at less than 5 percent of GDP, compared with over 9 percent, on average, across the OECD. By 2060—that is 45 years from now—New Zealand’s annual superannuation costs are forecast to be 8 percent of GDP. That is lower than the current OECD average. If one was really worried about this issue, as one political party in Parliament says it is, there are only three ways of resolving this issue: raise the age of superannuation, means test, or make it less generous to everybody. Mr Little has ruled out two; it must be No. 3. No wonder your caucus—

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Andrew Little : Why has he broken his promise to stop Kiwis becoming tenants in their own country, by failing in this Budget to stop foreign buyers who are purchasing one in every 10 houses sold in Auckland, and instead announcing a range of measures, none of which will make a difference to the Auckland house price crisis?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member would be a lot more credible if he did not make up numbers. It is not one in 10. He has no evidence to support that. Actually, nobody knows. In fact, if he stopped making up policy on the hoof, like the means testing of superannuation, he would do a bit better as well.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Speaking about the primary question, which was “renege on any other commitments”—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Can I just have the supplementary question without the preamble, please.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : You are getting it right now. I am relating it to the primary question.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume his seat. There is simply no need to relate it to the primary question. The Standing Orders require that the supplementary question is related to the primary question. I call on the member to simply ask his supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking a supplementary question. I have used five words, and you have stopped me.

Mr SPEAKER : I am very tempted to not allow the member to ask a supplementary question. When he wants to ask a supplementary question, I give the member the call. He rises and asks the question. There is no need for an introduction about relating it to the primary question. I do not want to have to repeat this for the member. We will be moving to somebody else if I need to.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest of respect, and I have been here longer than you—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! It is a point of order. I intend to listen in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If I intend there to be some relativity to the primary question in what I am about to ask, that is up to my discretion. With the greatest of respect, this is the first time I have had someone make the ruling you have just made from that Chair.

Mr SPEAKER : Well, then, I suggest the member needs to listen more often in question time. You are required to—[Interruption] Order! The member will stand and withdraw that remark immediately.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I withdraw.

Mr SPEAKER : Supplementary question, Andrew Little. [Interruption] No, supplementary question, Andrew Little.

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

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will also be very familiar with the Standing Orders. I have the right to decide where I will take a supplementary question. I warned the member that he would not get a second chance. I am going to hear a supplementary question from Andrew Little. I may change my mind and then let the member ask a supplementary question. I may do so.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You did not tell me that I would not get a supplementary question. You have—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] The member will immediately—[Interruption] The member will now leave the Chamber. Rt Hon Winston Peters withdrew from the Chamber.

Andrew Little : Why does he not just keep his promises rather than inventing new excuses for breaking them?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : This Government keeps its promises, and that is why it keeps getting re-elected. If the member wants to recreate history he is welcome to it, but, actually, he knows, like I know, that the most popular thing on Thursday and Friday was our Budget, and the least popular thing was his decision to means test New Zealand superannuation.

Budget 2015—Water Management

4. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki – King Country) to the Minister for Primary Industries : How will Budget 2015 help develop more water storage and irrigation projects?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): As part of Budget 2015, irrigation projects will now receive through the Irrigation Acceleration Fund a kick-start of $25 million in operating funding for 5 years from 2016-17. The Irrigation Acceleration Fund helps support the development of irrigation infrastructure proposals to the stage where they are investment-ready, which means that they must be commercially robust and demonstrate a high level of user and community support. Around 100,000 hectares of new irrigated areas are expected from the Irrigation Acceleration Fund – funded projects to date, with around 36,000 hectares of that commissioned or currently being constructed.

Barbara Kuriger : Why is this funding boost so important for our regions?

Hon NATHAN GUY : That is a good question. The need for water storage projects is obvious, given that nearly every part of the country has suffered through droughts at some stage over the last 3 or so years. We do not have a water shortage issue in New Zealand; we have a water storage issue. It just does not rain in the right place at the right time. Providing a consistent, reliable water supply for farmers and growers has massive potential to boost growth, create jobs, and grow our exports from provincial regions.

Barbara Kuriger : What other ways does the Government help support water storage in irrigation projects?

Hon NATHAN GUY : The Government also supports water storage projects through Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd., which acts as a bridging investor for regional water infrastructure development. Over the last 2 years, $120 million has been allocated to Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd, with the potential to provide a further 125,000 hectares of new irrigation. Work is under way to enable greater collaboration between Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd and the Irrigation Acceleration Fund. This will help to ensure that more of these critical regional water storage projects get to the construction stage. This is hugely exciting for rural New Zealand.

Richard Prosser : Will the Government’s funding initiatives in the Budget assist in the promotion of the Ruataniwha Dam scheme?

Hon NATHAN GUY : I could not hear him. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! It was difficult to hear. I did hear the question but I suspect some members did not. The mike might not have been on. I will ask Richard Prosser to repeat the question.

Richard Prosser : Will the Government’s irrigation initiatives in the Budget assist in the promotion of the Ruataniwha Dam project?

Hon NATHAN GUY : Currently, the Irrigation Acceleration Fund has invested almost $6 million in Ruataniwha, and that is now working through a process of getting a consent. Then it will need to prove to Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd. that it is indeed investment-ready for them to have a look at it.

Prime Minister—Statements

5. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Ron Mark : When he said in the House “Get some guts”, was he talking to the Opposition parties or to the Iraqi Army, which has been in retreat for the last 2 months and was routed at Ramadi by a force that it outnumbered ten to one?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, really specifically, I was speaking to the Leader of the Opposition, who I think, in his heart of hearts, knows that the right thing for this country to do on a bipartisan basis is to actually stand up to the people who undertake these atrocities, and I hope that he will eventually see it our way, because we are right on this side of the House.

Ron Mark : Does he stand by his statement “If Iraq is to gain control of its cities, it will need strong and well-trained forces.”; if so, does he not realise that you cannot train cowards to fight?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : In terms of the first part of the question, yes, you do need strong forces; in terms of the latter part of the question, I think that the member should really probably reflect on that. To put that generalisation across a whole country’s population is either foolhardy or harsh. He can choose which one he prefers.

Ron Mark : When he received his most recent briefing from the Defence Force on Iraq, did that briefing state that there was a possibility that our troops would be surrounded at Camp Taji?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not going to go into the individual briefings I get, because I think that it would not be in the national interest to do so, but what I am quite prepared to say is that the safety and security of our men and women who are in Taji airbase is our No. 1 priority. There is obviously work done to make sure we continually assess that situation. There is a variety of trigger points that we would look at if we thought that it was appropriate to bring our people home, and we have always said that we would do that. But I am quite comfortable in the advice I have at the moment that, notwithstanding it is obviously a dangerous environment in Iraq, our people are in the safest position they can be in, actually—in Taji airbase.

Ron Mark : Does the Prime Minister agree with the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who said that the Iraqi security force “was not driven out of Ramadi. They drove out of Ramadi.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not going to be a Monday morning quarterback on what happened in Ramadi, but I have seen the comments from Prime Minister al-Abadi, who said that they are keen to retake that ground. Certainly, the advice that we have had is that some ground was lost and some ground was gained. But if you take a step back on the overall thing, if the member’s logic is followed to the obvious conclusion, what he is basically saying is that Iraq should surrender itself to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). I simply say to the member that if he thinks that is not going to increase the risks to New Zealanders, then it is really unbelievable. If the member wants to go out there and tell New Zealanders that he is quite prepared, through his own inactions, to put them at greater risk, then he is welcome to go and campaign on doing that. But he will run a million miles from that when I start pointing it out publicly, and that is what I intend to do.

Ron Mark : Does he think that troops who flee and leave tanks and artillery worth millions of dollars behind and troops who flee when they outnumber the enemy 10 to 1 are able and capable of being trained to fight?

Mr SPEAKER : In so far as there is prime ministerial responsibility, the right honourable Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : All I can say is that if you listen to the Chief of Defence Force, he is very confident of the training capability that our people have. He has seen that demonstrated in places like Afghanistan, where we have made a difference, and I am confident actually that in time we will make a difference in improving the skills of the Iraqis.

Ron Mark : What is the Prime Minister’s view of Ash Carter, the United States Secretary of Defense, who said “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force … that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”? What is the Prime Minister’s view of that statement?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am the Prime Minister of New Zealand, not a commentator on what other politicians around the world say.

Ron Mark : Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool’s errand and the training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No. What I do think is that ISIL presents a threat not only in the region but also presents a regional threat to countries that New Zealanders travel to, and I think it presents a domestic threat. The member can sit there all he likes and say that we should abdicate our responsibilities and do nothing, but I simply say to the member that that would put them at greater risk. I think that if you look at the public polling that has been undertaken on this matter, the most recent poll that we saw in the New Zealand Herald indicated that on a ratio of 3:1 New Zealanders actually do think we should do something to protect ourselves from people who are abhorrent. If the member does not believe in doing that, I am quite surprised, because he is a former military man and I would have thought he would understand that.

Hon Phil Goff : When the Prime Minister said the trigger for changing his stance on deployment to Iraq was if the New Zealand Defence Force thought there was “an absolute threat” to New Zealand troops, how does he define “absolute threat”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : That is the very point—I do not. They decide that. T are the ones who tell us, through their advice. On the back of our advice, we will decide whether they come or no, but they define the risks.

Finance, Minister—Statements

6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does he agree with National Party finance spokesperson Bill English: “We don’t believe in new and more taxes. We think we can manage with the tax revenue we have”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do agree with my party’s finance spokesman, which is more than I can say for Andrew Little, who does not agree with his party’s finance spokesman. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am having trouble hearing because of the yelling from my left here. [Interruption] Well, no, it was this one who was distracting me.

Grant Robertson : In light of that answer, why, then, did he and John Key promise New Zealanders in the 2014 election campaign that there would be no new taxes when he has introduced a property tax, an arrivals and departures tax, and extended the broadband tax?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The extension of broadband was certainly discussed prior to the election. As we have discussed, the tax measures are an extension of existing taxes, which the member may not have known about in his case. The levy at the airports is a user charge, and we would expect to be able to continue to expand the use of user charges.

Grant Robertson : What is the difference between a levy and a tax?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The levy is a user charge, and that is different from an income test on national superannuation.

Grant Robertson : Will every dollar collected under the regime brought into place by the Border Processing (Arrivals and Departures) Levy Bill go towards the cost of border processing?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, and I would imagine that every dollar of expenditure on those services is going to be heavily scrutinised by passengers, airlines, airports, and anyone else who is interested in getting those levies down, as we are.

Grant Robertson : Does he stand by his statement: “Further extension of the current tax on capital gains is likely to have high compliance costs, and that is a conclusion that three tax inquiries and several Governments have come to over the last 20 years. If it excludes the family home,”—like it does—“it will not [make] much difference, … ”; if so, why has he now introduced a tax that he says that he does not know the impact of, does not know how much revenue it will raise, and that has such high compliance costs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I do stand by the statement, and part of the point of introducing a brightline test is to avoid excessive compliance costs. We have yet to see how much impact the introduction of that test will have on the housing market.

Grant Robertson : Can he confirm his statement in the weekend that he does not know whether this tax that he has introduced on property speculators will work?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The question has been about what impact we expect it will have on the Auckland housing market. The member will be familiar with the discussion. If the Auckland house prices are driven significantly by speculators turning over properties within 2 years, then the tax may have an impact. If the prices are not driven primarily by that but are driven by other factors such as restricted supply of land or costs of construction, then it will not make much difference.

Budget 2015—Welfare Reforms Targeting Parents

Mr SPEAKER : Question No. 7, Todd McClay.

Todd Muller : Um, Todd Muller, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : I am sorry—Todd Muller. I apologise.

7. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister for Social Development : How does Budget 2015 help parents who receive a benefit?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Last week we announced a $790 million child hardship package as part of Budget 2015. The package includes increased work obligations for sole parents on a benefit, more childcare support, a $25-a-week increase in benefit rates for families with children—the first increase above inflation in 43 years—and an increase in Working for Families payments to low-income families who are not on a benefit. Alongside the successes that we have seen with our reforms to the welfare system, which have resulted in 38,000 fewer people on benefits compared with 3 years ago, the number of children in benefit-dependent households has fallen by almost 42,000 over the same period.

Todd Muller : What feedback has she received on how Budget 2015 will support children in benefit-dependent households?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY : I was encouraged to read that the Southland Beneficiaries and Community Rights Centre supports the package. It welcomed the package as: “overall, a step in the right direction”. Its press release also said that a policy of withholding State support for beneficiaries unless they are enrolled to vote, as was proposed by Labour, was hardly inclusive or progressive. This National Government is making considered and appropriate changes to support children in families in hardship.

Todd Muller : How will changes to part-time work obligations help children in benefit-dependent households?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY : This Government believes that the best way out of poverty is through work. The package announced last week will see sole parents more intensively supported into part-time work when their youngest child turns 3. I was delighted that Dr Lance O’Sullivan supported this change, saying that we should expose children in benefit-dependent homes “to positive environments, keep them warm, safe and dry and give them a learning opportunity that will prepare them for school, because I don’t believe we should wait till age 5.” The number of sole parents is the lowest since 1988. The more sole parents we can get into work, the fewer children we will have dependent on a benefit.

Sheep—Live Exports to Saudi Arabia

8. JAMES SHAW (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs : How many of the 900 ewes that flew to Saudi Arabia on Singapore Airlines in October 2014 at the taxpayers’ expense are still alive?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs): Officials confirm that all of the 900 ewes arrived in Saudi Arabia in good condition. The nature of the project being undertaken in Saudi Arabia makes it impossible for me to provide a specific answer to the questions that he asks. However, officials advise that according to the most recent reports the answer is approximately 850.

James Shaw : Did he remove the provisions guaranteeing the welfare of the sheep once they arrived in Saudi Arabia because he knew that Suffolk sheep, breed for cold climates, will not survive the 40 degree heat, or because the sheep just happened to get there the same month as the haj, a religious pilgrimage that involves the ritual sacrifice of over 700,000 sheep?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY : There were three reasons for agreeing to remove the provision that the member refers to. The first was that as a matter of principle the Saudi Arabian Government found it offensive that we should seek to extend the jurisdiction of New Zealand law on to Saudi Arabian soil. Secondly, it was probably unenforceable, legally, anyway. But, thirdly, the Animal Welfare Act 1999 requires the Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries to have regard to such matters as the previous history of the exporter, the provisions for the animals’ welfare during the journey, and all the relevant Ministry for Primary Industries animal welfare standards and guidelines. That seemed to me and the New Zealand Government to provide the protection that New Zealand wanted.

James Shaw : Why do recent satellite pictures of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s $7.5 million agri-hub in Saudi Arabia to which the sheep were flown show no visible livestock farming in the middle of the desert?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY : I have received recent reports from officials and from those who are superintending the project who tell me that what is a partially completed project is proceeding well. I do not know what images the member refers to, but what I will say is that the Green Party members are difficult to please on this matter. They wanted us to ban the export of live sheep for slaughter and the Government has renewed that export prohibition. They wanted us to have regard for animal welfare matters and so the Government flew the sheep for the pilot on Singapore Airlines. If the member is telling us that he wants us to fly them business class next time, that is something we will give consideration to!

James Shaw : Does he think it is suspicious that the New Zealand company that won the tender to fly sheep over to Saudi Arabia is, in part, owned by Mr al-Khalaf, the influential Saudi businessman who was blocking the free-trade deal with Saudi Arabia; and is not also suspicious that only he was kept up to date with the tender process while other tenderers such as Deloitte and GG Wrightson were not?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY : The contract for the lead provider’s position, which is what the member is referring to, was awarded through a tender process that was overseen by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and an expert who was formerly the chief executive of Landcorp. I am satisfied that the New Zealand Government procurement requirements were met in that respect.

Housing—Crown Land

9. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing : Does he stand by his statement that the 500 hectares of surplus Crown land he has identified “has already been zoned as residential, but with no existing buildings or tenants to manage – meaning houses will be able to be brought to market faster”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): I stand by my full statement, and it said: “It is estimated that the Crown, through various agencies, owns approximately 500 hectares of land with the potential for residential development.” The work is at an early stage, but on Friday I will be able to confirm a number of sites that will assist us with housing.

Phil Twyford : Will he confirm that, before the announcement, officials told him he would be lucky if only one-quarter of the 500 hectares could be built on?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : No, I certainly cannot confirm that. There are 150,000 hectares of Crown land in Auckland. Officials have been sifting through thousands and thousands of titles, and on Friday I will be able to identify the first blocks of land that will have potential, albeit it is not until you actually test sites with the private sector as to where it is economical to develop such areas that will bring houses on stream.

Phil Twyford : Will he at least admit that his officials questioned the economic viability of building on much of the 500 hectares; if so, why did he ignore their concerns?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Quite the opposite. Officials have been very enthusiastic about this programme. They brought it to me and the Minister of Finance. I invite the member to have a look at Christchurch, at sites like Awatea, like the partnership we have with the Christchurch City Council at Colombo Street and Welles Street, like the new houses that have been built at Rangers Park, the developments at Hobsonville, and the developments at Weymouth, to see the progress the Government has been able to make, where the previous Government did nothing.

Phil Twyford : Did his officials carry out proper site inspections on each property prior to his announcement; if not, why did he refuse to allow them sufficient time to check whether each parcel of land is suitable for building before he rushed out his announcement?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : We made a Budget announcement of $53 million to support this programme, as well as $2 million of operational funding. If the member actually reads the release, it makes plain that the work is to go ahead around the identification of these sites. What I can confirm for the member is that the previous Government announced the Hobsonville housing development in 2002, and by 2008 not a single sod of soil had been turned. We now have hundreds of houses built on that site, showing the progress that is possible under this National Government.

Phil Twyford : Can he confirm that no parcel of land in his 500 hectares has any of the following on it: power substations, pylons, a cemetery, a fire station, or school playing fields; if he cannot confirm that, is his refusal to release the full list of sites down to his embarrassment or his incompetence?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : There are thousands of sites, and I know Mr Twyford yesterday claimed—

Hon Annette King : Answer the question.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : I will, if the member gives me half a chance. The member identified a site yesterday in Hepburn Road. It is a site on which he said there could be no houses because there was a substation on it. The problem is the substation is only in one corner, and there are 3 hectares of vacant land. Why would we not consider a housing development on the remainder of the vacant land? I seek the leave of the House to table the title to the site, showing the substation in one corner of the 5 hectares.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The document has been described. I will put the leave and the House can decide. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Phil Twyford : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the member is in his previous answers quoting an official document that is the list of sites he is talking about, can I ask whether he would table it?

Mr SPEAKER : That is easily resolved. Is the member quoting—

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER : No, I just need to know whether the member was quoting from a legal—

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : No, just a search of the titles—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Then there is no need to add any more.

Phil Twyford : Is this not yet another overcooked, poorly-thought-through stunt to look like he is doing something about the Auckland housing crisis, which will simply end up as another list of broken promises?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : When we came into Government we were building 200 houses per month in Auckland. Last month we built 750 in Auckland. That shows the progress that we are making. We have more work to do, and that is why we have committed additional funds in the Budget.

Question No. 8 to Minister

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs): I apologise for not doing so at the end of question No. 8, but I want to seek leave to table a Cabinet paper dated 13 February 2013, entitled Saudi Arabia Food Security Partnership.

Mr SPEAKER : Leave is sought to table that particular Cabinet document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Health Targets—Progress

10. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Health : What progress has been made towards achieving the Government’s national health target?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Today the Ministry of Health published the health target results for quarter three, 2014-15. They show good progress overall, with the highlight being that the Government’s target of reducing emergency department waiting times has been achieved for the very first time. Across New Zealand, 95 percent of patients were admitted, transferred, or discharged within 6 hours. I would like to congratulate all the emergency department staff across our district health boards on this outstanding result. The other stand-out result is that district health boards achieved 107 percent of the national target for elective surgery, delivering 7,997 more elective surgeries than planned for the year to date.

Scott Simpson : What impact will Budget 2015 have on the national health targets?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : New Zealand’s health Budget will reach a record $15.9 billion in the coming year, and includes new funding to provide more New Zealanders with timely elective surgery. There is $92 million being committed to continue the Government’s effort to increase elective surgeries, delivering 5,000 extra elective surgeries each year. On top of that, $6 million has been committed to create community-based early intervention teams for diagnosis in management of orthopaedic conditions. Budget 2015 supports the Government’s clear plan for delivering the health services that our communities need.

New Zealand Defence Force—Training of Iraqi Troops

11. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Defence : Does the New Zealand Defence Force training of Iraqi Army troops include giving them the will to fight?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Defence): The New Zealand Government has made a decision to assist the Iraqi defence forces in their training because we assess that there is a threat to New Zealanders from Daesh. It is, therefore, appropriate that we assist the Iraqis to try to defeat Daesh. This question, I think, cheapens the desire of so many Iraqis to overcome that evil. We would not be there if the Iraqi Government had not made that request. We can only assume that that is a commitment from the Iraqi Government to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Might I also say that the New Zealand Defence Force has a very proud record of training in these sorts of conflicts—it goes right back to Malaya in the 1950s, through to Afghanistan most recently. These sorts of loaded and facetious questions are, I think, very disrespectful to the New Zealand Defence Force.

Hon Phil Goff : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Would your office have allowed a question as the primary question that you judged to be facetious?

Mr SPEAKER : I would not have used those words myself but in the answer that was given, Mr Brownlee certainly addressed the question that was asked. If the member wants to take it further with a supplementary question, I invite him to do so.

Hon Phil Goff : Does he accept that the lack of will to fight, which the United States’ defence secretary, Ash Carter, blamed for the failure of the Iraqi army, results predominantly from the abysmal leadership of the Iraqi army and from the absolutely extensive corruption that undermines the will of the ordinary soldier to fight? And does he accept that neither of those things can be altered by the professional work of the New Zealand Army?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : I am certainly not going to make any comments about the views of the United States’ Secretary of Defence. I will be meeting him shortly, and I will have a further discussion with him. The rest of that question was based on Mr Goff’s own opinion of Iraqi forces. Although he is entitled to that opinion, I am not making a comment on it. My view is that the New Zealand Defence Force is very, very capable and professional. It has engaged, in this exercise, with some very specific aspects of the training mission that it will deliver—we think, in the best interests of New Zealanders.

Hon Phil Goff : When people like Dr Ron Smith from Waikato University, who was a fervent supporter of deployment to Iraq, now believe that it was a bad idea to go there, what will it take to persuade the Government that the benefits of the training that we provide are too little and the risks too great to pay the price for being in the club?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : I very much doubt that the analysis that the professor has relied on would be as good as the analysis that the New Zealand Government has made its decision based on and continues to support.

Hon Phil Goff : What assessment has he given of the risks now facing the New Zealand Defence Force approximately 100 kilometres away from Islamic State (IS) forces in Ramadi, and is that assessment such that if the risk is regarded as considerable, he would reverse his position and bring those troops home?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : Answering the first part of the question: considerably better information than the member has.

Hon Phil Goff : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Somebody with the temerity to accuse a questioner of being facetious then gives an answer that can be described only in exactly the same way—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! No, no, no—I listened, again, quite carefully to the question. In fact, there were two questions asked. The Minister has chosen to address the first one. It may not be to the satisfaction of the member but it was certainly addressed.

Housing, Christchurch—Progress

12. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister for Building and Housing : What progress has the Government made in increasing the supply of housing in Christchurch and what lessons can be learnt in addressing Auckland’s issues?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): The housing market in Christchurch became very constrained following the loss of 10,000 homes in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. There have been over a dozen Government initiatives to tackle this, from emergency repairs to interventions in the planning and building consent system, as well as facilitating new housing on unused public land. The house build rate in Christchurch has quadrupled from 80 per month to over 360 per month. House price increases have dropped from 12 percent per year to just 2 percent in the last year. Rents, which were soaring in 2012 and 2013, have now stabilised, to the point where rents in the last year have declined by 5 percent. The lesson for Auckland is that increased supply is the main solution. That is why the Government has put so much focus on increasing the rate of house builds. It was 200 per month when we came to Government; last month we got to over 750 new homes.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar : What initiatives does the Government have under way on public land for housing, and how are these to be expanded?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : We have initiatives well under way in areas like Hobsonville, Weymouth, Tāmaki, and Papakura in Auckland; and at Ranges Park, Awatea, Colombo Street, Welles Street, and Riccarton Racecourse in Christchurch. Budget 2015 expands this work with a programme to investigate and identify public land holdings in Auckland for housing. This Friday I will be launching the programme with developers from both New Zealand and Australia, and publicly naming the first potential blocks of land.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar : When will the first houses be completed from this initiative?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Our objective is to have the first partnership agreements with developers agreed within 6 months. We may also need to use the streamlined special housing area process to be able to appropriately zone the areas, and also to get the resource consents for the infrastructure. There will then be the timetable for the construction of that infrastructure, the consenting of the homes, and their building. My expectation is that the first homes from this initiative will come on stream and be available for families in 2017.


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