Questions and Answers – June 18

by Desk Editor on Thursday, June 18, 2015 — 5:55 PM

Questions to Ministers


1. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance : What reports has he received showing progress on building a growing economy supporting more jobs and higher wages for New Zealand families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): This morning Statistics New Zealand released the GDP data for the quarter to March 2015. A reduction in dairy production and reduced output from the oil and gas industry contributed to a low quarterly growth figure of 0.2 percent—around the lower end of market expectations. Agricultural output was influenced by drought conditions. This was offset by increased output in business services, retail trade, accommodation, and transport warehousing. Our economic fundamentals remain sound, and the outlook remains positive for more jobs and higher wages. We would expect the economy to remain on track to average 2.5 percent to 3 percent growth—moderate, sustained growth—delivering moderate increases in incomes for New Zealanders.

David Bennett : How does New Zealand’s economic growth in the year to March compare with growth in other developed economies?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : New Zealand continues to perform relatively well compared with other developed economies, although GDP is just one measure of economic progress. Increases in incomes and growth in jobs are just as important. With a 2.6 percent growth rate in the 12 months to March, New Zealand is in the top third of the OECD and is a bit higher than Australia and the United Kingdom, about the same as the US, and certainly well above the euro area.

David Bennett : What is the outlook for economic growth over the next 3 to 4 years?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The most recent outlook published is that of the Reserve Bank, which indicates growth of just around 3 percent over the next 3 years, taking into account lower dairy prices for longer, but also including lower interest rates and lower exchange rates, which will help those parts of the economy that are under pressure.

Grant Robertson : Is he aware that 21 percent of the weak growth in the economy this quarter came from retail spending and that 80 percent of that was from Christchurch and Auckland, and does he really think that our recovery from a natural disaster and spending based on a housing bubble is a sustainable economic strategy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : That is not the case, although the Labour Party does insist on saying that the people digging up the water pipes, laying new roads, and building houses in Christchurch are somehow not doing real work—not real work—perhaps because it does not involve sitting around analysing and measuring. All those things are contributing to economic growth. We welcome the contributions of hard-working New Zealanders, and we do not believe that people in Christchurch are not doing real work.

David Bennett : What are some of the risks to the economic outlook, and what steps is the Government taking to manage those risks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : There are a great number of risks that we cannot control, such as those that affect the New Zealand economy that come from the rest of the world. However, at the moment probably the single biggest risk to sustainable, moderate growth in New Zealand is the fast-rising housing market. We welcomed the draft report from the Productivity Commission yesterday, which is going to help central government and local government to deepen their understanding of the complex set of issues around faster land development and faster growth and infrastructure, and thereby create a more responsive housing market.

Finance, Minister—Statements

2. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does he stand by his statement last week that it is important not to “think ourselves into a negative mindset”; if so, does he think the Reserve Bank Governor has a negative mind-set?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I was just concerned about the member’s state of mind to ensure that he was not getting too depressed about being so negative all the time; but no, I do not think the Governor of the Reserve Bank does have a negative mind-set. Last week he confirmed that the Reserve Bank expects the economy to grow by over 3 percent in each of the next 2 years, supported by low interest rates, high net migration, and construction activity.

Grant Robertson : In light of that answer then, is the Reserve Bank Governor correct that there is “little sign that exports are about to recover.” or is that just a negative mind-set?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I am by nature an optimistic person, and I am a bit more optimistic than the Governor of the Reserve Bank on that matter. You have to remember that our export sector has been geared up around an 80c-plus US$1. It has become lean, mean, and productive, and now that the exchange rate is dropping relatively quickly, I believe the prospects for export growth are pretty good.

Grant Robertson : In light of that answer then, is it correct that the ANZ commodity price index has declined by 18 percent in the last 12 months, or are exporters just making up those numbers as a result of their negative mind-set?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Just to cheer the member up, commodities are not the only thing New Zealand earns export income from. In fact, I think the top earner is tourism, and that is going very well. Then there is dairy, and that is down—there is no doubt about that. Then there is international education, which is growing pretty fast.

Hon Michael Woodhouse : Wine.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Then there are areas like wine, where exports have expanded dramatically in the last 10 years. Kiwifruit is in better shape than it has been for a long time.

Hon Steven Joyce : ICT.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Information and communications technology is growing at 15 percent. In fact, I saw the other day that the avocado industry is enjoying boom times.

Grant Robertson : Was Cameron Bagrie correct when he said that the economy has slowed down markedly in recent months and today’s GDP figures are weak, or has he just got a negative mind-set?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : No. In my experience, Mr Bagrie has a sharply analytical mind-set, and certainly when you get a GDP number of 0.2, that tells you that less has been happening than the market expected. It is one quarter’s numbers and it is mainly because the drought reduced production, but not prices, as the member has been saying in his press releases. The New Zealand economy, however, in general is on track for 2.5 to 3 percent growth.

Grant Robertson : Is the Reserve Bank Governor correct when he says that the terms of trade are “declining significantly” and that the Government is unlikely to return to surplus before 2017, or does he just have a negative mind-set?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, the Reserve Bank Governor has every right to have his own opinion about it. We do not necessarily share those opinions. I just look at the Reserve Bank’s growth forecasts that, I know, disappoint the member, but what they actually show is 3 percent growth over the next few years. Whether that can be achieved is pretty likely because New Zealand businesses and households are working hard, they are resilient, they are productive, and we think they are doing a good job.

Fletcher Tabuteau : Would the Minister sympathise with a negative mind-set from the Reserve Bank Governor, given that in the Budget the Minister told the public that total Crown borrowing was approximately $60 billion, but in reality the Reserve Bank Governor knows the truth of the situation—that it is, in fact, nearly twice that, at $111,334,000,000?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : We just use the normal way the Public Finance Act indicates for calculating gross debt. If you look at debt right across the whole Government balance sheet, you will come up with some different numbers. I am quite happy to discuss with the member how that is calculated, so that we can all understand the difference between those two numbers.

Fletcher Tabuteau : I seek leave to table in the House a breakdown from the Minister himself on the numbers I have just quoted—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! No. Again, I do not think that that is going to inform the answer. The question was a legitimate question. There was a discussion between two figures. The Minister has answered it. What the member is attempting to do now in tabling that is simply to use it to make a political point. I am not going to allow that.

Grant Robertson : When Graeme Wheeler, Cameron Bagrie, and exporters all over New Zealand are telling him that his economy is being propped up only by retail spending in Canterbury and Auckland, is it not time for him to stop blaming people for telling the truth and to admit that he does not have a plan for the New Zealand economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : For the member to say that the economy is being propped up just by Auckland and Christchurch—I mean, what is he suggesting is the alternative? That somehow we measure it without Auckland and Christchurch? That would be ridiculous. I think it shows that the member thinks that Wellington is the centre of the universe and that is the only thing that we should count.

Fletcher Tabuteau : Can the Minister confirm that despite the sale of nearly half of the electricity to foreign interests determined to increase their profits, the net debt of our State-owned enterprises has actually increased $11 billion since this Government came into power?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I would need to have a look at the detail or the figures, but I can assure the member that State-owned enterprises certainly will not be borrowing unnecessarily; that is for sure. I can assure him also that the sale of half of each of the three generators has led to us getting more dividends as a 50 percent owner than we got as a 100 percent owner.

Emissions Trading Scheme—Effectiveness

3. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues : Does he think the Emissions Trading Scheme is working to incentivise low-carbon choices?

Hon TIM GROSER (Minister for Climate Change Issues): I believe that the New Zealand emissions trading scheme’s fundamentals are extremely well designed, but its effectiveness depends entirely on the carbon price driving the adjustment process.

Gareth Hughes : What is the Minister’s response to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who has said “New Zealand’s primary mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions—the Emissions Trading Scheme—has been repeatedly weakened and the country’s emissions continue to rise.”?

Hon TIM GROSER : That goes to the heart of the point I just made. It depends entirely on the carbon price, and when the international carbon price collapsed, which nobody saw coming, the effectiveness of the emissions trading scheme was radically reduced. We then took measures to close the window to the importation of units, and the current carbon price has rocketed from about 10c to, I think, between $6 and $7 yesterday.

Gareth Hughes : Does the Minister think that the emissions trading scheme and the carbon price are working when New Zealand’s consumption of coal—the dirtiest fossil fuel, with some of the highest carbon emissions—has increased every single year for the past 5 years?

Hon TIM GROSER : Well, I am in no position to agree or disagree with those figures until I have seen the data. All I would say is that in terms of renewable electricity, it has been growing steadily in the past 5 years to over 80 percent, and I would be actually rather surprised to find we were using more coal in producing energy; I would expect the exact opposite.

Gareth Hughes : I seek leave to table data prepared by the Parliamentary Library based on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment document Energy in New Zealand2014 from 16 June 2014.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! On the basis that it is freely available from a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment document: if members want that information, they can go and get it.

Gareth Hughes : Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER : No, I have ruled on that. Does the member have a further supplementary question?

Gareth Hughes : Does he think the emissions trading scheme and the country’s carbon price are working, when industrial consumption of coal is currently at its highest level since 2003?

Hon TIM GROSER : I do not have the data on that. What we are focusing on is leveraging the enormous strength of New Zealand’s renewable energy. I am extremely optimistic that if we take a longer-term perspective, we will be able to use that to engineer a dramatic shift in other stationary energy over the next 20 to 30 years. I think that things are going in the right direction but that we just have to be very patient.

Gareth Hughes : Does the Minister still consider the emissions trading scheme a success when a survey out last year found that not a single forester believes that the emissions trading scheme drives new plantings, that two-thirds of carbon traders believe the scheme does not help New Zealand to reduce its overall emissions, and that two-thirds of emitters said the scheme had caused no emission reductions in their company to date?

Hon TIM GROSER : Once again, we go back to the core point: the emissions trading scheme is not driving adjustment, because of low carbon prices, but the fundamentals are there. Foresters, of course, would like to have an additional stream of income—the highest possible would be their best-possible option. The trouble is that other New Zealanders, in the form of households and companies, would pay for it. There is no such thing as a free lunch here, and, of course, the vast majority of the—from memory—1.76 million plantation forests in New Zealand was planted before anyone had heard of carbon pricing.

David Seymour : Why are international carbon prices low?

Hon TIM GROSER : A combination of a collapse in the global economy called the global financial crisis, which was the biggest downturn in the world economy for 70 years, and an inadequate response by the European Union—I am not blaming it, but it was an inadequate response—to the issuance of new units, which is the dominant player in the market by far.

Gareth Hughes : When New Zealand has a lower percentage of renewable electricity generation than it did in 1980 or 1990, is he concerned that the Renewables 2015 Global Status Report,published just this morning, ranked New Zealand 77th in the world for renewable energy policies?

Hon TIM GROSER : I am aware of the old saying that every senator is entitled to his or her own statistics. The one that I follow is the simple one that says that New Zealand has over 80 percent of its electricity coming from renewable energy. I know that there is huge potential to increase that proportion. We are aiming for 90 percent, and the issue will be: is there going to be demand for electricity, given the increasing energy efficiency of this country?

Gareth Hughes : With the Pope joining the chorus of leaders across the globe calling for urgent climate action, does the Minister not—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Allow the member to continue with his question, please.

Gareth Hughes : Thank you, Mr Speaker. With the Pope joining the chorus of leaders across the globe calling for urgent climate action, does the Minister not think that National’s track record of a 13 percent increase in net emissions is becoming a worldwide embarrassment?

Hon TIM GROSER : I am receiving a great deal of informal advice to be very careful how I respond to this question. I shall be watching the encyclical with great interest.

International Students—Enrolments

4. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment : What reports has he received on growth in international student enrolments in New Zealand?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Yesterday I released the International Education Snapshot 2014, which shows that the number of international students enrolled to study in New Zealand grew by 13 percent last year to 110,198, or 13,091 more than in 2013. This is a tremendous result for New Zealand. More students leads to a greater economic contribution for education providers and their communities across the country. It also means there are now more international students developing a deeper understanding of this country and making connections with Kiwis. Not only that, studying alongside students from places as diverse as Shanghai and Sao Paolo helps prepare Kiwi students for work in an increasingly globalised world.

Jonathan Young : How are the regions benefiting from the growth in international student enrolments?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The regions are benefiting well. International education is New Zealand’s fifth-largest export industry, contributing around $2.85 billion to the economy annually and supporting more than 30,000 jobs across the country. A number of regions, including the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Nelson, Taranaki, Tasman, and Southland have all experienced double-digit growth in enrolments. Canterbury has also had growth: 2014 saw enrolments in that region return to close to 2011 levels, up by 18 percent in 1 year. Although they are good results, we are continuing to work with regions to ensure that they can continue to benefit from international education now and in the future.

David Seymour : Has the Minister seen any evidence of international students going to the regions being discouraged by backward attitudes emanating from this House?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Fortunately, not many international students are aware of New Zealand First.

Jonathan Young : What is the Government doing to sustainably grow international student numbers?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : We need to make sure that growth is sustainable. I am glad the member raised that question. It is particularly positive to see a record high level of growth in post-graduate enrolments, up by 18 percent at the publicly funded tertiary providers. Master’s-level enrolments have increased by 23 percent and doctoral-level enrolments are up by around 7 percent. In addition, we are also working to ensure provider standards remain at appropriately high levels, and have recently introduced changes to enhance English language requirements for international students as well.

Building and Housing, Minister—Statements

5. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing : Why did he issue a press release titled “First Crown land parcels for development identified” and take the media on a tour of the sites identified if they were only conceptual and not actually for sale?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): I announced 10 parcels of land, totalling 9.5 hectares in Massey East, that will be used for this programme. I also identified three other areas, involving about 14 parcels of land, at potential sites that I said required more work. I also noted then that some of the sites in the programme would involve both council and Crown parcels of land, and that is why the programme was announced to developers jointly with the Deputy Mayor of Auckland.

Phil Twyford : Has he confirmed to Waikato-Tainui that they do in fact have right of first refusal, triggered by the use of Crown land for private housing development?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : No. The law is very clear that when there is land that is surplus from an agency—for instance, in the example we are proceeding with in Moire Road—the first step is to establish whether other Government agencies require the land. The second step is to establish whether the land is wanted to be purchased by the previous owner, and the right of first refusal is triggered only as a third step. I would also point out that that is exactly the process that was followed by the previous Government with housing developments at both Weymouth and Hobsonville.

Phil Twyford : What was the outcome of his panicked meetings with Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Whātua yesterday, and can he confirm that iwi are planning to file court proceedings on Monday?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : No. On Monday we will see what occurs. All I can confirm at this point is that the discussions were very constructive and, in my view, we will come to a common-sense solution that will see houses built for New Zealanders, as much as that might frustrate the member.

Joanne Hayes : Has the Minister seen any other proposals for using surplus Crown land for housing?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Yes, I have. I have seen a proposal for the Government to build 10,000 homes per year for 10 years. The proponent claimed that there was ample surplus Crown land available, that the development would be done by the finest construction companies in the country, and that the homes would be onsold to first-home buyers. This proposal would require about 5,000 hectares of surplus land, but the proponent says that we cannot find 500 hectares and that iwi rights should come before those of homeowners.

Phil Twyford : Has he reflected on the fact that by picking a fight with iwi over right of first refusal he has put his entire Budget housing policy at risk; if so, who or what does he blame for this particular comedy of errors?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : My ministry met with the 13 iwi of Auckland a month prior to the Budget. I would draw the member’s attention to the number of iwi that have actually come out as very supportive of the programme. I remain confident that we will be able to work through the issues with both Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei.

Pita Paraone : Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā anō tātou What submissions or representations has he received from the Minister for Māori Development advising that he should not proceed with the current proposal for the release of Crown land in Auckland for housing?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : I have had three meetings with my colleagues from the Māori Party, who have made very sensible representations. They are very determined to ensure that Treaty settlements are respected, as is the Government, but they are also very well aware of the high needs that Māori have for housing, and that is why I am confident that with them and our Treaty partners we will get a programme that will work for Māori and we will get new houses built for New Zealanders.

Phil Twyford : When the Prime Minister said yesterday that he had been sent to the regions, was this to search out any new land—

Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister made no such statement yesterday, at all.

Mr SPEAKER : Then the way forward is for the question to be asked, and that may well be the way it is handled by the Minister.

Phil Twyford : When the Prime Minister said yesterday that he had been sent to the regions, was this to search out new land for housing developments, to consult local iwi on first right of refusal, or simply to avoid giving the Government any further embarrassment?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : I am actually very proud to do an arrangement that was made over a week ago for a launch of the Government’s Resource Management Act policies for forestry, because members on this side of the House understand how important forestry is to the regions. I spent the rest of the day meeting with Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Whātua, and any member of this House who was seriously interested in housing would be pleased that we are working hard to resolve those issues and get the houses built.

Marama Fox : Given the fact that in a special housing area, if houses have been built under mixed tenure, those houses would be subject to being sold off in private home sales, would the Minister not concede that that land, then, should be offered to iwi under right of first refusal?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : The Housing Act is very clear that where it is designated for housing purposes, that includes it being able to be sold on to homeowners. What I would say to the Māori Party is that we have shown how successfully we can partner at Weymouth for many houses, and I am confident that with this programme we are going to be able to achieve similar results in our important partnership with the Māori Party.

Pita Paraone : What contributions did the Minister for Māori Development make, if any, in the meeting yesterday with Ngāti Whātua and Tainui, the purpose of which was to try to dissuade them from taking High Court action?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : The purpose of my meeting with Waikato-Tainui and also with Ngāti Whātua was actually that they wrote to me and wanted to meet with me to work these issues through, and that is just what we are doing. I met again this morning with the Minister for Māori Development as we work through a solution on this issue, which I think every member of this House who genuinely is concerned about honouring Treaty settlements and getting houses built would support.

Marama Fox : Given those discussions and in the light of those responses, does the Minister not think that it would be prudent to be discussing with Ngāti Whātua the development of a successful housing development in coalition and collaboration with them?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Absolutely, and that is why in the announcement I made last Saturday at Hobsonville, where we are going to be building a thousand additional houses, part of that programme in the village area is a partnership with Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara. These are the sorts of other partnerships that we want to pursue as part of this programme.

Grant Robertson : In light of his answer about his visit to the Rotorua forest, can he confirm that when he was there, he finally managed to see the wood for the trees?

Mr SPEAKER : It is a very marginal question. [Interruption] Order! Members want to stay for the balance of question time.

Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just respond—in fact, I take a point of order, and note that that was the most cohesive and clear statement—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is not going to be a point of order.

Canterbury, Recovery—Housing New Zealand Properties

6. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Social Housing : What progress is being made on the repairing and rebuilding of Housing New Zealand properties in Christchurch?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): Excellent progress is being made on repairing and rebuilding the 95 percent of Housing New Zealand properties that were damaged in the earthquakes. Housing New Zealand has now repaired more than 4,000 of the 5,000 homes that it needs to fix and is well on track to finish all 5,000 by the end of this year. In addition to the 191 new homes that have already been built, a further 509 are contracted or under construction. Around 1,000 workers are involved in the repair and rebuild programme. The volume of work that Housing New Zealand faced was unprecedented, and I am really pleased that it has risen to the challenge. Thanks.

Stuart Smith : How is the repair and rebuild programme improving the quality of social houses in Christchurch?

Hon PAULA BENNETT : The programme is not only restoring the number of houses but also enhancing the quality by building modern, warm, dry homes. Floor coverings, ventilation, heating, insulation, and other upgrades have been incorporated into the repair programmes. There is also a programme for upgrading thermal curtains. This programme began in 2013. Housing New Zealand has upgraded more than 17,000 properties with thermal drapes throughout New Zealand, including 151 in the last week alone.

Stuart Smith : How is the rebuild programme contributing to having more social houses of the right size for tenants?

Hon PAULA BENNETT : Last week I visited new Housing New Zealand homes on Armagh Street in Christchurch, where nine new two-bedroom units have been built on a site that used to have just four houses. The houses are warm and modern and are a better fit for the needs of the tenants. But the old houses are being put to use too. They are being refurbished by inmates at Rolleston Prison as part of a joint initiative with the Department of Corrections. Once they are finished, they will be relocated—the houses, that is; not the inmates—in the Christchurch region and rented to Housing New Zealand tenants.

Cage Diving—Measures to Prevent

7. CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Minister of Conservation : What action will she take given that 768 people have signed a petition calling for shark cage diving near Stewart Island to be stopped immediately and permanently?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): As the Minister of Conservation, I will not be taking any action as a result of the petition, but what I will be doing, as I have said from the start, is paying very close attention to the review that the Department of Conservation now has under way. We have said from the beginning that at the end of the season we will evaluate it. That process is under way now. I will be very interested to see what has been happening. There have been no formal complaints. There may well be changes or not as a result of that review. Any changes will be widely circulated and discussed before the start of the next season in December.

Clayton Mitchell : Given the present compliance measures that the Department of Conservation has put in place to protect the sharks, how can she explain the fact that this season the sharks were still showing evidence of fresh wounds from cages?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY : This member illustrates very clearly why it is important to go with evidence and be science-based. I have seen the photographs that have been taken. There has been some injury to a dorsal fin of one shark that is not an injury that is consistent with shark cage diving. We have paid very close attention because my role in all of this as the advocate for nature is to look after the safety, in the first instance, of the sharks. There have been no reported incidents of any damage to sharks.

Clayton Mitchell : I seek leave to table an Official Information Act document dated 16 June from the Department of Conservation providing the observers’ monitoring reports of the two shark cage diving operators, Shark Dive New Zealand and Shark Experience.

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

Clayton Mitchell : Does the Minister now agree that the issuing of permits has done little to protect either the great white sharks or the people of Stewart Island who are clearly strongly opposed to shark diving operations so near to their homes?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY : As the member constantly either wilfully or ignorantly misunderstands, before the permits were put in place there was no protection whatsoever of sharks or people. Edwards Island—a place that that member does not seem to understand—is a place where there are fur seals and, therefore, it is a restricted area. It is some 8 kilometres away from any other park where swimming or recreational activities take place. So it is very important to note that—

Richard Prosser : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not sure if you are having the same difficulty, but I am having trouble even hearing the Minister’s lame excuses here.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] No, I do not need—[Interruption] Order! I do not need assistance. If the member would mind having a word with one or two in his own caucus, that would lessen the background noise considerably, and then he would be able to hear the answer.

Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Points of order are heard in silence.

Chris Hipkins : It is a fair point—there was a lot of noise during that particular answer, but what I would like you to consider is the beginning of the Minister’s answer, where she immediately insulted the questioner, which is going to lead to disorder in the House.

Mr SPEAKER : And that is a very fair point. The way the question was answered was not helpful to the order of the House. The Minister is capable of giving a more direct answer without deliberately attacking any member in this House, and I would be grateful if she would do that in the future. But that is still no excuse for the level of noise that was coming—[Interruption] I am on my feet, Mr Ron Mark. That is still no excuse for the level of interjecting that was coming, making it very difficult for Mr Prosser to actually hear the answer that was given.

Ron Mark : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : I have finished with that matter.

Ron Mark : I understand that. This is something new.

Mr SPEAKER : Fresh point of order—Ron Mark.

Ron Mark : Thank you for your indulgence, but it is—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is hopefully going to be a fresh point of order.

Ron Mark : You are quite right; it is no excuse, but that does inflame disorder.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume his seat immediately. He is very lucky that I am allowing him to stay. I asked him whether it was a fresh point of order. It added no contribution of any value whatsoever, and the member has a consistent habit of doing that. My patience will not last much longer with that member if he continues to do it.

Health and Safety, Workplace—Number of Deaths since Pike River Mine Disaster

8. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety : In the four and a half years since the Pike River disaster, how many New Zealanders have been killed or injured at work?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): In the period since 19 November 2010 there have been 228 workplace fatalities and 23,416 serious injuries notified to WorkSafe New Zealand.

Iain Lees-Galloway : Would passing stronger health and safety laws help prevent injuries like the following injuries that all happened to workers who worked for the same employer: Alister Doran, whose arm was sliced open while he was working at the Malvern freezing works, David Brine who suffered respiratory problems after being poisoned at the Malvern freezing works, Jason Matahiki who was impaled in the back of the head with a 10 centimetre hook, dragged along the chain like a carcass, and had to wait—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have got to take this opportunity of reminding the member of Standing Order 380: questions must be concise. I have allowed the member one or two examples, because I think that reinforces his simple question as to whether these accidents would have occurred if the law was stronger. But I cannot allow the member to carry on if he is going to carry on with the number of examples that he is giving. Bring the question to a conclusion.

Iain Lees-Galloway : If so, why are we still waiting for urgently needed improvements to health and safety law 4½ years after the Pike River mine disaster?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : To the extent that a very strong legislative framework is important in improving health and safety, yes. But laws alone will not prevent the types of deaths and injuries the member describes, any more than road rules prevent death and injury on the road. What will improve our health and safety record is changes in behaviour and attitude, and that is what I am promoting.

Iain Lees-Galloway : Do these horrific workplace injuries and the many thousands like them indicate to him that the Health and Safety Reform Bill needs to be weakened, as a faction of the National caucus would like to see happen, or strengthened, which is what the Labour Party wants?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I do not accept the prefacing statement in that question. The bill will be returned to this House in an appropriate form to ensure significant improvements in the legislative framework for health and safety.

Barbara Stewart : What additional funding has been contributed by WorkSafe New Zealand to the new $500,000 rural mental health programme, considering that 169 farmers have committed suicide since 2008, compared with 112 agricultural occupational deaths, and if mental health is not a consideration for workplace relations and safety, why not?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : In relation to the first part of the question, of course, the taxpayer contributes that money—whatever the vehicle is through which it goes. I applaud the Minister for Primary Industries and the Minister of Health for that announcement earlier this week. In respect of the latter, yes indeed, it is. Positive mental health is important to good physical health at work.

Iain Lees-Galloway : Has the lobbying he has received from National Party MPs at the behest of employers with terrible safety records led him to agree to weaken the—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! That question is simply out of order.

Iain Lees-Galloway : When he says he wants a balanced framework for workplace safety, does not that really mean that National is weighing Kiwis’ lives against the interests of his corporate allies; and how many meat hooks to the head will it take—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! That question is also out of order.

Transport Planning, Auckland—Freight

9. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport : What update can he provide on plans to support the movement of freight in Auckland?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): The important East West Connections project, which will support increased freight movements in Auckland, took another important step forward yesterday with the announcement that the preferred route has been chosen for the project. The projected growth rates of Auckland, particularly of Auckland Airport, Manukau City, and East Tāmaki – Botany, are expected to generate greater demand for cross-city east-west movements. That is why the Government has brought the project forward by including it in our accelerated Auckland roading programme.

Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga : Why did the Government include the East West Connections project in its accelerated Auckland roading programme?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : The Onehunga-Penrose industrial hub is a significant contributor to our economy. It generates $5 billion in GDP each year and employs over 64,000 people. Many of the country’s largest distribution and logistics facilities are based in the area because of its access to key road and rail routes, but its heavy congestion is slowing freight movements and restricting economic growth. That is why the Government has brought the project forward by including it in the accelerated Auckland roading programme.

Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga : What benefits will the East West Connections project deliver?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : There will be many benefits once the East West Connections project is completed. It will improve freight flow in and out of the Onehunga-Penrose industrial hub and save up to 11 minutes on journey time. It will also provide public transport with dedicated bus lanes, making services between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu, and Sylvia Park more reliable. The project will also improve pedestrian and cycling facilities in the area, with 5.5 kilometres of new and improved routes. Can I acknowledge the tireless advocacy from local members, including Jami-Lee Ross and Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, for this project. The Government is committed to providing the infrastructure New Zealand needs to grow and prosper, and this project is significant proof of that.

Immigration—Refugee Quota

10. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister of Immigration : Does he agree with the Prime Minister, who ruled out increasing New Zealand’s refugee quota saying it is “at the right level”?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I always agree with the Prime Minister. What I do not agree with is the member’s account of what the Prime Minister said.

Denise Roche : Who is correct—the Minister of Immigration, when he said earlier this week he would have an open mind to increasing quota numbers, or his boss, the Prime Minister, who said there will be no increase in the refugee quota numbers?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : The Prime Minister did not use those words, and had he done so the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I would not be preparing to take recommendations to Cabinet early next year about the following 3 years’ quota. The Government still has an open mind on that quota number.

Denise Roche : Does he agree with the Prime Minister that there are two sides to paying people-smugglers, or does he agree that there is really only one side, given the other side is illegal?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I am not aware of the exact words the Prime Minister used in respect of the issue the member raises, and therefore it would be prudent of me to check first, given the track record in relation to this question. But that is a matter for the Australian authorities.

Denise Roche : Does he agree that the best way to stop desperate people from getting on boats is by increasing quota resettlement opportunities; if so, will he support the Green Party’s bill to increase our refugee quota to a thousand?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : In respect of the first part of that question, there are a number of ways to stop people getting on boats and becoming the victims of heinous criminals, the people-smugglers. The first, most important, and most enduring one is to ensure that there are settled States with the rule of law and strong economic and social growth, so that the population of those countries does not have a desire to leave them. The second thing is that the Government makes no apology for its contribution, through the Bali process, to the deterring, disruption, and detection of that illegal activity.

Resource Management Act Reforms—Forestry

11. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki – King Country) to the Associate Minister for Primary Industries : What recent announcements has the Government made to standardise and simplify the Resource Management Act 1991 requirements for the forestry industry?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Primary Industries): Yesterday the Minister for the Environment, the Hon Nick Smith, and I announced the proposal for a new national environmental standard for plantation forestry. The proposed standard will save the industry millions in compliance costs, while ensuring environmental issues like wilding pines, fish spawning, and erosion are better managed.

Barbara Kuriger : What is the purpose of the proposed standard?

Hon JO GOODHEW : Currently the rules for plantation forestry vary across territorial authorities. Because forests often stretch across several boundaries, this means that the industry has had to deal with unwarranted costs and uncertainty. This proposed national standard will mean forest workers will no longer need to meet multiple sets of planning rules, because industry will be able to standardise their systems.

Barbara Kuriger : Who has been involved in developing the national environmental standard to ensure that it will lead to consistent environmental outcomes?

Hon JO GOODHEW : This proposal has been 2 years of hard work by the Ministry for Primary Industries. They have engaged with the non-governmental environmental organisations, the forestry industry, iwi, and local government, alongside the Ministry for the Environment. Their work on the proposed standard will ensure that the environmental risks of afforestation, pruning and thinning to waste, earthworks, river crossing, forestry quarrying, harvesting, and mechanical land preparation will be consistently managed across New Zealand. This proposal will put one set of rules in place for our third-largest export industry, and it strikes a balance between economic well-being and environmental outcomes. It is fantastic news for the forestry industry.

Saudi Arabia—Trade Agreements

12. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Trade : On what date was New Zealand Trade and Enterprise first informed that there were “high losses” of lambs born on the model farm in the Saudi Arabian desert, and on what date did it inform the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade?

Hon TIM GROSER (Minister of Trade): I am advised that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry for Primary Industries were told of significant losses on 9 December. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was informed on 10 December 2014.

Hon David Parker : Why did New Zealand Trade and Enterprise say yesterday that the welfare and treatment of the lambs at the model farm in Saudi Arabia was not its responsibility, given that the Government is still asserting that the reason it spent over $6 million on the model farm, plus $1 million flying the sheep on Singapore Airlines Ltd, is to showcase New Zealand’s agricultural expertise?

Hon TIM GROSER : Well, the comment was made because it is correct. It is not their responsibility, which does not mean to say that they are not concerned about the implications of it, which is precisely why they sent experts up to Saudi Arabia 4 days later to help Al Khalaf Group to deal with the issues. So I think they showed an entirely responsible attitude.

Hon David Parker : Is the reason the Minister for Primary Industries was blindsided by this news yesterday and why he said at the select committee meeting today that the lambs may have died in a sandstorm, because neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade nor New Zealand Trade and Export had properly informed the Minister for Primary Industries about this debacle?

Hon TIM GROSER : I do not know precisely what the circumstances of it are, and neither would any Minister, because these are operational matters. We are informed of the broad nature of the agreement, but it is up to the people who are responsible for detailed matters. It is not the responsibility of the Minister for Primary Industries to be hot-footing it up to a Saudi Arabian farm to find out precisely what happened. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have not yet called the member.

Hon David Parker : Given that the Minister for Primary Industries has hot-footed it up there, when will he release the report on why some 70 percent of the lambs died, and show whether it was due to starvation, scours, or a sandstorm?

Hon TIM GROSER : We could debate the terms of this “hot-footing”. I think the Minister has visited the Saudi Arabian farm, but it was not to give veterinary advice to the Saudis. As far as the report is concerned, actually, I am not advised as to where that report stands or whether or not it is commercially confidential.

Hon David Parker : Why has the Government spent millions on a farm in a desert on the other side of the world where the vast majority of the New Zealand lambs have died?

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! A question has been asked. The Minister is now required to answer it, and if that sort of interjection carries on, it will be very difficult to do so.

Hon TIM GROSER : Let us be very clear about this: the New Zealand lambs are the breeding stock we exported, consistent with the tens of thousands of breeding stock that both the previous Labour-led Government and this Government have seen on their watch. What happens to the progeny and successive generations of those breeding stock is not a matter of responsibility for the New Zealand Government, and it would be literally absurd to suggest that it was. But this does not matter to the underlying point that if people ask for our assistance, we will always consider it in a positive and humane way.

Hon David Parker : Is this latest twist in this bizarre and sad waste of millions of taxpayers’ dollars not further proof that the real purpose was to buy the cooperation of the Al Khalaf Group, which was, according to Mr McCully’s own Cabinet paper, obstructing the Saudi adoption of the Gulf free-trade agreement?

Hon TIM GROSER : The objective of this is to test out a new model for the export of our agribusiness. And yes, it has had these problems. I have also been advised this morning that a second meeting has been achieved, which has gone extremely well. So it is a little bit early to call this a failure at this stage


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