Questions and Answers – June 23

by Desk Editor on Tuesday, June 23, 2015 — 7:37 PM

Questions to Ministers

Māori Development, Minister—Statements

1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Māori Development : Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL (Minister for Māori Development): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker, tēnā hoki koe te kaiwhiu pātai. [Thank you, Mr Speaker, and to you, as well, the questioner.] Yes, in the context that they were given.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why did he give an assurance to the Māori Affairs Committee that his staff had not questioned the composition of the panel for the Native Affairs Whānau Ora debate when that answer was false?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : As I said, in the context that they were given, at that particular point in time in front of the Māori Affairs Committee, that was the information that I had. On returning to my office afterwards to respond to questions given by the member Ms Curran I found out about an email tree, and since then that has now become part of the record of Parliament.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If that is so, why, when he was specifically asked subsequent to the Māori Affairs Committee meeting “did he or his office discuss the planned Native Affairs debate on Whānau Ora?”, did he answer no when he knew that answer was also false?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : If the member is asking about my response in the select committee, I answered no because I believed that to be—

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

Mr SPEAKER : I am going to invite the member the Rt Hon Winston Peters to repeat that question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why, when he was specially asked “did he or his office discuss the planned Native Affairs debate on Whānau Ora?”, which is in the Hansard, did he answer no when he knew that answer was also false?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : At that point in time I did not, as I have explained, have that information to hand, and I found that out subsequently.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why did he tell this House on 17 June, which is the Hansard for the last question, that his office “also told Māori Television … that I”—that is, him as Minister—“was prepared to appear on that programme.” when that answer was, again, false?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : The staff have advised me that the events of my appearing on that programme are as follows. On 14 May Māori Television’s Native Affairs made a request to myself. There was an interaction between my staff and Māori Television, of which I was not aware, as often happens. On 14 May my staff responded affirmatively, on my behalf, to appearing on the programme. On 20 May we were advised by email that the programme had been pulled. That is all the information I had in front of me at the time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If that is correct, why did he tweet on 8 June—18 days after the programme was cancelled—that he had never been invited to talk in the Whānau Ora debate when he knew that information was, again, false?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : The interplay that the member is referring to is an interplay between my staff member and Māori Television. I was unaware of it at the time and believed, when it was tweeted, that that was the correct situation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why, after seven emails between his office and Māori Television, and within 1½ hours of seeing the chief executive of Māori Television, was the proposed Whānau Ora debate torpedoed?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : The accusations have been made that I interfered with television programming, and I reject that absolutely. Just for the record, the email exchange between the Native Affairs programming states something along the lines of: “We thought it timely to discuss the programme in greater depth”—in greater depth—“to get a better understanding of what Whānau Ora is, how it operates, what its intended outcomes are, its successes or otherwise, and areas of improvement/criticism.” The response from my press secretary was—and this is no direction whatsoever—“Just wondering what would be the purpose of this korero? I don’t think the issue will be covered in any depth if you have New Zealand First on it, for example.” There is no direction in that.

Marama Fox : Did you at any time direct your staff to interfere with the programming of Māori Television?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : The answer to that question is absolutely no. As I say, the opportunity for press secretaries to engage with media outlets is a regular occurrence. They talk backwards and forwards all the time, and at no point, as I have just stated, was there any directive given. In fact, the response that came back from Māori Television on 20 May—just so the full record is noted—states: “A quick note to say that there has been a scheduling change here, and so we’ve unfortunately had to cancel the planned Queen’s Birthday Whānau Ora discussion.” That should set the record straight.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Referring specifically to section 10(1) of that Act, the Māori Television Service (Te Aratuku Whakaata Irirangi Māori) Act, which relates specifically to Ministers or their staff, is it not a fact that he broke the law by committing an offence against section 10 of that Act—as clear as daylight—for which he should now resign?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL : Today I am not feeling very happy about those sorts of accusations, and I will just have to tell the member that I intend to stick around for as long as the Prime Minister wishes me to be here.

External Debt—Progress

2. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance : What progress is the Government making in helping reduce New Zealand’s external debt position?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The latest current account data issued by Statistics New Zealand shows New Zealand is making some good progress in reducing its external debt. Net external debt fell to 58 percent of GDP in March. This is the lowest level since 2003. It is helped by the Government getting on top of its spending, but households are making a positive contribution. In fact, households had positive savings for the last 5 years, and this has not happened since the early 1990s. Before 2010 household savings had been negative in all but one year since 1995.

Chris Bishop : How is the savings behaviour of households contributing to New Zealand’s improving overall debt position?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : If you look at the total numbers for household savings, these have totalled $11.6 billion over the last 5 years. In the previous 5 years there was $15.5 billion of net borrowing rather than $11.6 billion of net saving. Of course, a growing economy helps, because it supports more jobs and higher incomes. In the past year 74,000 more jobs have been created and average annual wages have increased by $5,700 in the last 4 years. The economic confidence and the higher incomes assist households to save more.

Chris Bishop : What steps is the Government taking to reduce Crown debt?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Households have been doing their bit by saving more and borrowing less, and the Government is focusing on borrowing less. We are focused on getting Government spending under control. Core Crown expenses have fallen from 34 percent of GDP in 2008-09 to 30 percent next year. The Government has achieved this by focusing on controlling expenditure with around a billion of new money per year. However, we will need to stick to this kind of fiscal discipline in order to generate the surpluses required to start repaying debt in the way that many households have been repaying debt.

Chris Bishop : What recent reports has he received on the Government’s expenses and revenue?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : In the interests of transparent Government the Government publishes monthly accounts, and those for the 10 months to 30 April show a turn-round from $450 million—around a billion better than forecast in the Budget just a few weeks beforehand. This shows that the Government monthly accounts fluctuate but it looks slightly more likely we could get to surplus for the 2014-15 year.

Grant Robertson : Can he confirm that when he took office in 2008 he said that New Zealand was “in a reasonable position regarding debt” and that since then net debt has risen to over $60 billion?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : One of the things the Labour finance spokesman needs to get up to date with is the global financial crisis. I know that at the time he was the tertiary education spokesman, but that does not mean it did not happen, and it is one of the reasons, alongside the Christchurch earthquake, for the growth in Government debt over that time.

Grant Robertson : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There were actually a couple of questions there—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! If the member is arguing they were not addressed, in the final stages, in my opinion, they were. It did take some time but they were addressed. Certainly one was and that is all that is required.

Grant Robertson : Do the Budget documents that he released earlier, in May, say that net debt will not be reduced in nominal terms until the 2019 fiscal year?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I would have to go back and check, as you would expect. But the member would be correct if he was saying that the Government cannot actually repay nominal debt until it has sufficient cash surpluses as opposed to accounting surpluses, and that is quite a challenge. That is why I look to the member’s continued support for the Government’s policy of fiscal restraint and effective Government spending.

Building and Housing, Minister—Confidence

3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he have confidence in his Minister for Building and Housing given that, since he became responsible for housing, the average Auckland house price has risen by $221,000, which works out at over $250 a day?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Given that he inherited a doubling of New Zealand house prices and an 80 percent jump in Auckland prices under the previous Government, yes, and here is why. We have signed housing accords with eight councils, including Auckland, to speed up housing development. Since the Auckland Housing Accord was signed in October 2013 more than 16,700 sections and homes have been consented. We are freeing up more land for residential development through 84 special housing areas in Auckland alone, capable of providing 43,600 extra homes. The Government is providing a $200 million loan to the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company in Auckland to develop around 7,500 new homes, and we have introduced the new Homestart package to help around 90,000 first-home buyers into houses over the next 5 years.

Andrew Little : Does he think that the average house in Auckland is affordable for the average Auckland family?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think it is always a challenge buying a house, but one thing that average families will appreciate is the much lower interest rates under a National-led Government.

Andrew Little : Given that last year his big housing policy was cheap and nails and since then Auckland house prices have risen by $115,000, what effect will this year’s policies have on house prices?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As the member may have seen from the Productivity Commission and others, the right response, of course, to the issues in relation to housing are around the supply side. As I mentioned, the Government is putting more money into the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company, special housing areas, reform of the Resource Management Act, and fast tracking the release of Government-owned land. All of these things are building the supply side and, actually, were endorsed by the OECD recently.

Andrew Little : Has he seen any reports about the impact of building on Crown land on Auckland houses prices; if so, have those reports been updated to base their conclusions on 30 conceptual hectares rather than 500 actual hectares?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : What I have seen is the Government’s policy that is going to release between 400 and 500 hectares of Crown-owned land. Given there are 150,000 of them in Auckland, I am pretty confident you will find that the Government will achieve that.

Andrew Little : Given the long list of Nick Smith’s failures on housing in the past few weeks, does he still have confidence that Minister Smith will succeed in finding 500 hectares of land that the Crown actually owns and that iwi do not have first dibs on and building a meaningful number of affordable houses on that land; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Of course he will, and that is for the very reason—

Hon Members : Ha, ha!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Members laugh, but they wanted to build—what was it—a hundred thousand homes. Where were they going to build them? That is right. On a cloud, because on the pricing they had done, there was no affordability for those sections.

Andrew Little : Why is he content to sit on the side lines while his Minister makes a mess of Auckland housing and the Kiwi dream slips out of the reach of more and more families?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : One of the problems with the facts in this debate is that they are very inconvenient for Labour. Labour’s Phil Twyford is on TV moaning and whingeing and complaining, but, actually, he does not want to mention the special housing areas or the Resource Management Act or the extra land that is being released or the Tāmaki redevelopment or the first-home buyers grant. He does not want to mention those, because those facts get in the way of the myths, and that is why Labour is doing so badly.

Phil Twyford : It’s not working, John.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No one believes you, Phil.


4. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

James Shaw : Does he have confidence that all of his Ministers, in particular Murray McCully, disclosed all details about the threat of legal action against the Government by Mr Al Khalaf and his associates?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes. I will refer the member to the Cabinet paper on this matter.

James Shaw : Did any of his Ministers suggest to Mr Al Khalaf and his associates that they sue the Government of New Zealand?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, I cannot speak for the other Ministers—I have never asked that question—but I know I certainly did not and I would be surprised if they did.

James Shaw : Why then did Brownrigg Agriculture in a letter dated November 2011 to Murray McCully say that Mr Al Kalaf will be looking “to seek commercial redress, as indeed suggested by your Government as a last resort option for him.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I cannot answer that question because I was not privy to those conversations, but what we do know by the paper trail that was released last week is that this problem was the making of Labour, which misled that investor and misled Saudi Ministers. [Interruption] It is very inconvenient for those members, but it is actually factually correct.

James Shaw : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question did not relate to the last Labour Government.

Mr SPEAKER : No, no. The question was about was there any—it referred to a letter quoting Mr Al Khalaf, and was he advised to seek legal advice, and the Prime Minister right at the start said that he was not aware of that and not privy to that conversation. The question was definitely addressed.

James Shaw : Did the Government encourage Mr Al Khalaf to seek commercial redress so that his Government could justify buying Mr Al Khalaf’s cooperation for the Gulf States free-trade deal?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not aware of all the conversations that other Ministers would have had, but the reality of the situation was that Labour inherited a mess by deliberately misleading the Saudis over this issue.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last two questions were answered by the Prime Minister in his first opening words, and then it became straight away, on both occasions, an attack on the Labour Party. Now, frankly, that cannot be in order.

Hon Gerry Brownlee : You will be able to note that the member asking the question referred to “the Government”. Mr Key was simply making it clear that it was a previous Government—and Mr Peters, as a member of that previous Government, would know it was led by Labour.

Mr SPEAKER : I thank both members for their assistance. On this occasion, because the issue is one that has taken quite a lot of time in this House, and certainly it is an issue that has spanned over two administrations, I do not think on that occasion I would agree with the Rt Hon Winston Peters that the reference back to a previous administration was a direct attack on that administration.

James Shaw : Why did the Prime Minister say to the media last week that he was not aware of any—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I invite the member to start his question again.

James Shaw : Why did the Prime Minister say to the media last week that he was not aware of any cause of action when Murray McCully claimed in the House that the reason for the farm in the desert was that New Zealand was exposed to “legal claims estimated to be up to $30 million”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Because the way I interpreted the question was, had I actually seen the action of the $20 to $30 million, and I said I was aware of it. My point was that I was aware of it in the Cabinet paper, but I was also aware that that was a potential threat, and it was parked up when negotiations began.

James Shaw : Given that he has said “I expect high standards from my Ministers,” and “If they don’t meet the standards I set, then obviously I will take action …”, what actions can we expect from the Prime Minister to get the full story from Murray McCully?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think Mr McCully has provided the full story. It is fairly simple: the previous Labour Government misled the Saudis. This Government wanted to do a few things. One, there was always the chance of some legal action. Two, it wanted to complete a free-trade agreement. And, thirdly, it wanted to promote New Zealand’s expertise in that Middle East environment. In my opinion, although the Minister found a creative way through, he did everything above board.

Hon David Parker : Does he believe that in 2013 the Al Khalaf group had a legal right of action against the New Zealand Government for $20 to $30 million?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : It is not for me to offer legal opinions in this House, and the member knows that.

Hon David Parker : I again seek leave to table the un-redacted version of the Cabinet papers that the Prime Minister says backs his claims but do not.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The last part is unnecessary. Leave is sought to table now the un-redacted Cabinet papers dated back to 2007-08. Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon David Parker : Would a Minister who authorised a multimillion-dollar facilitation payment to be made to a disaffected businessman to unlock a free-trade agreement retain his confidence?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Absolutely, and for the reasons I pointed out earlier. The previous Labour Government can run, but it cannot hide. On two occasions, it deliberately misled the Saudis. They know it. Phil Goff actually went to Riyadh—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Both sides of the House will now settle down.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it within the Standing Orders for the Prime Minister to accuse the Hon Phil Goff of having lied? That is what he said when he got to his feet.

Mr SPEAKER : I do apologise. I certainly did not hear that. It was a heated exchange, and there was a lot of noise. I did not hear that that was said. The way forward, because the Hon Phil Goff is not here in the Chamber, on the basis that the Prime Minister did make that statement, is that I ask him to stand and withdraw that part of that statement. [Interruption] Order! If the Prime Minister said that the Hon Phil Goff lied, that is unparliamentary, and I am asking him now to withdraw—[Interruption] Order! I do not need the assistance from the honourable member. On this occasion, I am asking the Prime Minister to withdraw that comment.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I withdraw. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Documents make it quite clear that he—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Prime Minister is now trifling with the Chair, and there is the risk that he may well be having to leave the Chamber early.

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

Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is—[Interruption] Order! Mr Brownlee, this is a point of order. I do not expect to have to point out to the Leader of the House that this point of order will be heard—[Interruption] I will accept that explanation on this occasion.

Hon David Parker : What remedy does the Opposition have in this situation? We cannot table the documents, because the Government refuses—[Interruption] Well—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Prime Minister is to remain silent—[Interruption] Order! I just want to make this absolutely clear. I am going to listen to a point of order from the Hon David Parker, and if any member interjects or speaks out loudly, that member, regardless of who he or she is, will be leaving the Chamber immediately.

Hon David Parker : What recourse does the Opposition have when the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs refer to redacted parts of the document as justifying their assertions, and yet we cannot present the documents to the House, because the Government continually refuses to allow them to be tabled?

Mr SPEAKER : A reasonable point, and this is a matter of contest. At the end of the day, the member has the ability to seek leave to table the document. If that is refused by any member of the House, then those documents do not get tabled in this House. The way forward, and I suspect we will see more questions on this raised in the future, is further questions and supplementary questions in this House.

Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is only reasonable, in the circumstances, to point out that the comments referred to by the Prime Minister are in the redacted version that is publicly available.

Mr SPEAKER : That is not a point of order. [Interruption] Order! My patience will expire fairly quickly with one member in this House, I can assure him.

Refugee Quota—Prime Minister’s Statements

5. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement regarding refugee numbers that “it’s not 750, and I think it’s 3,000 or 4,000 off the top of my head”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No, because I corrected myself at my post-Cabinet press conference yesterday by saying that when I made those comments, I had actually been referring to a number that applied to the full refugee quota programme, which is a 3-year programme, and is in the order of 3,000 to 4,000.

Hon Annette King : In light of that answer, was he talking off the top of his head when he also said that New Zealand was sixth in the world in accepting refugees from the official United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, when, in fact, we are eighth, behind the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and the United Kingdom?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, we were sixth at the time that the programme was introduced. Actually, we are seventh according to the advice that I have, so maybe we want to meet in the middle. The ones above us are the US, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.

Hon Annette King : Was he talking off the top of his head when he said that Australia takes 20,000 refugees and that “they have taken them for a long period of time”, when, in fact, the last time that Australia took that many was in 1981-82, and it has been averaging around 6,000 for the last decade?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think Australia would probably recognise that that might be right in terms of the programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but I would be very surprised if the wider refugee number in Australia were not much bigger than that number, given how many they do allow into Australia.

Hon Annette King : Was he talking off the top of his head, or from a hole in his head, when he made reference to the Saudi payments—“as maybe the record will show, in 2007 the previous Labour Government was well and truly aware of the situation and was looking to take its own actions.”—when released Cabinet papers confirm no such thing, redacted or un-redacted?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, because I was right. The previous Labour Government was aware of the domestic legal risks. They are quite clear, and, actually, it was looking to restart commercial shipments. It went to Riyadh, as the redacted version shows, and it misled the Saudis, and it did it twice. Labour created the problem, and as much as its members do not like my saying it, unfortunately, it is true.

Hon Annette King : Why has it become a habit for him to make things up, exaggerate, use sophistry rather than substance, and talk off the top of his head rather than be straight up and down with the people of New Zealand and the media; and is that appropriate action for a Prime Minister?

Mr SPEAKER : Order! That is a very marginal question but I will allow the Prime Minister to answer it.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I would have thought that the member was a bit better than that, but, actually, given the huge amount of media that I do—and I accept that I made an error in reading some information; I read 3,000 to 4,000 as a 1-year thing, not 3-year thing—yes, I made a mistake, and I corrected it. By the way, last time I looked, there are lots of mistakes that are made by Labour, but if Labour members want me to put out press releases correcting every one that they make, I am more than happy to do it.

Flooding, Central North Island—Government Assistance

6. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister of Civil Defence : What support is the Government providing to communities affected by the severe storm and flooding event of 18 to 21 June?

Hon NIKKI KAYE (Minister of Civil Defence): The Government is contributing significant support to areas affected by the storm. At the moment, the Government’s general support includes: deployment of staff from the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management in order to provide on-the-ground advice and support; reimbursement of local authorities for response and recovery costs such as accommodation and the transportation of food and clothing for displaced residents; repairing essential infrastructure; welfare assistance such as hardship grants through the Ministry of Social Development; police assistance, with security and rural reconnaissance; and support to clear and repair State highways. Our thoughts are with the families and people affected by the severe storm and floods.

Ian McKelvie : What is the current situation in some of the affected areas?

Hon NIKKI KAYE : I can confirm that a state of local emergency has been lifted for Rangitīkei. States of local emergency for Whanganui and Taranaki will remain in place until assessments have been undertaken. From the advice that I have had, from talking with local mayors, I can confirm that damage assessments are under way in Whanganui in the hope that some people will be able to return to their homes from tomorrow. The river is continuing to recede, building inspections are under way in Waitōtara, and Fonterra and civil defence are continuing to contact people and farmers in the region in order to assess their needs. A range of roading assessments are under way, and helicopters are dropping food and other essential supplies to isolated houses and are getting people who wish to leave out. In Hokitika, 40 people have been evacuated or are in temporary accommodation. I will be meeting with mayors tonight and tomorrow in order to understand their plans around residents who may be out of their homes for longer. Over the coming days, we will continue to get a clearer picture of the damage. Today I had a call with mayors from affected regions to get an update on some of the smaller towns, and I will visit Marton tomorrow and meet with the Mayor of Rangitīkei tonight.

Ian McKelvie : What additional support has been announced by the Government?

Hon NIKKI KAYE : A disaster relief fund has been activated for the Manawatū-Whanganui region. Yesterday I announced the Government will contribute $250,000 to that fund. We will contribute more if needed. I am currently in discussions with the mayors in Taranaki and Westland about further funds and Government contributions. Also, Minister Tolley announced yesterday an additional $250,000 package for Enhanced Taskforce Green. This will provide funding to councils to employ jobseekers to assist with the clean-up and to hire or purchase equipment and clothing to enable this to happen. Today the Minister for Primary Industries, who was visiting the region, declared a medium-scale adverse event. Minister Guy has announced $100,000 for rural support trusts. The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry of Social Development will now assess the need for rural assistance payments. Over the next 24 hours, I will be visiting Rangitīkei, Whanganui, Waitōtara, and Marton to meet with local mayors, residents, and people working on the recovery so as to ensure that they know this Government is committed to helping communities get back on their feet.

Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry—Expenditure

7. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Economic Development : Does he stand by his statement on who is responsible for the spending at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment: “Well, the Minister responsible for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is me”?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I think that question was directed to the Minister for Economic Development—

Mr SPEAKER : It was.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : —but I stand by it in the context of my full statement, which continues: “I have made it absolutely clear to the chief executive that I do not condone the expenditure on the sign, he has accepted that and has given me a very clear assurance.” Overall, the ministry has done a good job of reducing costs and, actually, through the move to a refurbished building—unlike the new buildings that the Labour Government used to build all around Wellington at the time—has actually saved $40 million to $50 million over 20 years. On top of that the merger will save around $9.5 million a year. Nevertheless, those particular items were over the top.

Dr David Clark : In light of spending on expensive signs, information screens, sundecks, and hair straighteners at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the fact that the project came in $2 million under budget; does he concede that he was extravagant when he set the budget at $18 million?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : No, there were savings through the budget, and the budget was set by the ministry and approved by me and the Minister of Finance. As I pointed out to the member, overall the savings of this project are $40 million to $50 million—savings of $40 million to $50 million—on top of the merger savings of around $9.5 million a year. But, as I have made the point previously, there were some individual items that were too expensive and I have taken that up with the chief executive.

Dr David Clark : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was whether he was extravagant when he set the budget. He has talked about coming in under the budget, but he has not talked about the actual budget-setting process.

Mr SPEAKER : The Minister certainly addressed that part of the question. There is no doubt about that in my mind.

Brett Hudson : How does the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s $16.5 million Stout Street redevelopment, $2 million under budget, compare with the cost of other Government building redevelopments in central Wellington? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just before the Minister answers—I want it to be within the responsibility of this Minister. I do not want that question to be designed to attack a previous Labour Government.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Again, this is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The member in his question has asked me to compare it with other Government redevelopments, which I think is an important—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : It is an important question and one that I did take into account when considering the situation regarding this redevelopment. So I think it is important for the House for me to have the opportunity to compare it with other Government redevelopments—and I note that in the member’s question he did not actually raise a particular example.

Mr SPEAKER : I am not ruling the question out of order. I am just asking whether the member is aware of Speaker’s ruling 174/3, which is one that would concern me potentially with the answer, but we wait to see what the answer is. It states: “It is not reasonable to use questions from the governing party or its support parties to attack other members of the House.” And that applies equally to other political parties. I wait for the answer with interest.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I have looked for other examples to get an understanding of how this particular project went. In fact, there was a good example just a block from the new Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment head office in Stout Street. That particular redevelopment, which is a Government redevelopment, was costed at around $11 million initially. That figure then rose to $29 million, and then it was revised again to $45 million. Remember, it started at $11 million. It then jumped again to $53 million, then to $65 million, then, once more, to $77 million, and by the time it opened, in 2008 interestingly, the cost had blown out to something like $80 million, more than seven times the cost of the original budget. I am pleased to report we have done hugely better than that.

Dr David Clark : What proportion of New Zealand’s small to medium sized enterprises that he visits have a $140,000 TV screen in their foyer?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I am not aware of that. As I said to the member at the select committee the other day, my point is that there were some items in this particular project that I am not happy with. I have made that clear to the chief executive. He has accepted that, and he has indicated to me that they will be taking a different approach to the authority that the chief executive sets with particular expenditure items in the future.

Dr David Clark : What proportion of New Zealand’s small to medium sized enterprises that he visits have a $260,000 sun deck?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Again, as I said to the member the other day, I am not aware of the answer to that question, but I would say to him that in relation to the project overall it has saved significant money, but there are some items that were too expensive. That has been made clear to the chief executive of the agency, and he has in turn advised that he will be changing his processes for authorisation of expenditure as a result.

Dr David Clark : I seek leave to table an Official Information Act response relating to the barbecues that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has placed on its sun deck.

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

Dairy Conversion—Environmental Impact

8. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment : Does he support the continued Landcorp conversion from forestry to dairy despite the impact dairy farming has on freshwater quality, and the ongoing loss of forest as a carbon sink?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Approval for these conversions is a decision for the Waikato Regional Council and the Taupō District Council, relative to their regional and district plans, or, if appealed, to the Environment Court. The Government is requiring a strengthening of these councils’ plans and rules in respect of freshwater quality, with the 2011 national policy statement and the 2014 minimum standards. I also note that Landcorp is contractually bound to do these over $200 million worth of conversions and to manage the farms until 2049, under a deal approved by the then Government in 2004.

Catherine Delahunty : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister addressed the first leg of the question extremely well, but there is a second leg that was not addressed, about the loss of forest as a carbon sink.

Mr SPEAKER : If the Minister would be kind enough to address the latter part, about the ongoing loss of forests as carbon sinks.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : If any forest is lost as part of the deal, they are required to meet those through the emissions trading scheme obligations. The price of the emissions trading scheme has been quite low historically, but members should note that from 1 January this year, when international units have no longer been available, the price is currently sitting at about $6.80 and so there is a financial obligation for the loss of those forest sinks.

Catherine Delahunty : Is it OK for a Government-owned farm operator to sacrifice the health of the Waikato River for increased dairy production in the upper catchment while displacing a carbon sink with yet another source of greenhouse gas emissions? Is that OK with the Minister?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : The difficulty for the Government is that contractual obligations were entered into in 2004 that oblige Landcorp to be able to convert those farms. My understanding is that a number of about nine farms have been converted; about 29 are proposed in the deal. There is an expense to Landcorp of something over $200 million, and it would be in breach of those contractual obligations if it did not proceed with those dairy conversions. The job of Government is in terms of the regulatory regime, and that is why we have put in place a national policy statement and minimum water quality standards, which the Waikato Regional Council is required to implement into its regional plan.

Catherine Delahunty : Given the fact that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the OECD economic survey have highlighted that standard mitigation measures, such as repairing planting, struggle to keep up with nitrogen losses, what action is the Minister taking to reduce the density of cows on farms, which is the source of nutrient pollution?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : The report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment complimented the Government on the very first freshwater national policy statement, which we introduced in 2011. I commend my colleague Amy Adams on the very hard work that went into putting the minimum standards into that national policy statement. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment noted the momentum that has taken place across New Zealand in getting those national standards implemented at a regional level, and that is what we need to see through if we are to deliver the step change in these impacts on water quality.

Catherine Delahunty : Given that mitigation to date, as is highlighted in the other parliamentary commissioner’s report of last week, has not protected lakes such as Karapiro from turning pink from pollution, will he admit that his strategy for protecting water from excess nitrogen from cow waste is failing?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Quite the opposite. I would point to a lake like Lake Taupō and the progress that we have made with the specific initiative there. I would look at a lake in my colleague Todd McClay’s electorate, where he has worked hard, and Lake Rotoiti, I am advised, is the best it has been in 25 years. I would look to the partnership that this Government has formed in the Manawatū and the progress that has been made in that catchment. I openly acknowledge that there is more work to do, and that is why the Government has been quite open about the next steps it intends to take around improving freshwater management, with a discussion document by myself and the Ministry for Primary Industries planned for later this year or early next year to ensure that we take those next steps.

Prime Minister—Statements

9. FLETCHER TABUTEAU (NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Fletcher Tabuteau : Given that he stated that all New Zealanders should trust him regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, why then, with the endgame now playing out and after years of negotiations, is your Minister of Trade now saying: “It’s not to say that there’s a bad deal on dairy products; it’s more to say that there’s no deal.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Because the Minister is technically correct. We are in a negotiating phase, and so there is not actually a completed deal yet.

Fletcher Tabuteau : In saying that he would like to do some more for the dairy industry, what will he do for Beef and Lamb New Zealand and the Fonterra Cooperative Group, which have gone on record saying that they would struggle to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement if, like the Chinese free-trade deal and the South Korean free-trade deal, there are no actual free-trade clauses for them in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member will have to wait and see, on the basis that the US Senate ultimately gets through it and we get to a deal. But on the basis of what I have seen as being proposed at the moment, I think net-on-net the benefits are positive for New Zealand, and many sectors, I think, will be happy.

Broadband, Ultra-fast—Progress

10. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister for Communications : Can she provide an update on the build programme for the first stage of the Ultra-Fast Broadband initiative?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): Yes, I can. On Friday I announced that the first phase of the ultra-fast broadband programme has now passed the halfway mark and is well ahead of schedule. The build is now complete in 11 towns and cities around New Zealand, and eight more are expected over the next year. The first stage of the programme will enable at least 75 percent of New Zealanders to access fibre by 2019. The Government has committed to extend this to a target of at least 80 percent of New Zealanders. One indication of the success of the programme is that New Zealand now has the fastest growth in fibre penetration in the OECD, at a staggering 272 percent growth.

Hon Judith Collins : What other announcements has she made to simplify the roll-out of the Ultra-fast Broadband Initiative?

Hon AMY ADAMS : Recently, I announced the release of the Land Access for Telecommunications discussion document, which seeks feedback on ways to reduce some of the unnecessary costs and delays with the ultra-fast broadband roll-out. Although the project is ahead of schedule and uptake is exceeding expectations, there have, for example, been frustrations where someone resides down a shared driveway or in an apartment complex and requires written permission from each and every property owner in order to get ultra-fast broadband. The discussion document proposes amending the way in which network operators seek permission in these situations, enabling better use of existing utility infrastructure in order to roll out fibre more efficiently, providing certainty to network operators for maintenance of fibre, and ensuring that all disputes can be resolved easily.

Hon Judith Collins : How does New Zealand compare with other countries that embarked on large-scale ultra-fast broadband projects? [Interruption]

Hon AMY ADAMS : They do hate success, do they not? I can tell you that in Singapore, when the build was 50 percent complete, uptake was very low—at around just 2 percent. Once Singapore reached 95 percent built, uptake was at 16 percent. In Cornwall, when deployment was at 48 percent, they were at only 6 percent uptake. When London was 86 percent built, uptake was only 12 percent. So at 13.8 percent at the halfway stage of the build, the current level of uptake is very good and exceeding all expectations.

Workplace Relations and Safety, Minister—Statements

11. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety : Does he stand by his statement that “What will improve our health and safety record is changes in behaviour and attitude, and that is what I am promoting”?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): I stand by the full statement I made, which was 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 : Does he agree with the Employers and Manufacturers Association when it says: “Employers for the most part are prepared to lead much of that attitudinal shift, but the strongest and most prominent leadership—even if it is unpopular among a small proportion of voters—must come from Government. Government must show real leadership in driving this legislation or too many New Zealanders will continue to be injured or die in the workplace.”?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Largely yes, but I do not believe one necessarily leads the other. The Government needs to work with business, with unions, and with workers to change behaviour and improve health and safety.

Iain Lees-Galloway : Does he agree with the Employers and Manufacturers Association when it says: “If there was one piece of employment legislation demanding a lead role from Government, this is it. This is what the Pike River inquiry and subsequent inquiries around issues of health and safety have found. This is why we must act. New Zealand’s ‘she’ll be right’ attitude just isn’t working for our workforce.”?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I have not had that quote, but if that is what the Employers and Manufacturers Association said, yes, I do agree with it. I believe that the Government is showing exactly the sort of leadership that the association is calling for. This is the biggest health and safety reform in nearly 25 years. It is really important that we get it right. That is what we are doing.

Iain Lees-Galloway : Does he agree with the Employers and Manufacturers Association in the letter it sent him that in order to prevent incidents like the tragic recent lime quarry accident in North Canterbury, where the owner of the mine was operating without proper certification, WorkSafe needs to be well resourced and active in enforcing workplace health and safety law?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I certainly agree that WorkSafe needs to be well resourced, which is why the Government provided $35 million extra funding for the regulator, bringing ongoing funding up to $80 million a year. There are now 167 health and safety inspectors, including 17 new high-hazard inspectors.

Iain Lees-Galloway : Does he share the concerns of the Employers and Manufacturers Association that there are too few WorkSafe inspectors and even planned increases will come up 30 short of ILO standards and that without proper enforcement of the law his desired change in behaviour and attitude will not come about because WorkSafe will not have the resources to make it happen?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Certainly, to the extent that the Government recognised that it did need to increase the number of health and safety inspectors on the ground, that is exactly what we have done. What is also really important is that we target appropriate risk. WorkSafe’s role is to make sure that it focuses on those risky enterprises and activities in order that we do prevent those deaths and injuries.

Welfare Fraud—Progress

12. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Associate Minister for Social Development : What update can she provide about the Government’s welfare fraud reform initiatives?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development): This Government’s welfare reform initiatives continue to bring in outstanding results for taxpayers. Prior to these reforms approximately 26 percent of clients who had committed welfare fraud would reoffend. The most recent quarterly report shows that none of the 1,698 clients who have left the close-monitoring initiative so far have recommitted welfare fraud.

Paul Foster-Bell : Is the increased information-sharing between departments continuing to produce results?

Hon JO GOODHEW : Yes. As at the end of March this year, the welfare fraud initiatives have led to the cancelling of just under 10,000 benefits after welfare fraud has been discovered, saving around $71 million of taxpayer money.


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