Questions and Answers – Sept 23

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 — 5:41 PM

Questions to Ministers

Economy—Management

1. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki – King Country) to the Minister of Finance : What steps is the Government taking to better position the economy to manage future uncertainty?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has focused on stabilising the Crown’s net debt position. This is a ratio of debt to national income at around 26 percent. Back in 2009 we said we would try to keep it under 30 percent and we want to get it down to 20 percent by 2020. Twenty-six percent net debt is low relative to most other developed countries. It means that we are reasonably well positioned to cope with unexpected future shocks. This has been achieved through careful control of expenditure, through better control of new capital spending, and, significantly, through the very successful part-sales of the Government’s electricity generators. We remain focused on understanding the value and drivers of operating spending and through improved discipline around asset management.

Barbara Kuriger : What progress is being made in other areas to improve economic resilience?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : There has been significant strengthening in New Zealand’s overall net debt to the rest of the world since 2008—our net external liability position. Statistics New Zealand recently reported that the gap in the country’s net international investment position—that is, the difference between our assets and our liabilities offshore—is now 62 percent of GDP, down from 85 percent in 2009, and is currently the lowest level since 1990. This is a pretty important measure for New Zealand because it is one of the measures that credit ratings agencies use. Our external resilience, of course, is also assisted by robust institutions such as a flexible labour market and a floating exchange rate.

Grant Robertson : Is it correct that under his current Budget net debt will not reduce in nominal terms until the 2018-19 fiscal year?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I think that is a position outlined in the 2014-15 Budget. Of course, it is ironic that we get criticised by Labour Party members for that, because they opposed—deeply—the asset sales, which led to a significant reduction in our net debt position.

Barbara Kuriger : How are improved capital reserves in the New Zealand banking system supporting the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I think most developed economies learnt from the global financial crisis that having a resilient banking system is pretty important to the sustainability of our households and our businesses. Banks registered in New Zealand hold more capital now than they did prior to the global financial crisis. Most banks are exceeding regulated minimum capital ratios. There has been a significant increase in bank deposits, and banks now finance more of their funding needs from New Zealanders and less of them offshore. The Reserve Bank’s stress testing of the banking system last year showed New Zealand banks are well-positioned to withstand external future shocks such as a significant drop in dairy prices.

Barbara Kuriger : How have the Government’s tax policies helped to deliver improved resilience to economic shocks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : In two ways. By focusing on a broad-based low rate tax system we have ensured we have been, despite economic downturn, able to collect sufficient tax to meet our needs and to significantly reduce our deficits. Secondly, the 2010 tax package has now been shown to have increased labour market participation, supported household savings to higher levels than they would otherwise have been, and, thirdly, that tax package has shown that people on higher incomes are now paying a higher proportion of the tax take than they were before we cut the top tax rate.

Wage Rates—Average Wage

2. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that his Government has achieved “a lift in the average wage of more than $10,000 a year”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. In fact, New Zealand businesses and employers have achieved that. According to a Statistics New Zealand quarterly employment survey the average wage was $46,578 when we came into office in 2008. The latest official figures for the June quarter 2015 show that the average wage is now $57,058. That is an increase of more than $10,000, over 22 percent.

James Shaw : Does he understand that using the average income increase masks the fact that higher incomes have risen so disproportionately to lower incomes?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : By definition, averages have to account for all of the incomes across the spectrum and then they get divided by the number of people in the labour market.

James Shaw : Does he see that this growing inequality is a problem worth addressing, given that since he came to power the income increase for the top 10 percent has been nearly four times greater than what it has been for the bottom 10 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : If the member goes and has a look at the Bryan Perry studies, he will see that there have been various different movements in terms of income inequality—for a start off, it moves around by investment income. But I would say that the Government is addressing the least well-off in society. We are the first Government in 43 years to raise benefits, and on average we spend $7.8 billion each year on income support for low-income families.

James Shaw : Given that the report by Bryan Perry, which the Prime Minister has described as “the definitive study in this area”, shows that the lower third of incomes were flat, does he still believe that the economy is working for all New Zealanders?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : In my opinion, yes, because one of the things the economy is doing is generating new jobs—199,000 new jobs since 2011—and the fastest way to take people out of poverty and help low-income people is through employment.

James Shaw : Just so we understand, given that a third of New Zealanders have seen no gain in their incomes in real terms in the last 3 years—the period after we started recovering from the global financial crisis—does he still believe that the economy is on the right track for everyone?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do.

James Shaw : Does he keep using the average income statistics to justify a series of policies that overlook the reality for a third of New Zealanders?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No. I just use them because they are the statistics provided by Statistics New Zealand and because it was the primary question that the member asked me.

Wellington Zoo—Pandas

3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Why did he say that pandas are “a subject dear to my heart” and taxpayer money would be made available to get pandas for Wellington Zoo?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The proposal to bring pandas to Wellington Zoo is a council-led initiative. What I said yesterday was that the Government would consider helping with the costs but that it would not be a massive amount. It is not even known yet whether any pandas could be obtained. As the member is aware, some work was done a few years ago on the potential of bringing pandas to New Zealand because of their ability to draw visitors to the cities they are in. As Minister of Tourism, I think that they would be most welcome in Wellington.

Andrew Little : How many of the 50,000 extra unemployed people under his watch will be employed at the $10 million – panda palace that will be required to house the pandas?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : We now have more people in employment in New Zealand than ever before. I do not how many people would be employed, but I do remember the Labour Party scoffing about the cycle ways, which is actually another initiative of relatively modest proportions that has done extremely well. What I can see from yesterday’s question time is that it is not just the—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! Now the Prime Minister is no longer addressing the question.

David Seymour : Will the pandas—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order, to the Deputy Prime Minister!

David Seymour : Will the pandas have Chinese-sounding names?

Mr SPEAKER : In so far as there may be some prime ministerial responsibility.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes, they will be called “Bing Bing”, “Xing Xing”, “Zhing Zhing”, and under a Labour Government, they will never be allowed to buy a panda enclosure in Auckland.

Mr SPEAKER : Supplementary question, Andrew Little. [Interruption] Order! To the right-hand side, you have had your fun. We are back to question time.

Andrew Little : Thank you Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I will not warn the Hon Simon Bridges again.

Andrew Little : When the Prime Minister has finished making fun of Chinese surnames and he has built his $10 million – panda palace, will State house children get free entry so that they can finally get to see what a warm, safe, dry home looks like?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not know what Wellington Zoo will do in terms of charging, but what I do know is that I think it would be a great initiative, actually, for youngsters to be able to come to Wellington to come to Te Papa, to come to Parliament, to go to the National War Memorial, to go to Peter Jackson’s and Richard Taylor’s workshops, and, actually, to go to the zoo to see pandas. They are very popular around the world. As Minister of Tourism, I say that that is the reason why they are hard to get—because so many countries want them.

Andrew Little : Is spending a quarter of a million dollars a year on bamboo for pandas, while schools dig deep into their operational grants to feed kids, in keeping with his commitment to “focus on what matters”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : From what I can see, spending a quarter of a million dollars on bamboo is a hell of a lot better value for money for the taxpayer than paying a quarter of a million dollars for him to be Leader of the Opposition.

Andrew Little : Does he know—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : On that occasion, it was both front benches that were interjecting. I do not want to have to warn members again.

Andrew Little : Does he know that when Adelaide Zoo got pandas, the increase in visitor numbers was temporary and costs got so high that the zoo had to be bailed out by the Government—you could say that the pandas turned out to be white elephants?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I would not want to mix the animals, but I just go back to the point. It is not our initiative; it is the Wellington City Council’s initiative—if the council wants to do it. We talk to the council about a range of initiatives, including a whole bunch of things that it comes to see me about every week. As Prime Minister, I am not going to not talk to the council about the issues it cares about. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! It was the second bench on that occasion.

Andrew Little : Is he as excited about getting pandas now as he was in 2010, when, according to then Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast, she met with the Prime Minister, who said “How are we going with getting those cute little pandas?” and wiggled his hands in glee?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I was pretty excited, and if Wellington Zoo brings them in, I would be excited. I enjoy my job. I am pretty happy about the things that I am doing for New Zealand. People do not call me “Angry John”, but they certainly call him “Angry Andrew”. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Hon Annette King—this is your last warning.

Andrew Little : Is he aware that pandas often attack their handlers, and is he worried that making a priority of pandas while the economy stalls will come back to bite him?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I make the point that this is a Government that has got the books back in order. This is a Government that has seen—

Hon Members : Ha, ha!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : We will see who is laughing in a week or so, but anyway. This is a Government that has seen leadership. It has seen quarterly growth for 18 quarters in a row. The truth of today’s question is that “Angry Andrew” is angry because the Greens have out-manoeuvred him when it comes to Red Peak.

Construction, Christchurch—Value of Public Sector Construction

4. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery : What is the estimated value of public sector construction completed and underway in Christchurch? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Is the Minister going to answer?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was just reading a text that is advising me that the speakers in the Chamber are not working and that some people who are attempting to listen are not able to hear it at the present time, so you might want to take that up with them.

Mr SPEAKER : I thank the member. I will ask the technicians to have a look at that. Now could we have the answer to the question raised by Mr Nuk Korako.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : Yes. The value of completed projects increased in the last quarter to $213 million, up from $181 million in the March quarter. Since then, the $53 million bus interchange has also been completed. The momentum is building, as more projects move into construction. Projects now in construction total $3.3 billion. This is an increase of more than $700 million in the 6 months from December 2014. By the end of the year another $766 million worth of projects are forecast to begin construction, which clearly demonstrates that the rebuild is progressing at pace but is not yet at its peak.

Nuk Korako : What recent progress has been made on the completion of the central city anchor projects?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : As I mentioned, as of last month the second and final stage of Christchurch’s new bus interchange is now complete and open to the public. This is the first of the central city anchor projects to be completed. This high-quality facility is very encouraging. It is using public transport at levels not seen in the city before.

Hon Simon Bridges : Hear, hear!

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : We are encouraging that, which I know my colleague the Hon Simon Bridges is very, very pleased about. The state of the art building is, I think, just an example of what Christchurch can expect more of in the years ahead.

Nuk Korako : What progress has been made towards beginning construction on the Metro Sports Facility?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : Cabinet has now agreed on the funding parameters that will ensure this multigenerational regional facility is built. The Government has already purchased most of the land, and proposals are now being sought from engineering and design companies. Further tenders will be released in the coming months to enable that design and construction to begin. The centre will include high-performance sports, diving facilities, a competition-standard pool, hot pools, hydro slides, and indoor courts. This will enable everyone, from learners and leisure users to elite competitors, to make use of the facility.

Dr Megan Woods : In light of Peter Townsend’s concerns that delays to publicly funded anchor projects had caused investor uncertainty, will he now guarantee completion dates, or will the Government continue, as councillor Raf Manji described it, to drive with the handbrake on in terms of the recovery, because of its election promise to return to surplus?

Mr SPEAKER : Either of those two supplementary questions, the Hon Gerry Brownlee.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : Well, look, I know that Mr Townsend has been very, very instrumental in ensuring that business interests in the city kept faith with the city, and I think his efforts have been extremely important for the economic development that is currently going on in Christchurch and the expansion of our economy there. I also know that he has been very, very engaged in the process moving forward, and I am quite sure that he would agree that some of those early concerns are no longer as relevant as they might have once been. On the second part, let us be clear that the Government has been working very closely with the Christchurch City Council toward transition, and, notwithstanding Mr Manji’s view of things, given its own cash-strapped circumstance, statements like that from the council are a little hollow.

Mr SPEAKER : Before I call question no. 5, thanks to Mr Brownlee I have been informed that there is a fault in the sound system. An emergency system is now operating. It may mean for those watching TV the volume is slightly lower than normal.

Defence, Minister—Statements

5. FLETCHER TABUTEAU (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence : Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Defence): I have been in this House since 1996 and a Minister since 2008. There have been significant Government decisions during that period of time, and there have also been societal changes. I am not prepared to say anything other than that I may well have changed my view on some positions that I thought were perfectly relevant at the time.

Fletcher Tabuteau : Does he stand by his statement in April that he did not favour one company over another in procuring replacements for the air force fleet of C-130 Hercules; if so, will he confirm that he did not favour one bid over any others in the sale of 10 Iroquois helicopters?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : Those are matters that are handled by the Ministry of Defence. They are quite remote from a Minister, and there is no opportunity for a Minister to favour one company or another. So my answer would be no.

Fletcher Tabuteau : Were the Kiwi bids summarily rejected because of a Government blunder, a miscarriage of the tender process, or a political promise to the US?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : I think that had the question been asked by New Zealand First’s defence spokesman, that person would know that a number of disposals of defence equipment, even years after they have been purchased, still do require sign-off from the original seller. So that process would most certainly have been entered into and does have an effect on whom you can accept a tender bid from.

Fletcher Tabuteau : Is he aware that one regional New Zealand – owned and operated company lost the opportunity to create more than a dozen jobs when its bid of nearly $5 million – plus was apparently not even considered?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : As I said at the start, Ministers do not engage on a day-to-day basis with the tender process. If I did, that member’s party’s defence spokesman would be the first person to come here and say that I was meddling where I should not be. So the answer is no.

Fletcher Tabuteau : The tender process asks for evidence of best value for New Zealand, so how does selling the Iroquois offshore add value to New Zealand, considering that a regional New Zealand business bid would have directly added value to our regional economy?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : That sort of question, which was, I suppose, built around a statement that is largely formulated by New Zealand First’s regional development policy, which is all about creating something out of nothing and then expect nothing in return—I cannot answer that question, because it never ever happened. But what I would suggest is that that member goes to the New Zealand First defence spokesperson and suggests that it may be an interesting topic to put on the agenda at the next meeting of the former motor pool attendants army association.

Superannuation Fund—Average Rate Per Annum

6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does he stand by his statement in relation to capital contributions to the NZ Super Fund that “saving by borrowing is like building up your savings with your credit card, it just doesn’t make sense”; if so, what has been the average return per annum since the NZ Super Fund was created?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I stand by my full statement, in which I also said that the fund was always predicated on having surpluses to invest—actual money to save. That is how the legislation was set up. In answer to the member’s second question the average return per annum since the fund was set up in 2003 is 10.1 percent. Returns have varied between minus 22.9 percent and plus 25.8 percent.

Grant Robertson : How does he reconcile the first part of that answer with the 15 percent return the superannuation fund has made in the last year and the 10 percent per annum return the fund has made since its inception, compared with 3.3 percent—the cost of Government borrowing?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The way to reconcile those statements, of course, is the concept of risk, which I know the Labour Party does not really understand. So just to illustrate the kind of risks, in 2008-09 the fund made minus 22 percent. In 2007-08 it made minus 4.9 percent. In 2011-12 it made 1.21 percent. The fact that it has made 10 percent—that is above the market rate, on average—for the first 15 years or so means it is highly likely it will make negative returns for an extended period some time, because no managed fund beats the market by much over any length of time. So we just did not want to take the risk of borrowing more—for which Labour criticises us—in order to invest in overseas shares.

Grant Robertson : Are the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation correct when they say that the superannuation fund is worse off by $18.2 billion, comprised of $12.7 billion of unmade capital contributions and $5.5 billion of forgone earnings, as a result of the Government’s decisions?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, they are wrong.

Grant Robertson : They’re correct.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : They are not—they are not right. It is just that the management of the superannuation fund would of course love to have billions of dollars. The question I would say to the management of the superannuation fund is whether they would go and borrow $5 billion in order to invest on overseas equities markets that have been deliberately inflated in value by central banks around the world. No one knows what will happen to those share funds when central banks stop printing money. One of the preoccupations of world financial markets right now is the risk of the very investments that the superannuation fund has made.

David Seymour : If the Minister did know how to consistently borrow at 3 percent and make a return of 15 percent, would he be either very, very rich, or on the front bench of the Labour Party?

Mr SPEAKER : Order! That is a marginal question. I will let the Minister answer that for which he has got ministerial responsibility.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Whoever did it would be very, very rich, and then they would probably be entitled to join the ACT Party.

Grant Robertson : Are the guardians of the superannuation fund correct when they say that compared with the cost of borrowing, taxpayers are now $6.2 billion worse off than if capital contributions to the fund had been continued by his Government?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, they are wrong, for two reasons. One is that the calculation is completely hypothetical. Second, as the contributor of the funds, we have a different perception of risk than they have. They would love the Government to take huge risks and give them billions of dollars. That is what you would expect them to say. We do not want to take that sort of risk. Third, they are a long-term fund, and the fact that they have beaten the averages for a few years is no indication of the risks out ahead of them. A future Minister of Finance may well be in this House defending persistent negative returns on that fund—in fact, I believe that is certain.

Grant Robertson : In light of all those answers, what does he suggest a future Government do to fund the cost of New Zealand superannuation in 2030 if, as Treasury forecasts, the fund is $36 billion smaller than it should be and there will be a 2-year delay in drawing upon the fund? What should they do: raise taxes, cut spending on health and education, or cut New Zealand superannuation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : What they should do is stick with the expenditure control regime that the current National Government has in place, because if Governments do that for the next 10-15 years, they will have sufficiently large surpluses to top up the fund, get rid of all our debt, and afford national superannuation. But if the Government changes to the reckless Labour approach to expenditure, we will not be able to do any of those things.

Prime Minister—Government’s Policies

7. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his Government’s policies?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I do. I stand by our 30 percent emissions reduction target. I stand by our commitment to 90 percent renewable energy by 2025. I stand by the hundreds of millions of dollars we have committed to climate change research and afforestation, and I stand by our health policy of treating Ebola virus victims with modern medicine rather than homeopathic remedies.

Dr Kennedy Graham : And will he also rule out direct military engagement by New Zealand in Syria, or will he be signing us up to another conflict when he goes to New York next week?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The Government has got no intention of expanding its current mandate outside of Iraq.

Dr Kennedy Graham : Does the Prime Minister believe that the justification of collective self-defence is viable in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, given the complex and varied situation in all of these three countries?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As the member said, it is a very complex situation.

Dr Kennedy Graham : Given that the United Nations Security Council has not authorised armed force in Syria, will any use of such force there amount to aggression, which is prohibited in the United Nations Charter?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member is asking me a hypothetical question on behalf of some nations that I cannot answer.

Dr Kennedy Graham : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not a hypothetical question. Armed forces are being used in Syria.

Mr SPEAKER : No, to give the benefit of the doubt I am going to invite that member to repeat the question, so it is then over to the Prime Minister as to how he chooses to answer it.

Dr Kennedy Graham : Given that the United Security Council has not authorised armed force in Syria, will any use of such force there amount to aggression, which is prohibited in the United Nations Charter?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not think so. If the member is referring to the air strikes that are being undertaken by the United States and others to degrade the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), I think that that is fundamentally the right thing to do—ISIL is the reason why millions of people are leaving Syria. They are people who want to return, and they can do so only when ISIL is not in the position to persecute them.

Dr Kennedy Graham : Given that this House resolved over a year ago that New Zealand should quickly ratify the Kampala amendment, which will make aggression a leadership crime, why has his Government not done this yet?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member would need to put that question down for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Flag—Prime Minister’s Statements

8. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his response yesterday, when asked whether his Chief of Staff was trying to stop him talking about the flag during speeches, that “Far from that being correct, I think record numbers of people are turning up”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Jacinda Ardern : How many people who turned up to the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation fund-raiser in Auckland last Thursday expected him to give a speech on the flag and to then be asked by him to raise their hands if they were against changing it? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! I have not called the Prime Minister; I am just waiting for a bit of silence.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not know, but I do not know how many people who went along that evening expected to see a fashion show with people in lingerie and the likes who were there. I do not know how many people who went along expected to pay $10,000 to come and have afternoon tea with me, to help raise $20,000 for the charity. I do not know how many people who came along that night expected to stand in a queue wanting to take photos—but all of those things happened that night.

Jacinda Ardern : When he was trying to conduct a straw poll on the flag in the middle of a cancer fund-raiser, can he confirm stating “Go on, I won’t judge you.” and then proceeded to individually berate people who put their hands up?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, that is not correct.

Jacinda Ardern : Can he confirm that he also used his speech at a cancer fund-raiser to tell the audience that those who argued against change, on the grounds that soldiers died under the flag, were “misguided” and then proceeded to lecture the audience on New Zealand military history?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not sure whether I used the word “misguided”, but what I have always said is that, actually, in my opinion, people fought for the values and principles that underpin New Zealand, including human rights, women’s rights, and democracy. I also gave a very long speech about biologics, about Herceptin, and about why this Government was doing something for people with cancer, when the Labour Party completely failed to do so.

Denis O’Rourke : Can the Prime Minister assure New Zealanders that Gwynn Compton, his social media adviser, who is donkey-deep in “change the flag”, is not campaigning at the taxpayers’ expense; if so, how?

Mr SPEAKER : Either of those two supplementary questions, the Rt Hon Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have no evidence that he is doing that.

Jacinda Ardern : Will he take his chief of staff’s advice and stop using events such as cancer fund-raisers, business awards, and even a student achievement ceremony to lecture people on his pet project of changing the flag?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Firstly, that is not the advice of my chief of staff, and, secondly, no, I will continue to talk about the fact that as a country, national pride and patriotism is important. And if I was the leader of the Labour Party and had a policy of changing the flag—

Grant Robertson : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the beginning of the week, you issued a series of instructions to both those who ask questions and those who answer them. The Prime Minister began a sentence that said “If I was the leader of the Labour Party”. He is not, he never will be, and he should have been sat down.

Mr SPEAKER : Well, I—[Interruption] Order! I accept that that part might have been inaccurate in the answer given, but when I think about the tone of the question, which was “When will the Prime Minister stop lecturing etc.”, I thought that that was a question with a little bit of emotion in it, which gave a bit more of a wide berth to the Prime Minister in his ability to answer it.

Teachers—Learning and Development

9. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Education : What recent announcement has she made to improve teachers’ learning and development so that it lifts student achievement?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Today I was delighted to announce substantial changes to the provision of professional learning and development, to support teachers to do an even better job for students. There has been dissatisfaction with professional learning and development across the sector, confirmed by my professional learning and development advisory group through its consultation and reporting in 2014. I have listened to those concerns because I want students in every school and kura to have leaders and teachers who are actively engaged in professional development that supports and challenges them to be the best that they can be and to accelerate their students’ learning.

Dr Shane Reti : How will these changes lift student achievement?

Hon HEKIA PARATA : There is clear evidence that links effective professional learning and development to improved student outcomes. It is also essential that professional learning and development is delivered in a way that incentivises schools to collaborate and is targeted at schools that need the greatest help to lift student achievement. Over the next 3 years professional learning and development will be focused on a small number of national priorities in the areas of mathematics, science, reading and writing, and digital fluency, and a pilot in health and physical education. These priorities are based on student data of where the biggest challenges are, rather than on opinion. Priority will be given to schools as they grow into communities of learning because they are already working together on achievement challenges. Schools in areas with persistent underachievement—for example, in Northland—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Bring the answer to a conclusion.

Hon HEKIA PARATA : —and Gisborne and on the East Coast—will also be prioritised.

Charities—Community Housing Providers

10. POTO WILLIAMS (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector : Does she believe that community housing providers with programmes that include home ownership should be able to be defined as charities based on the definition of charitable purpose within the Charities Act 2005?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): The High Court has found that it is acceptable for charities to operate homeownership models under certain criteria. The Department of Internal Affairs is now working with a small number of registered charities to ensure that they meet the charitable purpose test. If necessary, the department will advise them on how to reorganise their activities to ensure that they can remain charitable.

Poto Williams : Is she aware that Community Housing Aotearoa has said that the Government’s solution “doesn’t resolve the fundamental issue” and charities “will need to spend more time and money navigating the new regime of tax exemption outside of the Charities Act.” instead of providing houses?

Hon JO GOODHEW : What I am aware of is that this is quite a complex situation. This Government is completely focused on assisting community housing providers. That is uppermost in our minds. For that reason, the Department of Internal Affairs is working with what is now a small number of organisations—50 organisations—to assist them in determining how to continue with their work, alongside the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Poto Williams : Given that social housing by community service providers is one of the priorities of her Government, and given Paula Bennett’s comments yesterday on Television One that she is “more than happy to have another look at the legislation”, why has the Minister not started a review of “charitable purpose” under the Act?

Hon JO GOODHEW : Cabinet has already agreed to not review the definition of “charitable purpose” under the Charities Act. [Interruption] However, it may be a surprise to those opposite that each Minister has a variety of different legislation in their portfolio. Minister Bennett and I will work together to further the Government’s purpose of supporting community housing, and Minister Bennett certainly has legislation that she will be able to work on in that regard.

Poto Williams : Why does she not just work with Paula Bennett so that a charitable trust in Northland can provide homes for people who really need them?

Hon JO GOODHEW : I can assure the member that I am working with Minister Bennett, that Charities Services within the Department of Internal Affairs is working with He Korowai Trust, and that, in fact, it has been working with the trust for a very long time. We remain completely focused on furthering the work of community housing providers. We will assist them to overcome the barriers that they are facing, because that is a priority for us.

Poto Williams : Will the Minister advocate for change to the definition of “charitable purpose” as defined by the Charities Act 2005?

Hon JO GOODHEW : Had the member been listening, I have answered that already, but I will repeat for the member that Cabinet has decided that we will not be reviewing the “charitable purpose” in the Charities Act. However, that is not the end of the matter. There is currently legislation sitting on the Order Paper, if the member chooses to have a look at it, that will give other options to organisations for which their purpose is community housing, and most definitely that will remain our priority.

Cycling—Urban Cycleways Programme

11. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Transport : What progress has the Government made on delivering the Urban Cycleways Programme in Canterbury?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): It was a real pleasure recently to open in Christchurch the very first of the Government’s urban cycleways in the South Island. The new Matai Street East section of Christchurch’s Uni-Cycle route and the Rolleston to Lincoln cycleway are now open for use. Last week the first stage of the Papanui Parallel cycleway was opened to the public. These new cycleways in Christchurch and Selwyn will make cycling a safer, more attractive transport choice for thousands of people cycling to school, to uni, and into the central business district.

Matt Doocey : What other cycleways are planned for Canterbury as part of the Government’s Urban Cycleways Programme?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Cantabrians are showing a real commitment to getting on their bikes. The Government is responding by accelerating a further nine cycleways in Canterbury, worth $66 million, as part of our Urban Cycleways Programme. Seven cycleways are set to be rolled out across Christchurch City, while two cycleways will be built linking Kaiapoi, Rangiora, and Woodend. The innovative cycleway designs will provide safer cycling routes, assisting with the recovery of the city and encouraging more active travel, as I say, to work, to schools, and to recreation.

Matt Doocey : How does the Government’s Urban Cycleways Programme benefit communities?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : The Government’s $333 million Urban Cycleways Programme is the single biggest investment in cycling in New Zealand’s history, and it will change the face of cycling in New Zealand. The programme’s goal is to make cycling a safer and more attractive transport choice. That is because cycling contributes to healthier communities, and safe and attractive cycling infrastructure can encourage people in urban areas to change their travel patterns. These benefits are why the Government committed to the Urban Cycleways Programme, and I look forward to seeing more Kiwis enjoying the benefits of the 54 cycleways as they are completed all around the country over the next 3 years.

Corrections, Minister—Statements

12. MAHESH BINDRA (NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections : Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Police) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections : Yes, in the context in which they were given.

Mahesh Bindra : Does he stand by his statement that “staffing levels are adequate” in the units at the Serco-run Auckland South Corrections Facility given that only two staff monitor 240 prisoners?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Well, yes, although I note that the issue of staffing levels is one factor in the review of Serco’s performance, and the Minister’s continued statements about that will be a function of the findings of that review.

Mahesh Bindra : Is he confident in Serco’s “dynamic rostering system” at Auckland South Corrections Facility given that an unescorted prisoner was assaulted by a mainstream prisoner who took advantage of the shortage of staff?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I am very confident that Serco understands what is required to deliver good service at Wiri Prison. I note that it has only just got off the ground. So far, things are going very well. There are excellent rehabilitation and reform programmes in place, and I think that that member should support them as they go on that journey.

Mahesh Bindra : Is he confident in the ability of Serco to keep staff safe at Auckland South Corrections Facility when a staff member was injured sufficiently in a prison assault to be on ACC, went back to work, and is now on ACC again?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I am sure the member will agree that prisons can be dangerous places, and from time to time there will be incidents involving injuries to either staff or prisoners. I further note that the number of incidents in the past 12 months is lower than in the last year of the previous Labour Government supported by New Zealand First.

Jacinda Ardern : Can he confirm that Labour raised low staff-to-prisoner ratios at Serco prisons as being a problem, with staff walking off the job in October 2013 only to have those concerns dismissed by that Government?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : No, I cannot, but I can confirm that this Government has done a significant amount to improve the quality of the rehabilitation outcomes for employment, for drug and alcohol, and for literacy and numeracy, and that there has been a reduction in the number of incidents in the past year compared with when that member’s Government was in office.

ENDS

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