Questions and Answers – Sept 9

by Desk Editor on Thursday, September 10, 2015 — 9:57 AM

Questions to Ministers

Climate Change—Pacific Islands Forum

1. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues : Are New Zealand officials working to soften the climate change declaration to be adopted at the Pacific Islands Forum?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Acting Minister for Climate Change Issues): No. Our officials are working closely with their Pacific colleagues to get a strong declaration on climate change from the forum. A clear statement of ambition that recognises the particular circumstances in the Pacific will be an important contribution to the outcome in Paris in December.

James Shaw : Given that answer, will he support the call of Pacific Island leaders at the forum to hold global temperature increases to a level that would ensure their survival—yes or no?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Of course we all think climate change is an incredibly important issue. I think the member, though, is getting ahead of himself. The declaration is going to be discussed, and a consensus, we hope, arrived at tomorrow. I do not believe there is a settled position today. It is a matter of open dialogue by all the parties there to try to achieve consensus.

James Shaw : Will he support the completely reasonable resolution from small Island States to put an immediate moratorium on any new coalmines?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I think ultimately that is for different countries in terms of their energy mix, but be very clear: New Zealand is, as indeed the member should be, incredibly proud of the $100 million we are putting into Pacific Island nations to make them more renewable. There are some 20 renewable projects in Tonga, Samoa, Tuvalu, and a number of other Pacific Island countries where New Zealand is taking a leadership position on renewable energy.

James Shaw : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically in relation to the resolution from small Island States to put in a moratorium on new coalmines, not about the amount of aid that we are—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Again, I need to refer the member to Speaker’s ruling 187/4. The member is, effectively, asking for a yes or no answer to the question that he has raised. The Minister is not required to give a yes or no answer.

James Shaw : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That may be true, but it was in relation to the resolution in relating to a request for no new coalmines, and I do not believe that the Minister addressed that question. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! As I listened to the question, I think it has been addressed. It is a marginal call, from my point of view. As a way forward I will on this occasion allow the member an additional supplementary question.

James Shaw : So what does he have to say to the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, who has told us that: “We cannot negotiate this, no matter how much aid. We cannot be bought on this one because it’s about the future.”?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Well, of course, the Prime Minister is in Papua New Guinea. He will be respectfully listening to the various positions. As I have already said, I think this is a matter of an open dialogue to try to achieve consensus tomorrow in relation to a declaration on this very important issue—I think we all agree—of climate change.

James Shaw : And what is his response to Pacific Island leaders who are calling for New Zealand to be kicked out of the forum because our approach to climate change represents the single greatest threat to their territorial integrity and security?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Well, of course, as I say, I think we take climate change very seriously. We have got an ambitious target heading into Paris. I think that New Zealanders, including the members of this House, should be incredibly proud, actually, of the leadership role that we play in the Pacific when it comes to climate change, whether that is in terms of sharing experience and expertise in a range of areas, or whether it is spending and investing $100 million across Pacific Island countries in renewable energy that is literally transformative to small communities throughout, as I say, the Pacific.

James Shaw : How many of the 179,000 people living in Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, and Tuvalu will New Zealanders take in as refugees when sea level rise renders those countries uninhabitable?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I think that the member is referring to climate refugees. That is of course a possible future phenomenon, and hence one of real concern—I think we would all agree again—to Pacific Island nations and those people, each and every one of them whom the member talks about. We think that our response in New Zealand to climate change should continue to focus on mitigation and adaptation measures, so Pacific peoples can continue to live in their own countries. As I say, the leadership role that we have had in the Pacific on climate change is something that I think New Zealanders and the member should be proud of.

James Shaw : Is he happy, therefore, to go to Paris with an emissions reduction target that, if widely adopted by the rest of the international community, would eliminate entire countries in the South Pacific?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : The member is entirely wrong. We have an ambitious new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below the 2005 levels by 2030. This is—and the member may not like it—a significant increase on our current unconditional target. We compare favourably with other countries: the same as Canada, a little better than the United States—27 percent on 2005 levels—a little better than Australia, and a little under the EU. I think that we can hold our heads up going to Paris with a high level of ambition.

James Shaw : Is he aware that climate scientists at the Climate Action Tracker group have placed New Zealand’s response as insufficient and inadequate, and we are in fact in the bottom category of countries in terms of the levels of ambition that we are taking to Paris?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Well, of course there will be a spectrum of views on these things, and there is a clear desire for high ambition from many people. But I will repeat what I have already said: we have got an ambitious target that we take to Paris, and we compare favourably with other countries.

Economy—Household Balance Sheets

2. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister of Finance : How are household balance sheets supporting resilience in the New Zealand economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The resilience of the New Zealand economy is based on the resilience of New Zealand households. That can be measured by household debt relative to incomes and relative to assets. The aggregate debt of New Zealand households increased significantly between 2000 and 2008 because of uncontained house price rises and debt-funded consumption. Since then growth in household debt has been moderate, despite continued growth in Auckland house prices. Household savings have increased markedly since 2006 and have been positive since 2010. The combined effect has been a reduction in the ratio of household debt to assets. More savings and moderate growth in debt mean that New Zealand households are well-positioned to manage through the current uncertainty.

Alfred Ngaro : How can higher household debt affect macroeconomic vulnerability?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : It is pleasing to see that since 2008 higher household incomes and moderate growth in household debt have resulted in stabilising the debt to income ratio, after it rose by 50 percent from 2000 to 2008. So although household debt is increasing at moderate levels of around 5 percent per annum, it is far below the debt increases of 16 percent per year in the mid-2000s. High household debt is associated with volatile consumption. High household debt can also produce a more volatile business cycle, but it looks as if New Zealand’s households are running pretty well-balanced debt and asset ratios, and that will help them to get through any softening in the economy. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Before I call the member, there is a huge level of interjection coming from one particular member who has a question later that I am very interested in the answer to. So I am hoping that he is here to ask the question.

Alfred Ngaro : How does the change in household debt to income ratios in New Zealand since 2008 compare with other countries?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Up to 2008 New Zealand had one of the more rapid increases in household debt to income—that is, debt went up a lot faster than income—and now that has changed. Households in some countries have significantly reduced their debt—for instance, in the UK and in the United States. Another measure of vulnerability is total debt to GDP. Between 2007 and 2014 this increased across all advanced countries, including New Zealand, and New Zealand’s increase was about the second smallest in the last 7 years among advanced countries. According to Treasury, in 2014 New Zealand had the second-lowest ratio of total debt to GDP among advanced economies—the second-lowest ratio of total debt to GDP.

Hon David Cunliffe : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have rightly surmised the level of frustration on the Opposition benches. I seek that you clarify your ruling of yesterday that both long questions and unduly long answers are out of order, and whether the Minister is coming close to your definition of an unduly long answer, especially because it is arguable whether the Minister of Finance has any ministerial responsibility for the debt of individual households.

Mr SPEAKER : If the member would only study the question, it is around the resilience of the New Zealand economy, so the Minister of Finance certainly has an interest in that. As I have mentioned on many occasions, I will be the adjudicator as to the length of answers. I am conscious that some of the answers given to these two supplementary questions are tending on the long side, but I will be the adjudicator, not the honourable member.

Alfred Ngaro : How are lower interest rates and moderate debt growth resulting in more money in the pockets for New Zealand families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Interest rates have dropped from a high of 11 percent to currently under 5 percent. At the same time, since 2008 the average wage has increased by 22.5 percent, so that means that the debt-servicing ratio in households has reduced. In 2008 households were spending on average 14 percent of their disposable income on servicing debt. Today they are spending 10 percent of disposable income on debt servicing. Their incomes have gone up, their debt levels are stable, and interest rates are a lot lower, so they are better off.

Exchange Rate—Prime Minister’s Statements

3. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that a rising exchange rate “is a sign of confidence in New Zealand”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. When the economy is doing well relative to other countries, the exchange rate is typically higher. It should not be a surprise that when dairy prices have dropped so sharply, people’s view of prospects for the New Zealand economy in the near term have weakened. That is one of the reasons the exchange rate has fallen. But we are pleased it has, because it acts as an automatic stabiliser. It means that exporters can now be more competitive.

Grant Robertson : In light of that answer, with the dollar having dropped 20c against the United States dollar since that statement was made in April, is the falling dollar a sign of a lowering of confidence in New Zealand?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I think I answered that question before. It is not at all a surprise. It may be a surprise to the member, but not a surprise to anyone else, that when our national income has dropped, then the view of our near-term economic prospects has moderated. There is no doubt about that, and that is one of the reasons the exchange rate has dropped. But, of course, it would be worse if dairy prices dropped and the exchange rate stayed up. Then we would be in a real mess. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! I know the member is responding to interjections, but it is not helpful.

Grant Robertson : Does he agree with John Key in 2015, who said that the high exchange rate of 81c to the United States dollar was “a point of celebration”, or the 2008 John Key, who said an exchange rate of that level could not be sustained in New Zealand?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : What we all agree on is that New Zealand exporters did amazingly well to be competitive at 81c, because in 2008, in the outflow of the economic wreckage left by the Labour Government, no one thought it was possible to compete at 81c. But we found out, by backing New Zealand businesses and fixing the damage that Labour did, that we could compete.

Grant Robertson : Does 2015 Bill English, with the dollar at US62c, agree with 2012 Bill English, when the dollar was at US81c, that “a 20 percent devaluation of the New Zealand currency would cut the standard of living of every New Zealand household by 20 percent”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, and I will explain why. In 2012 I shared the view that everyone in the world did that a big drop in the exchange rate would lead to high inflation, eroding the real value of household incomes. It turns out that, like everyone else, I was wrong. We have a remarkably stable low-inflation environment, where New Zealanders are getting real increases in their incomes. We have yet to see how the drop in the exchange rate will flow through, but the indications are that it will be not nearly as strongly as we might have expected just 3 or 4 years ago.

Grant Robertson : Does 2015 Bill English agree with 2013 Bill English, who said, when the dollar was above US80c, that those calling for a lower exchange rate “want to cut the real wages of workers”; if so, with the dollar at 62c, is he now celebrating the real wages of workers being cut?

Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Bill English—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I know that listening to the answer is work compared with asking the question, but I just answered that question before. In 2012 and 2013 everyone expected that a big drop in the exchange rate would lead to a rapid increase in inflation, eroding the purchasing power of New Zealand households. That does not appear to have been the case. We have yet to see whether it might become the case with a big drop in the exchange rate, but the low inflation that seems persistent around the world indicates that it works differently from how we thought.

Grant Robertson : Is it not the case that he is actually just spinning like a top about the exchange rate, in a desperate attempt to find something positive to say about an economy that the ANZ bank has described as running at stall speed?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I think the member has put his finger on an important issue, and that is that although the Labour Party is always trying to find something negative to say about the economy, we are simply explaining how the economy is and what Government policies support the resilience of New Zealand households to deal with it. I know that the member believes that by having an opinion that the economy is going down the tubes he can drive it down, and that would suit him. We do not agree with that approach.

David Seymour : Where would the exchange rate be and what options would the Reserve Bank Governor have today had he been “given more tools” and spent the last year trying to print money to lower the exchange rate, as some suggest?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : It is difficult to speculate on some of the mad, hypothetical policies we have heard in the past. But I suspect it would probably be about 42c against the US dollar.

Health Care—Free Visits for Under-13s

4. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Health : Can he confirm that 98 percent of general practices across New Zealand are offering free visits for under-13-year-olds, covering 770,000 eligible children or 99 percent of all under-13s?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, I can. In Budget 2014 the National Government committed $90 million over 3 years for the roll-out of free GP visits and prescriptions for children under the age of 13 to complement the existing under-sixes policy. The policy has been in place for just over 2 months and the sign-up rate of general practices has exceeded expectation. As at 1 September, 966 GP practices out of 985 are offering free daytime GP visits, and we expect that several more will sign up in the coming weeks.

Scott Simpson : What are the positive effects of this increased access to primary health care?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Because the National Government has removed cost as a barrier for young children accessing primary care, parents will be more likely to take their child for treatment before their condition deteriorates. It will also help reduce the number of children presenting at our busy hospital emergency departments with an illness that a GP could have treated. Only a National Government can both handle the country’s finances and deliver more services.

Hon Annette King : Is funding for two GP visits a year, as calculated in the Budget, going to be sustainable in light of reports that the data used by the Ministry of Health underestimates by two visits per child per year nationally for this age group, leading to an annual loss of around $70 to $120?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : As the member knows, during the negotiations with GPs all matters were covered, including the rate of uptake and the consultation rate. I do not know where that report has come from but I would like her to present it because, frankly, it does not accord with the information we had from the doctors and the information we have had from the Ministry of Health, so I think she is probably making it up yet again.

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Hon Annette King : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a constant refrain—saying that I make things up, and that member—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume her seat when I get to my feet. That sort of answer—the final wording—from the honourable Minister is not helpful to the order of the House. [Interruption] Order! No, I do not want any response from the Minister if the Minister wants to stay to answer the next supplementary question. I cut the Minister off as soon as he made that comment. I cannot do it any quicker than that. That sort of answer about members making things up is, effectively, a reflection on a member. It leads to disorder and I will not tolerate it in this House.

Barbara Stewart : Which other political party has advocated for free visits for under-13s? And if it makes so much sense for young people, when can we expect this Government to implement New Zealand First’s policy of free health checks for SuperGold cardholders; if not, why not?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : One could only guess, but I suspect it is one that never has a chance of delivering anything.

Economic Development, Minister—Statements

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

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, in the context in which they were made.

Fletcher Tabuteau : Was the Minister authorised to release commercially sensitive ownership data from Rocket Lab in his reply to New Zealand First’s written question; if so, who at Rocket Lab authorised the release?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : In relation to that matter I do not realise that I have necessarily disclosed that information, but if the member would like to come to me I am happy to address it for him.

Fletcher Tabuteau : I seek leave to table correspondence from Rocket Lab to New Zealand First stating that the information provided by the Minister that has been previously released was without Rocket Lab’s approval, dated 14 August—

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

Fletcher Tabuteau : Does the Minister agree with the reported claims that $25 million of taxpayers’ money given by him to Rocket Lab is a wise use of Kiwi taxpayers’ money, given Rocket Lab is 100 percent American-owned by Rocket Lab USA; if so, why?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : A couple of things. Firstly, I have not provided that level of funding to Rocket Lab myself in any capacity. Those decisions are made by Callaghan Innovation according to research and development policies. My second point to the member is that I think he is being more than a little tricky about his ownership figures in relation to Rocket Lab, because I understand that the New Zealand subsidiary is owned by the US company, but then the US company is owned by a range of New Zealand and other shareholders.

Fletcher Tabuteau : I seek leave to table a document not available freely to members of Rocket Lab USA’s registration in Delaware—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I just want to know where the member sourced this information from. Was it off the web?

Fletcher Tabuteau : It was purchased on a registry database, so it is not freely available to members.

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

Fletcher Tabuteau : How can the Minister reconcile giving $12 million to Saudi billionaires for a farm in Saudi Arabia; $25 million to build Rocket Lab, a wholly American-owned company; and $145 million for a Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, yet this Government refuses to help Silver Fern Farms in its New Zealand ownership?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : In relation to the matters the member raises, the first one is in relation to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In relation to Rocket Lab, with the greatest respect to the member, that is one of the most innovative New Zealand companies owned and set up by New Zealanders, and if he wants to bag it, that is fine. In relation to research and development programmes, those are provided to companies according to the level of research and development that takes place in New Zealand, and, actually, Silver Fern Farms has been a beneficiary of that.

Richard Prosser : Supplementary question. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Mr Prosser has a right to ask a question.

Richard Prosser : Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The fun is over. The question will be asked, unless members are very keen to leave early.

Richard Prosser : What material factor or factors determine the difference between, first, his Government’s willingness to provide foreign-owned MediaWorks with what was effectively bridging finance totalling $54 million to enable it to continue trading; and, second, his Government’s unwillingness to offer Silver Fern Farms similar bridging finance to keep it in New Zealand hands ahead of the Meat Industry Excellence group’s NewCo proposal?

Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Steven Joyce, in so far as he has ministerial responsibility.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The member is incorrect in his characterisation of what was provided to MediaWorks, which was what was provided to all radio companies at that time, which was the ability to pay later on their frequencies provided they paid a commercial interest rate. I do not believe—I may be wrong—that such an arrangement would necessarily be helpful to Silver Fern Farms, but the people to make a decision on future investment in Silver Fern Farms are the directors and shareholders of Silver Fern Farms, not Mr Prosser, or Mr Tabuteau, or Mr Peters, who, frankly, know nothing about the meat industry.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Point of order—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Before the member starts, it is a point of order, and can I give a warning to the right-hand side of the House that it will certainly be heard in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister struggled through his answer then descended into personal character assassination, which is not part of the Standing Orders, and I would ask you to ask “Mr Fix-it” to get it right next time.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume his seat. This is a robust debating chamber. On occasion members will be slightly offended by an answer, but in this case, in a robust chamber, I do not think the answer was at all offensive.

Dr David Clark : Does he still agree with the PM’s statement that the people of Northland want more and they want to go faster; if so, does he appreciate the irony in National cutting investment in Northland transport by $36 million a year, or 29 percent—the biggest cut of any region in the country?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The member is incorrect. The Government has invested hugely and is currently investing hugely in the Northland region. In fact, it is almost like one great long roadworks between the Brynderwyns and the Bay of Islands as the roads are upgraded. The member should actually get out of his office in Wellington, stop sending out press releases, and go and have a look.

Dr David Clark : I seek leave to table figures prepared by the Parliamentary Library that show that between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 Budgets, funding was cut by 29 percent.

Mr SPEAKER : No, that information is available to members if they want to go and search for it.

Housing New Zealand—Dividends and Condition of Properties

6. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister responsible for HNZC : Why has the Government extracted more than half a billion dollars in dividends from Housing NZ when there are over 3,000 people on the waiting list, children dying in cold, damp homes, and a shortage of houses?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): Because funding decisions around social housing are based on the needs of the most vulnerable, not on the dividend paid by Housing New Zealand in any particular year. For instance, the Government has in every year since 2009-10 spent at least $100 million more per year than the best year that the Labour Government was in charge of Housing New Zealand Corporation, and that is because we have had to spend a lot of money to catch up with the damage done by Labour to the State housing stock. The number of people assisted is now determined by the flow of income-related rents. The Government is forecast to spend $774 million this year—up from $718 million last year—and we are looking to purchase 3,000 new income-related rent places over the next 3 years.

Phil Twyford : Why was 2-year-old Emma-Lita Bourne allowed to die in a cold, damp State house after her mother repeatedly requested improvements to the house, if, as he says, Housing New Zealand has all the money it needs to make the repairs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I am not going to discuss the details of that particular case, but I think the member does make a valid point. That is that the way the State housing stock has been managed for a number of decades, but particularly under the last Labour Government, means we have thousands of houses that are not appropriate for the tenants. That is why we have a social housing reform programme—because we have to undo decades of damage that has left our most vulnerable people in houses that are not always suitable for them.

Jami-Lee Ross : What steps is Housing New Zealand taking to help deliver more homes that are warm, dry, and safe?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Last year Housing New Zealand spent $400 million on maintaining and upgrading State houses—much higher than any previous Government has ever spent, and $100 million more than the Labour Government ever did when it was in charge. We have also insulated 200—

Hon Member : It’s getting worse.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, we had to insulate 280,000 houses to make up for what the Labour Government did not do. We had to retrofit 48,000 houses with insulation. We had to provide heating in 10,000 homes that Labour left without any heating. We had to install thermal curtains in 17,000 homes that Labour left—

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Phil Twyford : Does he agree with Guyon Espiner that after 7 years we have all had enough of National Ministers blaming the last Labour Government?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I do not always agree with Guyon Espiner, but I have to say that even I have been amazed at how negligent the previous Labour Government was. We could have spent hundreds of millions on new homes, but we had to spend it on insulating 280,000 public and private sector homes and providing heating for 10,000 houses. I feel sorry for those tenants, and I wish we had been able to do more, faster, but the Labour Party should—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The answer has gone on for long enough.

Phil Twyford : When he said that Housing New Zealand has made 126,000 health and safety repairs in the last year, did this include the contractors who dealt with a mould problem by nailing a piece of plywood over the top of it in the home of Te Ao Marama Wensor, whose son Iriah has holes in his lungs and has suffered strokes due to the toxic mould?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : It may have done. That is quite possible, which tells us about how much work needs to be done on the State housing stock and the system that runs it. That is why we believe we need other providers who help to set higher levels. But in the case of the person whom the member has mentioned, of course those kinds of cases are now taken very seriously by a range of agencies. If he is willing to provide details, then we can take action to improve that situation.

Phil Twyford : Why does he choose to pocket the $0.5 billion dividend and sell houses to merchant bankers and property developers instead of building new State houses and fixing up the ones that are killing the children, when on his watch the number of State houses has been cut, 2,000 houses lie empty, and there are 3,000 families on the waiting list? That is your record, Bill.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Here is the record. In 2006-07 Labour spent $55 million building houses. This year we are spending $180 million building houses. That is the difference in commitment. Labour did not build new State houses; we are.

Hon Craig Foss : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sitting almost directly behind the Minister. I can hardly hear him because of the interjections from the other side.

Grant Robertson : Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : I will hear from Grant Robertson.

Grant Robertson : I appreciate that there was a lot of noise there, but what the Standing Orders talk about is comments in the House that will lead to disorder. Every answer from the Acting Prime Minister referred to the last Labour Government instead of him taking responsibility for his actions. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I do not need any assistance from the member. The answers were certainly robust, but I consider very carefully what is in the question and the tone of the question. When a question asks about a Government with a policy to sell to merchant bankers and then accuses houses of killing children, etc., that is an inflammatory type of question that inevitably will get a robust answer in this House.

Roading, Waikato—Waikato Expressway

TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West): Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Minister of Transport: what update can he provide—[Interruption] What update—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The level of interjecting coming from one particular member again has been absolutely consistent throughout question time. It will cease, or the member will be leaving the Chamber. [Interruption] Order! It could happen quicker than the member might expect.

7. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Transport : What update can he provide on progress with construction on the Governmen t ’s Waikato Expressway Road of National Significance?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): The $2.1 billion Waikato Expressway, started under this National Government as one of our seven roads of national significance, is a crucial part of supporting a strong and growing regional economy. It was my pleasure to recently turn the first sod of construction on the $458 million Huntly section of that expressway. The 15-kilometre Huntly section is the fifth section to be built and will connect to the already completed Ōhinewai section in the north and to the Ngāruawāhia section in the south. Construction of the Huntly section is an important step towards completing the entire 102-kilometre Waikato Expressway project by 2020.

David Bennett : What benefits will the Waikato Expressway deliver?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I am glad the member for Hamilton East asks. There will be tremendous benefits in terms of reducing congestion, in terms of reliability—

Sue Moroney : No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t do that at all.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Oh—so Sue Moroney does not want it. Sue Moroney does not want it.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just finish the answer quickly.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : And there will be benefits in terms of massively much safer roading. The Government is committed to this important project for the people of the Waikato.

Sue Moroney : What update can he provide on the reasons why international airline Jetstar decided not to establish flights to and from Hamilton?

Mr SPEAKER : It has very little to do with the primary question.

Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : The Leader of the House has the right to raise a point of order.

Hon Gerry Brownlee : The question that is set down for answer relates to the Waikato Expressway. I simply want to point out to the member asking the question that an expressway is not a runway. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! There will be another front-bench member on my left getting a similar warning very shortly. I have considered the question again. It is so far from the primary question that it is not in order to ask it.

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

Mr SPEAKER : This is a point of order, I might remind the people on my right.

Chris Hipkins : You could interpret the primary question in that way, but the first words of the primary question ask: “What update can he provide”. The supplementary question asked by my colleague Sue Moroney asked for a similar update on a different matter.

Mr SPEAKER : A good try. A gallant try, indeed. It would have been a perfectly satisfactory question yesterday, but it is out of order on this occasion.

Refugees—Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre

8. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister of Immigration : Does he agree with the manager of the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre, who said “We’ll make it work” when asked if they can accommodate the extra Syrian arrivals?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of Immigration : Yes, of course the Minister agrees. We will make it work. That is what successful Governments do every day. That is why we have committed to a staggered intake of 750 Syrian refugees over the next 2½ years. The advice received was that 250 Syrian refugees at this stage in the current financial year would be challenging, and anything more than that would put a strain on the resettlement process. But of course we will make it work. I do note for the member a media report this morning that found the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre to be “unexpectedly well-prepared for the influx of new migrants arriving under the government’s emergency refugee package,”.

Denise Roche : If New Zealand has the capacity to take this number of refugees on a short-term basis, why will he not commit to increasing New Zealand’s quota on a permanent basis?

Hon CRAIG FOSS : The Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre has refugees for 6 weeks. These are lifetime movers to New Zealand, and we need to make sure that they are able to move into our communities and build a better life for themselves in New Zealand. It is a lifetime decision, not just a short-term capacity decision in Māngere.

Denise Roche : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think he answered the question. My question was about permanently raising the quota, and he did not address that.

Mr SPEAKER : I listened to the answer. It may not be satisfactory to the member, and I am not surprised that it is not. But it still addressed the question that was asked. The answer is certainly consistent with the Standing Orders.

Denise Roche : Is the Minister saying that the people who actually do the resettlements, such as the Māngere Refugee Resettlement Centre and the Red Cross, are wrong when they say that New Zealand can handle a refugee quota increase now?

Hon CRAIG FOSS : I acknowledge the fine work that the Red Cross and many volunteers do on behalf of the Red Cross throughout New Zealand. Right now the advice we have is that given the infrastructure and financial resources we have, and the ability to resettle refugees, we are doing pretty good—750 additional refugees from Syria in particular, on top of the 750 we take in per annum.

Denise Roche : Given that there is no legal requirement to wait for a review to increase the refugee quota, and the Minister has already had official advice on increasing the quota, which the Minister said he needed, why will he not raise the quota now?

Hon CRAIG FOSS : As the Minister noted yesterday, a review process is due in 2016. Right now, we have already announced an extension to our refugee quota, particularly targeted for those people from Syria to come into our country. The scheduled review process will be under way, as scheduled, next year.

Denise Roche : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I really did not get an answer to the question I asked.

Mr SPEAKER : If the member simply asked a simple question, it would be helpful. The question is: why can the quota not be raised now? If it was a simple question like that, I could assist in getting an answer. Would the Hon Craig Foss answer that part of the question.

Hon CRAIG FOSS : The advice we have is that given the resources and infrastructure we have, and the recent extension and additional refugees that we will allow to come into New Zealand, that is what our system can handle at this point in time.

Tertiary Education Commission—Funding and Oversight of Tertiary Institutes

9. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment : How much funding have tertiary institutes been forced to repay to the Tertiary Education Commission in the past year as a result of overfunding, and does he still have confidence that the Tertiary Education Commission’s regular monitoring procedures are working?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): In relation to the first part of the question, repaying funding is a standard part of the tertiary system, with the Tertiary Education Commission recovering funding if a tertiary education organisation receives funding greater than its planned enrolment level and does not meet its education performance indicators. In 2014 there were also two cases where providers were required to pay back because they had received more than they were entitled to receive. Total recoveries for 2014, which is the latest year we have, are $57.5 million across all tertiary education organisations. In relation to the second part, broadly yes, but in light of a few well-publicised recent events, the Tertiary Education Commission and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) have commissioned an independent review by Deloitte into its monitoring of tertiary education organisations. That was released in July of this year, and it found that the monitoring has the principal elements expected of a comprehensive framework. It also made some recommendations for improvement, which are being implemented currently.

Hon David Cunliffe : Why in the Deloitte review to which he has just referred did Deloitte say: “The current monitoring approach across both organisations”—that is, the Tertiary Education Commission and NZQA—“is neither designed nor resourced to detect potential fraud.”?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : There are requirements that tertiary education organisations must meet in return for funding, and the funding organisations are entitled to expect that the governors and operators of those tertiary education organisations meet those requirements and make representations to the Tertiary Education Commission that are correct. Should those situations not be the case, as has occurred in the recent examples that, as I say, have been publicised, then the Tertiary Education Commission can go in and recover that money. That is what it has done on four or five occasions.

Hon David Cunliffe : Why did it take whistleblowers to spark an investigation into 5 years of overpayments and the enrolment of ghost students in courses at Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, and what does that say about the tertiary education sector and its monitoring agencies under his watch?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Well, I think that it says a lot about the management of Taratahi during that period, and I think the situation that occurred is very disappointing. It is the job of that organisation—just the same as it is the job of other tertiary education organisations—to ensure that they meet the terms of their funding agreements. That is their responsibility. So it does not say anything about the Tertiary Education Commission; it says a lot about the behaviour of those organisations. The Tertiary Education Commission has been diligent in recovering money where it is found to have not been paid correctly.

Hon David Cunliffe : Why did it take whistleblowers to spark an investigation into Warriors club members and staff gaining a certificate for an 18-week course after doing just 1 day of study, and what does this say about the tertiary education sector and its monitoring agencies under his watch?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Well, the particular matter the member raises is from the middle of last year, I think, and was publicised at the time. If I could be helpful to him and to members of this House, there have been four reasonably well-publicised matters: Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, which we had complaints about in March 2014 and was settled last year; Taratahi, which is the recent one; also the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki; and also one private trust in Rotorua with links to Awanuiārangi. There is one further investigation being undertaken at the moment.

Grant Robertson : Right, so things aren’t great then, are they?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Well, there are 600 and something tertiary organisations. If Mr Robertson would like to cast aspersions on the whole sector, he can feel free to do so.

Hon David Cunliffe : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although it was helpful of the Minister to recite—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I can anticipate—

Hon David Cunliffe : —the names of some investigations, he did not address—

Mr SPEAKER : I agree. I am going to invite the member to ask that question again.

Hon David Cunliffe : Why did it take whistleblowers to spark an investigation into Warriors club members and staff gaining certificates for an 18-week course after just 1 day of study, and what does that say about the tertiary education sector monitoring agencies under his watch?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Well, again, it does not say anything about them; it says a lot about that particular provider. Also, in relation to two matters that the member has referred to today, they have been referred to the Serious Fraud Office. It cannot be the responsibility of the Tertiary Education Commission to detect potential fraud when people deliberately misrepresent the situation to the monitoring agencies.

Hon David Cunliffe : When the Minister referred, in response to press questions in November 2014, to 12 tertiary institutions for which there were targeted reviews or investigations under way, what are the names of the other eight, in addition to the four that he mentioned in his answer to the previous supplementary question?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : There are, in fact, six focused reviews that have been undertaken by the Tertiary Education Commission in terms of its own responses after the matters had been raised with it. Five of those have now been completed with no concerns. One of them has been elevated to a full review. That review is ongoing. I would be happy to report to the House once that review is complete.

Hon David Cunliffe : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has not addressed the names of any of the institutions that were under review. That was a very specific supplementary question asking for the names. Not one name was produced in his answer.

Mr SPEAKER : The difficulty I have is that the Minister answered it by saying that the numbers quoted by the member were wrong. He talked of there being 12 and of four having been mentioned, and asked what the other eight were. The Minister said: “Well, you’re wrong. There are six.”

Hon David Cunliffe : It was not my contention that there were originally 12; I was quoting the Minister’s answers to a press question in November 2014, a matter that—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The way forward is that I will ask the member to ask the question again, but the Minister will certainly be at liberty to answer that until reviews are over, it is not in the public interest to make any further comment. Let us have the question again.

Hon David Cunliffe : What are the names—what are the names—of the 12 tertiary institutions that he stated to the press in November 2014 were under “targeted reviews or investigations”, and what is the status of those investigations?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : In fact, six targeted reviews have taken place. Five of those have been concluded completely satisfactorily with no concerns, and I do not propose to list the names of those organisations to the House, because there are no concerns about them. The sixth one is currently under investigation, and that investigation is continuing. As I said to the member previously, at an appropriate time I would be more than happy to publicise the outcome of that and the name of the institution involved.

Broadband, Ultra-fast—Announcements

10. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister for Communications : What recent announcements has she made on expanding ultra-fast broadband to New Zealanders?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): Last week I released the request for proposals to expand the ultra-fast broadband network from covering 75 percent of New Zealanders to reaching at least 80 percent of the population. We have made fantastic progress with the first phase of ultra-fast broadband, but we are doing more still to get faster broadband to as many people as possible. The Government has committed an extra $210 million from the Future Investment Fund to boost the ultra-fast broadband programme, and the request for proposals is a critical step in deciding which communities are next in line to get fibre and who will deliver it.

Brett Hudson : How will the towns to get ultra-fast broadband in the expansion programme be selected?

Hon AMY ADAMS : The request for proposals included a long list of more than 110 towns and communities around New Zealand in places like Huntly, Carterton, Hokitika, and Kaikohe. The long list was developed to cover the next biggest towns beyond the areas covered by the first phase of ultra-fast broadband, and were determined based on Statistics New Zealand’s population projections with reference to council submissions. It is important to note, however, that not all towns included in the long list are guaranteed to get ultra-fast broadband, and there may also be some that are not on the list that may still be included following receipt of the bids from respondents to the request for proposals. Following the receipt of bids from the wholesale fibre providers and councils’ digital enablement plans, the final towns will be selected.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Will the Minister commit to Kerikeri and Dargaville being at the front of the UFB2 roll out, in line with statements made by the Prime Minister in Kerikeri during the Northland by-election; if not, why on earth not?

Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Amy Adams, either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon AMY ADAMS : No, for the reasons just set out in my answer. I can tell the member that should he open an office in only one of those places, it may make them more attractive—

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You cannot have, surely, hope of there not becoming a state of disorder when a Minister concludes a question like that, which was a palpable lie, and if she woke up—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume his seat. It goes to show the House, again, the trouble we get into when Ministers take the opportunity to put a political chip in at the end of answers. It leads to disorder, as has just been demonstrated by that point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : How does the Minister intend to deliver ultra-fast broadband to the 77 more towns added to the UFB2 when the budget from the Future Investment Fund remains at that projected for 33 towns, or $210 million?

Hon AMY ADAMS : If the member had listened to my answers, he would understand that we have already committed the $210 million to fund the proposal and we have not yet determined what number of towns will be finally selected.

Clare Curran : Why did she rush through legislation under urgency in May extending the telecommunications development levy to fund rural broadband when she has now postponed that roll-out, meaning rural communities will have to continue to put up with crap internet speeds?

Hon AMY ADAMS : Ignoring the fact that that has nothing to do with the substantive question, the member is quite simply, once again, wrong.

Ria Bond : Is the Minister aware of Venture Southland’s report on the true state of broadband and the level of dissatisfaction at the Rural Broadband Initiative?

Hon AMY ADAMS : Yes, I am aware of the report, and actually the issues raised in that part of Southland come from a number of causes. But that member will be pleased to know that, thanks to the Rural Broadband Initiative and the Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative, speeds across New Zealand have already tripled and are predicted to double again. So the residents of Southland should be very grateful that at least this Government is addressing it, something that Labour failed to do.

Ria Bond : I seek leave to table Venture Southland’s Registration of Interest report, dated July 2015. This is not readily available on the internet.

Mr SPEAKER : Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection?

Hon Gerry Brownlee : What is it? We did not hear what it was.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Will the member repeat what it was? It is the Southland—

Ria Bond : It is Venture Southland’s Registration of Interest report, dated July 2015. It is not readily available on the internet.

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

Ria Bond : I seek leave to table my letter in support of Venture Southland’s Registration of Interest report, dated 8 July 2015.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! If members really want it they can come and see the member and get a copy. [Interruption] Order! That is using the point of order system simply to make a political point. That is not the purpose of it at all.

Child, Youth and Family—Children in Care

11. MARAMA FOX (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister for Social Development : What is she doing to investigate any concerns raised by families who are being denied access to their children in care because of Child, Youth and Family processes?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Access to a child in care is a decision for the Family Court, and Ministers are unable to interfere. Child, Youth and Family’s role in these cases is to implement the rulings of the court. If anyone contacts my office with specific concerns about a child, I immediately ask officials to look into the matter, but, as I say, access to children in care is a matter for the Family Court, and I cannot interfere.

Marama Fox : Will she be establishing an independent authority to investigate claims by parents who feel they have been alienated by Child, Youth and Family through dubious practices?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY : As the member is aware, I have commissioned an expert advisory panel to look at a complete overhaul of the Child, Youth and Family systems. In the terms of reference for that panel there is specific mention of examining the adequacy of the current independent oversight advocacy and complaints mechanisms for Child, Youth and Family. When that final report comes to me at the end of the year with a newly designed system, the panel will have addressed that issue, I am sure.

Marama Fox : In light of that answer, can the Minister give whānau assurances that if they have been poorly dealt with prior to that announcement, they will be heard and have a place to hear their claims?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY : There is at the moment a complaints process that people can use. But I say to the member that my hope is always that Child, Youth and Family keeps focused on what is in the best interests of the child, and all too often it seems to the outsider that custody and access fights are normally more about adult agendas. So, yes, there are review mechanisms at the moment, but I say to that member that I have asked the expert panel to have a good look at how adequate they are and whether they are independent enough, and to bring recommendations into a new system at the end of the year.

Primary Industries—Foreign Investment

12. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast – Tasman) to the Minister for Primary Industries : Does he think it’s in the best interest of primary industries for a controlling interest to be potentially taken by foreign investors in New Zealand’s largest meat processing company, Silver Fern Farms?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): As no official details on Silver Fern Farms’ capital-raising process have been released so far, fuelling speculation would be unhelpful. However, I agree with the Leader of the Opposition, who said that the Silver Fern Farms capital structure is a matter for Silver Fern Farms shareholders to decide. Mr Little went on to say: “My position on foreign direct investment is that adding jobs, adding investment and creating new value for New Zealand—that’s a good thing.” Ultimately, Silver Fern Farms is owned by farmer shareholders and there are, indeed, farmers on the board. They are in the best position to influence the outcome of this process.

Hon Damien O’Connor : Why did the Government refuse to assist the Meat Industry Excellence group, which has a proposal to consolidate the meat industry that would benefit New Zealand, and instead is allowing Silver Fern Farms to be controlled by foreign investors?

Hon NATHAN GUY : I think there is some confusion in the Labour caucus, because I do not think that Mr O’Connor has talked to Mr Little—they have different views. Can I go on to say that I have read the Meat Industry Excellence report; I think it has created some discussion. The Government does not feel that we should be stepping in the middle of that process. If the gains are the big as that report says, then it is going to be up to the meat industry to drive those changes.

Hon Damien O’Connor : Why has he not made good on John Key’s 2008 commitment to a $200 million suspensory loan to help with the consolidation of the meat industry, saying: “I think everyone sees the need for change.”?

Hon NATHAN GUY : This Government is investing a lot to assist the red meat sector to grow and flourish. We are investing over $150 million in the Primary Growth Partnership. Of course, we went to the campaign 12 months ago with election promises that our farming and rural communities backed, unlike the Labour Opposition, which went there with a capital gains tax, a tax on irrigation, and also an enlarged emissions trading scheme process, and that is why it had its worst result ever in the history of the Labour Party.

Hon Damien O’Connor : I seek leave to table a 2008 meat industry report where Mr English said: “As long as it’s under $200 million, I don’t mind.”

Mr SPEAKER : What is the source of the report?

Hon Damien O’Connor : It is a media report.

Mr SPEAKER : Does the member have any further supplementary questions? I suggest he use them.

Hon Damien O’Connor : Will he commit right now to ensure any foreign investment in Silver Fern Farms goes through the Overseas Investment Office; if not, why not?

Hon NATHAN GUY : There is an Overseas Investment Office process for foreign investment, if it does indeed meet that threshold. The member is obviously very confused. Yesterday he was on the Farming Show radio programme, saying that the board of Silver Fern Farms should be sacked. I think that is terrible, when at the moment all we have is speculation that the member is indeed fuelling along.

Hon Damien O’Connor : Has he or his officials or his ministerial colleagues had any involvement in the potential sale of the shareholding in Silver Fern Farms to Chinese company Bright Food?

Hon NATHAN GUY : I have had no involvement in this process. This process is being run by the board. It is going to be up to the board and it is going to be up to the farmer shareholders to decide on the direction of Silver Fern Farms.

Hon Damien O’Connor : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very simple question about whether he or his officials or his ministerial colleagues had had any involvement.

Mr SPEAKER : It was a supplementary question and the Minister addressed one part of it, saying that he has had no contact. That has addressed the question.

Hon Damien O’Connor : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : I hope the member is not attempting to—

Hon Damien O’Connor : No, no, I am just seeking clarification—

Mr SPEAKER : No, the member does not need to do that.

Hon Damien O’Connor : Can I ask the Minister, who is responsible for his officials, whether he can inform the House whether, to his knowledge, they—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! That is not a point of order; that is effectively another supplementary question. If he wants to—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I have just ruled, for the benefit of the member, that the question was addressed satisfactorily. If the member then wants to make a more—[Interruption] Order! If the member then wants to ask a further supplementary question that is more specific, and he has got supplementary questions left, I suggest he does so.

Hon Damien O’Connor : Have the Minister’s officials had any direct involvement in the sale of Silver Fern Farms to Chinese company Bright Food?

Hon NATHAN GUY : At the moment the member is just speculating on something. As far as the involvement that I have had, I have already indicated that I have had no involvement in this process. As far as I am aware, my officials have had no involvement in this process. This process is being run by the board of Silver Fern Farms. Ultimately, it will be up to the shareholders, who are farmers, to decide.

Hon Damien O’Connor : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a repeat, and I tried to keep it very narrow. It was one relating just to his officials, and I did not hear an answer.

Mr SPEAKER : The member did get an answer. The trouble is that his own colleagues were making so much noise that he may not have heard it, but the Minister effectively said that to his knowledge his officials had not had any contact. That was included in the answer. I accept that it was hard to hear, but it was not helped by the level of interjection coming from people who regularly yell out “Answer the question. Answer the question.” That is not helpful when the Minister is attempting to—Dr David Clark.

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

Mr SPEAKER : No, the member has used all his supplementary questions.


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