Questions & Answers – Dec 9

by Desk Editor on Thursday, December 10, 2015 — 12:07 PM

1. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “I will lead a Government that will govern for all New Zealanders”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Mr Speaker, with your indulgence and the indulgence of members, I will not be giving an adjournment debate speech this afternoon, so can I just take a moment to wish you, Mr Speaker, a very merry Christmas and wish all the members of the House a merry Christmas, and safety for them and their families. In answer to the question from the member, the answer is yes.

Metiria Turei: What then is his response to Chelsea from Auckland who asks: “Prime Minister, will you put a stop to mining fossil fuels and make a world-leading push towards sustainable energy?”

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the question from Chelsea, the answer is no. We will not be stopping the mining of fossil fuels in New Zealand, but I am proud to be one of the leaders who got together in Paris to support the fossil fuel subsidy reform, which will see, hopefully, a situation where countries will no longer actually be subsidising the consumption of those fuels, which sees half a trillion US dollars spent in that area with only 8 percent of that expenditure going to the bottom quintile. New Zealand produces some fossil fuels and, frankly, if they were not bought from New Zealand they would be bought from other countries around the world.

Metiria Turei: What is the Prime Minister’s response to Donna from Christchurch who asks: “Prime Minister, will you support the legitimate expectation of Cantabrians to return to full democracy during the 2016 local body elections?”

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I would say is that the Government is working towards restoration of a fully elected council. I do not think that will be happening in 2016 from the top of my mind; I think it is half-appointed and half-elected. The reason for that, of course, is that Environment Canterbury was suspended by the Government, and, I think, rightfully so, because it was the worst-performing council in New Zealand: 84th out of 84th. It had failed over many, many years—in fact, decades—to get an operable water plan. I think most people would actually say that the commission of work led by Dame Margaret Bazley has done an outstanding job. But we do look forward to democracy being reformed; we just hope that people of the quality of Dame Margaret Bazley will be elected to the new council.

Metiria Turei: What is his response to Max from Porirua who asks: “Prime Minister, will you refuse to deal with Saudi Arabia and its abhorrent human rights record, stand up to Australia’s disgusting treatment of asylum seekers and those detained on Christmas Island, and will you commit to human rights by permanently increasing the refugee quota?”

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are many parts to that question so let me deal with just the last part of it. Next year there will be a formal review undertaken by the Government—as occurs every so often—about the refugee quota, and I would not want to jump in front of that review.

Metiria Turei: What is his response to Zoe from Wellington who asks: “Prime Minister, will you make a solid push towards pay equity for all genders, combat the high rates of domestic violence, and once again prove to the world, as we did in 1893, that in New Zealand women are valued as much as their male counterparts?”

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I would say to the member that she is probably aware that the Government is currently in negotiations with the unions looking to try to find a way through the pay equity issues that were raised as a result of the Terranova case. Again, I would not want to prejudge the outcomes of those, but the Government is working constructively with the unions to try to find a way of addressing the concerns of the situation, prior to it actually having to be referred back to the courts.

Metiria Turei: What is the Prime Minister’s response to Charlotte from Auckland who asks: “Prime Minister, for 2016 I want to save the last 45 Māui’s dolphins before it is too late, so will you please rethink your position on this matter and extend the Māui’s dolphins’ habitat?”

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, what I would say is that the Government has already extended the habitat as we can get the best scientific advice on Māui’s dolphins, but there has been no scientific advice to support further extension. If there was, the Government would act.

Metiria Turei: And what is his response to Olive from Waikanae who asks: “Prime Minister, will you have a nice Christmas and reflect on a warrant of fitness for rental houses, a living wage, no child going hungry, a much greener New Zealand, and tougher penalties for polluting the environment and for people ill-treating and abusing children and animals?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, I think I will have a lovely Christmas. Of course, I will miss the member, in particular, but I am sure we can correspond with one another via texts or something and make sure we are enjoying the celebrations we deserve.

David Seymour: What is the Prime Minister’s response to Aroha from Kawerau, who asks why the Prime Minister cannot confront the sustainability of New Zealand superannuation and allow us to have a discussion about raising the age?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I say to Aroha that given she is 64½ and about to turn 65 in early 2016, I am not going to whip the rug out from underneath her—as I would not do to any other New Zealander so near to retirement age.

David Seymour: What is the Prime Minister’s response to Fred from Te Kūiti, who complains that the tax on capital is one of the highest in the OECD for New Zealand firms seeking capital from overseas, and asks whether that rate can be dropped progressively to the same rate as the Māori authority rate of 17.5 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I say to Fred that, no, that is very unlikely, and he should go and see his neighbour Jim Bolger who is always much better at answering those more difficult questions.

Better Public Services—Progress

2. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What progress has the Government made on its priority of delivering better public services in 2015?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has delivered on that promise to deliver stable Government finances and to support the most vulnerable. The Budget this year delivered a $790 million package to help children living in some of New Zealand’s poorest families, to assist them in breaking the cycle of hardship, as well as protecting the incentive to move from welfare to work. The Government increased benefits for families with children by $25 a week after tax, the first increase over and above inflation since 1972.

Alastair Scott: What steps is the Government taking to improve transparency as part of its commitment to delivering better public services for New Zealanders?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Earlier today Treasury released an in-depth analysis of at-risk 15 to 24-year-olds using data collected from a range of Government agencies. It highlighted particular high-risk groups and their characteristics, some of whom the Government has already taken action on, such as young solo parents, half of whom it is likely will by age 35 have spent more than 5 years on a benefit. The Government will be translating these insights into further action.

Alastair Scott: What progress can he report on delivering the Government’s economic and fiscal goals in 2015?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: When the Government had a deficit of around $18 billion, it set a target of getting back to surplus by 2014-15, and as the annual accounts showed, we just achieved that. The significance of the surplus target was the pressure to create spending discipline and focus on value for money for Government spending that was already being spent, as well as great care with limited additional funding. Persistent low inflation and lower dairy prices will mean a challenge to maintain surpluses in the future.

Alastair Scott: Looking ahead, what reasons does he see for confidence in the economic outlook in 2016?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Continued broad public support for the Government is certainly one of the features, but New Zealand businesses are now benefiting from the lower interest rates and lower exchange rate that have arisen from adjustments in the economy, and that is now flowing through again to recent lifts in consumer and business confidence.

Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House for David Bennett to be able to pop—I mean, ask a question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member surely knows that it is out of order to seek leave for someone else. [Interruption] Order! Festivities can start when the House finally rises.

Darroch Ball: If the Minister has total confidence in his Better Public Services target results, will he support New Zealand First’s member’s bill that enables the Office of the Auditor-General to independently review those results; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We do have confidence in those results. We set targets back in 2012 to deal with some of the toughest issues in New Zealand that the Government has to deal with, and we are making significant progress on them. I am happy for the member to argue the toss about whether the crime rate has actually dropped, whether the number of 16-year-olds achieving National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 2 has actually risen considerably, whether reoffending rates have actually dropped, or whether rheumatic fever cases are actually dropping. The Auditor-General, I am sure, can add to the discussion, but we do not think it is necessary to legislate.

Government Support for New Zealanders—Action

3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: What actions, if any, is his Government planning for New Zealanders about to celebrate Christmas who are among the growing number of unemployed, or living in unhealthy rental housing, or trying to buy their own home, or waiting for vital surgery, or needing a life-saving medicine?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Prime Minister, my office has been advised that this answer may be longer than normal.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): For people who cannot find work and have no other means of support, the Government intends to give them a fortnightly payment until they can get back on their feet again. In fact, the Government plans to increase the payment next year in real terms for the first time since 1972. For people on low incomes in rental housing, the Government intends to subsidise their accommodation costs or to provide them with social housing, which means they pay only a quarter of their income in rent. For people trying to buy their first home, the Government provides HomeStart grants of up to $20,000, as well as Welcome Home Loans. For people waiting for vital surgery, the Government has increased the volume of publicly funded elective surgery this year by 5,000, bringing the total increase to 50,000 since 2008. For people needing medicines, I would tell them that the Government has increased funding for Pharmac by $150 million a year and that in almost all cases people do not pay more than $5 for a fully subsidised medicine. For the area the member mentions, Government support totals billions of dollars each year.

Andrew Little: In light of that comprehensive answer, after serving up gruel this year to those 15,000 extra unemployed New Zealanders, is he hoping to find a fix for the economy under the Christmas tree, because, clearly, Bill English and Steven Joyce have failed to perform?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We have an economy that is not only growing, but is growing more jobs. We have, according to the Minister of Finance, the third-highest employment rate in the OECD. The number of people working has gone up by 160,000 over the last 3 years. The number of people out of work has gone down by 19,000. We have got one of the highest participation rates in the world. But I suppose, in a way, the way to measure all this is: are people leaving New Zealand to go to Australia, or are they coming from Australia to live in New Zealand? And the answer is the latter, in droves.

Andrew Little: What is he doing to stop Nick “The Grinch” Smith from stealing the Kiwi dream of homeownership from more and more Auckland families as Auckland house prices rise five times faster than incomes?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Nick Smith has done an outstanding job over the last while, and the fact that members opposite do not want to acknowledge it makes them the Grinch of Christmas, not Nick Smith, because this is a man who shepherded through special housing areas, cheaper building costs, reform of the Resource Management Act, and the highest residential construction activity and consenting that we have seen in 11 years. This is a man who has seen KiwiSaver now provide up to $20,000 as a deposit for a couple. This is someone who is helping—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is now quite long enough. The next one.

Andrew Little: Will he stop playing Scrooge and reverse the $1.7 billion of real per person cuts he has made to health, including a $117 million cut in real purchasing power to Pharmac’s budget; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Let us get things right. The only cut that has come this year has been in David Cunliffe’s ranking in the Labour Opposition—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —and I am sure we all seek to be under-secretary to the leader on superannuation. But, on the basis that we do not, health under this Government has not only gone up enormously in terms of the funding, but, maybe most important, in efficiency. This is a Government that has seen more surgical operations being undertaken, more efficiency in the system, and better health services for New Zealanders.

Andrew Little: Now that 60 percent of Kiwis have voted with their dustbin on his flag referendum, and in the spirit of the season, will he stop wasting money on his pet project and use it to help needy children instead?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is right that we are drawing to a close of the first referendum, which, from what I can see, is tracking along the same path as postal referendums normally do. But I am going to go, and when I wake up on the morning of 1 January of 2016, I am going to have two new year’s resolutions. The first one I will keep secret because it is bound to be something like lose weight or whatever—

Mr SPEAKER: Bring the answer to a conclusion.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —and we do not like to disclose this—but No. 2 will be do not believe a single thing the Labour Party campaigns on, because that is your policy, Mr Little: to change the flag by referendum.

Andrew Little: Putting aside Labour’s 1972 manifesto promises for now, will he give a Christmas present to the hundreds of thousands of Kiwi families living in cold, damp, unhealthy—[Interruption]—rentals by putting aside partisan politics, Dr Smith, and backing my bill to outlaw slum housing; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is not for me to give the Leader of the Opposition a history lesson, but for a start-off, in 1975, unlike today, Labour was good. It won the election under Norm Kirk. [Interruption] In ‘32. In 2000—1972. [Interruption] In 2014—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point in continuing the answer, because I do not think anybody can hear it. [Interruption] Order! Kris Faafoi, that is your last warning for this question time.

Andrew Little: Now that the Serco turkeys are cooked, is he worried that Judith Collins is eyeing up his back with a carving knife?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is only one turkey in this House, and I am looking at him.

Accident Compensation Corporation—Levies

4. ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua) to the Minister for ACC: What recent announcements has the Government made regarding ACC levies?

Hon NIKKI KAYE (Minister for ACC): Yesterday I announced that the Government is giving New Zealanders an early Christmas present: $450 million of ACC levy reductions. These levy reductions will be for businesses, workers, and motor vehicle owners. There will be a reduction of 11 percent for businesses, 4 percent for earners, and a whopping reduction of 33 percent in motor vehicle levies. These reductions are possible only because this Government has brought ACC into the black after the last Labour Government left a $5.5 billion deficit. This National-led Government is reducing levies and putting more money in Kiwis’ pockets.

Andrew Bayly: What does this announcement mean in terms of motor vehicle levies?

Hon NIKKI KAYE: Motor vehicle levies will be slashed by an average of one-third. I am also very pleased to confirm that the average annual ACC licence fee for every single petrol car in the four bands will be under $90. Under this Government, in 4 years we have seen the average motor vehicle levy drop from $330 on average to $130 on average. That is about a $200-a-year saving. This is another example of this Government reducing costs for Kiwis.

Andrew Bayly: What does this announcement mean for our great New Zealand businesses?

Hon NIKKI KAYE: We are reducing the ACC bill for Kiwi businesses by $171 million. On average, four out of five businesses in New Zealand will get an ACC levy cut. Some businesses will have dramatic cuts, and about 140 employers in the accredited employment scheme will now pay very small ACC levies. This is the first year in our history, due to the legislation passed in this House, that ACC levies will be much fairer, as they will be based on the true costs of injuries. The cuts will see some businesses get a third off their levies. Alongside the big cuts for some businesses, we have now agreed to a long-term funding policy, at the heart of which is fiscal responsibility, stability, and certainty for New Zealand businesses.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Do these cuts to ACC levies amount to an admission from the Government that its excessive increases introduced by Nick Smith were totally unnecessary and placed a huge burden on ACC levy payers; and is the Minister concerned that with the return of Judith Collins to Cabinet, she will be pushing her line of using ACC levies to—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The first part of the question can be answered.

Hon NIKKI KAYE: No, because the Labour Government left us with a $5.5 billion hole, and all of the advice shows that two-thirds of that was it expanding entitlements, not collecting enough levies, and complete mismanagement.

Health, Minister—Statements

5. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, including the statement that Mrs King is a lot like Santa: smiles and big promises, but others pick up the bill, and adults stopped believing a long, long time ago.

Hon Annette King: Minister, it is Christmas. Peace, I say to you—peace.

Mr SPEAKER: I suggest we just get to the supplementary question.

Hon Annette King: Well, in light of that answer, does he agree with Treasury, which said that Vote Health has received “relatively smaller increases” as a percentage of the vote in recent years, decreasing to an average increase of 3.7 percent under this Government, compared with 8.7 percent under Labour, and is only given a contribution towards its cost pressures?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That is a bit like expecting me to believe that Santa is coming down the chimney, but the fact is that we have actually increased Vote Health consistently over our time in Government. It has gone from $11.8 billion to $15.9 billion. We are seeing better services for New Zealanders, and it is a better health system than 7 years ago.

Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table the presentation by Treasury—which this graph, taken from it, is in—which was given to the Minister of Health on 27 February 2015 on social sector spending.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular graph. Is there any objection? No, there is not. It can be tabled.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Annette King: Did Pharmac get less than half the funding increase it requested in this year’s Budget; if so, why?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Look, all agencies want all sorts of things, but the fact is that Pharmac’s money has gone up $150 million under this Government, well ahead of the rate of inflation over the same period.

Hon Annette King: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member to repeat the question. It may not have been answered.

Hon Annette King: No, no. It is OK, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table the Official Information Act release from Pharmac showing exactly what I said—

Mr SPEAKER: All right. Leave—[Interruption]—Order! The document has been described. Leave is sought to table that particular Official Information Act release. Is there any objection? There is none; it can be tabled.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement about the Pharmac model and decision not to fund Keytruda when the Prime Minister said: “I accept … hypocrisy … in that we rode over the top of that when we funded Herceptin.”? If so, does he think advanced melanoma patients should accept this hypocrisy, when he will not ride over the top for them?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I always agree with the Prime Minister.

Hon Annette King: What polling is currently being undertaken on the decision not to fund Keytruda, and might the Government’s position change as a result of that polling?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: It is very interesting. It is quite clear that the Labour Party would fiddle with the Pharmac model. It says it is going to fund Keytruda. Our position is that we are leaving it at arm’s length, and that is how Pharmac should be making the decision. The problem is, Labour changes its position every couple of days on the Pharmac model and cannot be relied on.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question said—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard the question. I was inclined to rule it out, because there was no ministerial responsibility for it. I allowed the question to stay—

Hon Annette King: The ministry could be polling.

Mr SPEAKER: The ministry could be polling. That is probably true. On that basis, I will accept the question again. The ministry could be.

Hon Annette King: What polling is currently being undertaken on the decision not to fund Keytruda, and might the Government’s position change as a result?


Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement about Herceptin: “It was clearly the best drug in its class, whereas Keytruda there’s a number of options.”? If so, what funded, effective drug options are available for advanced melanoma?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes, I do stand by that statement. There are a number of options available. It is a complex series of commercial negotiations, and actually the member would be well advised to leave it to Pharmac. All we know is, Labour would mess with the Pharmac model—very unfortunate.

Barbara Stewart: If the Prime Minister has said “I don’t think it is impossible to get Pharmac to fund Keytruda.”, when will that funding decision be made, and how many New Zealanders will be suffering in the interim?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Mrs Stewart, you will be the first to know.

Barbara Stewart: If the Government can pass Red Peak’s inclusion in the flag referendum under urgency, why can this Government not go into urgency now in order to amend Pharmac’s functions and objectives so that cancer sufferers can have some real hope over Christmas?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because the Pharmac model is excellent and we are not going to tamper with it. It sounds like New Zealand First will.

Barbara Stewart: I seek leave to introduce a member’s bill in my name to amend the objectives, functions, and advisory committees of Pharmac. The specific objective is to enhance the treatment of patients diagnosed with rare and life-limiting—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It has been well and truly described. Leave is sought for that particular course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Education—International Opportunities

6. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: How is the Government encouraging young people to study offshore and develop international linkages?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Yesterday I announced that the 2015 Prime Minister’s Scholarships for Asia have been awarded to 152 students from across New Zealand. These scholarships are a special opportunity for young Kiwis to study, conduct research, or take up internships in countries that are hugely important to this country, both today and in the future. Now in its third year, the fifth round of scholarships takes the total number of recipients to 617 to date. The funding of $9 million over 5 years was provided in Budget 2013.

Ian McKelvie: Why is it important to develop links with Asia?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is very important. Asia is a significant part of New Zealand’s future, as it is today, and it is crucial that we continue to develop relationships at all levels across the region. Recipients of the 2015 awards will do this in a number of ways. There will be 20 students from Lincoln University undertaking summer school in Indonesia, learning about Indonesian culture and business; 15 students from Unitec, who are undertaking a student exchange to Chongqing University of Science and Technology and Wuhan University this month; and a range of individual recipients, including a University of Waikato student who will take up an internship with the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore to continue work into cybercrime. These young people are embracing our 21st century, globalised world.

Ian McKelvie: Were any applications for scholarships turned down?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, unfortunately. There are always a few who miss out each time. In fact, there were four applications that were not successful this year. Firstly, there was a young man from Wellington, named Grant, who applied for a scholarship over the Christmas break to study Finance 101 and “What is work?”. There was young Philip from west Auckland—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am the Grinch! I am the Grinch! It will not help the order of this House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No doubt the Minister was quoting from an official document. I seek leave for him to table it.

Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister was quoting from—[Interruption] It is very—[Interruption] Order! It is very easily resolved. I ask the Minister whether he was quoting from an official document. If he was, it will be tabled. Was it an official document?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It was not an official document.

Mr SPEAKER: I did not think for a minute that it would be.

Prime Minister—Statements

7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does he stand by this statement: “If you just look at abattoirs around the Middle East, we know there’s a huge amount of opportunity and work there because their abattoirs are very old, and they slaughter a lot of animals for domestic, business and the Haj.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is correct.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does he believe that $2.6 million of taxpayers’ money is better given to a Saudi multimillionaire to build an abattoir in Saudi Arabia, rather than funding, for example, melanoma patient Tessa Taylor and at least 11 other New Zealanders with the treatment Keytruda?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is an investment in potential economic growth, and it is a strong economy that leaves the Government with more resources, ultimately, to fund drugs like Keytruda.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does he believe that millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money is better given to a Saudi Arabian multimillionaire to build an abattoir in Saudi Arabia, rather than contributing to a new, needed abattoir on the Chatham Islands, for example, which would employ 18 people there and vastly improve the Chatham Islands economy?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know the details about the abattoir on the Chatham Islands, but I do know that the Minister for Primary Industries has just returned from the Chathams this afternoon. To describe the reception that a National Minister got as a rock concert, literally, in the Chatham Islands—he was showered with gifts of crayfish, titles that they had, overwhelming joy about the wharf that we are building, and that was just a sample. He came back with not only a massive crayfish for me, but a message: “Please come back, Prime Minister, we want you in the Chatham Islands, we desperately”—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order first of all from—[Interruption] Order! I have a point of order first of all from the Hon Annette King.

Hon Annette King: I wonder whether the Prime Minister could extend that answer and talk about the crayfish and the reception I got on the Chatham Islands yesterday?

Mr SPEAKER: We are keen to finish before 10 o’clock tonight.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Because it is not available, I want to table two documents. One is the meat processing project report—it is not available on the internet—with regard to the Chatham Islands, and the other one is a photograph of the Chatham Islanders in respect of the last ministerial visit, where they are still laughing.

Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave, certainly, for the first document. In fact, I will put the leave for both documents. Leave is sought to table them. Is there any objection? There is none. They will be tabled.

  • Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What representations has the Prime Minister received from his colleague, the Hon Chris Finlayson, about projects like a new meatworks for the Chatham Islands and the lengthening of the runway there—something he boasts about to Chatham Islanders ad nauseam?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My understanding is that Mr Finlayson has been to the Chatham Islands on many occasions. He also has received great support from the people of the Chatham Islands. I do not know exactly the party vote results in the Rongotai electorate of the Chatham Islands, but I just heard the squabbling amongst the extended family members, and the way I heard the discussion was that Chris Finlayson beat Annette King. But we do not like to mention that here, so close to Christmas.

Budget 2015—Unemployment and Economic Growth

8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement in Budget 2015 that unemployment is expected to fall below 5 percent in 2016, and that economic growth on average will be 2.8 percent over the next 4 years?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, those statements were based on Treasury’s independent forecasts at the time and those of the Reserve Bank and a wide range of private sector economists. Of course, being forecasts, these are updated over time, as the member will know since he spent July and August forecasting crisis in the New Zealand economy, and it seems to be bouncing back. I hope he revises his forecasts.

Grant Robertson: Will unemployment drop below 5 percent in 2016?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury’s independent view on that will be laid out next week. The Reserve Bank’s will be laid out tomorrow.

Rt Hon John Key: The question is will the Labour Party drop under 5 percent in 2016.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Quite possibly—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will allow the Minister to finish the question without the interjection.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: But it seems unlikely.

Grant Robertson: What kind of Christmas present is it for New Zealanders that we now have 15,000 more people unemployed than at this time last year?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: For those who do not have a job and who are looking for it, of course it is not that good. But for the record high number of New Zealanders who are working, they are going to have a good Christmas.

Rt Hon John Key: Has the Minister of Finance seen the front page of the Bay of Plenty Times today: “8,100 new jobs created. Latest figures show that thousands of jobs have been created in the Bay of Plenty”; if so, does he have any comments he would like to make about it?

Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is in order.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen this, and I was not surprised, actually, because things have been going so well in that part of the country, despite it historically having a high level of unemployment. However, the Labour Party has been studying the meaning of work, while these people have been out creating jobs.

Jacqui Dean: Does he stand by his statement made in Budget 2011 that 170,000 extra jobs were expected to be created by 2015?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Again, that statement was made, consistent with Treasury’s forecasts at the time. Sometimes Treasury’s forecasts turn out to be inaccurate. That is the nature of economic forecasting. But, in fact, that target was exceeded, and over that time, from 2011 to 2015, 176,000 new jobs were created—one of the factors that has led to it having among the highest proportion ever of New Zealanders available for work and working.

Grant Robertson: How can he claim success for his job creation policies when New Zealand has now slipped from ninth to 15th in the OECD for unemployment since last year?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: For the reasons that I have just said. We of course accept that the unemployment rate is higher than we would like it to be, and it has been a bit persistently high. Two reasons for that are that we now have the highest proportion, almost ever, of New Zealanders available for work—that is, a very high participation rate—and record immigration flows, so huge numbers of people are turning up to the labour market. It has been producing new jobs at a rapid rate until the last couple of quarters, when it has slowed down. There seems to be some evidence it is picking up again.

Sarah Dowie: What is the outlook for jobs and wages growth for New Zealand families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is pretty positive. Although unemployment has risen a bit, there has been consistent new job creation. What has gone with that are fairly consistent increases in incomes across New Zealand households in the range of 2 to 3 percent and well ahead of inflation, which is around half a percent.

Grant Robertson: How does he think it has been a successful year for the economy when exports as a percentage of GDP have slipped to their lowest levels since 1997, and he is going in the opposite direction of the target this Government has set for itself?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not necessarily agree with the member’s numbers. As we discussed at the select committee this morning, a number of adjustments have occurred in the economy. One is that the exchange rate has dropped a long way in the last 12 months, which signals a positive outlook for our exports over the next few years. Interest rates are at 50-year lows, and a significant portion of resource has been directed where it should be, and that is to increasing the supply of housing and infrastructure, because when people are showing up we cannot say to them: “There are no houses for you. The money has been spent on manufacturing exports.” We have to supply the housing.

Grant Robertson: Does he really think it has been a successful year for the economy when there are still 305,000 children living in poverty, because if the economy is meant to do anything at all, is it not supposed to give all New Zealanders a decent shot at life?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do think it has been a successful year for the economy. Secondly, in respect of children, the hundreds of thousands of children in our lowest income households on 1 April will get the benefits of a growing economy, and that is the increase of $25 a week in their benefit levels. The Government’s welfare reforms mean that today there are over 40,000 fewer children living in a benefit household than just 2 or 3 years ago

Child Poverty—Child Hardship Package

9. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister for Social Development: How does the Child Hardship Package help families on a benefit?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Last week the child hardship package passed its final reading in Parliament. The package will substantially raise the core benefit rate for the first time in 43 years, lifting the income of over 100,000 families with children. It will also increase work obligations for sole parents on a benefit and increase the childcare assistance rate, helping families into paid work and out of poverty. These measures will help ease the depths of hardship experienced by families and children in New Zealand’s lowest income households.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How will work obligations for parents on a benefit change under the child hardship package?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Evidence shows that the best route out of poverty is work, which is why this Government is focused on helping those on a benefit into employment. The child hardship package will require sole parents and the partners of beneficiaries to be available for part-time work once their youngest child turns 3. Additionally, all beneficiaries with part-time work obligations will now be expected to find work for 20 hours a week. As we know that two-thirds of children who live in severe hardship have a parent on a benefit, it is important that we focus on supporting those parents into work.

Darroch Ball: If the Government has a “focus on 15 to 19-year-olds” as previously stated by Bill English, how can she explain that cohort’s unemployment rate, as reported in the latest labour force survey, having increased over the last 12 months by over 5,000 youth, to be at over 21 percent?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not have those figures in front of me to make sure that that member is accurately quoting them, but what I can say is that this Government has done more than any other over the last decade, focused on young people. There are now fewer young people classified as “neets” than we have ever seen before. We are absolutely confident that the number of young people who are gaining National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 2 is at the highest it has ever been.

Darroch Ball: I seek leave to table two documents. The first document has been prepared by the Parliamentary Library and is titled Youth Unemployment Rate and Number, comparing 2010 and 2015—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! And the second document?

Darroch Ball: The second document has been prepared by the Parliamentary Library, entitled Youth NEET Rate Number, showing that the September 2015 number of 11 percent—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The documents have been appropriately described. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table those two documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Freshwater Management—Water Quality

10. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: What specific action will he take to clean up waterways such as Lake Tūtira, whose algal blooms are so toxic that children have been banned from boating and kayaking there?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): I can confirm that as part of the Te Mana o Te Wai Fund, the Government is committing over $400,000 to improve the water quality at Lake Tūtira. The problems at this lake go back over 20 years, and this is the first Government commitment to any funding to address the water quality problems. This is one of nine projects that will be delivered as part of the $4.5 million commitment that I announced earlier this year, in partnership with the Māori Party.

Catherine Delahunty: Which of the rivers and lakes on this map, which have algal bloom so toxic that they are unsafe for swimming, does he think should continue to be off limits to kids in order to grow the economy through intensive dairying?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would point out—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Put that map down and listen to the answer.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would point out that this Government has committed $450 million to freshwater clean-ups, which is more than sevenfold the amount that was committed by the previous Labour-Green Government. So I find it extraordinary that the Green Party has not acknowledged the significant steps that this Government has taken to address freshwater quality.

Catherine Delahunty: Does he think it is the birthright of all Kiwi children to swim in our country’s rivers, or of only some Kiwi children?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This Government is very committed to improving freshwater quality. That is why we introduced the first national policy statement on freshwater in 2011. That is why we introduced minimum quality standards nationwide in 2014. That is why we are the first Government to nationally regulate for water metering. That is why we have invested in the Land and Water Forum. And that is why next year we will be taking further steps to improve freshwater quality.

Catherine Delahunty: Which of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers is he hoping to go swimming in this summer?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Dr Nick Smith, if there is ministerial responsibility.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: As I do every summer, I will be taking my family to swim in wonderful water bodies like the Lee River in my own community. We will be going to beaches, as many of my National colleagues will be. What I will not be doing is what the Green Party does every summer, and that is discouraging New Zealanders from getting out and enjoying this beautiful country.

Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table this map showing the summer algal blooms that are already—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That information will be available to members if they so need it or so want it.

Freshwater Management—Water Quality

11. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for the Environment: What improvements in water quality has the Government achieved from its Fresh Start for Fresh Water budget allocations?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): We are making good progress in improving fresh water quality in a number of significant lakes. Last week I celebrated with the West Coast community—including Maureen Pugh, our list MP in waiting—the achievement of water-quality targets at the West Coast’s largest lake, Lake Brunner, 5 years ahead of schedule. Sixty-two kilometres of fencing has been completed, 21,000 plants have been established alongside the tributaries of that lake, from the $200,000 that the Government committed to the clean-up. It is a remarkable achievement that those fresh water improvements in that large lake have been achieved, like I say, 5 years ahead of when we were expecting to be able to reduce the risks that have been raised.

Stuart Smith: What progress has been achieved from the programme in respect of Lake Taupō and the Rotorua lakes?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Lake Taupō is New Zealand’s largest freshwater lake, and over the last 3 decades there have been increased concerns over nutrient levels. A world-leading cap and trade scheme on nitrogen has been put in place with $36 million of Government money. The goal was to reduce the nitrogen load by 20 percent, or 110 tonnes, by 2018. I am pleased to inform the House—[Interruption]

  • A disturbance took place in the gallery.

Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister now wishes to continue. [Interruption]

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There is no hope for some people, eh?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Nick Smith, if he wants to complete his answer.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am pleased to report that those water-quality improvements in Lake Taupō have been achieved 3 years ahead of schedule. I am also pleased to report that Lake Rotoiti is also a lake that has had significant concerns over water quality and it is now in its best condition in 25 years, as a consequence of the Government’s improvement programme.

Stuart Smith: I dare say the Minister does not have any responsibility for the water in this glass—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can we have the supplementary question.

Stuart Smith: What are the next steps in the Government’s programme for improving fresh water quality?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There is more to do. The first step is to support regional councils in implementing the new limits framework. That is why Minister Guy and I are investing in the further development of OVERSEER and developing new regulations around good practice management. The second challenge is around the proposed regulations on fencing stock out of streams, rivers, and lakes. The Land and Water Forum has proposed detailed rules in this regard. We will be consulting on those next year, with the intention to implement them by 1 July 2017. The third proposal is further investment in fresh water clean-up initiatives, and I will be seeking additional funding in Budget 2016 to make sure that we maintain this positive momentum.

Tertiary Institutions—Student Funding

12. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: Does he agree with the New Zealand Herald report that the “student funding scandal” is “the result of a funding crunch intersecting with a reporting and monitoring system that operates largely on trust”; if not, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): No, I do not agree with what is a reasonably breathless hyperbolic characterisation in the New Zealand Herald—as I generally do not agree with breathless hyperbole. The reality is there is no funding crunch. There have been some issues at a small number of institutions across the 734 funded by the Tertiary Education Commission that have not been following the funding rules. It is worth noting that the recovery from those reviews into issues dating back to 2009 is a very small percentage of this sector’s funding over that period.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Parliamentary Library report dated 17 June 2015 that shows the cut in New Zealand’s total investment in tertiary education under National has gone from $3.2 billion in 2009 to $3.0 billion in 2015-16.

Mr SPEAKER: It is a marginal call, but I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Deloitte review of the Tertiary Education Commission and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority dated 21 April 2015.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular report. Is there any objection? There is not. It can be tabled.

Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that whistleblowing at New Zealand’s largest tertiary provider, Intueri Group, has uncovered rorting so serious that its share price dropped from $1.30 to just 35c last week?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. I can confirm, though, that Intueri is not New Zealand’s largest tertiary provider.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a New Zealand Qualifications Authority report on Quantum Education Group, a wholly owned Intueri subsidiary, which—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

Hon David Cunliffe: What are the names of the two other tertiary providers currently being investigated for potential fraud by the Tertiary Education Commission along with Intueri?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is wrong. The Tertiary Education Commission does not investigate fraud. That is a matter for the Serious Fraud Office, and I think that is a little bit of a problem with some of his accusations. As I pointed out to him initially, there are 734 funded organisations. At any one time there is a number—normally a small number—that are being investigated for various reasons. The funding recovered from the reviews to date is something like $25 million, which is about 0.18 percent of the total $14 billion funding the sector has received over the period in review back to 2009.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, the Minister has not even addressed the question, which began with the words—

Mr SPEAKER: No, the question was very definitely addressed.

Hon David Cunliffe: —“what are the names”—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member addressed the question by disputing some of the facts the member had used.

Hon David Cunliffe: Have students at the two other providers currently being investigated by the Tertiary Education Commission been notified of those investigations or have they yet to receive their special Christmas message from the Minister?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Once again I think we are seeing the breathless hyperbole that was shown at the front of the question that the member endorsed from the New Zealand Herald. The reality is that when an investigation takes place, as one often does in the tertiary sector, it would be prejudicial to tell anybody, including the students, of any issues in regard to funding or any of those matters. I am confident that the tertiary authorities are taking the appropriate steps in these matters.

Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has so far failed to detect fraud and mismanagement in a number of providers and instead has expressed high confidence in the worst offenders, does he still retain confidence in it as his watchdog, or is his experiment in privatising tertiary education about as successful as his work with Novopay and the governance on Serco?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: You see, there you go—that is the breathless hyperbole. I knew it was going to turn up towards the end of the question. The member is confused, with the greatest respect. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority is not the funding body for tertiary education. It measures educational achievement, and that is one of the basic mistakes the member makes in regard to his questions. In suggesting that there has been any attempt to privatise the tertiary education system, I should get the member to look back at the previous Labour Government, which, I think, had as much private tertiary education as there is today, and once again demonstrates the house of cards that is the member’s logic.

Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the following reports, where the New Zealand Qualifications Authority expressed full confidence in—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just list the reports please.

Hon David Cunliffe: —providers that were rorting the—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just list the reports.

Hon David Cunliffe: Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, dated 22 February 2012; Western Institute of Technology, dated 22 August 2012; Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, dated 26 January 2011; Manaakitanga Aotearoa Trust, dated 21 August 2013, in which high confidence was expressed by the monitoring agency.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The last part is unnecessary. Are they publicly available?

Hon David Cunliffe: They are available but not distributed.

Mr SPEAKER: They are available.

Questions to Members

Mr SPEAKER: We were to now move to questions for members, but as the member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill is not in the House, those questions are held over until the next sitting day.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that that member was here today in the select committee.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! He is not in the House. I have looked for the member; he is not in the House.

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