Questions & Answers – Feb 10

by Desk Editor on Friday, February 12, 2016 — 11:51 AM

1. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on employment in New Zealand?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Last week Statistics New Zealand released the labour market data for the December quarter of 2015. It showed that New Zealand’s unemployment rate had fallen to 5.3 percent, with 175,000 additional jobs created over the last 3 years. That means New Zealand has the tenth lowest unemployment rate in the OECD, but that does not tell the full story. Our employment rate is the third highest in the OECD, New Zealand’s labour market participation rate is also the third highest in the OECD, and it was also pleasing to see that the proportion of 15 to 19-year-olds not in education, employment, or training is at the lowest level since records began.

Jonathan Young: How do changes in the average wage compare with costs of living increases?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Statistics New Zealand figures show that the average weekly wage is up 3.1 percent over the last year, to over $56,000, with real wages growing considerably faster than inflation, which is at just 0.1 percent. Treasury expects the average wage to reach $62,500 by 2020, with another 173,000 jobs forecast by then. These results highlight the importance of continuing the Government’s programme of microeconomic reform. It helps businesses have the confidence to invest and employ more people. This is particularly true given the signs of further international economic turbulence that we have seen recently.

Jonathan Young: What recent steps has the Government taken to support more jobs and higher wages through international trade?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Last week New Zealand hosted the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. This agreement means better access to 800 million consumers, in 11 other countries, which account for around 36 percent of the global economy. This will be New Zealand’s first free-trade agreement with five of those countries: Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, and the US, which is, of course, the world’s largest economy. The agreement means New Zealand firms have increased opportunities to diversify. That will translate into more jobs and higher wages for New Zealand families.

Grant Robertson: Is it correct that the household labour force survey shows that the labour force participation rate is lower by nearly 1 percent over the last year. That is 61,000 more people who have opted out of the labour market—six times larger than the fall in unemployment during the same period?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I appreciate the member’s new-found interest in the participation rate, because normally he rubbishes the participation rate. But for the member’s benefit: yes, the participation rate has dropped. I talked to Statistics New Zealand about that, so listen and you might learn something. Fifty percent of that is people retiring—50 percent of it is people retiring. The member may like to take the view that people should not be allowed to retire, and, of course, that is, possibly, Labour Party policy, but on this side of the House we think that once they have got to a certain age and they want to retire, they should be allowed to do so, with their superannuation.

Jonathan Young: What alternative prescriptions for New Zealand’s growth has he seen?

Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there is ministerial responsibility. I will be listening for that.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have seen one or two commentators lamenting New Zealand’s reliance on dairy and the need to diversify. New Zealand, says one commentator in particular, is too reliant on dairy and needs to move up the export value chain. Unfortunately, this very same commentator has been a leading participant in opposing one of the single most important measures this Government has taken to achieve increased diversification and move up the value chain—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I can sense exactly where the question is going to go, and it is not going to help the order of this House.

Student Loans—Debt

2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment in light of student loan debt being set to pass $15 billion this year?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I do have confidence in the Minister, who is doing an excellent job of improving results in the tertiary sector. I note that since 2008 the Government has increased its investment in tertiary providers by 14.5 percent, to over $2.2 billion a year, and nearly 20,000 more New Zealanders achieved a tertiary qualification in 2014 than they did in 2008.

Andrew Little: Why have tertiary fees risen by roughly 37 percent on his watch, while Government tuition funding has risen by just 3 percent, and can he see that that has made tertiary education less affordable?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first thing I think we reject as a Government is the Opposition’s numbers. But I think it is worth looking at what the situation is for a tertiary student in New Zealand. At the moment, taxpayers subsidise tuition for all students, and around 70 percent of the costs overall are borne by the taxpayer. In some cases it is over 80 percent. We know that 5 years after they have completed their Bachelor’s degree, the median earnings of those young people who stay in New Zealand are 46 percent more. I think that those students are getting a pretty good deal under the current settings.

Andrew Little: In light of that answer and his rejection of the fee rise of 37 percent under his watch, is he now saying that Statistics New Zealand’s tertiary and other post-school education price index that records the tertiary fee rise at 36.76 percent is unreliable and cannot be referred to?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, what I am saying is that the member is generally unreliable when it comes to that.

David Seymour: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports that Universities New Zealand is concerned that 100 percent taxpayer funding of tertiary education could lead to cost constraints and declining quality?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member makes absolutely the right point. Nobody has stopped going to university at the moment. They are free to get a student loan, obviously, and as we have just commented on, the vast bulk of those were actually paid by the taxpayers. So all that would happen here is that the universities would get no more money; just slightly more would come from the taxpayer. Almost certainly the quality of those courses would fall. There would have to be control over the costs of those courses, and it would be yet another failed policy by the Labour Party.

Andrew Little: Does he agree with Steven Joyce’s statement about advanced education that “if you don’t have to pay anything for it, its value is nothing.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I do agree with the Minister in the context of everything he would have said around this particular area, which were the only sensible comments being made. But I think if you go and ask most New Zealanders and say if someone can get a Bachelor’s qualification and after 5 years earn 46 percent more than the median wage, they pay off their loan within 6 years, and they have between about 70 and 80 percent of their costs paid for by other taxpayers, I would say that they would say that is pretty fair.

Andrew Little: Where does he get off laughing at New Zealanders who want better access to education, when his Bachelor of Commerce degree, which today would cost $18,000, was free; Bill English’s Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Arts in English literature, worth $24,000 today, was free; and Steven Joyce’s 21-year epic zoology degree, worth $19,000 today, was also free?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The only thing that I am laughing at is the Labour Party—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of interjections means I now cannot hear the answer. Just settle down on my left-hand side.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The only thing I am laughing at is the Labour Party, which last week was telling us that the biggest single issue facing New Zealand was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We have not seen a single question in this House on that topic. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I continue to get interjections from the left-hand side I am going to have to ask somebody—

Andrew Little: Given his argument that people do not value free things, is he admitting that his degree, Bill English’s degree, and Steven Joyce’s degree have no value?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Far from that being the argument, the question will simply be that if it is completely free, will there be any control on the quality? If you take anybody who went to university at my time and who lived away from home, and you put them in the same positions today, even if those fees were free they would still have to borrow for their living or costs. There was still a charge back even when I went to university, so in the end it does not eliminate the student loans.

Andrew Little: Given his comments about the value of education, and his claim that his Government has cut low-value courses, what value does he see in courses that he funds on homeopathy for pets and iridology?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am delighted that one of the first things the Government did was cut most of those, but I can be very confident, if Labour’s policy is introduced, that many of them would return. The only thing is, for Labour’s policy to return, Labour would have to win four elections, which on my calculations would take about 12 leaders.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have called for order from my left-hand side. It now also applies particularly to Mr Joyce.

Andrew Little: Is it not the truth that National opposed Labour’s interest-free student loans, National has ramped up fees by 37 percent, making access to higher education harder, and only Labour stands for affordable higher education and investment in everyone’s future so that everybody gets a chance to live the Kiwi Dream?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, that is not correct. But what is correct is that in 2005, when the zero percent loan scheme was announced on the campaign trail by Helen Clark, (a), the Labour Party refused to, in fact, allow those costings by Treasury into the public domain; (b), the Ombudsman had to overrule that; (c), Trevor Mallard did not even want to front up because his knees were knocking on Close Up; and, (d), it ended up costing a whole lot more than even Treasury thought. What we know about this scheme is it would be even worse. The truth is—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I have heard quite enough.

Public Transport, Auckland—City Rail Link

3. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: What announcements has the Government made recently setting out its commitment to the City Rail Link project in Auckland?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): The Prime Minister recently announced the Government will work with Auckland Council to bring forward the business plan and formalise our funding commitment from 2020 for the $2.5 billion City Rail Link project. The council has indicated this would allow construction of the main works to start in 2018, at least 2 years sooner than currently envisaged.

Sue Moroney: Is that a definite?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: A number of important and complex issues still need to be worked through with the Council. But I am confident we will be in a position to finalise the business case later this year. Sue Moroney, I look forward to your first question.

Jami-Lee Ross: Why has the Government decided to bring forward the business plan for the City Rail Link and formalise its funding commitment from 2020?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The Government has been very clear that we would consider an earlier start if Auckland’s rail patronage and central business district employment hit certain thresholds committed to by the Auckland Council. Strong growth in rail patronage since 2013 means the 20 million annual trip threshold will probably be met before 2020. We also want to provide certainty for other planned central business district developments affected by the City Rail Link. All of this means we see real merit in working to formalise our funding commitment from 2020, allowing the main construction works to start as soon as 2018.

Jami-Lee Ross: How will the City Rail Link project benefit Aucklanders?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I have to start specifically mentioning people who will be ejected from the House if they continue this barrage, I can do so.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The City Rail Link will be one of New Zealand’s largest ever transport projects, with an estimated cost of around $2.5 billion. When completed, it will double the capacity of Auckland’s rail network, provide two new stations in the central city, and benefit commuters whose travel times will be reduced significantly. For example, Auckland Transport estimates that a commuter travelling between Henderson and the planned Aotea station will save, on average, 17 minutes per trip. The Government’s recent announcement also provides more certainty for large-scale projects like the $350 million NDG Auckland Centre and the $680 million Commercial Bay tower. Both of these projects will pump renewed investment into the central business district, as well as creating new jobs. I am proud to be part of the “infrastructure Government” that is really bringing projects forward.

David Seymour: What percentage of total trips made by Aucklanders each year is 20 million?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I could not give the member a percentage. But, of course, at about 14 million in the last year, that is a very significant—indeed, exponential—rise in patronage by rail in Auckland. And I think most would agree that is a very good thing.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Tell us, Minister, at the end of this plan how long will it take for a commuter by rail from Whangarei to get to the central business district of Auckland, when the rail is down to under 5 kilometres an hour in numerous places right now?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: They will travel by an incredibly impressive road that we are procuring at the moment.

Sue Moroney: In response to that answer, has he seen reports this morning of a 17-kilometre gridlock on that road he just talked about, the Auckland motorway, and has he also seen the Radio Live poll conducted yesterday, where 90 percent of those participating want commuter train services between Tauranga, Hamilton, and Auckland? Does this not show that his “maybe, might be” reheated announcement on the City Rail Link is out of touch with what Auckland needs: a firm commitment on now? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Any of those three supplementary questions.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I did see obsequiousness practised by the member with Duncan Garner yesterday on Radio Live, but what I can say is that accidents do happen. That does lead to congestion on some occasions, but that is true across all modes, whether it is road or rail.

Reserve Bank—Policy Targets Agreement

4. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he have confidence in the Governor of the Reserve Bank; if so, is he confident that the Policy Targets Agreement he signed with the Governor in 2012 is being fulfilled?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Yes, and yes.

Grant Robertson: If he thinks that the agreement is being fulfilled, why did he introduce the 2 percent mid-point target for average inflation to that agreement, given that it has not been met for 4 years and is not forecast to be met for another 4 years?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Meeting the policy targets agreement is, ultimately, the governor’s responsibility. So over the medium term, we would expect to see inflation move back towards the middle of that band. The bank’s forecast shows that happening. The trick will be seeing that occur in practice, and that is the bank’s responsibility.

Grant Robertson: Why will he now not revisit the overall monetary policy framework, in light of his own statement: “The whole framework was devised to bring inflation down. No one ever thought it would be used to lift inflation, and central banks that have tried to lift inflation have found that pretty difficult.”?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I draw the member’s attention to the last part of the quote that he just gave. I would also draw his attention to the other quote that has been given in the last couple of days, which has indicated a bipartisan understanding of the Reserve Bank Governor’s role and challenges. I quote his own leader, who said yesterday that the Reserve Bank Governor has “been around in his job a lot longer than I’ve been in mine … He brings a lot of wisdom to his job. … I accept that yes” he is doing a good job in taking a medium-term horizon. I think that is something that is agreed with by both myself, on behalf of the Minister of Finance, and Mr Little. Mr Robertson is a little out of step.

Grant Robertson: Has he considered that what he is currently calling “unusual circumstances” in respect of low inflation might actually be the future norm and that he should take some action to review monetary policy instead of just sitting around waiting for something to happen?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member should note that inflation has been outside the target of the agreement at times in the past. For example, back in 2008 inflation was at 5.1 percent, which was well outside the target range, and in that year real wages increased just 0.1 percent. I am confident that New Zealanders would prefer what we have now, which is the other way around: real wages up 3 percent, inflation at 0.1 percent.

Trade—International Agreements

5. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Trade: What progress has been made to advance New Zealand’s trade links with the rest of the world?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister of Trade: On 4 February representatives of 12 Asia-Pacific countries met in Auckland to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is a very positive development for our country. Successive Governments have worked very hard to achieve free-trade deals with large economies like the United States, Japan, and Canada for more than 25 years. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is estimated to boost our economy by at least $2.7 billion a year by 2030. It will provide much better access for our goods and services to more than 800 million people across 11 countries. These countries account for 36 percent of the global economy.

Mark Mitchell: How will the Trans-Pacific Partnership create significant new trade opportunities for New Zealand companies?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Tariffs will be eliminated on 95 percent of New Zealand’s trade with its new free-trade agreement partners once the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fully phased in. This will ultimately represent $274 million of tariff savings a year, around twice the savings initially forecast for the New Zealand – China Free Trade Agreement. As an example of this, tariffs on beef exports to Japan will reduce from 38.5 percent to 9 percent; tariffs on beef exports to other Trans-Pacific Partnership countries, including our largest beef market, the United States, will be eliminated.

Mark Mitchell: What misinformation has he seen on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Quite a lot. In fact, it is hard to know where to begin. For example, I have seen reports that because of the Trans-Pacific Partnership the Government will be sued by overseas corporations. In fact, investor-State dispute settlement provisions have existed in New Zealand free-trade agreements for the past 25 years, including the China and ASEAN free-trade agreements. These provisions have never yet been invoked against the New Zealand Government. The hurdle for breach is very high indeed. At the same time these provisions help protect New Zealand businesses investing offshore.

Dr David Clark: Why has his Government not undertaken any analysis of the labour market impact from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, when a study out of a US university has found the deal will see a smaller portion of our national wealth going to working people and a loss of 6,000 New Zealand jobs?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There is a very careful national interest analysis, which I would exhort the honourable member to read, that will be of much more value than a couple of left-leaning marshmallows in an American university.

Dr David Clark: I seek leave to table a document.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is seeking leave to table—

Dr David Clark: To table a document.

Mr SPEAKER: What is the document—a brief description?

Dr David Clark: It is economic modelling commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that shows that that market analysis—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! What is the source of the document?

Dr David Clark: It is the document to which he is referring.

Mr SPEAKER: Then, if he is referring to it, he already has it. Is it freely available?

Dr David Clark: Yes.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, it is. Then we are not tabling it.

Prime Minister—Statements

6. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement to Parliament yesterday that he’s in government to make this country a better place for New Zealanders and their families?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Metiria Turei: Why is his Government’s fiscal priority spending on tax cuts in an election year, when it would cost only about $10 million a year to feed lunch to the thousands of kids who go to school hungry every day?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the member is making assumptions about what the Government may or may not do in Budget 2017, but I would make the point that this is the Government that has actually ensured that all young New Zealanders who want to have a breakfast in their school may get that, and I think about 5 million of those have, literally, now been provided. This is the first Government in 43 years to raise benefits, and obviously, that will be beginning on 1 April. This is a Government that is currently spending $4.3 billion per year on benefits, $2.4 billion on Working for Families, and $1.9 billion on subsidising housing for low-income families. We certainly want a competitive tax rate and a competitive tax system. It might come as a shock to the member that some people out there are very, very hard working and just deserve to keep a little bit more of what they earn.

Metiria Turei: Why has the Prime Minister prioritised spending on tax cuts in an election year, when he could, instead, properly insulate another 200,000 cold, damp homes?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is making some assumptions about what may or may not be in Budget 2017, but I would point out that this is a Government that has insulated over 300,000 New Zealand homes and is very proud of that record.

Metiria Turei: When the cost to our rivers and lakes of pollution from dairy farming is expected to cost around $15 billion to clean up, should he not prioritise the passing of tough new laws to stop this destruction rather than prioritise tax cuts for the very rich?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: This Government has done a tremendous amount, actually, to improve water quality in New Zealand, including national standards and other measures that have been taken. In fact, if the member wants to stay tuned, she will be able to read the new discussion document on freshwater that will be coming out and see many of the policies and ideas that have been canvassed in that. She will probably enjoy reading that, and we will personally make sure that a copy gets delivered to her office so that she can read it.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree with the IMF that taking steps to “reduce the tax advantage of housing over other forms of investment” would help to fix the Auckland housing market and also help young families buy into their first home?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, in relation to tax, the Government took steps last year that were aimed primarily at the Auckland housing market, but in relation to the brightline test. Secondly, the Government has indicated that there will be, almost certainly, a withholding tax applied to foreigners, which we are currently working on. Thirdly, it is my personal view that if you really wish to fix the issues in relation to house prices in Auckland, then that remains very much a supply issue, and that is why the Government’s focus of attention has been there. I think we are starting to see signs of that working, with record levels of consenting and building activity over the last 12 months, compared with, say, the last 7 or 8 years. That is more likely to be the most effective form.

Metiria Turei: Is it not time that the Prime Minister considered a proper capital gains tax to help level the playing field between those who are lucky enough to own their own home and those families who are still desperate for one, given that the IMF recommended reducing the tax advantage to housing?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not support the Greens’ policy, which has obviously just been announced by the member, of putting a capital gains tax on the family home.

David Seymour: How effective have capital gains taxes been at suppressing house prices in Vancouver, Sydney, and London?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Highly ineffective. One of the things that you see, though, in relation to places like Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, and the likes, is that house prices have risen, but they have actually risen, in part, for the same reason as in Auckland: because this is now a place in a country that people want to come to. I remember when utopia was, for a lot of people, racing to the Auckland International Airport to get away from Helen Clark’s Government, but now—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been answered.

Metiria Turei: Why is his Government’s priority tax cuts rather than saving for our future, and will he announce the resumption of contributions to the Superannuation Fund before spending on tax cuts for the wealthy?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member makes one correct point, which is that this Government has been more focused on savings than probably any other Government. Because of its tight fiscal management—and careful fiscal management—debt is likely to be around about $100 billion less than it would have been. What the Green Party does is come to Parliament every single day and tell people that they are going to be able to tax them more and spend more and believe that will have no impact on the indebtedness of New Zealand. Secondly, if the member really believes that the answer to all of these issues is to put money into the Superannuation Fund and get some remarkable return, then what the member should do is go and borrow $500 billion, whack it into the stock market, and see how she goes. She might do a little bit better than George Soros, but I suspect she probably will not.

Metiria Turei: Given that the IMF recommended yesterday new incentives for KiwiSaver, to address our “chronically low national savings”, does he still stand by his statement that “the removal of the $1,000 kick-start contribution will not make a blind bit of difference to the number of people who join KiwiSaver”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In my opinion, yes, and it would not make any difference to national savings, because the Government would actually be borrowing that $1,000 to give to someone to put into their savings account.

Metiria Turei: What was the KiwiSaver enrolment rate this time last year, before he cut the $1,000 kickstart, and what is it now?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have those numbers with me. The member would need to put that question down in writing or direct it to the Minister of Finance.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister genuinely think that spending on tax cuts is more important than hungry kids, polluted rivers, and saving for our future?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government spends in the order of $72 billion to $73 billion a year, the bulk of which is actually spent on a range of different areas such as, obviously, health and education, and a great deal actually on low-income people and people who are in need. What is absolutely true is that when a country has a competitive tax rate, which actually encourages people to work, gives them the incentive to save and take on extra employment, and actually ensures that inflation does not eat away at their income because of the bands that we have in our tax system, that is a fair model and system. Actually, our whole system relies on people getting out of bed in the morning, working hard, and paying taxes. In my experience, there are literally millions of New Zealanders who get up every morning, who do not want the Government to give them a handout, and certainly just want to have a fair system in which to operate.

David Seymour: Can the Prime Minister please confirm that cutting taxes is a priority for this Government; if not, can he explain to the House the difference between, on the one hand, not taxing money in the first place and, on the other, spending it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has indicated that within the right fiscal parameters, it would like to cut taxes for the reason that I think the member has pointed out in his question, which is that otherwise the burden of tax on individuals actually goes up over time because of fiscal drag, if for no other reasons, and, actually, we want to make sure that we have a competitive tax system. As we know, when we have a broad-based, low rate that is fairly applied, actually what you see is that New Zealanders get on and they pay their tax bills. They do not spend time trying to avoid taxes. What we know, actually, with the Green Party and, to be frank, with the Labour Party, is that all they know how to do is spend other people’s money, when the rest of the country is actually focused on how to make money.

Tertiary Education Sector—Oversight

7. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: Is he satisfied with his oversight of the tertiary education sector?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Overall, yes. I am confident in the system’s ability to monitor over $2 billion of funding to over 730 tertiary education providers who are lifting their performance every year and last year delivered 163,000 qualifications, up 31,500 on 2008, including some 29,000 Bachelor’s degrees, up nearly 5,000 on 2008. I am also confident that the Tertiary Education Commission will robustly investigate any funding concerns, and it is more efficient and effective than at any time in that organisation’s history.

Chris Hipkins: How can he be satisfied with his oversight when enrolments have dropped 20 percent, apprenticeship numbers have declined 22 percent, over $25 million in funding has been misappropriated, and there are at least three ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigations?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Weirdly, I think the member is wrong in three or four of those four statements.

Chris Hipkins: Why should the public have confidence in his Government’s management of education when it regards declining participation in post-school education as a good thing, regards closing a charter school fewer than 2 years after it opened as a success, and, in his own words, claims that participation in higher education “achieves absolutely nothing”?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry—I am rather stunned by the member’s questions. The third leg of that question is strictly incorrect and is a manufacturing and a twisting of a quote that is completely different. The second one should be directed to the Minister of Education, and the first one is also wrong, because the participation in post-school education, particularly at a full-time and higher level, such as universities, with degrees and post-graduate degrees, is higher than it has been at any time since 2008. So I think Mr Hipkins needs to go back to school himself.

Chris Hipkins: Does he stand by his statement “If you don’t have to pay anything for it, it’s value is nothing.”; if so, will he now pay back the $19,000 the taxpayer forked out for his zoology degree, which he clearly thinks is worthless?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, back in 1981 we were all in a different system, which had—

Hon Members: Oh!

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Let me take you through it, because you are quite young, Christopher. It had a highly restricted access to university education. For example, I was the first in my family to ever attend university. These days most people get the opportunity to attend university if it suits them because we have a student loan system and a student support system that allows them to do so, and we have close to the highest numbers of full-time students at universities that we have ever had.

Chris Hipkins: What does it say about his oversight that less than a year after he chastised the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for spending $15 million on a lavish headquarters upgrade, another agency he also has oversight for spent $20 million on a lavish upgrade including a $2.5 million “Stairway to Heaven”; or is it simply that when it comes to Steven Joyce all that glitters is gold?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Dear oh dear! We have drunk a little bit of V at lunchtime, have we not? The member needs to understand a couple of things. Although not at all resiling from the investment by the ministry in the upgrade of its building, which unlike when the Labour Party was around was always a new building, whereas these days they actually re-inhabit old buildings and with smaller floor spaces, I do not recall us signing off on the big buildings around town that were built under the Labour Government—like the Supreme Court—but I should point out to the member that the Minister responsible is the Minister of Education, and he might like to direct his questions to her, but I support the approach taken by the ministry.


8. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Building and Housing: How does the number of homes consented in the last quarter of 2008 compare with the last quarter of 2015?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): The pace of new home construction has more than doubled nationally and more than trebled in Auckland. The exact numbers nationally—

Andrew Little: From a very low base.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, it was a very low base under Labour, I accept that. The exact numbers were that in the last quarter of the previous Government 3,468 homes were built; in the last quarter of 2015, it was 7,718. The comparisons in Auckland were that 763 homes were consented in the last quarter of 2008 as compared with 2,718 in the last quarter of 2015. The pace of new home builds is at the highest for more than a decade.

Alfred Ngaro: What are the latest annual reports on home building numbers and values in Auckland; and how have they changed since the Government entered into the Auckland Housing Accord?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The number of new house builds in Auckland has gone from 3,700 in 2012 up to 4,600, then up to 6,300, and last year 9,250. This is an annual growth rate of between 20 and 30 percent in every year since the Auckland accord was signed. The level of investment has grown from $1.6 billion per year in the period around 2008 to now over $3.8 billion a year in Auckland. If we look at the number of people employed in the building and construction sector in Auckland, last year it grew by 31 percent in a single year, or an additional 20,000 additional tradespeople building homes in Auckland.

Alfred Ngaro: What reports has the Minister received on future home build rates in Auckland, and what measures is the Government taking this year to maintain this momentum?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The National Construction Pipeline report, which is produced independently, is projecting an additional 80,000 new homes being built in Auckland over the next 6 years. That compares with only 30,000 over the preceding 6 years, and it gives me optimism that we are successfully addressing the issues of supply. The next steps in our reform programme are the changes to the Resource Management Act, completing the unitary plan for Auckland, developing a national policy on urban development, and developing into housing blocks those quite large numbers of surplus Crown lands that have sat around for decades.

Dr David Clark: Does the Minister accept that the housing situation has worsened, according to the statistics, since the period of the global financial crisis 8 years ago that he quotes from in his initial question; if so, does he further accept that 8 years on people still cannot live in consents?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, no—quite the opposite. If you look at all of the core statistics around housing, the number of houses that are being built in Auckland is three times the number from when Labour left Government. The number nationally has doubled. If we look at the number of homes that have been insulated, that number is over 300,000. In fact, in the years of this John Key Government, we will make more progress on insulating older homes than any Government in the history of New Zealand. I would also draw to the member’s attention the housing affordability data from Massey University, which shows that even in Auckland it is more affordable for housing today because interest rates are, of course, at a 40-year low, and nothing makes a bigger difference for Kiwi families wanting to buy their own home than the level of interest rates they are paying.

Economic Development, Minister—Confidence

9. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Hon Steven Joyce; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I do have confidence in Minister Joyce, who is both hard-working and effective. I would say, after he released the Northland report last week and went up to Northland to do that—not only did it have 58 initiatives in it, but I dare say that Minister Joyce now knows more about Northland than the member does. In actually having been there once this year, he has probably been there more than the member has—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is the very last warning to Dr Megan Woods. If I hear her interject again, I will be asking her to leave.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing as the Prime Minister put it at issue, is it not a fact that I have spent more time in my electorate in the space of just 9 months than he has for the whole time he has been an MP in his electorate?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Not if you count time in your electorate being on a boat, fishing.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How—

Hon Member: Well, that didn’t go anywhere.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Of course it did not go anywhere, because it is not true.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Less interjection from my right-hand side, and when the member—I call him for a supplementary question. Could we have the supplementary question?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in a Minister who launched the Northland economic plan and is so proud of it, when it catalogues National’s record: the unemployment rate there is 3 percent above the national average, nominal GDP—all in this book—per capita is 32 percent below the national average, and 20 percent of the population is living in deprived areas. Why is that a cause for pride?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Just to give a flavour of the facts that the member has quoted, which are not factually correct: the unemployment rate in Northland fell, actually, in the December quarter from 8.2 percent to 6.2 percent. It is certainly not new that Northland is a deprived part of New Zealand, but this is a Government that has actually been looking to do a number of things to change that position, and if the member wants to support them, including potentially more mining in Northland, reform of the Resource Management Act in Northland, more tourism activity, a whole bunch of other initiatives that were included in the document—58 in total—we look forward to his support. But as per normal, he will—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The answer is long enough.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can this 58-point plan even touch the surface of Northland’s needs, when Mr Joyce confirmed that there are no monetary or fiscal changes to give it effect, or any plans for seven of the 10 two-laned bridges that he talked about or the enhanced taxpayer-funded cellphone tower coverage or the ultra-fast broadband or, for that matter, the Wellsford to Pūhoi motorway? Where is that in his—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been asked.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is good to see the member is now supporting the Wellsford to Pūhoi part of the motorway. We look forward to that. The member should know, actually, that the Minister is not responsible for monetary policy in New Zealand, but when it comes to so many other initiatives like ultra-fast broadband and rural broadband and the likes, the Government is involved in that, and in terms of upgrading the infrastructure of roading and bridges. But I would just make this simple point: if we just want to have a point-for-point comparison, it is 58 to zip, because this Minister has come up with 58 initiatives for Northland and the “member for fishing” has come up with zero.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When he and his colleague Mr Joyce were in Northland, albeit briefly, and promised 10 two-laned bridges, taxpayer-funded ultra-fast broadband, and extra cellphone coverage paid for by the taxpayer, and the Pūhoi to Wellsford highway, did they not plan to give it any funding to make it happen? Because if it was the plan, where is it in his master 58-point plan?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We are good as a Government—I am prepared to accept that—but even we do not think we can build roads, bridges, and ultra-fast broadband without putting in money. So, yes, there will be money following those initiatives, as there already has been. And, actually, that report indicates that we decided to put $4 million into the Hundertwasser project in Whangarei. There are 58 very bold and good initiatives in this plan, and the member should either come up with his own 58 or get on the bus and support it.

Trans-Pacific Partnership—Small Businesses

10. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Small Business: How will New Zealand small businesses benefit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): New Zealand’s small businesses will benefit from the opportunities of having an open market to 36 percent of the global economy and over 800 million potential customers. Our small businesses will have the opportunity to increase their margins and cash flows as tariffs are reduced. Improved cash flow will mean stronger, more confident businesses creating more jobs and higher incomes for Kiwis. Across the agreement the Trans-Pacific Partnership will reduce the kinds of barriers that disproportionately affect smaller businesses. In addition, small businesses will also benefit from the provisions outlined in chapter 24 of the agreement. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will make it easier for businesses to gain access to the regulations and requirements in the Trans-Pacific Partnership markets, and will mean less time waiting for goods to clear customs, lower compliance costs, and more predictability around other countries’ processes. This is consistent with article 176 of the China free-trade agreement agreed to by the previous Labour Government.

Melissa Lee: Why is it important to create more opportunities for small and medium sized businesses to export?

Dr David Clark: Because their numbers have dropped under this Government.

Hon CRAIG FOSS: Oh, listen carefully. More of our small and medium sized businesses are engaging in export sales. That is why it is important that we continue to create the export opportunities for those businesses. The most recent Statistics New Zealand Business Operations Survey shows that the number of small businesses engaged in export sales has increased from 14 percent to 21 percent since 2007, and for medium businesses engaged in export sales, it rose from 21 percent to 28 percent since 2007. In areas such as Southland, Tasman, Marlborough, and Hawke’s Bay 40 percent of jobs in those regions are in the export sector. Free-trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership will ensure opportunities for regional New Zealand in particular. I agree with Helen Clark, who said it would be unthinkable for New Zealand, as a small, export-oriented trading nation, not to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Melissa Lee: How will the Trans-Pacific Partnership benefit New Zealand small businesses not directly engaged in exporting?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: The Trans-Pacific Partnership will also benefit thousands of small businesses, and their employees, that are not directly engaged in exporting—from lawyers, to trucking businesses transporting goods to ports, to a plumbing or cleaning business doing maintenance at a food-processing plant; the list goes on. Those businesses will all benefit from the improved export growth confidence and the improvement to the positive outlook of those export businesses they are working with. Even those small businesses currently not facing tariffs will have growth opportunities as non-trade barriers between Trans-Pacific Partnership countries are addressed. I repeat, and agree with, the words of Helen Clark who said that it would be unthinkable for New Zealand—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! We have heard that before.

Drugs, Illegal—Customs Operations

11. RINO TIRIKATENE (Labour—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister of Customs: Does she agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that “We will confront the P problem, using the full force of the Government’s arsenal”; if so, why does an experienced Customs officer say that only one in 10 illicit drug imports is being seized at the border?

Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister of Customs): Yes, I absolutely support the Prime Minister, and we have the objective data to prove it. Fact one, increased tools and intelligence by Customs has allowed it to seize a record number of drugs at the border for the last 3 years, and 2015 was the highest. Fact two, the number of meth users has decreased significantly, from 2.2 percent to less than 1 percent. The best news is that they are getting older, rather than younger. Fact three, the price of meth has remained high and stable. In fact, in Australia the price is one of the highest in the world. An increased supply would have seen it plummet.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a question on notice, there being two parts to it and the second part has not been answered.

Mr SPEAKER: I agree. Could the Minister address the second part of the question.

Hon NICKY WAGNER: There is simply no evidence to support that anonymous claim. As I have said, data in terms of the number of interceptions, in terms of the number of users, and the price of meth refute his rather fanciful ideas.

Rino Tirikatene: What proportion of drugs is Customs intercepting at the border?

Hon NICKY WAGNER: We are intercepting a larger and increased amount at the border. As I have said, we have got increased intelligence and an increase in the tools to do that. Over the last year, in terms of—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister please resume her seat when I get to my feet. There is a point of order?

Rino Tirikatene: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question of the Minister and she has not addressed my specific question regarding what proportion of drugs Customs is intercepting at the border.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member to think carefully about his question. How would any Minister of Customs possibly answer that question accurately? I will allow the Minister to address the question, as she was.

Rino Tirikatene: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have spoken. The member will resume his seat and allow the Minister to complete her answer.

Hon NICKY WAGNER: That question is impossible to answer, but all the evidence that we have points to increased numbers of interceptions and less use in society, and the stable price. If we were not—

Rino Tirikatene: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I hope this is a fresh point of order and is not in any way questioning a ruling I have already given. I will hear from Mr Tirikatene.

Rino Tirikatene: The Minister alluded in her answer to the primary question that the numbers in the primary question were wrong.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. He is now starting to try my patience. The answer was given very clearly by the Minister. If the member had not been jumping to his feet to raise a point of order he may have heard it more clearly. Does the member have a further supplementary question?

Rino Tirikatene: How can the Minister be satisfied that the Customs Service is minimising the smuggling of drugs and precursors into New Zealand when there are only 800 front-line officers engaged in border protection, despite having a budget for 1,000 officers?

Hon NICKY WAGNER: I have absolute confidence in what Customs is doing at our border. What we are finding is that we are putting increased resources into new tools and into new intelligence, and, actually, the use of SmartGate, which allows the auto-processing of routine customers and allows our officers to deal with at-risk passengers. We have increased vigilance at the border. Let me reassure you that nothing is left to go past, and anything we have found is recorded for future intelligence.

Rino Tirikatene: Can she rule out any link between the performance of the Customs Service in intercepting drug precursors at the border and there being no decrease since 2008 in the availability of P?

Hon NICKY WAGNER: Yes, there is a link. It means that the Customs Service is doing a good job. As I have already said, interception numbers have increased. The year 2015 was a record year. The number of P users has dropped and the price has remained stable and high. Those are the best indicators that Customs is doing a good job.

Freshwater Management—Release of Silver Carp

12. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister of Conservation: What was her reasoning behind approving the transfer and release of silver carp near Lake Taupō?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): Let me make it very clear that I have not signed an approval to transfer, and that I have only signalled to the company an approval if the applicant and the Department of Conservation reach an agreement on risk mitigation and on potential penalties.

Richard Prosser: Is she completely confident that silver carp pose no risk to our trout fishery; if so, why?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: In terms of the applicant and this particular farm, and I will keep it specific to this, the Department of Conservation’s technical and science advisory team has advised that this company has gone a long way down the track to mitigating silver carp staying within the ponds. Silver carp and grass carp, as the member may know, are breeds of fish that will not breed in New Zealand waters unless they have hormonal injections. So there are very many reasons through nature and through this applicant that would cause our Department of Conservation staff to say that this is one of the safer applications, but it has not yet been approved.

Richard Prosser: I seek leave to table a National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research document from 2013 highlighting the risk of silver carp breeding in the Waikato River.

Mr SPEAKER: 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.

Richard Prosser: What evaluations have been done on the potential impacts of silver carp on New Zealand’s freshwater aquatic environment, including their potential impact on our trout fisheries?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: I am confining my comments to the application that has come before me as the Minister of Conservation. As I said earlier, these fish do not readily breed in the waterways around the Waikato, let alone into Lake Taupō, without injections. So in terms of mitigation of risks around our fisheries, the wording that our team has used is that the risk to our fisheries and our waterways is highly unlikely, and that there is a low probability of fish escaping. As I said, I am confining my comments to the application that is before me as the Minister.

Richard Prosser: Is she aware that silver carp compete for the same diet as trout smelt, and they can grow to 40 kilograms in size?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: That may well be the case. That is not what you were asking in the primary question in terms of the notification question that you gave me, and in terms of this particular application.

Richard Prosser: I seek leave to table a paper published by the Department of Conservation in 1999, which, among other things, says that proposals for the use of silver carp should be approved for experimental—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a document published by the Department of Conservation in 1999. If members want it, I am sure they can find it.

Questions to Members

Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill—Purpose

1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill: Why did he draft the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill?

Dr JIAN YANG (Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill): I believe it is necessary to better protect our children from child sex offenders. However, I did not originally draft the bill.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What was behind his decision to introduce a limited bill to protect children from paedophiles, and will he support amendments at the select committee to capture paedophiles hiding behind name suppression; if not, why not?

Dr JIAN YANG: Yes, I am open to any suggestions at the select committee.

Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill—Impact

2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill: What problem does the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill seek to address?

Dr JIAN YANG (Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration) Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill): At this stage, sex offenders can change their names legally, so my bill will address that problem.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he believe this could be beneficial for the people of my electorate who are concerned that they might have a paedophile hiding amongst them?

Dr JIAN YANG: I believe—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! In so far as—the member can answer the question but certainly not refer to any specific case he may be aware of it.

Dr JIAN YANG: The bill is trying to protect the environment for all children, so it applies to all of New Zealand.

Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill—Objectives

3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill: What are the main objectives of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill?

Dr JIAN YANG (Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill): The main objective of my bill is to protect children from sex offenders by preventing people convicted of a child sex offence from changing their names legally.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would he agree that a paedophile hiding in a community behind a new name is just as bad as a paedophile hiding behind name suppression?

Mr SPEAKER: This is an opinion question. In so far as there is responsibility, I will allow Dr Jian Yang to answer the question.

Dr JIAN YANG: It is our responsibility to protect our children under any circumstances, and to make sure that children have a safer environment.

Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill—Support

4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill: What indications of support has he received for the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill?

Dr JIAN YANG (Member in charge of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration (Preventing Name Change by Child Sex Offenders) Amendment Bill): At this stage, on the first reading of the bill on 2 December 2015, the bill had the support of National, the Māori Party, ACT, United Future, and New Zealand First. So I will actually take this opportunity to thank the member and his party for their support.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the basis that National MPs have offered support, are there former National MPs in contact with him offering—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no responsibility for that question.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear from the member.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: He has a bill before Parliament, and I am asking a strict question that it could have gone to a submission or it could have gone to a written document or it could have gone to a phone record. I am asking him a plain question about support, and you are ruling it out before we even get to the end of it.

Mr SPEAKER: That is right. I am ruling it out of order because I am aware of a case that is completely suppressed, and if the member wishes to raise that, he knows he can do so via the Standing Orders and make contact with me. He has not done so. We are moving on.

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

Mr SPEAKER: It is a fresh point of order, I hope.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, it is a fresh point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is one of clarification, as well. What—

Mr SPEAKER: No. Points of orders are not for clarification. I have had—[Interruption]. Order! I just want to explain to the member that if he wants to raise a fresh point of order I am happy to hear it. But you do not then say that it is a fresh point of order and seek a point of clarification on a previous point of order that I have ruled on.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am talking about a misjudgement, in a legal sense, by you.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] The member will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! I ask members to look very carefully at Speaker’s ruling 23/5. What that, in esssence, says is that members have a right to raise a point of order, but once the decision is made, that is the decision that is made. Members do not have to agree with that decision, but they certainly have to accept that decision. To continue to raise points of order, and attempting to say that they are fresh, in order to relitigate a decision will lead to disorder, and I will not tolerate it from the member. That concludes oral questions—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You can run but you can’t hide.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call on Government order of the—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You can run but you can’t hide.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member the Rt Hon Winston Peters continues in that vein, I will be asking him to leave the Chamber for the rest of the day.

Previous post:

Next post: