Questions & Answers – March 10

by Desk Editor on Friday, March 11, 2016 — 10:15 AM

Finance, Minister—Statements

1. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were made, and I think the member probably knows that.

Grant Robertson: How does he reconcile his statement that the debt problem with the dairy industry is confined to a small group of farmers with dairy consultant Peter Fraser’s view that a quarter of dairy farmers are vulnerable to going under?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I suppose, in both cases—as the member is doing himself—we are making forecasts about what might or might not happen. I think there is a bit of a tendency at the moment to generalise that there are wide-ranging and severe debt problems in the dairy industry; I think it is yet to be tested. We have yet to see the extent to which farmers can adjust and the extent to which the banks continue to support farmers—which might be more than people expect—because of their long-term confidence in the industry.

Grant Robertson: Does he consider dairy consultant Peter Fraser’s view to be unrealistic, that a quarter of dairy farmers are vulnerable to going under?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It would depend on what he means. I mean, Peter is a—

Hon Members: Ha, ha!

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, when he says “vulnerable to going under”, he is not saying that they are actually going under, and even if he said that they would certainly go under, we have yet to see whether that is what is actually happening. So we can have a contest of forecasts of doom here—and I am sure that there are worse ones than his—but we have confidence that with a resilient sector and a supportive banking industry, they can see their way through some pretty tough times.

Grant Robertson: How does he reconcile his statement about the impact of the loss of 40 percent of land value for farmers, “It looks like farmers will get through.”, with the statement of Paul Glass of Devon Funds Management: “Unless we have a strong recovery in dairy prices, I think … it is heading towards a bit of a car crash.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think there is much doubt that there is going to be a decline in dairy land prices, but we need to keep in mind that that is against a background of very considerable increases in land prices over the last 10 years or so. So all of these things are possible, but, in our view, the dairy farmers are pretty resilient and the banks will be supportive. There will certainly be some casualties. I do not think there is any doubt that farmers with high debt levels and high cost structures are going to find themselves under some real pressure.

Grant Robertson: Will he make good on his statement that he has the flexibility to use fiscal policy to stimulate the economy and play his part now that the Reserve Bank Governor has lowered interest rates?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Reserve Bank Governor, as he outlined today, sees the economy growing by 2.5 to 3 percent for the next 2 to 3 years, which is not the circumstances in which the Government would try to fine-tune fiscal policy to support the economy. There will be a Budget on 26 May, and it will outline the Government’s plans, and the member will have the opportunity to comment on them.

Grant Robertson: Why is he outsourcing to the Reserve Bank addressing the housing crisis in Auckland and stimulating a sluggish and vulnerable economy, or will he step up on 26 May and play his part to lift real per capita growth and create a sustainable housing market in Auckland?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is doing what the member says. We have the extensive programme of the Business Growth Agenda—the microeconomic reform that goes with that—which right at the moment is aimed, for instance, at more infrastructure in Auckland and reregulating its housing market so that we have sensible housing prices in Auckland. These are tasks that the Reserve Bank cannot carry out. It does its bit on inflation; we do our bit on policy.

Chris Bishop: What is the Reserve Bank’s outlook for economic growth?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Reserve Bank forecasts take into account both lower interest rates—because the Reserve Bank Governor has lowered the rate today—and also lower dairy prices, and they see economic growth averaging 2.8 percent over the next 3 years. So it is an unusual situation. We have an outlook of very low inflation but a relatively strong outlook for economic growth.

Julie Anne Genter: Does he agree with Treasury, which says there is a current tax advantage towards housing?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, not particularly. There are some aspects where its argument is stronger than others.

Julie Anne Genter: Does he not agree with Treasury that there is a current tax advantage towards housing and that the ideal tax reform to fix this problem would be a comprehensive capital gains tax, excluding the family home?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Either Treasury or the Inland Revenue Department has given that sort of advice for the last 20 or 30 years. When it has come to it, we have also had official advice that the implementation of a comprehensive capital gains tax would be complex, without much benefit. I note that other countries that do have them, such as Australia, have even more inflation in house prices than New Zealand has had.

Julie Anne Genter: Is it not the case that house price inflation in Auckland has outstripped Australia, and why will he not act to help the Reserve Bank Governor lower the risks to the New Zealand economy of an overheated housing market by enacting a comprehensive capital gains tax, excluding the family home?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has acted. As I think the House knows, it is not the policy of this Government to bring in a comprehensive capital gains tax, but we have had a couple of significant moves. One was abolishing depreciation on commercially operated buildings, including houses, and the other, last year, was bringing in a brightline test, where if people turn the house over within 2 years, they do pay a tax on the gains.

James Shaw: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Part of the supplementary question asked whether he knew that Australia’s housing market was booming less than Auckland’s.

Mr SPEAKER: The problem was that there were two legs to the question. One was, indeed, as the member has just described, but the second part of the question was more about whether a capital gains tax would actually solve that problem. The Minister certainly addressed the second part of the question. A supplementary question that contains two legs, like that one did, will often have only one answered.


2. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the outlook for the New Zealand economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The most recent report has been from the Reserve Bank forecasts. They show economic growth averaging 2.8 percent over the next 3 years. So where the Consumers Price Index inflation is a bit more than zero, wages increased about 3.1 percent last year, and we expect continued real wage growth.

Alastair Scott: What is the impact for New Zealand families of an economic outlook for low inflation and low interest rates but sustained, moderate growth?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Many families, of course, are enjoying the benefit of mortgage rates that are already near 50-year lows. A family with a $400,000 mortgage is currently paying $370 less per week in interest costs than they were in 2008 when floating mortgage rates were close to 11 percent. There have also been low increases in the cost of living, which means that when people get 2 to 3 percent wage increases they are getting real increases in their incomes.

Alastair Scott: What steps is the Government taking to support New Zealand families with economic policies to promote sustained moderate economic growth?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of those steps is the Government’s Business Growth Agenda, which is designed to assist and support businesses where possible to invest another dollar and employ another person, because that is the substance of economic growth. Within that is the rolling out of ultra-fast broadband across the country, and we have one of the fastest uptake rates in the OECD. Another step this year is the launching of three new ICT graduate schools over the next 12 months, to help graduates obtain the skills necessary to participate in the fast-growing IT industry.

Alastair Scott: What risks to the economic outlook did the Reserve Bank highlight in the Monetary Policy Statement?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Reserve Bank highlights the challenges faced by the dairy sector, which, I think, are now pretty well understood. But that is in the context of a domestic economy supported by strong inward migration, which has stayed up for a surprisingly long time, record tourism numbers, and a growing pipeline of construction activity. It, of course, also highlights the growing global risks. Some weeks it looks like those risks are getting worse; some weeks it looks like they are getting better.

Flag Referendum—Wording

3. MAHESH BINDRA (NZ First) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Is he aware that in the Hindi version of the instructions booklet for the flag referendum, an additional word has been added?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister): I am aware that claims surfaced yesterday that there is an additional word in the text. I understand the Electoral Commission has looked into the issue and has confirmed that the text reads as it should, but I would point out to the member that neither I nor any other Minister have responsibility for how the Electoral Commission conducts a referendum. It is, by statute, independent. It decides how the voting works and it decides on the content of the voting paper.

Mahesh Bindra: Is the Minister concerned that 80,000 Hindi-speaking New Zealanders were given different instructions than the English version, and could have already voted; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There appears to be some dispute over whether the text is different or not different, and, not being an expert, I am not able to give the member an opinion. But, in any case, it is a matter for the Electoral Commission. The member’s party would know about the independence of the Electoral Commission, because it recently took the commission to court and, I think, won. I think it won over an issue that did not matter much.

Mahesh Bindra: Does he have confidence in the accuracy of the Electoral Commission’s statement that the commission’s translation service provider confirmed that this translation accurately represents the first instruction in Hindi, or is he questioning my integrity and ability to read Hindi?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I respect the member’s integrity—being for a New Zealand First MP, he has a lot of it. But also, I respect the independent role of the Electoral Commission. The member has the same right as I do as a Minister to approach the commission and debate the issue of the translation, if he wants to.

Mahesh Bindra: Why is he treating this matter in such a cavalier fashion, when Hindi language experts are suggesting legal action to stop this subversion of democracy and distortion of their original language?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I pointed out, it is the Electoral Commission’s job to make these decisions. I think New Zealand First members would be pretty excited if they found out that the Minister of Finance was running the ballot for the flag, or for the election, for that matter. Anyone who is an expert on Hindi is free to take the Electoral Commission to court.

Family Violence—Legislative Review

4. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister of Justice: What response has she had to the Government’s review of the law addressing family violence?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice): Last week I released a summary of submissions on our review of the law addressing family violence. The review received almost 500 detailed responses giving constructive contributions to the process and expressing broad support for legislative change. The submissions included support for the creation of specific family violence offences, the need to create non-court pathways to stop violence without involving the criminal justice system, and improving the way agencies work together and share information within Government. We are now putting together a package of potential changes for Cabinet consideration, and I look forward to making further announcements soon.

Jono Naylor: How will this work reflect law changes recommended by the Law Commission this week around strangulation?

Hon AMY ADAMS: I asked the Law Commission to consider this issue because strangulation is an abhorrent form of domestic violence that our criminal law does not currently respond to well. Treating it as an ordinary criminal assault does not properly reflect the full harm to the victim, nor does it adequately recognise the significant risk factor that we know a non-fatal strangulation to be, with strangulation victims 7 times more likely to go on to be murdered than other victims of domestic violence. The Law Commission makes a number of recommendations for specific offences around strangulation, and I intend to consider these as part of our broader legislative review and my recommendations to Cabinet.

Partnership Schools—Te Pūmanawa o te Wairua

5. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: How much of the $5.2 million spent by the Government on the 40-student Whangaruru charter school, if any, is expected to be recovered following her decision to close the school in January?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tenā koe, Mr Speaker. As I have stated on numerous occasions in this House and to the media, the recovery of funds from Ngā Parirau Mātauranga Charitable Trust is subject to commercial negotiations. These negotiations are ongoing.

Chris Hipkins: Which clause in the contract with the Whangaruru charter school allows for the Government to recover the funding granted now that the school has been closed?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not have the contract in front of me, so I cannot give the specific of the clause, but I can assure the member and the House that those negotiations are in progess.

Chris Hipkins: Why did the school receive an additional $400,000 this year, weeks after she signalled the school would not re-open, and what educational value has been achieved with that $400,000?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Under the provisions of the contract, quarterly payments are due on specific dates. By the time the Deloitte report that had been commissioned had been received and analysed, it was past the date when that particular provision was enacted. Therefore it was due, at law. In terms of what educational value, those students have now been transitioned from Whangaruru when the school closed on 7 March. So in the period January to 7 March the school was still working with the placement of those young people.

Chris Hipkins: Is she seriously telling the taxpayers of New Zealand that they had to pay $400,000 to a school that had been closed, and no longer had any students, because the Government in its wisdom entered into a contract that required it to pay that?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am seriously assuring the taxpayers of New Zealand that this Government operates within the law and that the school closed on 7 March, 3 days ago.

Chris Hipkins: Why did she approve the opening of the Whangaruru charter school, given that the Education Review Office’s readiness review raised serious concerns and the Ministry of Education provided her with advice that highlighted reservations with 58 percent of their application, with 32 percent of those being categorised as “serious” or “unacceptable”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: A readiness review was commissioned from the Education Review Office. We have been over this a number of times in the House but, to repeat, a readiness review was provided by the Education Review Office. The office identified that there were issues that needed to be dealt with. By the time the school was opened, the ministry’s concerns had been dealt with and the authorisation board had been asked again whether it still felt that this was a worthwhile prospect. The board repeated that it was, and on the basis of both sets of advice the school was opened.

Chris Hipkins: Why did she allow the school to stay open in 2015, given that the major issues raised in 2014 included bullying, drug use, poor student engagement, 60 percent of the school leavers that year did not get National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 1, and the school had 2,503 unjustified absences against a target of 243?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: From the get-go this particular kura was opened on the understanding that the students were some of the most vulnerable, some of the most at risk, and those less likely to be attending other schools. So from the outset we knew that there was high risk. Nevertheless, we were committed to ensuring the possibility that these young people might be successful, and that is why we persevered with it. It is well documented and it is fully on the record the steps that we took and at what stages we took those. In the middle of the year last year, a school year, on the basis of a new board being appointed, it was my view that we should see whether or not they were capable of addressing the issues that had been outlined. As it turns out, they were able to address two of the three issues: financial viability and governance. But I was not satisfied that they would be able to recover on the educational front, and that is why the final decision was made to close the school

Chris Hipkins: Does the Minister accept that she made the wrong decision to approve the Whangaruru charter school, given that she was given advice not to approve its opening, major problems emerged during its operation, and it took her 2 years to close it down?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: No. I do not, because when the school opened with 70 kids and a very compelling educational vision, and in the context that they were significantly at risk, and given this Government’s commitment to try every possibility to deliver some potential of educational success, then, yes, we did make that effort. It turned out not to be successful in this one particular regard. The other eight are still functioning.

Dr David Clark: What a waste of taxpayer money—unnecessary waste of taxpayer money.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Oh, grow up David.

Dr David Clark: You grow up.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did not hear the start—[Interruption]. Order! The Hon Hekia Parata, when I rise to my feet I expect you to stop the interjecting. I did not hear what started it, but the continuation of the interjection will only lead to disorder.

Primary Industries—Farm Foreclosures

6. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “there is no evidence—no good reason—to believe that there will be widespread farm foreclosures”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. Clearly, many farmers will be under pressure. There is a lot of uncertainty about the forward path for milk prices, but this is a resilient and adaptive industry and it has a supportive banking sector. Although there will almost certainly be some real difficulty for farmers, we are yet to see just how widespread that would be. It is certainly our view that because there is long-term confidence in the future of the dairy industry, the banking sector and the farmer sector will stick together because it is in their mutual interest not to have widespread farming foreclosures.

Richard Prosser: How does he reconcile that belief with the fact that 35 farms in Southland—his old electorate—have been told by one bank that they will have to sell at the end of the season because the bank is pulling its funding?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I suspect that will not be the first such rumour. Any bank contemplating that action would have to consider the impact of putting 35 farms on the market in Southland, because they may find that that would have a significant impact on the security of their debt held in hundreds of other farms, and I suspect they will be giving that matter that sort of consideration.

Richard Prosser: Is he aware that both the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Reserve Bank of Australia are concerned about the level of exposure to New Zealand’s dairy industry on the part of Australian banks; if so, is he also aware that those banks are likely to come under instruction to reduce that exposure?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am aware of the regulatory authority’s concern, and I think that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has done a good job, actually, of describing its concerns over the last 12 or 18 months. As to what Australian banks instruct New Zealand banks to do, I do not know, but I would just say what I said before, and that is that it is in the interests of the banking sector and the farming sector to stick together through these tough times.

Richard Prosser: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library outlining concerns held by Australian—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There is objection. Well, I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that document. There is objection.

Richard Prosser: Is he concerned that decent, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth Kiwi farmers and their families will be evicted and forced off their land, making them homeless, by banks and receivers; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I am concerned, but I have to say that even in Southland it will not be the first time. I can recall all those sorts of things actually happening in the late 1980s in the sheep and beef industry, but what I also know is that those same farming families are resilient. They took commercial risks knowing what those risks were and they borrowed money from responsible financial institutions. If they all stick together, then most of them will get through.

Richard Prosser: I seek leave to table an email from the lawyer representing the South Wairarapa farmer who is going to be evicted off his farm, the week after next, by Rabobank-appointed receivers, for no reason other than that they can.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I put the leave, are there any privacy issues that the member has covered off within that email?

Richard Prosser: They are all taken care of.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular email. Is there any objection? There is.

Richard Prosser: Does the Minister believe that there are sufficient New Zealand – resident farmers in a financial position to purchase large numbers of foreclosed farms at current and forecast payout rates, or will the banks and the receivers attempt to sell these farms to foreigners instead?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think I have any ministerial responsibility for that. What we are responsible for is the Overseas Investment Act, which was largely written by New Zealand First, back in the early 2000s. Any application to buy farms will have to pass through that Act. The thresholds are pretty high, as a result of the court case over the Crafar farms and Shanghai Pengxin.

Precision Health Care—Research Funding

7. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What investment is the Government making in research to promote new forms of precision health care?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): This morning the Minister of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, and I announced that the Government will invest $14 million over 7 years in a new $37.8 million health research partnership in the area of precision health care. This partnership will focus on developing and conducting groundbreaking health data analysis and optimisation technologies for health assessment and management. New Zealand is becoming a world leader in the area of health IT. This investment in longer-term and higher-risk research will look to commercialise New Zealand health innovations for global export and capitalise on the international growth in health IT and data analytics.

Melissa Lee: Why is the Government investing more in health research?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Health research is already a real strength for New Zealand, but we do want to see more patient-centred individualised health care and to better utilise technology to empower patients to self-manage aspects of their own health. Using complex data sources and predictive modelling can have an important role to play in helping to enable more precise and timely health care. We are pleased that this partnership with software developer Orion Health, the Waitematā District Health Board, and the University of Auckland recognises that high-quality research in improving health outcomes is important across the sector. The partnership will receive $14 million in funding through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s research partnership programme, along with co-investment of just under $24 million for industry and end-user funding.

Melissa Lee: What other investments is the Government making in high-quality medical science and research?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As a Government, we have grown our total science and innovation spend by around 70 percent, to more than $1.5 billion a year, and quality health research is a key part of that. As an example, we have recently launched three health-related National Science Challenges: A Better Start, for children and young people; Healthier Lives, looking for better methods to prevent, diagnose, and treat conditions such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity; and Ageing Well, seeking to improve the lives of older people. There are also two new health research centres of research excellence—the Medical Technologies Centre of Research Excellence and the brain research centre of research excellence.

Social Development Ministry—Client Management IT System

8. CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour—Kelston) to the Minister for Social Development: When was she first made aware of issues with the rollout of the upgrade to the client management IT system?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): The Ministry of Social Development interacts with 1 million people each year, and is introducing a new client management system that provides a single client record. This enables case managers to spend time with their clients, instead of entering information. The ministry has been developing this system since 2014. It went live at 7 a.m. on Monday, and at 12.24 p.m. an email alerted my office to some capacity issues, which meant some clients were experiencing delays. I understand that staff are working hard to resolve the issues, and the system is continuing to improve, with an expectation of being at full capacity in the next day or so and the backlog cleared next week.

Carmel Sepuloni: Why did she not note earlier that there were issues with the IT system, given that Work and Income staff have said that the IT upgrade roll-out was pushed back three times due to serious failures in the system?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said, this system has been developed since 2014 and part of that development was parallel testing and off-ramps if they were not satisfied that when they went live they would not experience system problems. So, yes, there were a number of occasions when they decided for various reasons, including that there would be too much disruption for the Work and Income clients, to delay the implementation of the system. But that went live, as I said, at 7 a.m. on Monday.

Carmel Sepuloni: Did the ministry know there were going to be major issues before it rolled out the new IT system; and was she made aware of these issues?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I repeat that there are no performance issues with the system. The difficulties have been around the capacity. Indeed, the ministry did anticipate some of that capacity, which is why it prepared for the go-live by delaying some of the scheduled appointments and some of the systems were taken down so that they would have the least impact on the transfer of the clients’ data into the new operating system. I repeat that the system is progressing well every day. I understand we are at 90 percent today and anticipate being at full capacity by tomorrow.

Joanne Hayes: How will the new client management system improve Work and Income’s interaction with clients?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said in the primary question, the new system allows case managers to have a single client record from the first meeting instead of entering information into different systems. For instance, currently someone applying for a benefit in a 1-hour appointment gives information that needs to be entered on to five or six different screens in two or three different parts of the operating system. They would be lucky to have 15 minutes of face-to-face interaction with that case manager, and that is simply not good enough. The new system allows all that information to be entered into one screen at the same time and retrieved from that one screen, which allows a much better time for interaction between the client and the case manager.

Carmel Sepuloni: How many Work and Income benefit, superannuation, and emergency grant applications have not been processed as a result of the IT system not working?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: My understanding is that all payments—all regular payments—have been made.

Carmel Sepuloni: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The question may well have been misheard. I invite the member to re-ask the question.

Carmel Sepuloni: How many Work and Income benefit, superannuation, and emergency grant applications have not been processed as a result of the IT system not working?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not have that figure available, but what I can say is that the staff have put into place manual workarounds to make sure that everyone—everyone—gets the opportunity either to have their benefit paid or for the information entered into the system. As I say, we are at 90 percent capacity today and it is anticipated that we will have everything caught up next week.

Carmel Sepuloni: What time frame for fixing the system can the Minister give to the thousands of Work and Income clients and staff affected by the roll-out of another major Government department IT failure?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I totally reject every assertion in that question; it is based on no fact whatsoever. I would have to say that throughout the country the Work and Income staff are delighted to have this new system because it means they now get more time to spend with clients, and that is what the clients like, too.

Carmel Sepuloni: Why did she not front the serious IT failure by her ministry given that it affects thousands of New Zealanders; instead, waiting to be exposed on this Government failure today?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not know how I can put it more—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know it is not your job to judge the quality of questions, but at what point does a question become completely absurd because the answer has been given that completely negates it?

Mr SPEAKER: If I was—[Interruption] Order! If I was strictly adhering to the Standing Orders, then a question like that may well have been ruled out of order. It is a question that I think gives plenty of licence to the Minister in answering it. I invite the Minister to answer it.

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Actually, the system is working well. I totally reject everything that that member is saying, and she would be far better supporting what is going to be a better operating system for both the beneficiaries and the staff, and helping people make sure that it gets working.

Imprisonment Rate—Burglary

9. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Justice: Is she satisfied with the imprisonment rate for convicted burglars?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice): Criminal law sets the penalties for burglary offences, all of which include significant imprisonment terms as a possible penalty. Sentencing decisions in each case are the responsibility of trial judges, who decide what sentence to impose based on the facts of each case. I am satisfied that the range of available penalties provided in legislation for convicted burglars is appropriate.

David Seymour: Has the Minister seen evidence from the 123rd edition of The Economic Journal, showing that in the Netherlands enhanced sentencing for the most prolific recidivist burglars lowered overall burglary and car theft rates by as much as 40 percent?

Hon AMY ADAMS: To date, I have not seen any evidence that more use of imprisonment terms for convicted burglars will lead to a reduction in reoffending. What we have seen is that imprisonment is already the most common sentence for burglary offences, and yet there is still a recidivism rate that is too high.

David Seymour: Is the Minister aware that in 2013, 28 percent of convictions for burglars who already had two burglary convictions did not result in any prison sentence; if so, would she consider a policy change to target such recidivist individuals?

Hon AMY ADAMS: I have not seen the statistics the member is quoting. What I have seen is advice that suggests that in more than 50 percent of cases for recidivist burglars, they are sentenced to an imprisonment term. In terms of considering changes to policy, I am always happy to discuss them, but I am not going to commit to policy changes in question time.

Small Businesses—Lower Interest Rates

10. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister for Small Business: How are small businesses benefiting from Government policies that are contributing to lower interest rates?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): Small businesses continue to benefit from the Government’s policies, such as prudent fiscal management, which contribute to low inflation and low interest rates. Many small business owners mortgage or borrow against their own family home to create, to grow, and to fund working capital for their business. Current low interest rates and low mortgage rates of under 5 percent make it easier for small businesses to grow and invest in assets, creating jobs for Kiwis. Compared with these low rates of 5 percent, it must have been extremely difficult for small business owners when those same mortgage rates were at 10 percent or higher, as they were in 2008.

Sarah Dowie: Has the Minister seen any reports that show lower interest rates are contributing to small businesses growing their revenue and investment intentions?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: The most recent Westpac Business Growth Monitor showed that 49 percent of those businesses expect to grow revenue over the next 6 months. Of those businesses with plans for revenue growth, 19 percent—

Grant Robertson: How many people are they going to hire?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: —19 percent, Mr Robertson—planned to borrow and finance the growth, mainly to buy assets and new equipment. The ANZ Business Micro Scope survey showed an increase in investment intentions across the small business sector. The survey also showed that interest rates now rank as one of the lowest problems faced by small and medium businesses in New Zealand. New Zealand’s small businesses would be extremely wary of any alternative policies that would put our now low interest rate environment at risk.

GCSB—Metadata Collection

11. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for National Security and Intelligence: E kore a ia e aro atu ki ētahi whakarerekētanga ki te ture, kia tukua ai a GCSB ki te kohi raraungameta, e pā ana ki ngā tāngata o Aotearoa?

[Will he rule out any law changes that will allow the GCSB to collect metadata on New Zealanders?]

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister for National Security and Intelligence: The Government is not ruling anything in or anything out. The Intelligence and Security Committee received the independent report on Tuesday, it was made public yesterday, and we are now seeking advice on all recommendations.

Metiria Turei: Will he rule out any law changes that would allow the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to conduct mass surveillance of New Zealanders?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Government is not ruling anything in or anything out. The Intelligence and Security Committee received the independent report on Tuesday, it was made public yesterday, and we are now seeking advice on all recommendations.

Metiria Turei: Can the Minister confirm that the Government is now open to the mass surveillance of New Zealanders?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Government is not ruling anything in or anything out. The Intelligence and Security Committee received the independent report on Tuesday, it was made public yesterday, and we are now seeking advice on all recommendations.

Metiria Turei: Will he rule out any law changes that would allow the GCSB to intercept the private communications of New Zealanders?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Government is not ruling anything in or anything out. The Intelligence and Security Committee received the independent report on Tuesday, it was made public yesterday, and we are now seeking advice on all recommendations.

Metiria Turei: Will he rule out—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking a question.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I can sense why the disorder is descending on the House, because I imagine that if the question is going to be like that, I, probably, with most other members of the House, will predict the answer.

Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not responsible for the Minister’s answers. If the Minister is repeating his answer, that is his problem, not mine.

Mr SPEAKER: That is certainly true. The member’s—[Interruption] Order! I do not need assistance from Mr Brownlee, though it is always—sometimes—gratefully received. The member is certainly entitled to continue with her line of questioning. There is no problem there. If there is an unreasonable amount of interjection I will assist the member, but if there is some interjection it will not be unexpected. The member can continue with her supplementary question.

Metiria Turei: Will the Minister rule out proposing any law changes to the spy agencies until the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has reported back on all of her current investigations?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Let me say this: the previous answer applies. But let me also say this: if she asks nicely, I am sure that the Minister responsible for the GCSB and the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service would be delighted to meet with the Green MPs to go through the report.

Metiria Turei: If the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security finds that the GCSB or the SIS have acted illegally during any of her investigations, will the Minister assure the public that he will not then change the law to make those actions legal, either retrospectively or for the future?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The question is hypothetical. What I think is appropriate is to await the inspector-general’s reports, and then a considered response can be given to those reports.

Metiria Turei: Does he agree with today’s Dominion Post editorial that the review has “recommended a huge extension of the spies’ powers and a very modest strengthening of the oversight system.”?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It will be a very strange day when I agree with anything that is said in any editorials written by that particular editor.

Workplace Health and Safety—Agriculture Sector

SUE MORONEY (Labour): My question is to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just invite the member to ask her question again.

12. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: How many deaths and serious harm injuries have occurred in agriculture since the Health and Safety Reform Bill was passed in Parliament in 2015?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): I am advised that there have been 203 serious harm notifications to WorkSafe New Zealand and 8 fatalities reported in agriculture since the legislation was passed on 27 August 2015.

Sue Moroney: Given those statistics and the fact that agriculture accounted for over half of workplace deaths in 2015, why has he issued health and safety regulations where agriculture is missing from the list of high-risk sectors or industries?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Firstly, although it is a relatively short period of time, the fatality rate since 27 August has fallen by more than a third when compared with the corresponding period in the previous year. The fact that a worker representation system is not compulsory when asked for in agriculture is not a reflection of the fact that there are not significant risks in agriculture, but it is also, by a country mile, our largest industry, and will always, I think, have a reasonably significant proportion of the injuries that occur at work.

Sue Moroney: They once used to be ambitious for New Zealand, but there you go.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just ask the question.

Sue Moroney: Is he aware that the death rate among agricultural workers was more than 19 times that of non-agricultural workers in 2015, and if that is not high risk, what is?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: That may very well be the case. I am also aware that the road toll in the UK was significantly higher than New Zealand’s, but when measured on a proportionate basis its road safety record is twice as good as ours. So it really depends on the size of the industry and the trajectory that it is on. It is a very, very large industry, and it is trending downwards.

Sue Moroney: Just in light of that answer, I seek leave to table for the Minister’s information—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, it is not for the Minister’s information, it is for the House’s, and the member does not need to say that. Just seek leave to table the document; I may put the leave.

Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table a document showing that on a proportionate basis—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think we are getting nowhere here. What is the source of the document and the date?

Sue Moroney: The source of the document is the Parliamentary Library.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh! Another one of their bodgie dog jobs.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Hon Ruth Dyson: It’s where you get books from, Gerry.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I will count that as one all. Would the member simply describe the document and the date of it. I may put the leave, and we will see what happens.

Sue Moroney: I was—sure. So—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Closed shop—depository for dust.

Sue Moroney: —the source of the document is the Parliamentary Library—Mr Brownlee—the date is 10 March, and—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, no—that’s enough.

Mr SPEAKER: I will decide that.

Sue Moroney: —it shows that, proportionately, non-agricultural workers—sorry, that agricultural workers—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! We have heard enough. I will put—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular information, which may be of use to members. Is there any objection? There is.

Sue Moroney: Well, is the Minister aware then that ACC confirmed at the select committee 4 weeks ago that agriculture is a high-risk industry?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The question is not whether or not agriculture is a material risk to workers—I accept that. There is no question about that. But it also needs to be recognised that anybody who is not required to have a mandatory worker representation system is not being let off the hook in respect of the Health and Safety at Work Act, which has not come into force yet—it is coming into force on 4 April. There are very onerous obligations on all workers and all employers in this country to participate effectively in health and safety practice in New Zealand.

Sue Moroney: Well, given WorkSafe’s stated position that it is reluctant to prosecute for deaths and serious injury on farms because the chair does not “think that’s a productive way to bring change in that sector”, is it now the situation that, under his leadership, farms are outside the full protection of health and safety laws?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Speaking to the last part of the question, that is nonsense. What Professor Coster said to the select committee, and which I support, is that WorkSafe New Zealand is required—and I expect it—to be a partner in business, not a punisher of it, and the first part of partnership is to engage and to educate. In 2015 there were more than 10,000 serious harm notifications across all industries in New Zealand, but only 105 prosecutions. Overwhelmingly, the task is for it to work with business, not against it, to ensure that workers go home safely in the evening.

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