Saudi Arabia Food Security Partnership—Prime Minister’s Statements and Legal Advice
1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Why did he say, regarding the Saudi sheep deal, that “the view of Cabinet was that there had been a case that at least the investor could put up, that we may well have to fight that in court”, and was he aware when he made that statement that there was no legal advice assessing the legal risk from the investor’s case?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I made that statement because Cabinet was advised that the Government was exposed to the risk of a between $20 million and $30 million legal claim. We accepted that advice. This is backed up by the Auditor-General’s report, which states that during negotiations Al-Khalaf Group indicated it could be paid compensation of $24 million. Cabinet was satisfied that the full partnership, as outlined in the Cabinet paper, resolved the prospect of any litigation. With regard to legal advice, Cabinet accepted the paper’s advice about the potential legal claim.
Andrew Little: Does he now accept the Auditor-General’s finding that there was no legal advice and no evidence of a legal claim against the Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I accept the words of the Auditor-General’s report when she says on page 8: “the Al Khalaf Group indicated that it considered it should be paid compensation of $24 million.” [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Andrew Little: Did Murray McCully inform Cabinet at any time that legal advice had been taken; if not, how did Cabinet form the view that it may have to fight a $20 million to $30 million action in court?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Cabinet was advised through the Cabinet paper by the Minister: “Saudi parties had received advice suggesting they pursue a claim of between $20 million to $30 million. The Government has made it clear it would not be a party to such discussions.”
Andrew Little: Did Cabinet insist on seeing legal advice to support that claim?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Andrew Little: Was the Auditor-General wrong when she found a settlement of a grievance was provided under the guise of a contract for services—in essence, a sham; if not, why did his Government pay $4 million cash to a man to whom nothing was owed?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The only people who were wrong were the Opposition members when they went on and on about how the payments were evidence of corruption, bribery, or a facilitation payment. The Auditor-General found the complete opposite.
Andrew Little: Does he agree with Fran O’Sullivan that “Provost’s findings are a scathing assessment of the lack of transparency around this deal.” and that it does nothing to vindicate Murray McCully?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but I do find it somewhat amusing that the Leader of the Opposition is quoting the media when, according to Phil Twyford and himself—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
2. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki – King Country) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on New Zealand’s prosperity?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Last week the Legatum Institute in the UK released its 2016 prosperity index, measuring 149 countries, and rated New Zealand No. 1. Among the subindices, New Zealand rated first in the world for social capital, first for economic quality, second for its business environment, second for governance, and third for personal freedom.
Barbara Kuriger: How is New Zealand’s social capital supporting higher prosperity in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have to keep in mind that all these so-called well-being measures have a degree of subjective judgment about them. In this report, the social capital index measures a country’s strength of social networks, social norms, and civic participation. For instance, in this case, it asked New Zealanders whether they have family or friends who they can rely on in times of need, and 99 percent of New Zealanders say they do—one of the highest proportions in the developed world.
David Seymour: Does the Minister agree with the report’s attribution of New Zealand’s prosperity to “free markets and free people.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do, because it is certainly this Government’s view that when people take responsibility for themselves, their families, and their communities, and have the opportunity to participate in a market economy, the results are that they can realise their aspirations.
Barbara Kuriger: How does New Zealand’s wealth and prosperity compare with other countries?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The point of the index is simply to demonstrate that prosperity is about a wider range of indicators than wealth. For instance, the United States has around 50 percent more wealth per person than New Zealand but ranks 16 places below New Zealand. In fact, 26 countries have higher wealth per capita than New Zealand but are ranked lower than us on the index. Of course, we cannot be at all complacent about this kind of rating, because many New Zealanders still want better opportunities to realise their aspirations.
Barbara Kuriger: What are some of the other factors supporting New Zealand’s prosperity?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The common links among those countries that are rated higher tend to be free markets, lower non-tariff trade barriers, more competitive regulation, and a more flexible labour market. For instance, over the last 6 years on this index Australia and New Zealand have been moving in opposite directions, with New Zealand tending to rise and Australia tending to drop back a bit.
Grant Robertson: On the subject of that last answer, of Australia and New Zealand moving in opposite directions, can he confirm that the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia has increased since September 2008 to June 2016—now being a 27 percent difference?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may be the case; I have not checked the figures recently. Actually, I thought it was 30 percent, which, I think, makes it even more remarkable that the outflow from New Zealand, which was about 40,000 per year to Australia of New Zealand citizens, is now down to about 3,000 a year. There must be some reason why Kiwis are deciding to stay here when wages on average in Australia are significantly higher.
Local Government, Minister—Statements
3. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister of Local Government: Does he stand by his statement on 23 September 2016, “It is imperative that steps are put in place to ensure core infrastructure including water, sewerage, and roads across New Zealand are well managed. Failures of infrastructure and service are unacceptable to New Zealanders”?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Acting Minister of Local Government): Yes, under the Local Government Act of 2002, local authorities are responsible for providing communities with good quality and cost-effective local infrastructure and local public services.
Richard Prosser: How does the Minister reconcile that answer with the fact that the Ashburton District Council has told Mayfield residents that their water supply will soon be coming from stock water because the bore is so low?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: The responsibility of local water supply is for the Ashburton District Council. I am advised that the council is taking appropriate steps to manage this issue.
Richard Prosser: Does the Minister find it acceptable that a Resource Management Act – driven change in the type of irrigation consented ad infinitum by the Ashburton District Council has contributed to the depletion of the bowl that the Mayfield bore draws from?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: I would refute the assumption that is made and repeat my answer that the responsibility of safe drinking-water for Mayfield and the community there is the responsibility of the Ashburton District Council.
Richard Prosser: Does the Minister acknowledge that access to Canterbury’s ample artesian water could be made available to towns such as Mayfield if local authorities had access to funding from a royalty on the export of water?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: That is an interesting theory that that member has. As I said before, the responsibility for the supply of safe drinking-water is for the Ashburton District Council. I am not sure that, given the distance from Mayfield, the council is going to be driving bottles of water out to the community there, but I am sure it is considering all options.
Saudi Arabia Food Security Partnership—Auditor-General’s Report
4. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he accept all of the findings regarding his Government in the Auditor-General’s report into the Saudi Arabia Food Security Partnership; if not, which findings does he not accept?
James Shaw: Does he accept the finding in the Auditor-General’s report that “Settlement of a grievance was provided under the guise of a contract for services.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, although the line I would rely on is one that says: “The arrangements entered into were a lawful use of public resources, and public money was spent with appropriate financial authorities in place.”
James Shaw: Does he accept her finding that the contract was: “A convenient mechanism by which the allocated $10 million, later $11.5 million, was put towards achieving those unstated objectives.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but I would rely heavily on the statement she made when she said that payments did form “part of a legally valid contract for services. Public money was spent within the necessary financial approvals.”
James Shaw: Does he accept the Auditor-General’s finding that one of the purposes of the contract was to resolve a diplomatic issue between Governments?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, the Government said that one of the objectives was to try to speed up the Gulf States’ free-trade agreement.
James Shaw: Is it now his Government’s policy to make financial payments to the tune of millions of dollars to any influential individual who can facilitate a trade deal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. As the report says: “The arrangements entered into were a lawful use of public resources, and public money was spent with appropriate financial authorities in place.” I think every New Zealander can see that Labour and the Greens completely over-egged this, and now they have been caught embarrassed and now they are foraging around in the asterisks and the sub-sub-prints because there is just nothing there that is wrong, according to the Auditor-General, in the more substantive parts.
James Shaw: Given his comment that—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member to start the question again.
James Shaw: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Given his comment that this contract gets us “an agribusiness hub which allows us to promote New Zealand”, why was a cameraman employed by New Zealand journalists denied access to the farm, detained by the police, and had their equipment confiscated?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have those details. You would need to direct them to the Ministers.
James Shaw: How is it that a Government that paid $11 million for a “showcase of New Zealand agricultural expertise and technology” has to ask for permission to even visit this supposed showcase?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We spend a lot of money in the intelligence and security area. I think you might need to ask permission to go and see some of that, as well.
Youth Unemployment—Jobseeker Support and Beneficiary Numbers
Rt Hon John Key: You have to ask the primary before you ask the supp—that’s the way it works.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And none of us needs the advice and assistance from the Prime Minister.
ANDREW LITTLE: The Prime Minister might want to spend more time on the Cabinet Manual than he does on the Standing Orders. My question is to the Prime Minister—[Interruption]
5. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Has he sought an explanation from the Minister for Social Development as to why the number of 18 to 24-year-olds receiving the Jobseeker Support – Work Ready payment who have been on a benefit for more than a year is rising?
Andrew Little: Why are there 30 percent more young people on the job-seeker allowance today than in 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot verify that number, but what I can verify is that the number of 18- to 20-year-olds on job-seeker support has fallen by 14 percent over the last 5 years.
Andrew Little: I seek leave to table a document from the Parliamentary Library showing the 18- to 24-year-old job-seeker numbers calculation from 2012 to 2016, showing that 30 percent increase.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Andrew Little: Why are there 11,400 more young people not in employment, education, or training now than in 2008?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot verify those numbers, but the truth is that Labour cannot verify its own numbers, even when it calls it a policy.
Andrew Little: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
Andrew Little: I seek leave to table calculations made by the Parliamentary Library showing young people not in employment, education, or training from 2008 to 2016 increased to 11,400.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document from the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is. [Interruption] Order! I have put the leave. [Interruption] Order! The front bench to my right and, certainly, some members to my left need to settle down and minimise the interjection.
Andrew Little: Why does his Government think these young people are, to quote Bill English, “pretty damned hopeless”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, that is inaccurate but, secondly, actually if one looks at the people in the category of 15- to 24-year-olds, what we know is that the number of people who are not in education, employment, or training has been dropping dramatically. In fact, the 15- to 19-year-olds number is nearly at the lowest that it has been since the series was collated. Given the strength of the labour markets, I would have thought the best thing to do is to ensure that those youngsters get an opportunity for a real job.
Andrew Little: Does he stand by his statement that unemployed young people “just cannot muster what is required to actually work”; if so, why has he given up on 74,000 young New Zealanders?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just ask the Leader of the Opposition to verify that I made that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order. The question has now been disrupted. I think the only fair way forward is for me to invite the member to ask the question again.
Andrew Little: Does he stand by his statement that unemployed young people “just cannot muster what is required to actually work”; if so, why has he given up on 74,000 young New Zealanders?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If it is a genuine quote and not made up, I would have to see in what context it was made.
Andrew Little: When will he stop talking down our young people as lazy and drug-addled, and instead invest in their futures and get them ready for work—just as Labour is proposing to do?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, if one looks at the economic reforms undertaken by this Government and the results of them, you would have to say that they are pretty stunning. They include an unemployment rate that is the lowest since 2008; 357,000 more jobs since 2009—35,000 jobs in the last quarter; and more people in apprenticeship training than we have seen in a very long time—42,000. Far from talking down young New Zealanders, we are creating opportunities for them. Just because the Leader of the Opposition cannot actually get a policy right at his 100th annual conference, and is now being known as “Angry Andrew” with the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We have certainly gone far enough now. [Interruption] Order! I do not want to hear that interjection across the House.
Darroch Ball: Can he confirm that the National – New Zealand First coalition Government in 1996 included New Zealand First’s community wage scheme, which was aimed at providing minimum-wage work for long-term beneficiaries, like clearing waterways for the Department of Conservation (DOC)?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. There is just no prime ministerial responsibility for that at all. [Interruption] Order! I have made a ruling. It is not open to debate. If the member has a fresh point of order, I am only too happy to hear it. But if it is in any way questioning where we have just been—
Darroch Ball: Can I rephrase it?
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a very wise decision by the member.
Darroch Ball: Has he seen any reports that can confirm that the National – New Zealand First coalition Government in 1996 included New Zealand First’s community wage scheme, which was aimed at providing minimum-wage work for long-term beneficiaries, like clearing waterways for DOC?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I have seen a report that said that when one looked at the calibre of the New Zealand First members that became part of that Cabinet, that truly was a make-believe—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! If Mr Chris Bishop wishes to stay for the rest of the day, then, when I rise to my feet, he shuts up.
Darroch Ball: Has he seen reports that show that the New Zealand First community wage scheme from the coalition agreement bears an uncanny resemblance to a newly announced policy Ready for Work—the very policy that Labour scrapped in 2001—putting those 18- to 24-year-olds who were on the scheme back on the dole with nothing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. But what I can say is 20 years on if one looks at the state of the labour markets, given how many jobs are being created, I think the average New Zealander would say that it makes a lot more sense to put those youngsters into a real job, which they are actually in the process of getting in quite record numbers, as opposed to sending them bush.
Tertiary Education—International Students
6. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What recent reports has he received on the value of international education to New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Today I received a report that shows that the economic value of New Zealand’s international education sector rose to $4.28 billion last year—a 50 percent increase from what the sector was last measured at in 2014. The report, produced for Education New Zealand by Infometrics and the National Research Bureau, showed the industry supported 32,000 jobs in 2015, and the combined onshore and offshore delivery of international education is now New Zealand’s fourth largest export industry, overtaking the wood-processing sector. This report highlights that we are well on our way to delivering on the 2010 target to lift the economic value of international education to $5 billion by 2025.
David Seymour: What would be the effects on this industry of reducing net permanent and long-term arrivals into New Zealand to 15,000 as some have advocated?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member asked a fair question. The definition of permanent and long-term migrants is anybody who is in the country for more than a year, particularly, the higher-level students—the degree, Master’s, and PhD students. They generally are in the country for longer than that period because it takes longer to actually achieve their qualifications. They are, of course, the sort of people we want to attract. So if you dropped it to about 15,000, then, obviously, we would not be able to continue with that part of the industry.
Dr Jian Yang: Why is international education important to New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Although the economic value and the jobs it provides are important, one of the other important areas is the wider benefits that the international education sector brings to our country. International students add a rich diversity to our learning institutions, and they help to connect New Zealand to the world. Right back to the Colombo Plan, the relationships and networks developed with people from around the world through international education play a vital role in New Zealand’s business relationships with other countries. The relationships being formed now will help to secure New Zealand’s trading, investment, and education linkages for our future prosperity.
Dr Jian Yang: What impact is the growth of international education having across New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: One positive highlight of the report is the widespread growth of the sector, with total student numbers up 25 percent from 2012, and all sectors showing an increase. Primary schools have gone up significantly, as have private training establishments, secondary schools, and so on. The sector also grew in all regions between 2012 and 2015. The largest value growth by region was in Auckland, which experienced a 55 percent increase. Canterbury grew 71 percent in the same period, Waikato grew 45 percent, and the South Island, excluding Canterbury and Otago, grew 152 percent. That reflects the efforts of education providers nationwide to deliver excellent education around the country.
Question No. 5 to Minister
ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition): I seek leave to table a transcript from RNZ National from 5 September 2016 in which the Prime Minister states, amongst other things, in relation to young people: “or they just can’t muster what is required”—
7. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, including my comment that you always have to check the facts, check the numbers, and ask lots of questions until you get the truth about any Labour Party claim.
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement that “in ophthalmology there are one or two DHBs that need to lift their game,” when it has been revealed over the last week that there are huge delays in Counties Manukau District Health Board, Nelson Marlborough District Health Board, and Southern District Health Board for follow-up appointments, and that there is no time frame for follow-up treatment for thousands of New Zealanders with eye conditions that can lead to blindness?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes.
Hon Annette King: Why did he not listen to Treasury and put in a bid for primary care reform last year, knowing that one in nine New Zealanders cannot afford to visit a GP, and the chair of his own working party advised that it had “left many low-income patients out in the cold.”?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Actually, it is not Treasury that sets policy. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will just have the supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: How can he continue to claim that health has sufficient funding when the professor of orthopaedic surgery in Dunedin said yesterday: “Due to lack of resources about a third of referrals from GPs cannot be seen … [and it is] getting worse.”?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Simply because health has had an extra $2.2 billion in the last Budget over the next 4 years for pressures and new initiatives, including a record $568 million. But, of course, the point is that we are focused on results.
Hon Annette King: Is the reason he is allowing district health boards to send letters to frail older New Zealanders telling them that their home help will be stopped unless they also require personal care services that that is the way to reduce costs, at the expense of very vulnerable people?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter from MidCentral District Health Board to an older New Zealander telling them exactly what I have just said.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Annette King: It is dated 1 November this year.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It has been described. Leave is sought to table that letter from the district health board. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Emergency Housing—Government Initiatives
8. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Housing: What announcements has she made about the Government increasing support for emergency housing?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): Yesterday I was pleased to announce a funding boost of more than $300 million for emergency housing so that more vulnerable New Zealanders can get the help that they need. We have the funding to pay for an extra 1,400 places at any one time, which will be, I must say, an ambitious goal, but we have a cross-agency team set up to secure and build suitable properties. This is just another step in the Government’s comprehensive plan to secure more emergency social and affordable housing.
Melissa Lee: How will the $300 million be spent?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The first thing we need to do is actually build the supply, because we have already paid for the current beds that are available, so $120 million is in capital funding—[Interruption] I am looking forward to Phil Twyford’s question—to build, buy, and lease as many houses as that will get us. There is $71 million in rental subsidies, which will be going to a number of providers to pay for the rent. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Some of us might want to listen to the answer. The Hon Paula Bennett—does she wish to continue?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Certainly I do, Mr Speaker. The good news is that we are also putting $102 million into the wraparound support for those tenants, and that is a component that manages the actual tenancy but also works on some of the issues that people might have around budgeting, debt, or some counselling services, so that we can stabilise them, put them into permanent housing, and then stick with them—and also some funding for front-line staff.
Melissa Lee: What other proposals has she seen to fund emergency housing?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have seen another proposal, which also claims to provide 1,400 new emergency housing beds, but it is worth only $15 million a year. This is because it does not pay to find new supply, which is the main problem, or pay for the much-needed wraparound services that these tenants desperately need. One policy equates to $67 million over 4.5 years, and ours, of course, is fully funded. I suggest you get your numbers right, Phil.
Phil Twyford: How much of the $300 million announced yesterday is recycling the $500 million that the Government has taken out of Housing New Zealand in dividends, and to what extent has the suggest discovery of a housing crisis been influenced by the Mount Roskill by-election?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Unlike the other side, I am not playing politics with these people’s lives; I am actually doing something about it. So that $300 million, quite frankly—we are actually the first Government to ever—ever—step in and fund emergency housing beds, so although Labour ignored it, we are actually doing something about it.
Pike River Mine Disaster—Prime Minister’s Statements
9. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in relation to the Pike River Mine that “What I did promise is that we could do everything we can to get those bodies out”?
Ron Mark: Is he aware that non-mining contractors and personnel have been working on the reversible seal without breathing apparatus, which contradicts the risk assessment conducted by Solid Energy claiming that it could not be done, and vindicates the expert advice to the families of the 29 victims, as witnessed by Minister Barry in her last visit to the mine?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. But what I am aware of is the advice that we have received from Solid Energy that the environment has not materially changed since the decision not to re-enter the drift was made in 2014.
Ron Mark: With recent testing results showing gas levels within the Pike River mine are safe enough for re-entry, will he now take steps to get the bodies out of the mine so that the families can have their men back and closure; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As the member will be aware, the decision to enter or not re-enter the mine is not one that I think a politician should make; nor have I ever claimed I could make. We have taken the best advice, or at least Solid Energy has, as the owner and occupier of the mine. As I have always said, one of the worst things we could do is now put at risk the lives of fellow New Zealanders, as a result of the tragedy.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Why will the Prime Minister not honour his commitment to the families and fund an independent expert to assess the situation at Pike River, not rely on the advice from Solid Energy, a company that the Government has, effectively, sold out?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I believe I have met all my commitments to the families.
Freshwater Management—Water Quality of Waikato River
10. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he agree with the Environmental Protection Authority’s Chief Scientist Jacqueline Rowarth’s comment that the Waikato River is one of the five cleanest rivers in the world?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Dr Rowarth’s comments were made prior to her taking up her position with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), when she was a professor at Waikato University. I am advised by her that her comments were taken out of context. Water quality in the Waikato is superb and amongst the very best in the world in the upper reaches, like around Huka Falls, but deteriorates in the lower reaches due to nutrients, pathogens, and sedimentation, particularly below the confluence of the Waipā River. The data shows that in the lower reaches these problems have been increasing in recent decades, and steps are required to reverse those trends. That is why this Government has invested over $300 million in its clean-up. I do note the EPA does not have a role in the regulation of water quality, and its principal function is the regulation of hazardous substances and new organisms.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he consider that the comments of the new chief scientist at the EPA show a robust understanding of science and of a waterway that has more than $8 million of Government funding dedicated to cleaning it up because it is so seriously polluted?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government is spending a lot more than $8 million; it is spending over $300 million—such is the importance of Lake Taupō and the Waikato River to this Government. In respect of this particular individual, I think the member should be cautious of taking her comments out of context, because, actually, in the upper reaches, the water quality is very good at Huka Falls, and it would be wrong for the Green Party to run that down.
Catherine Delahunty: Given that the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society, comprising 400 freshwater scientists and professionals, disputes Dr Rowarth’s full claims, should we have faith that the EPA is able to make good decisions about hazardous chemicals and water and protect our environment?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Professor Rowarth, who is a new appointment to the EPA, is a well-qualified scientist. The decision as to her appointment has been made independently by the EPA, and I think this House should be cautious of being openly critical of neutral public servants, which is the new role she has, after completing her term as a professor at Waikato University.
David Seymour: Will the Minister rule in or out invoking section 142 of the Resource Management Act and appointing a board of inquiry for the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai, in light of complaints from farmers in the area that it will put them out of business?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The process under the Resource Management Act, where I as Minister can call in a planned change, is only time limited to a period prior to the notification. The notification of the planned changes on the Waikato River that are publicly available for submissions right now has passed that point where I could intervene, but it would be unusual for the Government to step in and, effectively, take over a regional council’s most important function of water quality. We did choose to do so in Canterbury; I am reluctant to do so in the Waikato.
Catherine Delahunty: So, to be clear, is the Minister saying that his new chief scientist at the EPA, who only just made that statement weeks before she started the job, is competent to make judgments about the environment when she says that Waikato is one of the five cleanest rivers in the world?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Firstly, I would dispute the claim that it is “my” Environmental Protection Authority. When this Government set up the Environmental Protection Authority, we quite deliberately made it independent, and it is the Environmental Protection Authority that has appointed the chief scientist. The second point I would make is that Professor Rowarth has made plain that her comments have been taken out of context and, actually, would be quite appropriate for the upper reaches of the river, such as the Huka Falls, where water quality is exceptional.
Rt Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Grant Robertson: To table the text?
Rt Hon John Key: Yes, exactly. I seek leave to table the full quote that the Leader of the Opposition used, and it says: “we have been trialling a domestic RSE scheme. But go in and ask the employers”—get them on the show—”and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! First of all, points of order need to be heard in silence. I was attempting to hear it, but I think I have heard enough, though. The point of tabling documents is to better inform Ministers and members of the House. What I think the Prime Minister is attempting to do is take the opportunity to politically engage with a quote that he thinks was not given in full. That is not the purpose of tabling a document, and I will not put the leave.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I have already dealt with the matter, Mr Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, I would just ask, then, that you consider the Standing Order that makes it clear that if a member is misrepresented in the House, they have a right to take the floor of the House to correct that misrepresentation.
Mr SPEAKER: And that is done in a very different way. If the member thinks that he has been misrepresented, he seeks leave to make a personal explanation. I would then put the leave to the House. That is the way it is then tackled. It is not done by simply rising to table a document or a quote. We are moving now to—
Personal Explanation—Question No. 5
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Leave is sought for the Prime Minister to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection to that being done? There is none.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: OK, let me go back and read the full quote, then: “and we have been trialling a domestic RSE scheme. But go and ask the employers—get them on this show—and they will say some of these people won’t pass a drug test, some of these people won’t turn up for work, some of these people will claim they have health issues later on. So it’s not to say there aren’t great people who transition from Work and Income into work, they do, but it’s equally true that they’re also living in the wrong place, or they just can’t muster what is required to actually work.”
Economy—GDP Growth and Living Standards
11. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, “A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker”; if so, can he confirm that real GDP per hour worked has not grown in New Zealand since 2012?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In answer to the first question, yes. In answer to the member’s second question, the member keeps picking on the measure he can find that he thinks indicates lack of economic progress. GDP expenditure per capita is up 0.7 percent, and GDP production per capita is up 5.9 percent. Then the member picked on real disposable income per capita, which is up 7.9 percent. It is not surprising that GDP per hour has not risen much since 2012, for two reasons: one is that in the recession prior to that, including in Christchurch, where they had a massive earthquake, the number of hours worked dropped sharply, so then it had to pick up strongly from 2012. Unlike the member, we believe that having more people in work is actually a very good thing. More people working, with the highest participation rate in the developed world, is an indicator of success, and because it actually probably cannot rise much further, we are likely to see GDP per hour growing.
Grant Robertson: Is real GDP per hour worked lower as at September 2016 than it was in September 2012?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot confirm that or otherwise, but now that I see the member has outsourced his economic advice to the New Zealand Herald can I tell him this: The Economist has an introductory offer of $5 a week for 12 weeks, and I am sure that if the member tells it that he is the Opposition spokesman, it will throw in steak knives—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that in the data released last week, average hourly earnings grew by 1.7 percent in the September quarter, approximately half the growth of the same time last year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. The wage growth looks moderate when you look at nominal wage growth, but, of course, inflation has been upgraded to 0.4 percent—
Hon Steven Joyce: For the year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —for the year. So real wage increases have been occurring year on year for a number of years in this economy, which makes it pretty distinctive from many other developed economies. But what I have not figured out is how Labour’s tax on employing migrants is somehow going to fix this.
Grant Robertson: How does he expect New Zealanders to get ahead with pitiful wage growth and low productivity, and stacked up against an annual increase of 13 percent in housing costs and renters facing an average increase of nearly 800 bucks a year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am very pleased for those—I think 135,000 New Zealanders—who have a job now that did not exist just a couple of years ago. So the difference for them between having no job and having a job does amount to getting ahead. As I pointed out to the member, the fact that we have had large numbers of people come into the workforce does mean that productivity per hour worked has been relatively flat, because there have been so many more hours worked. In an economic cycle you will see that as the entrants slow down, productivity per hour is likely to rise.
Small Business—Online Tools and Resources
12. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister for Small Business: What steps has the Government taken to make it easier for small business to hire employees?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): Small businesses are hiring more employees. Over the past year 144,000 more people have gained employment, and according to the recent ANZ Business Outlook survey a net 21 percent of businesses are expecting to hire more staff. This Government continues to make it easier for small businesses to hire employees, through policies such as implementing the 90-day trial and the starting out wage; reducing costs, such as lowering personal and company taxes; lowering ACC levies; and providing free online tools such as the Employment Agreement Builder. Those policies and more make it easier for small businesses to hire employees. That is why this Government is better for business.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What reports has he seen from small businesses concerned about additional costs on small businesses that hire employees?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have seen a report from Business New Zealand that is concerned that smaller businesses would suffer if they were charged to hire employees. I have seen a report from Tourism Industry Aotearoa that says putting a levy on small businesses to hire employees would fall on its face pretty quickly. I have seen a report where, when asked about taxing small businesses to hire employees, Labour MP Stuart Nash said, and I quote—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has no responsibility for those matters or, indeed, misrepresenting policy.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! No, I think on this occasion Grant Robertson is absolutely right. As I listened to the answer that was given, it was relatively clear to me that the question was put down as a question simply designed to attack the Opposition. That, of course, is a breach of Speaker’s rulings.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am certainly—[Interruption] Order! I am always grateful for assistance, but on this occasion I do not need it. I am always grateful to hear a point of order, but if it is in any way disputing a ruling I have just given, I would be most upset and deal with it quite severely.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: No, I just wanted to better inform the House of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not the purpose of a point of order. [Interruption] Order! That is not what we use points of order for.
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