Article – Mark P. Williams

The main questions which were put to the Prime Minister concerned job cuts at the Department of Conservation (DoC), unemployment figures, the Open Bank Review, recently released documents concerning Operation Debut, and his position on the TPPA.

PM on DoC Job Losses | Open Bank Resolution | TPPA

PM Post-Cabinet Press Conference – 25 March 2013

Scoop Audio+Video+Photos

By Mark P. Williams

Today the Prime Minister announced that he would be leading a delegation to China visiting Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. He will be accompanied by several Ministers: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, Trade Minister Tim Grosser and Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples.

Mr Key will be meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping be officially welcomed in Beijing by China’s new Premier Li Keqiang.

The main questions which were put to the Prime Minister concerned job cuts at the Department of Conservation (DoC), unemployment figures, the Open Bank Review, recently released documents concerning Operation Debut, and his position on the TPPA.

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Questions to the Prime Minister

The PM was asked if he was confident that the economy was creating more jobs than it was losing. He responded that New Zealand was seeing “plenty of jobs being advertised online” and “benefit numbers falling”.

The PM was asked whether the country was creating more full-time jobs than it was losing. He responded by saying that full time job creation has been “very positive” and that “the issue has been around part-time jobs and we’re likely to see more of that as the construction and retail sectors pick up”.

The PM was asked if he was concerned about the impact of proposed job losses at DoC. He responded that it was something for Al Morrison to work through the details of. Pressed as to whether the losses would involve frontline staff he responded “it would be better to wait til tomorrow” rather than “jump to any conclusions”.

The PM was then asked if his government took any responsibility for unemployment of 6.9%. He responded that his government was doing “all we can do” to put in place conditions which encourage businesses to take on workers. He listed: managing interest rates; building infrastructure; maintaining infrastructure-building through taxation; and making planning laws “conducive to investment”.

The PM was asked how long he expected the job market to lag behind growth. He responded by saying that New Zealand still had a lower unemployment rate than some countries in the OECD. He emphasised that employment does typically lag and emphasised that he considered the fall in benefit numbers as an indicator of employment.

The PM was asked what he would say to those people who were caught in the “lag” and unable to get work. He responded “judge the government by what it’s doing”, saying that his government had done a lot to stimulate employment, listing: 90 Day Probation periods; Starting-Out wages; and lowering taxes. He added that there has been a “low interest-rate environment” and the government was “throwing billions of dollars at Christchurch” and “enabling a faster recovery than would otherwise take place”.

The PM was asked about his thoughts on the Reserve Bank and Treasury’s conference tomorrow to discuss whether there should be a change in New Zealand exchange rate policy. He replied that the IMF has suggested that New Zealand was broadly “in the right place” regarding monetary policy.

It was put to the PM that the regime that the Open Bank Resolution of the Reserve Bank was proposing for New Zealand banking is similar to the Cyprus issue; he was asked if this concerned him. He responded that there are a number of options available to New Zealand banks. He said that these were: Insurance of deposits by depositors (which he said every consumer would have to pay for); no protection; or the Open Bank Resolution (OBR) which he said he believed put New Zealand depositors “in the strongest position possible at the lowest cost to them”.

The PM was then asked whether New Zealanders might just go across the Tasman to do their banking. He emphasised that OBR offered confidence that depositors’ money would be safe in the event of a major crisis.

The PM was asked why New Zealand was not going to use a deposit insurance system like other OECD countries. He responded that it had to be paid for. The PM was then asked how many basis points that would be. He responded that he did not know but that it would be a cost to every consumer. It was put to the PM that if it was built into the cost of credit in New Zealand that it would not have much of an impact on consumers. He reiterated that it would still be a cost to the consumer.

The PM was asked his response to the privacy breach of EQC. He responded that it was distressing and disappointing but EQC acted very quickly, contacting the person in question within forty minutes to seek a statutory assurance that the information had been destroyed.

The PM was then asked how he could assure people that their details were safe across govt departments. He responded that there had only been a very small number of breaches.

The PM was then asked what he made of the fact that the recipients of the EQC files showed other people. He said that all he knew is that a statutory assurance had been sought and signed and he hoped it would be honoured.

Regarding Solid Energy, the PM was then asked if he or any of his ministers had discussed body recovery during the purchase of Pike River mine. He responded that he would have to check all of the files but said it had been discussed.

The PM was then asked if the purchase was driven in any way by his government’s pledge to recover the bodies or if it was a “completely commercial” decision. He responded that the government had certainly considered that Solid Energy, as operators of Spring Creek, had the best chance of understanding the environment and conditions and they had a strong working relationship, and would have been sensitive to the families. He also added that one of the concerns, raised by the scoping study, was the low level of reserves that Solid Energy had so it “met two objectives”: increasing Solid Energy’s reserves and giving the best chance of getting into the mine if that was possible.

The PM was then asked if Solid Energy were encouraged to buy Pike River by the government. He responded that “they weren’t discouraged from taking it”, adding that it was, from his recollection, Solid Energy’s idea.

The PM was asked about the draft plan for Auckland and the Employers and Manufacturer’s Association recommending a faster adoption process. He responded that his government felt there was a need to take more time for consultation. He added that Nick Smith was meeting with Paula Bennett and Len Brown tonight.
The PM was asked whether private sector builders could build all of the houses required. He responded that they were the only people who can and that it was misguided to assume that the govt could build them.
The PM was asked his response to Labour’s changes of policy over GST on fruit and vegetables. He responded that his interest was in Labour’s future policies and that they appeared to only be back-tracking or going in reverse at present.

The PM was asked to comment on the release of documents relating to the intelligence services’ handling of “Operation Debut” to arrest Kim Dotcom. The PM interrupted the question to say that it was before the courts and he would not comment on it. He was asked if that was going to be the government’s blanket response to questions about the matter. The PM reiterated that the matter was before the courts and it would not be advisable to “wade in”.

The PM was then asked how confident he was that the issues raised in the case had been dealt with adequately. He responded that “in the fullness of time” the press would be able to see the “work programme” being undertaken.
The PM was asked if he had been briefed on the proposed job cuts at DoC. He responded: “Only at a very high level”. He was then asked if he had sought an assurance that the cuts would not affect tourism. He indicated that he did not think it would.

The PM was then asked whether it would be likely to affect endangered species. He responded that he did not think that was likely.

The PM was then asked whether the cuts would be from front-line staff. He responded “I don’t believe they would be largely characterised as that; no.”

The PM was asked how DoC would keep up the same level of work on a reducing budget. He responded that answers to that would have to wait until tomorrow to see what the department was actually doing.

The PM was asked again about the privacy breach at EQC and whether he had confidence in the CEO. He said he did and they would have to think about the mistake but that there was not a systemic problem.

The PM was asked if he though legal action was necessary against those who passed on information about the breach. He responded that his issue was with dealing with the problem rather than pursuing anyone.

The PM was asked when the government would announce its binding climate change target. He said he could not make an announcement or indication as yet.

The PM was asked what the main areas he was thinking about regarding the forthcoming budget. He refused to give anything away, saying: “Nice try”.

The PM was asked what he was hoping to achieve in his trip to China. He responded that his major questions were how to expand on the existing areas of tertiary education, exports and tourism.

The PM was asked whether he was concerned about Japan joining the TPPA. He said that China did not actually get a voice on the TPPA. He was then asked about his own position on Japan. He responded that New Zealand would “spell out a consistent case that we do with everybody”.

The PM was asked what message about human rights he would take to China. He responded that it was normally raised between embassies but it was not going to be a “number one issue” in terms of his own meetings because it was ordinarily dealt with through Foreign Ministers but that if it arose he would express New Zealand’s position.

The PM was asked whether negotiations with Japan would necessarily include agriculture exports as part of the negotiation. He responded firmly that agriculture would always have to be part of New Zealand’s FTAs because it was so significant for the country.

The PM was asked what message about food safety, and particularly milk safety he would take to China. He said that he would be “reaffirming” New Zealand’s position on food safety.

The PM was asked if he would pull out of a TPPA that excluded agriculture. He indicated that he would.

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