Press Release – Office of the Clerk
1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (LeaderNZ First) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?
Questions to Ministers
1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Does he stand by his statement in 2010 that “Looking four, five, ten years into the future I’d hate to see New Zealanders as tenants in their own country…”; if so, why, after almost 7 years, has his Government failed to collect specific information on foreign buying of land and homes in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : In answer to the first part of the question, yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Is he aware that both Beijing and Shanghai, for example, have laws preventing non-residents from inflating demand and buying houses in those cities, and does he consider that such measures would be racist if applied here?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, every country has different rules, but what I would say is the current rules around foreign investment were actually passed by the Labour Government in 2005. They are actually in line with the vast majority of developed countries. For example, in the UK, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and many other OECD countries, there are no or very few restrictions on foreigners buying residential property. When it comes to Australia, which, theoretically, has a restriction in relation to second-hand properties, it has been spectacularly unsuccessful.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why will his Government not, in his own words, “get some guts” and introduce restrictions on foreign buyers of our homes and land, like, for example, in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore; or are they too racist and xenophobic?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, for a start, I am proud to lead a Government where if we were to make changes around foreign investment, it would be to every country and every ethnicity, and we would not just cook things up and single people out.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Is it not the case that his opposition to New Zealand First’s foreign ownership of land and homes register bill is because he is scared of Kiwis finding out under his watch just how much land and housing has been flogged off to overseas buyers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, in our view it was poorly drafted.
Economy, International—Effects on New Zealand
2. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance : What reports has he received on the international economy, and its effect on the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I have seen a number of reports, including Treasury’s Monthly Economic Indicators. As members will be aware, there have been continued drops in the international dairy price recently. It is now 40 percent lower than the recent peak in early March. For the dairy sector, times are turning out to be tougher, and they may be for longer, than industry experts expected. However, New Zealand’s automatic stabilisers, in the form of flat to falling interest rates and a reducing exchange rate against the US and Australian dollar, will help cushion the effects of a dairy price decline and increase the profits of other export sectors, where prices are holding up.
Chris Bishop : What matters of economic relevance for New Zealand did he observe on his recent visit to China?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Both political leaders and business operators in China remain reasonably positive about the economic outlook. China’s growth does appear to be slowing, more so probably in investment in infrastructure than in consumer demand, where rising wages and a continued demand for high-quality food products would tend to underpin more growth in New Zealand rather than less. It is good news for New Zealand to see China officially moving from an investment-driven economy to more emphasis on consumption driving growth.
Chris Bishop : How does New Zealand’s current economic performance compare with other developed economies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : New Zealand faces some of the same headwinds as other developed economies—2.6 percent GDP growth in the year to March compares with an average of about 2 percent growth across the OECD. Tourism, for instance, is growing reasonably strongly because the New Zealand dollar has dropped relative to the US dollar, and this last year we have had 3 million visitors, a 7 percent increase on the previous year, indicating there is sufficient economic growth and confidence in other developed economies to supply more tourists to New Zealand.
Chris Bishop : How well placed is the New Zealand economy to deal with any potential slow-down in the rate of economic growth should international conditions worsen?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : In the light of recent commentary on the economy, that is a very good question. The Reserve Bank’s latest forecast, just 6 weeks ago, incorporated reductions in dairy prices and at the same time forecast growth of over 3 percent in the next few years. Recent data indicates that those forecasts may come back a little, but we remain on track for sustained moderate growth. As I have indicated, the exchange rate has dropped considerably, cushioning the effect of lower dairy prices, and interest rates are now flat to falling, rather than rising as was expected just 3 or 4 months ago. That will help households that may face some headwinds from lower dairy prices.
Prime Minister—Auckland Housing Market
3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement in relation to affordability of homes in Auckland that “there’s a general view that housing prices are not overvalued”, given that the homeownership rate has fallen to its lowest level in 64 years?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): This is a very misleading piece of selective quoting, and in fact was not made in relation to the affordability of homes in Auckland at all. I stand by the full statement I made. When asked to comment on the fact that New Zealand has not had a housing correction in 45 years, I said “One of the reasons why you probably haven’t had a significant correction is because over the last 45 years there’s probably been a general view that houses are not overvalued relative to a whole lot of different factors. My point is that the market, in the end, assesses when housing is massively overvalued compared to fundamentals, not politicians.”
Andrew Little : Does he still think that the typical Auckland house is affordable for the typical Auckland family, when prices have risen five times faster than incomes under his watch and the median house now costs 10 times the median household income?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : There are a variety of different measures around affordability, but what I do know is that house prices doubled under the previous Labour Government, and interest rates are considerably lower than they were under the previous Labour Government. If one even looks at homeownership rates, our homeownership rate, at 64.8 percent, is highly comparable with other OECD countries.
Andrew Little : Is he aware that in the past year the number of owner-occupied homes fell by 2,400 while the number of rentals rose by 19,800, and does that not show that his polices are favouring investors while taking the Kiwi dream of homeownership away from families?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No. There are a variety of different reasons why people may move into rental properties. For one thing, Auckland actually has been growing in size and many people move to a city and rent a property as the starting thing that they do.
Andrew Little : Why is it the policy of this Government—of his Government—to allow overseas speculators to profit off New Zealand homes, contributing nothing to our economy while pushing prices out of reach of more and more families?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Firstly, I reject that, but, secondly, we have the policies that were introduced, actually, by the Labour Government. It passed the foreign investment rules in 2005. Apparently, Winston was part of it, happily praising it and voting for it. They were good enough for Labour in Government, but they are not good enough for Labour in Opposition. Mind you, it is a very different Labour Party these days, is it not?
Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! I am calling for less interjection from my right-hand side.
Andrew Little : Can he guarantee that the Inland Revenue Department database will be public and will clearly reveal the number of non-residents buying New Zealand houses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As the member knows, there is a process that we are going through at the moment. There is a bill in the House, and we will be looking at that data. But what I do know is our information will not be cooked up, and when someone asks me a question about it I will not lose my rag at TV3 like that member did before.
Andrew Little : Why did he give offshore speculators 4-months’ notice of the upcoming change of rules, giving them time to game the old system, when he cancelled the KiwiSaver kick-start on the day of the Budget so that parents could not sign their kids up?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : If the member ever gets into Government, then he may realise that tax law is a very complicated and complex thing. If we had not actually had a period of time where there was an opportunity for tax specialists and others to give input into the process, then you may have got unintended consequences. Secondly, nothing changes under tax law in New Zealand as a result of the brightline test. If someone buys on revenue account then they will still be subject to paying tax. You can be sure, as I said at my post-Cabinet press conference yesterday afternoon, that the Inland Revenue Department will be looking very closely at people who buy houses at the moment, like it does all the time, and it will be collecting tax revenue off people who owe it.
Andrew Little : If he has done all he can on housing why are Auckland house prices accelerating rather than stabilising, why are the number of homes owned by people who live in them falling, and why are so many offshore websites urging speculators to keep on buying in Auckland?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As we know, we really have to question any piece of data or information the Labour Party puts out there these days in whatever language it introduces it. I actually stand by the Government’s record on what we have done: 118 special housing areas, on which we expect 50,000 new dwellings, the vast bulk of which are in Auckland; the brightline test that is there; the $50 million that is set aside for residential housing development; the KiwiSaver HomeStart programme, which, as I saw the other day in the paper, is doing exceedingly well; and the other rules that we have changed around the cost of imported materials. This Government has done a great deal when it comes to housing—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The answer is quite long enough.
Prime Minister—Flag Referendum
4. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that “I’d bet my bottom dollar that there would be considerable debate and discussion in New Zealand about whether the flag should change”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I do. I made that comment when the flag consideration project had received about 2,300 different flag designs. I am delighted to inform the member that at the last count the panel had received 10,291 flag designs. My bottom dollar is pretty safe, I think.
James Shaw : Does he accept that only 25 percent of New Zealanders want to change the flag, whereas 87 percent of New Zealanders are concerned about climate change?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, I do not think you actually can make that prediction until we go through the referendum process. As the member knows, there will be two referenda in relation to the flag change. I think we are ultimately going to have to wait until that final referendum takes place in early 2016 to see whether New Zealanders want to change the flag or not. I hope they do, because I believe passionately that a new flag can be used as part of a way of showing how proud we are of our country and of how we unify a multicultural society.
James Shaw : Given that climate change submissions outnumbered flag submissions by 15,000 to 2,300, does he think that changing the flag was the right priority for him to personally champion?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, I would say—and I have said this on numerous occasions—that the flag is just one of a great many issues as Prime Minister that I have a hand on. I have never argued that it is the most important one. In fact, back in 2010 when that issue was raised significantly with me, I made the point there that there were much bigger and more important issues to deal with at the time. But over time I think we can actually consider a whole range of different factors. When it comes to climate change, the member is right. There were 17,023 submissions received by the Government, but actually most of those were stock standard ones. They were pro forma and they were prompted by the Green Party. In fact, there were only 1,485 submissions that were unique. If we go to the flag—something of interest because it was the member’s primary question—he may be interested to know that there were 146,000 views of the New Zealand flag history video, that 6,000 people visited workshops and information stands, and that there were more than 850,000 online visits and about 2.7 million views of the flag gallery. I need to tell the member that every single night when I am in my office, I am signing letters thanking the young people of New Zealand who are writing to me, I have got to say, in their hundreds—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Now I have heard enough.
James Shaw : I thank the Prime Minister for his acknowledgment of how successful the Green Party was at galvanising public opinion.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just ask the supplementary question.
James Shaw : If he plans to listen to the public on changing the flag, why did his Government not listen to the 99 percent of submitters who argued for a 2030 emissions reduction target of at least 40 percent below 1990 levels?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Because, in the end, of course we undertake consultation, but consultation does not always mean agreement with a specific point of view. The target that we have come up with—minus 30 percent off a 2005 base—we believe, is actually a balanced and fair target to take in. It is just one of the things that we do think is about right, given the cost to our economy and the challenges that we have with half of our emissions coming from agriculture. The other point that we have made with the target is that we are quite happy to increase that target over time, if we can get some of the scientific solutions we need for agriculture. I am actually very confident, as I am sure the member himself will be, that over the next 10 to 15 years there will be a significant breakthrough when it comes to agriculture.
Andrew Little : In light of the increase in economic hardship, especially in the regions, does he now accept that there are better uses for $26 million of taxpayers’ money than a flag referendum that the public does not want?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, firstly we do not know what the final cost of the referendum process will be. I simply say that because Labour and the Greens actually pushed along a referendum on the mixed-ownership model after we had had a general election that we won with a landslide on this very topic. In the end, the estimates were $9 million and the actual costs were $6.7 million. But here is the point: this is a major constitutional issue, and this party believes in democracy in the same way that this party believes in a multicultural society and being fair and decent to people and not cooking things up. That is what the National—
Mr SPEAKER : Order!
James Shaw : Given his answer about costs to the New Zealand economy of strong action on climate change, would he say that the majority of the 520 businesses surveyed by Waikato University were wrong to think that when it comes to climate change “There is a risk that weak Government inaction will still incur most of the costs without capturing the potential benefits.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, I did not see the survey and I do not know the companies that have been asked the question. I do not think that that is actually right, though, because if we look at the emissions trading scheme, that, in fact, actually sheets, ultimately, the costs either home to businesses that need to change their practices—but, ultimately, those businesses will pass those costs on to consumers—or they go directly to consumers. The issue we have got here is that we get about 80 percent of our energy from renewable sources. We have about half of our emissions coming from agriculture, and the Treasury advice to the Government, as I recall it, was that the cost of our making the sorts of reductions that, say, for instance, the European Union promised are much, much higher in this country. I think we have just got to get that balance about fair, and I think we have. This is just one of the varied tools that we are using around climate change. There will be others over time. I accept, actually, that it is an important issue. The Government is taking it seriously.
James Shaw : So if he does not believe that those businesses were correct, or that the 99 percent of submitters were correct, does he also believe that the 24 percent of National Party voters polled by UMR who think that New Zealand should take stronger action on climate change are also wrong?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I did not say that the member was wrong and that those businesses were wrong. I was quite clear when I said that I did not see the survey and I do not know the particular companies that it asked. Each will have a different perspective. But there are hundreds of thousands of companies, I suspect, in New Zealand; the 500 are just a snapshot of what is there. I accept the view, actually, that climate change is an important issue, and I accept the view that New Zealand needs to do its fair share, and I accept the view that there is a strong case that New Zealand might, over time, be able to do more. But I am just simply making the point that if we ask our farmers to do that and we cannot give them any scientific solutions, we are simply putting a cost on them without their being able to actually change their behaviour. That is just called a tax, and I do not think that actually helps the consumers of the world who will have to pay for those products.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Can he confirm that only one party, when asked by him to join the cross-party parliamentary committee on his flag change, would not join, and it told him that it was a $26 million waste of taxpayers’ money and to shove his Benedict Arnold idea where the sun does not shine?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, I do not recall the letter saying to shove it where the sun don’t shine, but I do remember the dinosaurs’ party saying that it did not want to take part.
James Shaw : Given the strong public preference for greater action on climate change than on flag change, is he willing to work with other political parties to come up with a more ambitious emissions reduction target?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, the Government has got its position when it comes to climate change targets. It is quite a legitimate thing for every political party to have its own target and its own set of policies, but we take those to a general election.
B4 School Checks—Reports
5. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Health : What recent reports has he received on the number of B4 School free health and development checks completed in the last financial year, and what do they show?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): I have received a report that 58,600 children received B4 School Checks in primary care in the year to June, and that this is a record 92 percent of eligible children. B4 School Checks test a child’s hearing, vision, and oral health. Behaviour, development, and growth are all assessed, and immunisations are also checked. The Government invests $10 million each year to provide these free primary care B4 School Checks, which have now benefited more than 300,000 children and which ensure that Kiwi kids start school in the best possible health.
Simon O’Connor : Has he had to do any checking of the numbers in recent reports relating to checks on children?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Yes, I have. My office had to spend a lot of time last week following up a claim that 22 out of 26 GP practices in central Auckland had opted out of free visits for under-13s, but several hours later the Labour Party apologised to journalists, conceding that their figures—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Minister will resume his seat.
Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two points of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : I will have the first one.
Chris Hipkins : The first one is that it is actually a real stretch to get the supplementary question related to the primary question. The second point of order is that the Speakers’ rulings, and your rulings, in fact, are very clear that supplementary questions from the Government on Government questions should not be used to attack the Opposition.
Mr SPEAKER : On the first—and I think it then relates to the second point of order—the supplementary question, in my mind, was in order. There was no way I was to know what figures the Minister had had to take time to correct. So the question was definitely in order. As the answer has progressed, it is getting to a stage now when I could conclude that it has been designed for no other purpose than to attack the Labour Opposition. I would be grateful if the Minister, if he wants to conclude his answer, would do so without further reference to Labour.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Sure. In actual fact, of 10 practices in central Auckland nine are offering free doctors visits for under-13s. I accept Mrs King’s apology. I would like to table the transcript of a radio article entitled—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! No. Such transcripts are freely available to all members if they so want them.
6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does he agree with the Prime Minister that bad news about the New Zealand economy is overblown, and that while dairy prices are down, “95 percent of our economy is not involved in that”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.
Grant Robertson : How does he reconcile his support for the Prime Minister’s statement with the following statement, also made by the Prime Minister: “When things are going well on our farms this flows through into the small towns, the provincial cities, and ultimately into our big cities. Conversely, when the primary sector sneezes the New Zealand economy catches a cold.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Pretty easily, actually. There is no doubt that significantly lower dairy prices for longer than expected will have some dampening effect on the economy. But, unfortunately for the member, who gives the impression that the dairy industry is about half of the New Zealand economy, he should listen to the Prime Minister, who points out that it is around 5 percent of GDP.
Grant Robertson : Does he agree with former National agriculture Minister David Carter, who said: “South Africa has diamonds, Australia has minerals, Saudi Arabia has oil, and in New Zealand we have farms based on pasture.”; if so, how does that fit with the 95 percent of New Zealanders not being affected by plummeting dairy prices?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Of course I agree with the former National Party agriculture Minister. He is very well-informed and very well-travelled and has great insight into the world economy. But even that former Minister will be aware of the facts, which are that the dairy industry is around 5 percent of GDP, and eventually the finance spokesman for the Labour Party will avail himself of the facts.
Grant Robertson : How can he claim that 95 percent of New Zealand is not affected by the plummeting dairy price when the 2014-15 payout means, for example, $150 million less in the Whakatāne and Kawerau economy, $190 million less in the Ōtorohanga community, and $150 million less in the Waimate community, or are concerns in those communities just overblown?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, and those communities and others like Southland and mid Canterbury, where there is a concentration of dairy production, of course are going to be affected by a payout that is likely to be lower than people expected and may stay lower for longer. That is pretty obvious. But at the same time each of those regions, for instance, will benefit from a stronger tourism industry, where the drop in the value of the New Zealand dollar means that tourism is actually doing pretty well. The member, when he goes to those regions, needs to make sure that he understands the breadth of their economies and not focus just on the dairy industry.
Grant Robertson : Can the Minister confirm that he is saying to the people of Whakatāne and Kawarau that they will get around $150 million from tourists flocking to their region to make up for the loss in dairy profits?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, I did not say that. I am simply pointing out to the member that when the dairy industry is less than 20 percent of exports and you go to any region of New Zealand that prides itself—as those regions do—on their exporting capacity, he will find that there are other industries that may be balancing off some of the negative impacts of the dairy industry. For instance, in the Bay of Plenty kiwifruit is going pretty well. But of course I agree with the member that the lower dairy price will have a significant impact on the dairy farmers and on the servicing industries related to that farming.
Grant Robertson : Is he really dismissing as overblown a 40 percent drop in dairy prices since March; a forecast of a $3.75 payout for 2015-16; a 20 percent decline in commodity prices in the year to June; sharply declining public confidence, consumer confidence, business confidence, and employment confidence; or we do have to rely just on his and the Prime Minister’s post-holiday vibe to get us through?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, I can see that the member has learnt not to use the word “crisis”, because when Labour says something is a crisis it always comes right—if it has not already. So, look, there are certainly risks to the economy from the global economy, but the point we are making, I suppose, is that although some prices are low, others are high or have not gone down, and the automatic stabilisers—a lower exchange rate and flat-to-falling interest rates—are coming into play. So we would expect that New Zealand remains on track for moderate sustainable growth of 2 to 3 percent.
Grant Robertson : Is it really correct that the Government’s Pollyanna position on the economy is a result of his—as the Prime Minister said—“feeling better” after his trip to China; and are we now going to make economic policy based on what he is feeling in his waters?
Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Bill English—with a fair bit of licence.
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I am certainly not going to make it on what that member might be feeling in his waters. It is just a matter of keeping in context the breadth of the New Zealand economy. The member would like to think it is entirely focused on exporting one product to one country, but that is not, in fact, the case. It has a broad base, much of which is succeeding at the moment—a 14 percent growth in IT year on year, big increases in kiwifruit, record tourist numbers, highest sustained migration flows for quite some time, a wine industry with exports roughly three times what they were 10 years ago—and a dairy industry that is really struggling. That is the breadth of the New Zealand economy, and we are sufficiently resilient to absorb the shock from lower dairy prices and sustain moderate growth of 2 to 3 percent.
Information and Communications Technology Industry—Graduates
7. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment : How is the Government delivering more of the skilled ICT graduates that New Zealand needs?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): As the member will know, the information and communications technology industry is growing rapidly, and last week I announced the successful host of the first two new information and communications technology graduate schools in Auckland and Christchurch. These schools will help to link our fast-moving information and communications technology sector with students and education providers, and will shape the information and communications technology talent. The Government has committed $28.6 million to the development and delivery of three schools, and once fully established, they are expected to train in excess of 350 additional students annually, on top of the 1,600 to 1,900 students currently graduating with degree-level or above – information and communications technology qualifications.
Joanne Hayes : What is the focus of the newly announced schools?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The Auckland school will be hosted by the universities of Auckland and Waikato, with satellite locations in Hamilton and Tauranga. It will be focused on developing industry-focused postgrad information and communications technology students with the communication, critical thinking, business, and enterprise skills that employers need. The southern school will be focused on issues relevant to regional economies, hosted by the South Island Tertiary Alliance, which is a group of South Island tertiary institutions with a campus in the Christchurch innovation precinct and a satellite site in Dunedin. A third graduate school will also be opened in Wellington, with an announcement about that provider later this year.
Joanne Hayes : Why has the Government established the information and communications technology graduate schools?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Highlighting the ongoing diversification of the New Zealand economy, New Zealand’s IT services and software industry is growing rapidly, with more than 10,000 domestic IT businesses now, employing over 26,700 people, and with employment growing in this sector at 12 percent in 2014. Exports from this sector have also doubled in the past 5 years, from $400 million to $930 million, with a compound annual growth rate of 14 percent. The schools will add more information and communications technology graduates with work-relevant, business-focused skills to help assist the information and communications technology industry’s continued growth.
Mount Eden Corrections Facility—Performance
8. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Corrections : Does he stand by his statement that Mount Eden Corrections Facility is “the highest performing prison” for measures of core security, rehabilitation, and reintegration?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Minister of Corrections): Yes, I stand by all my statements in the context in which they were given.
Kelvin Davis : Why has his department taken more than a year to act on a report alleging an organised fight club at Mt Eden Corrections Facility?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA : That report had a number of conclusions and statements that were unsubstantiated.
Kelvin Davis : Why have the terms of reference for the investigation into fight clubs been narrowed down to paying attention to the past 3 months, thereby conveniently excluding the findings of the report accepted by the Department of Corrections on 9 July 2014, which, by all accounts, “does not make nice reading”?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA : It is not an investigation; it is a review, and that review is not inclusive of just the past 3 months. It is an all-encompassing review that can go back as far as it needs to go.
Kelvin Davis : How many of the YouTube videos showing fights at Mt Eden Corrections Facility have corresponding incident reports from Serco, and if he does not know, how can he have any confidence in Serco’s claimed assault-rate at Mt Eden?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA : I do not have that information to hand, but what I can say is that assaults are an issue not only at Mt Eden prison but also right across the prison estates. We are dealing with some of the most difficult and violent people in our society. For example, in the last financial year, five serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults were made at Mt Eden Corrections Facility. That compares with five at Christchurch Men’s Prison, six at Spring Hill Corrections Facility, and seven at Rimutaka Prison. When we look at prisoner-on-staff assaults in the last financial year, Mt Eden had one assault, compared with Waikeria Prison, which had three.
KickStart Breakfast Programme—Reports
9. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development : What reports has she received on how the KickStart Breakfast initiative is supporting vulnerable children?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): As students head back to school this week, the 5-millionth KickStart Breakfast since the Government expanded the programme in 2013 will be served. An investment of $9.5 million over 5 years has seen the programme expanded from two to five mornings per week and to include all primary and secondary schools that want or need it, regardless of decile. In fact, the majority of schools are reporting improvements in general health and well-being at 85 percent, concentration at 78 percent, and behaviour at 66 percent. This is another fantastic example of the Government, communities, and the private sector working together to ensure that children have the best possible start that we can give them.
Alfred Ngaro : What other steps is the Government taking to ensure vulnerable children are well supported?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY : Budget 2015 provides for a $790 million child hardship package that includes a $25-a-week increase in benefit rates for families with children, which is the first increase above inflation in 43 years; an increase in Working for Families payments to low-income families not on a benefit; more childcare support for low-income families; and increased work obligations for sole parents on a benefit as part of our plan to support people back into work, which provides their children with the best chance of living successful lives.
Trans-Pacific Partnership—Foreign Home Buyers
10. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Trade : Does the current draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement purport to restrict a future New Zealand Government from banning the sale of existing New Zealand homes to foreign buyers from Trans-Pacific Partnership countries?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Associate Minister of Trade) on behalf of the Minister of Trade : As Trans-Pacific Partnership provisions are still under negotiation and are not finalised, we cannot comment on what may or may not be included at this time.
Hon David Parker : Why did the lead New Zealand Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiator brief MPs from all parties that although the draft Trans-Pacific Partnership does allow for existing categories of investment controls to continue, it does not allow for the introduction of new categories like a ban on the purchase of housing?
Hon TODD McCLAY : I am not sure that that is entirely what he said or meant, but what I would say is that this issue hinges on the specific facts and measures and their application. The current operation of the Overseas Investment Act is not impacted by existing free-trade agreements, including the requirements, consents, and acquisition of land or sensitive land. But I would state again that I cannot comment on what provisions might be in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation or whether or not it will be concluded.
Hon David Parker : Is he aware that the New Zealand – China free-trade agreement allows for restrictions on foreign buyers of New Zealand homes, including Chinese buyers, so long as subsequent agreements with other countries are no more generous?
Hon TODD McCLAY : I am aware that there are a number of conditions in all of our free-trade agreements. What I would also say, though, is that under the last Labour Government, around conditions for the purchase of—
Hon David Parker : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was—
Mr SPEAKER : I am going to ask the member to repeat the question.
Hon David Parker : Is he aware that the New Zealand – China free-trade agreement allows for restrictions on foreign buyers of New Zealand homes, including Chinese buyers, so long as subsequent agreements with other countries are no more generous?
Hon TODD McCLAY : I am aware that our free-trade agreements have a number of conditions in them, and many of them are different. But what I would say is that there are a number of ways to address the policy issue that the member has announced, one of which is to use the Overseas Investment Act and make that more restrictive. The previous Labour Government did that. Most certainly, in negotiating our free-trade agreements, the Government is mindful of getting the balance right and of ensuring that the agreements are in the best interests of New Zealand.
Hon David Parker : Given that he will not say what the draft text says, will he say whether his position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is that it should allow for restrictions on foreign buyers of New Zealand homes, just as the New Zealand – China free-trade agreement does?
Hon TODD McCLAY : The Minister’s position is the same as that of the Government. Most certainly, what I would say to you is that we as a Government are very keen to make sure that our agreements are balanced, that they are good for New Zealand and the New Zealand economy, and that they are fair to all nations. You will not see this party on this side of the House singling out any one group of individuals. We believe they should be treated—[Interruption] We are not Hobbit-haters. We do not mind the Koreans. We are not against the Chinese. And as far as the Trans-Pacific Partnership is concerned, I say to that member that we are not opposed to Americans playing either.
Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although there was some interjection during the latter part of the Minister’s answer, he continued to go down a line of attack on the Opposition, which earlier you ruled as out of order.
Mr SPEAKER : No, it was a long answer. To be absolutely honest, I could not hear the end of it because there was so much interjection, but this is a robust debating chamber, and there will be occasions when Ministers will include some political statements in their answers.
Hon David Parker : Will he guarantee that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will not restrict his Government or a subsequent Government from banning the purchase of New Zealand homes by foreigners from Trans-Pacific Partnership countries?
Hon TODD McCLAY : I state again that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is currently under negotiation. Indeed, the Minister is overseas negotiating right now. What I will give an assurance of absolutely is that for the Government to decide to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, overall it will be good for New Zealanders and the New Zealand economy. We are a trading nation; we do not become richer by selling things to ourselves. We must ensure that we have good access to other markets—competitive access—and that is what the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation is about.
11. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Does he have confidence in all his Ministers; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; because they are competent and hard-working.
Ron Mark : How can he have confidence in the Minister of Corrections, given that he believes the Serco-run Mt Eden Corrections Facility is: “… in terms of their core security, in terms of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and a whole range of factors, they still perform in a way that exceeds other prisons.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am sure that in the context that those statements were made, they were correct. What the Minister has also done is ensure that there is now a wide-ranging review of what has taken place at Mt Eden Corrections Facility. In the fullness of time we will get a sense of any issues that might have presented themselves there.
Ron Mark : Does it not concern him that a previous report into a fight club in a prison, which was done over a year ago, was ignored by his Minister of Corrections; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Firstly, I do not have details on that report. If the member wants to ask detailed questions about it, he really needs to ask the Minister of Corrections. But I am not even actually sure that he was the Minister of Corrections at the time that that report was issued.
Ron Mark : Does he believe that the new standard of Government that he sought to establish in 2008 is best served by his Minister of Corrections addressing Serco’s failure with financial penalties, when the public’s perception is that gross breaches of this nature should have resulted in the termination of its contract?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Firstly, the member is a long way ahead of himself. We do not actually know the details yet. We do not know what and how and why, and how widespread the issue is. But what we do know, in the case of the Mt Eden Corrections Facility as run by Serco, is that we do have the capacity there to have penalties because of the nature of that contract, which is more than we would have if there was a fight club of any sort operating in any other prison around New Zealand.
12. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Social Development : Will she be raising benefit levels given official advice that shows that a family of four living on a benefit has $72 less per week than what they need to provide the “core essential items”; if not, why not?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Yes, the Government has committed to increasing benefit levels by $25 a week for families with children from April 2016, the first increase in core benefit levels in 43 years other than for inflation. Plus we are increasing support to our most vulnerable communities, like free GP visits and prescriptions for all children under 13. I have just announced in this House the 5-millionth breakfast under the Government’s expanded KickStart Breakfast programme. We have funded KidsCan half a million dollars to provide raincoats and footwear. We have put extra Social Workers in Schools in low-decile schools. We are rolling out Children’s Teams to work with at-risk children and their families, and we have insulated every State house that could be insulated.
Jan Logie : Given that after that additional $25, if they are lucky enough to get the full amount, these families will still be $47 a week short, what essentials does the Minister advise these families go without: food, power, transport, or rent?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY : The member is quoting from one of the three scenarios that were laid out as part of the initial work in developing the child hardship package. That very same family scenario under which a lot of assumptions have been made shows very clearly that if we can support that family into either full-time work for one and part time for the other, or part-time work for both of those parents, their circumstances and that of their families are significantly changed. That is the focus of this Government and will continue to be the focus of this Government, because we know that work is the best way out of poverty for those families.
Jan Logie : Is the Minister concerned that even when this family does manage to find some work, their pay and ability to look after their children will be significantly reduced as a result of ongoing debt repayments because of insufficient benefits?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY : No. In fact, the scenario that the member is continuing to quote from shows that by having one adult in the family—this is a scenario that shows a family with two children, aged 10 and 8—working 40 hours a week and the other adult working 20 hours a week, they will have in excess of those basics of living $207 every week extra.
Jan Logie : When the Minister references that scenario, which does not include a landline, or access to a computer or newspapers, or personal allowances, or access to holidays or alcohol, or assuming there is any debt repayment to Work and Income to cover basic food—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I want the supplementary question, please.
Jan Logie : —how does the Minister expect the families to pay for things like when their car breaks down or their washing machine breaks down or somebody gets sick and has to go to the hospital, which are not even in that scenario?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY : The scenario that the member is quoting from does actually include a landline; it does not include a mobile phone. We all know that that is probably the incorrect assumption. However, I come back to the fact that this Government made a decision that no other Government in 43 years has made, and that is to increase the amount paid to people on a benefit by $25 a week. That is to alleviate some of the hardship that these scenarios show, but its main focus is in supporting people to be independent of the Government, because that gives them the option and the choice to live full and successful lives, and the lives of their children are considerably improved as well.