Questions and Answers – Nov 3

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

1. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Finance : What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?
Questions to Ministers


1. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yesterday Treasury published its Monthly Economic Indicators. This shows that slower economic growth in the first half of 2015 is expected to return to around trend growth, or between 2 and 2.5 percent, supported by a recent rebound in dairy prices as well as wider economic resilience, as export-driven firms enjoy the benefits of a lower exchange rate. Inflation remains low. Higher population growth is now boosting housing markets both in and outside Auckland. There are of course risks to the outlook from the weak global economy, but overall the country remains on track for moderate economic growth.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What reports has he received showing increasing business confidence in the economic outlook?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Over the last 6 months or so business confidence has been up and down. The most recent report for October shows an improvement from recent lows—that is, slightly higher investment intentions, slightly better employment intentions, and a lift in residential investment intentions; all aspects of moderate future growth. ANZ says the increased confidence is based around a rebound in dairy prices and points to increasing activity in tourism, the services sector, primary industries, and housing outside Auckland. These are supported by lower interest rates and a lower New Zealand dollar. So they indicate moderate growth over the next 6 to 12 months.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: How does Treasury’s outlook for the economy compare with the latest forecast set out in Budget 2015?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As we mentioned, Treasury is now looking at economic growth returning to trend—around 2 to 2.5 percent—but the low growth for the calendar year 2015 could be under 2 percent. This is clearly weaker than the 3 percent growth Treasury was expecting in Budget 2015, and that, of course, will have a flow-on impact on unemployment and wages. Growth out ahead of us of 2 to 2.5 percent means we will still see solid job growth and wage increases but a bit less than was expected in the Budget.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What is the impact of low inflation, given that it is currently sitting at 0.4 percent in the year to September?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The low cost of living increases are good for families. They mean that any pay increases go further, and this also helps keep interest rates lower for longer. The measure of inflation, though, is likely to increase when the effect of the significant drop in oil prices falls out of the index. Our revenue is directly influenced by the rate of inflation, so a lower rate of inflation means the Government revenue is expected to be lower than was previously forecast.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What effect on the current account deficit will the $4.4 billion in profit this year repatriated by the big four Australian banks have?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, it is not all repatriated. The New Zealand Government taxes those profits, and I think that in the last year the banks paid something like $2 billion worth of tax. But overall the current account deficit and the international investment position have been improving and generally have been better than forecast for the last 4 or 5 years.

Immigration, Minister—Confidence

2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Immigration; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seriously, is he satisfied with over a thousand new patients a week, and is he confident that our hospitals are able to cope with the record demands as a result, given that they have had no extra funding; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I should have also added, in the spirit of the Rugby World Cup, the attributes of the Minister of Immigration in his more youthful years when he played for the South Island team, because they are about as relevant as the statement that the member has just made. Of course there is more money going into health. Go and have a look at the last Budget.

David Seymour: When did immigration to New Zealand begin, and how many people were in New Zealand prior to that time?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I assume it happened hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago—there is some talk of 600 years, if not more. And at the time when the first people arrived, one would assume there was nobody here, and there is still an awful lot of room left, from what I can see.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: For the benefit of the leader of the ACT Party, can the Prime Minister advise him that an immigrant is someone living legally in a country not of his or her birth?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that is true of everybody when they came here at some point.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: For those shallow people who—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If we could just have the supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: For those shallow people who argue that everybody is an immigrant, how can he be satisfied that funding levels for our hospitals, schools, police, transport infrastructure, and housing is adequate to meet the demands of a population increase driven by record migration; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is true that if one looks at the last 12 months, the net migration numbers are much higher than they have been in recent years, but over half of that, actually, reflects either New Zealanders not leaving or New Zealanders returning. If we look at migrants, they add a lot to our country. They add a lot to the diversity of our political system. The member is, as he knows, the member for Northland. He just needs to wander around his own electorate and look at some of the investment that has come in from the United States and all of that sort of thing. And if that does not satisfy him that migration makes sense, maybe he just wants to look at his own caucus member, who I think is of Indian descent—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister is well off the subject—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I think, on this case, there is a slight truth to what the member is saying. The answer went on for too long. I rose as the member rose to make sure the answer did not continue any longer. Does the member have a further supplementary question? [Interruption] Order! I have dealt with—[Interruption] Order! I have dealt with the matter. The member may not be satisfied, but I have dealt with it.

Health Services—Workforce

Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour): My question is to the Minister of Health. What reports has he received—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to ask the member to start again. I do not think she had a fair go.

3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received, if any, on the pressures facing the public health workforce?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Associate Minister of Health): on behalf of the Minister of Health: I have seen a report saying that the funding for health has gone up by over $4 billion under this National Government and that only a National Government can both handle the country’s finances and deliver more health services.

Hon Annette King: Has he been advised of the huge pressure on staff working in emergency departments because of the increase in the number of mental health patients requiring care, a number that has doubled in some district health boards under this Government’s watch?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: What I have been advised is that funding for mental health and addiction services has gone up from $1.1 billion in 2008 to $1.4 billion in the current financial year. The police and the Ministry of Health are working together to coordinate responsibilities around mental health services, and there is a stronger drive to encourage people who are experiencing mental health problems to seek help.

Hon Annette King: In light of the Minister’s consistent answer that there is more money in health, can he explain why the number of call-outs for adult mental health community services is spiralling out of control, and staff have reached the end of their tether?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I say again that the funding for mental health services has gone up from $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion. In fact, the proportion of police referrals against total referrals has actually dropped from 5.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

Hon Annette King: What impact does he believe giving mental health services a 0.52 percent increase in funding in 2014-15 is having on mental health staff’s ability to provide timely services?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I say to the member: verify those figures, because she has brought figures like that into the House that have clearly, patently been incorrect. But what I will say is that these services are being coordinated quite well between the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand Police. Again, as I said, $1.4 billion has been spent in this area.

Hon Annette King: Has he been advised that the number of call-outs for people needing mental health services in the community in just 12 district health boards has increased to 30,000 in this year to June alone, a record 20 percent increase?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Again, I do not have that member’s figures and do not know where that member gets the figures from, but what I can say is that $64 million has been invested over 4 years to support young people with their mental health under the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project—$1.4 billion has been spent on mental health services.

Hon Annette King: Does he think that it is appropriate for police to be handling up to 100 call-outs a day to manage mental health patients while the Government refuses to cover all the cost pressures in health that the Minister of Health has admitted in this House?

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: The police have developed new training resources to assist in developing their skills, and it has spent money to work alongside the ministry to provide these services.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I can anticipate the point of order, and I will invite the member to ask the question again.

Hon Annette King: Does he think it is appropriate for the police to handle up to 100 call-outs a day to manage mental health patients while the Government refuses to fund all the cost pressures in health, which is something that the Minister has admitted in this House.

Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I dispute the second part of that member’s assertion because the cost pressures in terms of health have been covered in this Budget to the tune of $330 million.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, you listened very carefully to that answer, and the Minister disputed that the Minister of Health had made that comment—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No—

Hon Annette King: Am I required now to table the Hansard to show that that is exactly what the Minister said?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member is certainly not entitled to even attempt to table the Hansard. The question when I listened to it a second time was probably answered the first time, in that the question alleged—according to the member asking that question—that the Government had refused to fund the increase, etc. The Minister certainly addressed that; he disputed it.

Information and Communications Technology Sector—Growth

4. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What reports has he received on growth in New Zealand’s technology sector?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Good news. Last week I helped launch the Technology Investment Network’s 2015 TIN100 Technology Industry Analysis report, which shows New Zealand’s top 200 high-tech companies collectively grew to nearly $9 billion in annual revenue last year—a $600 million, or 7.3 percent, increase in 1 year. The report shows that our high-tech businesses are an impressive growth story that is helping to rapidly diversify the New Zealand economy. Export revenues are up to an all-time high of $6.5 billion, and a record 19 companies now have revenues of $100 million a year or more. Job growth is also impressive, with 2,410 new jobs created in the 2014-15 year amongst TIN200 companies. Total job numbers in the TIN200 are now 37,333.

Brett Hudson: How much is the technology sector investing in research and development?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Research and development is a critical part of high-tech companies innovating and staying ahead of the competition. The total expenditure on research and development across the TIN200 companies in 2015 will hit nearly $1 billion in 1 year, a massive 16 percent increase. The Government is working hard to continue to encourage more companies to invest more in research and development through the Callaghan Innovation grants system. We have moved away from research and development tax credits, which had companies merely reclassifying existing expenditure. The total cross-Government science spend has increased to $1.5 billion a year, and it is showing in sectors like the tech sector.

Brett Hudson: What else is the Government doing to encourage the growth of high-tech—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will be inviting the member to start again. If members here do not want to wait for supplementary questions, they do not have to stay in the House to do so.

Brett Hudson: What else is the Government doing to encourage the growth of high-tech and innovative companies?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The report highlights what New Zealand tech companies can achieve with the help of positive Government policies that remove roadblocks to their growth. For example, there is our ranking as a country, out last week, as second in the world for ease of doing business. We are investing more in skills and education, like the new ICT Graduate Schools in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch; also investing more in engineering and other ICT places at universities; working in the regions with Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the new regional research institutes; and being open for business to the world, encouraging foreign investment, international education, and new trade agreements like the New Zealand – Korea free-trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Financial System—Overseas-owned Banks

5. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: What specific steps will he take to minimise the economic effect from billions of dollars of bank profits being taken out of New Zealand by overseas-owned banks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is focused on reducing New Zealand’s obligations to the rest of the world, and we have made some progress on this measure. The net international investment position is now 62 percent of GDP compared with minus 84 percent of GDP in early 2009—the lowest it has been since 1991. The Government has taken the specific steps of limiting spending increases and is moving to get on top of debt, and households have had positive net savings each year for the past 5 years, which is the first time that this has happened since the early 1990s. Of course, where profits are legally made by overseas banks, then we do not take specific action to take their profits off them, other than to tax them. Reserve Bank data shows that banks paid almost $2 billion in income tax in the year to June 2015, so that part of their profits was specifically not repatriated, because of Government action.

James Shaw: Would the Minister like to see more money staying in New Zealand, or is he OK with banks sending overseas the equivalent of almost $1,000 for every New Zealander?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I would point out to the member, they get to repatriate whatever is left over after they pay their tax, and, as I have pointed out, last year they paid $2 billion in tax. We are satisfied that New Zealand is making progress on gradually reducing its obligations to foreigners, and that is expressed through the measures that I pointed out before. Of course, individual New Zealanders have the choice of banks that they use, and should they use New Zealand – owned banks, then those profits are probably more likely to stay in New Zealand.

James Shaw: Is he satisfied that the Reserve Bank is adequately fulfilling its responsibility under Part 5 of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act to ensure that the banking system is efficient, given the sector’s record billion-dollar profits?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am pretty sure that the Reserve Bank is—in fact, I believe that the Reserve Bank is—fulfilling its obligations, which are, fundamentally, to have a stable banking system. If there is one thing that we have learned in the past 7 or 8 years, it is that one thing worse than profitable banks is unprofitable banks, because that has dragged down economies ranging from the US through to Ireland and Iceland. The Commerce Commission plays a role in assessing the competitiveness of our banking sector, and in a number of reviews over the years it has indicated that, in its view, the banking sector is competitive. New Zealanders can, of course, vote with their feet. They can remove their business from banks that they believe are making excessive profits—if they are overseas banks—and join New Zealand – owned banks, of which there are a number that are quite successful.

James Shaw: Does he accept that bank profitability has nothing to do with the stability of the banking industry that he was just referring to, given that Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns were all highly profitable in the years running up to their spectacular collapse?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: They were different sorts of banks from the big banks here in New Zealand—that is for sure. They tended also to make their profits by taking considerable risk—for instance, trading in derivatives, which our banks simply do not do beyond the absolute necessity to maintain their deposit-holding and lending functions. It is better to have strong banks. You cannot have a strong bank that does not make any money. These ones make profits under competitive conditions, and, as I said, New Zealanders who think that those profits are excessive can take their business elsewhere.

James Shaw: When farmers are struggling to meet their loan repayments and families in Auckland are being saddled with huge mortgages just to buy their first home, does he think that it is appropriate that the major foreign-owned banks are all making record profits?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the cases of both the farmers and the Auckland homeowners, it is “willing buyers/willing sellers”. We may have a view about the conditions that lead to high prices for farmland or housing, but they are choices made by sensible New Zealanders who understand the obligations that they are entering into. In fact, there are a whole lot of profitable businesses. In fact, if the businesses were not profitable, the banks would not be able to make profits either, and if households were not able to meet their obligations, the banks would not be able to continue to function as businesses. The member is putting forward an unrealistic choice.

James Shaw: Will his Government take action to keep more cash in the New Zealand economy and drive efficiency across the banking sector by investing in Kiwibank to compete properly with the big Australian banks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The best thing that New Zealanders can do to enable Kiwibank to compete more with the big Australian banks is to sign up to Kiwibank. In the end, that is what will make the most difference. The constraint on that bank is simply its ability to get customers. Of course, New Zealanders can also join the TSB Bank, or my favourite bank, SBS Bank, based on the Southland Building Society.

Economy—Treasury Advice on Unemployment

6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Is it correct that Treasury have advised him that they expect unemployment to rise above 6 percent in the coming months and that there will be “weak earnings growth over the rest of 2015”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, and that is on the basis of the economy being a bit softer in the first half of this year.

Grant Robertson: What has gone so wrong with the economy that more than 150,000 people are expected to be out of work over the next year and expectations of wage increases are the lowest in more than a decade?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not surprising that the expectation of wage increases is low, because inflation is low. In fact, in the year to September, Treasury expects average hourly earnings to increase by 2.5 percent—well ahead of inflation of 0.4 percent for that year. Households are getting bigger real-wage increases than they have for many of the past 10 or 15 years.

Grant Robertson: With unemployment going over 6 percent—meaning that over 150,000 New Zealanders will be out of work—can he tell the House one new thing that he will do to reduce unemployment, or does he not care about that?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is disappointing that unemployment has risen slightly off the back of a softer economy. One thing that we can do is protect innovative policies like the 90-day trial period from criticism by the Opposition, because that enables people who are on welfare and who may be penalised for that to have an opportunity to show an employer that they have got what it takes, but the Labour Party would want to stop that person from getting that opportunity.

Grant Robertson: In light of the Minister not having one new idea for what to do about unemployment, can he tell the House whether he thinks the economy is a success when growth is now slipping below 2 percent and unemployment is rising well above 6 percent? How is that a success?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The economy has adapted well and quite rapidly to a sharp drop in dairy prices. One of the reasons they have confidence is that the National-led Government has now signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. A lot of New Zealanders are wondering whether the Labour Party can take the step of supporting that agreement, because that agreement will support new jobs. The Greens will oppose it, of course, because they are against jobs. New Zealand First members will oppose it because they are against jobs. We are hoping that the Labour Party members might support it, because, apparently, they are for new jobs.

Grant Robertson: If, as forecast, unemployment goes over 7 percent early next year, will he come up with one new idea to create jobs in New Zealand, or is unemployment of that rate acceptable to him?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government does not wait around for unemployment to go up. We got on and negotiated—and were an integral part of negotiating—the world’s largest free-trade agreement. It will support, in the future, thousands of jobs in New Zealand. The only question mark over it is whether the Labour Party will support it or not. That is an idea from the Government. It will support jobs, and we invite the Labour Party to sort out its internal differences and support the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The policy of the Labour Party, or of any other party, has nothing to do with the answer—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I have the point of order, please?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The point of order is that he should have been brought back to the question to answer it.

Mr SPEAKER: No. As I have explained to the member on many occasions, the length of time and scope I give to any Minister answering a question depends on the type of question that was asked. In this case, the question asked probably was not strictly in line with the Standing Orders. I certainly allowed it, but I gave a very wide berth to the Minister in answering.

Grant Robertson: Is an unemployment rate of over 7 percent acceptable to the Minister; if not, what will he do to change that, given that his Government’s policies have seen unemployment continually rise over the past four quarters?

Mr SPEAKER: Either one of those two supplementary questions.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: A 7 percent unemployment rate is not the case, actually—it is nowhere near that. If it were there, it would be unacceptable. The next step that the House can take is to support the Korean free-trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement, because that would show to business that this Parliament—not just the National-led Government—understands what it takes to get jobs.

Northland College—Construction Contract

7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Education: Is she happy with the process to find a contractor for the Northland College rebuild; if so, why?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Associate Minister of Education: Yes; because the procurement of the main contractor to undertake the rebuild follows well-established and transparent Government and ministry guidelines for procuring Government services. An open invitation to all organisations interested in undertaking the works was published on the Government Electronic Tender System, GETS. All organisations that responded by the close of 28 October were assessed against the published criteria. A shortlist of organisations to proceed was chosen by a panel made up of external experts as well as ministry people. I am advised that the ministry expects to make a decision and award the contract by the end of November. I have brought along a copy of the tender document for the member’s information.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I was reading that before you left school. Of the Northland—[Interruption] Yes, I was, actually.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member wants to ask his question, just proceed to do so.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I am going to do that. Of the Northland-based contractors that made expressions of interest, how many were approved to the next stage?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not have that information because it is an operational matter and it would be inappropriate for a Minister to be intervening in it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What hope is there for regional economic development when at least one major contractor in Northland was never contacted after making an expression of interest?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have just outlined the process, and I have advised the member and the House that no final decision has been made, so I am not in a position to tell the member who is going to be appointed and whether or not they come from the local area or outside. But what I can tell the member is that this Government has invested $14 million—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a precise question with respect to the effect on regional economic development—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! But I will remind you that you are asking questions to the Associate Minister of Education.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I beg your pardon?

Mr SPEAKER: The member is asking supplementary questions to the Associate Minister of Education. It is not a question about regional development. Would the member please ask a supplementary question in line with the Standing Orders. [Interruption] Order! Can we just have a supplementary question, please.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Do you want me to repeat the question?

Mr SPEAKER: No, I want the member to ask a supplementary question, otherwise we can move on. [Interruption] Order! Ask your supplementary question, otherwise I am moving on.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: All right then. Does she agree—[Interruption] Well, we know what—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Now that we have got the member ready to ask his question, can we have some silence on my right-hand side so I can hear it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does she agree that it is common sense to award the building contract, and I emphasise the words “building contract”—pedalled by the office of the Associate Minister of Education, I might add, just for clarity, so no one is in doubt—to a Northland-based contractor that will create more jobs for the region; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER: Either of the two supplementary questions.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Can I repeat that I cannot answer that without the process having being completed and knowing who the main contractor is. But what I can tell the member is that $14 million for Northland College is a significant investment, and education alone has invested over $100 million into Northland over the last 5 years. That is—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The question has now been answered. [Interruption] Order! Question no. 8, Dr Jian Yang. [Interruption] Order! To both members, if you wish to have that conversation would you please go outside to do so.

Education Act—Review

8. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcements has she made regarding New Zealand’s education legislation?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yesterday I launched a public consultation document updating the Education Act 1989 and invited New Zealanders to have their say on the revamp of education legislation that will make it fit for the future. I encourage anyone—including the Opposition—interested in helping to create a world-class education system to participate. All of the information is online and easy to access and use, even for youth.

Dr Jian Yang: How important is the update of the Education Act 1989?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: When the reforms known as Tomorrow’s Schools were introduced in 1989 they transformed the way education was administered. For the first time local communities, through their boards of trustees, not a centralised bureaucracy, became responsible for running schools. That will remain. However, over the past 26 years the world has changed, as have the demands on our system and the responses that are required. This Government is clear that raising the achievement of all students should be the centrepiece of our Education Act. We know more now than we ever did about where kids are within our education system and we are concerned to ensure they get it through a lever of—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to give my last warning to Ron Mark. If he is going to continue to barrack like that then he will not see the end of question time.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will draw your attention to an incident in this House a little while ago—

Mr SPEAKER: Can I just have the point of order please?

Ron Mark: The point of order is about the inconsistency of rulings from the Chair—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat if he wishes to stay. Throughout the last two questions there has been a constant barrage from that member, making it very difficult for me to hear what was going on. I give the warning quite seriously to the member: if he wishes to stay I suggest he quietens down; if he does not wish to stay then I can assist him very quickly. Supplementary question—

Ron Mark: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I have dealt with the matter.

Ron Mark: A new point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: A fresh point of order?

Ron Mark: Fresh point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: If it—correction. But just before—the member will take a seat. I am happy to entertain a fresh point of order, but if it is in any way relitigating the territory we have just covered I will then be asking the member to leave the House immediately.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does the ruling still stand that we should not read our speeches?

Mr SPEAKER: There has never been a ruling that you must not read a speech. It has certainly been an encouragement for people not to read speeches. Very often through question time, as the member will observe as he spends more time in this House, Ministers do read from a scripted answer.

Ron Mark: Speaking to the point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No. We have dealt with the matter. The matter—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary question, the honourable—[Interruption] Order! Can I just remind Ron Mark that that is the very last warning.

Chris Hipkins: If the review of the Education Act is so important—

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

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: A fresh point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just a minute.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I don’t need a ruling.

Mr SPEAKER: That is exactly what the member said last time on an occasion like this, but I still want to deliver it so he then cannot accuse me of acting precipitously. I have dealt with this matter. If the member wants to raise a fresh point of order I will hear it, but if I consider it is in any way relitigating the territory just covered by his colleague Ron Mark, then I will not hesitate to ask the right honourable member to leave the Chamber.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The Standing Orders are very clear about members being referred to if they are not in the House. When you gave your reply to Ron Mark you used the phrase “if he spends more time in the House”. That is not allowed by the Standing Orders—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I said “as he spends more time in the House”. As he becomes more experienced with the Standing Orders and watches question time more often, he will have—[Interruption] Order! Ron Mark will leave the Chamber. Ron Mark, would you leave the Chamber. Ron Mark withdrew from the Chamber.

Chris Hipkins: If the review of the Education Act is so important, why has she allowed only a 6-week consultation period for New Zealanders to have their say, which coincides with senior exams, school prize givings, end-of-year results, tertiary education enrolments, and the end of the school year?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: It is because the period that we are consulting comes after 2 years of consulting by the task force on legislation and regulations. It comes after about 40 national and regional fora at which the proposed changes were discussed, and it comes at a period of time that having consulted with schools they have identified as a period in which they welcome consultation.

Chris Hipkins: Supplementary question. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Would Tracey Martin please settle down.

Tracey Martin: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. Again she is stepping in the same territory where one of her colleagues has just been. There was a question asked. It deserved an answer. I am trying to listen to it. If the member wants to take a supplementary question, do so, but do not interrupt the proceedings of my House and expect me to comfort the member. Supplementary question, Chris—

Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: If it is a fresh point of order I will hear it. Otherwise the member will get exactly the same treatment if she is relitigating the territory I have been through.

Tracey Martin: Is it still appropriate for a member to take offence when told to shut up across the House by another member?

Mr SPEAKER: I did not hear that, but with the amount of interjection from the member I am not surprised. It is unhelpful—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. It is not helpful for any member to my right to interject that way, but I can understand why a response may have been loosely given in that respect, because the level of interjection from the member was unacceptable.

Chris Hipkins: Why will not this review include the issue of the support that schools—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member please start the question again. If he is interrupted by a member—a particular member—of New Zealand First she will be leaving.

Chris Hipkins: Why will not this review include the fundamental issue of the support schools receive from her department and whether or not it is inadequate, when the proportion of frontline staff at the Ministry of Education is declining and she confirmed yesterday that her ministry is planning to cut up to $23 million due to Budget pressures?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: This review is about the Education Act 1989. It sets out specifically what its themes are. If the member is interested in other elements in the wider education portfolio, then he should ask a primary question on those.

Education, Minister—Early Childhood Education

9. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by the statement made on her behalf regarding Early Childhood Education that “this Government believes firmly that it is not only about funding; it is actually about quality and participation”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): I absolutely stand by the Acting Minister of Education’s statement. We know that participation in good quality early childhood education helps kids achieve at school and beyond. This will be accomplished only if we focus on participation—kids actually being there—as well as the quality of services and funding. That is why this Government has not only invested so strongly in early childhood education—almost doubling investment since 2008 to $1.6 billion—but is also focusing on raising participation.

Chris Hipkins: Why did the Government reduce funding for early childhood education services that have 100 percent fully qualified and registered teachers?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The Government made a decision in 2010 not to pursue a previous Labour Government policy, and that is what our Government did. In the meantime we have nearly doubled—we have not cut funding. Going from $790 million to $1.6 billion is doubling the investment. That is not a cut at all, in anybody’s language. And, moreover, we have seen a significant increase in the number of teacher-led, centre-based early childhood education providers in the 80-plus percent funding range, which means there has been an increase in teacher-led centred funding.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think the question could have been any more specific than asking why the Government decided to make—

Mr SPEAKER: I listened to the answer, and it was very clearly answered.

Chris Hipkins: Is she saying that the only reason that the National Government cut funding for services with 100 percent qualified staff is that it was the Labour Government’s idea?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: International research is really clear that quality is made up of funding, of parent participation, of qualified teachers, and of ratios. New Zealand is one of the top three—[Interruption] New Zealand is in the top three in the world for all of those things.

Chris Hipkins: How does reducing funding to early childhood services that employ fully qualified staff, like kindergartens, increase quality, particularly given those very kindergartens are now making teachers redundant and are reducing hours of staff because of funding shortfalls?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: It means that we can fund wider choice for parents. It means that parent-led centres, such as kōhanga reo and Playcentre, also can be funded, so parents can choose which ones they send their children to. Meantime, funding has not been cut.

Chris Hipkins: Did the National Government reduce the per-child funding rate for services that employ 100 percent fully qualified teachers?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I cannot speak to the specific per-child funding rate in 2010. What I can tell the member is that the per-child rate has gone up—that for every dollar a parent pays, the Government pays $4.80. It has been increased. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 10, Dr Parmjeet Parmar. [Interruption] I did not hear the interjection, but they are to cease. I call question No. 10.

Children’s Action Plan—Initiatives

10. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What initiatives has the Government implemented as part of the Children’s Action Plan?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Last week I launched the Eastern Bay of Plenty Children’s Team, which will work with around 400 vulnerable children in its first 2 years. This new team will cover Matatā, across to Waihau Bay, down to Minginui, and includes Whakatāne, Ōpōtiki, Edgecumbe, and Kawerau. Last month I also launched the Tairāwhiti Children’s Team, which is expected to work with 430 vulnerable children in the first 2 years.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: What children’s teams are expected to be up and running by the end of this year?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Seven children’s teams have been rolled out so far, and we are on track to have 10 teams launched and accepting referrals in the coming months. Children’s teams are currently being established in Whanganui, Christchurch, and Counties Manukau. This is not about duplicating services, but ensuring that vulnerable children are accessing the right services at the right time.

Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry—Responsible Minister

11. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Economic Development: Who is responsible to this House for spending at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I think I have answered this question for the member on at least two other occasions, but I am happy to go through it again. Firstly, I refer the member to section 34(1)(a) of the Public Finance Act, which states that the chief executive of a department “is responsible to the responsible Minister for the financial management, financial performance, and financial sustainability of the department;”. Secondly—[Interruption] Shh! I refer the member to section 3.5 of the Cabinet Manual: “Ministers decide both the direction and the priorities for their departments. They should not be involved in their departments’ day-to-day operations. In general terms, Ministers are responsible for determining and promoting policy, defending policy decisions, and answering in the House on both policy and operational matters.” Thirdly, I refer the member to my response to a question from him on the same subject on 3 June, when I stated that I am the Minister responsible for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Dr David Clark: Does he consider $500 plus GST for repairs to roughly handled model sheep good value for the taxpayer dollar?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The chief executive of the ministry has acknowledged that there was some discretionary spending in the last year that was inappropriate, and he has since been tightening up on—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am sorry, but I am having trouble hearing the answer. If members do not want to hear the answer then instead of just interjecting, perhaps it would be better if they left the Chamber. Could the Minister start his answer again, please.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The chief executive of the ministry has acknowledged that there was some discretionary spending that was inappropriate in the last financial year, and he has since been tightening up on controls and delegations of expenditure. Although that particular item and other items the member has raised have been disappointing, it is important to know that the ministry overall is saving taxpayers $9.5 million a year on the cost of the four previous agencies, and a recent further consolidation will save a further $4 million a year.

Dr David Clark: Can the Minister assure the House there was no internal misallocation of expenses at the ministry hiding the true cost to the taxpayer of the ministry Christmas party?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member knows that there was some misallocation of expenditure that has been identified and publicly disclosed. That is currently being reviewed by the ministry, and it has not found any evidence of misconduct to date, but it would, if it found any evidence of misconduct, take appropriate action.

Dr David Clark: When will he take full responsibility for the litany of gold-plated Budget items at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment when he signs off the Budget, and he has admitted in this House that he carries responsibility for that spending?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the member, I know, is focused on Christmas party planning. I am not going to get into the details of planning the Christmas parties for Government departments. I am focused on the overall cost of the ministry, and I note for the member again that it is saving taxpayers $9.5 million a year, and a recent reorganisation will save a further $4 million a year. Actually—

Dr David Clark: Skycity.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am glad the member raised Skycity, because while he is sitting there focusing on party planning, Skycity, because of its work with the ministry, is actually setting up $700 million worth of investment in Auckland, a thousand jobs, and about 1,250 jobs in operation. I appreciate that the Labour Party is not focused on that. [Interruption]

Dr David Clark: Which of the following is he most embarrassed by—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to invite the member to start again.

Dr David Clark: Which of the following is he most embarrassed by: a) the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s $140,000 TV screen; b) the department’s $260,000 sun deck; c) the hair-straighteners at the department, which he cannot use; d) the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s $23,000 Sky TV subscription; e) the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s $800,000 media monitoring bill—

Mr SPEAKER: Will you bring the question to a conclusion.

Dr David Clark: —f) a 25 percent Budget blowout for the gold-plated Christmas party; g)—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Bring the question to a conclusion.

Dr David Clark: There is a whole lot more.

Mr SPEAKER: That is what I was worried about.

Dr David Clark: We are pretty worried about it too, to be honest.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has now moved past the Standing Orders.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Aside from at least one or two inaccuracies—if not more—in that soliloquy from the member, I am proud of the fact that this department is saving $9.5 million a year. I appreciate that Dr Clark is way down there in the weeds, and that is where he should probably stay, but actually I am focused on not only what the department is saving but also the work that it is doing promoting New Zealand’s development of its microeconomy and more jobs.

Dr David Clark: I seek leave—

Mr SPEAKER: So this is a point of order?

Dr David Clark: Yes, a point of order. I seek leave to table Steven Joyce’s top 10 spending list compiled by my office today for the assistance of members.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. The point of tabling a document—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order!

Pest Control—Northland

12. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: What percentage of forest in Northland currently has multi-pest control operations by the Department of Conservation?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): The Department of Conservation is responsible for 40 percent of the Northland forests. The Department of Conservation administers, therefore, 104,000 hectares of forest in Northland. Approximately 60 percent of this is under some form of sustained pest control. We spend $3.19 million on multi-pest control in Northland, and if you add what we use in weed control, which is a big problem because it smothers all of the native seedlings, the total is $5.87 million each and every year.

Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice, and although that was a detailed answer, it did not actually address the question. The question asked what percentage of the forest was the subject of multi-pest control. The Minister told us what the budget was for multi-pest control and what proportion of the estate had some form of pest control but did not answer the point that was in the question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did not listen in detail to the Minister’s answer—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I think, in fact, the question has been answered, but the way forward is that I will give the member now an additional supplementary question and he can delve into the answer that was given and, hopefully, get more information to his satisfaction.

Kevin Hague: Thank you. In light of that answer, what is the number of hectares in Northland that is currently the subject of multi-pest control by the Department of Conservation?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: For the purposes of clarity, I will spell it out again. The Department of Conservation is responsible for 40 percent of the forests in Northland. That accounts for 270,000 hectares, so the department administers 104,000 hectares, of which 60 percent is under some form of sustained pest control—and I will give you the numbers again if you like. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I would be grateful to be without the assistance of the interjection to my left.

Kevin Hague: How in Conservation Week does she explain why large areas of kiwi habitat forest in Russell, Ōtānerua, and Whangaroa have been reduced to sticks because of possum damage that has occurred on her watch?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The only good possum is a dead possum. We do a great deal to control possums because they are the ones—the browsers—that destroy the canopy. So when you look at the way in which we increase our spending and how that protects the kiwi, there are a number of ways of measuring it. With 102,000 hectares of sustained stoat control undertaken by the Department of Conservation and community organisations as well, kiwi numbers, it may interest the member to know, are increasing by 2.8 percent per year across the whole of Northland.

Kevin Hague: How does reducing the budget for natural heritage protection by $7 million, as in Budget 2015, contribute to Conservation Week’s aim of getting New Zealanders out to enjoy nature?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The Department of Conservation’s natural heritage management budget has in fact stayed the way it has been. The member is pointing out an accountancy practice, which is that $6 million has been carried over. If you want to know the reason for the shortfall, it is usually to do with weather conditions and it is to do with other acts of nature, which mean that we are not able to spend that amount each year, but that is carried over until the following year. There is no reduction in spending.

Kevin Hague: Does the Minister consider it sufficient to increase multi-pest control by just 50,000 hectares a year, when at least 1 million hectares of indigenous forest is needed to achieve a predator-free New Zealand?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The Department of Conservation takes the pest control issue very seriously, and it would be most helpful if that party and that member stood up and actually made the point that 1080 is an essential ingredient in pest control. And we do this all the time. We have to increase our methods of using 1080. We have just in fact done a drop a couple of weeks ago. It is the first time that the department has been able to work collaboratively with Te Rarawa, and we have had 6,000 hectares of conservation land forest in these extremely steep, hard-to-reach places treated with aerial 1080, and a further 6,500 hectares of private land surrounding Warawara, which, as the member may or may not know, is extremely steep country and is unable to be trapped and poisoned in traditional methods, and that is treated with support from the regional council and with iwi. So in terms of what the department is doing with 1080 aerial use, we are doing our very best to get the possum numbers under control, because that is what needs to happen in Northland.

Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was whether a 50,000 hectares-a-year increase was sufficient, in the light of a million hectares nationally being required for indigenous forest multi-pest control. Again, it was a lengthy answer with a lot of detail about 1080 use in Northland, but it did not address the question I asked.

Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty is the question that was asked, which was not a straight question. Again, it was a lengthy question, and if the member wants to look at Speaker’s ruling 195/7—when a member asks a question that seeks an opinion, members cannot expect a precise answer. A straight question would be helpful.

Kevin Hague: Is it acceptable on her watch for more species in the north, such as kōkako and kiwi, to follow the kākāriki, which is now extinct north of Kawakawa, because of inadequate pest control?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: I can reassure the member and all other members of this House that as the Minister of Conservation I take very seriously indeed pest control. If we want to avoid silent forests, we need to use pest control and we need to use 1080 aerial drops, and that is what we are doing. The Department of Conservation has six regions throughout the country. The Northland region is one of them. It gets 17.6 of our natural heritage spending—so it gets more than other regions. We take it seriously. We are trying to convince iwi and other people who are 1080 sceptics that it is a very useful tool. The more we can use it, the more effective we can be in getting rid of the possums, the rats, the stoats, and the other creatures that are predating on our birds and killing them. This is not something I want to have happen on my watch or indeed in the history of this country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the very high unemployment levels in Northland, why have the unemployed not been enlisted in pest control operations against possums?

Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The unemployed, in their various ways, can choose the way the want to spend their time, and if they want to go out and trap possums, I would be very, very pleased to hear it. Once again, if this member is suggesting for one moment that we are going to be able to resolve the pest problem in Northland by letting a few people who are out of work go out and do some trapping, that member is delusional because it is not possible to do that.

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

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! This point of order will be heard in silence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect, I am asking the Minister a serious question about one of the alternative means of pest control, and the last thing I want is abuse from her, and nor will I take it.

Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I think the member is quite right. The last part of that answer was completely unnecessary to the question. The first part of the answer addressed the question to my satisfaction—maybe not to the member’s—but, certainly, the last remark was completely unnecessary.


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