Questions And Answers - 1 April 2009

Published: Thu 2 Apr 2009 09:51 AM
Questions for Oral Answer
1 April 2009
Questions to Ministers
1. Tax Cuts—Implementation
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
1. NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Prime Minister: What tax changes has his Government delivered today?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : From today the threshold above which people pay 33c in the dollar rises from $40,000 to $48,000 a year. This means that 80 percent of taxpayers will now face a top rate of only 21c in the dollar. A new independent earner tax credit will return $10 a week to people earning between $24,000 and $44,000 a year who do not receive any other type of income support from the Government. In addition, the top tax rate drops from 39c in the dollar to 38c in the dollar. In total, 1.5 million workers will receive a personal tax cut today.
Nathan Guy: What are the benefits of these tax cuts?
Hon JOHN KEY: They are many and varied. The tax cuts we have delivered today will inject an extra $1 billion into the economy over the coming year, thereby helping to stimulate the economy during this recession. More important, over the longer term these tax cuts will reward hard work and help to encourage people to invest in their own skills, in order to earn and keep more money.
Hon Phil Goff: Is it correct that low-income families with children will get nothing from the tax cuts today, and that that is why the Prime Minister told high-income earners who get hundreds of dollars extra in tax cuts that they should give to charities, in line with his trickle-down theory?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, that is not true. They get a Working for Families increase, which started on 1 October. Let me make this one point: let us take somebody on $44,000 a year, with two children. It is true that he or she gets a small tax cut—
Hon Phil Goff: No tax cut!
Hon JOHN KEY: On $44,000 the person does, Phil; do the maths. But that person does not pay any tax. Somebody on $44,000 a year, with two children, pays zero tax.
Nathan Guy: How many people will be eligible for the independent earner tax credit?
Hon JOHN KEY: The Inland Revenue Department estimates that around 630,000 lower-income earners will be eligible for this tax credit. People will need to change their tax code in order to get this tax credit each day, so it is important that people know about the tax credit. They will have to go about getting it. That is why we have set up a very modest advertising campaign, with a budget that is one-fortieth of the amount that Labour set aside for the Working for Families advertising.
Dr Russel Norman: How can it possibly be good policy and be right to give large tax cuts to those earning $100,000 a year or more—like Cabinet Ministers and others—while those struggling on $20,000 a year will see their PAYE” tax deductions increase today? Is it any coincidence that this is coming in on April Fool’s Day, which might be renamed “Fool the Low-paid Workers Day”, because they are going to end up paying more tax than they did previously?
Hon JOHN KEY: To start off, we have a progressive tax system in New Zealand, so inevitably when we have adjustments it will affect higher-income earners more than others. But secondly, I think that New Zealanders should acknowledge the fact that those high-income earners pay a huge proportion of PAYE tax in this country. They work hard; they pay a lot of taxes. Nevertheless, a fact of life today is that 1.5 million New Zealanders are getting a tax cut, and they did not have to wait for 9 years under a National Government to get it.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Does the Prime Minister agree with Professor Eric Leeper’s statement in the latest Reserve Bank Bulletin that counter-cyclical fiscal policy could actually be counter-productive; if not, why not; if yes, why, then, is he borrowing $1 billion plus interest a year in order to give tax relief of $1 billion?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not agree with that statement. The reason why we are having tax cuts at this time is that if we look at most of the stimulatory packages in countries around the world and not just in New Zealand, we see they have a tax cut component as part of those packages, and that is an important stimulatory part of those economies. In my view, if we were not to do that, then we would drive our economy into a much deeper recession. I acknowledge that Sir Roger Douglas and the ACT Party probably would want to have a much more contractionary position, but in my view that would actually drive us into a deeper recession.
Hon Phil Goff: How can the Prime Minister possibly claim that his tax cuts are progressive when, as he can see from this graph, if people earn under $40,000 a year under National, they get nothing, but if they earn $1.5 million a year, they get $500 a week in tax cuts? How is that progressive; how can that possibly be fair?
Hon JOHN KEY: We have a progressive tax system; 1.5 million New Zealanders are getting a tax cut. If those who earn under $40,000 a year and who get Working for Families payments have more than one child, then they pay no tax whatsoever. If those people earn between $38,000 and $40,000 a year, they pay a tiny bit of tax. So ours is a very fair tax policy. New Zealanders have not had to wait 9 years for it, and I think New Zealanders will welcome it today.
Rahui Katene: How do low-income New Zealanders benefit from the tax changes introduced today?
Hon JOHN KEY: They benefit because 630,000 New Zealanders—the New Zealanders who do not have children and who have been relatively low-income New Zealanders, and who got absolutely nothing under the previous Labour Government for 9 years—get $10 a week, or $500 a year. It is a small start, and it will be welcomed.
Nathan Guy: Are businesses also getting the benefit of any tax changes?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. A number of tax changes begin today that make it simpler and less expensive for small to medium sized businesses to pay tax. These tax changes are worth $484 million to small to medium sized enterprises over the next 4 years. They include changes to GST, PAYE, and fringe benefit tax thresholds, and the temporary removal of the 5 percent uplift rate that businesses pay in advance on provisional tax instalments throughout the year. I have to say there has been overwhelming support from the business community and small to medium sized enterprises, which are welcoming the tax changes, the reduction in compliance costs, and, frankly, the National Government.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Prime Minister confirm, in the light of the last answer, that a business that employs a person on the mean average wage who is in KiwiSaver today will have to pay another $960 a year in tax?
Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it will pay more, but one of the—[Interruption] No, the business will pay more at one level, and the reason for that is it will actually pay less overall because it is not having to increase its KiwiSaver payments to 4 percent.
2. Tax Cuts—Prime Minister's Statement
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “From 1 April, every working New Zealander will get more money in their pocket”; if so, why?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes, I certainly do. Those families who receive Working for Families had their expected 1 April increase brought forward to 1 October last year. That was part of the National Government’s policy. [Interruption] Yes, it was part of our policy, I am afraid. All other full-time workers get an increase from 1 April. Therefore, it is true to say that, after 1 April, all working New Zealanders, not just those on Working for Families, will have more money in their pockets.
Hon Phil Goff: Why does the Prime Minister not simply admit that, in fact, most New Zealanders who earn under $40,000 and have the responsibility of raising kids get absolutely nothing from the tax cuts today, despite the fact that those are the families that are really struggling to make ends meet?
Hon JOHN KEY: I am prepared to admit two things today. The first is that 1.5 million New Zealanders will be grateful they have a National Government, because they have a tax cut. The second thing that I am prepared to admit is that not all is happy within the Labour ranks. You see, unlike my good friend Mr Brownlee, I happen to be a little bit versed in cyberspace, so I went on to David Cunliffe’s Twitter statement—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know what the point of order is. You know what the Prime Minister is about to do. As he has done constantly—and you have not pulled him up for it—he is about to give an answer that is totally irrelevant to the question that was asked. That will provoke disorder from this side of the House.
Hon JOHN KEY: I was just making the very valuable point that Mr Cunliffe, on his—
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister must not use—
Hon David Cunliffe: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The matter will be dealt with, because the Prime Minister will not answer the question any further.
Hon JOHN KEY: I seek leave to table David Cunliffe’s Twitter statement where he says that he should be given more chances to answer questions in the House, that he would “kick their proverbials” if he was given more of a chance, and that if he is not given the chance—
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister must resume his seat [Interruption] And that member will resume his seat, as well. When I am on my feet, even the Prime Minister will resume his seat. I will not tolerate that rule being breached further. Leave has been sought to table a Twitter statement. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is objection.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Standing Orders—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: If the honourable member will excuse me for a moment. Points of order must be heard in silence. I know that the House is in a fairly boisterous mood, but points of order do need to be heard in silence.
Hon David Cunliffe: Standing Orders provide a remedy for misrepresentation. I submit to you that the Prime Minister has misrepresented me.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The member cannot use a point of order to make a debating point. He can, if he wishes, seek leave to make a personal explanation. Alternatively, during question time, he can ask questions to establish whether the Prime Minister has, in fact, perhaps not represented something correctly. During question time, that is the correct manner for addressing these issues. He cannot use the point of order process to do that.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You allowed the Prime Minister, in seeking leave to table a document, to read at great length from a document that cannot have come from my colleague, because he does not have a Twitter account. Somebody else has done it.
Mr SPEAKER: During question time, it is quite easy to establish these kinds of things. Further supplementary questions are available to the members. That is the correct way to establish whether there is concern over answers.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to make a personal statement in regard to the matter that has been raised by the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection? There is objection. The member will resume his seat.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister had not actually raised the matter in an answer to a supplementary question. He had not had that opportunity. So how can the member give a personal explanation about a matter that had not been raised in answer to the question?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think I need to hear anything further on this matter. Obviously, a member can seek leave to make a personal explanation in this situation. I see no Standing Order that prevents that from happening. As I understand it, though, the member did seek leave to make a personal explanation. There was objection. I take it that that objection is sustained?
Hon Bill English: Ask him again.
Mr SPEAKER: The member may seek leave again.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection? There is none.
Hon David Cunliffe: I am happy—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member should resume his seat. Leave has been given for the member to make a personal explanation. I think it is not appropriate to then interrupt that with a point of order.
Hon David Cunliffe: My personal explanation is simply that I do not have, and have never had, an account on the Internet site Twitter. I have never sent a tweet and I have never even, to my knowledge, received a tweet. So whoever it was who made that statement, it could not have been me. I leave it to members to surmise who may be behind this jack-up.
Chris Tremain: Why has the Government introduced the independent earner tax credit?
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the honourable member to repeat his question, because I honestly could not hear it because of the noise.
Chris Tremain: Why has the Government introduce the independent earner tax credit?
Hon JOHN KEY: The independent earner tax credit gives tax relief to those hard-working lower-income earners who have regularly missed out on increases in Working for Families benefits and superannuation. In particular, lower-income earners with children have received considerable tax relief over recent years through Working for Families, amounting in many cases to several hundreds of dollars a week. This Government is maintaining those payments, but we also want to tell lower-income earners who do not have children that they are valued, as well.
Hon Phil Goff: How does the Prime Minister justify his comments on TV3 the other day that these tax cuts are fair, when the changes made by National to the tax package last year result in a third of all the new money going into tax cuts going to just 3 percent of taxpayers—the top 3 percent of taxpayers—while 81 percent of taxpayers earning less than $50,000 a year get less than $2 a week extra?
Hon JOHN KEY: Today 1.5 million New Zealanders got a tax cut; 630,000 New Zealanders will get $10 extra a week. They have been waiting for a long time. This Government has not taken 9 years to cut taxes. I casll that fair.
Chris Tremain: How many people would have received the tax cut today, under Labour?
Hon JOHN KEY: I regret to tell the member that not one single person would have got a personal income tax cut today, under Labour—not one person. The other point I want to make is that the previous Labour Government took 3,231 days after being elected to cut taxes; this National Government took just 144 days.
Hon Phil Goff: Why is it fair that someone on a high salary—let us use, for example, somebody on a salary of the level of the Prime Minister’s—gets $120 extra a week today, while someone on the median wage with kids gets nothing?
Hon JOHN KEY: As I said earlier, the reality of a progressive system is that higher-income earners pay a lot more tax. The reality is that a very small percentage of New Zealanders pay a lot of PAYE tax. But today the National Government has been very fair in its tax cuts. The average worker is getting around $20 a week. It is a very fair tax system.
Hon Phil Goff: Is this as good as it is going to get for families and low-income earners who get nothing, given the clear signals from the Minister of Finance that the future tax cuts promised so sincerely by National in the campaign will now likely be scrapped?
Hon JOHN KEY: What is not fair is that New Zealanders had to wait 3,231 days, in some of the best economic conditions that the world has seen, in order to get a tax cut. New Zealanders are doing well under a National Government—630,000 people who got nothing for 9 years now get $10 a week. New Zealanders, under a National Government, are having their entitlements maintained. That is why the tax cut programme announced today, delivered today, when compared with the Labour programme of nothing today, is being well-received by everybody except the Labour members, who are very grumpy that the National Government is actually delivering on its promises.
Hon Phil Goff: What is the Prime Minister’s answer to critics, including his coalition partner Roger Douglas, who say that these tax cuts are a scam because he is borrowing to pay for them?
Hon JOHN KEY: I believe that stimulation is important for the economy when a global recession is going on. It is quite important. It will help the retail sector. I fondly remember coming back in January of this year and hearing Phil Goff say that the Government was not doing enough, when every country around the world has some sort of tax cut programme going on at the moment. When Phil Goff wanted to argue that the Government was not doing enough, he was happy to shout from the rooftops, but now that we are cutting personal taxes, Mr Goff wants to take those cuts away from New Zealanders. The only message coming out today is vote for a Labour Government and taxes will go up.
Hon Phil Goff: Why should Mr Key’s high-minded protestations about not wanting a rise in salary this year be seen by the public as anything other than double standards, when today the Government has just given its members and other high-income people much higher effective wage increases by biasing tax cuts to the well-off?
Hon JOHN KEY: The tax cuts are not biased to the well-off. They are across the board and fair. But we know the way that Labour members feel about successful, entrepreneurial, well-off people. It was the same when they were in Government; it is the same now that they are in Opposition.
3. Electricity—Production and Delivery to Consumers
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
3. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What steps is he taking to ensure that “electricity is produced and delivered to all classes of consumers in an efficient, fair, reliable, and environmentally sustainable manner”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources) : This morning I announced a ministerial review of electricity market performance. The Government is very concerned, as are consumers, about the affordability of electricity, security of supply, and regulatory governance arrangements within the sector. A number of reports into these matters are being, or have been, carried out by various agencies, and it makes sense to draw these threads into one body of work. The purpose of the review will be to improve the performance of the electricity market and its governance arrangements, in order to better achieve the Government’s objectives for the electricity sector. It is interesting to note that the essence of the question asked by the member is contained in the Electricity Act from some time back, but apparently this had no relevance to the previous Government for some 9 years, as it allowed the retail price of electricity to rise by some 72 percent, against just a 28 percent CPI increase. That is why something has to be done and why we are doing it.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are very surprised that the House was able to be subjected to an answer from the Minister that was quite as long as that. It was clearly getting into the category of being a speech rather than a succinct answer. I thought that if short questions were asked, short answers would be expected. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I hear the member’s point, and I say to Ministers that answers have been excessively long today. It is April Fool’s Day, I guess—
Hon Annette King: Only until midday.
Mr SPEAKER: OK; so that is no excuse. [Interruption] I ask honourable members to please ease back a little, because it is getting very hard to hear. There is nothing wrong with the House being robust. The issues that have been raised in question time today are issues where opinions are held passionately. There is no problem with question time being robust, but it is getting quite hard to hear, and answers are too long.
Jo Goodhew: How will the ministerialreview be carried out?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have appointed a technical advisory team of independent experts to work alongside a project team of officials from the Ministry of Economic Development and from Treasury. The team will carry out much of the work but will report to me. The work will proceed in two phases. The first phase will look at regulatory and governance arrangements, and the second phase will take a broader look at the operation of the electricity market.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister concerned that the $74 million that Genesis has spent on planning for the Rodney gas-fired power station—which even it admits will probably never be built—actually represents more than 2.5c a kilowatt-hour for all the electricity it sells, which is four times its recent price increase; and when will he tell it to stop putting up power prices in order to pay for a white elephant?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The decisions around the Genesis proposals are operational matters and are not for any Minister to make, but what I would say is that the decision to even consider that project indicates why we desperately need to look at a review of governance arrangements inside the marketing of electricity in this country.
Jo Goodhew: What else is the Government doing to improve the delivery of electricity to consumers?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government has published a new Draft Government Policy Statement on Electricity Governance, which proposes streamlined and simplified processes for transmission investments of under $20 million. The current processes can involve lengthy duplication and engineering and systems planning. The consultation on the policy statement has now finished. The Government will shortly be announcing the new Government policy statement.
Charles Chauvel: Which of the following measures taken already by his Government will contribute most effectively to the energy goals outlined by the primary questioner: throwing climate change policy into confusion by setting up a select committee on whether to retain the emissions trading scheme when that scheme is already in force, getting rid of the biofuels obligation, legislating in a way that leads directly to consent being given to a gas-fired power station that has no forward contract for gas supplies, having a Prime Minister who continues to leave open the science on climate change, calling in State-owned enterprise chairs to the Beehive to demand higher dividends, or referring to a project to paint power pylons as “a major upgrade to the national grid”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not know how that member can believe that anyone could separate out any one thing that needs to be done to sort out the enormous mess that the Labour Government left behind. What consumers know is that a 72 percent price rise for electricity for residential consumers, as against a 29 percent CPI increase over the same period, is an utter disgrace. That member should not be asking any questions; he should simply be listening and learning.
4. Tax Cuts—Fairness
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he believe his tax cuts are fair; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes; from today most New Zealand workers will receive a tax cut, whereas under Labour policy they would have received nothing. Many New Zealanders who got no reductions in tax in the 9 years Labour was in power receive a tax cut today.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister deny the probability that by 1 October 2011 New Zealanders will have experienced just two tax cuts over 3 years—$1 billion from National, skewed to the wealthy; and $2 billion from Labour, skewed to low and middle income New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There was a debate in election year about which tax package New Zealanders wanted, and, as I recall, that debate was settled quite decisively through the National Party winning the election by a long way.
Craig Foss: What reports has the Minister seen on alternative approaches to tax cuts?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have received a number of confusing reports about Labour’s position on tax cuts. A few weeks ago Labour members were advocating that the Government should do a lot more fiscal stimulation. Recently, they have called for today’s tax cuts to be scrapped. This would strip over a billion dollars out of the pockets of 1.5 million workers and take the independent earner tax credit off 600,000 lower-income earners who received nothing from the Labour Government until 1 October 2008.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is the Minister aware that the population of New Zealand is over 4 million and that if 1.5 million workers are getting a tax cut, the implication is that most New Zealanders are not; and does he accept that if these tax cuts were spread more evenly they would have had a bigger, more constructive, and more cost-effective impact on fighting this recession than robbing from the poor and giving to the rich?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can confirm for that member that as of 1 April—today—every superannuitant will be getting an increase, and every beneficiary will be getting an increase. I also explain to the member that looking back over the tax cut debate since the 2005 election, National is pleased that it pushed Labour into finally making tax cuts on 1 October 2008. We have introduced tax cuts that spread those benefits to a wider range of taxpayers.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is the Minister, therefore, confirming that the only way he can get to his supposed number of 1.5 million people benefiting from tax cuts is if he includes superannuitants? On our analysis, 71 percent of New Zealanders will get nothing, and 3 percent of New Zealanders will get one-third of the money.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, superannuitants certainly will benefit from these tax cuts. Superannuation is adjusted according to the after-tax average wage, which will go up because we have given a significant tax break to people on the average wage. But the Labour spokesperson on finance needs to decide whether his problem is that the tax cuts are not big enough or that they are too big. It is pretty hard to understand his position, from listening to him today.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why is it, when so many New Zealanders down here on this graph are struggling to make ends meet, that 33 percent of the value of this tax package goes to the 3 percent of New Zealanders who are up here on the graph? What about that situation does that tweet think is fair?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member should answer his own question. His party was in Government for 9 years, during the best economic times we will see for a long time. If people at the end of that period were struggling, then it is his fault, not ours.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What mechanisms does the Minister have to compensate for the lack of tax cuts for low-income New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This tax package has a specific feature designed for low-income New Zealanders, and that is the independent earner tax credit. The effect of that credit is that 630,000 New Zealanders who earn between the minimum wage and the average wage, and who do not have children, will for the first time get a tax cut, following on from some benefit that they got from the 1 October 2008 tax cuts under Labour. They deserve the extra $10 a week; Labour should say today whether it is going to take it off them.
5. Electoral Finance Reform—Input
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
5. SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) to the Minister of Justice: Does he stand by his statement, made during the first reading debate of the Electoral Amendment Bill, that it was his intention that all political parties and interested members of the public will have an opportunity to have input at more than one stage on the process of electoral finance reform; if so, what progress has been made to date?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : Yes, I stand by that statement. Today I am releasing a milestone paper that sets out the time line for electoral finance reform. This includes three formal opportunities for the public and for political parties to have a say. In response to the second part of the question, I say that today I am also releasing the scope of the electoral finance reform, which will provide the framework for the issues paper. I have consulted all parties in the House on the scope paper, and I thank them and their representatives for their willingness to engage.
Simon Bridges: Are there any time constraints on the process of electoral finance reform?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes. The passage of the Electoral Amendment Bill earlier this year means that there is an interim regime in place to cover the upcoming by-election in Mt Albert. However, in order to put new law into place in time for the next general election, in 2011, we will need to pass legislation next year. Within that constraint we have attempted to provide as many opportunities as possible for input from the public and from political parties.
6. Minimum Wage—Real Income Gain
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
6. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Labour: What will be the gain in real income per hour, adjusted for inflation since 1 April 2008, of a full-time worker on the minimum wage, as a result of today’s increase to the minimum wage?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour) : The member has a short memory. I answered that question on 11 February, as $3.78 for a week. If he divides that figures by 40, his calculator will tell him that the answer is just under 10c an hour.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why was the recommended option in the Minister’s first Cabinet committee paper for a nil increase?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Several options were recommended to Cabinet. Cabinet decided that $12.50 was the fair minimum wage to set, bearing in mind the economic conditions and that protecting jobs was our priority.
Michael Woodhouse: What reports has the Minister seen on the minimum wage?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen several reports, including one from Mr Mallard himself, who said he could not commit to a large increase in the minimum wage due to the economic conditions in October last year—conditions that we know have since worsened. I have seen a report from Phil Goff demanding a rise to $13. I have seen the Labour Party’s election manifesto, which promotes an increase to $12.65. Yet Labour members’ own colleague, Darien Fenton, has gone on to describe today’s increase as miserable and measly. I ask where the Opposition actually stands on the minimum wage.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Honourable members, please—I simply cannot hear when there is quite so much noise. As I say, I do not mind a boisterous question time—that is good—but this is a wee bit over the top.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why was the Minister’s recommended option in her first Cabinet paper for a nil increase?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: There were three options in the Cabinet paper: one was a nil increase, one was an increase to $12.50, and one was an increase to $12.65. We had to bear in mind the economic conditions and the priority to protect jobs and not encumber businesses with extra expenses that would result in job losses.
Darien Fenton: Does the Minister accept that some New Zealanders are still not being paid the minimum wage; if not, why not?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: As I understand it, between 94,000 and 123,000 people will actually get an increase in their wage as a result of the increase in the minimum wage. There are some New Zealanders who do not receive the minimum wage, for various reasons. One reason, for example, is that they might be under 16 years of age. There are some breaches of the minimum wage regulations and legislation, and we take that very seriously. If any workers are being exploited by unscrupulous employers, we do not condone that sort of activity, as the member well knows.
7. Prisons—Drug Testing
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
7. PAUL QUINN (National) to the Minister of Corrections: What reports has she received on drug testing in prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections) : I have received a report that shows that the percentage of positive random drug tests has fallen to 10.5 percent as at the end of February 2009. This is the lowest level ever achieved in New Zealand’s State-run prisons.
Paul Quinn: What is being done to stem the flow of drugs and contraband into prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The Corrections Amendment Act (No 3), sadly ignored by the previous Government, comes into force on Friday. It provides for new search powers to make it easier to detect drugs, and provides for stronger disincentives to smuggle drugs into prisons.
Paul Quinn: What is being done to reduce prisoners’ demand for drugs?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: More prisoners than ever before will start drug treatment programmes this year. As at February 2009, 333 prisoners had started treatment in a drug treatment unit, almost matching the 346 who started programmes in the entire 2007-08 year. I expect this growth to continue, as the Government is committed to doubling the number of places in drug treatment units over the next few years.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does she stand by her statement on Television One’s Q+A programme on Sunday, 29 March, that, after her term as corrections Minister, she should be judged on whether “we will have fewer prisoners who are taking drugs in prison”; if so, could she define for the House, in percentage terms, what she sees as an acceptable decrease in the number of prisoners taking drugs in prison, so that the New Zealand public can properly hold her to account in the future.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes; and obviously, there has already been a drop, so I suppose, by the member’s standards, I would have actually got there already.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a specific question in reference—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Get on with it!
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Excuse me, Mr Speaker, could you ask the person from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest not to interject on a point of order. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member had a legitimate grievance when he raised his point of order. I would ask all members to allow points of order to be heard in silence. But he seriously—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I was responding to an interjection.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member should not do that. The member’s point of order is being dealt with. It will be heard in silence. Can the member carry on with his point of order.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: My point of order is that I asked the Minister whether she could confirm—or define, if you will—what she meant in a quote from a Q+A programme where she said that she will be judged on fewer prisoners taking drugs in prison. I did not ask her about what the previous Government did, which she referred to because the previous Government put in place the programmes that gave her the figures she referred to as of February. I asked a specific question, which was whether she can she define what “fewer” means. She made the statement, Mr Speaker.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I point out that the member asked two questions. I answered one; it was “Yes”.
Mr SPEAKER: If the honourable member were to check his Hansard I think he would see that he started his question with the words “Can she tell this House”, and the Minister said “Yes”. If one wants answers, then one has to be very precise with one’s questioning. I believe that the Minister did answer that supplementary question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister think that a two-thirds decrease in the use of drugs in our public prisons in 10 years would be an acceptable decrease; and is she aware that the Labour Government achieved exactly that—reducing drug use in our public prisons from 34 percent to 14 percent in the decade to 2008—or is she too scared to give the New Zealand people a figure, so that, in her own words, they can judge her accordingly in the next few years?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am never too scared, actually, but I am happy to say that the improvement in the drug figures was off a very high base. When the Labour Government took over, the rate in the privately run prison was 5.5 percent, and in State-run prisons it was 20 percent. It was a very high rate.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table a document showing that the amount of drug taking in prisons under Labour’s term in Government decreased from approximately one-third of inmates down to half—
Mr SPEAKER: Could the member tell the House what the document is, though.
Hon Phil Goff: The document will be a document that I have in my room that will have been based on information provided by the Department of Corrections when I was the Minister of Corrections. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Points of order should be heard in silence. I must alert members that we have been breaching this very seriously today. Did we establish what the document was?
Hon Phil Goff: The document is a document I had from my time as Minister of Corrections, based on information provided by the Department of Corrections.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a document from the Department of Corrections. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is objection.
David Garrett: Does the Minister agree that a policy of non-contact visits in all prisons would greatly reduce drug availability in prisons; if not, why not; and, if so, will she agree to roll out this policy in New Zealand prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member might well be correct in his assumption. I have been advised by the Department of Corrections that non-contact visits are now used for inmates who fail drug tests. But I am always willing to look at ideas on how to further reduce drug use in prisons.
8. Plastic Bags—User Charge
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
8. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister for the Environment: Does his statement that “encouraging more environmentally friendly behaviour with financial incentive rather than through regulation or prohibition” still apply to his efforts to encourage a reduction in plastic bag use; if not, why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment) : Yes.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does the Prime Minister’s veto of the Minister’s plastic bag levy mean that regulation or prohibition is the Government’s preferred policy; if not, did the Prime Minister or his office advocate any other policy ideas?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: In response to a letter, about 6 weeks ago, I simply said that the Ministry for the Environment was investigating possible solutions. That was as much as was said, and, as the member notes in her primary question, this is a Government that is about voluntary measures, and about good financial incentives for improving environmental behaviour. That is, for instance, why I congratulated the Warehouse when it introduced a small charge to reduce plastic bag usage for that particular store.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does the Prime Minister’s veto of the Minister’s plastic bag levy demonstrate a growing lack of confidence in him, and is that the reason why the Prime Minister’s office has taken to answering written questions to the Minister?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Prime Minister does not answer written questions to me. The member’s claim that somehow we have done anything more than ask the Ministry for the Environment to investigate something is no big deal. I have rejected a ban on plastic bags, but I do say to this House collectively that a billion plastic bags, for a country of our size, is too many, and there are some good voluntary measures—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Then why don’t you do something about it? Why don’t you stand up to the Prime Minister?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, one member of the Labour Party is saying that Labour supports a ban, and someone else is saying it does not. It would be nice to know the Labour Party’s position. National’s position is that there are sensible, voluntary initiatives that we can take to reduce plastic bag usage.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does the Minister have any other ideas to deal with the excessive use of plastic bags that the Prime Minister might agree with, or is this just another example of his Government’s relegation of environmental issues to the bottom of the “to do” list?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Environmental issues are very important to this Government, and we have a number of important initiatives covering water, climate change, air quality, and a whole number of other areas. I personally do not believe that plastic bags are the biggest issue for the environment. They make up a very small part of the overall waste mix. It is true that in responding to a letter 6 weeks ago I noted that I was happy for the Ministry for the Environment to investigate ways in which plastic bag usage could be reduced.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I seek leave to table answers to written questions to the Minister for the Environment where the PM’s office’s advocated answer has been given.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table two answers to written questions to the Minister. Is there any objection to those questions being tabled? There is objection.
9. Auckland Governance Report—Local Representation
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
9. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Local Government: Does he stand by his statement concerning the royal commission’s report on Auckland governance that “I have some concerns about whether the report provides for adequate local representation in our many diverse communities, and I want to look more closely at this issue”; if so, why?
Hon JOHN CARTER (Associate Minister of Local Government)on behalf of the Minister of Local Government:Yes; because there are many diverse communities. That is why the Minister is in Auckland today meeting with Mike Lee, chair of the Auckland Regional Council; Alasdair Thompson, chief executive of the Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association and Mike Cohen, chair of New Zealand Community Boards and chairperson of the Devonport Community Board.
Sue Kedgley: Does he agree that many of the commission’s proposals actually undermine, rather than strengthen, local democracy in Auckland, such as its proposal to wipe out most community boards, strip local councils of their powers and relegate them to the status of local branch offices, and concentrate extraordinary power in the office of the mayor?
Hon JOHN CARTER: The Minister agrees that the report of the royal commission is a large and significant document. The Government is still considering the details of the report and no decisions have yet been made. The Government intends to make a response to the report in due course.
Hon Shane Jones: In the new Auckland-wide unitary authority, how many voters exist in that area, and how will the 10 new region-wide councillors be accountable to that volume of voters?
Hon JOHN CARTER: To the best of my knowledge there are about 1 million voters, but I can be corrected on that figure. In response to the second part of the question, I say to the member that the report of the royal commission is a large and significant document. The Government is still considering the details of the report and no decisions have been made. The Government intends to respond to the report in due course.
Sue Kedgley: Does he agree with commentator Gordon Campbell that: “In an era where Big Government is supposed to be such a bad word, this proposal will entail a centralisation of power unimagined by any left wing activist with Stalinist tendencies.”; and will he seek to ensure that there are checks on the extraordinary concentration of power in the office of the mayor?
Hon JOHN CARTER: I have seen a number of comments by a number of commentators who have different views, but I would say to the member that the report of the royal commission is a large and significant document. The Government is still considering the detail of the report and no decisions have been made. The Government intends to make a response to the report in due course.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was no attempt to address the question in that answer.
Hon JOHN CARTER: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not think I need help on this. The difficulty is that the question really asked for an opinion, and the opinion the Minister gave may not have been quite the opinion that was being sought. But if one seeks an opinion in a question, one will get an opinion. That is the dilemma with that kind of question.
Keith Locke: When the Minister says the Government will be deciding in due course, does that mean, as has been reported, that there will be a decision at this coming Monday’s Cabinet meeting on whether the Government goes along with the general lines of the royal commission’s report; and how much time will the good citizens of Auckland be given to comment on the far-reaching proposals of the royal commission?
Hon JOHN CARTER: The Government intends to respond to the commission’s report in due course, but no date for that has been announced at this time.
Hon Shane Jones: Why will he not confirm to the House the promise he made to Aucklanders during the election campaign that they would be extensively consulted over the future of the mega-city for Auckland?
Hon JOHN CARTER: The whole process of the royal commission was about consultation; there has been extensive consultation for more than 20 months. We have now received the report of the commission, which is a significant document with many details, and the Government will give a considered response to it in due course.
Sue Bradford: Does the Minister share the concern of the Green Party and of many of the people in Auckland that having the mayor and 10 councillors elected at large undermines fair community input into the council from all parts of the region, and will inevitably result in elections that only the rich and famous will have any chance at all of winning?
Hon JOHN CARTER: One thing that does not occupy a lot of the time of the Minister is the concerns of the Greens. But I would say that the report of the royal commission is a large document. The Government is considering the details of it and will respond to it in due course.
10. Energy Strategy—Goals
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
10. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does the Government still subscribe to the New Zealand Energy Strategy 2007—in particular, the goals of achieving 90 percent renewable electricity generation by 2025 and halving domestic transport emissions per capita by 2040?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources) : If the member did not spend so much time nosying about the Facebook pages of my staff, he might have read some of my speeches, in which I acknowledge that the previous Government’s Energy Strategy is considered by the current Government to be inefficient in a number of respects. It will be updated later in the year. However, as regards the targets the member mentions, they remain important aspirational goals.
Chris Auchinvole: Has the Minister seen any recent reports about thermal electricity generation?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I have. I have seen a report that between 2000 and 2008, when Labour was in office, well over half of all the new electricity generation that came on stream was generated from thermal sources. The Labour Government gave a gas guarantee to Genesis so that it could build the new, 385-megawatt gas-fired station at Huntly, and electricity generated from coal grew astronomically.
Charles Chauvel: Does the Minister stand by his comments that renewable energy will be incentivised by a price on carbon; if so, how does he expect that to happen, when his colleague Nick Smith has already answered in Parliament that he has no idea when the emissions trading scheme will be operational?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I do stand by that. The Government, as the member knows, has a select committee reviewing the previous Government’s legislation, and remains of the view that New Zealand should have an emissions trading scheme andthat there should be a price on carbon.
Charles Chauvel: Does the Minister stand by his statement that “Transport makes up nearly half of New Zealand’s energy use … but only 0.7% of the sector’s energy use is renewable. We need to change that over time if we are to start reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.”; if he does, when will he introduce sustainability standards for biofuels, given his Government’s opposition to adding biofuels into New Zealand’s energy mix until such standards are introduced?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There were a number of questions there, so I will go through them slowly. Firstly, the Ministry for the Environment is currently working on standards, which will soon be promulgated, for the production of biofuel in New Zealand. The second question was whether I stand by my statement that we need to reduce emissions from transport over time. I do. I liken it to someone in about 1880 deciding whether there should be a significant reduction in horse droppings on the roads over the next 30-odd years. The answer then was yes, and we are in exactly the same sort of period of technology transformation at the present time. I think the member should be comforted by the fact that I stated earlier that transport emission reduction is in fact an aspirational goal.
Mr SPEAKER: One can only conclude that the Government is actually wanting to waste time today, with answers as long as that.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question had four parts to it. I did my best to answer, because you are keen that Ministers answer members’ questions.
Mr SPEAKER: I was perfectly happy to allow the Minister time to answer the parts of the question, because there were a number of parts in it. But then he continued on, much after that. Charles Chauvel, supplementary question.
Charles Chauvel: Hopefully, we will get the answer from the right end of the horse on this one.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member wants to ask a supplementary question, he will just ask it.
Charles Chauvel: Will we ever see an energy policy from the Minister’s Government that shows an understanding of the sustainability challenges faced by New Zealand, or will he just continue to dismantle all of the previous Government’s work in this area while continuing to claim the credit for the results of that work?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I make no attempt to claim credit for half of the new generation produced or commissioned under that member’s Government relying on thermal fuel. I make no claim to the 72 percent increase in electricity retail prices over the term of his Government. I simply answer his two questions with yes and no.
11. Primary Production—Food Miles and Carbon Footprint
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
11. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Agriculture: What initiatives is the Government undertaking in the primary sector to address the challenges posed by food miles and carbon footprinting?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture) : Considerable Government work is under way to address the growing international demand for carbon footprinting for our primary products. At the heart of this is the New Zealand Greenhouse Gas Footprinting Strategy that takes a partnership approach to assist our primary sector to respond to increasing attention on the environmental impacts of production and consumption. It focuses on building capability domestically to measure and manage environmental performance, as well as driving efficiency right across the supply chain.
Shane Ardern: What progress has there been on the New Zealand Greenhouse Gas Footprinting Strategy?
Hon DAVID CARTER: A lot. In coming weeks, both the kiwifruit and dairy sectors will announce the results of their studies into measuring the emission footprints of their products. This is a world first. I expect similar announcements through the year in relation to forestry, wine, lamb, beef, pipfruit, and many other primary products. Additionally, I will soon be announcing which university has successfully tendered for the inaugural Government-funded professorship in life cycle management in agriculture and forestry.
Shane Ardern: What do these developments mean for New Zealand?
Hon DAVID CARTER: They demonstrate to our trading partners and overseas consumers New Zealand’s absolute commitment to measuring, managing, and verifying our primary sector’s environmental performance.
12. Early Childhood Education—Priority
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
12. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What level of priority, if any, does she give to quality early childhood education?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education) : Quality early childhood education and care is a high priority for the Government. This includes doing more to ensure participation in quality early childhood services by those who are not currently participating.
Sue Moroney: Why, then, has the New Zealand Playcentre Federation accused the Government of backtracking on its election promise of funding 20 hours’ early childhood education for playcentres?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The Government will be honouring its commitment to extend the 20 hours programme to playcentres and kōhanga reo, because, unlike the previous Government, we recognise the quality input from parents and we recognise that these institutions provide valuable early childhood education and care to our youngest New Zealanders. I say to the member that the funding formulas are very complex, and the ministry will be working with the sector to design these formulas for these services so that the Government can deliver on its commitment.
Sue Moroney: If early childhood education is such a high priority for the Government, why is it taking so long for the Minister to mandate her ministry to enter into collective employment negotiations for kindergarten teachers, whose employment agreement has already expired on 28 February, and also for school support staff, whose agreement expired on 1 March?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I expect to take bargaining parameters to Cabinet shortly, and bargaining will begin as soon as possible after that. I say to the member that it is all very well for the Labour Party to shed crocodile tears over the start of these negotiations, when on the previous occasion the Labour Government did not present an offer to the New Zealand Educational Institute until 7 weeks after the expiry of the collective agreement, and the time before that, it was 5 weeks.
Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table a letter from the Ministry of Education, dated 20 March, in which the author says that they are ready to start bargaining but that they have not had a mandate from the Minister yet.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the letter. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table a document entitled “Teachers’ union considers legal action over pay talks”.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the document?
Sue Moroney: It is an article from the Christchurch Press dated 1 April—
Mr SPEAKER: It is a press release. I appeal to the honourable member that the Standing Orders Committee has asked that members do not seek to table local press releases. It would be different if it was an overseas newspaper, but I seriously wonder at the wisdom of wasting the time of the House on a local press statement. However, the member is entitled to do so, if she insists.
Sue Moroney: I would like to seek the leave of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that press statement. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Questions to Ministers
1. Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
1. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Did any staff member acting at the direction of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee invite John Judge to attend the financial review of the ACC for the 2000-08 year?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): My understanding is that no staff member under my direction invited Mr Judge to attend the meeting of 12 March.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: You will recognise this question; I will ask it again. Did any staff member acting for the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee invite John Judge to attend the financial review of the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) for the 2007-2008 financial year?
DAVID BENNETT: As I said, I have no understanding of any member of the staff inviting Mr Judge to attend the meeting of 12 March.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a question that was set down on notice, as it was yesterday. It is relatively easy for the chair to consult with the select committee staff—
Hon Darren Hughes: Two.
Hon Trevor Mallard: —there are only two staff—to ask whether or not they invited Mr Judge. He appears not to have done it, despite more than 24 hours’ notice.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I first point out that there was a word left out of the question asked by the honourable member, which could be relevant. But, in essence, the chairman of the select committee has twice given him an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The actual question that the Hon Trevor Mallard just asked was a supplementary question, so he cannot have left a word out of it. In fact, the supplementary question was slightly different from the question for which notice was given. I invite the honourable member to repeat his supplementary question so the House can hear the answer to it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did any staff member acting for the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee invite John Judge to attend the financial review of ACC for the 2007-08 year?
DAVID BENNETT: I am not aware of any staff member under my direction or the direction of the committee inviting Mr Judge to the meeting of 12 March. Mr Judge will be attending the meeting tomorrow, and the select committee has agreed upon his attendance then.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: I have already allowed the member Trevor Mallard a couple of supplementary questions.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I still haven’t had an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I think we did get an answer, because the member told the House that as far as he was aware, the answer was no. I invite the honourable member to go on to question No. 2.
2. Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
2. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Who told him that John Judge was not going to attend the meeting of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee on 12 March 2009 for the financial review of the ACC for the 2007/08 year?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee) : I did not ask Mr Judge to attend the meeting on 12 March, so it is not about whether he was going to attend. It was agreed, however, that the Minister would attend the meeting.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How could he tell the committee that Dr Smith was replacing Mr Judge if he was not aware that Mr Judge was not coming?
DAVID BENNETT: This is a similar question to the one we had yesterday. I checked the transcript of the meeting. I did not tell the committee that Dr Smith was there, replacing Mr Judge. That was my recollection of what happened. I checked the transcript and that confirmed my recollection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: We will have silence for this point of order; I thank members.
Hon Trevor Mallard: This is a very serious matter. That member is absolutely aware that that transcript covers the evidence given at the committee and the period of that evidence. It does not cover his comments to the committee. They could not be in there, because that part was not recorded.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has raised a very interesting issue. The dilemma the House has is that if it was not recorded because the committee was in committee at the time, then what was said cannot be part of a question in this House, because it is not available to this House to be questioned on until such time as the report is made to the House. That is the way I see it. I am happy to hear the member further, because I understand the seriousness of what he is trying to raise, but my understanding of the situation is that because it was in committee, this House cannot question a chair on what was said there. This House can question only on proceedings, not on what was said by someone in that committee.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think that is generally the case. The exception is an area to do with the process of the committee for which the chairperson is responsible, and this is something that the member is responsible for. He has taken responsibility in this House. Dr Nick Smith has made some very clear statements in this House, which I referred to yesterday. This member has made comments in this House relating to that process. We are allowed to ask about the process, for which that chairman is responsible. That is an exception, and it is a longstanding one.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: With regard to the process of the select committee and the questions that have been asked, David Bennett has answered those questions. If Mr Mallard is trying to suggest that there is something strange in Mr Bennett’s observing at the start of the committee meeting that someone Mr Mallard expected to have turned up was not there, then surely it would be no great problem. Mr Bennett did not invite this gentleman—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, this is not a matter of order. The member has exceeded—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: With respect, the questioning of a member in the House in this context is refined to the procedures of the committee. I think we almost stepped outside that on a number of occasions yesterday, but I think that Mr Bennett has answered procedural questions very, very satisfactorily today.
Mr SPEAKER: The issue that the member raises is a perfectly proper issue, in that members can question chairs of committees on procedure. There is no question about that; it is absolutely correct. Where we get into difficulty here is that to question the chair on what was said in a committee is, I think, starting to stretch that a little bit far. The member has told the House that he did not ask Mr Judge to attend, and the House has to accept his word on that. I really think that the honourable member should now come to his third question, because I cannot support a further questioning on what he said in committee because this House is not entitled to question him on what he said. Questions as to how he took the committee into committee we can certainly have, but I cannot permit questioning on what he said in that committee.
3. Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
3. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Did he agree before the meeting of 12 March 2009 that the Minister for ACC would appear instead of John Judge at that meeting on the financial review of ACC for the 2007/08 year; if so, with whom did he agree?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee) : I agreed with the Minister that he would appear at the meeting of 12 March, but not necessarily instead of the chair, as I had not asked Mr Judge to attend.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did Dr Nick Smith indicate to this House that he was appearing instead of John Judge, with that member’s agreement?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not see how that can be in order, because—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I will try again, if you like, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member one further supplementary question, as I have ruled that one out of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How can he reconcile that answer with the answer given by Dr Nick Smith to the House that the chairperson and Dr Nick Smith agreed that Dr Smith would appear instead of Mr Judge?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate the member’s point of order, because although I accept the change in construction of the question, the chair of the committee is not responsible for reconciling anything. He might have agreed with what some other member, including the Minister, might have said in this House. He cannot be responsible for that as chair of the committee.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that raises an interesting point, because it seems to me we will now end up in a position to argue that we cannot ask Mr Bennett to reconcile his statement with Dr Nick Smith’s statement, because he is not responsible for Dr Smith’s statement; and we will not be able to ask Dr Smith to reconcile his statement with Mr Bennett’s statement, because he is not responsible for Mr Bennett’s statement. In other words, any two members of the Government can say different things, but we cannot ask either of them how they reconcile them. I think that puts the Opposition in a rather difficult position, to put it mildly.
Mr SPEAKER: I am sure it is not beyond the wit of Opposition members, though, to work out ways of elucidating those matters, if they wish to do so.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: In response to that point of order, I say simply that Dr Cullen will remember the very awkward time during the early part of 2002, when many parts of the Government of the day claimed they were not responsible for each other. We went through days and days of it in this House. There were rulings from the then Speaker that, ridiculous as it may seem, make that perfectly the case in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: And that brings to a close questions for oral answer for today.

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