INDEPENDENT NEWS

Questions and Answers - 8 Dec 2009

Published: Wed 9 Dec 2009 11:27 AM
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 8 DECEMBER 2009
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
2025 Taskforce—Report
1. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his reported statement on the Brash 2025 Taskforce report that “its core recommendations were too radical to implement”; if so, why does he intend to pay the taskforce another $327,000?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Mr Speaker, or possibly I should say “Mr 9.25 Percent”, yes—[Interruption] Maybe it should have been 10 percent. Yes, but I disagree with the member’s assertion in the second part.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did he appoint Dr Brash to chair the 2025 Taskforce, knowing that Dr Brash would recommend what he has said consistently over 20 years, if he did not actually want to receive the recommendations that Dr Brash was likely to make to him?
Hon JOHN KEY: There are two reasons: firstly, because of Dr Brash’s longstanding credentials in the field of economics; and, secondly, because it was part of the agreement we reached with the ACT Party.
Hon Phil Goff: Why is he intending to continue to fund the taskforce to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars, when he has already said he will not act on its main recommendations?
Hon JOHN KEY: Actually, I have said there are some nuggets within the report but overall the report is, in my view, too radical. I think that is right. The second reason is that we are a Government that keeps our word. If we were to implement all of the recommendations in the 2025 Taskforce report, we would be breaking our word. We do not intend to do that.
Hon Phil Goff: Having committed himself and his Government to achieving economic parity with Australia by 2025, does he now agree with his deputy leader, Bill English, who has said that it is an “aspirational” rather than a realistic goal?
Hon JOHN KEY: I am informed by the Minister of Finance that he said that it is, in fact, a goal. I guess the difference between me and the Minister of Finance and Phil Goff and the Labour Party is that I agree with the Minister of Finance and the Labour Party does not agree with Phil Goff.
Hon Jim Anderton: Can the Prime Minister tell the House what he does not understand about the report of Dr Brash, which in 150 pages makes mention of New Zealand’s most important economic base—agriculture—in 24 words?
Hon JOHN KEY: I think if one reads the full report, one understands that given that agriculture is the largest part of the New Zealand economy, the whole purpose, from Dr Brash’s perspective, was to put the economy on a stronger footing. We do not agree with all of the recommendations, but we do agree with some.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the 2025 Taskforce public relations consultant, Matthew Hooton, correct when he states that John Key’s office had leaked the report to Television New Zealand (TVNZ)
before it was released, so that it could be dismissed before anybody had the chance to read it; if so, does he make it his regular practice to leak embarrassing documents about Rodney Hide?
Hon JOHN KEY: Well, there are two things. If anyone needs a public relations consultant it is Phil Goff, but we will come back to that in a moment. The second point is that I can utterly refute those accusations. I was in Trinidad. The question was asked of me by the media who were there. No information was passed by my office to any media outlet.
Hon Phil Goff: If he categorically denies the truth of the Matthew Hooton statement that his office had leaked the report to TVNZ, will he also categorically deny that his office leaked information to the media about Rodney Hide’s trip with his girlfriend to Hawaii?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I categorically deny that.
Mr SPEAKER: I say to the Labour members that I have called a member to ask a supplementary question and it is impossible for him to be heard.
John Boscawen: Does he stand by the “concrete goal of closing the income gap with Australia by 2025” stated in the National-ACT confidence and supply agreement that he signed; if so, what is his Government’s plan for closing that $64,000 income gap by 2025?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. In the last 12 months, from an economic perspective, members have seen a number of moves by this Government. I strongly suggest that in 2010 members will see a lot more.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Is the Prime Minister aware that if we compare New Zealand’s GDP per capita with that of every province in Australia, Canada, and the United States, we find that New Zealand sits in 72nd position out of 73, below even Mississippi and Tasmania, and only a fraction higher than Prince Edward Island in Canada; in these circumstances, could he advise the House what his ambitious plans are to keep New Zealand ahead of Prince Edward Island in the future?
Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, let me state on behalf of all New Zealanders that we are very fond of the people from Tasmania and they should feel most welcome here in the House today. Secondly, yes, I am aware of those statistics, and they show members the size of the challenge before this Government and why we lament the 9 years of wasted opportunities under the previous Labour Government.
Economy—Reports
2. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): A number of market forecasters have indicated that the outlook is a little brighter than it was, partly because the free fall in global economies has stabilised and partly because the Government’s policies to fight the recession continue to be effective. However, the outlook remains uncertain. For instance, the tax take from companies is around $1 billion lower than was expected as recently as the last Budget, and the Government has continuing concern about the rise in unemployment.
Craig Foss: How will the Government’s economic priorities change over the next year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Our priority in the first year was to come to grips with the recession and to understand just how deeply the misdirected policies of the previous Government had affected the economy. We will be continuing with our comprehensive plan to improve infrastructure, boost skills, have a better and smarter Public Service, have less red tape, and have a modern taxation system.
Unemployment—Statements
3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements on unemployment?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Minister for Social Development and Employment that the weekly unemployment benefit figures he has released at two press conferences recently are “unreliable, highly volatile, and potentially misleading to the public”; if so, why is he pulling the wool over New Zealanders’ eyes by using shonky data?
Hon JOHN KEY: I find it a bit amusing that the only people who seem to be pleased when unemployment goes up are Labour members. I know that one or two of them are very focused on their employment at the moment—
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister was asked a question and I do not believe that was a fair answer.
Hon JOHN KEY: I was getting around to it.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask the Prime Minister to attack the question a little less in getting around to answering it.
Hon JOHN KEY: OK. Yes, in broad terms I agree with the Minister for Social Development and Employment, but the points I made at my press conference yesterday were about the trend. The trend is that for 9 weeks in a row more people have come off the unemployment benefit than gone on it. That is something we should be celebrating, especially given Treasury’s predictions at this time.
Hon Annette King: When he was reusing “unreliable, highly volatile, and potentially misleading” figures yesterday, was he aware that unemployment drops around this time every year and that this year we are experiencing a smaller than usual seasonal drop of just 2.6 percent, when the average drop over the same period for the last 9 years was 5.2 percent?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but it is worth noting of the data yesterday—
Hon David Cunliffe: Why is Bill smiling?
Hon JOHN KEY: Why should there be no road rage on my cycleway? I think it is a good idea. Treasury’s prediction for all of 2009 was that unemployment would rise, so despite the assertions of Annette King, that is not the advice we had from Treasury.
Hon Annette King: Can he confirm that the latest figures released from the Ministry of Social Development show that the number of people on all benefits, including the unemployment benefit, has gone up by over 56,000 in the year that he has been Prime Minister, and that his use of “unreliable, highly volatile, and potentially misleading” figures is nothing more than a public relations stunt to play down the growing impact of unemployment on struggling New Zealanders?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, I cannot confirm that. I can confirm that when Phil Goff and Annette King were Ministers of Employment, the number of people on the unemployment benefit rose from 42,000 to 149,000.
Hon Annette King: Will he now change his figure for the level that unemployment will reach in New Zealand by next year from the 7 percent he was predicting just a few weeks ago to 8 percent, which is what the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research is now predicting, or was his use of the 7 percent figure also “unreliable, highly volatile, and potentially misleading to the public”?
Hon JOHN KEY: I know this will come as an enormous disappointment to Annette King, but when the Minister of Finance releases the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update next week, the deputy leader of the Labour Party will find that, in fact, my predictions are spot on with Treasury’s and that the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research is wrong.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter, dated 6 November, from the Hon Paula Bennett to me, in which she said the weekly data of unemployment benefits is volatile and could be potentially misleading to the public.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter, dated 17 August, addressed to the Speaker of the House, in which she says the weekly unemployment figures that are being used by the Prime Minister are unreliable and potentially misleading figures.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave—
Hon John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Who is that letter from?
Mr SPEAKER: I am afraid it is a bit late to intercede at this point.
Hon Annette King: The letter was to the Speaker of the House from Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development and Employment. I seek leave to table the latest benefit figures from the Ministry of Social Development, which are out today, showing that 56,000 more people are on benefits since John Key became Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Road Transport Operators—Compliance Costs
4. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Transport: What steps has he taken to reduce compliance costs for road transport operators?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Today I announced the introduction of electronic distance recording and electronic display of road-user charges licences, to be used from next year as a voluntary alternative to the paper-based system. The Government is working hard to reduce compliance costs across industry, and the move to electronic road-user charges is just another example of the regular and ongoing moves that, taken together, bring real benefit to the transport industry and the economy.
David Bennett: What other initiatives is the Government working on to reduce compliance costs for road transport operators?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Other road-user charges initiatives that the Government is working on include simplification and modernisation of the road-user charges system. Proposed changes include the removal of operator-nominated weights, removal of time licences, and consolidation of vehicles that are exempt from road-user charges. All these steps and other steps that we are taking in transport will reduce compliance costs for the transport sector and help to lower the costs for exporters to get their goods to the market.
New Zealand Superannuation Fund—Statements
5. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements regarding the New Zealand Superannuation Fund?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is he aware that since he suspended contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund it has increased in value by over $2 billion; if so, does he still maintain that “It makes little economic sense” to contribute to the fund?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have explained—excuse me. As I have explained to the member several times, the Government’s decision to not contribute was made, in fact, because the Government has no spare cash to save. It was not to do with the performance of the fund.
Hon David Cunliffe: It is always good to clarify what comes out of the Minister’s mouth.
Mr SPEAKER: The member should just ask his question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Even—forgive me—if we do not like the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: We see what happens when the Speaker is not quick enough in stopping this kind of thing. The member should just ask his question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Mr Speaker, I, too, withdraw.
Mr SPEAKER: Just ask the question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why did he use the global recession to justify his cutting contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund when all similar funds around the world were losing money; and in the light of those recent gains does he accept that the decision was wrong and short-sighted?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member clearly was not listening to the answer to the first question when I said that the decision not to contribute was based on the fact that the Government has large cash deficits. One reason for those deficits is the global recession; the other reason for those deficits is the reckless fiscal management of the previous Government. When we have surpluses we will start to contribute to the fund again.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given the Minister’s aversion to reckless fiscal management and the $110 billion of pollution subsidies just awarded to large emitters, does he stand by his statement that future contributions to the fund will be considered annually; if so, can New Zealanders expect him to resume contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund in Budget 2010 in light of those wonderful $2 billion gains in the fund this year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We consider the contributions annually because the decisions are made under the legislation passed by his party when it was in Government, and which was supported by National. That legislation allows for the Government to suspend contributions. As I have said, this Government did not believe that it made sense to borrow at the margin of New Zealand’s credit rating in order to contribute to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. When we have cash to save, we will save it, but I have to say that that is 8 to 10 years away.
Energy Costs—Essential Services
6. RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: Does he agree with the Community Energy Action charitable trust that a household is living in fuel poverty when essential energy services such as heating and hot water are unaffordable to the residents, and what actions has he taken to address fuel poverty, particularly for low-income New Zealanders?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): Broadly, yes. The biggest action the Government has taken to address fuel poverty is to introduce the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme. Those with community services cards are entitled to 60 percent off the cost of home insulation and $1,200 towards a clean-heating appliance. Recently the Government also announced that the scheme would be expanded by an additional $24 million over the next 4 years to enable an extra 8,000 guaranteed low-income households to have their homes retrofitted.
Rahui Katene: What can the Government do to ensure that landlords comply with the direction of the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 in terms of all requirements in respect of buildings’ health and safety so far as they apply to the premises, and specifically section 15 of the Housing Improvement Regulations 1947, which state that every house should be free from dampness?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is interesting to note that the years 1986 and, particularly, 1947 are quite some time ago, and there are a number of residential properties—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Well done! Genius! You’re a genius, Gerry!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I offered that to Clayton Cosgrove as he is a young man who is not very good with his numbers. Under the programme that the Government has instituted, nearly 3,000 rental homes have been retrofitted with insulation and with a clean-heating device. I think that encouraging landlords through that method will see some of that long-term neglect being rectified.
Rahui Katene: What progress has been made in working with Māori home insulation providers and installers, and with Māori community groups and iwi, to provide targeted support to low08 Dec 2009 Questions for Oral Answer Page 6 of 12 income households in order for them to benefit from the home insulation scheme negotiated with the Māori Party?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Good progress has been made by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority in working with iwi to assist young Māori families through the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart scheme. Iwi are coming on board in a variety of ways to support the scheme, most notably in recently times as third-party funders, and that is very good for all of those families.
Police—Planning for Holiday Period
7. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Police: Is she satisfied that the police have sufficient plans in place to cope with the extra duties and stresses created in the run-up to Christmas?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): I have full confidence in the ability of the New Zealand Police to cope with the run-up to Christmas. I am surprised that, by implication, the member does not share my confidence in the New Zealand Police.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was a perfectly straight question and did not deserve the last part to the answer.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does she stand by her statement in the New Zealand Herald of 17 June 2009 that “there would be no drop in service delivery. There will be no issues regarding safety for the public or for the police.”, in respect of the 10 percent reduction in the police vehicle fleet; and, further, when she stated: “you’re not talking about frontline cars, you’re talking about vans and pool cars …”?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I stand by comments that I have made that were based on assurances given to me by the Commissioner of Police. I agree with the Commissioner of Police. That member is always trying to make such a lot out of this issue, yet the New Zealand Police now has an attrition rate of less than 2 percent—the lowest since World War II.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I am not the only one trying to make a meal out of this. How does she reconcile those comments with the statement from the President of the Police Association, Greg O’Connor, who also has a view on her conduct, that on top of the extra duties and stresses created for the police in the run-up to Christmas, the most pressing issue for the police in 2009 is “how the hell to transport more people around for these duties with 10 percent fewer vehicles at your disposal.”?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have not read that quote from Mr O’Connor. No doubt, Mr O’Connor and I will discuss it at this evening’s Christmas party at the Police Association.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: While she is having drinks at the Christmas party tonight, can she tell us how she reconciles the assurance she gave to the New Zealand public that no front-line police vehicles would be withdrawn with the fact that, as an example, a purpose-built specialist drug-dog vehicle has been withdrawn in Dunedin?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Actually, we have new police cars going into operation right now, but I know that the member will not admit it. He should just wait till later this week, when he will see some new cars going in and some new vehicles that he is not aware of. I think they will be much more purpose-built for the police.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was about a specific example in Dunedin. It was responded to with a general statement—the Minister laughs, prior to her drinks this evening—about police vehicle policy. The question was about a specific example in respect of Dunedin.
Mr SPEAKER: The member, if he recollects his question, asked the Minister how she reconciled a couple of matters, and the Minister reconciled them by pointing out that, in fact, new vehicles were being introduced this week. That seemed to be a perfectly fair answer to the question that the member asked.
Gas Fields—Developments
8. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: What reports has he received about gas field developments in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): I have seen a report that Greymouth Petroleum has recently announced the discovery of the Kowhai gasfield, which is predicted to yield 134 petajoules of gas and 3.2 million barrels of condensate over its life. The discovery of Kowhai will have a flow-on benefit for the economy and consumers, and is a welcome development as the Government seeks to make more of New Zealand’s natural resources.
Jonathan Young: What other reports has he received about new gasfields in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have seen a report that the first gas and liquids from the Kupe gasfield have now started to come ashore. It is interesting to note that that was a discovery made quite some time ago, but it has only recently been developed. Over its life it is expected to produce 254 petajoules of natural gas, 1.1 million tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and 14.7 million barrels of light, crude oil. When it is at peak production, Kupe is expected to provide between 10 and 15 percent of our annual gas demand.
Chris Hipkins: What steps, if any, is he taking to ensure that the royalties regime will ensure that New Zealanders get their fair share of any wealth that comes from his promotion of greater offshore extraction of petroleum?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, the gas royalty of course, if it is from oil, comes from onshore, as well. The member will have noted that recently I gave a speech in which I outlined—
Hon Members: No.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, if the member would like me to quote the speech word for word, I will. But I made it very clear that we are reviewing the regime to ensure that the New Zealand Government, and therefore the people of New Zealand, gets its fair share from the royalty regime. We have a very good regime in this country. It encourages development. We want to make sure that we get some of the very large cash flows that can come from those royalties.
Chris Hipkins: What steps, if any, has he taken to ensure that the risk of an environmental disaster like the recent West Triton oil spill in the Timor Sea, where oil poured into the ocean for over 6 weeks until it could be capped, will be minimised if there is greater offshore extraction of petroleum in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Quite apart from the environmental standards that are applied to any of the licences that are granted for people to operate in New Zealand’s territorial sea, there is, of course, the huge financial deterrent against environmental disaster. That means that the companies themselves are extremely aware of the need for safety in their operations, with a high degree of consideration for the environment. It is very interesting to note that the Tui Area platform—the floating production, storage, and offloading vessel—that operates out there is currently the host of a rather large seal colony, so I assume that indicates that it is a very clean environment for them to live in.
Dairy Farming—Prime Minister’s Statement
9. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement to Federated Farmers that “regardless of your view about the environment or climate change, the opinions of your consumers will ultimately decide how well your products sell.”; if so, does he share Fonterra’s reported concern that factory farms could tarnish New Zealand’s reputation for free-range dairy products?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes and yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that New Zealand’s competitive advantage for dairy exports exists because our dairy cows are pastoral—they eat grass and live outdoors—and that therefore any moves to introduce factory farming of dairy cows in New Zealand are a threat to that priceless economic advantage; if he agrees with that, what is he going to do about it?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I remind the member that the applications for the types of farms that the member is referring to in his question are currently lodged before Environment Canterbury and that those submissions are open until 18 December. It might also be helpful to point out that the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which advises the Government on these issues, has recently developed a dairy welfare code, which has been through a review process with the interested bodies. The code is yet to be finalised and published, but the Minister of Agriculture advised me that he has asked for urgent advice on this specific issue in relation to that code.
Dr Russel Norman: Will his Government use its expanded resource management powers and the new Environmental Protection Authority to call in the resource consent applications for factory farms under Section 142 of the Resource Management Act that includes matters that have “… aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment …”; if not, why not?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have not received any advice that it is the Government’s intention to do that. As I said, the current applications are lodged with Environment Canterbury. We expect a wide range of submissions to be presented to Environment Canterbury by 18 December. We have made it quite clear from the Government’s perspective that we share the concerns that the member has just raised.
Brendon Burns: What will the Government’s policies on emissions trading and the $110 billion in subsidies provided to polluters, including corporate dairy farmers, do to reduce such developments as that threatening the Mackenzie Basin and New Zealand’s reputation more widely?
Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I utterly reject the assertion about $110 billion of subsidies. Secondly, when it comes to climate change, assertions are quite correct: the world is heating up, with the exception of Labour, where things are very much cooling down between its leader and its caucus. From our perspective, we will be going to Copenhagen with a very credible position—an emissions trading scheme on the books, which is more, I might add, than Australia has at the moment.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Prime Minister give the House a date by which the Government will decide whether it will call in these applications, which clearly have national significance and the potential to damage New Zealand’s international reputation and our nationally important dairy exports?
Hon JOHN KEY: No. But, as I said earlier, I can advise that the Minister of Agriculture has asked the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee for an urgent update on the issues as they relate to the farming of dairy animals in such a way. I think that would be a good starting point.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister may have misunderstood my question. It was not about the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee; it was about the Resource Management Act process and whether the Government—
Mr SPEAKER: He gave an answer, and it was no.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister aware that, under the changes to the emissions trading scheme, these 18,000 dairy cows will be subsidised by the taxpayer to cover the increase in greenhouse emissions by about $4.5 million between now and 2015, and does he think that the Government’s spending $4.5 million in order to subsidise factory dairy farming, which may damage our international reputation, is a good investment of taxpayer money?
Hon JOHN KEY: No. I am aware that the member has made a couple of factually incorrect statements. I am also aware that New Zealand, as a large agricultural producer, will play its part in the world in feeding the extra 3.5 billion people who will be on the planet by 2050. I am also aware that the Government is leading the charge for a global alliance to look for solutions when it comes to nitrate or methane emissions. I think in that regard New Zealand can count itself as a world leader when it comes to agriculture and looking for solutions to climate change.
Sue Kedgley: Is he aware that animal welfare is an increasingly important consideration for consumers around the world? Why on earth would the Government support a new form of factory
farming that will alienate many of our overseas consumers, including those who are attracted to New Zealand dairy products because they are promoted as being free-range and grass-fed?
Hon JOHN KEY: With due respect to the member, I say that if she listened to my answers she would know that the Government does not support it, and that we have just asked the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee for an urgent update on what can be done and what the issues are.
Dr Russel Norman: In light of the Prime Minister’s answers to this question, can he understand that people right across New Zealand are deeply concerned by this turn of events in the New Zealand dairy sector, that people are looking for the Government to provide some leadership urgently on this issue, that the prevarication so far just is not enough, and that we need a very clear answer one way or the other?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Where was the question? The member has been told several times the answer to where I think he is heading, so why are we allowing him to persevere in giving what effectively was a speech?
Mr SPEAKER: All I can say is that I am sure the Prime Minister is perfectly capable of answering whatever he could find in that by way of a question.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a straightforward question that asked whether he could understand the concern of New Zealanders. That was the simple question.
Mr SPEAKER: OK. Let us give the Prime Minister a chance to answer it.
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Question No. 10 to Minister
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour): The Attorney-General is not here today, so I seek leave for this question to be carried over until tomorrow.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Foreshore and Seabed Act Review—Public Access
10. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Attorney-General: Does he agree with the recommendation of the independent ministerial review panel that if the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 is repealed, then “Reasonable public access should be defined and provided for by statute”?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Attorney-General: Yes.
Hon David Parker: If the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 is amended or repealed to allow customary title to be sought for areas of seabed or foreshore, then is legislation likely to be needed to prevent the conversion of such customary titles to alienable freehold titles?
Hon SIMON POWER: Although I cannot answer the specifics of that question in the Attorney- General’s absence, I am prepared to say I understand that the Attorney-General himself met briefly with the member at the airport this morning and offered him the opportunity to have a direct conversation about issues similar to those he has just raised.
Hon David Parker: Will the threshold tests for the establishment of customary interest in the foreshore and seabed be altered from those that currently apply under the Foreshore and Seabed Act; if so, will those new thresholds be defined in statute or left to the courts?
Hon SIMON POWER: Those matters are part of a thorough and consultative process, which the member is welcome to join at any time.
Hon David Parker: Did representatives of Ngāti Porou request the National-led Government to honour the foreshore and seabed agreement that they reached under the existing Foreshore and Seabed Act with the previous Government, and to proceed with the resultant Ngā Rohe Moana o Ngā Hapū o Ngāti Porou Bill?
Hon SIMON POWER: I am sorry, but I do not have that specific information with me. If the member wishes to raise that matter by way of a written question or with the Attorney-General, I am sure he will be able to get an answer to his question.
Schools—Ultra-fast Broadband
11. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcements has the Government made to get schools ready for ultra-fast broadband?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): There is more good news; it just keeps on coming. Last week the Minister for Communications and Information Technology and I announced the $21.5 million allocation for schools in the latest round of a $150 million boost for school information and communications technology network upgrades. This means that another 100 schools have been invited to take part in the school network upgrade, which will see the Government and the schools split the cost of the upgrade 80:20.
Jo Goodhew: How quickly will work be able to begin on the school network upgrades?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am advised that a number of the schools will have agreed arrangements with the ministry before the end of this year. Once agreement is reached, on-site work should be able to commence approximately 4 weeks later. That means that some schools will be able to commence work early next year so that they are ready to take full advantage of the benefits provided by this technology close to the start of the new school year.
Clare Curran: What discussions has she had with the Minister for Communications and Information Technology on the broader policy framework being proposed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Economic Development to make use of the ultra-fast broadband rollout, and how much will it cost?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The Minister and I have had many discussions about the use of this network.
Clare Curran: Is the Ministry of Education involved in the Ministry of Economic Development - led trans-sector committee on broadband; if so, what work is the Ministry of Education doing as part of that committee?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Yes, we are working together.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: There will be a little order in the House. A point of order was called by the Labour member who asked the question. I expect a little courtesy to be shown to her.
Clare Curran: My question was quite specific. It asked the Minister what work is being done as part of this committee, and the Minister replied with a yes answer.
Mr SPEAKER: As I recollect the member’s question, she asked not just a general question about what work was being done but whether something was taking place between two parties— whether a certain a certain party was being involved in the work. As I recollect the Minister’s answer, she confirmed that yes, that party was being involved in the work. I believe that is a perfectly fair answer to the question asked.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It relates to the first part of the Minister’s response to that supplementary question, where you said that she indicated yes, they were involved. She said “we” are involved when she was asked a specific question about her ministry. She is not the Queen.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is nitpicking. If it transpires that the Minister was using a device like that to actually give incorrect information, I am sure that honourable members will follow that up with further questions in the future. My interpretation of the Minister’s answer was that she was confirming what the member had asked.
Question No. 12 to Minister
Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North): I seek leave for this question to be put across to the next sitting day. The Minister responsible for Ministerial Services has just skipped out of the Chamber—
Mr SPEAKER: The member is seeking leave that this question be deferred to the next sitting day. Is there any objection to that course of action being taken? There is objection.
Finance, Minister—Self-drive Car
12. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister responsible for
Ministerial Services: Has Hon Bill English received a self-drive car; if so, what requirements, if any, are placed on where such cars should be located?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister responsible for
Ministerial Services: Yes; all Ministers are entitled to one self-drive car for use at their discretion, and since May of this year there have not been any requirements as to where that car should be located.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Did the Hon Bill English take delivery of his self-drive car before 26 May this year?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is that the answer to that question is yes.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Therefore, noting the provisions of the Civil List Act 1979, how does he explain his role in allowing, until 26 May, the law to be broken?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are big issues to be dealt with in this country, and the location of Ministers’ cars, and the garages where they keep their cars, is not something that has occupied a lot of the Minister’s time. The reality is that when it became clear that a number of Ministers had decided to have their families here with them in Wellington and to also have their self-drive cars here in Wellington, it was necessary to make a change. There is no net loss to the taxpayer. Ministers are still entitled to only one self-drive car, just as they were through all the 9 years of the Labour Government, and just as they have been for many, many decades.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question—I will not repeat it unless you ask me to—was, how does the Minister explain his role in breaking the law? I have given the law. It is the Civil List Act 1979. No attempt was made to address that aspect of the question, and that is all that the question was.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister responding on behalf of the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services actually said that bigger issues were occupying his attention. Whether that is a very good answer to the question is perhaps debatable, but it certainly is an answer to the question. That is how he justifies the assertion the member has included in his question—that there were actually more important things occupying his mind.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why, in his ministerial role, did he sign off his colleague as living in Dipton in February, but signed off that same colleague as needing his car in Wellington in May?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The first point is that it is the Speaker who signs off on where people are determined to have their primary place of residence. The second thing is that the Minister was most uninterested in where Ministers garaged their self-drive cars. Given the circumstances this country faced, it was of bugger-all relevance.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Can the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: I have called the Hon Pete Hodgson. I ask members to respect that fact that I have called the Hon Pete Hodgson.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my colleague. I want to know whether you can reflect on the words that the Minister used right at the very end of his answer. You have made a point about the dignity of the Chamber, and certain interjections are not allowed to be used by members, yet the Minister used a profanity. I am just surprised that it was allowed to go—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This matter was dealt with by the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt when the Toyota ads were so prominent in New Zealand advertising on television. It is interesting that we are talking about cars and we refer to the Toyota ads. It is totally appropriate that Labour’s fixation—
Mr SPEAKER: The member was fine until that point, but [Interruption] I ask front benches on both sides of the House to be silent. The member was going fine until that point. One can get pedantic about these things but, as the Hon Gerry Brownlee has pointed out, this matter has arisen in the House before and the context of the use of the language did not seem to be unduly offensive. But I would ask members to be a little cautious in their use of language. Unless members took particular offence, I think we should move on to the supplementary question asked by the Hon Pete Hodgson.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Can the Minister confirm that, had there never been a decision to regularly disclose MPs’ expenses, the Minister of Finance could still be siphoning $47,000 worth of taxpayers’ money into his own pocket, as well as driving a taxpayer-funded car around in the wrong town?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I know how much it hurts former Labour Ministers that they no longer have those opportunities available to them. In any other circumstance the suggestion made in that question would be totally defamatory. I think the member needs to think very carefully about what he is asking for. I can tell the member that there is a determination, the requirements of that determination had been met, and the fixation the Labour Party has on this matter sums up why it is in so much political trouble.
ENDS

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