INDEPENDENT NEWS

Questions and Answers - 9 Dec 2009

Published: Thu 10 Dec 2009 10:01 AM
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
WEDNESDAY, 9 DECEMBER 2009
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economy—Fiscal Challenges
1. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What fiscal challenges does the Government face as the economy comes out of recession?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): One of the main challenges for the Government coming out of the recession will be to continue to provide a high level of public services, particularly to those New Zealanders who are most vulnerable, but to do so at a time when the global recession has had a significant impact on the Government’s books. We have set a target of $1.1 billion new operating allowance for future Budgets. This will be sufficient to maintain public services, particularly for those vulnerable New Zealanders, if the Government is disciplined and we find new ways of providing those services New Zealanders have come to expect.
Aaron Gilmore: What adjustments will be needed to operate within the new environment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Quite significant adjustments will be required to operate within the new environment. For instance, the average base salary for the public sector in the last 12 months ended June 2009 rose by 5.3 percent. The Government is open to negotiations of future pay increases, but we have to be buying better ways of working, primarily because of our obligation to provide public services to New Zealanders who are vulnerable and New Zealanders who need those services.
Aaron Gilmore: What other impediments exist to delivering quality front-line services?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The main impediment is overcoming the legacy of mismanagement and waste left by the previous Government. The current Government is spending days and days trying to untangle organisations with weak governance, poor financial performance, and services that cost more than they should.
John Boscawen: What are the Minister’s plans to achieve the Government’s concrete goal of closing the income gap with Australia by 2025, given that current Treasury projections show that the New Zealand economy is set to grow by only 2.5 percent a year, well short of the 4 percent required and identified by him at the Finance and Expenditure Committee meeting this morning?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has outlined a plan, which I am sure will unfold to the member’s satisfaction. It involves investment in infrastructure, more productive public services, less red tape, a world-class tax system, improved skills, a focus on literacy and numeracy, and upgrading our innovation and business support system.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Is the Minister dedicated to lower rates of personal taxation; if so, why did he base his forecast in Budget 2009 on “a steady increase in the tax burden on the economy.”, a forecast that by 2022 would see fiscal drag push the average income earner into the top tax bracket?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member has put his finger on a pretty critical issue as part of our outlook. The forecasts in the Budget that showed public debt coming under control include assumptions that as incomes rise with inflation, someone on the average wage after the year 2020
will end up paying the top tax rate. That is clearly unsatisfactory, and it points out the challenge that New Zealand has to live within our means as we come out of this recession and overcome the impact of the recession on our books. We cannot allow the situation to unfold where someone on the average wage ends up paying the top tax rate.
Unemployment—Statements
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his recent statements on unemployment?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and I would like to add one more statement. Should I take from the fact that there is no question from Phil Goff today that he has joined the ranks of the unemployed?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Come on! Be even-handed.
Mr SPEAKER: A member has just accused me of not being even-handed. I did not object when members of the Opposition were hurling absolutely insulting interjections across the House during the last question. If I am to be even-handed, I have to allow a little bit of “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” I am very happy to clamp down on all of it, if that is what honourable members would like, but I want the House to live and breathe a bit.
Hon Annette King: What did he mean when he said yesterday “Treasury’s prediction for all of 2009 was that unemployment would rise, … that is not the advice we had from Treasury.”, and, what is the difference between Treasury’s predictions and advice? Is there a difference; if so, what does he believe, Treasury’s advice or its predictions?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have not referred to the quote from yesterday’s Hansard, but what I would have said is that there was an increase from Treasury each and every week for 2009. What has happened is that the trend has actually gone down for 9 weeks. Unemployment has fallen in this country because of the actions of this Government. The only people who are lamenting that are the miserable Labour members, who are very focused on unemployment at the moment.
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his comments that Treasury cannot predict what the deficit will be in December, let alone anything that requires a longer time frame, and their predictions are wrong; if so, why is he staking his credibility on Treasury’s advice about unemployment, and why should New Zealanders believe the advice when the Prime Minister of this country calls Treasury’s predictions nonsense?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not stand by that statement, and the reason for that is that we are in December, and I reckon Treasury will probably get it right in the next 7 days.
Hon Annette King: Did the Minister for Social Development and Employment advise him that barely 3 hours after he admitted in Parliament that her unemployment benefit figures were “unreliable, highly volatile, and potentially misleading” she intended to put out a statement saying “Oops, I’m sorry. The number of people on the unemployment benefit is not actually going down, it is now on the way up again.”?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, because the Minister for Social Development and Employment has been pointing out to Cabinet for the last 9 weeks in a row that unemployment has been falling because of the actions of her department, and I just took the time to congratulate her on her great work.
Hon Annette King: Does—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Keep going. This is going so well.
Hon Annette King: Yes, this is fun. I am enjoying this very much. [Interruption].
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. A little more decorum, please, from the Government benches.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Minister for Social Development and Employment, who said that young people thinking of hanging about on the dole can forget about it on her watch; if so, how come the number of young unemployed people has exploded by 14,000 on her watch,
and, of those, 12,000 have been unemployed for a year? Can he not see that this Minister is all puff and no action?
Hon JOHN KEY: My answer is to the Leader of the Opposition—sorry, no, it’s not. It is to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Hon JOHN KEY: Well, feel free to ask a question, I say to Phil Goff. I am here all afternoon. Anyway, my answer to that question is quite simple. What about the 2,100 people who have a job because of Job Ops? What about the 1,200 people who got a job because of Community Max? We live in the real world on this side of the House. In the real world we are in the middle of a global economic recession, and, relative to other countries, we are doing pretty well as a Government.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction—2020 Target
3. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Prime Minister: Is he open to increasing New Zealand’s 2020 emissions reduction target when he is in Copenhagen next week, in light of new evidence that even if the most ambitious targets countries have put forward are met, the global average temperature will still rise by 3.5 degrees this century, making large parts of the world uninhabitable?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is it still his Government’s position to commit to an agreement that keeps average global warming below 2 degrees?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. The advice that we have had, which is the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, indicates that if the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is stabilised at 450 parts per million, we would stand a reasonable change of limiting global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does he accept the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that developed country targets averaging at between 25 percent and 40 percent below 1990 levels are essential to achieve the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius?
Hon JOHN KEY: What I would say, in terms of developed countries, is that if one was to look at other countries around the world and see what they are proposing to take to Copenhagen, I note that the target of the United States of America is 3.4 percent less, Canada’s is 3 percent less, and Australia’s could be anywhere from 4 percent less to 24 percent less. On that basis I think New Zealand is playing its part quite adequately.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a simple question as to whether he accepted the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about what was necessary to meet the goal. I did not ask about other countries. Can I repeat the question?
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member to repeat her question.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does he accept the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that developed country targets averaging at between 25 percent and 40 percent below 1990 levels are essential to achieve the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius?
Hon JOHN KEY: I accept that that was the average that the panel thought was appropriate.
Hon David Parker: Does the Prime Minister accept that pricing emissions is an important way to lower emissions; if so, how does encouraging increased agricultural emissions, at the cost of New Zealand taxpayers, make any environmental or economic sense?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given his previous answer that targets of 25 percent to 40 percent on average are necessary, and given that we are prepared to commit to only between 10 percent and 20 percent conditionally, which countries does he think should do better than 40 percent in order to offset our failure to act?
Hon JOHN KEY: Countries that will find it easier than us to achieve that greater reduction.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon David Parker. [Interruption] I have called the Hon David Parker. [Interruption] I have called the member’s colleague the Hon David Parker.
Hon David Parker: Given the answer that the Prime Minister just gave to the first part of my question, how does encouraging increased agricultural emissions, at the cost of New Zealand taxpayers, make any environmental or economic sense?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because in the real world 3.5 billion people will be added to the planet over the next 40-odd years. The demand for food will double, and this Government is focused on trying to play its part in feeding those people in the world and on doing so with a lower carbon footprint. That is why we are going to Copenhagen and arguing very strongly for our global alliance. I say to that member that if he keeps his eyes and ears open if he is going to Copenhagen, or if he watches what is happening at Copenhagen, he might find some quite surprising announcements on that front.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Has Cabinet delegated to him the authority to increase New Zealand’s 2020 target when he gets to Copenhagen in order to ensure that a successful agreement is achieved?
Hon JOHN KEY: Cabinet has delegated to me, in conjunction with the Minister for Climate Change Issues and the Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues (International Negotiations), discretion about what we can agree to at Copenhagen, but the target is unlikely to change. I tell members that the target will not be increasing.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Exactly what conditions would need to be met by other countries in order for New Zealand to commit to a target in the 25 to 40 percent range, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says is essential?
Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I am not focused on that. What I am focused on is going to Copenhagen—
Hon Annette King: What! What do you mean, you’re not focused?
Hon JOHN KEY: I am not focused on increasing New Zealand’s target. What I am focused on is going to Copenhagen and making sure that New Zealand can successfully negotiate the conditions that we think are important in order for us to achieve a target of 10 to 20 percent. If we do not negotiate those conditions, we will not be able to achieve a target of 10 to 20 percent and we would have to have a lower target.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Prime Minister confirming that he is going to Copenhagen with a recipe for failure for the world’s climate, rather than success?
Hon JOHN KEY: Far from it! We are going to Copenhagen with a comprehensive plan. We have an emissions trading scheme that is now in legislation. We have a credible target relative to that of other countries. We have a global alliance that we are promoting around the world. That member is quite aware that from New Zealand’s perspective, actually achieving large reductions on the 1990 base level is quite challenging. We have had some of the fastest population growth per capita of any annex 1 country. We started with one of the highest levels of renewable energy of any developed country. Also 50 percent of all emissions come from agriculture, and we have no solution at this point to methane and nitrate emissions. If New Zealand were to achieve a target of 10 percent less, that would be a significant milestone. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I call question No. 4. [Interruption] The Speaker is on his feet, and the Prime Minister will respect that. I have called the Hon Jim Anderton, and I would ask members on both sides of the House to show him respect.
Primary Growth Partnership—Funding of Projects
4. Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive) to the Minister of Agriculture: How much funding has been paid out to research and innovation projects in the primary sector through the Primary Growth Partnership since the formation of the National-led Government in November last year?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): The Primary Growth Partnership has adhered strictly to its funding timetable since being launched in September. Two first-stage funding rounds have already been undertaken, and funding decisions will be made shortly if the business plans are approved.
Hon Jim Anderton: What we just heard from—sorry. Is the Minister of Agriculture telling the House—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The man who has been in the House longer than anybody else should be starting his question with a question word.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Jim Anderton realised he had made a slip of the tongue and he immediately proceeded to ask his question. I invite him to continue.
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Is the Minister therefore telling the House that after 12 months in office the amount of money provided through the Primary Growth Partnership to health research and development in the primary industry sector is nil, and that no progress has been made whatever, when, in fact, before the Fast Forward Fund—if the Minister confirms—there were proposals ready to progress when he took office?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No, what I am telling the House is that we are adhering to the timetable that was established. What I am telling the House is that good things take time. What we have before us is a Primary Growth Partnership that has been well supported and well thought through, with industry supporting it, unlike the former Fast Forward Fund, which, despite all the talk and smoke and mirrors, did not receive one application from primary sector organisations.
Shane Ardern: What level of industry support has the Government received for the Primary Growth Partnership?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The support the Government has received has been extraordinary. To date 14 different organisations have publicly endorsed the Primary Growth Partnership, and over $200 million worth of funding applications have already been received.
Rahui Katene: What opportunities for iwi involvement in the Primary Growth Partnership have been secured as a result of negotiations with the Māori Party, and what will be the specific investment allocated towards this?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The Government has committed to working with the Māori Party on two important research initiatives: the Primary Growth Partnership and the Centre for Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research. In addition, it has appointed Jamie Tuuta to the independent advisory panel to provide a strong voice for Māori on the Primary Growth Partnership. This commitment will ensure appropriate iwi involvement and substantially increase public investment in this strategically important area for New Zealand and for iwi.
Hon Jim Anderton: Supplementary, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member, the honourable member had a supplementary question yesterday and has had one today. He has two allocated for the week.
Hon Members: Allocated by Labour.
Mr SPEAKER: OK, I will accept that. I ask in the future we be advised in advance.
Hon Jim Anderton: Can he confirm the most extraordinary statement he has made to the House—and we have got it right—that not only has no money been allocated to primary industry research and development in the first 12 months of his Government, but that is actually the strategy the National Party intended in the first place?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No. I encourage the member to listen. I have just told the House that we now have before the Investment Advisory Panel in excess of $200 million worth of applications, unlike the former Fast Forward Fund, which was all smoke and mirrors and never received one application at all from any primary sector organisation.
Electricity Market—Performance
5. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What is the Government doing to improve the performance of the electricity market?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): Today I announced a package of measures to improve the New Zealand electricity system. The changes will improve competition, may constrain price increases, should ensure effective and streamlined governance, and increase security of supply. The changes are contained in the Electricity Industry Bill, which will be introduced to the House tomorrow.
Katrina Shanks: What changes will improve competition and constrain price increases?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think it is important to note that no Government can promise to lower prices. What we can do is make sure that policy settings are as good as possible to constrain future price increases and promote competition and efficiency. The major changes that I have announced today include transferring the Tekapo A and Tekapo B power stations from Meridian Energy to Genesis Energy; Meridian Energy, Genesis Energy, and Mighty River Power undertaking long-term hedge contracts for supply; requiring the establishment of a liquid hedge market; allowing lines companies back into retailing; and establishing a special fund to promote customer switching.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Minister actually telling the House that this is not going to lower power prices for hard-pressed New Zealand families; if so, why did National in Opposition promise continuously that that is what they were going to do?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, that was the leader of a party—
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. Now look, even though a member may not like a question, he must not start answering it by launching abuse at the questioner. The House knows it was the Leader of the Opposition who asked the question, and the House would appreciate an answer from the Minister.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I withdraw and apologise for saying “was”. During the 9 years that Labour were in Government, electricity prices went up by 72 percent. During the same period there was a consumer price index price rise of 28 percent. That was utterly disgraceful. What we have done is put together a package of measures designed to constrain that price. I challenge the Leader of the Opposition to ever find a statement from me that said that a National Government would lower power prices. We in National think that the massive price rise we have had in the last 9 years is completely unacceptable, and we are doing something about it.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was if he could confirm that this actually would not lower power prices, and we have not heard the answer to that.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The reality is, as the Leader of the Opposition knows, that the power price is set by retailers. All the Government can do is make sure that the environment for— [Interruption] Do those members want an answer, or not? The way in which the industry operates does allow that competition. That is something Labour never did. Labour set up the Electricity Commission, which charged people every month, on their bills, and we simply saw the price continue to rise.
Hon Phil Goff: So is the Minister, therefore, confirming that hard-pressed New Zealand families, whose wages are being frozen, on the order of the Minister of Finance, will continue to see their power prices go up, and that this is really just a sham—a bureaucratic and asset reshuffle?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I hear no apology for the appalling performance of the Labour Government over 9 years, in this regard. I will—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was obvious to you, from the beginning of that answer that the Minister was making no effort to answer the question, but simply to rattle on and bluster.
Mr SPEAKER: What I intend doing is allowing the honourable Leader of the Opposition to ask his question again. I ask him, though, to delete the last part of it. If he expects a reasonable answer
from the Minister, he should delete the last part of the question he asked, and ask the question. Then I have a chance to have the Minister answer it. But with what the member added at the end of his question, it is hard for me to stop the Minister from firing back.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Minister telling the House that hard-pressed New Zealand families, whose incomes are being frozen, will in fact continue to see their power prices go up, and that this is more about a bureaucratic and asset reshuffle than it is about reducing power prices to hard-pressed New Zealand families?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If the Leader of the Opposition was in touch with the needs of ordinary families, he would know—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, it would have been obvious to you that that was not an effort to answer the question, but, rather, to give a speech.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the honourable Leader of the Opposition is making a fair point of order. He has asked a question, and once he cut out the innuendo at the end of his question, it was a fair question. In having the question answered, the questioner should not be attacked; that is unreasonable. I have no problem with there being some comment later on, but I would like to hear, at least at the start of an answer, something that tries to answer the question.
Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With due respect, if Labour members do not want any barbs in the answers they receive, then I urge you to consider the rules of the House. Every time I am on my feet those people are yelling and screaming abuse, both during the question being answered and the whole time. For 9 years, when the issue was on the other side of the coin, I remember abuse coming back at a much heavier rate. I think that if those members want to give it, then they should be able to take it. If they cannot, then we will have rules where there are none of those interjections, and that will be totally fine with those on this side of the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Diddums!
Mr SPEAKER: That is not helpful. I think the Prime Minister has made a perfectly fair point, and at times, as in the first question of the day, I have felt that the level of interjection was unreasonable. I did not intervene, because I felt that the honourable Prime Minister was coping with it pretty well. A degree of reasonableness is needed, but on this particular occasion after I asked the honourable Leader of the Opposition to remove from his question offensive words—words that were somewhat offensive—then I think it is reasonable for the Minister to at least attempt to answer the question. With the earlier version of the question I do not blame the Minister for launching back, but the honourable Leader of the Opposition appealed to me under a point of order. I have allowed him to repeat his question without the innuendo in it, and I think that a more reasonable answer is appropriate.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I can say that the measures that are in this bill will mean that New Zealanders will not face power prices rising at three times the rate of inflation, as was the record of the years from 2000 to 2008.
Katrina Shanks: What changes will increase security of supply?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: We have announced a number of initiatives to increase security of supply, and also to reduce the supply risk in dry years. Most notable is the decision to require generators to compensate consumers if consumers are asked to save electricity through a national conservation campaign. Consumers will have the confidence of knowing that if they get that call, they will be getting some money back from those who are calling for those savings.
Finance, Minister—Treasury Advice
6. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement “advice we disagree with is bad advice; advice we agree with is good advice”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he consider it good advice that Treasury confirmed to the Finance and Expenditure Committee today that Government expenditure actually fell, as a percentage of GDP, by a full percent from 1999 to 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Whatever advice Treasury gave to the member, what I can confirm is that in the 5 years to 2009 the actual level, in dollars, of Government spending went up by 49 percent, and in the 5 years to 2010 it went up by 45 percent. This Government is wrestling—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It cannot be an acceptable precedent in this House for a Minister of Finance, when asked whether a particular statistic was good advice, to answer by choosing a different statistic.
Mr SPEAKER: In the interests of saving time I invite the member to repeat his question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister consider it good advice that Treasury confirmed at the Finance and Expenditure Committee today that Government expenditure actually fell, as a percentage of GDP, by a full percent from 1999 to 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may be correct. As we discussed at the select committee, the actual dollars spent rose by 49 percent in the 5 years to 2009, and this Government is wrestling with the consequences of mismanagement and reckless spending by the previous Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he consider it good advice, when he created that 49 percent figure by including the effects of inflation, economic growth, economic cycles, calculation and assumption changes, and his own last Budget in order to overstate the expenditure trend for political purposes— to blame the previous Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The member is wrong about that. He can look at the figures. They establish what everyone else seems to understand, which is that Labour was a big-spending Government, and we have to shut down that spending.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is his deliberate manipulation of these figures a precursor to substantial spending cuts in next year’s Budget, as foreshadowed by his stalking horse 2025 Task force report?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has been very open about its intentions in respect of Government spending. We want to provide more and better public services for less money. That will be a challenge, because in the last 5 years, up to June 2009—mostly under Labour— Government spending went up by 49 percent when the economy grew by half that amount. Government spending has been out of control. There is a lot of waste and a lot of weak governance, and we are trying to clean it up.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not mean to interrupt the flow, but you were quite precise before about the fact that Ministers need to answer without diving into too much criticism of those who are asking the question. But that last question led off with an accusation that there had been deliberate manipulation of the figures. That is total supposition, it is an allegation, and the Minister should not be put in the position of answering material that has no factual base whatsoever.
Hon David Cunliffe: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I do not really want have a debate on this.
Hon David Cunliffe: The member—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I ask the member to resume his seat. I assessed that the language used was not abusive. I accept that, strictly speaking, the honourable member is quite right in saying that questions should not contain assertions like that. But I think it was not unreasonable, and members will note that I allowed the Minister in his reply to punch back. He made some comments in his reply that the questioner would not have liked, and that is the way it flows. Had the language been more offensive, I would have stopped it.
Hon Phil Goff: How can he defend his comments about poor economic management, when, during the term of the last Labour Government, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s both increased New Zealand’s credit rating to the highest level in 22 years; when New Zealand reduced its net debt
by 78 percent; and when New Zealand, under Labour, built up net Crown worth from $10 billion to $105 billion—how can he sustain an accusation that is clearly false?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The electorate will be ready to take Labour seriously when it apologises for squandering the best 10 years New Zealand could have had.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can the Minister reconcile his statement now that his focus is on getting debt under control, with his statement at the Finance and Expenditure Committee this morning that “Frankly, I’m not overly concerned about a reduction in debt when it comes to the cost of superannuation or the cost of subsidising carbon pollution.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Labour Party, of course, would like the Government to cut national superannuation, but National gave an undertaking about the level of national superannuation and we are going to stick with it. Alongside it, we have to get control of Government spending, which got out of control under the previous Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Once again, when this Minister is in trouble on the facts—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the member must not do that.
Hon Annette King: Well, Gerry does.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Yes, Gerry does.
Mr SPEAKER: Members should not interject when I am on my feet. I called the member for a point of order; he must not start it in that way, because it always leads to disorderliness.
Hon David Cunliffe: To rephrase, it seems to me that the Minister has made two errors under the Standing Orders. Firstly, he has replied to a question about Government policy by making an allegation about a policy of the Opposition, for which he is not responsible. That is the first point. The second point is that what he is alleging to be the Opposition’s policy is not, in fact, the Opposition’s policy; it is a fiction. On either ground he is at odds with the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not going to continue this matter any further. What is happening now is a debate under a point of order, and I am not going to allow that. But I note that the Minister, in answering, did refer to an alleged Opposition policy and make a comment about that, which is strictly not within the Standing Orders. However, this question has gone to and fro and both sides have contravened the Standing Orders. I think we are best to leave it lie. It has been a reasonable exchange up to this point, and I do not want to let it carry on under points of order.
Climate Change—New Zealand Objectives at Copenhagen Conference
7. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: What objectives does New Zealand have at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and what is the latest advice on the prospect of these being achieved?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Climate Change Issues): New Zealand’s objective is a comprehensive global agreement that limits temperature rises to 2 degrees, or 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent, and that contains the essential elements to achieve this, with mitigation commitments by developed countries and mitigation actions by developing countries. It will not be possible to achieve a ratifiable successor to Kyoto, but it would be a significant step forward to achieve agreement on a political declaration, decisions on early action, and a mandate to progress to a final agreement next year.
Nikki Kaye: What reports has the Minister received on the adequacy of New Zealand’s target of a 10 to 20 percent reduction in 1990 emissions by 2020?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I note that an independent assessment of individual country pledges published in Copenhagen this week by the European Climate Foundation ranks countries from role models to inadequate. New Zealand receives a medium ranking, consistent with our policy of ensuring that we do our fair share as a developed country, and is in the top 10 of countries that have tabled commitments at Copenhagen.
Nikki Kaye: Does he agree with the assessment that the biggest challenge at Copenhagen will be bridging the political gap between developed and developing countries; if so, what steps will New Zealand be taking to assist in resolving these differences?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I do, because we will not resolve this global problem without getting large developing countries to curtail the growth in their emissions, but they, understandably, want developed countries to take the lead. The initiative announced by John Key at the United Nations General Assembly to develop a global alliance on agricultural emissions is a contribution to assist in this area, and we will be advancing it further at Copenhagen.
Finance, Minister—Self-drive Car
8. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister responsible for
Ministerial Services: Were the capital and running costs of the self-drive car used by the Hon Bill English in the first 6 months of this Government properly appropriated under the Public Finance Act 1989; if so, will he table official advice, if any, to that effect?
Hon JOHN KEY (Minister responsible for Ministerial Services): Yes, the Department of Internal Affairs capital expenditure intentions were included in the estimates of appropriation, as were the non-departmental other expense costs for the operation of those vehicles; and the answer to the second part of the question is no.
Hon Pete Hodgson: If the Minister is so sure of himself, then why does he not table the advice?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is standard Government practice not to release legal opinions.
Hon Pete Hodgson: If he thinks he broke no regulation or law, then why did he sign consultation letters to the Commissioner of Inland Revenue and the chair of the Remuneration Authority on 6 March, only to consult them again on 18 May with one late change, which is the one that removes the requirement for self-drive cars to be based at a member’s primary place of residence?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because it was appropriate for me to do so. Can I—[Interruption] Yeah, I know that this is the thing that is holding the country back, but members must bear with me for a second, because I will just help them through their afternoon. The member pays a lot of attention to Part 2 of the 2003 determination. Unfortunately for him, he seems to have overlooked Part 1, which I will just draw to his attention. It states—
Hon Ruth Dyson: What a smart alec.
Hon JOHN KEY: —no, I am not a smart-arse; this is the answer to the question. It is the costeffective principle, which provides exactly this: “Wherever reasonably practicable, members of the Executive should endeavour to use the most cost-effective alternative available.” That is exactly what we are doing. We are actually saving taxpayers money, and I am sure that they welcome that.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why did the Minister make the hasty, hurried, and late change in May of this year, yet he now tells the House that he did not really need to do so; which part of that is not true?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because it was brought to my attention by Ministerial Services in May that it was a good idea as a way of saving money and tidying up all the rules.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Is the Minister aware of the news that the Southland branch of Federated Farmers has today travelled to Wellington to meet with the Minister of Finance, whose primary place of residence is in Southland; and might this curious state of affairs have arisen because the member never goes home, or is it that—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will sit—[Interruption] There will be silence. I simply rule that question out; it is beneath the dignity of the House.
Street Racing—Deterrents
9. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister of Police: Have any recent steps been taken to protect New Zealand communities from the dangerous behaviour of boy racers?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): I am pleased to report that on 1 December—
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister. I say to members of the House that what is going on here is just not reasonable. A member has asked a question, which is her right, and she deserves to hear an answer, as does the House. The members who are carrying on their personal interjections across the House are being totally unreasonable. I invite the Hon Judith Collins to continue her answer, and I apologise for her being interrupted.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am pleased to report that on 1 December, two new street racing laws came into effect. These laws have given the police, the courts, and councils new tools to crack down on boy racers. Repeat street racing offenders can now have their cars impounded, seized, sold, or crushed. They can receive demerit points for noise offences. Councils can also bring in by-laws to ban the cruising of city streets.
Nicky Wagner: What actions have police taken following the passing of boy racer legislation?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Police have been highly visible over the weekend throughout the country. In Christchurch a special police operation resulted in six cars being impounded, 52 unsafe vehicles being taken off the road, and 80 young drivers called up for breaching licence conditions. These new laws are part of this Government’s focus on making our communities safer for families.
Brendon Burns: Can the Minister tell New Zealanders in electorates like mine, who endure much debilitating boy racer noise, why the latest two laws do nothing to cut noise exhaust levels as repeatedly promised by National in Opposition?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The laws relating to noise levels are not part of the Minister of Police’s jurisdiction. I think that that member should put down the question for the appropriate Minister on that particular issue.
Nicky Wagner: What other steps have taken place to protect communities in the Christchurch area that have been particularly plagued by boy racers?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am delighted to report that the new Canterbury police antisocial road-user team has achieved outstanding results in its first 3 months of operation. It has impounded 48 vehicles, made 33 arrests, suspended 30 licences, issued 185 non-operation orders, prosecuted 25 drink-drivers, and attended 12 vehicle crashes. In addition, it has issued more than 2,200 infringement and offence notices in just 3 months.
Brendon Burns: I seek leave to table a page from a National Party election pamphlet in which big bore campaigners Nick Smith and Nicky Wagner pledge tough new vehicle noise laws.
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.
Adult and Community Education—Redundancies
10. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What advice has she received about the numbers of redundancies of adult and community education coordinators in high schools which are occurring right now?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Tertiary Education): I do not have advice on the numbers, but then I would not expect to, because those are matters for the boards of trustees. I do understand that those are employment or contractual arrangements, and it depends on whether the boards of trustees have employed these coordinators, whether they have contracted them, or whether the coordinators will continue to provide services in the new year.
Hon Maryan Street: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was set down on notice as a question for consideration. I would have thought the Minister might have been able to discern that information from officials. Is that not possible?
Mr SPEAKER: The question that member has asked—and I accept fully that it was on notice— asked what advice the Minister had received on the matter. The Minister said she had not received any advice on the matter. I think that it was a perfectly reasonable answer to the question.
Hon Maryan Street: How are schools paying for these redundancies?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said to the member in my earlier answer, it is an employment matter between the boards of trustees and the staff.
Hon Maryan Street: What advice has she received about the pressure on schools’ budgets caused by those redundancies, and what will children go without next year because of them?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have not had any advice on that matter.
Sue Moroney: If it is costing Melville High School in Hamilton around $80,000 to pay for two redundancies, what has she suggested that the principal of Melville High cuts from that school’s operational grant in 2010 to afford the necessary and rightful redundancy payments?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I say to the board of trustees of Melville High School that that was a decision it made when it employed someone full time on a yearly contract of funding. It was clearly a decision that the board made itself.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked what suggestions the Minister had for what the—
Mr SPEAKER: That is enough. The Minister answered the question, because the member asked what suggestions she had, and she gave suggestions. If the member asks that kind of question, she cannot expect a precise answer.
Education, National Standards—Introduction
11. ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Education: When will national standards be introduced into English medium schools for years 1-8, and why?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): This Government is not prepared to accept so many students leaving our education system unable to read, write, and do maths anywhere near the level they need to succeed. National standards will be introduced into primary and intermediate schools next year, and schools will report progress against them to parents in plain English at least twice a year.
Allan Peachey: What reports has the Minister seen in support of national standards?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have had many teachers, principals, and members of the public tell me that they support national standards. One example of support that I received last week said: “It is important to let you know that not all principals support the present frenzy against national standards. There are colleagues out there”—
Moana Mackey: Now read out the emails from all the other principals!
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: —I know that the Opposition does not want to hear this—“who support it, but raising your head above the parapet in these times is a risky act.” I am confident that most schools around the country are happy to get on with implementing national standards, because they are worried that so many of our New Zealand kids are falling through the cracks.
Allan Peachey: What reports has the Minister seen from educational organisations suggesting that they may take industrial action over national standards next year?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have seen a report suggesting just that, and I find it really disappointing that the unions want to stop parents from getting information about how their kids are doing. This Government is on the side of parents and on the side of kids. We want them to do well in our schools, we need them to do well in our schools, and national standards will help them do that.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Is she concerned that whereas Pākehā children scored an average of 547 in the Programme for International Student Assessment for science, Māori children scored an average of 473 and Pasifika children scored an average of 441,
and what action will she be taking in English medium schools to address the evident failure of those institutions to invest in the achievement of Māori and Pasifika students?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Of course we are concerned, and that is why we are introducing national standards. They will provide an excellent tool for schools to identify and support those students who are not achieving. That party sitting over there had 9 years in Government to do something, and all it did was talk while the gap between the top and the bottom got bigger.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What is the name of one of the academics or assessment experts she told the House last week support both national standards and her Government’s implementation methods?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Professor Hattie invented them, so he should support them.
Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004—Ports of Auckland Shares
12. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Local Government: What did Cabinet decide in response to his recommendation that the provisions of the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004 protecting the Ports of Auckland shares from disposal be repealed?
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government): Although Cabinet has decided to repeal the Auckland Regional Holdings provisions in the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004 and bring those assets under the general council-controlled organisation provisions of the Local Government Act 2002, it has also placed a statutory moratorium on the sale of any shareholdings, including the port shares, until after the first long-term council community plan is completed by the new council in July 2012.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement to Cabinet that these protections—the ones in the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act—relate to “the sensitivity at the time surrounding the potential sale of the ports of Auckland”; if so, on what basis does he believe Aucklanders have changed their minds and no longer want a referendum on the privatisation of their ports?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Yes; the reason is that I have trust in Auckland people. We have had, on numerous occasions, Mr Twyford claim that the Government’s reforms are all about privatisation. On 9 June it was swimming pools, on 12 July it was libraries, on 20 July it was housing, on 29 October it was the waterfront, and on 9 November it was water. All these claims have been proven to be false. I understand that the Public Service Association has been concerned about them and has spoken to the Labour Party because of the upset that is being caused among council staff by the false allegations that are being made by the member.
Phil Twyford: How does the Minister reconcile his advocacy for referenda on rates capping with his desire to repeal the law that requires a referendum before the port shares can be sold off?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Easily.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement that the privatisation of local assets is “a pretend debate”, when Cabinet has decided to lift the restrictions on privatising the ports of Auckland, and when the Government has decided to allow private companies to own water infrastructure for up to 35 years and to repeal the requirement that councils consult the public before they contract out public services to the private sector?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Yes, I do. This Government is different from the previous one, in that we trust local government and the people of Auckland. I suggest to the member that he tries that. I know it is hard for him, because they rejected him on the North Shore, his own party rejected him in Mt Albert, and he has been rejected—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon RODNEY HIDE: —in Auckland Central, and he will be rejected—
Mr SPEAKER: I say to the Hon Rodney Hide that it is not acceptable to keep talking when the Speaker is on his feet, and it was unnecessary to add the last part to that answer. That was just personal criticism, which is not helpful to the order of the House.
Phil Twyford: Does the Minister stand by his statement that he wants to see the privatisation of the ports of Auckland?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Not as the Minister. I suggest to Mr Twyford that in order to understand this issue he consults his party’s spokesperson on local government, the Hon George Hawkins, who understands the local government provisions in the Local Government Act 2002.
ENDS

Next in New Zealand politics

Canterbury Spotted Skink In Serious Trouble
By: Department of Conservation
Oranga Tamariki Cuts Commit Tamariki To State Abuse
By: Te Pati Maori
Inflation Data Shows Need For A Plan On Climate And Population
By: New Zealand Council of Trade Unions
Annual Inflation At 4.0 Percent
By: Statistics New Zealand
West Coast Swim Spot Testing Clear Of E-coli
By: Brendon McMahon - Local Democracy Reporter
Government Throws Coal On The Climate Crisis Fire
By: Green Party
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media