INDEPENDENT NEWS

Questions and Answers - July 19

Published: Thu 19 Jul 2012 04:56 PM
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Water Rights—Prime Minister’s Statements
1. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements regarding water ownership, rights and interests?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm the joint announcement he made last night with the Māori Party leadership that no matter what the outcome of the tribunal and subsequent court action, he will not legislate, even if that outcome was that Māori had a proprietary-type right over water?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister stands by the statements made in the statement that was released.
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that his agreement to not legislate against Māori rights and interests in water has, in fact, already been broken by the Mixed Ownership Model Bill, which has passed through Parliament and allows for the partial sale of entities like Mighty River Power that have rights and interests in water that affect all New Zealanders, including Māori?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the Mixed Ownership Model Bill does not do that. In fact, it includes the preservation of section 9 of the State-Owned Enterprises Act and its references to the Treaty of Waitangi. What the Prime Minister is doing is quite different from what the previous Labour Government did, and that is we are building confidence around discussion with Māori about their rights and interests, rather than overreacting—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That was beyond the question asked.
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that it is his Government’s intention that no matter what the outcome of the Waitangi Tribunal and subsequent court action—whatever rights it may decide Māori have in terms of water—his Government will not legislate in that regard?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister stands by the statement in the statement that was released last night. It is the Government’s expectation that—well, put it this way: the member is probably not correctly connecting any outcome from the Waitangi Tribunal with any outcome from the court action, because the court action is much more likely to be focused on preventing the sale of assets going ahead, rather than any particular aspect of Māori rights and interests.
Grant Robertson: Does he agree with Tariana Turia that it was a misconception that this claim is about the ownership of water; if so, why did he continue to make statements about his opposition to the ownership of water, if not to just raise tension around the issue?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The issue of ownership was actually raised by the claimants. In fact, we have seen claimants, I think, discussing it publicly recently. The Prime Minister stands by his restatement of the longstanding view of New Zealand’s Governments and jurisprudence that no one owns the water.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of the indemnity granted to Treaty matters to private shareholders of the to-be-privatised State-owned enterprises, under the mixed ownership model legislation passed recently, does that mean that all risk from court action now lies with the Crown; if so, why did his Minister of Finance not record that unspecified fiscal risk as part of the Budget documentation currently being considered by the House?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It has always been the case that the risks or costs associated with Treaty settlements are matters between the Crown and iwi. But, again, I think this member, like the other, is getting ahead of himself over whether or not the courts are likely to be settling the issue of Māori rights and interests. There is a prospect of court action. That court action is much more likely to be related to injuncting the sale process. It is unlikely that the courts themselves would set out to determine Māori rights and interests. If they did, that could take quite a long time.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that the reasons he raised the spectre of ownership of water by Māori were to divert public attention from his hugely unpopular asset sales programme and to inflame divisions about Treaty issues, and when will he apologise for this divisive behaviour?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member is overstating his case there. The fact is claimants have gone to the tribunal, they have made a range of claims, and some of them have expressed those claims as ownership of the water. The Prime Minister just clearly restated, in the light of that action in the tribunal, what the longstanding position of New Zealand Governments has been, and it will remain so. Obviously, there is pretty broad public interest in whether the Waitangi Tribunal is or is not going to be contesting the ownership of water.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Cost of Mixed Ownership Model
2. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: What has been the total cost to date of extending and implementing the Government’s asset sales programme, which it calls the Mixed Ownership Model?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As I said in answer to a similar question last month, the total amounts of the contracts are commercially sensitive because the Government intends to renegotiate those contracts for each partial share offer. I can confirm that about $1.1 million has been paid out so far, pursuant to communication, marketing, market research, and advertising services. But I would say to the member that the Government has been quite open about the potential costs of the programme. These are expected to be about 2 percent of the total programme proceeds, which by any market standard is quite low. Other share floats generally have costs somewhere between 3 to 7 percent of the total proceeds.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the figure of $1.1 million so far include all the costs of the asset sales policy, including contracting for advertising and communications, banks and sharebrokers, legal advisers, independent advisers, policy work conducted by the Public Service, and activities not covered by the appropriations within Vote Finance, such as pre-sale preparation by the energy companies, work conducted by Government departments other than Treasury, and the Waitangi Tribunal hearing costs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, it does not. It refers to the amount that has been paid out under the kinds of contracts that the member has referred to in the past. I must say, though, that a good deal of the Public Service activity has been very useful because it has shown up aspects of the operations of the companies that can be improved. In the case of Māori rights and interests, it has flushed out a number of issues, some of which should have been resolved some time ago, and have not been, and others of which have been publicly discussed. So that expenditure I would regard as pretty useful, even if there was no sale.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The primary question that was put down was general. It asked what has been the total cost to date. It did not refer just to the contracting costs around advertising and communications. It also referred to all costs, including the Public Service work. The Minister has just confirmed in his answer there that his answer to the
primary question did not include those other costs, yet this was a question set down on notice. It did not specify just advertising and communication. It was very broad.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I listened to the Minister’s answer very carefully. What he said was that some of the costs relating to certain contracts were considered commercially sensitive, and he did not believe it was in the public interest to identify all of those. In respect of the departmental costs, it is possible the Minister interpreted those the way many would—that the departmental officials have to be paid anyhow and there is no particular additional cost, depending on what work they are doing. It is not often in costing projects like this that the departmental costs are included. If the member had wanted that to be included in such a figure, maybe he should have been more specific in the question.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister of Finance, then, provide us with the true cost of the total, including departmental costs, of preparing the asset sales programme and implementing this policy agenda from the Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Depending on what the member means by “the true cost”—we can certainly provide over time the direct costs of the share float. I suppose if we were going to take a broader view of what the costs are, then we would need to also weigh that up against the benefits of improving the operation of the companies and getting on and resolving outstanding Māori claims that have been brought to the fore by this process, because those are clearly benefits to the Government and to the country.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that the Prime Minister has conceded that there could be a delay in the float of Mighty River Power, does he think that it is wise to continue spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars, and potentially millions, on the asset sales process when a change in circumstances, such as a legal challenge, could mean that much of the work would have to be repeated and/or amended, costing the taxpayer further hundreds of thousands of dollars, or potentially millions of dollars?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member will know, the statements made by the Prime Minister indicate that it is possible that the share sales could be delayed. That is yet to be proven. We have not had the conclusions of the Waitangi Tribunal. We have not had anyone rebut the Government’s proposition that the sale of shares does not compromise its ability to deal with iwi claims, so we have yet to see whether there can be successful claims in the tribunal, and also yet to see whether there can be a successful court action. The likelihood of that is there. It is probably low. We are proceeding with the pre-sale process.
Dr Russel Norman: Has the Minister sought any official advice on the impact on the asset sales revenue of the uncertainty created by potential court action over water rights; if so, what advice has he received?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think we have asked specifically for that advice. There has been some discussion about it. One indication of the potential impact on value, I am advised, is that there has been no change in the share price of TrustPower or Contact Energy, both of which are operating in the same markets as the State-owned enterprises and are potentially interested in the same kinds of claims. We have confidence that the process we have been involved in for the last 2 or 3 years, of discussing these matters with Māori, is a process that can lead to a solution, and that tribunal claims and court actions are unlikely to make solutions more achievable.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister concede that there could be a cost on energy companies as a result of the recognition of iwi rights to water, that that would impact on the profitability of those companies were such a recognition to be followed through in the courts or through an agreement between Crown and iwi, and that that should be factored into how much he thinks he is going to raise by selling the companies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not concede that. The member is asking these questions as if these issues are all new. In fact, they are not. One of the first actions of this Government was to renegotiate the Waikato River settlement, which is a settlement over the freshwater claims related to
the river, which has more dams on it than any other river in New Zealand. That settlement did deal with Tainui’s rights and interests and had no impact on the operation of the electricity companies that have dams on that river.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the Prime Minister that as many as three asset sales could occur in the coming year or two, in light of Forsyth Barr research showing that the asset sales would need to be spread out over 5 years to let the capital markets absorb them and to maximise the revenue to the Crown?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: People will have their own views about it. It is our view, in the light of the fact New Zealanders are saving more than they have in the last 20 or 30 years, and that they are paying down debt because of record low interest rates, that there will be a large pool of cash and demand for these floats, and the Government as it goes will make decisions about the timing of them, but we are a bit more optimistic than Forsyth Barr.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Government has stated that sales would not go ahead if market conditions were unfavourable, has the Government determined what conditions would be unfavourable; if so, what are they?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, we have not determined what conditions would be unfavourable. You can imagine various scenarios, some positive, some negative. The fact that interest rates are the lowest they have ever been is probably tending to increase the value of utility companies on the one hand; on the other hand, if there was some serious meltdown in Europe, and financial markets shut down, then clearly that would be negative. But those are judgments we would make closer to the time.
Dr Russel Norman: Given the risk created by uncertainty over water rights, the cost of an accelerated sales programme, and the continuing volatility in share markets, is not the fiscally responsible course of action for the Government to suspend asset sales at this time?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Not for those reasons on their own. The fact is that all of those conditions apply regardless of the sale. Māori are asserting rights and interests in water. Whoever owns those companies, those rights and interests would need to be resolved. If there is uncertainty generated by those claims, then there would be uncertainty for State-owned enterprises, or for 51 percent Government-owned State-owned enterprises. So the fact that Māori have made claims makes, in that sense, no difference to who owns them. If there is uncertainty there for the private investors, there is uncertainty there for the Government, and those claims are ones that we are focused on resolving, as we have resolved a number of them in the last couple of years, and we are continuing to discuss the outstanding claims.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If he is so confident of New Zealand mums and dads having sufficient savings to take up the share offer, why on earth is he floating these shares on the Australian market?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, we are not.
Government Financial Position—Reports
3. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s financial position?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Earlier this month Treasury published the Government’s Financial Statements for the 11 months ending 31 May. The Government’s operating balance was about $1.1 billion better than forecast at minus $5.9 billion. This is slightly encouraging, but the global environment remains uncertain and there will continue to be fluctuations in the tax take from month to month. The world situation, though, reinforces the need for the Government to keep a firm control on its costs.
David Bennett: How does balancing the Government’s books help the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I know that it is broadly accepted in the National Party that it is good for the economy, but I would like to explain the reasons to Opposition members, because they remain unconvinced. Balancing the books is one of the most important things a Government can do to build
the resilience of our economy and reduce its vulnerability to growing overseas indebtedness, and take the pressure off interest rates and the exchange rate. For instance, the average business lending rate has now fallen to 6.04 pwercent at May 2012, compared with 9.4 percent in late 2008. In so far as the Government is on track to surplus, this helps make our businesses more competitive.
David Bennett: How is the Government’s responsible management of its finances helping New Zealand’s households? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Did the Minister hear the question?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I did. Again, for the benefit of those who want to borrow more and spend more, balancing the books helps take pressure off mortgage interest rates. The average residential floating rate is currently 5.9 percent, compared with a floating rate of almost 11 percent in late 2008. For a family with a $200,000 mortgage that is a saving of around $200 per week, or more than $10,000 per year since they elected a National Government.
Hon David Parker: Does today’s report from Statistics New Zealand show that the Government’s finances need to provide for more than 1 million people over 65 years of age by the end of the 2020s, and what changes to superannuation is he intending to make to ensure that New Zealanders have fair and sustainable superannuation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member probably put it correctly when he said the economy needs to be able to support a growing number of older people. We are focusing very strongly on reinforcing the competitiveness and productivity of this economy so that it can support an older population. As the member knows, the Government’s position on national superannuation is quite clear.
David Bennett: What other approaches to managing the Government’s finances is he aware of?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have heard a number of reports of propositions that would require a considerable amount of extra debt and unsustainable spending: for instance, borrowing to pay for reducing the retirement age to 60 for some workers, borrowing to pay for the Auckland rail loop, borrowing to pay for doubling paid parental leave, and, of course, borrowing $5 billion to $7 billion on global financial markets to buy back the four State-owned enterprises that the Government plans to partially sell.
Hon David Parker: Does his Budget project that by the end of the 2016 year his Government, if still in office, would be spending more on superannuation than on all of education—that is, more than preschool, primary, intermediate, secondary, and tertiary education combined; if so, how can he deny that changes are necessary and should be signalled now, rather than sprung on people later?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may be the case with the Budget projections; I would need to check it. As far as I know, no one is proposing—or maybe they are proposing that. Maybe the Opposition is proposing to somehow reduce national superannuation, so that by 2016 we are spending less on it than on education. If so, people need to be told about that, so that it is not sprung on them as a surprise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister bragging about a floating rate of 5 percent when that equivalent rate in the EU, the UK, and Japan is four times less than that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is not bragging about anything. It is simply pointing out that the floating rate of interest is around about half what it was in 2008, which is giving New Zealanders the opportunity to pay off debt and save more money, and those are good things for the economy.
Welfare Reforms—Initiatives Targeting Young People
4. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement that “you need to look at the 16 and 17-year-olds and for the very first time our focus is keenly going on them”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Yes, and that is why we are making significant changes to ensure that we are focused on getting more 16 and 17-year-olds into education, training, or work-based learning, and not going on to a benefit.
Jacinda Ardern: Can she genuinely maintain she has a keen focus on young people, when school-leavers with no plans have stepped into a black hole, given that she has shut down Youth Transition Services, and the replacement services have had their start date changed by her yet again and will not be opening their doors until at least the end of August?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I believe that those services are continuing to work with those young people, so they are getting those levels of services. But on 20 August that will be changing.
Jacinda Ardern: Is it acceptable for her to tell Youth Transition Services to continue operating when they have not got a contract with the Ministry of Social Development, when many schools still do not know the information they are meant to be providing to them, and when the legislation underpinning the whole thing, including privacy issues, still has not been passed?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have a number of bits of good news for the member. The legislation will be passed this afternoon, so that is going well and is all on track. Then we have a notice period where we are going to those young people and making sure they know what is happening. The other part of it is that the schools are not actually providing that information directly; it is coming from the national office with ENROL. So it is quite straightforward for us to be extracting the information we need and to be using it accordingly.
Jacinda Ardern: Is she asking Youth Transition Services to operate without a contract and without a mandate?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is quite common for contracts to roll over and continue on. That is what happens quite often. There is often a gap between what was going to be an end date and then a new date. It happened under Labour. It is happening under National. It is quite normal for it to happen, and that is what is happening in this instance.
Jacinda Ardern: Does her keen focus include her staff instructing Youth Transition Services that, no matter what, it cannot refer young people to Work and Income, even when some youth services branches are meant to now service these needs with just one office and few experienced staff, and are covering geographic areas equivalent to half the South Island?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As we go through the transition we are going to have Work and Income staff actually in those offices. So they will not have to refer them there; they will have a staff member on site who will be able to work with them. So we are, obviously, conscious of what the changes are that are coming up and what needs to be done. We are working closely with them. The feedback I am getting is how positive it is and how much they are looking forward to the work that is going on.
Welfare Reforms—Reducing Long-term Welfare Dependence
5. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister for Social Development: How will the Government’s welfare reforms support people off welfare and into work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I am absolutely thrilled that our reforms are going to fundamentally change the way that welfare is delivered. The Social Security (Youth Support and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, which is set to have its third reading just this afternoon, means that we will be working with youth, but also with, predominantly, women on welfare, far better than we currently do. These changes will introduce greater work expectations and preparation, as well as a real wraparound service for those young people who so desperately need it and in the past have not been receiving it.
Mike Sabin: What are the aims of these welfare reforms?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The statistics have been telling us for years that welfare dependence is intergenerational. One hundred and seventy thousand New Zealanders have spent most of the last decade on welfare. We simply cannot continue to spend $8 billion a year to support 12 percent of
the working-age population. These reforms are aimed at addressing the causes of dependence, and at having people work-ready, with greater support for young people, some sole parents, widows, and women alone.
Mike Sabin: What other work has been done to date on welfare reform?
Hon Member: Heaps.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Heaps, as my colleague says behind me. It started with Future Focus in 2010, which we have seen a huge success with. We are now following up with this bill, which, as I say, has its focus predominantly on youth but also on the DPB. The third bill is yet to go through this year but is well on its way, I am pleased to advise the House, and that bill will include significant changes that will completely reform the way that welfare is delivered.
Jacinda Ardern: Can she confirm, based on her own department’s projections in the Budget, that even after the implementation of her $287 million reforms the number of people on the DPB will be higher than when she started as Minister?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There is no doubt that there have been tough times and that we have seen people needing to use the welfare system and to go on a benefit, and I will proudly stand here and say that we provided a system that was needed by New Zealanders. What I can tell the member is that there will be considerably fewer people on the DPB than there were for most of the time when National was in Government.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Members on both sets of front benches may have missed it, but the deputy leader of the Labour Party called a point of order.
Grant Robertson: I am hard to miss, so I do not know about that. Although the Minister towards the end of the answer did eventually make a comment about the number of people who would be on the DPB compared with—I think she meant—when Labour was in office, she did not actually answer what was a very specific and straight question about the number of people on the DPB after the reform process. That was the very specific question that was asked.
Mr SPEAKER: The question asked whether the Minister could confirm something—two figures—and the Minister explained why she did not disagree with the proposition put to her, but explained the reason for it. If the question had asked how many people are on the benefit at suchand- such date and how many on another date, then I would expect the Minister to answer that, given the nature of the question. Where it is asking a Minister to confirm, I am not going to insist on any particular answer.
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee—Minister's Statements at Estimates Hearing
6. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he stand by all his answers to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Estimates hearing today?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs): Yes.
Hon Phil Goff: Why was he as Minister the sole Minister in his Cabinet who refused to, in fact instructed Treasury officials not to, release briefing papers on his portfolio, when every other Minister released them automatically?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: It has been the practice of my office, in previous years as well, to release that information ourselves and not to leave it with Treasury to release the information. It may amuse the House to know that last year when Labour had a hard-working and diligent spokeswoman on foreign affairs—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I do not see the relevance of who Labour’s spokesperson was, to the question asked.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did he delete 16 out of the 26 pages of the briefing document to him as incoming Minister, only to be required by the Ombudsman to change that decision, because his cult of secrecy was totally contrary to the Official Information Act?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade made a number of recommended withholdings—
Hon Phil Goff: Oh, it’s always the ministry.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: Yes.
Hon Phil Goff: He never takes responsibility—never takes responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member asked a question and should—
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I made it clear to the member this morning that I take responsibility for it, which is why, when this matter was raised with me, I asked for the matter to be reviewed, and further material was released as a result.
Hon Phil Goff: Does he take responsibility for the fact that his botched restructuring of foreign affairs has resulted, according to his own survey, in 85 percent of the ministry’s employees being ambivalent or negative about working for his ministry, and for the number of job losses having trebled since 2008?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I have previously indicated to the House that there were some aspects of the original proposals to the ministry’s change programme that I disagreed with. As a consequence, I wrote the chief executive a letter to rule out some of the proposals. Now the changes are being implemented, I can report that there has been a significant improvement in morale, and, indeed, the figures that member is quoting to the House pre-date those changes taking place.
Education, National Standards—Data Collection
7. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her reported comments that the Government wanted to collect National Standards data to raise pupil achievement, not to rank schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes. I remain committed to using national standards data to raise achievement for all learners.
Catherine Delahunty: Why does she not want the data used to rank schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am clearly committed to national standards information—which is public information—needing to be presented in a meaningful and useful way that does not damage schools and is focused on how student achievement can be raised.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was “Why does she not want the data used to rank schools?”. I did not hear why she does not want that.
Mr SPEAKER: With respect, I heard the Minister say she believed that the important information should be used for educational purposes and not to damage schools. The member asked why, and the Minister gave her reason why.
Catherine Delahunty: Why did her ministry write to the school boards and principals telling them to release their national standards data to journalists, when under the Official Information Act the schools can decline a request if the information is going to be published soon—something you are planning to do in September?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure the Speaker is planning to do that, but so long as the Minister takes that as being something the Minister is planning to do, the Hon Hekia Parata.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: National standards data is public information.
Catherine Delahunty: What is she doing to ensure that the ropey national standards data available now and the official ministry data available in September are not compiled into league tables that rank schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have said that we are clearly committed to presenting this information in a meaningful and useful way. This is the first year that national standards data has been reported. Therefore, it is significantly variable. But I expect that it will get better and better and be more useful over time. The focus of the ministry is how that information can be used to help parents understand how well their children are doing, help the schools understand how well their school is doing, and help the Government understand how well the system is doing.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was quite a specific question. I appreciate the Minister’s answer, but it was quite a specific question about what she is doing to ensure that the information will not be compiled into league tables that rank schools. I did not hear that bit replied to.
Mr SPEAKER: I will invite the member to repeat her question. I have been struggling to understand the questions, I have got to confess, so I will invite the member to repeat it.
Catherine Delahunty: What is she doing to ensure that the ropey national standards data available now—
Hon Simon Bridges: What do you mean by ropey?
Catherine Delahunty: —ask the Prime Minister, because it is his expression—and the official ministry data available in September are not compiled into league tables that rank schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: What I am doing is making it very clear that my expectation is that that report will be compiled in a way that the information is meaningful and useful for the purposes of raising student achievement.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, but I need to suggest that actually the question was not answered. The Minister has still not said what she is doing to not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister answered the question. Whether the member believes that the answer given is going to be adequate to achieve the outcome that was the subject of the question is another matter, but the Minister certainly answered the question.
Catherine Delahunty: Will she act on the serious concerns of 100 leading academics by promising the House that national standards data will not be released in a form that will allow it to create rankable league tables?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I can talk about what the ministry does with the information; I cannot talk about what other people choose to do with the information.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Because it is a democracy—it is a democracy. That is why. The ministry will be focusing on presenting it in a meaningful and useful way to—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. Look, I say to members of the Labour front bench on this occasion that I cannot hear the Minister’s answer. In case a point of order is raised, I must be able to hear the Minister’s answer. I call the Hon Hekia Parata.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, really, I had finished. I was saying, to reiterate one more time— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I ask members to show some respect. There is a public interest in this issue—a serious issue.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: What we propose to do is to publish a report that is meaningful and useful in respect of national standards data, to assist schools and their communities to understand how well student achievement is being raised, and to assist the Government to understand how the system as a whole is relating to raising student achievement. Kia ora tātou.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has—[Interruption] Order! I say to members they should listen; a point of order has been called.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The questioner was at pains to ask whether or not the information would be released in such a form that comparative analysis of the type she did not want to happen in the public could not happen. She was seeking assurance on that specific matter—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is quite reinterpreting the question as asked.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, I’m not. It’s a clear question.
Mr SPEAKER: There must be something wrong with the Speaker’s ears—well, there is something wrong with the Speaker’s ears; I accept that absolutely. [Interruption] I asked for that, did I not? In the two answers the Minister gave—because there was a part that could be heard, when she was first answering the question before she was drowned out, and then there was a second
part—in the first part the Minister pointed out that she could not, in fact, control what the media did, and that the Minister could control only what the ministry did in respect of the information. She was, therefore, answering the member’s question that there were some aspects of what might happen in the public that were beyond the Minister’s control, and that was a perfectly fair answer to the question asked.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a letter to the boards of trustees and chairpersons from the acting Secretary of Education saying they must release national standards, even though they do not have to.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Business Research and Development—Postgraduate Intern Programme
8. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: How is the Government helping innovative businesses link up with talented new professionals coming out of our universities?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Good news. The Government is funding a postgraduate intern programme for 70 students in areas such as engineering, design, and information and communications technology to work in some of New Zealand’s most innovative businesses. This opportunity provides valuable work experience in a commercial environment and demonstrates potential industry-based career opportunities for students after their studies. To support this intern programme the Government has dedicated $2.1 million, allowing 70 businesses to employ interns for a minimum of 6 months to undertake innovative research and development work. This year 2012 builds on the 50 businesses that participated in the scheme last year.
Nikki Kaye: How does this graduate intern programme fit in with other Government initiatives to improve the skill base of New Zealand’s workforce?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The intern programme is just a small part of this Government’s efforts to boost science, innovation, and research. In Budget 2012 we have committed $159 million to provide innovative businesses with more skilled graduates. This includes an additional $42 million funding for engineering students, an additional $17 million funding for science tuition subsidies, and $100 million to increase the size of the Performance-based Research Fund from $250 million a year to $300 million per year by 2016. These increases recognise how vital science and research are to innovation and, in turn, to stronger economic growth. To retain our competitiveness internationally, we need increased investment in engineering, science, and research, and that is exactly what this Government is doing.
Local Authorities—Financial Statistics
9. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Local Government: Were the local authority financial statistics provided in the Better Local Government paper released by the Government on 19 March 2012 accurate; if not, how were they inaccurate?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Local Government): As the member was advised in written question No. 4531 and in a letter of mine to her on 16 July this year, a booklet was published that contained a table showing average rate increases from 2002 to 2010 for each council. This data became incorrectly correlated in the production of the table, resulting in incorrect rating increases being shown for some councils. This did not affect the reported figure of an average annual 7 percent rate increase by councils over the previous decade.
Hon Annette King: When were the then Minister of Local Government and the Prime Minister, who released the figures at a press conference on 19 March, informed that there were issues with the data, both in terms of the accuracy and in terms of the picture that was being given for some councils?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I am unaware of when the previous Minister and the Prime Minister became aware of when the information was known to be inaccurate. When I became aware, I wrote individually to every council apologising for the fact that the information was not correct.
Hon Annette King: Why did not the Minister of Local Government or the Prime Minister inform the public, local government, and the media that the data being used by the Government to justify local government reform was inaccurate, but instead chose to keep quiet and let the media report the misinformation, to the detriment of local government?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The reason driving the Better Local Government reforms is fundamentally that the rate of council increases over the last decade has been more than twice the rate of rate increases over the previous decade. That is why this Government believes Better Local Government reform is necessary.
Hon Annette King: Can he confirm that his department, in a recent briefing to him and in two recent inquiries, found no evidence that councils had broadened their functions since 2002, and has he been informed by Local Government New Zealand as to what the cost of forcing councils to amend their long-term plans would be?
Hon DAVID CARTER: To the first question, yes; to the second question, no.
Hon Annette King: I have a number of documents I wish to table. The first one is a letter to me from David Carter, dated 16 July, telling me that the incorrect figures will not be replaced, because the correct figures would detract from the focus of the reform.
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: The second document is the 19 March Better Local Government paper, which has the inaccurate figures—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That document is available to all members.
Hon Annette King: No, it is important that you hear both of these. I will do them together if you want me to, but it does show something.
Mr SPEAKER: The document, though, is available—[Interruption] Order! A point of order— [Interruption] Order! There should not be interjections. The member is, as I understand it, seeking leave to table the Better Local Government document, which I understood has been released publicly. If I am wrong, I apologise.
Hon Annette King: I am seeking to table a document that is now no longer available. [Interruption] It is now no longer—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I will leave that up to the House. I invite the honourable member to continue.
Hon Annette King: Thank you. I seek leave to table the 19 March Better Local Government paper, which has the inaccurate figures in it, and then I seek leave to table the March—around 24 March—Better Local Government paper, which has the figures removed from it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those two—[Interruption] Order! There are two documents, so leave is sought to table the 19 March document. Is there any objection? There is objection. Leave is now sought to table the second document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter to me from the previous Minister, Nick Smith, dated 29 February, with a spreadsheet containing the data that was later called inaccurate.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Annette King: Finally, I seek leave to table a briefing to David Carter from Local Government New Zealand, which I received under the Official Information Act, stating that the
estimated cost of forcing local government to alter its long-term plans would be in excess of $20 million.
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.
Youth Court—Treatment of Young Offenders
10. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister for Courts: What progress has been made in the way that the Youth Court responds to young offenders?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): A number of provisions from Fresh Start, which was introduced 2 years ago, has allowed the Youth Court to be able to give more flexible and more effective resolutions and orders. This has resulted in a far less churn of young people going thorough youth justice residences, and 50 percent fewer young people going from the Youth Court into the District Court for sentencing.
Dr Jackie Blue: What other positive youth justice trends is he aware of?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I am aware of statistics released by the Ministry of Justice earlier this year, which show that police apprehensions of young people are down 22 percent, and court appearances are down 19 percent—this is the group of highest-end youth offenders. I am aware that the Youth Court is making more and more use of new powers, with the number of parenting education orders used tripling in the last year, and mentoring orders more than doubling. I am also aware of anecdotal reports from youth justice residences showing falling numbers of residents within their secure units, and the demand on those units less and less each week.
Water Rights—Māori Interests
11. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Does he consider water to be an economic resource for Māori?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Associate Minister of Māori Affairs) on behalf of the
Minister of Māori Affairs: Among other things, yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he agree with the Māori Council that water should not be used without the permission of hapū; and, if so, how does he reconcile this stance with that of the Prime Minister, who has stated that “no one can own water”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It is perfectly reconcilable. There are rights and interests in water that have been reflected in legislation passed through this House on many occasions over the last few years. That is entirely consistent with having legitimate rights and interests, and ownership is irrelevant.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the Prime Minister assure him that Māori will be given preferential treatment over non-Māori in respect of water rights, or was last night’s meeting with the Prime Minister a fulfilment of the old Māori proverb about the Māori sprat being swallowed by the blue shark?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: That was a meeting between party leaders, for which there is no ministerial responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he agree that Māori and all other New Zealanders are entitled to a clear and coherent statement on the fundamental principles that apply to water, rather than the multiple, varied, and changing statements that the Government has issued to suit particular audiences?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Of course they are entitled to that, and that is what they get. What people are entitled to know is that Māori have legitimate rights and interests in water, and that has been reflected in the work programme of this Government—and in particular the Minister
for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations—over the last 3½ years, and, I might add, previous administrations.
Hon Shane Jones: Why did he believe that the Prime Minister’s comments about the Waitangi Tribunal and water claims were “an insult to all of us”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Because at the time, as so often happens with the press, half the story was printed, not the full story.
Hon Shane Jones: Does the Minister agree that his meeting with the Prime Minister shows that for him, blood is not thicker than water?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It is a shame that member did not listen to the earlier answer, because that was a meeting between party leaders, for which there is no ministerial responsibility.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora tātou. Does he support the Land and Water Forum’s recommend— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Te Ururoa Flavell, start again.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he support the Land and Water Forum’s recommendations around cogovernance, particularly that a non-statutory national land and water commission should be established on a co-governance basis with iwi; and, if so, what is he doing to progress this?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The forum’s work is ongoing, and Ministers are yet to make decisions on the final form of any reforms. As to what the Minister of Māori Affairs is doing, the Minister always advocates and supports what is in the best interests of Māori, which is why I know that his Associate Minister thinks he is one of the best Ministers of Māori Affairs this country has ever had—much better than the chap who held the job for a few months in 1991.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table—because it is no longer available immediately— the 1991 Budget that shows I defended the Māori Affairs portfolio and he did not.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Whereas there was some debate previously about documents that may not—[Interruption] Order! There was some debate about documents that may no longer be available; those Budget documents are very much available to members.
Jet Boat Safety—Driver’s Licences for Commercial Operators
12. LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What changes is the Government making to the rules for jet boat safety?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Associate Minister of Transport): I recently announced a new driver’s licence for commercial jetboat drivers operating on rivers. This industry as a whole has 42 operators carrying more than 370,000—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. I would ask members please to show some courtesy. This is a legitimate question, and I want the House to be able to hear the answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Because of the member’s location, I think people had not picked up that he is a Minister—the people who look after the mikes.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That was not a particularly helpful point of order. I ask the House to show some courtesy.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I recently announced a new driver’s licence for commercial jetboat drivers operating on rivers. The industry as a whole has 42 operators carrying more than—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I say to members that I am getting serious now, despite the—as serious as I can get! Please, I ask the House to show some courtesy so that I can hear the answer. I want to be able to hear the answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I seek an assurance that any breach of privilege letter that flows from your last comment about taking the matter seriously will not be considered by you?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that the Speaker needs to rule on that.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I recently announced a new driver’s licence for commercial jetboat drivers. The rule gives the public added assurance that the risks inherent in jetboating are being managed appropriately, and that such adventure experiences are being delivered within a strong safety framework. I was pleased with the strong and vocal support for the changes from the jetboat industry, including operators in Queenstown, Tauranga, and Wanganui, as well as from the Tourism Industry Association.
Louise Upston: What other aspects of jetboat safety does the rule address?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The rule, which comes into effect on 2 August, also provides for ongoing competency checks for drivers, as well as making drivers subject to the requirement under the Maritime Transport Act that they be “fit and proper persons”. The rule makes driver logbooks mandatory, and includes design and construction changes, such as emergency exits and footrests. All these changes provide greater passenger protection and reinforce the message that safety is a top priority for operators.
ENDS

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