Questions & Answers – 30 November 2016

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

WEDNESDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2016

Mr Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.

Prayers.

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Social Housing Reform Programme—Announcements

1. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What recent announcements has the Government made regarding its Social Housing Reform Programme?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Last week the Government announced that Treasury will begin the market sounding phase for a potential transfer of up to 2,500 Housing New Zealand properties in Christchurch. The Government’s Social Housing Reform Programme is aimed squarely at improving the lives of tenants by transferring properties to registered community housing providers that are better equipped to deal with some very vulnerable people who sometimes have very complex lives. Through this process we are looking at four providers who can demonstrate strong community links and the ability to upscale and improve the quality of the houses our tenants are living in.

Matt Doocey: What guarantees of home security can you give to existing Housing New Zealand tenants?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: One of the primary objectives of the Social Housing Reform Programme is that tenants’ rights will remain the same and the community housing provider will have the same responsibilities as Housing New Zealand has now. Tenants will continue to be housed for the duration of their need. Any successful bidder will enter a 25-year contract with the Ministry of Social Development to provide housing places. These houses cannot be sold and must remain in use as social housing unless the Government agrees otherwise. The Government believes an increased role for community housing providers, alongside Housing New Zealand, will bring innovation and performance benefits that will mean we can better meet the needs of those vulnerable New Zealanders.

Matt Doocey: Does the Government stand by its commitment to achieve fair and reasonable value for taxpayers in social housing transactions?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. Recently the IHC New Zealand – owned Accessible Properties was named as the preferred bidder for a transaction of 1,124 properties in Tauranga. The houses that have been offered for sale in Tauranga have been offered with conditions. They must remain as social houses unless the Government agrees otherwise and only community housing providers or consortiums, including a community provider, can participate in transactions. Although the final sale price may be below capital value, the price will reflect the obligations and conditions the new owner will have.

Grant Robertson: Is the Minister comfortable that Treasury has spent nearly $10 million on the State housing transfer programme in the last 2 financial years and no actual houses have been transferred?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, particularly as it was a new system that had to be set up. We are talking about a more than $21 billion-asset in the houses that are with Housing New Zealand alone. I think we will see that the houses in Tauranga are worth over hundreds of millions of dollars, and, as such, spending some to make sure that we are getting the process right—and the interests of the tenants—is the right thing to do.

Grant Robertson: Given that $5 million of that $10 million has been spent on consultants, does she not think that it would be better, for those vulnerable New Zealanders who need housing, to spend that money on actually building and acquiring more State houses for New Zealanders, rather than having 2,600 fewer State houses now than when she came into office?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member will be pleased to know that the rebuilding programme that is going on just within Housing New Zealand is meaning that there are thousands more new Housing New Zealand houses to come on board in just the next 2 to 3 years. Every single week, we are opening new Housing New Zealand homes. This does mean, of course, that through these sales we can put more capital into that rebuilding programme. It is making a huge difference.

Matt Doocey: What reports has she seen about the support for the proposal?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have seen comments welcoming the transfer. A commentator went on to say that “it makes complete sense that such housing should be transferred to a local provider, focused on building sustainable communities and ensuring the needs of tenants remain first and foremost”. Of course, those comments were from the Christchurch mayor and former Labour MP Lianne Dalziel.

• Immigration, Minister—Statements on Parent Category Immigration Rules

2. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement that “commitments that are made around sponsorship that haven’t been met” regarding his review of the parent category immigration rules?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, in the context in which those comments were made.

Ron Mark: Why are newly arrived migrants with New Zealand residency not paying for their parents to live here after they brought them into the country, at a cost to New Zealand taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars, as he stated?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Broadly, because the sponsorship requirements do not require them to pay for their parents to be here. That is not part of the residence programme. But there are a number of sponsorship obligations that anecdotal and older statistical information suggest are not being complied with by the sponsors, and that is why we are going to conduct a review.

Ron Mark: Can he explain how Immigration New Zealand will enforce the new 10-year sponsorship period for migrant parents, given that Immigration New Zealand failed to enforce the current 5-year sponsorship period for parents?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I do not necessarily agree with or disagree with, actually, the second part of that question. But I would say that Immigration New Zealand will continue to monitor the sponsorship arrangements as they currently are, regardless of the extension of time on them, which, incidentally, was a decision made some time ago. The review will then inform whether or not a better response is required by Immigration New Zealand in the future.

Ron Mark: Why did he not cap the parent category sooner, when he knew that almost half of the parent migrants coming here had received welfare benefits after 5 years, at the expense of the New Zealand taxpayer?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Largely, because there was a legacy cohort of applicants who needed to be considered and then processed. That process was completed in about the middle of this year, which was an opportune time to actually review and make small reductions in the category.

Ron Mark: Why is the Minister not insisting, when migrants leave New Zealand to live elsewhere, that they take their parents with them, rather than abandoning them to the care of the New Zealand taxpayer?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, because that would be neither necessary nor appropriate, and I would be surprised if, in fact, Kiwis—New Zealand-born New Zealand citizens—were leaving New Zealand in greater numbers than non – New Zealand-born New Zealand residents were, and I do not expect them to take their parents with them either.

Ron Mark: Why did the Government disregard the concerns of New Zealand taxpayers and vote against New Zealand First’s affordable healthcare bill last year, which required parent migrants to buy healthcare insurance for the first 10 years of their residency? Why did you vote against it?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I have no ministerial responsibility for that decision.

• Superannuation Fund—Government Contributions

3. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement in relation to the New Zealand Super Fund, “when surpluses return we will resume contributions”; if not, why not?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: I shall try to channel the Minister of Finance: yes, I do stand by the statement at the time it was made and as I said in Budget 2013, Budget 2014, Budget 2015, Budget 2016, and in reply to the member’s question on 18 October, and the member’s question yesterday, and as was made clear in the National Party’s 2014 election policy, contributions will resume when net debt falls to 20 percent of GDP.

Grant Robertson: Why has the position changed on restoring contributions to the Superannuation Fund from what it was in 2009 to what it is today?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: To be fair, because we were probably a year in to the global financial crisis, did not know how deep it was going to be and long it was going to go for, and then made our position very clear in 2013, and have made it very clear every year since then and repeatedly.

Grant Robertson: Why is he prepared to make tax cuts a higher priority than restarting contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Those are complete hypotheticals that the member is putting out there as to what this Government’s priorities are. He might just have to wait and see.

Grant Robertson: Why has the Prime Minister continually said that tax cuts are a higher priority than restarting contributions to the Superannuation Fund? As Minister of Finance does he have any concerns about that priority?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As the Minister of Finance, I have repeatedly said for some time that when the Government returns a sufficient Budget surplus and can contribute genuine savings rather than borrowing, then National will resume contributions to the Superannuation Fund. If the member would like to ask the Prime Minister where his comments come from, he is sitting right here, but I notice that no one has got a question for him today. He is feeling quite missed out today.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave of the House to be able to ask the Prime Minister the question that the Associate Minister of Finance has just invited me to ask.

Mr SPEAKER: No. There are 12 questions submitted and accepted for the day. I am not allowing an extra question.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is precedent in the House for a member to seek leave to ask an additional question. In fact, Phil Goff was asked a question by leave of the House, despite being Leader of the Opposition.

Mr SPEAKER: I am prepared, if the member wishes to seek leave again, to put the leave and the House will decide.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave of the House to be able to ask a question to the Prime Minister, as invited by the—

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? [Interruption] Order! I do appreciate the comments, but I did say “Is there any objection?”. There is objection. I appreciate the member tidying that up for me.

Grant Robertson: Are tax cuts a higher priority for him than restarting contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member is just going to have to wait and see what the Government’s policy is going into next year for Budget 2017.

Grant Robertson: In light of the cost of superannuation outstripping the amount of money the Government intends to invest in education, why will the Minister of Finance not take his head out of the sand and restart contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund so New Zealanders can have security in their retirement?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because I have made it really clear that a key focus is to get debt below 20 percent, and that is what we are focused on. When that happens, then we will be recontributing.

Hon Simon Bridges: You’re going around in circles, Grant.

Grant Robertson: No, it is all going well, Simon. Can the Minister of Finance tell the House whether the New Zealand Superannuation Fund’s estimate that it would have a fund of $50 billion today had the Government kept up its contributions is correct, and why is she so proud of having denied future generations more than $10 billion?

Mr SPEAKER: There are two questions there. The Hon Paula Bennett can answer either.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, because those are based on hypotheticals and—

Grant Robertson: No it’s not. It’s on your website.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: —not what the policy was and actually—yes, well that is their opinion. But, actually, there is this thing called Government policy and for Government policies, that is where we are and that is where we will remain.

• Employment Relations—Pay Equity

4. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: What recent announcements has the Government made in relation to pay equity?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): The Government recently announced that it has accepted all of the recommendations of the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles. That group was made up of union, employer, and Government representatives. The recommendations set out principles for raising and resolving pay equity claims through bargaining, including a process for employers and employees to follow to address pay equity—including a bargaining process based on the Employment Relations Act framework—and principles to guide employers and employees in identifying, assessing, and resolving pay equity claims.

Jacqui Dean: What prompted the Government to establish the joint working group?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Following the considered judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case known as the Terranova case, the Government became concerned that the only way to establish a case for pay equity was to file a claim in the Employment Court, and the Equal Pay Act had little to guide the courts and parties on the establishment of a remedy. The Government believes bargaining should not generally require the courts or the Government to be involved, so it set up the joint working group to advise on both the process and a set of principles to guide bargaining. I think it has done an excellent job, and I want to thank the members of that working group for their efforts.

Jacqui Dean: What else is the Government doing to close the gender pay gap?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Good question. Well, the joint working group recognised that although pay equity is very important, it is not the sole contributing factor to the gender pay gap. It acknowledged that issues such as equal opportunity in employment and advancement, transparency of the remuneration process, and the effect of caring responsibilities all contribute to the gender pay gap. So I want to commend the very hard-working Minister for Women, who has the responsibility for doing all of those other things, and I note the work and progress being made to provide a flexible workplace and provide better information and transparency, strengthen the leadership pipeline, lead a diversity and inclusion network, and, only today, in her press release “Breaking down barriers for working women”, identify the very good progress being made by the National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women to strengthen its focus on breaking down those barriers.

• Residential Tenancies (Safe and Secure Rentals) Amendment Bill—Support

5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Ka tautoko ia ia taku Pire e hoatu nōhanga wā roa ana, ngita ana, tū roa ana i runga i tana tohutohu ki te hunga hoko whare tuatahi, ko nāianei, “probably not a good time for a young family to buy”; i tētahi whare i Akarana?

[Will he support my bill to provide more secure and stable long-term tenancies, given his recent advice to first-home buyers that now is “probably not a good time for a young family to buy” a house in Auckland?]

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing) on behalf of the Minister for Building and Housing: Although we certainly respect what the member is trying to do as far as tenants’ rights are concerned, we will not be supporting the bill, with the reason being that we are genuinely concerned that it might drive up compliance costs and actually end up harming tenants more than it ends up actually helping. The Government, however, is open to reforms that would encourage longer-term tenancies, and work is under way on setting up a stakeholder group on these very issues.

Metiria Turei: If the Minister is telling first-home buyers now not to buy a house, because homes are too expensive, will he at least support better tenancy rules that will create transparency around rent rises, given that rents are increasing at twice the rate of wages and families cannot afford that level of increase?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The first part of the member’s statement, I believe, is taken a bit out of context, and we are certainly not telling first-home buyers not to buy. In fact, we are seeing the opposite happen, and even in my own electorate of Hobsonville Point you can see many new homeowners buying there. However, in relation to the transparency and to some of the clauses in the bill, as I say, I think they need careful consideration. We have concerns on this side of the House about unintended consequences and those not being positive for the tenant.

Metiria Turei: If the Minister is encouraging people to stay renting because housing is so expensive to buy, will he give renters more security in their homes by removing the 42-day eviction notice, which is leading to increased levels of homelessness?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not support the first statement by the member, but in relation to the second statement, 90 days is actually the norm and there are exceptions that can be the 42 days. The exceptions to the 90 days are where the landlord’s family or themselves want to move in, or an employee, and then in the cases of where they might have sold. Where it is sold, it is when there is an unconditional agreement actually signed and the new owner wants a vacant property. It is 42 days from then, not from when it goes on the market or anything else, so, actually, 90 days is the norm.

Metiria Turei: Is the Minister arguing that a landlord’s family has more rights to that home than the tenant’s family, who may well have been living in that home for many years, built their lives around the schools and working community there—that those tenants have fewer rights than those other families?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, we believe in property rights. The landlord owns the property, and if they wish it for themselves or their family then they have to give only 42 days’ notice, so yes.

Metiria Turei: Has the Minister talked to the Minister of Education about the effect on children from having to move schools every year because their parents cannot afford stable long-term tenancies in homes because of rent increases and 42-day notices?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I have, and actually we agree with, and share, her concerns around those who are moving a lot and not actually getting settled in their communities. That is why we have a number of things that are in place that are leading towards that—whether it is around social housing, whether it is around the work that is going on via schools and social workers in schools and other sorts of programmes. What we are concerned about is that some of the policies that the member is trying to put through, in her bill, potentially could have landlords withdrawing houses for tenants and, as a consequence of that, we think that that of course will mean fewer homes and actually lead to more disadvantage for those very people whom she is trying to help.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister not understand how irrational it is for the Minister of housing to be telling families not to buy a house because housing is too expensive and yet to stay in rental accommodation when renting is, as she has said, insecure, unstable, and expensive?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I know it is hard for the member to appreciate, but actually I think that there is probably agreement across the House on what we want to see as the outcomes for these people. What we disagree on is actually the venue and the vehicle for doing that, and the member’s bill, at the very worst, is actually careless and could lead to more actual vulnerability for those very families whom she is trying to help. We have said that we are looking at setting up a stakeholders’ advisory group where it can be carefully considered and we can make sure that we have got the interests of the tenants foremost in those views. We already made changes to the Residential Tenancies Act earlier this year, which I think go some way towards protecting some of the tenants’ rights—

Metiria Turei: No, it doesn’t.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: —well, they do, actually—and that is what we will continue to do, but it will be in a careful and thoughtful manner that actually leads to better outcomes.

• Education System—Support Staff Funding

6. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statement that funding for at-risk students announced in Budget 2016 “is a clear example of how our funding system could be changed to get more support to those students who need it most”; if so, is she concerned that a recent survey found over a third of principals are considering reducing support staff hours in 2017?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): I stand by my statement. In regard to the second part of the question I am more concerned that the member either does not know or misunderstands that the survey had a response from just 307 out of approximately 2,380 principals, which is 7.8 percent, not a third. Of those 119, 10 from the Post Primary Teachers’ Association and 109 from the New Zealand Educational Institute said that they were considering changing their staff support hours. I would be concerned if principals were not considering what staffing they require for the next year. I think that is highly appropriate. I also think it is highly misleading to use a teacher trade union survey to conclude that all of our schooling sector is making a change based on the views of just 5 percent.

Chris Hipkins: What does she say to the Wellington principal from a decile 1 school, who said: “As a decile 1 community, there is no option of raising the money through parent donations and fund-raising. Therefore, we can only reduce our expenditure as much as possible, which then disadvantages our students further.”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I would say that if he or she needs assistance in thinking about how his budget, or her budget, is to be used, the Ministry of Education is available to do that. Under this Government, funding for primary schooling has gone up by over 30 percent, and for secondary schools by over 24 percent. In terms of operational grants, next year there will be a distribution of $1.35 billion. On top of that, that school, being decile 1, will receive a proportion of the targeted $12.3 million that we will be making available next year.

Chris Hipkins: How can she be sure that that new funding for at-risk students will actually target those most in need, given that a briefing to her on 16 August identified that 20,000 students identified as at risk were “missing”? How can she target funding to their needs if she does not know where they are?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Because I rely on the anonymised data that we are now using to identify which young people come from homes where they have been on long-term benefit dependence. How can I trust that that funding will get to them? Well, I trust the very principals that you are arguing are incapable of running their schools.

Chris Hipkins: How would $2.30 per week for each at-risk student help improve the well-being and achievement of those students, when the Government will not tell schools which students they are, and 20,000 of them, by her own admission, have already gone missing?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Irony upon irony. We are not going to stigmatise these particular children—

Grant Robertson: Hang on! You already have.

Hon HEKIA PARATA:—in the same way as decile funding. No, no. Perhaps the member does not understand what anonymise means. We will not be naming the children. What I do trust is that principals do know who the kids at their school are who are at risk and do know who the kids are at their school who are most challenged. It has been traditional that the Government provides funding to schools—an operational grant, by the way, is a bulk fund that goes to schools—and they use their discretion as to how they will cause learning to happen for every child there, and that is what I expect to occur.

Chris Hipkins: I seek leave to table the advice given to Hekia Parata dated 18 August, in which she wrote in her handwriting that she would like to see how she can—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need that part. I need the source of—[Interruption] Order!

Chris Hipkins: Sorry. It is the Ministry of Education.

Mr SPEAKER: So it is sought under the Official Information Act?

Chris Hipkins: The Official Information Act, and that is the Minister’s handwriting on it.

Mr SPEAKER: That part is not important. Leave is sought to table information from the Ministry of Education, sourced under the Official Information Act. Is there any objection? There is no objection to its being tabled.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Chris Hipkins: Did she receive other advice in April that alternative education providers have up to 60 percent of students at risk, but would not necessarily receive any additional funding under the new at-risk model; if so, how will she ensure that the funding actually reaches those students?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I will have to rely on the member that that is my April paper. I am pretty sure that is the case; I am well advised. I am happy for the member to have that. The point about the targeted funding is that it is for the schools to use for the students. It is not a voucher. It is not to the specific child. It is to the provider institution. Alternative education providers, therefore, have a relationship to their provider school. The funding will go to their provider school, and their provider school will work out with the alternative education provider how to support the students they have.

Chris Hipkins: Is she saying that alternative education providers that deal with at-risk students from a number of different schools are not guaranteed that they will receive any of the additional funding that those schools will be receiving for the supposedly at-risk students?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not saying that, because, again, I must reiterate my trust in the principals who are in charge of these schools—the very principals the member sought in his primary question to assert were not capable people. I am saying they are. I trust them to do that.

• Building and Housing, Minister—Reports Received on Substandard Imported Building Products

7. FLETCHER TABUTEAU (NZ First) to the Minister for Building and Housing: What reports has he received on substandard building products being imported into New Zealand?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister for Building and Housing: There have been some reports of problems with products, but they relate to both locally manufactured and imported products. The Government has tightened and is tightening the standards and acceptable solutions in key areas like steel mesh, insulation, and glass balustrading to improve quality and performance. The advice from the building consent authorities is that although the scale of building activities is booming, the proportion of quality problems is no greater than historical norms.

Fletcher Tabuteau: What have those reports specifically said about leaky pipes or leaky plumbing being used in the construction of New Zealand homes?

Hon AMY ADAMS: My understanding is that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) did conduct an inquiry in response to complaints that had been made and found no systemic issues with the plumbing fixtures that were investigated.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Will the Minister acknowledge that given the warning from Master Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers action must be taken now in order to prevent another leaky homes scenario?

Hon AMY ADAMS: We are certainly aware that there have been a number of local manufacturers who are concerned about the fact that we have removed the tariffs on imported products, because we do want to see the cost of building coming down. That is part of the reason why the building sector is booming, but of course it is important that the quality of the products remains high, and we are confident that we have a comprehensive system from the suppliers, to the retailers, to the building code, to MBIE certification, to the Commerce Commission to ensure that that remains the case.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Does the Minister think a comprehensive system might actually include a watermark standard for plumbing products similar to that of Australia’s in order to help protect Kiwi homeowners from another leaky homes disaster?

Hon AMY ADAMS: There are a number of product certification schemes that are available or in place, but our system relies on the fact that the Building Act requires that before any product can be used on site it has to meet the standards set out in the Building Act. Suppliers have to ensure that all products are properly labelled as being fit for purpose, and there is a comprehensive regime to ensure that that occurs.

• Kaikura Earthquake—Schools Affected by Earthquakes

8. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Education: What update can she provide on the earthquake-affected schools in Kaikōura?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit Kaikōura Primary School, Kaikōura High School, and Little Tamariki Montessori Preschool yesterday to see how they are holding up, and to reassure them of the support that we have available for them. The local schools and the entire community have been incredibly resilient, and have been doing everything they can to reopen the schools and the early childhood providers. They have been supported by the Ministry of Education and all the agencies on the ground, and are working hard to return a sense of normality to this part of the country. I am delighted to report that, with Kaikōura High School opening tomorrow, all six of the Kaikōura schools will have reopened, and the nearby Hurunui district has reopened all of its 13 schools, and playgroups have been established at some of the early childhood providers.

Dr Jian Yang: What support is being provided to the schools of Kaikōura to help them reopen?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yesterday the acting Secretary for Education travelled with me to Kaikōura to hear firsthand from the schools what specific kind of support they wish for, and notes have been taken of that. In general, the ministry has provided well-being resources to the schools and has offered to co-facilitate well-being sessions for parents, alongside Save the Children, which is doing a lot of work down there as well. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority has been working with those schools and students on support, such as derived grades, to recognise the impact and disruption. Scholarship exams have been rescheduled and provided at the schools that were able to reopen earlier, with scholarship history and scholarship chemistry exams taking place this week. Two very experienced principals are on the ground to provide support to those schools that wish to have it, and, lastly, I am very pleased to say that Kaikōura Primary School’s recently constructed new modular buildings performed incredibly well, with no structural damage, and the resilience of the bulk of school buildings has helped all the schools to reopen quickly for their 487 students, the parents, and the community.

• Immigration Policy—Impact

9. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister of Immigration: Is the immigration system working in the best interests of New Zealand and migrants?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Overall, yes. Sound immigration policy results in improvements to New Zealand—economically, socially, and culturally. For migrants the immigration system supports a great visitor or tourist experience, work or business start-up, and, for those staying longer or permanently, our settlement support framework is recognised as world leading.

Iain Lees-Galloway: How can the immigration system be working in the best interests of skilled migrants, given that their earnings have fallen by 10 percent between 2003 and 2013?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: This country has many skilled migrants. I presume the member refers to recent residency visa holders who were approved residency under the skilled migrant category. I do not have that data. What I do know is that, after a long period of reasonably flat demand for residencies, including in the skilled migrant category, there was a sharp spike upward, which was why the Government made the moderate changes that it did in September. That will result, I am sure, in a net increase in the overall skills of those residency holders.

Iain Lees-Galloway: I seek leave to table advice to the Minister that we received under the Official Information Act, dated 25 May 2016, which demonstrates that earnings for skilled migrant category migrants have declined by 10 percent over that 10-year period.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular advice. Is there any objection? [Interruption] Is there any objection? There is none.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Why is the immigration system being used to undercut wages in New Zealand, as confirmed by his department’s research, which shows that skilled migrants’ earnings can be up to $18,000 a year less than other skilled workers in the same industry?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I do not have that research with me, but I do understand, from recollection, that, in fact, those skilled migrants who were in qualifications of level 7 and above were actually very close to the average of all skilled migrants in those categories. Those who had lower qualifications would naturally start on a lower salary but build up over time. I am satisfied that the policy settings are right and that wages are not being suppressed by that policy.

Iain Lees-Galloway: I seek leave to table advice to the Minister, acquired by us under the Official Information Act, dated 25 May 2016, which demonstrates that in a variety of categories, skilled migrant category migrants earn less, and in particular in the—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been well and truly described. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular advice to the Minister, dated May 2016. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Iain Lees-Galloway: If wages for skilled workers are being suppressed this much by migration, will it not be even worse for unskilled migrants, given that his Government has approved 1.2 million work visas since 2009?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The category of work visa includes other issues like the working holiday scheme, which has been very positive. I note for the House’s benefit that the essential skills work visa category has seen a marked reduction since this Government came to office, particularly in things like labouring. Despite the Canterbury rebuild and the very strong growth in demand for construction workers in Auckland, the number of visas overall—essential skills visas and labourer visas—has gone down materially.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Why is his Government continuing with high levels of migration and issuing millions of work visas, when the evidence from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Treasury, provided to him as Minister, demonstrates that it is suppressing wages in New Zealand?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: If that were true, and Treasury is equivocal on that point, then we would not be seeing very high growth in the median wage. We would not be seeing unemployment dropping materially and job participation at its very highest. I challenge the thesis that the economy is strong because immigration is strong. Because the economy is growing, labour demand is high, and for the foreseeable future we will need to go to the international labour market. I reject the assertion that it is suppressing wages.

• Local Government, Associate Minister—Announcements on Reducing the Risk and Harm of Dog Attacks

10. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Associate Minister of Local Government: What recent announcements has she made on reducing the risk and harm of dog attacks?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Associate Minister of Local Government): In September I announced a national action plan to reduce the risk and harm of dog attacks in New Zealand. Our action plan responds to the clear concerns in our communities about the increasing incidence of dog attacks and the particular vulnerability of children being severely injured and traumatised by menacing dogs. Under our action plan, high-risk dogs and their owners will be subjected to stricter controls and will have a renewed focus on education, as well as partnership with local government. Dog attacks are increasing, and our national action plan aims to stop this by making homes and communities safer for all.

Scott Simpson: What further measures has she announced to encourage better and more responsible dog ownership?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: We are doing more to prevent dog attacks. On 23 November I announced a second round of initiatives to further protect New Zealanders from the risk and harm of dog attacks and to ensure that dog owners understand their responsibilities. Our action plan introduces a range of new requirements for owners of high-risk dogs, and includes the development between central and local government of best practice for dog control and a public education campaign. Government funding will help central and local government work together to provide for the neutering of menacing dogs, as well as increasing the number of dogs both registered and microchipped. This scheme is now under way in Rotorua and Ōpōtiki and will be rolled out nationwide.

Scott Simpson: What are the new requirements for owners of high-risk dogs and how will these help to keep New Zealanders safe?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: Some of the new measures include making sure owners of high-risk dogs are up to the responsibility of dog ownership and introducing harsher penalties for owners of dogs that cause serious injury. Owners of high-risk dogs will be required to keep their dogs in a separately fenced area at home, display signs at the front of their property, ensure their dogs wear collars identifying them as such, and have an ownership licence from the council. To obtain a licence, owners will have to have their dog’s temperament tested, have the property where the dog resides inspected, demonstrate an ability to keep their dog under control, and demonstrate their understanding of the responsibilities under the local council laws. This side of the House takes the responsibility of keeping our communities safe seriously.

• Police—Strategy on Methamphetamine Use Reduction, Efficacy

11. STUART NASH (Labour—Napier) to the Minister of Police: Does she believe that the Prime Minister’s current strategy regarding his so called “war on P” is failing, given that the percentage of police detainees who in the past year have used P increased from 28 percent in 2012 to 36 percent in 2015?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): No, and I would like to take this opportunity to trumpet yet more excellent work by New Zealand Police in hunting down and arresting methamphetamine dealers. In fact, just today Police have announced the results of a month-long operation targeting a Wellington City – based methamphetamine dealing syndicate. Operation Oak saw warrants executed at 13 addresses across the district and resulted in the arrest of seven people right here in Wellington.

Stuart Nash: Congratulations to the police, but to the Minister of Police: considering that an amount 10,000 times as large—i.e. 500 kilograms—confiscated 6 months ago has had no impact whatsoever on availability or price, does she not think that we need more police directly involved with stopping drugs rather than cutting numbers of police involved in investigating drugs by around 10 percent since 2012?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member knows that the Prime Minister and I have made numerous statements to him and to others around the resourcing of police, and I suggest that he just wait, because he is going to be very, very much surprised.

Stuart Nash: Does she think that it is fair that the Tauranga Women’s Refuge just has to wait when it says that P is now a factor in 60 percent of all cases?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have a great deal of sympathy and, also, a great deal of respect for the Tauranga Women’s Refuge, and I believe that it is simply stating what it is seeing.

Stuart Nash: Does she believe John Key’s so-called warning to P dealers in 2008 that “National will not put up with your criminal activity.” was an empty threat given the number of detainees who now report being on P when they are arrested has increased by nearly 160 percent since June 2010?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member has just answered his own question. The police are arresting more P dealers; that is why there are more detainees who happen to have been on P. I would have thought that was pretty evident, and he just needs to use a little bit of logic next time he asks a question.

Stuart Nash: In light of that, Minister, was the Commissioner of Police wrong when he stated “I’m very concerned about the availability of methamphetamine right throughout New Zealand.”; and, if she agrees with the commissioner, when is she going to give him the resources to address his concerns?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Of course I agree with the commissioner. He is absolutely right. The other issue around resourcing—as I have told him on numerous occasions, he needs to just wait. But I would also say that police are doing an excellent job with what they have got now. The fact is that when we had surveys recently on public satisfaction with police and the service that people have got, we had 85 percent of people in that member’s area saying how satisfied they are with the police, which is completely contrary to that member and his comments about the local police.

Stuart Nash: Supplementary question?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I think that on this occasion all supplementary questions have been used by the Labour member.

Stuart Nash: Well, that was lucky, wasn’t it?

Mr SPEAKER: The member may say that.

• Confidential Listening and Assistance Service—Recommendation to Create Independent Body to Resolve Complaints about State Care

12. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Why will she not implement a crucial recommendation of the confidential listening service that an independent body is needed to resolve historic and current complaints of abuse and neglect in State care?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): The Ministry of Social Development’s historic claims resolution team is impartial and operates independently of Child, Youth and Family. It is important to note that the Ministry of Social Development did not exist in the 1950s and 1960s, when most of this abuse occurred. The recommendations from the final report of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service have informed the work on the overhaul of Child, Youth and Family, and this Cabinet has agreed that the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki will consider an independent complaints service that will ensure robust monitoring and accountability. But I do note that we have made good progress in resolving these historic claims. Last year I introduced a fast-track process that gives claimants an option to have their claims resolved faster while still receiving an apology and, if they want, a financial settlement. Around 900 payments have been made to date, totalling more than $17 million.

Jan Logie: Will the Minister admit it is possible that some people who were abused in State care may not trust the State to properly investigate their claims of abuse?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That is always possible. However, the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, which was set up under the previous Labour Government and was in place for 7 years, heard from 1,100 people who came forward with their stories and not only had the opportunity to tell their stories and have them taken seriously but received various types of assistance. It is interesting that only half of those went on to make a claim, which indicates that the member is right—some people do not want to go further with the claims process.

Jan Logie: Will the Minister admit it is possible that some people who were told they could have an apology only if they gave up any legal claim against the State might feel that the process did not have their best interests at heart?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That is a hypothetical question. What I do know is that in the claims process, which, as I said, has paid out compensation and given an apology both from the chief executive and, in any case where it is requested, from me as Minister, we do everything we can to ensure that, and the fast-track process means it is only fact-checked. There is no investigation. We only make sure that the person was in the place that they said, at the time that they said—we make that process as simple as possible. I have heard from complainants that what they want is recognition that they were abused—which we all find appalling—and they want the State to take responsibility for that, and they want an apology. In some cases, they want some form of financial compensation. But we all know in this House that no money can ever, ever make up for the abuse and the trauma that those people have suffered.

Jan Logie: Why does she think Judge Henwood said there is not a shred of empathy or remorse in the Minister’s response to this report? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: There is a constitutional process whereby the judiciary respects this Parliament and Parliament respects the judiciary. I am not going to step over that.

Jan Logie: Considering the Minister’s apparent lack of empathy or remorse, how can we trust her to truly keep the best interests of children at the heart of the Child, Youth and Family reforms?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have always been of the opinion that you judge a person by their actions, not their words. I think the legislation that I have brought to this House, and will bring to this House, will show that I am determined that the new system will keep children at the heart of it and that their voices will be heard. It is disappointing that the Green Party and the Labour Party do not support children having the right to have a say about their futures in the legislation that is before the House at the moment.

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