Questions and Answers – May 4

Press Release – Hansard

strong>ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS Finance, Minister—Statements on Household Labour Force Survey

1. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statements yesterday on the Household Labour Force Survey; if so, by how much has the number of 15 to 24-year-olds who are not in employment, education, or training increased since his Government took office?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Finance): Yes, I certainly do stand by my statements on yesterday’s household labour force survey, which showed, amongst other things, that unemployment in the March quarter stood at 4.9 percent. I stand by my comment that an extra 29,000 people are now employed compared to the previous quarter, and, in total, we now have well over 2.5 million people employed in this country for the first time. In regard to the number of 15 to 24-year-olds who are not in employment, education, or training, it stood at 86,000 in the March 2017 quarter, out of a total of 674,000 people in that age group. That compares to 78,000 when the Government took office in the first quarter of 2009, out of a much smaller group of 604,000 in that cohort.

Grant Robertson: Is it not in fact correct that there are nearly 27,000 more young New Zealanders not earning or learning since his Government came into office?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. I have just compared for the member the first quarter of 2009 versus the first quarter in 2017. The difference is an increase of 8,000, but the population of that age group has gone up around 70,000 at the same time.

Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, is it not further correct that since last year—at exactly the same time—the number of young New Zealanders not earning or learning has increased by 4,000, or 5 percent?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member can make those assertions, but what he is trying to skip is that the population in that 15 to 24 age group is increasing over the same time. So it stands to reason that even though the proportion is dropping slightly since we have come into office, there are slightly more people in total because the population of that group has gone from 603,000 to 674,000 over that time. But I do bring good news for the member, because I have had a look at the numbers for him. If you look at the 86,000 people listed as young people not in education, employment, or training in the March quarter, 16,000 of them are not in the labour force because they are involved in caregiving, presumably for young children; 38,000 are not in education at all and not in the workforce—those are the people who are having a gap year, and so on; leaving 32,000 people who are looking for work and are not in education. That is lower than the adult population unemployment rate—it is 4.7 percent.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just need somewhat less interjection, please.

Grant Robertson: Are there 4,000 more people aged between 15 and 24 not in employment, not in education, and not in training since March last year, and how can he be so proud of that?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is forgetting to look at the number of people overall.

Grant Robertson: In a year?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes. Since March of last year the New Zealand population of 15 to 24-year-olds has gone up by 11,000 people. So yes, there are 4,000 more listed as not in education, employment, or training, but the total population of that age group has gone up by 11,000 people.

Grant Robertson: In light of his statement yesterday with regard to the household labour force survey that inflation is running at 2.2 percent, can he confirm that 67 percent of New Zealanders received a pay rise of less than 2 percent last year?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I cannot. I would have to see the reasons for the member making that assertion. What I can tell him is that average weekly wages went up either 2.1 or 2.2 percent over the same year, which was roughly the same rate as inflation.

Grant Robertson: Does he think that New Zealanders are getting a fair share in prosperity when more than two thirds of workers got a pay rise less than inflation, when the cost of food and petrol increased by more than average inflation, and when housing costs increased, on average, by 11 percent—or is he not on the side of those New Zealanders?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am certainly on the side of New Zealanders—all New Zealanders—and am also on the side of literally financial New Zealanders, and I am sorry the member, in his assertions, is wrong, because, actually, housing costs are included in the cost of living adjustments in the Consumers Price Index.

Grant Robertson: No they’re not.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: They are. So I do have those concerns, and I would say at the moment that wages are going up at about the same rate as inflation, according to the statistics yesterday. But the solution, in terms of increasing wages further, is to continue to strongly grow the economy—as we are seeing—and to continue to see strong job growth. That also leads to strong income growth, as we have seen in the last several years. Government Financial Position—Debt and Measures to Address

2. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Finance: What is the Government’s plan for reducing net debt as a percentage of GDP?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Finance): So far we have made very good progress in reducing the Government’s debt, as measured against the size of our economy. Net debt peaked at just under 26 percent of GDP, following both the global financial crisis (GFC) and the Canterbury earthquakes. It is expected to be around 24 percent of GDP by the end of this year. We are forecasting to achieve our short-term target of reducing net debt to around 20 percent of GDP by 2020. All this has been achieved after New Zealand was forced to weather the shocks of the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes, and, of course, more recently, the Kaikōura earthquakes. Supporting Kiwi families through these events resulted in the country borrowing significant sums of money—approximately an extra 20 percent of GDP.

Todd Muller: Once the Government has achieved its net debt target, what will the new medium-term goal be?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I announced last week that the Government will set a new medium-term fiscal target of reducing net debt to between 10 and 15 percent of GDP by 2025. We are a geologically young country and we are also a small country in an often turbulent world, so there are plenty of risks and shocks ahead of us. The GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes taught us that they come along at any time, and sometimes together.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will notice that the Minister of Finance is taking an extraordinarily long time to answer questions—for example, he was asked in the primary question: what is the plan for reducing net debt? It is not a history lesson; it is a question about the future plan.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why?

Mr SPEAKER: Because I asked him to resume his seat. I am the judge of the length of answers and I am judging the relevance of a subsequent supplementary question. The supplementary question was definitely in order. The Minister has every right to answer it, and I will judge whether the answer goes on for too long.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You may well judge that, but I am entitled to raise under the Standing Orders a point of order and outline why some members of this House find that his answers are not satisfactory. We have an entitlement to do that. Yes, you can judge whether or not we are making out the case, but you will not stop us from making it out.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I appreciate the member’s point of order, but I am a bit confused because I would have thought that New Zealand’s resilience to natural disasters is a very important issue, not just for this House but for this country. The member may want to make a point about saying that it is not of interest to him, and that is fine. But I do think that most New Zealanders would consider our ability to respond to earthquakes and other natural disasters to be very important. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard quite enough from both members. As I have—[Interruption] Order! As I have said, I will judge the length of answers. I want them to be relevant, but I thought the subsequent supplementary question was an important one. I would have thought most of the House was interested in future net debt targets. Does the Minister wish to complete his answer?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Thank you. With net debt at around 10 to 15 percent of GDP, New Zealand would have the capacity to absorb more than one shock without extra taxes and without slashing people’s entitlements, and that is what will be important to New Zealanders.

Todd Muller: How achievable is a net debt target of between 10 and 15 percent of GDP?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This is achievable because the Government’s books are now in good shape, and rising surpluses are predicted over the forecast period. It is backed up by a New Zealand economy that has now experienced nearly 6 years of continuous growth, together with unemployment falling yesterday to 4.9 percent. This is one of the dividends New Zealand gets from an innovative economy that allows us to reduce debt so we can respond to whatever the future has in store not just for the current population but, of course, for our children and grandchildren.

Todd Muller: How will this new debt target help New Zealand respond to major shocks?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: You only have to look as far as the front page of the Wellington newspaper this morning to see the importance of ensuring that New Zealand has buffers against major shocks. It was suggested in that report that there is a new report produced saying that a major earthquake in Wellington would force the capital city to move to Auckland. I do not agree with that, and I think most Wellingtonians would not agree with that. The reality is that if you can afford to protect urban centres like Wellington after a big earthquake, then we do not have to consider moving the capital city. So, with sensible investments in infrastructure and prudent levels of debt, Mr Peters, then we can make sure that the capital city stays in Wellington.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What are you going on about now?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Grumpy old prick.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know there is a robust exchange in the House, but the Minister of Finance did use an extremely unparliamentary term to describe the leader of New Zealand First.

Mr SPEAKER: I heard the interjection; I did not hear where it came from, but now that it has been identified, I require the Minister to stand, withdraw—[Interruption] Order! The member is not yet in this position; he might be at some stage in the future. I require the member to stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I withdraw and apologise.

Mr SPEAKER: Thank you. Palestine—United Nations Security Council Resolution Condemning Israeli Settlements

3. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he support the New Zealand sponsored UN Security Council resolution of 23 December 2016 that condemned the expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Yes.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Will the Minister, then, reaffirm to this House today the Security Council Resolution 2334 and the Government’s longstanding policy that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I said in the primary answer, yes, we do support the New Zealand – sponsored UN Security Council resolution, as the member has said, but I think, on behalf of the Minister, the broader point is that a peaceful resolution will require engagement by both Israel and the Palestinians. That is what he is focused on.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Does the Minister, then, disagree with the former Minister of Foreign Affairs that: “continuing settlement growth at anything like the current rate will render the two state solution a purely academic concept. There will be nothing left to negotiate.”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: He is interested in looking forward rather than looking backward. He does support, certainly, the previous foreign affairs Minister.

Grant Robertson: Backward to the things you did support!

Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, he is a forward-looking Minister, is Gerry Brownlee; if there is anything we can say about that man—forward looking. He is very focused on actually supporting the resolution that we put forward. But, as he says, he is actually more focused on the engagement of both Israel and the Palestinians. His position is that settlements undermine that two-State solution.

Dr Kennedy Graham: In light of the Minister’s forward-looking comment—that New Zealand should not make pronouncements on issues in the Middle East—if a foreign Government were to illegally occupy New Zealand territory, would the Minister expect our allies to condemn the action or follow his lead and not make pronouncements about how either party involved should behave?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is simply hypothetical, and I would not comment.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Does the Minister disagree with the UN Secretary-General’s comment—which was not hypothetical—who 4 days ago expressed “disappointment and alarm of the decision by Israel to build a new settlement”, and “condemns all unilateral actions that … threaten peace and undermine the two-State solution.”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am sorry, I have not seen those comments, and, as such, I could not comment on those comments that I have not seen.

Dr Kennedy Graham: In light of the Minister’s comment this morning on radio that the resolution was “premature”, does the Minister agree with the New Zealand ambassador to the United Nations, who said at the Security Council meeting on the day of 23 December: “Today’s resolution confirmed principles that have long been accepted in the United Nations …. While more could have been done, the text was achievable ‘right now’.”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I believe those comments around being premature were more in light of the fact that we would have liked to have given Israel notice of the resolution, and our part in that, but did not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact, foreign Minister, that the resolution was not in line with long-standing New Zealand policy; second, that it did not go to Cabinet as required by the manual because of the denunciation aspects; and, third, that that is why he is trying to backtrack on it now?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I disagree. It is in line with long-term policy. While the resolution did not therefore need to go to Cabinet, the short-term notice of it, though—being on 22 December and then happening on the 24th—meant that there was no Cabinet in that time anyway. But according to the Cabinet Manual it did not need to go. Pay Equity—Announcements

4. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: What recent announcements has he made in relation to Pay Equity?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): I have recently announced the release of an exposure draft of the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill for public consultation. This Government is committed to achieving an effective framework to provide a practical process for employees to follow if they feel are not being paid fairly due to gender discrimination. Consultation on the pay equity bill follows the recommendations of the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles and is an important step towards closing the gender pay gap. I encourage the public to get involved in the consultation process and make sure they have their say on this important piece of legislation before consultation closes on 11 May.

Sarah Dowie: Why is new pay equity legislation being introduced?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The Equal Pay Act 1972 is not equipped to provide guidance on pay equity claims and needs to be updated to provide a practical, fair, and workable process for employees and employers to follow. Importantly, the draft bill provides a framework for choosing an appropriate comparable role—something the joint working group was not able to reach agreement on. The guidance in the draft pay equity bill complements the Government’s $2 billion pay equity settlement for some of the health sector’s lowest-paid workers. I look forward to constructive contributions from interested parties.

Sarah Dowie: What reports has he seen on the exposure draft bill?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I have seen several reports that state that the Terranova settlement could not have been achieved under the proposed bill. These statements are simply not accurate. Parties to a pay equity claim are encouraged to negotiate first, and try to reach a mutually acceptable comparator on their own. Of significance, the recent $2 billion Terranova settlement was agreed to by all parties within parameters outlined in the exposure draft bill regarding comparators. Parties agreed on an occupation from within the health sector as an appropriate comparator. I also note the law guiding the proximity of comparators for pay equity claims in other jurisdictions, including the European Union, the UK, and parts of Canada, are confined to within the same workplace, company, enterprise, or employment. In Australia, where comparative proximity has been established through case law, comparators are thus far confined to the same industry. So what the Government is proposing, by way of proximity, is actually much more liberal than any other comparable jurisdiction. Corrections, Minister—Statements of Previous Minister

5. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Corrections: Does she stand by the statement of her predecessor, “breaking the cycle of imprisonment and reoffending is a key focus of this Government. That’s why we set the ambitious and challenging goal of reducing prisoner reoffending by 25 percent by 2017”; if so, does she agree with the decision to drop the Better Public Services target of reducing re-offending by 25 percent?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister of Corrections): I welcome the member’s interest, and the first question to me in the first 6 months of my being the Minister—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will just have the answer.

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: These targets were always meant to be challenging. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That is an example of why the start of that answer was not helpful. I now cannot hear the substantive part of the answer. I require the Minister to start it again, certainly without the first sentence or two.

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: The Better Public Services (BPS) targets were always meant to be challenging. We have seen an improvement in people’s lives as a result. Reducing reoffending remains a supporting measure. The September 2016 BPS results show a 4.4 percent reduction in reoffending, meaning that there have been over 9,400 fewer reoffenders and almost 38,000 fewer victims of crime since 2011. The Government continues to track the rate of reoffending and to invest significantly in rehabilitation and reintegration. In 2015-16 we invested $176 million in rehabilitation and reintegration programmes, with a goal of breaking the cycle of reoffending.

Kelvin Davis: In light of that answer, what percentage of the $176 million spent in 2015-16 on services to reintegrate and rehabilitate offenders actually worked, given that Corrections achieved a target about 80 percent below where it was aiming?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: As I said, this Government proudly set what was actually a world-leading target to reduce reoffending, because of the impact on people’s lives and the reality that the reduction of crime is significant for people in New Zealand. Currently, 13 percent of the Corrections budget is spent on programmes that support their rehabilitation, training, education, and drug and alcohol treatments, and programmes of that type.

Kelvin Davis: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did ask what percent of the $176 million that the Minister said actually worked, given that it fell 80 percent below the target it was trying to achieve.

Mr SPEAKER: My job is to judge whether the question has been addressed. The Minister certainly gave the percentage of the budget spent then on rehabilitation. I think to expect any Government department to have analysed what percentage of that has actually worked would be near impossible.

Kelvin Davis: Does she agree with Newshub that her failure to reduce reoffending by 25 percent is “a fail in anyone’s books”; if not, why not?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: A 4.4 percent reduction is, I think, progress in the right directions. As I have said, that is 38,000—38,000—fewer victims of crime. Actually, I think that is a win for the Government.

Kelvin Davis: Does she accept that her Government’s new target of reducing serious crime by 10,000 will put more pressure on the Corrections system, given that it does not even reduce it to a level below that of June 2016 and excludes sexual and family violence?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: The refresh of the Better Public Services targets are really focused in language that New Zealanders understand and value. Absolutely, up and down this country, New Zealanders are saying they want to see fewer serious crimes. That is exactly what this Better Public Services target says. In all of the prisons that I have visited—and the Corrections staff that I have spoken with—they are 100 percent committed to reducing reoffending.

Kelvin Davis: How does she stand by her department’s claim that “Corrections has a comprehensive and well-designed conceptual framework for achieving reductions in reoffending rates.” in light of the failure to get within cooee of reducing the reoffending target?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: As I said in my primary answer, I think the results, in terms of where we are at currently, are significant. Is there more work to do? Absolutely, and that is why we are open to suggestions on how else we can tackle some of these very, very challenging offenders. The ones whom we have in currently are the ones who are the recidivist reoffenders. They are in for more serious crimes, some of them are in for longer sentences, and, unfortunately, we now have a higher gang percentage of prisoners than we did when we started this Better Public Services work.

Kelvin Davis: Does this sentence on rehabilitation programmes, from her department’s annual report, not explain in a nutshell why her Government failed to meet its target: “The rates of some programmes reported are small and below the level of statistical significance.”?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: And in response to that, the Auditor-General’s report indicates that the work that is done by Corrections is evaluated on an ongoing basis. Of course, I am very keen for Corrections to try new things. If they assess them and they do not work, absolutely we will try something else. Economy—Rate of Employment

6. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What reports has he received on the rate of employment in New Zealand?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Yesterday Statistics New Zealand released the quarterly household labour force survey, which showed our unemployment rate is again 4.9 percent. Our record levels of labour force participation also continue, with the rate increasing to 70.6 percent. In real terms there are 29,000 more Kiwis employed in the past 3 months, as job growth continues to be faster than population growth. We are in the middle of a jobs boom. The numbers show the Government’s comprehensive economic plan is working for families, with lower unemployment, strong job creation, and opportunities for all New Zealanders.

Paul Foster-Bell: Which sectors are experiencing the most growth?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: We are seeing continued job growth across a range of sectors. The fastest growing is the construction sector, with 16,100 more jobs compared with this time last year. New Zealand has currently experienced its biggest ever construction boom, and we are beginning to see construction employment growing in regions other than Auckland and Canterbury. For example, Waikato had a further 3,600 people working in the sector. In addition, the other two major contributors to the increase in filled jobs this quarter are accommodation and food services, increasing by 16,200 jobs, and an increase of 12,700 in the professional and support services industry.

Paul Foster-Bell: What will the Government do next to ensure continued growth in the New Zealand economy?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: We are continuing to provide stable, predictable, and fiscally sustainable Government, which helps give business the confidence to invest. The Government has just announced that it will allocate $11 billion in new capital infrastructure over the next four Budgets, including $4 billion in the year’s Budget alone. We are investing hugely in schools, hospitals, housing, roads, and railway, and this investment will extend to the run rate significantly and include new investment in the justice and defence sectors. Solid economic growth is driving more jobs and higher wages, and we have a clear plan for the future. Beneficiaries—Employment Outcomes for People Leaving Benefits

7. CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour—Kelston) to the Minister for Social Development: Is she concerned that the March quarterly benefit figures show that only 42.3 percent of those who cancelled a benefit did so because they had obtained work?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): No.

Carmel Sepuloni: How can she stand by her statement that “One of the best levers to help people into employment is making sure they get qualifications.”, when there have been 38 percent fewer beneficiaries leaving the benefit to go into full-time study over the last 3 years—11,727 in March 2014, down to 7,250 in March 2017?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: There are a variety of reasons for that, not the least being that this Government has a fine record in lifting educational achievements for young people at school and keeping young people in school for longer. So many more of our young people have qualifications and are going into work consequently.

Carmel Sepuloni: When celebrating a drop in benefit numbers recorded in the March quarterly benefit figures, was she aware that part of that reduction was due to a 42 percent increase since March 2014 in the number of people leaving a benefit because they were going to prison?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have said many times in this House that the member has been trying to castigate the Government for people who are leaving the benefit, and I have said on a number of occasions that there are a variety of reasons why people do not seek a benefit any longer, and going to prison—I note that in the quarterly figures released we have a number of 6.8 percent who have either moved overseas or are in prison. [Interruption]

Carmel Sepuloni: Supplementary question.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! You need a little more cooperation from your own caucus colleagues.

Carmel Sepuloni: After 8 years, is the Government just relying on more and more beneficiaries going to jail each year to achieve its Better Public Services target of reducing long-term welfare dependency?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: When you look at those March 2017 quarterly figures, I think we should all be celebrating the fact that 50 percent of the people who were on jobseeker benefits are now in work and 2.2 percent of the people who were on all the main benefits are in prison.

Carmel Sepuloni: Is the Government’s new $1 billion prison part of its emergency housing plan, given that an increasing number of people are moving off benefit and going into prison?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said, I think we should be celebrating the 50 percent of job seekers who have left in the March quarter to go and find themselves work and better lives, rather than making stupid comments about the 2.2 percent of people who end up in prison.

Carmel Sepuloni: How can the Minister celebrate the achievement of the Government’s Better Public Services target to reduce long-term welfare dependency and the Government’s social investment approach, when under its watch the Ministry of Social Development now sees fewer people taking up training and study and more people going off benefit and into prison?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I challenge the member’s figures, because if you look at those quarterly results—

Kelvin Davis: They’re your figures.

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Yes, they are. We publish them exactly for this very reason—so that you can have a look at the chart. Full-time students make up 13.7 percent of the people who have left the benefit—going into education—as against the figure that that member seems to be totally focused on, of people going to prison, which is 2.2 percent. In anyone’s language, there is a larger number going into education. Environment, Minister—Statements on Pike River Mine

8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he stand by all his statements on Pike River mine; if so, how?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Yes; in the context in which the statements were made.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When he was seeking clarification on 1 May from officials regarding the disclosure of evidence and whether it may contradict Solid Energy’s position, did he have that information on 2 May when he said “Manned re-entry is not possible.”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes. The very comprehensive assessment that was done by Solid Energy identified hundreds of risks and showed that manned re-entry deep into the drift was not safely achievable.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 1 May he said he was seeking advice from officials that may contradict Solid Energy. Now he just said then he is relying upon Solid Energy. My question was based on his very quotes—not Solid Energy’s evidence, but the alternative officials’ evidence that he was seeking on 1 May.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The way forward is, on this occasion, that I will invite the member to repeat the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: It is my pleasure. [Interruption]

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Ha, ha! Don’t worry—the feeling is mutual. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: When he was seeking clarification on 1 May from officials regarding the disclosure of evidence and whether it may contradict Solid Energy’s position, did he have that information on 2 May when he said: “Manned re-entry is not possible.”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I was interviewed on Monday morning. I said at that time that I did not have sufficient advice in respect of the specifics of the video. I met later that day with Solid Energy and with advisers from Police and the Department of Conservation. On the Tuesday when I was asked, I stated that there was nothing in the video that changed the assessment that was done by Solid Energy that manned entry of the Pike River mine could not be done safely.

Stuart Smith: Has the Minister received any new information on the robot video footage?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Usually the person asking the primary question gets more than one supplementary question before it goes to the other side.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is right; what did confuse me is that I gave him, effectively, a repeat of the first question—so the member is right. However, I have now given the call to Stuart Smith. That is the way it will remain.

Stuart Smith: Has the Minister received any new information on the robot video footage?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I have received advice from Police today that police specifically showed families at meetings in Greymouth and Christchurch in July 2011 the footage broadcast on Newshub of the workers with the robot at the portal, as part of about 8 hours of video shown to the families at those meetings. About 100 family members were invited to those meetings, and about 25 attended. There are also paper records of the families being advised in 2011 of the robot emitting smoke in the drift of the mine at the time. This confirms that the video was neither secret nor deliberately withheld from the families.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If he values expert advice, why has he ignored thorough assessments by, (1) New Zealand Mines Rescue; (2) Queensland Mines Rescue Service; and (3) Tony Forster, former Chief Mines Inspector—all of whom conclude that residual risk can be controlled for a manned re-entry?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, that is not the advice, for instance, of the New Zealand Mines Rescue Trust. I draw to the member’s attention specifically the statement that it made to the select committee and the further statement it made on Tuesday this week.

Stuart Smith: Why are the claims that the video footage shows it is quite safe to re-enter deep into the drift of the mine incorrect?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The video shows the robot in March 2011 emitting smoke, and some have claimed this shows that there is no risk of an explosion in the mine. This overlooks the fact that the mine at that time was being pumped full of nitrogen, an inert gas. This is very different today where the mine, all bar the very first 30 metres, is near 100 percent methane. The second claim made is that the video shows men working quite safely in the drift of the mine with the robot. Initially it was claimed that they were deep in the drift, but the Mines Rescue Trust, which did the work, has clarified that they were only a few metres in. There is nothing new in men being in the first section of the drift, and this has occurred multiple times with the construction of the temporary seal in 2011, and more permanently in 2016. There is nothing in this information that changes the fundamental assessment done by Solid Energy that manned re-entry deep into the mine is not safely possible.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If any of that is remotely true, why did Pike River management instruct drilling contractors not to drill where the drilling entry into the mine would be directly in the presence of a driftrunner?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would be happy to follow up on where that drilling occurred at the time. I would note that there was close consultation with the families in the decisions that were made back in 2011, when there were robots and other devices put into the drift of the mine. I can also assure the member that the Government and Solid Energy are working very closely with the families in implementing the decision by Prime Minister English for unmanned entry to occur and for it to occur where the families would wish, providing it can be done feasibly and safely.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did he not tell us that the Mines Rescue Trust is funded largely by Solid Energy, and if a manned re-entry into the mine is a health and safety issue—as he keeps saying—why then, well after the second blast, was it deemed safe for workers to go 400 metres into the mine’s drift, as shown in this photographic evidence I am holding?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I really do question the member challenging the integrity of the New Zealand Mines Rescue Trust, which, in my view, is very well respected, and I would say that this Parliament should take its advice on issues of safety very seriously. In respect of the fact that men have been down the drift, that was publicly, repeatedly reported, both when the seal was constructed at 170 metres and when the seal was constructed at 30 metres. Of course, in that early section of the drift, it has been absolutely open that there have been men doing work, but it is a very different thing to have men over a kilometre into the drift of the mine.

Hon Paula Bennett: Could he please confirm whether or not the footage will go on a website today under a password for the families who have requested to be able to look at it, and that it will be publicly available tomorrow, so the member can scroll through 30 hours of footage, if he wishes to, and take as many of the pictures as he likes, so he can then apologise to police—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not going to sit here and take that blatant, fallacious, and lying attack. [Interruption] You have got it all wrong.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. The first part of the question asked by the Hon Paula Bennett is in order, which is, effectively: can you confirm that that footage will be put on a website and be available?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have been advised by the police that the full video record will be available from that fourth robot as of today, including that they will actually be showing the portion that was shown to the families. The police have, appropriately, decided that the families should get access to that material firstly, and are providing a password. They are also saying that the full video record will be available more generally to the public tomorrow.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Why would the Minister and his Government allow the removal of the wreck from the Astrolabe Reef but are now preventing the possible removal of miners’ bodies from the drift of the Pike River mine—both achievable and requiring calculated risk management?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am actually very familiar with the issues of both the Rena and Pike River, and the member may be interested to note that in both situations there was expert evidence, and particularly with the depth of material, parts of the Rena remains are not to be recovered because there was concern about safety—they were so deep. Equally so, there is expert advice that very clearly shows that safe re-entry deep into the Pike River mine is unsafe. Primary Industries, Minister—Statements

9. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Does he stand by his statement, “There’s no way that we can double the number of cows in New Zealand”?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Yes, in the context it was given.

Eugenie Sage: What does the Minister believe is an appropriate number of cows for the national dairy herd?

Hon NATHAN GUY: Well, I am a farmer, and a dairy farmer at that, but I do not think it is in the interests of the House for me to determine whether the number of dairy cows should be 6 million, 6.5 million—and let us not forget that in springtime cows have calves, so the overall herd size increases.

Eugenie Sage: Does he agree with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that “dairy farming is the land use that has continued to expand rapidly, and so is largely the cause of increased nutrient stress on waterways.”; if so, why is his Government not finding ways to limit new dairy conversions or bigger, more polluting herds?

Hon NATHAN GUY: I have seen that report. In fact, in the last couple of months I have seen many reports highlighting water quality issues that we all face in New Zealand. A lot of these reports summarise the fact that we have got urbanisation, we have got industrial growth, and we have got agriculture growth. It is pointless playing the blame game; every sector needs to improve, and the dairy industry is doing that.

Eugenie Sage: Given that dairy farming is responsible for the increased nutrient stress, what provisions in his Government’s Clean Water package will stop dairy cow numbers increasing if milk solid payouts increase?

Hon NATHAN GUY: Regional councils determine land use change in New Zealand. Often when there is a consent, they put conditions on that particular consent. It is not up to the Government to determine the number of dairy cows in New Zealand, because it actually has to be decided catchment by catchment. The best information at hand comes from the regional councils—the member should know that.

Eugenie Sage: Does he believe that regional councils should limit dairy cow numbers in some catchments?

Hon NATHAN GUY: If the member listened to an answer that the Minister for the Environment gave earlier this week, he talked about restrictions on—I think it was—18 catchments, so they are already doing that.

Hon Damien O’Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave of the House to ask the Minister about a serious biosecurity incursion that has just been announced by the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Mr SPEAKER: No, that is not a legitimate point of order. There is a process for an urgent question. The member should refer to Standing Orders. Prisoners—Secure Online Learning

10. TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Corrections: What recent announcement has she made regarding online learning for prisoners?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister of Corrections): The Department of Corrections has completed a programme to equip all prisons with secure online learning suites that allow prisoners access to online learning tools. The suites give prison-based learners access to secure computer suites and online tools that allow them to engage in education, life skills, employment, and reintegration-focused training. The secure online learning pilot was introduced in August 2015 and has been progressively implemented across the Corrections estate. The project has proven successful, with around 1,200 learners using the suites last year alone. Our aim is to have 1,600 learners by June this year.

Todd Barclay: How will secure online learning assist with the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: Secure online learning gives prisoners greater access to valuable education resources such as literacy, numeracy, and digital skills, as well as NCEA, trades qualifications, Te Reo Māori, driver’s licence theory, and careers guidance. These education options improve offenders’ rehabilitation by targeting some of the underlying reasons for their offending. They also assist with reintegration by giving prisoners valuable qualifications and improving their job prospects, thereby reducing their likelihood of reoffending. Online learning appeals to many people who have had difficulties engaging in traditional educational methods, and is especially appealing to the younger prison population.

Todd Barclay: What updates can she provide on other Government investments in educational programmes for offenders?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: Education is critical to prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration, and in motivating them to make a positive change in their lives. However, nearly 65 percent of prisoners are below NCEA level 1 literacy and numeracy, meaning that they often cannot cope with the demands of everyday life and work. We have an ambitious programme to turn this around, with initiatives like the Yard Project in Christchurch—a partnership between Corrections and Housing New Zealand—which has seen offenders refurbish 50 social houses, and has provided them with qualifications and skills for employment, as well as contributing to the rebuilding of Canterbury. Offenders spent more the 90,000 hours last year learning work and living skills as part of community work sentences. And a pilot programme in the South Island helped 450 young offenders to gain a full driver’s licence. In the 2015-16 year over 4,600 offenders achieved qualifications. Youth Unemployment—Social Investment Approach

11. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: Does he stand by the Government’s “social investment” approach when the number of 15- to 19-year-old youth not in employment, education, or training increased in the last quarter by over 3,000 young people to be at its highest level since 2011?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Yes. The social investment is about tackling some of our most challenging social issues—intervening early to help the most at-risk New Zealanders to lead better lives, become more independent, and cost taxpayers less in the long run. While the member has found one of the few age groups that did not progress in the latest statistics, I would point out to the member that when looking at the rate of young people in the 15 to 24 age bracket not in employment, education, or training in yesterday’s survey, the number actually fell. That means we have 4,000 more young people participating in the economy or building their skills.

Darroch Ball: Bearing in mind Steven Joyce’s earlier answer, does he agree with the Prime Minister’s answer, when asked why increasing numbers of young Kiwis are unemployed, not in education, or training—up 19 percent under National—that “It’s a bit of a puzzle.”?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: Yes, I tend to agree with the Prime Minister. But I think you will find that there are a number of issues for why people are not in employment. The best thing that any Government can do is create the environment for a strong, vibrant economy that is producing jobs. That is what we saw yesterday in the paper, where we saw that 137,000 jobs were created in this economy last year. That is great news for the young people of New Zealand.

Darroch Ball: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that the “challenge is just finding them.”, admitting that over the last 8 years the National Government has invested in young people it could not even find?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: I think what the Prime Minister was referring to is that a number of people that we classify as “neets”—young people not in education, employment, or training—are just taking some time off. They are young people who are going about spending time looking after family members or having some fun. Like I say, the most important thing that we can do is make sure that there is a strong economy so that when they are ready to join the workforce, they can. Mental Health and Addiction Services—Access and Funding

12. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Health: How many more New Zealanders are accessing mental health and addiction services now than in 2007/08, expressed as a percentage increase; and what is the corresponding percentage growth in funding for mental health and addiction services over the same time period?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): People now access mental health services via a wide range of channels, from online advice and self-help support, to telehealth services, to visiting their GPs or NGO services, through to accessing secondary care services. Therefore, it is not possible to specifically quantify the total numbers or percentage increase in the way that the member asks for. However, I am able to assure him that funding for mental health has grown faster than population growth and inflation under this Government. At the same time, more New Zealanders are accessing more services faster than under the previous Government.

Dr David Clark: Can he confirm that his quality initiative announcement today amounts to a review that is not called a review, that district health boards are being asked to fund themselves with a review of the review in 3 years’ time?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I am glad the member draws attention to the speech that I gave today. The quality initiative that we have announced is all about making sure that we continue to improve and increase the quality of mental health services. It is about less use of seclusion. It is about consistent use of prescribing around the country. It is about adequate response to adverse events and continuing to increase service access for all New Zealanders.

Dr David Clark: Why did he not have funding for mental health services approved for Budget through the regular budget process that started last year, when there were widespread stories of psychiatric unit bed closures, thousands of Kiwi kids waiting more than 8 weeks for treatment, and the highest number of suicides recorded since 2007-2008?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That member would have no idea of the discussions that Cabinet has had on the subject.

Dr David Clark: In light of his speech today that he would be seeking funding for mental health and addiction services and initiatives over the final weeks before Budget day, why did he not do this earlier?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, look, I know the member is a fool of a defrocked priest, but he has no idea what I have done earlier. [Interruption]

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. (1) He has got his religion wrong; (2) Dr Clark is not a defrocked priest; and (3) he is wrong to respond in that manner at question time. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to ask the Minister to stand and withdraw that comment.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: I withdraw and apologise. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I expect far better behaviour, particularly from a senior whip.

Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was about seeking funding in the final weeks before Budget day. Is the Minister saying that that is not how the process has happened—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. Order! The member will resume his seat. Because of the answer that was given and because it is now some time since we had the question, I am going to invite the member to ask the question again.

Dr David Clark: In light of his speech today that he would be seeking funding for mental health and addiction services and initiatives over the final weeks before Budget day, why did he not do this earlier?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I do not think the member should misquote my speech, and the other point is he does not know what I have done earlier and what discussions the Cabinet has had. The other point I would raise is Dr Clark’s quote in Critic just last week where he says “decent high quality healthcare should be above party politics”. I mean, I am surprised Dr Clark would say one thing to Critic and another to the House. And as I have said, I know he is a fool, but this really is remarkable.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! We are not going there.

Dr David Clark: So does he now deny that his announcement a few weeks out from the Budget that he will take a paper to Cabinet “shortly” amounts to the political equivalent of “The dog ate my homework.”?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As I said, I know that the member is a fool but, no, I do not agree with him. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Labour caucus has used all of its supplementary questions. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Mr Coleman.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Dr Coleman.

Mr SPEAKER: Dr Coleman. [Interruption] The honourable Dr Coleman—but it gives you no more right to interject across the House when I am on my feet.

ENDS

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