Questions And Answers Feb 15

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

WEDNESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2012

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Ministers—Confidence

1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

David Shearer: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister for Land Information and the Associate Minister of Finance, given that the decision to sell the Crafar farms to Shanghai Pengxin has just been set aside in the High Court?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is important to understand the role of Ministers, which is to follow the law and the interpretation of the law. All I can say at this point is that the interpretation given to the Overseas Investment Office by its own internal counsel of the way that it would interpret the law is clearly different from the way the judge sees things.

David Shearer: Given the court’s decision today, does he have confidence in his own judgment, given that he said: “The law would not have allowed us to reverse the decision made by the Overseas Investment Office.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely, because the law states, as was the recommendation from the Overseas Investment Office, that sections 16 and 18 of the Overseas Investment Act need to be complied with. It was the belief of the Overseas Investment Office that sections 16 and 18 were complied with, and, indeed, they may still be complied with. What will now happen is that the Overseas Investment Office will need to go back and have a look at the application and decide whether it meets the criteria as prescribed by the judgment today from the judge. That may still stand.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister how he could possibly say that the two Ministers concerned in fact interpreted the law correctly when—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is Richwhite your mate now?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, he never was. He is your mate, and a crook one at that.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You heard what he said.

Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet, and the member will cease interjecting. It is not uncommon for members to interject—and that was a very mild interjection—but members asking questions should not have to react like that. This is question time. The question being directed to the Prime Minister is important. Let us hear the supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he say that these two Minsters interpreted the law correctly when a court of law with a legal background says they have not, and that is the reason why it has been set aside, or does he know more than the judge at court as well?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is important to understand the process here, which is—

Hon David Parker: A pity the Minister didn’t.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Actually, since 2005 Ministers from the Labour Government have relied on the Overseas Investment Office’s interpretation of the law and the way it has been prescribed. Now, it is not unusual for judges to have a different view from internal counsel, and in this particular case they have done that. But I will add that those Ministers relied for a very long time on the same view from the Overseas Investment Office.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Leader of the Opposition, I say that this obviously is an issue of considerable public interest. I want to hear the Prime Minister’s answers, even if the Labour front bench does not want to hear them.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I cannot imagine what the point of order might be.

Hon David Parker: Well, wait to hear it, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I am listening.

Hon David Parker: Thank you. The Prime Minister made a reference to me, alleging that my conduct had been illegal—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard sufficient. The member will resume his seat.

Hon David Parker: He does not—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat right now. The interjections from the Labour front bench started long before that—started long before that. The matter is serious. I think they should show courtesy to their own leader, because I want to hear the answers to his questions.

David Shearer: How can he express confidence in his Ministers when the judge ruled in paragraph 44 that the Ministers “misdirected themselves in law …”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not read the full judgment, but that will be on the basis of the fact that they relied on the interpretation of law as they understood it, as Ministers in a Labour Government did as well. It is the same advice, and it is the same opinion that has applied ever since the Act has been there—since 2005. It is not unusual in New Zealand for judges to have a different interpretation from a body like the Overseas Investment Office. All the decisions made by Labour in the past on recommendations by the Overseas Investment Office relied on the same legal interpretation from the Overseas Investment Office.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister now accept that his and his Government’s assertions that there was no other decision possible no longer stands up to scrutiny, and it may be entirely possible that another decision was possible?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, because if one looks at the advice from the Overseas Investment Office, one sees that it makes it quite clear that Ministers need to follow the law, and interpret whether sections 16 and 18 of the Act have been followed. If they have been followed, Ministers would have to put up a reason why they believe—if they have a counter view—that those conditions were not met. Ministers no had reason to believe that those conditions had not been met.

David Shearer: How he can express confidence in these Ministers when the judge ruled in paragraph 38 that the Ministers ignored “clear evidence that the benefit will accrue anyway, should the land remain in … New Zealand ownership.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Overseas Investment Office applied a test in relation to benefits that asked whether there were benefits. The judge is now saying there is a new interpretation about the counterfactual of additional benefits. That is not the way the law was interpreted for all the advice provided to David Parker when he was the Minister in the gun.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How did the Prime Minister arrive at the view that his two Ministers had no discretion at all to exercise, and were required to merely endorse the view of the Overseas Investment Office?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It may come as a novelty, but they need to follow the law, and the law states in sections 16 and 18 that if they want to have a different opinion, they—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Prime Minister. The Rt Hon Winston Peters asked a perfectly reasonable question. I do not know whether he could hear the answer, but I struggled to hear the answer, again because of the interjections on my left. That is not reasonable.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Overseas Investment Office made it quite clear in the correspondence to the Ministers that they are required to follow sections 16 and 18 of the law. They are quite entitled to change their opinions from the opinion offered by the Overseas Investment Office, but they need to give reasons why. In the opinion of the law as it was interpreted, there were no reasons.

David Shearer: How can he express confidence in these Ministers when the judge ruled in paragraph 57 that the error was “not a mere technicality.” and that “the economic benefits cause by the overseas investment were materially overstated …”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is the opinion of the judge. That would have to go back— [Interruption]. Just before everyone gets a little bit excited here, I say that the process will be that the Overseas Investment Office will have to go back and reconsider the application in light of the new ruling by the judge. It is eminently possible that the Overseas Investment Office will come up with exactly the same recommendations, and Ministers will continue to accept them.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept that the law as it exists today, following this judgment, means that the Government has to consider New Zealand buyers of New Zealand land and the benefits that they will bring, not just the benefits that come from overseas buyers, or, to put it in colloquial language, that New Zealanders should get a fair go?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not in a position to offer advice on that, because I have not had advice from Crown Law, although it is my expectation we will get advice from both Crown Law and the Overseas Investment Office this afternoon. But what it is fair, I think, to characterise in these high-level terms is that the previous test, as understood and applied by the Overseas Investment Office right from 2005 when Labour wrote the law and was the Government, was whether there were benefits. The judge is now saying that the counterfactual has to be considered— whether there are greater benefits. That is a different test.

David Shearer: In light of today’s High Court decision, does he now accept that blaming the New Zealand – China free-trade agreement and the fact that Ministers had no discretion was plain and simply wrong?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, Ministers need to follow the law, just in the same way that Labour Government Ministers followed the recommendations that came from the Overseas Investment Office. If they want to change that, they have to come up with reasons why. And if in a period of time the Overseas Investment Office comes back with the new recommendation to accept the bid— and let us argue for the moment that Ministers then accept that recommendation—that will be the correct interpretation of the law, unless they can come up with another reason. If it is wrong, it will have to be judicially reviewed.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept that his Ministers will now have to apply the law as interpreted by the New Zealand judiciary, and that that interpretation means they must look at the benefits that New Zealand buyers of this land could bring to New Zealand, and compare the benefits that New Zealand buyers can bring with those of overseas investors—that that has to be the test that they apply to give New Zealanders a fair go?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is exactly the point. The point is that Ministers apply the law as it is understood. The previous understanding, as was developed through the courts, was exactly the one that the Overseas Investment Office applied. We now have new jurisprudence, and you are quite right that both the Overseas Investment Office and the Ministers will now have to consider this ruling, unless the Crown wanted to appeal the decision, which I understand is extremely unlikely, in which case, yes, they will have to go and consider the new benefits test as described and prescribed by the courts this afternoon.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in two Ministers who at the first hurdle, where they were required to make a decision on the law clearly, as the court has so

kindly pointed out to them, were incapable of understanding the law? How can he have confidence in those two Ministers now?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is just completely and factually incorrect. The interpretation of the Overseas Investment Act is one prescribed by the Overseas Investment Office. It is not for Ministers to rewrite the law’s interpretation by the Overseas Investment Office.

David Shearer: I seek leave to table the decision by Justice Miller setting aside the Crafar farms decision, dated today.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Capital Projects—Investment by Businesses

2. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister for Economic Development: What evidence has he seen of businesses having the confidence to invest in large capital projects in New Zealand?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I have seen three examples, in just the last few weeks, of businesses confidently expanding their operations in this country, to the benefit of New Zealanders. Last month Methanex announced it would increase methanol production in Taranaki, requiring a combined capital investment with Todd Energy of up to $860 million over 10 years and creating up to 500 construction and gasfield jobs. In the Hawke’s Bay, Heinz is returning the manufacture of the iconic Wattie’s tomato sauce from Australia to New Zealand, and increasing production in its Hastings plant by 30,000 tonnes per year or about 10 percent. And just this morning I attended the construction start of a new $70-million gas plant to supply New Zealand Steel that will create 120 jobs over the next 2 years.

Todd McClay: What are these and other companies saying about the Government’s role in their investments?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: These investments underscore what I hear personally from businesses like Methanex and New Zealand Steel. They value a Government that provides an internationally competitive regulatory environment, giving them the confidence to invest significant amounts in new capital projects in this country. It reinforces the Government’s focus on providing a strong platform for competitive, productive New Zealand – based businesses to trade and succeed in the world today.

Todd McClay: What policies would deter business investment like this?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The policies would be the reverse, of course: ones that do not create, or actually worsen, the competitive nature of the regulatory environment—for example, introducing new taxes on productive capital, like businesses and farms. A more expensive emissions trading scheme would be another example of that; a return to 1970s-style labour relations would perhaps be another example—and introducing regional fuel taxes. That is to name just a few. All those examples would put a handbrake on the sort of business growth that we have seen today, and are policies advocated by the members opposite.

Election Advertising—Prime Minister’s Radio Live Show

3. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all the answers he gave to oral question No. 6 yesterday?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Grant Robertson: When did he first learn that his communications manager had drafted an email for Radio Live to send to the Electoral Commission, and had rewritten the brief for the Prime Minister’s hour show drafted by Radio Live?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I answered the first part of the question at question No. 6 in question time yesterday, and in answer to the second part of the question, he did not rewrite it. He made a minor technical tweak.

Grant Robertson: When did he first learn that his communications manager had said, after receiving the Electoral Commission opinion on the show, that “… they have been pretty clear about putting the responsibility on the broadcaster, which is useful.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: At question No. 6 in question time yesterday.

Grant Robertson: Is he seriously asking New Zealanders to believe that he undertook the Prime Minister’s hour show without any knowledge of whether he might break the law?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is missing the point—that is, the purpose of the broadcaster getting an opinion from the Electoral Commission on whether it broke the law. I am not in any doubt that I have not broken the law.

Grant Robertson: Does he still think this is “a matter between the Electoral Commission and the broadcaster” given the extent of involvement of he and his office in selecting the guests for the show, rewriting the brief for the show, and drafting an email for Radio Live to send to the Electoral Commission, or is he just hoping New Zealanders might not know these facts?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely I am convinced it is a matter between the broadcaster. There was a tweak to the application to the Electoral Commission, primarily because when Radio Live wrote it, it actually stated the Electoral Finance Act, which you may know the previous Government repealed, on 29 September. With all of the emails that the member got yesterday, he forgot to mention it sent my office all the scripts I was meant to read out. The facts of life are that this was a gig for Radio Live, it asked me to go on, and the reason the Labour Party is so grumpy is not that it thinks it is a breach but that Radio Live would not give its former guy a go. If Labour thought it was so illegal, why was it begging, on hands and knees, for Radio Live to give Phil Goff a show?

Grant Robertson: Why did the Prime Minister not come to the House and correct the answers he gave yesterday as soon as he found out that they were not correct, in line with Speaker’s Ruling 179/3?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My answers were absolutely correct yesterday—

Chris Hipkins: Just say sorry!

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What would be nicer would be if they said sorry for 9 years of economic mismanagement. [Interruption] If they want to say sorry, they could add to that the fact that the country has had negative exports for years.

Mr SPEAKER: I would ask the Prime Minister to come to the point he is trying to make in response to questioning. I think we have had enough of the other stuff.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the questions I was asked yesterday by the member, I said “Not to the best of my knowledge.” That is absolutely correct. I was not even aware these emails existed until I heard about them yesterday.

Children, State Care—Protection

4. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister for Social

Development: E pēhea te Minita e mōhio ai kei te piki te ora o ngā tamariki i roto i ngā ringaringa o Child, Youth and Family? [How will she ensure that children are not made more vulnerable than when they went into the care of Child, Youth and Family?]

Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Associate Minister of Social Development) on behalf of the

Minister for Social Development: The Government has been working hard to address how we better care for children who come into the care of Child, Youth and Family. Just one example is this Government’s commitment of $43.7 million to the children in care package, which requires psychiatric, educational, social, and medical needs assessment, so that children in its care with

unmet needs receive tailor-made care and are not treated like a commodity. We will be making further decisions as part of the green paper and white paper process.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora, Mr Speaker. What does it say about Child, Youth and Family that a response to the green paper from one of the children living at a Child, Youth and Family home was: “We shouldn’t have Child, Youth and Family. The police turn into CYF. CYF is the same as the police, with residences instead of cells. CYF are supposed to help me change but they don’t. CYF should keep families together.”?

Hon CHESTER BORROWS: The Government welcomes their feedback. It is an important part of the green paper process, and these people are at the coalface of engagement with Child, Youth and Family. But I believe that the context is also important. Most of these young people either have been sent to a youth justice residence by a judge, having broken the law, and it would not surprise anyone that they do not always view authority fondly, or are in need of care and protection because they have been abused and neglected by those people who are supposed to love them. These residences house the hardest, most traumatised and neglected young people, so the report will reflect that.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Do the responses from children in the care of Child, Youth and Family to the green paper, such as “Child, Youth and Family not just to walk in and take you away from your family.”, and “Not getting Child, Youth and Family involved, they take us from family.”, point to a need for a more whānau-based approach to looking after vulnerable children, an approach like Whānau Ora?

Hon CHESTER BORROWS: We know that a high number of Māori children are in whānaubased care. About 60 percent of Māori children within Child, Youth and Family care are with their whānau. We have got to remember that this is about what is in the best interests of the child, and this is a subject area that is part of the green paper discussion process. So we look forward to members of the public, especially those who have a history of engaging with Child, Youth and Family, making their submissions by the close of the discussion paper at the end of the month.

Jacinda Ardern: Does the green paper address the root causes of the vulnerability of children when it dismisses the role of poverty, stating that “Research shows that poverty in itself does not determine life outcomes.”, given the priorities identified by children themselves included the basics of food, a bed, shelter, heat, and clean clothes?

Hon CHESTER BORROWS: The green paper does not reject child poverty as a cause for engagement with Child, Youth and Family. We look forward to everyone engaging with this process and bringing his or her submissions to the table, including submissions around child poverty.

Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister assure the public that all submissions to the green paper will be considered, when a draft white paper is already being circulated by the ministry?

Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Yes.

Government Financial Position—Current Account Balance Forecast

5. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What is Treasury’s projection for New Zealand’s current account balance for the next four years?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: As a percentage of GDP the forecast current account deficit is 3.6, 5.4, 6.4, and 6.9 percent for each of the March years 2013 to 2016. The main contribution to this is a short to medium term lift in imports due to the Canterbury rebuild. This impact is expected to make up almost a third of the forecast current account deficit in the year to March 2016. Other factors include a Treasury expectation that export prices will come off record highs, a forecast increase in business investment, and an increase in consumer confidence. It is worth nothing that even a 2016 forecast deficit currently would remain significantly lower than the 8.9 percent peak it hit in 2008.

Hon David Parker: Does the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update in fact show that, even excluding the Canterbury rebuild, the current account deficit will increase to 5.2 percent of GDP, or $13 billion, in 2016?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said in the answer to the primary question, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update does predict the deficit to increase for a number of reasons, and the Canterbury rebuild is the biggest but not the only one, although I must say that it is reasonably amusing to suggest that suddenly Mr Parker is much more focused on the Treasury predictions today after bagging the Treasury predictions yesterday.

Hon David Parker: In other words, is the Minister confirming that under the National Government’s economic settings, Treasury projects that the current account deficit will get worse every year of the forecast period, rising to $17 billion in 2016?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In relative terms, that is Treasury’s prediction. The Government is actually more optimistic than that. But the member makes the mistake of starting from a very low position. This Government has actually contributed to improving it from the very bad position that the previous Government left it in. Between 2005 and 2008 the current account deficit averaged more than 8 percent of GDP each year as Government spending grew out of control, consumers went on a borrowing binge, and the productive parts of the economy were squeezed out by red tape and new costs. It has now got down to less than 2 percent in 2010, and it is expected to rise back from that as a result of the factors I mentioned in the primary answer.

Simon Bridges: What reports has he seen on the current account balance?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I alluded to in the previous answer, the balance of payments has undergone a dramatic improvement in recent years, falling to less than 2 percent in 2010 before rising slightly to its current level of around 4 percent. This is mainly because New Zealanders have started saving more and borrowing less. It is also as a result of improved economic policies, particularly around red tape and not adding new costs to business. Of course, we know that that is what happened to the export sector under the previous Government, when the internationally competitive parts of our economy went into recession in 2005 because of the policies of that Government, and we have been in the process of reversing them.

Hon David Parker: Can the Minister confirm that the growing current account deficit will be paid for by a combination of New Zealand borrowing more money from overseas and the sale of more New Zealand – owned assets to foreign buyers?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The answer to the second part of the question is no; the answer to the first part of the question is interesting, because actually, again, we have a situation where New Zealand’s net international liabilities have dropped significantly since this Government has come into office. They dropped to 69 percent in the year to March 2011. They peaked at 85 percent of GDP in March 2009, just after Labour left office and ahead of National’s first Budget. So we have improved the net international liabilities position. Treasury has some predictions going out that suggest it will come back up a bit, but it is nothing like what happened under the previous Labour Government, which that member was part of.

Hon David Parker: If the growing current account deficit will not be paid for by a combination of more borrowing from overseas and the sale of New Zealand – owned assets, how will it be paid for?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The current account deficit and the international liabilities position are two of the things that will be impacted by improved savings by New Zealanders, which I am pleased to see has occurred. That means that you can have—

Hon David Parker: That doesn’t help pay for the current account deficit.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the savings of New Zealanders are very important in terms of New Zealand’s net international liabilities, and also the export performance of New Zealand businesses. And in answer to an earlier question today, I pointed out that the investment by

companies in New Zealand investments that are going to grow exports is picking up as a result of this Government’s interventions.

Mr SPEAKER: In fairness, before I go to the next question, the member did ask how the current account deficit would be funded after the outcomes of savings and exports. That question is perfectly capable of being answered, because the Government must have some idea of how it plans to fund the current account deficit. And I believe that the House does deserve the answer.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The point I was making was that the Government does not accept that Treasury’s projections in this matter are final, and the Government is working hard to improve the export performance of the New Zealand economy so that the current account balance does not go out to the extent that Treasury’s projections expect.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Forgive me, but it would be a miracle in my time if the Government succeeded in turning round projections from 6 percent of GDP to zero percent of GDP. Therefore, a current account deficit does have to be financed. I believe the member deserves that part of the question answered. The question was very simple and very clear. It contained no accusations about bad policy or anything like that. It just asked how it was to be financed. The Minister described how the Government plans to try to minimise the current account deficit, and that is fine, but that is not actually what the question asked.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Obviously, to the extent that it is not met—in other words, the foreign accounts are not in balance—then international liabilities do rise and that is the point I suspect the member was making. The point that I was making was we did not necessarily accept that those projections, as provided by Treasury, are likely to occur, particularly if we improve the settings around the export sector of the New Zealand economy. That was the point I was making, and I think it is an entirely fair point in the context of the current account balance and the international liabilities.

Hon David Cunliffe: Is this a point of order or a speech?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I was responding to the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.

Simon Bridges: What steps has the Government taken to rebalance the economy towards savings and exports?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government has taken several steps to rebalance the economy towards savings, investment, and exports. As the member knows, we reformed the tax system, increasing taxes on consumption and property investment, while lowering the tax rates on working and saving. We have set a faster return to surplus in 2014-15—one of the most important contributions the Government can make to lifting national savings and one that the Opposition rejects. We have kept a lid on the costs of doing business, by getting on top of fast-rising costs like ACC costs, which are due to reduce in the next couple of months, and we are providing investment opportunities through the mixed-ownership model, which will help Kiwi investors diversify their growing pool of savings away from property and finance companies. It is just a pity that Opposition members do not sometimes listen to orthodox economic policies that balance the—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was from the Minister’s own colleague. He does not need to bring the Opposition into that.

Early Childhood Education—2011 Enrolments

6. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: What reports has she received about early childhood education enrolments in 2011?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe. I am pleased to inform the House that I have received the latest official figures, which show that early childhood education enrolment rates were up 3 percent in 2011 when compared with 2010. The figures also show that the number of children who start school having attended early childhood education is also moving in the right direction, reaching 94.7 percent in 2011.

Nikki Kaye: What is her target for early childhood education participation?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: This Government understands that quality early childhood education is hugely beneficial. This is why we have a target of 98 percent participation by 2015. We are working to ensure that all kids are enrolling. We are investing $91.8 million to increase participation in communities of low enrolment, such as in South Auckland, and we are also spending record amounts on early childhood education—$1.5 billion in the last Budget.

Syria, Internal Conflict—Involvement of New Zealand Armed Forces

7. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Will he give an assurance that New Zealand’s armed forces will not be used in any possible military intervention in Syria in violation of the United Nations Charter?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister of

Foreign Affairs: Yes.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Is he then, in that case, in a position to confirm that the Government does not support external military involvement in Syria unless it responds to a United Nations Security Council resolution authorising it—that is to say, no coalition of the willing is legal without that mandate?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: New Zealand always follows the United Nations Security Council resolutions, so we would not be doing anything in violation of that.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Will New Zealand condemn military intervention in Syria under the responsibility to protect principle without a council resolution, given that major powers such as Russia and China would then be free to do precisely the same thing, including in the Asia-Pacific region?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, that is a hypothetical situation, so we will see what happens.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Will he then confirm that New Zealand is bound by the outcome resolution of the World Summit of the UN General Assembly in 2005 that any intervention under responsibility to protect is legal only when it is authorised by Security Council resolution?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I am not familiar with that resolution, but we do follow international law.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Does it mean—just to be clear—that New Zealand will never commit its armed forces to military action without a Security Council resolution authorising it?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That is what I said at the start.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Should New Zealand impose economic sanctions or leadership sanctions against Syria, as has been done by the Arab League, the EU, and the US?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Should we oppose economic sanctions? Well, look, Mr McCully has made it New Zealand’s—

Mr SPEAKER: It seems there may have been a misunderstanding here, and it is not the Minister’s fault. I invite Dr Kennedy Graham to clarify.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Impose.

Mr SPEAKER: Impose economic sanctions?

Dr Kennedy Graham: Impose sanctions.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: We are not in a position to impose economic sanctions, because we do not actually have any trade with Syria.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Will he call upon the Syrian Government to release the 37,000 or so civilians who have been detained in prison since the unrest began, as a move towards the kind of reconciliation the UN Secretary-General and High Commissioner for Human Rights are appealing for?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I am pretty sure we have already done that.

Labour Costs—Local Government Compared with Central Government and Public Sector

8. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Local

Government: What reports, if any, has he received on labour costs in the local government sector as compared to central government and the private sector?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Local Government): The reports are that labour costs in the local government sector, according to Statistics New Zealand, grew by 7.6 percent. This is about double the 3.9 percent in the central government sector, and also exceeds increases in the private sector over the first term of this Government. In the previous term, from 2005 to 2008, labour costs in both central and local government were rising considerably faster than in the private sector. The Government has been successful in its endeavours to pull back labour costs in the central government sector, but these latest reports show that local government costs are out of step and rising too quickly.

Nicky Wagner: Are there any differences in the tools available to central government as compared with local government in managing labour costs?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, there are. Cabinet has the capacity to set overall policy on the levels of remuneration and staff numbers across the State sector. These tools have been used to get these costs back under control after the excessive growth that occurred prior to 2008. Mayors and councillors currently do not have such tools available to them, and this makes it more difficult for them to manage labour costs and their impact on rate increases. The Government is exploring whether the councils need more tools to better manage these costs, as part of a broader programme of local government reform to reduce pressure on rates.

Corrections, Department—Confidence

9. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections: Does she have confidence in her Chief Executive and his staff?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Corrections): Yes, but there is always room for improvement.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Minister have confidence in her chief executive, who authorised the payment of $50,000 to merely alter the font and colour of 42 Department of Corrections’ signs when the wording remained the same?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not have details of that. If the member would like to put it in writing to me, I will get him the answers.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Minister has not got details of that, why was she writing a letter complaining of this very matter on 26 January 2012—a two-page letter signed by her as Minister of Corrections and excusing her predecessor’s waywardness when it came to expenditure?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: What I said in answer to the second supplementary question was that I did not have details of that case here in front of me. How could I possibly, given the primary question? But if the member likes to put something down in writing to me, I will get him an answer.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table a letter dated 26 January 2012 that the Minister wrote— less than, what, 2 or 3 weeks ago, and signed by her—as evidence that she knows all about this issue.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The rest of the point of order was fine. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Charles Chauvel: Is it correct that there have been several cases recently of corrections staff improperly accessing computerised offender records, but in most cases no disciplinary action has been taken against the staff concerned; if so, how will she be making it clear to her department that it needs to take security of offender information more seriously?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I understand that that member’s assertions as to the actions of a couple of staff are correct. However, the assertions regarding the actions taken by the chief executive are incorrect. I have absolute confidence in the chief executive to ensure that employment matters are dealt with.

Fines, Collection—Improvements

10. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister for Courts: What initiatives are underway to assist court staff to improve the collection of outstanding fines?

Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): On Monday the credit check of fines initiative went live. The Government is determined to strengthen fines as a credible sanction and hold offenders to account for these actions. From now on when a person applies for credit, such as for a power account or to buy a TV on hire purchase, the retailer will be able to access details about overdue fines as part of their credit history. This is a strong incentive for people with overdue fines to pay them.

Dr Jackie Blue: How will the new initiative work, and whom will it target?

Hon CHESTER BORROWS: A credit check of fines targets people who are able to pay their fines but do not, whether negligently or wilfully. Not paying fines is unfair on those people who do pay their fines in a timely manner, and fines will not show up in a credit record check if they have been paid or if the person has made an arrangement to pay over time.

NZ On Air Board—Potential Conflicts of Interest

11. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What advice and reports, if any, has he received about the Rt Hon John Key’s electorate chair Stephen McElrea’s potential conflict of interest in his role as a board member of New Zealand On Air?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Broadcasting): None.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister in the House has received reports that point to that conflict, and there have been documents tabled in the House that indicate—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Forgive me, but this is not a point of order. The member may be surprised by the Minister’s answer; that is his right to—whatever. But his colleague asked a question, the Minister gave a very clear answer to it, and no point of order can dispute that.

Clare Curran: When and from whom did he first receive reports that Mr McElrea was working with a MediaWorks staff member making decisions about individual documentaries?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I became aware of that from media reports, or maybe something from the member, a few weeks ago.

Clare Curran: What role did Mr McElrea play in selecting the production company for the Whānau Ora programme?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: The various working groups for New Zealand On Air work as they have done now for about 15 years, and all decisions of those various groups that decide such matters are, I understand, always unanimous.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question not about the working group that involved MediaWorks but about the selection of MediaWorks to be involved in the documentary. The Minister I think understands—

Mr SPEAKER: No, we do not go down that track. In order to save time I invite Clare Curran to repeat her question so that there can be no misunderstanding.

Clare Curran: What role did Mr McElrea play in selecting the production company for the Whānau Ora programme?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I do not know of that. It was part of the working group process that has been going on with New Zealand On Air for quite some time. I do not know the answer to the specifics of that question, and I do not get involved in operational matters of the board.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Once again we have a Minister saying he does not know what the process is, but it is the same as it has always been—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Ministers answer in this House, and members must take their word, unless, of course, they can subsequently produce evidence that they were wrong. But what the Minister just said was he did not know what role the particular gentleman, Stephen McElrea, had played in the selection of the production company. That was a very clear answer to the previous supplementary question, and we have to take the Minister’s word on that. We cannot dispute it by way of point of order. It has nothing to do with the order of the House. The Minister has answered the question and he must be accountable for his answer. Members have got the chance to dig further into it, either through further supplementary questions or in the future, and Ministers have to be accountable for their answers.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That would have been absolutely right if the Minister had not then gone on to say that the process is the same as it has always been. It is not possible for him to say both he does not know and the process is the same as it has always been.

Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure I need help on this, because the answer is perfectly possible— that, in fact, he does not have specific information about the role any particular person played, yet he has been advised that the process is the same as the one that has been adopted for years. There is nothing in conflict about the Minister’s answer in that regard.

Clare Curran: Is he aware of the working title of the fourth documentary in this series, the title of which has hitherto been withheld; if so, what is it?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have no idea what the title of that particular programme is. I do not get involved in operational matters of the board.

Clare Curran: Has he received an assurance from either the Prime Minister or Mr McElrea that none of the New Zealand On Air matters that Mr McElrea has been involved in have been shared with either the Prime Minister or his office?

Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have sought discussions with the chair of the board, and he has full confidence in the board. I have not sought any other communications along those lines from anybody else.

Online Government Services—Log-on and Identity Verification Services

12. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What announcements has she made regarding the igovt scheme, and making it easier for people to verify their identities to government agencies?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Internal Affairs): Last week the Electronic Identity Verification Bill had its first reading in the House. The bill will give New Zealanders the option of an easy and secure way to verify their identities to access a range of Government services. I was heartened by the extensive cross-party support for the bill’s first reading.

Chris Auchinvole: How will this service work in combination with the igovt log-on service?

Hon AMY ADAMS: The service allows people the choice of using one log-on to access secure online services across multiple Government agencies without having to repeatedly provide physical documents time and again. Under igovt, the process will be streamlined while ensuring appropriate safeguards remain in place.

ENDS

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