What criteria, if any, did he establish for Ministers when they were reprioritising expenditure in their portfolios?
As we set out in the Budget, our priorities were to ensure that we protected the most vulnerable, met the Government’s pre-election commitments, brought soaring debt under control, and took the sharp edges off the recession for New Zealanders. This freed up $2 billion to invest in front-line services like hospitals and schools over the next 4 years.
Is the Minister aware that his criteria have led to funding being stopped for speech and lip-reading courses in Wellington from December 2009—courses that have helped hundreds of deaf and hearing-impaired people stay in jobs and have a quality of life? Will he face those people and tell them that it is OK for him to ask for more assistance from taxpayers for himself, but that they must accept a closure of assistance that is vital to them?
I am advised that if the member is talking about courses for the deaf that are funded through adult and community education, then she is wrong. She should get better information before she causes more concern among the deaf community.
I seek leave to table a letter from Hearing Association Wellington saying that it has been told that its funding will cease from December 2009.
Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
What are some examples of previous spending that this Government has discontinued?
In the Budget round this year we found that the previous Government had left so many loose ends and unfunded commitments that the incoming Government was able to save around $2 billion over the next 4 years with no change in front-line services.
Is the Minister aware his criteria have led to English literacy programmes for new migrants to New Zealand being cut, when these are the very programmes that help migrants settle quickly and find employment? Will he front up to our new Kiwis and tell them that his priority is to fund $400 million for big polluters of our environment and they must accept that they will miss out?
I would be happy to front up to the community the member refers to and say that the Government has committed $120 million over the next 4 years to adult and community education, and that the priorities of that funding are literacy and numeracy.
What criteria, if any, was Mrs Tolley abiding by when she cut funding to night classes, a decision that will directly result in the cancellation of New Zealand sign language courses at Mairehau High School, Taieri College, Kelston Boys High School, and Tamatea High School?
The Opposition needs to sort out the facts of the matter. This looks like one of those campaigns where Labour went around saying that would happen and then people wrote to the Government saying that they had been told that is what would happen.
Does the Minister accept that, given the magnitude of the fiscal problems we face, the solution is not simply playing around with some low-quality spending that Labour left to the Government but cutting entirely some of that spending so that eventually he can ease the tax burden that keeps New Zealand’s households poor; if so, when does he intend to start?
The member is right to identify that there is a fiscal problem on a large scale. New Zealand is looking at 10 years before it can achieve surpluses. At the moment we are borrowing $400 million a week to continue with a whole range of public services and to continue with investment and infrastructure. However, eventually that tap will have to be turned down and the money will have to be repaid with interest. That is a challenge that will take 15 to 20 years to get through.
Did the Minister provide the Minister for Tertiary Education with any advice on priorities for education funding, and did that advice prioritise funding for private schools over funding for high school - based adult and community education classes, or savings over accessible lifelong learning for people of all ages?
As the Minister has pointed out, the Government has focused on one top priority: the large number of young New Zealanders who either are losing their jobs or, when they finish training, cannot get a job. We have decided that investing in those young people to ensure that they stay connected to the world of work is a top priority, and I have not found anyone who disagrees with that.
What are other examples of previous spending that this Government has discontinued?
There have been a number of particularly useless programmes that have been stopped, but they tend to be small in scale. The biggest problems the previous Government left us were a multibillion dollar problem in the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC)—the liabilities and costs in ACC have blown out by billions of dollars—and other assets that are virtually worthless such as KiwiRail, for which the previous Government paid $1 billion.
In light of the Minister’s earlier answer, will he give an undertaking that he will come with me to talk to the Auckland Regional Migrant Services Charitable Trust to find out why cuts are being made to courses that are vital to enable new migrants to settle in the community and learn to speak and write English properly so they can find employment, and about why those courses and assistance are being cut?
As we have said, we have yet to establish whether the allegations the Opposition has made are correct. If courses are not being cut, there is no point in going.
Has the Minister seen any reports on alternative policy approaches?
Yes, I have. New Zealand is currently borrowing $400 million a week, but that has not deterred the Labour Party from promising to provide welfare for millionaires, to reverse the KiwiSaver changes, and to increase the size of the Wellington-based bureaucracy. That list of promises adds up to $6 billion on top of the very substantial increase in debt that New Zealand is already incurring.