Election 2014 - FACT or FICTION?

10:12 am on 6 September 2014

Fact, fiction or exaggeration? In the third week of examining political statements to assess whether they are fact, fiction or exaggeration we start by looking at statements the National Party leader John Key has made about trans-Tasman migration.

Fact or fiction

This column will attempt to hold New Zealand politicians to account for election promises and public statements. Photo: RNZ

Each week on this page, Radio New Zealand will be checking the claims made by political parties and their candidates against the facts.

It is an effort to hold politicians to account and ensure public statements they make during the election campaign are factual - not fiction or exaggeration.

It is unlikely that we will be able to check every claim but we will try.

If you hear claims made by politicians that make you suspicious, email us at parl@radionz.co.nz. Better still, include any documented evidence that you have proving a statement made by a politician is either wrong or exaggerated.

Include "fact or fiction" in the subject field so we know to check.

As well as uncovering fiction and exaggeration, we will also confirm when politicians have got it right.

John Key and David Cunliffe

John Key and David Cunliffe square off in the Press Leaders debate. Photo: Fairfax NZ

Last week John Key said: "This month 80 New Zealanders left for Australia... I know their names..."

Then in The Press debate this week he said under Labour 35,000 people had left for Australia each year.

"Now they are down to 80 a month."

Neither is entirely accurate. Actually 1,627 New Zealanders left for Australia in July, which are the most up-to-date figures, while 1,200 came home. So there was a net loss of New Zealanders that month of 427.

Mr Key is correct if was talking about all migrants, including people who are not NZ citizens or residents, moving both ways across the Tasman. Using those figures the net loss was 79.

And does Mr Key know their names?

"Well the names was a joke yeah. I took it you had a sense of humour but if you don't let me know," Mr Key replied.

And over the year to the end of July the net loss to Australia was 7,300 at an average of 608 a month.

John Key has also made repeated statements about the impact of Housing Accords on increasing the availability of residential land.

On Morning Report he said "Auckland Council has consented more residential land in the last nine months, than was consented in the last nine years".

Our Auckland correspondent Todd Niall investigated.

He sought clarification from Mr Key's staff, who replied "What the Prime Minister meant was, that under the Auckland Housing Accord's Special Housing Areas, more land has been re-zoned residential in the last nine months than was done in the nine years of the previous Labour Government"

But there is no data to support either claim, and the difficulty lies in the use of technical language.

The Auckland Council said it does not have figures to directly compare the rates of re-zoning land, with the period before the council was formed out of eight other bodies in 2010.

Figures supplied by the Minister Housing's office claiming 3,700ha of Auckland land has been re-zoned residential, do not reflect what is presently occurring under that city's Housing Accord.

3700ha is the area of land currently approved or accepted to be declared a Special Housing Area, thereby qualifying for fast-track resource and building consents, and in some cases where needed, fast track re-zoning to "residential".

Much of the land is still in the SHA pipeline and has not yet been consented. Some has not yet re-zoned and that can take up to six months.

As well, some of that land was already zoned residential, including blocks owned by Housing New Zealand at Hobsonville Point, and in south Auckland.

This land has always been ready to develop, but the provisions of the Housing Accord have accelerated that development.

The picture which the Prime Minister is trying to paint of accelerated housing development thanks to the Housing Accord is correct.

The attempt to statistically compare that process with the creation of new residential land between 1999 and 2008 is not.

The Government this week attacked the Green Party's policy to gradually raise the minimum wage to 18 dollars an hour by 2017, if elected to Government.

Both John Key and Minister of Labour Simon Bridges, said that 16,500 people would lose their jobs if that happened.

Liz Banas looked at their claim.

Their source was The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

But MBIE's last review of the minimum wage, done in 2013, considers several scenarios for lifting the minimum wage in the following year.

It found that a lift to $18.40 cents per hour would put a "restraint on employment" of 24,000, and National has extrapolated that for the proposed lift to $18 dollars to 16,500 losing jobs.

But restraint on employment means jobs that would NOT be created, rather than existing jobs lost.

And the report only considers what would happen if the minimum wage was to rise by just over $4 ( from the 2013 rate of $13.75 to $18.60) in one year, not over three years as the Greens proposed.

The MBIE report actually said there was little adverse impact of minimum wage increases on employment - and any big impacts would only occur when there are significant changes that increase the ratio of the minimum wage to the average wage, does it start to notably constrain employment growth.

The 2013 ordinary average wage was $27.98 an hour in 2013 according to the Quarterly Employment Survey (Quarterly Employment Survey) and that is forecast to rise by nearly three percent over the next couple of years.

We sought clarification from Simon Bridges but he has not responded to our request for more information.

In attacking John Key's decision to set up an inquiry into allegations against former Justice Minister Judith Collins, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, said Mr Key should not be make such decisions because he is in a caretaker role.

But Mr Peters is wrong about the caretaker convention. The caretaker convention only applies after the election or if an election is called because a government loses a confidence vote in Parliament.

Mr Peters is right, however, that there is an established practice - referred to in the Cabinet Manual - that governments should avoid making significant decisions, such as senior appointments, in the three months before an election.

The ACT Party claimed there have been significant reductions in violence against women over the previous four years. On the surface, looking at the statistics, that might appear to be the case.

There were 8925 recorded cases of males assaulting females in 2010 compared with 6749 in 2013.

But total family violence numbers were up from 86,763 in 2010 to 95,080 in 2013.

The New Zealand Violence Clearinghouse at Auckland University, which reports on the statistics, warns that the data is dependent on reporting and recording practices by police and cannot be used as indicators of the incidence of family violence or violence against women, nor can it be used to comment on trends.

Justice Minister talks to the media, including Radio New Zealand political reporter Craig McCulloch.

Judith Collins speaking to the media including RNZ political reporter Craig McCulloch. Photo: RNZ / Luke Appleby

Politicians are continuing to be caught out by making claims they cannot substantiate.

Justice Minister Judith Collins is one of those. Harried by reporters over the disclosures in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics, Ms Collins continued to deny she had been wrong in passing on information to her friend, rightwing blogger Cameron Slater.

She was particularly dismissive of accusations she had breached the privacy of public servant Simon Pleasants by passing on his name and contact numbers to Mr Slater. Ms Collins went further by stating Privacy Commissioner John Edwards had cleared her of the allegation, saying the information she passed on was not private.

But Mr Edwards had done no such thing. All he had done was refuse to investigate a complaint from the Green Party about the matter because Mr Pleasants himself had not complained.

The commissioner said: "The Privacy Act is fundamentally concerned with the preservation and promotion of individual autonomy. It protects the right of an individual to determine, or at least influence, the extent to which their personal information is placed into the public domain and becomes the subject of public discussion.

"That purpose would not be served if we were to investigate a complaint in a highly politicised and publicised environment that is neither on behalf of, nor supported by, the affected individual."

When this was made clear on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme, Ms Collins' office was then quick to clarify her remarks.

"The Minister interpreted from media reports that she had been cleared by the PC as he would not take a complaint from the Green Party further due to lack of personal interest. The Minister understands her interpretation was incorrect as should a complaint come directly from Mr Pleasants - the PC would consider it."

It was a strange misinterpretation from a politician who is the Minister of Justice and a lawyer.

Prime Minister John Key has also made a claim in relation to Dirty Politics. Asked about allegations that the National Party had been involved in gaining access to the Labour Party's computer system, Mr Key said this: "If the Wallabies on Tuesday night left their starting line-up on their website, their private website, would the All Blacks go and have a look. The answer's yes and the reason I know that is it's happened."

The All Blacks were surprised by the comment, with a spokesperson saying they had no idea what Mr Key was talking about.

We asked the Prime Minister's office why Mr Key was so certain the All Blacks had done what he alleged.

"The Prime Minister was actually referring to a hypothetical situation when talking about the Wallabies, but in doing so he also recalled a very similar situation late last year when the All Blacks left a hotel room door open on the tour of England and people entered the room and took down private team information from a white board," his office replied.

Mr Key has also repeatedly said the country is now earning more than we spend.

In fact the country is not earning more than it spends. The current account - the difference between what the country earns and spends overseas - is still in deficit and the Treasury expects that to get bigger.

If Mr Key meant the Government when he said it, then he has a point. But it is still based on forecasts. The Treasury is forecasting the Government's books will be in surplus at the end of this financial year on 30 June 2015. But even if that occurs it will not be a cash surplus so the Government will continue borrowing for a few years yet before it can start repaying debt.

The Maori Party's Tamaki Makaurau candidate Rangi McLean has defended his party's relationship with National saying it went to the Government's table with its own mana, its own tino rangatiratanga intact. "I know for a fact that the Maori Party has voted against the government - National's policies - more times than the Labour Party," Mr McLean said.

But in the last Parliament Labour voted 175 times against Government bills at their various stages of progress in the House while the Maori Party voted against just 90 times.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe has re-announced the party's power policy and said low income households using pre-paid electricity paid 60 percent more for their power than other households.

A check of the Consumer New Zealand site shows that pre-paid customers do pay more for their power but not 60 percent. Consumers of Contact Energy in Invercargill pay the most if they take the pre-paid option. It finds the cheapest pre-paid deal costs $4011 a year compared with $2912 for the cheapest standard deal. That means pre-paid customers are paying a bit over 30 percent more than those on standard terms, but not 60 percent.

None of the other examples on the site reveal differences as big as that.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said someone acting on behalf of a National Party MP, who was acting on behalf of Judith Collins, approached him to ask if he would do a deal with Ms Collins after the election rather than with John Key.

Ms Collins denied she or anyone acting on her behalf approached Mr Peters.

Fact or fiction? You decide.

David Cunliffe.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe has claimed more than half a million people did not go to a GP because of cost. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

In his speech at the Labour Party's launch, David Cunliffe said more than half a million people did not go to a GP because of cost, and that about a quarter of a million did not fill out their prescriptions because of the cost.

The Ministry of Health's latest health survey confirms that in 2012-13, an estimated 518,000 adults did not visit a GP because of cost and that 217,000 had an unfilled prescription because of cost.

The survey reveals the proportion of the adult population not going to a GP because of cost had risen from 13.8 percent in 2011-12 to 14.5 percent in 2012-13.

It also confirms 217,000 adults did not fill out a prescription because of cost.

Other statistics in the report reveal 184,000 children had an unmet health need for primary health care in 2012-13 due to cost, transport, childcare or not being able to make an appointment.

In Winston Peters' campaign launch speech, he said New Zealand First had raised the minimum wage faster than any other party, from $9 an hour in 2005 to $12 an hour in 2008.

That is correct to a point. But in fact the minimum wage moved to $9.50 an hour in March 2005 before New Zealand First became a support party to the Labour-led Government after the election later that year.

It then rose to $12 an hour before that government left office.

In one of its election pamphlets about the anti-smacking law, the Conservative Party said child abuse had increased 32 percent since section 59 of the Crimes Act was repealed. It also said the police had been investigating "good parents" at an average of nearly two a week.

Child abuse statistics held by Child, Youth and Family do reveal that in 2008 there were what it termed 16,290 substantiated abuse findings.

By 2013, that figure had risen to 22,984, which is more than a 30 percent increase.

But at the same time as the anti-smacking law was introduced, Child, Youth and Family also introduced changes to the way it dealt with child abuse, including running an advertising campaign encouraging people to report abuse. Since 2010, there has been virtually no change in abuse statistics.

The Conservative Party's claim on police investigations of smacking does not match the official statistics. In the worst period, from 23 December 2009 to 22 June 2010, the police attended 23 smacking incidents, just one a week.

In total, from September 2007 until June 2012 - the most recent figures held by the police - there were 140 smacking incidents which required police attention. That is the equivalent of one parent being investigated by policy every two weeks, a quite different statistic to an average of nearly two a week.

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent

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