Questions & Answers – 16 February 2017

Press Release – Office of the Clerk

1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy LeaderLabour) to the Minister of Health : Is he satisfied that the current level of investment into public health facilities and services is meeting acceptable standards and patient needs?ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Health Services—Funding Levels

1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied that the current level of investment into public health facilities and services is meeting acceptable standards and patient needs?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes. The Government has invested $1.7 billion into new or refurbished health facilities over the past 8 years, up and down the country. The list is long, but some examples include major upgrades at Waikato and Waitematā and new facilities at Whakatāne, New Plymouth, and Canterbury. West Coast is next, and then Dunedin. In terms of New Zealand’s 100-plus health services, it is difficult to find a service that has not improved under this Government, but of course there is always more to do.

Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, why has he not taken action to address the permanent overcrowding of the emergency department (ED) at Waikato Hospital, which led to management wanting to put beds in the corridors, with patients being given cowbells to ring for the nurses?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I am glad the member finds the issue amusing. Look, the fact is that I have had reports from the health target champion on what is happening in our EDs around the country. I specifically spoke about Waikato; it has got a very specific plan around the ED there. I would just remind the member that in the last Budget Waikato’s funding went up by $55 million. It has had an extra $351 million over the past 8 years. Of course, it has also had that major upgrade of its facilities, and it is providing very, very good services to the people of the Waikato catchment area.

Hon Annette King: Why has he allowed Capital and Coast District Health Board to struggle to find the capital funding to rebuild its forensic mental health unit, which is reported not to meet fire or health and safety regulations, which is not fit for purpose, and from which 22 forensic patients have absconded since 2013?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As the member knows, there is an upgrade rebuild going on at Kenepuru Hospital. We have actually turned around the situation at Capital and Coast District Health Board. The deficit is about $20 million at the moment, unlike the $70 million deficit we inherited from Mrs King—it was much worse in your time, I am afraid.

Hon Annette King: If his so-called ring-fence for mental health funding is set at a level to meet growing demands for service, why did the chief executive of Southern District Health Board (Southern DHB) admit yesterday that “it is not investing enough [money] in primary and community mental healthcare.”, and that the only options were for more funding or making tough decisions?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Of course, Mrs King’s answer is always more funding, but I am delighted to tell her that actually, at Southern DHB we have put in an extra $194 million over the past 8 years. A total of $884 million is the budget at this point. We have actually had quite a job turning around the mess at Southern District Health Board. As you know, there is a commissioner in there. We will be rebuilding the hospital there and there is a firm plan for turning the place around. You know, we had deficits of $42 million, and that is now down to $35 million and on track for about $26 million this year. So it is getting better all the time, and the key thing is that no one has actually missed out on vital services there.

Hon Annette King: What tough decisions does he recommend Southern DHB take in light of the warning given by the Southland Mental Health and Addictions Network to the DHB that patients could be stranded without services if extra funding is not provided?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I can assure you that no one is going to be stranded without services. The decisions are always difficult in health, but actually, the easy decision for people in Dunedin this year will be to vote for National.

Hon Annette King: How can he continue to deny underfunding of mental health services when DHBs’ acute adult bed numbers have decreased—decreased—since 2011-12, in the face of increased readmission rates within 28 days over the same period?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As the member well knows, the model of care around mental health has changed dramatically. We are actually treating more and more people in the community. That was actually also happening under the Labour Government. I can tell her that over the last 5 years we are treating an extra 28,000 people per year compared with 5 years ago. That is an uplift of 20 percent. So there are more people we are treating. There is more money we are putting into it. We are doing more all the time, but of course there is always more to be done.

• Freshwater Management—State of Rivers and Lakes

2. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: How would he describe the state of Aotearoa’s rivers and lakes this summer?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Good but not good enough. The Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website that our Government helped establish in 2014 gives real-time E.coli data on 205 specific river and lake sites around New Zealand—184, or 90 percent, of those are currently meeting the Ministry of Health guidelines for swimming. There are rivers and lakes where water quality is unacceptably low, and that is why our Government is doing so much work in this area. I am planning on releasing comprehensive information on water quality across New Zealand later this month, as well as tighter rules to improve the state of our rivers and lakes.

Catherine Delahunty: How would he describe the state of Coes Ford on the Selwyn River/Waikirikiri, once a popular swimming hole but due to more than 100 percent of the water being allocated for irrigation, as well as the effects of climate change, is now a puddle of algae?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would draw the member’s attention to the Environment Canterbury water quality scientist who pointed out that Canterbury has had 3 very dry years and that that has contributed. It is also true that Canterbury needs tighter rules on water quality around nutrients. This Government, with the support of the Environment Canterbury commissioners, has put in place the first caps and limits on nutrients in that region because water quality is not acceptable.

Catherine Delahunty: Will the Government commit to doing whatever it takes, including winding up Government subsidies for irrigation schemes, in order to prevent other rivers in Aotearoa suffering the same fate as the Selwyn River/Waikirikiri?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member makes two mistakes—the first is to assume that the only water quality problems in New Zealand are in rural areas, when, actually, some of our most polluted water bodies are in our cities, and if we are to clean up waterbodies in New Zealand both town and country need to do their share of the lifting. The second poor assumption the member makes is that water storage schemes automatically result in reduced water quality. I could give the member numerous examples of schemes, such as, for instance, in my own electorate with the Waimea community dam that will enable us to both improve water quality and increase horticulture production.

Catherine Delahunty: What will he do to resuscitate the Selwyn River/Waikirikiri, which does not even meet the national standard of being safe for wading or boating simply because there is no water left in it?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government can do many things, but it cannot make it rain. But, interestingly—the member will be aware of the support this Government has given to the central plains water storage scheme. There is an opportunity to use that storage scheme to actually reinject water into the aquifer and the springs, which would make a material and positive difference to the quality of water at the very area the member seeks.

Scott Simpson: What advice has he seen from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment about the practicality of all rivers and all lakes being swimmable all of the time?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Dr Jan Wright has been a consistent and well-informed advocate for cleaner rivers and lakes, but I did note her statement this week that to make a decree that every single place is swimmable “is not necessarily right”. I think she is correct. We need stronger rules to improve water quality that are aspirational, but they also, the Government believes, need to be practical.

Catherine Delahunty: How will he protect the world-famous waters and wāhi tapu of Waikoropupū Springs from the increased nitrate pollution that is certain to occur if plans to increase irrigation for dairy farming upstream are allowed?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That is not the technical information I have had from the Tasman District Council and its water-quality scientists, but I think the really important thing about those very special springs is that there is a proposal—from both iwi and the community—for a water conservation order on that area. It is my intention to advance that through the proper legal process.

Catherine Delahunty: Given what he has heard from New Zealanders, who want to be able to swim in their local rivers, does he intend to announce a new national standard from “wadeable” to actually “swimmable” in the near future?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government is considering the 4,000-plus submissions that were received on the next steps in freshwater management, which were published last year. It is my hope that before the end of this month we will be able to respond to those submissions and changes to policy.

• Fires, Christchurch and Selwyn District—Update

3. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Minister of Civil Defence: Can the Government provide an update on the response to the Christchurch and Selwyn District fires?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Civil Defence: My thoughts are with the people of Christchurch and Selwyn, especially the family of Steven Askin, the helicopter pilot tragically killed fighting the Port Hills fires on Tuesday. The Government is committed to providing whatever resources are needed to assist the local response. There are a number of agencies working together to fight the blaze and support the community. Civil Defence is working closely with a number of agencies to help support and coordinate the response and to ensure that those on the ground receive the help they need.

Nuk Korako: How is the Government assisting local authorities with their response?

Hon AMY ADAMS: Local police have a dedicated team of about 50 officers on the ground, focused on evacuation, managing cordons, and providing reassurance to the community. There are 45 staff from the Department of Conservation also supporting the response. Defence Force liaison officers have been deployed to the two emergency operation centres, and 42 personnel are assisting New Zealand Police. The air force is also flying an additional 21 officers from Auckland to Christchurch on Friday to bolster police resources there. Defence Force logistics personnel and equipment are prepared to provide catering services to evacuation centres if required, and additional force elements in the North Island have been placed at high readiness in case they are needed. The United States’ Antarctic research vessel Polar Star, which is in Lyttelton, made an informal approach to provide personnel assistance to the inter-agency response, which has been formally accepted by the New Zealand Government. Defence Force personnel in Christchurch are engaging with Polar Star to determine the best deployment of those additional personnel. There are 330 firefighters, 14 helicopters, and three fixed-wing aircraft also assisting the Selwyn rural fire authority to combat the blaze.

• Housing, Auckland—Supply

4. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Construction: What was the increase in the housing shortfall in Auckland between June 2008 and June 2016, given that the population increased by 208,900, meaning, at 2.7 people per household, 77,370 additional houses would be needed?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Construction): Officials advised that there are not reliable figures on the housing shortfall, and variations in assumptions can shift the numbers up or down by 50,000. Nor do officials agree with the member’s assumption of 2.7 people per household. I have seen shortfall estimates of between 15,000 and 70,000. The exact number does not change the policy response, which is to pull out all stops to grow supply. The last 5 years has seen the number of homes being built in Auckland grow from 4,000 per year to nearly 10,000 per year. Auckland has never before had 5 straight years of such strong growth in home construction.

Phil Twyford: Surely he must accept that with only 44,000 homes consented over this 8-year period, with 77,000 additional homes needed, a shortfall of more than 32,000 homes has built up on his watch?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, I do not accept that, and I would draw the member’s attention to his own leader’s comment, and that is that it takes time to grow supply. And if you look over history, the truth is that the population growth varies more quickly than what you can—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: If you look at history, population varies far more quickly than the construction industry is able to respond, and there have been many periods when there has been a lag in getting the new homes built to support that population.

Jami-Lee Ross: What reports has the Minister received of opposition to housing projects in Auckland that would help to help to increase supply?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Housing projects that would help address the shortfall are being opposed all over the place in Auckland for reasons like character, impacts on bird life, impacts on landscape, impacts on the Hauraki Gulf, and impacts on amenities. The Three Kings Quarry development by Fletcher’s, which involves 1,500 homes, has been held up due to opposition being led by Labour MP Michael Wood. The Point England project involving 300 homes in Tāmaki is also being opposed by members opposite. There is a big 500-home development, the Ōtuataua housing project in South Auckland—that too is being vigorously opposed by members opposite. Those members cannot have it both ways: complain about supply not growing fast enough, and then, every time there is a housing project, invent some reason as to why it should not proceed.

Phil Twyford: Did he know that the number of new homes is year after year falling so far behind population increase that it means more overcrowding and extreme demand pressures that have given Auckland the fourth most unaffordable housing in the world?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Firstly, I would point out that house construction dropped to the lowest level in 40 years when Labour was in office during the global financial crisis in 2008, and that over each of the last 5 years the number of homes being constructed has grown by more than 20 percent per year. I simply challenge the member: tell me a period between 2012 and 2016 where there has been longer and more consistent growth in house construction?

Phil Twyford: Does he agree with Bernard Hickey, who said this morning: “The Government’s attempts to downplay the scale of the shortage and to exaggerate the scale of the building response makes it look out of touch and defensive.”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No. Furthermore, I would simply point out that the number and value of building consents have grown consistently very strongly for 5 years. And, again, I have to agree with Mr Little that you cannot grow housing supply overnight.

Phil Twyford: Is he aware that Aucklanders are suffering unaffordable housing and gridlocked roads as a direct result of his Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure, including housing, and is this the problem Bill English meant when he said that rapid population increase is the right kind of problem to have?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is true that both New Zealand and Auckland are very successful and are growing strongly. It is equally true that during Labour’s years, hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders left for Australia, rather than choosing to live in our country, and that has put pressure on infrastructure. But it is rich for members to say that infrastructure is not being invested in. Only yesterday I announced the process for two more $2.2 billion roading projects going through the board of inquiry process under Resource Management Act reforms that members opposite opposed. I do also understand that the Waterview project, the biggest single transport project in New Zealand ever, is due for construction and completion in the next couple of months.

Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the Reserve Bank’s comment last week that: “Migration flows have increased demand for housing.”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is absolutely true that not having 40,000 Kiwis leaving for Australia is putting pressure on the education sector, in terms of kids, in terms of housing, and in terms of transport. The difference is that members on this side of the House welcome the fact that Kiwis are voting with their feet and staying in this beautiful country.

• Employment—New Zealand and Foreign Workers

5. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does his department monitor New Zealand-based businesses to ascertain whether they are employing New Zealanders ahead of visa-holding foreigners; if so, how?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes; Immigration New Zealand is involved from the very first step. The employment of New Zealanders first is one of the key principles of the Government’s immigration policy. Immigration officers need to be satisfied that there are no suitable New Zealanders available before a job is offered to a foreign national who does not already hold a visa enabling them to work. The manner of that test depends on the occupation and the employer, but that could include reference to the skills shortage lists, a process of checking before an approval in principle is granted, or an individual application for an occupation that is not on those skills shortage lists.

Richard Prosser: Can he confirm to the House that this system of monitoring is working; and if he cannot confirm it, why can he not confirm it?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In answer to the first part of the question, yes.

Richard Prosser: How does he reconcile that answer with the fact that New Zealand – flagged vessels fishing in New Zealand waters are clearly advertising for crews with Korean qualifications and experience?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am aware that there have been some issues in respect of the way in which the labour market test is conducted by some foreign fishing vessel fleets, but the simple reality is there are not enough workers available to meet the demand for that occupation. The Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment are working hard to ensure that qualifications and skills are gained, so that New Zealanders can take those occupations up. But it is challenging.

Richard Prosser: Can the Minister guarantee that the minimum wage plus another $2 per hour is being paid to all visa-holding foreign crews working in New Zealand waters right now?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I can certainly confirm that for those people who are granted essential skills work visas, payment needs to be consistent with New Zealand employment law and that the contracts that have been offered to them are both checked by Immigration New Zealand before a visa is granted and by the labour inspectorate, if necessary, during the period of their visas.

Richard Prosser: Is he aware that Jaico, a Korean-owned, New Zealand – registered company, operating a New Zealand – flagged vessel, is recruiting for 100 Korean fishing crew; if so, will he suspend their request for an approval in principle, given that the advertisements are clearly shutting out New Zealanders?

Mr SPEAKER: There are two supplementary questions there.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In response to the first part of that question, no, I am not, but I would not be surprised if that were the case.

Richard Prosser: I seek leave to table a copy of the Jaico Ltd advertisements for 14 different fishing boat career positions. It is not dated. I believe it is unpublished. It was received by our office on 11 February.

Mr SPEAKER: Is the member saying he is not aware what paper it is in?

Richard Prosser: It is not published in the paper as yet.

Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular advertisement. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is not.

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

• Social Investment—Approach

6. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government using a social investment approach that aims to improve the lives of vulnerable New Zealanders and reduce costs for taxpayers?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The social investment approach involves the Government better understanding the New Zealanders we support, what services will best improve their lives, and where that intervention will make the biggest difference to reduce the numbers showing up in hospitals or prisons, not succeeding at school, or stuck on welfare. We are building a world-class data analytics system to support this, and we are now able to identify, for example, a group of high-risk young people who will cost taxpayers, on average, $320,000 each by the age of 35—some of them over $1 million each. By looking at the evidence for what the best interventions are for each member of that group, we have the opportunity to deliver services that may involve a higher upfront cost but that will reduce the long-term costs and, most importantly, improve those people’s lives.

Chris Bishop: How is this different to previous approaches to social spending?

Hon AMY ADAMS: We spend approximately $61 billion each year on social sector spending; however, we know the specific effectiveness of only a very small proportion of this. The public sector has also, traditionally, struggled to understand the impact of spending in one area on results in another area. We have to change this. Social investment is different because Ministers, agencies, and those delivering services will be better informed and better aligned, through advances in our use of technology and data, to understand the areas of greatest need and how the Government can best direct our efforts and do more of what works.

Grant Robertson: Does the social investment approach offer anything to the 400 workers and their families in Dunedin who today discovered that with Cadbury’s manufacturing operations closing they will be out of work, or is the Government’s form of investment just in theoretical ideas and not practical regional development?

Hon AMY ADAMS: The social investment approach is about targeting how our social services best support those New Zealanders when they find themselves in times of need—so that if people are out of a job, we are comfortable and confident that our welfare system is best targeted to support them in a meaningful way to get back to the independence that we know New Zealanders want.

Chris Bishop: What examples are there of how this could reduce future costs for the Government?

Hon AMY ADAMS: The work that the Ministry of Social Development did on the welfare liability showed that the future lifetime cost has reduced by $12 billion over the last 4 years as a result of our welfare reforms based on this approach. The justice sector is another good example of where social investment can make a real difference. For example, we now know that a 9-year-old boy who is known to Child, Youth and Family and whose parents are on a benefit is likely to offend on average 3.3 times before he is 24. However, applying a social investment approach and the right interventions with his parents can lead to a more than 90 percent reduction in his predicted offending. This reduces costs to the taxpayer, improves lives, and means fewer victims.

• Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment—Programmes

7. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: Does he believe his predecessor and officials have fully briefed him on the value and effectiveness of all existing programmes in his portfolio?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Yes, although I would note that Vote Tertiary Education is a $2.8 billion spend, delivered over a wide range of programmes, not all of which have yet been fully evaluated. There is plenty of success in these programmes, such as we have seen in the growing number of apprenticeships, from 36,000 in 2012 to 42,000, an increase of 16 percent. We have seen the number of workplaces delivering literacy and numeracy programmes increase to 170 percent. That is from 27 employers to 73 in the past year. So the Government systematically reviews its programmes to ensure they are effective and continue to deliver value for money, and if they are not, we will look to make changes.

Chris Hipkins: Does he believe that spending on the Youth Guarantee scheme represents good value for money, given up to 20 percent of the students participating in the programme already hold a qualification at the level they are enrolled in?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: Yes. There is a target to get that down to 10 percent. There are lots of reasons that students might be studying in a programme at the same level. It ranges depending on a number of factors, but, for example, some students may take a generic trades level 2 qualification, which gives them experience in a range of trades, before they then enrol in a level 2 qualification for their trade of choice. So it is not a simple thing to say that nobody should be doing a course at the same level, but we do want to reduce the number of times it happens.

Chris Hipkins: Was the Youth Guarantee scheme set up to assist those who were not succeeding in the education system; if so, how does enrolling students who already have qualifications at the level of the Youth Guarantee programme they are enrolling in help to achieve that objective?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: The Youth Guarantee programme is indeed set up to help people who have not been in training get into training.

Chris Hipkins: Does he believe that the taxpayer is getting good value for money from the Youth Guarantee scheme when around $44 million of the money being pumped into it over the last 5 years under Steven Joyce has gone to support kids getting qualifications at the same level as qualifications they already hold?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: As I said, there would be a number of reasons why it sometimes makes sense for a student to be studying at the same level as they have before.

Chris Hipkins: Why does he believe the Youth Guarantee scheme represents good value for money when an evaluation that has already been carried out by the Government last year found those who participated in the Fees-free Youth Guarantee programme were more likely to end up reliant on a benefit than those who did not?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: I am not sure of the member’s figures in that area, but I am certainly aware that the reviews have shown that the NCEA level 2 achievement rates are higher for participants against a comparison group, and that an estimated 300 additional 18-year-olds achieved NCEA level 2 from their participation in the Youth Guarantee Fees-free programme than otherwise would have. We should be aware that this is the most difficult group and we are very keen to make sure that that group of New Zealanders has every access to education. There is a wide range of programmes across the tertiary sector. Many of them are very successful; others are successful in part. We are very determined to make sure that they improve, and that is why we are very focused on it.

• Public Protection Orders—Announcements

8. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Corrections: What recent announcements has she made regarding public protection orders?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister of Corrections): Yesterday I opened a new residential facility in the grounds of Christchurch Men’s Prison that will accommodate the highest-risk sexual or violent offenders who are subject to public protection orders. The Matawhāiti Residence is designed to balance public safety with the appropriate management and rehabilitation of its residents. It is intended to protect the community from almost-certain serious sexual or violent offending, rather than acting as a punishment for the residents. The Matawhāiti Residence provides an alternative for those who cannot live safely in the community, and it will reduce the likelihood of offenders hurting anyone else, while giving them the chance to turn their lives around. This is a balanced regime that is a proportionate response to the serious and imminent risk posed by a very small number of offenders.

Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: How will the new facility ensure the safety of the community?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: Although residents at Matawhāiti have completed their term of imprisonment, psychologists and the courts have determined that they still pose an imminent risk of reoffending. This facility will improve public safety and save potential victims from almost certain serious harm, or worse. This regime responds to situations where an offender presents an unacceptable risk that cannot be managed through existing measures. It is our duty to ensure that someone who has the highest risk of imminent and serious sexual or violent offending is not placed in the community. At this level of risk, the law runs out of options to manage these offenders once their sentence is complete. This regime strikes the right balance between the rights of offenders and our duty to protect New Zealanders from imminently dangerous offenders. It is necessary, proportionate, and fair.

• Immigration—Indian Students

9. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he believe that it is fair that the Indian students seeking sanctuary in an Auckland church should be deported for visa fraud if they have not been charged with that offence?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I do. I also think it is fair that despite being unlawful for 6 to 9 months, they have been allowed to stay in New Zealand, complete their studies, and receive their qualifications—as I am advised is the case with six of the seven students being represented by Mr McClymont. I also think it is fair that those students have had ample time to get their affairs in order, and I think it is fair that they have been given the chance to voluntarily depart New Zealand.

Denise Roche: Have there been no charges laid under the Immigration Act because the Government cannot in fact prove beyond reasonable doubt that these students were aware of the fraud committed by immigration agents in their name?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No. I have a copy of a student visa application in front of me, the like of which would have been signed by those people, saying they had provided true and correct answers to the questions in the form, and saying that they had attached evidence that they had access to sufficient funds to support themselves throughout the intended length of their stay. There is no question that the responsibility for that information is the applicant’s.

Denise Roche: Given that answer, what evidence is there in that that there is the intention to defraud that you have seen that made you think that deportation rather than prosecution under the Immigration Act is fair or in line with the principles of natural justice?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The Immigration Act provides two mechanisms for dealing with the provision of false information in visa applications: deportation or prosecution. Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is satisfied that the students are liable for deportation for providing false information in an application they signed. A prosecution is neither necessary nor desirable. INZ can respond without burdening the courts. In line with the Act, the students were told why they were liable for deportation, given the chance to provide reasons why deportation should not proceed, and had appeal rights to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.

Denise Roche: Given that the visa applications were found to be fraudulent after the students had paid their fees and after the courses, is it not fair to say that Immigration New Zealand failed a basic process in evaluating the visas at the start, and should the students have to bear the impact of that mistake?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, I think Immigration New Zealand has shown significant compassion in allowing the students to be able to stay and to complete their courses, and on, as I say, six or seven occasions actually getting the qualifications the students were seeking. I would also add that in a visa system that issues somewhere in the region of three-quarters of a million visas per year, the honest attestations of the applicants is a significant part of that, with sanctions for non-compliance.

Denise Roche: I seek leave to table this document, which is from the lawyer. It shows that Immigration New Zealand failed to interview some of the students during their visa process. It is not publicly available and it contains specific dates and specific notes about who was interviewed as part of the visa application process.

Mr SPEAKER: Does the Minister wish to speak before I put the leave?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, I still do not what the source of the document is.

Denise Roche: It is from the lawyer.

Mr SPEAKER: So as I understand it, it is an information sheet of allegations by the lawyer against Immigration New Zealand. Does that sum it up?

Denise Roche: It is a summary of the notes that the lawyer has kept from the immigration file cases.

Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave and the House will decide whether it is relevant to them. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is objection.

Denise Roche: Does the Minister agree with religious leaders Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop Philip Richardson, and Rev. Prince Devandanan, who have called on this Government to reconsider your actions in the name of humanitarianism and justice?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: At the time those religious leaders wrote to me, they were not in possession of, I think, very important information, and that is this: despite being unlawful, these students were able to complete their courses and obtain their qualifications. That was the purpose of their visit. The time has come for them to go home.

• Main Trunk Railway System—De-Electrification

10. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: Is he concerned about the announcement by KiwiRail on 21 December 2016 that it intends to de-electrify the North Island’s Main Trunk railway system?

Hon DAVID BENNETT (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: The decision to move to an all-diesel fleet on the North Island’s main trunk line was an operational decision made by KiwiRail. KiwiRail made this decision because it believes the shift to a single fleet is the best way to improve reliability and efficiency for its customers and to boost the benefits of rail for New Zealand.

Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was whether the Minister is concerned about that, and that should be answered.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think if you had listened to the answer, you could interpret it—I will ask the Minister just to answer specifically, in light of his answer, whether he is concerned.

Hon DAVID BENNETT: This is an operational decision for KiwiRail.

Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer was the same as already given, and it still does not answer—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is very observant of the member. I did ask the Minister whether he wanted to be more specific. It is a question on notice. He has given his answer. I am not responsible for the answer given. It is now over to members to interpret the answer given as to whether he was concerned. The way forward, as I always advise my learned friend Denis O’Rourke, is to proceed with very incisive supplementary questions.

Denis O’Rourke: How could he not be concerned when he knows that the nation must meet demanding greenhouse gas emissions targets in both the short and long terms, pursuant to the Paris Agreement?

Hon DAVID BENNETT: This Government is committed to the environment and committed to public transport, and we can see from the investment in public transport of $1.7 billion to the Auckland rail network and $485 million to the Wellington network that we are effectively supporting electric trains in our transport spend.

Denis O’Rourke: How could he not be concerned when electric locomotives economically capable of full refurbishment are to be replaced with cheap, poor quality, energy-inefficient Chinese diesel locomotives, which will add thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases as well as other pollutants every year?

Hon DAVID BENNETT: KiwiRail is encouraging customers to use freight by rail, and that will help reduce carbon emissions and also provide a reliable service. Even when locomotives that are diesel are doing the heavy hauling, every tonne of freight moved by rail has 66 percent fewer emissions than by road. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am having difficulty hearing both the question and the answers.

Denis O’Rourke: Why is he not using the statement of intent process with KiwiRail to see that the de-electrification process does not proceed, coupled with more direct Crown investment in the railway system so that a fully electrified main trunk line can be achieved?

Hon DAVID BENNETT: The decision around the North Island main trunk railway line is one for KiwiRail, and it is an operational decision that it has made.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker?

Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order first.

Denis O’Rourke: The question was specifically about why the statement of intent process was not being used. It has got nothing to do with anything about KiwiRail’s operational decisions being concerned.

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I agree, and I was very tempted to rule the question out because I do not see that it has any ministerial responsibility for the Minister of Transport. That question as phrased should have been addressed to the Minister of State Owned Enterprises.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Could the Minister advise the House whether the new locomotives have Chinese-sounding names?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Such a question is not going to help the order of the House. Are there further supplementary questions?

Sue Moroney: Does he agree with David Bennett, who said in his speech on the Road User Charges Amendment Bill “If it is a diesel train, it is a dirty train.”; if so, has he faced vigorous lobbying from the new Associate Minister to keep electric trains on the electrified part of the main trunk line?

Mr SPEAKER: There are two supplementary questions there. The Minister is welcome to address one or both.

Hon DAVID BENNETT: On behalf of the Minister of Transport, I have full faith in my Associate Minister.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I hope it is a serious one.

Grant Robertson: Oh, it is a very serious one.

Mr SPEAKER: Grant Robertson—a point of order.

Grant Robertson: If you could advise the House on the process when a Minister actively misleads the House.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a helpful point of order, but that did not surprise me.

Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was not addressed. I asked whether he agreed with the statement from David Bennett and whether he had faced any lobbying from David Bennett.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The question was very definitely addressed. There were two questions; that was the difficulty. The Minister addressed them.

• Roading—Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway

11. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has the Government made on the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway north of Wellington?

Hon DAVID BENNETT (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: Today the Government opened the $630 million Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway, delivering a long-awaited road to the Wellington region. The expressway is part of the Wellington Northern Corridor, one of the Government’s roads of national significance identified as key to economic growth. This impressive piece of infrastructure has been a long time coming, and after 3 years of construction it is fantastic to be delivering it 4 months ahead of schedule. Thank you.

Ian McKelvie: How will the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway benefit road users in the Rangitīkei—oh, apologies—the Wellington region?

Hon DAVID BENNETT: This new stretch of road will be transformational for the Kāpiti coast and the wider Wellington region. The new expressway will deliver a range of benefits and significant safety improvements. Improved journey times to Wellington’s port, CBD, Interislander ferry terminals, airport, and hospital will benefit the wider region. The new expressway also delivers a second, more resilient network north of Wellington—an important feature in the wake of recent earthquakes.

Hon Nathan Guy: Although this Government investment of $630 million has been eagerly awaited by motorists in my electorate for absolute decades—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want the question.

Hon Nathan Guy: —what recent reports has the Minister seen of people opposing this investment in the Kāpiti community? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the Minister—[Interruption] Order! I just remind the House that Speaker’s ruling 174/3 says it will not be reasonable for the Government to be using a question to attack an Opposition member.

Hon DAVID BENNETT: Yes, and I would like to acknowledge that member for his strong advocacy in this project. I have received reports outlining opposition to the expressway, including reports that it is an “over-the-top reaction for the needs of our community”, that it should be mothballed, and that the “Plug should be pulled”. These reports, of course, come from the Labour Party—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

• Beneficiaries—SuPERU Report

12. CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour—Kelston) to the Minister for Social Development: Is she concerned that the SuPERU report released last week showed that 1 in 4 former beneficiaries return to the benefit within 24 months after they come off?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Yes. We are always concerned when beneficiaries return to dependency, and in 2013 the Government introduced welfare reforms that made significant changes to the benefit system. It is important to note that this research by the social policy evaluation and research unit (SuPERU) looked at people between 1 July 2010 and 30 June 2011—before those 2013 welfare reforms—and that is important because this data then gives us a good baseline for examining changes post-reform when the data becomes available. But we could be much more positive about this and say that three out of four have not returned to a benefit within 2 years, and the Government continues to make changes to the benefits system to better support New Zealanders. In Budget 2016 we invested an extra $111 million over 4 years to help more people into employment—most specifically, by extending the Youth Service to 19-year-old parents.

Carmel Sepuloni: Given that yesterday in the select committee SuPERU officials said that they could analyse the outcomes for beneficiaries post – welfare reforms, why has she not requested that information of them? Is it because she is worried that the outcomes for the post – welfare reform period will be even worse than previously?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No, the member is absolutely incorrect. I have requested that post-reform information, but because the Taylor Fry report conducted by SuPERU used the Ministry of Social Development’s Integrated Data Infrastructure data, the ministry can do that itself and we do not have to pay outside consultants.

Carmel Sepuloni: If moving off a benefit is so good for parents and their children—and there are now, according to the Minister, 50,000 fewer children with parents on a benefit—why are there not 50,000 fewer children living in material hardship, and why has there been a 35 percent increase in hardship assistance grants in the last year?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Anne Tolley—two supplementary questions.

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, the member is absolutely wrong. In this House last week, I think it was, when the data was produced by the Salvation Army, even its tables showed that, in fact, there had been a reduction in the number of children experiencing hardship. So the member is absolutely wrong, and, more importantly, to conflate those two actually messes up completely different data.

Carmel Sepuloni: Given that SuPERU was unable to determine the main outcome of 18 percent of former beneficiaries, does she now agree with the Salvation Army report that “Just what has happened to these people, and whether they are better or worse off, is a mystery.”?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No, I do not agree with the Salvation Army, and, in fact, with the next piece of research we are looking to try to track down what does happen to the people who come off benefit. As we have said in this House before, people make all sorts of decisions in their lives. What the data shows clearly is that it is in the best interests of people and their children not to be dependent on welfare for long periods of their lives. That certainly does lead to child poverty.

Carmel Sepuloni: How can she continue to celebrate benefit reductions when most people who come off a benefit do not remain in employment after 24 months, 85,000 to 90,000 children still live in severe material hardship, and 45 percent of these children living in poverty have parents who are working?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, the member has to make it clear that she is working on data from that study that goes back 5 years. That is baseline data, and we are conducting more surveys to see what happens post-reforms. But the evidence is very clear: if people remain on welfare for a long period of time, their children do worse in school, they are more likely to have a Child, Youth and Family notification, they are more likely to be referred to the police for family violence, and they are more likely to be very poor. In this Government, we have had a Minister talking about social investment. That is about intervening early, effectively, and in a coordinated way to help people make their lives better.

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