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Parliament: Questions and Answers – May 22

Press Release – Hansard

1. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (LabourNew Lynn) to the Minister of Finance : What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy? ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Finance

1. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Overnight, the OECD released its latest economic outlook, forecasting continued strength in the New Zealand economy over the next few years. The OECD says that economic growth in New Zealand stabilised at the end of last year and is forecast at 2.6 percent and 2.5 percent in 2019 and 2020 respectively. This would be faster than Australia, Canada, the UK, the euro area, and Japan. The report points out that the Government’s Families Package has supported family incomes, which in turn has supported consumption. Wages are expected to rise, in part driven by increases to the minimum wage, and business investment is expected to lift on the back of capacity pressures resulting from the tight labour market. It is great to see that the OECD recognises the solid fundamentals of the New Zealand economy and that we are continuing to outperform many of our peers.

Dr Deborah Russell: What does the OECD report say about risks to the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The OECD says that the slowing global economy poses risks to New Zealand and to our exports in particular. The OECD expects global growth to remain weak. It’s forecasting growth of 3.2 percent and 3.4 percent in 2019 and 2020 respectively—lower than was forecast in the March outlook and lower still than its November outlook before that. This worsened outlook is a result of high policy uncertainty and persistent trade tensions, which have caused a plunge in trade growth investment, and business and consumer confidence. The OECD says that the risks in the global economy remain skewed to the downside.

Dr Deborah Russell: How does the OECD report suggest the Government respond to these risks?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: According to the report, Governments need to be investing in infrastructure, digital transformation, and skills to meet tomorrow’s challenges while emphasising increased international cooperation and fixing the international rules-based system. Our Government is doing all of these things through our plan for a modern economy that is resilient to the risks posed by the international slowdown. We are committing billions more for capital investment, which will fund much needed infrastructure after years of neglect. Through the Future of Work Tripartite Forum, we’re partnering with businesses and unions to ensure New Zealand can meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities presented by new technologies. And, finally, through our Trade for All agenda, we are working to ensure a trade that is both free and fair and that supports the rules-based international order.

• Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements, policies, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that one side effect of the weakening economy is lower tax revenue to pay for essential public services?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, there can be, obviously, effects in that regard around Government revenue. Of course, we have maintained a fiscal strategy that is still around responsible spending whilst, of course, also seeking to stimulate growth, and that is an agenda we continue to pursue.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she aware that her Government has taken in $600 million less in tax revenue than forecast in the year to March?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I acknowledge there have been softer GST revenues, which do account, though, for about two-thirds of the forecast variance, but some of this has been said, at least by the ANZ, to be timing related, so there is an expectation that that should reverse in coming months. There’s also, I think, a view of course that the Families Package and other investments made by this Government are continuing to encourage consumption, which, of course, we know also has a positive effect on the economy.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that, does she believe the numbers will be better or worse at Budget 2019?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I’m not going to speculate with the member in that regard.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the reason why her Government can’t fully fund St John Ambulance service because of the slowing economy and $600 million lower tax revenue?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I find it curious that the member is brazen enough to raise an issue that, of course, he did not seek to resolve. Obviously, St John has continued to be part funded by successive Governments, including his own, at a rate of roughly, give or take, 70 to 75 percent or so. We recognised that that was an issue. We want to ensure the sustainability of their funding. We have put in additional funding for St John while we work with them on a sustainable funding plan, which, I have to say, is more than his Government did.

Hon Grant Robertson: To follow up from that, can the Prime Minister confirm that, in fact, it was the previous Government who set a funding track of 75 percent, not this full funding we’re now hearing about?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can, and I can also confirm that that is obviously one of the things that have caused St John to come back to the Government of the day, obviously seeking resolution that they didn’t find with the last one.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did the last Government fund double crewing of St John Ambulance services and also mental health resources on each ambulance, which her Government cancelled?

SPEAKER: Marginal responsibility apart from the last bit.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My view would be that if everything was fine and dandy, St John would not have come to us.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the reason why there are 10,000 fewer elective surgeries being performed under her Government because of the slowing economy and $600 million lower tax revenue?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. The elective numbers do not have anything to do with the economy, because, of course, we fund district health boards to fulfil a certain number of elective surgeries. However, whilst they’ve reached, I’m advised, around 98 percent of the expectation around electives, we have seen them be about, I’m advised, 2 percent shy. One of the reasons, I’m told, for that has unfortunately been that there has been industrial action with the junior doctors. Whilst there’s been maintenance of life-preserving services, which we have of course appreciated, it has led to some cancellation, unfortunately, of electives. It has nothing to do with the economy.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why were elective surgeries—some 6,500 procedures—down even prior to the strikes, does she believe?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve actually been advised that the numbers the member is using to compare expectations on electives and deliverables is actually not the correct comparison, and so I’ve given the explanation that I’ve been provided. I acknowledge that we’re about 2 percent shy, but when we’re talking about, I believe, 140,000 or so procedures, that’s still a significant number of people who will have received the surgery they need.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister confirm that whilst being economic, provident, and frugal, there is going to be more money in the economy in the ensuing year than ever before to pay for infrastructure to ensure that businesses thrive, as does the working force of this country?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can actually go beyond that, though, and confirm that despite the headwinds that are being experienced globally, New Zealand is in relatively good shape. We, of course, see the OECD outlook today demonstrating again that, in spite of some of those expectations globally, we are outdoing most of those who we tend to be compared to. But alongside that—because, of course, we’re worried about domestic outlook—I’m very proud that we’re a Government that’s ensured the average wage is up $65 per week, that 70,000 new jobs have been created, and that we have some of the lowest unemployment we’ve seen in a decade, and that’s something to be very proud of.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can she confirm that that $65 is entirely gone, if you’re renting, in both the rent increase on average and also the petrol tax increases her Government’s piled on?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, because we have seen rental increases, but on average, in the last year, they’ve been about half that. Of course, the $65 per week—of course, on top of that, we’ve also had the Families Package, which on average will deliver about an additional $75 per week. Of course, we know the impact of things like the minimum wage. The last increase benefited 200,000 people and, of course, their families. Those do outstrip those cost of living issues, which we are constantly mindful of and constantly working to address.

SPEAKER: The right honourable—sorry the Hon Grant Robertson.

Hon Grant Robertson: Possibly.

SPEAKER: No, we’re not swapping.

Hon Grant Robertson: Can the Prime Minister confirm that an increase in petrol tax of 24c a litre over six or seven years would represent a reasonable increase even if it was done by the previous Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is absolutely correct that the last Government did pursue excise increases, but, actually, just speaking to the local member’s question, he’ll well know that one of the biggest decreases that’s been seen in the region in recent times was actually brought about when Waitomo came into the market. I think that again further reaffirms why it’s so important that the Commerce Commission is undertaking the work they are undertaking to ensure that New Zealanders get a fair deal.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has this Government increased the petrol taxes some 16c a litre if you’re in Auckland, and wouldn’t the petrol prices, if it wasn’t for that, be around $2, possibly less?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We openly campaigned on the fact that, of course, we would have a regional fuel tax, but none of that explains why, for instance, Aucklanders consistently are paying lower prices than, say, someone in Wellington or someone in the South Island. I watch those prices very closely. The regional variation is enormous. That is why it is so important that the Commerce Commission looks into these issues.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the reason why teachers will go on strike the day before the Budget and create huge disruption for parents and families across New Zealand because of the slowing economy and $600 million lower tax revenue?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. I think if you ask any teacher why they are striking, they will not say it’s because of the economy. We know that the issues that they are raising are around things like non-contact time. One of the issues we have—of course, non-contact time means needing extra teacher supply, and yet that member will well know, I hope, that enrolments in initial teacher education plummeted by 40 percent under his Government. We do not have enough teachers in New Zealand. And, yes, I hope the on-average additional $10,000 we are offering teachers will, hopefully, make that difference to attract people into the profession. We cannot solve overnight the supply problem they left us.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister tell us why she is adamantly opposed to putting up the goods and services tax like the previous Government did?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the member makes the point that there was, of course, an increase in GST under the last Government—something that was not flagged with the public before they did it.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Through Government’s actions in politics—unbelievable.

SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, did the member have a question.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, I had a comment meant for my colleagues. I’m sorry you had to listen.

SPEAKER: So am I.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the $600 million in lower tax revenue from a weakening economy mean her Government will deliver less real well-being in Budget 2019 than she thought?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will have already seen that this is a Government that of course has operated with a fiscally responsible approach, as we’ve already done with the Budget responsibility rules, whilst doing something that that member didn’t manage, which is investing in people at the same time. You will already have seen our intent through the pre-Budget announcements—things like the $320 million investment in family and sexual violence, the biggest single investment ever made into that area. The priorities we’ve set as a Government have been about both transitioning our economy but also acknowledging we are nothing without our people, and that’s why we have a well-being Budget.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the weakening economy and lower tax revenue, in fact, her biggest policy fail in her year of delivery?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, and I can see the member is very enthusiastic to see what the Budget will bring, as am I.

• Question No. 3—Education

3. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What recent steps, if any, has the Government taken to ensure that young New Zealanders leave school with the skills they need to succeed and thrive in the workforce and in society?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Earlier this month, I announced a number of improvements to the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, or NCEA. They address limitations and unintended consequences that have built up over time, such as over-assessment. We’re going to strengthen the literacy and numeracy requirements, have fewer, larger standards, simplify the NCEA structure, and, importantly, show clear pathways to further education and employment as a result of qualification attainment. These improvements will make NCEA more credible and more robust.

Jan Tinetti: How will these changes make sure that students are getting a good grounding in literacy and numeracy?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Literacy and numeracy has been one of the big concerns around NCEA since it was first introduced, and various steps along the way have been made to try and address the issue. What we’re going to do now is to develop a coherent, 20-credit package of standards for literacy and numeracy. These new requirements will need to be met as a co-requisite requirement in order to gain NCEA at any level rather than be part of the qualifications themselves, and students will be able to meet those standards when they are ready, which may be as early as year 7 in schooling. The standards are also going to be externally graded to avoid increasing teacher workload and also to strengthen the credibility of the literacy and numeracy requirements.

Jan Tinetti: Is there a risk that these changes will take us backwards towards an excessive focus on exams?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, and I want to be very clear about that. No changes have been made to the types of credits needed to gain NCEA. It will still be possible to gain NCEA through a large amount of internal assessment. What we’re aiming for is that half of the standards available be now externally assessed, so for schools where they are teaching standard subjects, external assessment would make up around half of the credits in each subject. But it is important to remember that not all external assessments are exams. They can also include things like portfolios, reports, performances, investigations, and common assessment tasks.

Jan Tinetti: Will these changes improve support for students to undertake NCEA through Māori-medium education?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, and this is long overdue. The default choice that many whānau face is to revert to English-medium schooling or English language schooling at secondary level. The Government has already announced more investment to recruit and train teachers in Te Reo Māori, and we’ll be ensuring that a much greater range of teaching materials are developed so that mātauranga Māori and Te Ao Māori have parity with the NCEA qualification and within our schools and kura.

Jan Tinetti: How will these changes make NCEA more affordable?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I’m very pleased to say that families of secondary school students will no longer have to pay fees for NCEA and New Zealand Scholarship. More than 145,000 households are estimated to benefit from the removal of the NCEA fees that they pay for around 168,000 secondary school students every year. As part of the well-being Budget, we’re abolishing these fees to make things a bit easier for those families to make ends meet but also, importantly, to ensure that every student who achieves the NCEA can receive their qualification.

• Question No. 4—Finance

SPEAKER: Before I call question No. 4, I just want to indicate that the Minister of Finance’s office indicated to my office that this may be a longer answer than normal. I also want to indicate to him that I thought his answers to question No. 1 and both supplementaries were excessively long; and that will be taken into account when I cut him off—if I cut him off.

4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What responsibility, if any, does he take for what the Reserve Bank described as a “sharp decline in GDP growth in the second half of 2018”, and what is the Government’s plan to grow the economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The member needs to read just a little bit further in the May Monetary Policy Statement that he takes that quote from, to where the Reserve Bank says “fiscal policy continues to support growth”—and I certainly will take responsibility for that. In answer to the second part of the question, we have a significant programme of work to support our plan for a modern economy that is productive, sustainable, and inclusive. The core objectives of that plan, as outlined by the Prime Minister last year, are to grow and share New Zealand’s prosperity more fairly; support thriving and sustainable regions; govern responsibly and develop broader measures of success; and transition to a clean, green, carbon-neutral New Zealand. I have a couple more pages but I think I might be testing the patience of the Speaker.

SPEAKER: The member’s right.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the question that’s been asked is, “What is the Government’s plan?” listing the objectives of a plan doesn’t seem to me to be answering the question.

SPEAKER: Well, I think many of us could spend all day—and I’m sure we wouldn’t want to—listening to the Minister of Finance on that subject. I think he did answer the question.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: What are the Government’s plans to meet the objectives outlined in his plan?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I thank the member very much for his question.

SPEAKER: I don’t!

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Specifically the plan includes improving New Zealand’s productivity through investment in research and development, beginning with the $1 billion research and development tax incentive that will lift New Zealand’s R & D investment towards our ambitious target of 2 percent. In terms of growing and supporting thriving and sustainable regions, the core element of our plan is the Provincial Growth Fund, where we’re investing, over the term, $3 billion in infrastructure and productive businesses in the regions to unlock our growth potential. We’re working with our partners in the Future of Work Tripartite Forum and the Business Advisory Council to build more productive businesses and workplaces. A key element of our plan in that area is improving the skills of workers through initiatives such as the fees-free scheme, the reform of vocational education, the establishment of the micro-credentials system, Mana in Mahi, He Poutama Rangatahi, and a number of other initiatives. On moving to a more sustainable economy, we have initiatives such as Green Investment Finance Ltd, the establishment of the new national energy development centre in Taranaki, as well as a new science research fund for cutting edge technology. In terms of making the economy more inclusive, we are doing this by ensuring that all New Zealanders get a fair share of economic success. Some examples of our plan here include—

Hon Maggie Barry: Speech. Speech.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It is a speech, but I was invited to do it Ms Barry, so I’m going to keep going. We raised the minimum wage to $17.70 on 1 April and we’ll gradually increase it to $20 by 2021. And—

SPEAKER: OK. That’s enough. [Interruption] Notwithstanding the warning, the member did ask for it.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he share the Governor of the Reserve Bank’s view that low levels of business confidence have contributed to the sharp decline in growth in the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There’s no doubt that we would like to see the levels of business investment higher. We did get a report today from the OECD that indicates that they believe that they will be higher over the coming year. In terms of business sentiment surveys, I leave that to others to divine exactly what lies behind that, but certainly the international environment has had a significant impact on New Zealand businesses.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why does he blame international headwinds for the sharp decline in growth, when our terms of trade—the prices that we receive for our exports—are at historically very high levels?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: One of the reasons is a little further down page 8 of the Monetary Policy Statement, from which the quote in the member’s primary question comes, where the Reserve Bank Governor says, “International factors have also contributed to the recent decline of GDP growth”.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: To the nearest billion dollars, what is an additional 1 percent GDP growth worth to New Zealand?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I believe it’s about $800 million.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: $800 million?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: About that.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he think that the people of New Zealand would expect their Minister of Finance to know that 1 percent of GDP is about $3 billion and that’s the amount of money that we’ve missed out on given the sharp decline in growth in the past year?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That’s not what the member initially asked. What I would say is on this side of the House we are very confident in the growth rates that we are seeing. We know that they’re not as high as they have been in the past—there are many reasons for that—but this Government remains confident about those growth rates.

• Question No. 5—Housing and Urban Development

5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: How many first-home buyers purchased homes in the last financial year with KiwiSaver HomeStart, and how many with KiwiBuild?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The KiwiSaver HomeStart scheme has been operating for nine years, after the Clark Government announced it in 2008.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Rubbish!

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: After the Clark Government announced it in 2008.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It started in April 2015.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: After the Clark Government announced the scheme in 2008. In the last financial year, 16,000 grants were provided to first-home buyers. There were no KiwiBuild homes available for sale in the last financial year, as the programme started on 1 July 2018. KiwiBuild and HomeStart complement each other. HomeStart helps first-home buyers with their deposit; KiwiBuild helps provide affordable homes that first-home buyers can afford to buy.

Hon Judith Collins: Why, with 18,000 first-home buyers in the last 12 months, can he not sell a few dozen KiwiBuild houses in Wānaka, Auckland, and Canterbury to first-home buyers?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, there are a number of reasons why in our most expensive housing markets it’s extremely difficult for first-home buyers to afford even a bottom quartile priced house. As the member knows, KiwiBuild houses are not subsidised; they are, simply, houses that are being built in the bottom 25 percent of the price range. One of the problems that we have is that the market on its own has not been building affordable homes. Policies like HomeStart don’t fix that problem. We must have supply side policies that increase the supply of affordable houses.

Hon Judith Collins: Does KiwiBuild continue to have a goal to deliver 100,000 houses over 10 years?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We’ve made it very clear that the KiwiBuild programme continues to have the ambition to solve the problem of affordability for first-home buyers. We are going to build houses. We’ve made it clear that we’re not going to have interim targets for the programme, but we will continue to be transparent about our progress towards the target of building affordable homes for young first-home buyers.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is house building in this country at an all-time record since the early 1970s?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I thank the member for his question, and the answer on two counts, actually, is that Government agencies together are responsible for building more new homes right now than at any time since the mid-1970s and, secondly, that under our policies, the market is producing more new homes than at any time since 2007.

Hon Judith Collins: Were the 27,000 houses to be delivered in Hobsonville, Māngere, Mount Roskill, Northcote, Tāmaki, and Porirua initiated by the current Government or a previous Government, as included in his briefing to the incoming Minister?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I’m sure the member will understand the fact that unlike the former Government, this Government has committed to building more public housing, more State housing, and actually affordable housing. When the last Government was in the business of privatising State housing, they never promised to build any affordable homes for first-home buyers as part of that building programme.

Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked whether 27,000 homes in various places were initiated by the current Government or a previous Government—I don’t believe that the question was addressed. We got a lot about how much Mr Twyford would like to do, but, actually, that was quite a specific question.

SPEAKER: It was, and I’ll let the Minister have another go.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, it’s true that the former National Government announced plans to build extra private houses on publicly owned land. They didn’t actually make any progress on doing that. We’ve committed to building more State housing and more affordable housing, two things that Government never did.

Kieran McAnulty: How well has HomeStart worked in the country’s most expensive market?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: HomeStart has helped first-home buyers into their own homes, but it hasn’t increased the supply of affordable homes. What this means is that in our most expensive markets it has been completely ineffective in tackling the housing crisis. For example, in Auckland, Aucklanders have only received 10 percent of the number of HomeStart grants that have been given out, and that is grossly disproportionate to the number of first-home buyers looking for homes in that city.

Hon Judith Collins: Who is taking responsibility for the level of success achieved to date from KiwiBuild?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: This Minister and this Government are taking responsibility for a series of housing policies that are responsible, right now, for the fact that there are more first-home buyers buying homes in New Zealand than at any time in the last few years—24 percent of buyers in the market are first-home buyers. For the first time in a long time, wages are increasing faster than house prices, and under our policies—opposed by that member—thousands of children will not be going to hospital any more, because of warm, dry rental properties.

Kieran McAnulty: What effect has the HomeStart grant had on the housing shortfall?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, despite HomeStart being in operation for nine years, it’s estimated that over that same period of time—that same nine years—a shortfall of 71,000 homes developed. Now, HomeStart has helped some first-home buyers into their own homes, but it will not ease the housing crisis without demand-side policies. KiwiBuild and HomeStart complement each other, and KiwiBuild will ensure that there are actually affordable homes for people to buy with the help of the HomeStart grant.

• Question No. 6—Seniors

6. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Seniors: What announcements has she recently made about support for seniors?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister for Seniors): I recently announced three initiatives in the well-being Budget that will help seniors stay connected and improve their financial position. The most significant is $7.7 million to upgrade and enhance the SuperGold card, including building a new digital platform for card holders and businesses. A new SuperGold app, linked to an upgraded website, will be created to help show seniors where the card can be used when they are out. The app and website will be launched before the end of 2019. The Budget also contains $600,000 to provide some computer training and skills for those who need it, and ACC charges from 1 July includes money, which will mean that those older people who are still working and are seriously injured will no longer have to choose between receiving New Zealand Superannuation or ACC weekly payments.

Mark Patterson: How do these initiatives compare with what has been done in the last six years?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Very well—New Zealand’s over-65s really appreciate the SuperGold card. They particularly value the travel concessions and shopping discounts. The reality is, however, that the SuperGold card has been neglected for several years and it’s harder and harder for people to know where they can use it. This Government is doing something about that. The SuperGold website, which hasn’t had investment for the past six years, will now be upgraded and easier to use. A new SuperGold app, linked to the website, will also be created to show seniors where the card can be used when they’re out and about and will be launched before the end of this year. Businesses—currently there are more than 9,300 businesses with around 1,400 outlets offering SuperGold discounts—will be able to interact with the website better. They will also be able to provide standard promotions and people will finally be able to see where they can get their discounts.

Mark Patterson: How will SuperGold card changes help older New Zealanders?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Like Nick.

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: A key objective—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Now, the member will stand, withdraw, and apologise. I think there’s been enough ageist comments made in his direction for him to start doing it. I think it’s a very poor example.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: A key objective of the changes is to help seniors on fixed incomes to stretch their dollar further. Forty percent of our seniors have less than $100 a week from sources outside of superannuation and other Government transfers, and so their annual income is less than $25,000 per annum. What we’re doing—addressing the card’s neglect—will help seniors with that, but it will also help businesses connect to this very large consumer demographic and, hopefully, provide more discounts.

• Question No. 7—Transport

7. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his statements, policies, and actions on transport?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, in the context they were given and done.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How can he say, as he did yesterday, that the “Government is taking a balanced approach to transport” when his Associate Minister refers to car fascists, and he has said his core objective is to get people out of single-occupant vehicles and into public transport, walking, and cycling rather than simply to reduce congestion for motorists?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I reject the premise of the member’s question. The Associate Minister did not describe motorists as car fascists at all. [Interruption] She most certainly did not.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I never referred to saying motorists were car fascists; I just said she referred to car fascists. What’s he saying?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, as I said yesterday, the Associate Minister said that her words had perhaps been not as well chosen as they might have been. But the point she was making, and the point I’ll make to the member, is that we do have a balanced transport policy, because our Government understands that cities of any scale must have alongside their roads and motorways decent public transport and walking and cycling. Without that, if we only build more motorways, which is what that Government did for nine years, we end up with chronic congestion in our biggest cities and a ballooning toll of deaths and serious injuries.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can the Minister name one genuinely new road his Government is starting?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I can name a number, but we’ve started work on—Mount Messenger has happened, the Manawatū Gorge replacement, the State Highway 1 loop road, the Matakana link road, the Awakino Gorge tunnel bypass, the Gills Road upgrade, and the Horsham Downs link road.

Hon Simon Bridges: Didn’t Minister Bridges start all of those?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Minister Bridges also promised six bridges in Northland and didn’t deliver a single one.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t the true answer, in fact, it was 10?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary?

SPEAKER: Sorry, no. It’s not a matter yet. The Minister has to answer.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the Minister might have promised 10 bridges, but he delivered none.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did that Minister inherit a list of promises such as the 10 bridges, when one of them was not even a bridge?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The member is correct, and I remember well the election announcement on the side of the road with a pig standing next to the members as they made their pork-barrel campaign announcements.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is it true that the first two priorities of Let’s Get Wellington Moving are (1) to reduce speed limits and widen footpaths, and (2) to build more cycleways?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, both those things are part of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving package, but it also includes an additional Mount Victoria Tunnel. It includes fixing the Basin Reserve flyover without a hideous elevated concrete flyover, that was the sole commitment or promise that the last National Government made to the Wellington region. But it also includes investment in a rapid transit network, better train and bus services, more walking and cycling—it is a truly integrated transport package, that will unleash the potential of this beautiful city.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the reason that he cancelled the planned Tauranga Northern Link because he expects people not to want to use their cars but instead to walk, cycle, or catch the bus from Ōmokoroa?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No. The reason that the New Zealand Transport Agency re-evaluated State Highway 2 is that our Government doesn’t believe that every single transport problem can be solved by a four-lane, dual-carriage expressway. We believe in an integrated transport system, in contrast to the former Government, that spent 40 percent of the transport budget on five motorway projects that carry 4 percent of vehicle journeys.

• Question No. 8—Health

8. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Have there been more or fewer elective surgical procedures undertaken in the 2018/19 year to date than in the previous year to date according to the Ministry of Health statistics web page entitled “Services delivered: Acute and elective patient discharge volumes”, and by how many?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The data set on that web page does not capture all surgical procedures, as the member knows full well. I’m advised that according to the limited data set on that web page, there have been 4,098 fewer elective discharges in the year to March compared to the previous year. However, beyond the numbers the member is referencing, acute surgery is up by 2,225 and there have been 1,400 more non-admitted procedures delivered by district health boards (DHBs), so more people are getting the care they need in the most appropriate, cost-effective, and convenient setting.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he agree that the figures on that page indicate that DHBs are on track to perform 1,800 fewer gynaecology and 750 fewer urology procedures this year compared with last year?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: One thing I am clear on is that the member is cherry-picking figures to talk down our health service. The figures that the previous Government used in respect of the electives target—the figures that that Government used—were a third larger than the ones on that page. The member knows that those are not the figures his Government—the previous Government—used when it was wanting to inflate figures for elective surgery.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, is he saying that he doesn’t have confidence in the data published by his own ministry, and if so, how can the public tell whether access to elective surgery is getting better or worse?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No. That page is just not the full picture.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Sorry, what was that? That page is what?

SPEAKER: Will the member repeat the end of his answer—neither of us heard.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That page doesn’t represent the full picture.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, what confidence can he give 81-year-old Kevin Gibson of Gisborne, waiting for urology surgery which has been cancelled four times in the past 18 months, that his prospects of receiving the procedure he requires are more remote under this Government?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I dispute that assertion, and what I would say is that this Government is committed to funding our health services properly after nine years of neglect. The system has been under strain. It is my expectation that DHBs will strive to meet the contracted levels for procedures. The year is not over yet. For that individual, he has, of course, my sympathies. For anyone who doesn’t get the surgery that they want first time, as happened under the previous Government through prioritisation in the health service, of course they have my sympathies.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Will he commit to DHBs performing more elective surgery this year than last, and if so, how will the public be able to tell if not by the ministry’s statistics?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The year is not over yet, and I expect that DHBs will be working very hard to deliver on the contracted volumes.

• Question No. 9—Pike River Re-entry

9. GINNY ANDERSEN (Labour) to the Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry: What recent progress, if any, has been made on Pike River recovery?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry): I’m pleased to report to this House that on Tuesday, 21 May, the Pike River Recovery Agency successfully breached the 30-metre seal at Pike River mine, and re-entered the drift. In the presence of family members, experts from Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa, Pike River Recovery Agency, removed the final block of the 30-metre seal which prevented access, and walked through two airlock doors, successfully re-entering the drift. More than eight years after 29 men went through that entrance to work at the Pike River coalmine and never came home, the promise to re-enter the mine drift has been honoured.

Ginny Andersen: What are the next steps for recovery from here?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Fulfilling the promise to do everything possible to safely recover the drift is an act of justice for families who have waited a long time. Over the next few days, the agency will continue to advance up the drift, assessing the state of the drift for potential hazards, and, in the coming months, a second forensically-focused mining team will examine and remove any evidential material. There is still a lot to do, but we are committed to finding out what happened at Pike River. As I’ve said before, safety has been, and always will be, the families’ and the Government’s bottom line for the recovery effort.

Ginny Andersen: What response has the Minister seen from Pike River families?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The families have been extraordinarily appreciative of the agency’s hard work and commitment to the recovery effort. However, it’s fair to say that re-entry would never have been possible without the determination, patience, and support of the Pike River families and the Family Reference Group. Now, I’d like to thank all those members and the supporters of the reference group, and, in particular, Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse, for their tireless work. Tuesday’s milestone belongs to those families and the memory of their lost ones. It also belongs to all New Zealanders, who know that going home to your loved ones is the least you should expect after a day’s work.

• Question No. 10—Housing and Urban Development

10. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Is he confident the formula provided in the regulation for the heating capacity of qualifying heaters in the main living room, as published in the Residential Tenancies (Healthy Homes Standards) Regulations 2019, is suitable for New Zealand landlords to understand?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The heating standard requires landlords to provide a fixed heating device capable of achieving a minimum temperature of at least 18 degrees Celsius. I am confident because these standards were widely consulted with landlords, and they were, in fact, the landlords’ preferred option. Admittedly, there are some people who do not want to fix the problem of cold, damp homes causing the hospitalisation of children, but we decided this could not continue. I’m also confident because the ministry received $15 million in Budget 2018 to help landlords comply, and this will fund the development of an online tool where landlords can input the developments of their property and print out the details of the type of heat pump or heater required. It will also cover the support for landlords through advice, and the development of guidance material. Landlords also have two years, to 1 July 2021, to consider this material, to ask questions, and ensure that their properties comply within 90 days of any new tenancy.

Simon O’Connor: How many variables will landlords need to know or measure to make this calculation using the calculator he refers to?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the online tool will require landlords to put in the full dimensions of the main living area, the number of doors, the number of windows, the level of insulation, whether or not the windows are double glazed or not. All of those are the variables that will go into the online tool that will tell them the power of the heater or heat pump that’s needed to heat that space.

Simon O’Connor: A visual aid, if I could, Mr Speaker. [Produces chart depicting algebraic formula] If the Minister does not know that a minimum of 37 different variables are required to perform the calculation, how will the average landlord or tenant know what heater the law requires them to buy when they go to Bunnings next month?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I’m sure the member understands that landlords don’t have to be an expert in algebra—

Hon Members: They do.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, they don’t—no, they clearly don’t. They don’t need to know algebra any more than they need to know the coding on the website that will tell them the level of the heat pump or electric heater that’s needed to heat their room. Our Government is committed to the idea that warm, dry homes are a necessary reform to stop kids being sent off to hospital, and, unlike Ms Collins, we don’t believe that that is necessarily an attack on landlords.

Paul Eagle: Why is the Government implementing the Healthy Homes Standards?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Otago University recently found out that homes that are damp or mouldy caused more than 35,000 nights in hospital, and at least 6,000 children are admitted each year for what they describe as “housing sensitive hospitalisations.” We cannot continue to tolerate this. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum indoor temperature of 18 degrees.

Paul Eagle: Will the Healthy Homes Standards reduce the health costs of tenants?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The heating standard alone is predicted to reduce the costs incurred by New Zealand tenants because of ill health by $129 million a year. That excludes the non-quantifiable benefits such as increased school attendance and greater educational attainment, mental well-being, and comfort. This is additional to the predicted $476 million in energy savings.

Paul Eagle: Does he agree with the criticism that this is an attack on landlords?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, I do not agree with that criticism. We are lifting standards so that the bottom end of the market, “slum landlords”, will not continue to undercut decent landlords. Most good landlords have already insulated their homes some time ago, and we are lifting the standards because a report from Otago University highlighted that 15 percent of owner-occupier homes were reported to be cold, compared to 35 percent of rental homes. Only 3 percent of owner-occupied homes were damp or mouldy, compared to 12 percent of rentals.

Simon O’Connor: Is it reasonable to expect landlords to be able to calculate, from his regulations, “the transmission heat loss in respect of the living room’s building elements that are part of the … building’s thermal envelope”?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Not using algebra, but that’s why we are providing an online tool to provide an easy and convenient tool for all landlords.

Simon O’Connor: Could the Minister explain the difference between a “living room’s building elements that are part of the … building’s thermal envelope” and a living room’s elements that are not part of the building’s thermal envelope, as outlined in the regulations?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I’m very happy to organise a detailed briefing by officials for the member if he really wants a detailed explanation of what will, effectively, be the back end of the website.

• Question No. 11—Police

11. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Police: Does he stand by all statements, policies, and actions of the Police in relation to the theft of 11 guns from the Palmerston North police station?

Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): Yes.

Chris Bishop: Did the police pay for the return of some or all of the eight guns that have now been recovered?

Hon STUART NASH: I’m not going to provide a running commentary on the day to day operations of a police investigation. I am sure that police will provide updates as and when appropriate.

Chris Bishop: I’ll ask again. Did police pay for the return of some or all of the eight guns that have now been recovered?

Hon STUART NASH: I will say again, that member will have to ask police for the background about how they recovered the firearms. Like previous Ministers of Police, I do not receive advice that would prejudice an active case. I’m also not going to provide a running commentary on a live police investigation.

Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw your attention to Speakers’ ruling 160/3, which is about operational matters. Now, essentially, what the Minister is arguing is that he’s not going to offer a running commentary on something that is, essentially, an operational matter of the police. You sir, I think, have ruled in the past—and the Speaker’s ruling I’m referring to is a ruling of Speaker Hunt in 2003, that “Although a reply that something is an operational matter is strictly not out of order, … on its own it is neither informative nor helpful. … a wider view is taken of ministerial responsibility.” I think, given the public—

SPEAKER: No, I don’t need any help from the member. The Minister on both occasions referred to prejudicing ongoing police operations, and I think that is a reasonable answer to the House.

Chris Bishop: Was it his intention for his gun buy-back scheme to start with the police buying guns back that were stolen from them in the first place?

Hon STUART NASH: Let me tell you what is not helpful, and that is for that member to stand up in a public meeting and tell—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! I don’t know if I want to hear it or not, but I think the House has a right to hear it, and we will.

Hon STUART NASH: Mr Speaker, thank you very much. Can I say it is not helpful for that member to stand up in a public meeting, like he did last Monday, and tell members of the public that police are “bullying people.” That member should be supporting our good, hard-working members of the New Zealand police force, not undermining them.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was about the Minister’s expectations around the start of the buy-back programme; nothing to do with his commentary on a public meeting that some other member was speaking at.

SPEAKER: Yes, and I think that if it had been a straight question with no irony in it, I would have been tighter and stopped the member when he said “No” at the beginning.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order, if I might.

SPEAKER: Have another point of order, and then—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, I note that it wasn’t a ruling. So I’m just asking if, in fact, your assessment of there being some irony in his answer was because, in fact, the police did buy back the guns.

SPEAKER: All I indicated what that there was irony in the question, which meant that I was more liberal with the answer than I might have been otherwise. I’ve had some representations to be a bit looser and let things run a bit; that’s what I was doing.

• Question No. 12—Ethnic Communities

12. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Ethnic Communities: What recent announcements has she made about supporting ethnic communities in Christchurch and throughout the country?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister for Ethnic Communities): Salaam alaikum and Eid Mubarak for Ramadan. Last night, while co-hosting a parliamentary Iftar dinner, I announced that this year’s well-being Budget will boost support for our ethnic communities by increasing the capacity and capability of the Office of Ethnic Communities. The well-being Budget provides $9.4 million over four years to strengthen our ethnic communities and to provide support for our diverse communities, including for our Muslim brothers and sisters following the 15 March terror attacks. This follows an additional $1.8 million for the portfolio announced in April. We know it is crucial that our ethnic, diverse, and multi-faith communities are connected, engaged, and supported. This funding will support that.

Dr Duncan Webb: How will this funding help support our ethnic communities?

Hon JENNY SALESA: Some of the new funding will support up to 15 additional community advisers and staff members in Auckland, Dunedin, and Wellington. This is in addition to the increase in Christchurch of eight staff members, from two confirmed in April. The funding will also be used to support the office’s work in meeting with ethnic communities, proactively addressing issues affecting them, and administering the Ethnic Communities Development Fund, which allows ethnic communities to develop and lead their own initiatives.

Dr Duncan Webb: What responsibility does the Office of Ethnic Communities have?

Hon JENNY SALESA: The Office of Ethnic Communities is the conduit between the Government and New Zealand’s ethnic communities. They provide policy advice and on-the-ground, culturally appropriate support for ethnic communities right across the country. They also administer the Ethnic Communities Development Fund. They are the Government’s principal adviser on ethnically diverse communities. This additional funding will help the office to better undertake all of these responsibilities, and this will be the most significant boost in funding since the office was first established in 2002.

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