Questions & Answers - 11 August 2016
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. And, in particular, when I was asked a few months ago about what I thought of the Labour Party proposal that the Government legislate interest rates, I said: "That's a pretty dumb idea." I stand by that statement.
Grant Robertson: Does he stand by his statement that he is not concerned that trading banks are not passing on the full official cash rate (OCR) cut?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, in the context in which it was made. The banks operate in a competitive environment. I see some of them have decided today, for instance, to favour their depositors by putting deposit rates up. For all those New Zealanders who save and put money in the bank, they probably prefer that. Other banks, over time, may decide to pass all those reductions on to borrowers.
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, then, has he sought to correct the Prime Minister, who said he thought that banks should "pass … on in full" the rate cut to their customers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That, of course, as you would expect from the Opposition, was not quite what the Prime Minister said. In fact, he made a comment to the effect that he expected that is what the banks would do in the context of a competitive market. And, fundamentally, it is our view that the competition among banks will determine how much is passed on. It is not the Government's job to tell them how to run their business.
Grant Robertson: If it is not the Government's job to tell banks how to run their business, why did John Key say: "If banks behave like good corporate citizens, they should pass on Reserve Bank cuts in full to their customers."?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because good corporate citizens do what their customers demand that they do, and that is what will happen. In the end, they will decide how to respond to demand in the market and New Zealanders who are worried about it can ring up their bank, demand a lower interest rate, and I am told that they will get it.
Grant Robertson: What responsibility does he take for New Zealanders not receiving the full benefit of the OCR cut today, given the ANZ bank statement that lowering lending rates would "throw fuel on the fire in an over-heated housing market."?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This week the primary responsibility for the housing market in New Zealand lies with the Auckland Council. It has in front of it a plan and we, like the council, hope that it will sign off a plan that is convincing about bringing more supply to the market, because that is the critical variable in the housing market and the Auckland Council has control over that variable.
Grant Robertson: When 75 percent of New Zealanders are telling his Government that it is not doing enough to address the housing crisis and that this is the reason banks are giving for not cutting rates, why will he not front up to New Zealanders and admit that his Government's failure to even admit there is a housing crisis is a major reason why mortgage rates will not be cut?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, the member is making an assumption about mortgage rates, and I think we have yet to see how the competitive pressures in the market will work out. As it happens, banks have reduced mortgage rates over the last 6 months or so by more than the reductions in the OCR, and that could easily happen over the next few months. But the key decisions now for the housing market lie with the entity that regulates the Auckland housing market, and that is the Auckland Council.
Grant Robertson: Does he recognise that he is now completely out of touch in ruling out a review of immigration policy settings when the Reserve Bank has now joined every Opposition party and most economic commentators in saying that unsustainable levels of immigration are putting downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on housing prices?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Immigration policy settings are always under review, but I will tell you one part of it we will not be reviewing. The biggest single change is New Zealanders staying home. Unlike New Zealand First, our policy is not to kick New Zealanders out in order to reduce the migration numbers. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: Why is he refusing to undertake a review of monetary policy and the Reserve Bank's policy targets agreement (PTA) when, on the basis of today's Monetary Policy Statement, inflation will not reach the mid-point target until 2018, meaning it will have failed to meet the PTA for 7 years by that point?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Along with other commentators, I would invite the member to specify what he thinks the alternative should be, because, in fact, across the world there is so much concern about deflation that central banks are taking extraordinary means to try to reach the inflation targets. And it turns out inflation targeting is probably more important now than it has ever been. In any case, the PTA is reviewed every 5 years as it expires, and that will happen in the next 12 months or so.
• Economic Outlook—Reports
2. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the outlook for the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Earlier today the Reserve Bank released its Monetary Policy Statement and cut the official cash rate by 25 basis points to 2 percent. The official cash rate is now the lowest it has been in its history. The Reserve Bank forecast growth to accelerate from 2.5 percent this year to 3.4 percent in each of the next 2 years. The outlook is broadly similar to its June statement but stronger growth is now being forecast. The drivers of this growth include stimulatory monetary conditions, higher terms of trade, strong construction activity, and strong tourist spending. This confirms that New Zealand remains one of the better-performing developed economies.
Alastair Scott: In light of the lift in forecast economic growth over the next 3 years, what is the Reserve Bank's outlook for the labour market?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Reserve Bank is forecasting an increase of about 1 percent more growth in the economy over the next 3 years, compared with what it thought 3 months ago. It is forecasting that unemployment is going to continue falling from 5.2 percent this year to 4.5 percent by 2019 and that job numbers will increase by more than 2 percent on average over the next 2 years. A significant component of that, of course, will be the construction boom, where thousands of houses will be built over the next 2 or 3 years. These forecasts are in line with Treasury's forecast for the labour market and show an economy that is delivering more jobs, lower unemployment, and real increases in incomes when in many developed countries that is not happening.
Alastair Scott: What risks does the Reserve Bank see in the economic outlook?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It points out that global growth is below trend growth—that is, below the normal average—even though there are unprecedented levels of monetary stimulus from central banks. It points out that significant surplus capacity remains across many economies, supressing global inflation. Weak global conditions and low interest rates internationally are placing upward pressure on the New Zealand dollar, and the Reserve Bank has signalled continuing concern about the exchange rate being too high. Faced with these risks, the Government is continuing to focus on building New Zealand's competitiveness, giving businesses the confidence to invest and create jobs, and lift incomes.
Alastair Scott: What steps is the Government taking to support growth in jobs, wages, and investment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although the Reserve Bank has presented a fairly positive outlook for the New Zealand economy, this cannot be taken for granted, because forecasts are just forecasts. That is why we have a wide-ranging programme to ensure that the economy remains resilient and continues to grow. For instance, billions of dollars are being invested in public infrastructure, including a roll-out of ultra-fast broadband, and there has been significant new investment in science and innovation, as well as the Government focusing on getting higher productivity and better results in the public sector, which represents about a quarter of the economy.
• Predator Free New Zealand 2050—Funding
3. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: What advice has she received on the total funding that will be required to achieve a predator-free New Zealand by 2050?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): I have received advice from the Department of Conservation (DOC) that costs out our ability to make parts of New Zealand, including various islands, predator-free, and for us to take a staged approach. DOC, of course, is internationally recognised for its ability to eradicate pests from islands. We have eradicated pests from more than 150 islands so far, including Kāpiti Island, Whenua Hou, Little Barrier Island, etc. Generally, there is scientific consensus that this goal is achievable. Predator Free New Zealand has also been supported by philanthropists and others. So I have received very good advice that this excellent initiative, which I am commending the Greens for supporting today, will actually be achieved.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a primary question on notice and it asked about the advice that she received. The Minister in her response has not answered the question about what that advice was.
Mr SPEAKER: I absolutely agree with the member. The question has been on notice. The essence of the question is a dollar figure as to the total cost of the project. If the Minister cannot answer that, I have no alternative but to give additional supplementary questions to Mr Hague, but if the Minister wants to attempt to answer the question first, I will reconsider after hearing the answer.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: There have been a number of estimates that have been put forward, some of which are accurate, some of which are building on suppositions. For example—[Interruption] Well, we think that they are accurate. At this stage, when we look at how much it costs us to, for example, rid the Million Dollar Mouse from the Antipodes, that is a million dollars and upwards. There are various studies—a $9.04 billion figure came through from Auckland University, for example. That figure is based on the estimated highest-per-hectare cost of current eradication technology. It does not, though, take into account potential technological advances, and it is really simply a scale-up of current methods that are used on islands.
Kevin Hague: How much of the total funding required to achieve a predator-free New Zealand will the Government commit to providing?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: We have already committed $28 million of new money over 4 years. That is an initial start-up, which comes in addition to the approximately $100 million that is paid out every year by various Crown entities to ensure that we can keep on top of the main three predators—the rats, the stoats, and the possums. What we have been looking for and have been very open about is that the investment that we are putting into science and technology and research is where the groundbreaking gains will be made. As I said, 5 years ago this was not considered possible; now it is very much within reach, and there has been universal approval from international agencies and others, and, just very recently today, even from the Greens themselves.
Kevin Hague: How can the Government guarantee that the predator-free target will be funded adequately when fully two-thirds of the funding will apparently come from the private sector and regional councils, and the Government's own contribution will be entirely contingent on their decisions?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: I refute what the member has just said. Our initial contribution of $28 million is something we have put in to start the ball rolling, and I think it is a significant investment from the Crown. We are committed to achieving this goal and this level of investment, for example, from other philanthropists. The member may not be aware, but the NEXT Foundation has contributed $100 million over 10 years. Both of the Morgan foundations and the Tindall Foundation are all significant philanthropic groups that have contributed large sums of money because they believe in the vision. They believe in the notion that we can get rid of these eco-invaders that are eating our natural creatures—our birds, lizards, etc.—to the point of extinction. This is an achievable goal, but I have always said from the start, as did the Prime Minister, that we will do it in collaboration—we will all do it together. We are also putting money into a community fund. For example, Sir Owen Glenn has just contributed a good sum of money to our money. So it is going very well.
Kevin Hague: Why should the public have any confidence that the Government is genuinely committed to the predator-free goal, when another of its 2050 aspirational goals—halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050—has actually seen emissions rise under her Government?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: I think that—comparing apples with pears in this space, and moving quite a long way from the primary question aside—we are a Government that backs itself to succeed. The climate change initiatives are excellent—New Zealand is doing its fair share, and there will be other announcements that our extremely capable Minister, the Hon Paula Bennett, will be making in due course around that—but for my part, for Predator Free New Zealand, which comes under the Department of Conservation, the funding, the resources, and the level of energy, commitment, and expertise that is going in mean that it is achievable. If that member is so cynical, why is it that the Greens have tried to insert themselves into Government policies? We are pleased that you are supporting it, of course.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister believe that the eradication of exhaust fumes from a very large number—tens of millions—of possums would make a difference to carbon dioxide emissions?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: The Minister makes an interesting point. His knowledge of possum dietary habits is perhaps greater than my own, but, obviously, eradicating probably up to 10 million possums in this country could only help, not only with our biodiversity but also with our gas emissions, so I thank the member for the suggestion and that valuable point.
Kevin Hague: Will she take up the Green Party's initiative of charging a taonga levy on overseas visitors to ensure a dedicated and substantial revenue stream for eliminating predators; if not, why not?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: This really falls within the domain of the Prime Minister and Minister Bennett, because tourism is their purview. I would really be very hesitant to say that you have to go into these things quickly. Clearly, the Greens have just made it up on the back of an envelope—it is a very poorly thought through initiative. We, on the other hand, are doing some substantial gains. I would suggest that by doubling the tourism levy you run the risk of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Tourism is now our biggest revenue earner over dairy. Why would you try to penalise people coming to this country, who perhaps do not understand our environment—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is significantly long enough.
Kevin Hague: When will she take some action to advance the agreement her Government has already signed by the Prime Minister with the Green Party to develop pest control strategy together?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: Way before my time there was a memorandum of understanding between the Government and the Greens. There is no longer. Any so-called—
Iain Lees-Galloway: What! A memorandum of understanding—were you married?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Lees-Galloway—please, a little less interjection so that I can hear the answer.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: So the Greens have no role to play in Government policy and Government initiatives—anything that we come with. Your support of Predator Free New Zealand after the event is welcome. It is good that you see sense at last as a party—not "you" as in the Speaker, but the Green Party, which has such poor conservation and environmental records of its own. This is a desperate measure to insert yourselves into something that is not of your making.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the spirit of the House, we are enjoying these questions and answers at the moment. Could I move that you allocate another supplementary question to the Greens so that we can hear more from the Minister?
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just suggest that the member make a point of studying the Standing Orders and Speakers' rulings a bit more frequently.
• Housing, Auckland—Housing Developments
4. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister for Building and Housing: What recent announcements has the Government made regarding its programme of large-scale housing developments in Auckland?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): Yesterday the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company issued an expression of interest process for the redevelopment of the large block of State housing at Tāmaki. It is seeking proposals to transform the first phase of 1,000 homes into 2,500 new mixed-tenure homes. By the time the programme is completed, at least 7,500 homes will be delivered at Tāmaki to the Auckland market. This is the largest urban redevelopment project ever undertaken in New Zealand, and, while taking time, it is part of the change in Auckland to a modern, vibrant, international city.
Simon O'Connor: How many new houses has the Government completed on public land in the last year, and how does that compare with historic levels?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The House will be interested to know that Housing New Zealand in the last year has completed 871 new homes. This is the highest number in 25 years. On top of that, other Government programmes have completed 155 new homes in Weymouth, 24 have been completed in Awatea, another 432 at Hobsonville, and 32 in that first stage of the Tāmaki project. A total of 1,514 new homes were completed last year under Government initiatives. This is the highest number in 25 years, and more than double the rate that was ever completed under the previous Government.
Simon O'Connor: How many houses on public land does the Government have in the pipeline for construction between now and 2020, and how does that compare historically?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government has under way an extensive programme of directly building houses on public land that in Auckland, by 2020, will deliver 10,000 homes. This includes projects like Tāmaki, Hobsonville, McLennan, Moire Road, Manukau, Great North Road, and New North Road, and I will be announcing further sites to add to this programme in the near future. There is no time in history when there has been this scale of new home building in Government programmes in Auckland.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 5, Dr David Clark. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Both interjections—but particularly it started from the Deputy Prime Minister—are certainly unhelpful, to be referring to any members who are not here.
• Question No. 5 to Minister
Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North): I seek leave to hold the question over until the Minister of Trade himself is available to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to do that. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Trade—Relationship with China
5. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Trade: How and by whom was he or his office informed "on or around 25 May" of "possible trade retaliation"; and what was the content of that communication?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Trade: The Minister was informed via an email from his office staff on 25 May. In terms of the content of that communication, as the Minister said yesterday, there are limitations to what detail can be provided publicly, given legislative and World Trade Organization (WTO) constraints around the reporting of what may be competition issues that are not yet under investigation.
Dr David Clark: Where did his office get that information from, and from whom?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said in answer to the primary question, in terms of the content of that communication, there are limitations as to what detail can be provided publicly, given the legislative constraints and WTO rules around the reporting of what may be competition issues that are not yet under investigation.
Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very clear as to where that information came from. He did not even address that part of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I accept he did not, but he gave a very good reason for why—if the member just wants to resume his seat for a minute. The Minister gave a very good reason why he is not prepared to address the question, and I refer the member to Speaker's ruling 193/3. He is, effectively, saying that for privacy reasons, commercial sensitivity, or national security it is not in the public interest to give further detail. That is an acceptable position for a Minister to take.
Dr David Clark: Given his statement in the House yesterday that there are "legislative constraints" around the reporting of competition complaints that are not yet under investigation and his reiteration of that today, what specifically are those legislative constraints?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are constraints under New Zealand competition law and also under WTO rules that any complaint about competition issues between countries cannot be reported publicly until such, and if, an investigation is conducted.
Dr David Clark: Given his statement yesterday and again today, what specifically are those legislative constraints?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have the exact clause and chapter of the law to hand, but—
Grant Robertson: It's just an excuse, then.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it is not an excuse, Mr Robertson. It is actually the WTO rules and competition law, and the Minister is not in a position, in the public interest, to disclose further.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If a Minister is going to refuse to answer a question in the House on the basis that it is not in the public interest, which I think is the what the primary Speaker's ruling that you referred to relates to, surely there must be some responsibility on that Minister to cite with some specificity the legal basis on which they are making that claim.
Mr SPEAKER: No, listen again to what the Minister said. The second question was, effectively, the same in terms of specific legislation, and the Minister said he could not give you the specifics. That is an answer that is given by the Minister and that addresses the question.
Dr David Clark: Can he confirm that he is in fact relying on section 10 of the Dumping and Countervailing Duties Act 1988 to protect the identity of either Pacific Steel Group or the country of China; if not, what legislation is he relying on?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not prepared to confirm the contents of the member's question.
Dr David Clark: Why did he not think it was sufficiently important to inform the Prime Minister, in the face of threats of possible trade retaliation to some of our biggest exporters in our biggest export market, for 2 whole months?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Minister has already acknowledged publicly that he should have provided the Prime Minister with a fuller account of the issue and done so sooner. He has apologised to the Prime Minister for that.
• Beneficiaries—Employment Opportunities
6. MARAMA FOX (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she agree with the study of Alicia Sudden that Work and Income is pushing too many beneficiaries into jobs that don't last; if so, what is she doing about it?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): No. I find it very hard to put faith in any research that, by its own admission "is not considered as accurate or likely to represent the entire population". I also note that the Ministry of Social Development has some concerns around the methodology and approach taken. As I have already told this House, I have commissioned the social policy evaluation and research unit to do some research in this area, based on data matching and rigorous methods, not anecdotal evidence from a university assignment that involved handing out flyers, offering grocery vouchers for taking part, and interviews with only six hand-picked respondents. People leave benefits for a range of reasons, including moving into retirement or overseas. Two categories of people, I note, were not considered by the university study mentioned by the member.
Marama Fox: Does she consider it appropriate that Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) sent a 38-weeks-pregnant woman to a potentially dangerous and physically taxing job, doing bee-keeping; if not, what is she doing to ensure WINZ does not treat people like this again?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No, it is not appropriate. Although I am not able to talk about specific cases, I want to make it very clear that no 8½-months-pregnant woman should be directed by Work and Income to find a job. Work and Income policy is explicit: that a client receiving job seeker support can be deferred from work obligations from 27 weeks of pregnancy, or earlier if there are any complications associated with the pregnancy.
Marama Fox: Is she concerned by the dismissive comments of the Ministry of Social Development Deputy Chief Executive (DCE), Ruth Bound, who said the thesis "does not fairly reflect the work our people do each day to help improve the lives of New Zealanders we support"; if so, is she going to change the demeaning and judgmental endemic culture of WINZ?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No. As I mentioned in my primary answer, the thesis itself says that it "is not considered as accurate or likely to represent the entire population." As the DCE said in her full statement: "The ministry welcomes any research that provides insight into the lives of the people we work with; however, our initial view of this thesis gives us some concerns around the approach taken." The DCE went on to acknowledge that: "It can be hard to get a foot on the ladder, and difficult to begin the climb, but it's a start to better things. That is what ministry staff come to work every day to do: to help people make a better life for themselves." I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work that the staff at Work and Income do every day, supporting people to get into education, into training, or into work so that they can fulfil their dreams.
Marama Fox: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has got two supplementary questions and has used them.
Marama Fox: It is my understanding, Mr Speaker, that we have been given an extra supplementary question for today.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no one has advised me. I will accept the member's word and accept the supplementary question, but unless we have these sorts of arrangements more formally arranged, it is very difficult for me to manage question time. On this occasion, I will accept the word of the member.
Marama Fox: Does she agree, then—given that the DCE agrees that feedback from any source is valued—with Sudden's thesis, where it says "WINZ should be more flexible and supportive"; if so, given the success of the Whānau Ora approach in doing just that, will she work with the Māori Party to improve whānau well-being in the context of returning to a system of personalised care management?
Mr SPEAKER: Two additional supplementaries, by the sound of that.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No. In fact, I do believe that the Work and Income system is incredibly supportive and flexible, and we have seen the success of that with the latest figures showing the lowest June quarter since 2008. I would also like to point out to the member that 120,000 beneficiaries have access to intensive work-focused case management, which is helping more of them into independence. I would say to that member that the Ministry of Social Development has been incredibly supportive of the Whānau Ora approach, and, in fact, just recently transferred $11.38 million in contracts and funding to Whānau Ora commissioning agents, and tranche three sees more to come.
• Road Safety—Initiatives
7. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What announcement has the Government recently made around the use of Bluetooth technology in the South Island to deliver information for visiting drivers?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Transport): Last month the Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, and I announced a trial of Bluetooth technology to deliver audio information messages to rental car drivers on the popular Christchurch to Queenstown route. The trial is being run by the New Zealand Transport Agency in partnership with two New Zealand companies: HMI Technologies and Go Rentals. Audible safety messages will be sent by roadside transmitters via Bluetooth to devices fitted in rental vehicles. I invite members to view the information about the trial on the Go Rentals website. The site also includes a map showing where the transmitters are and general information about the trial. I understand that the trial is going very well and that the numbers of those participating has already exceeded expectations.
Sarah Dowie: How will this trial complement other initiatives to assist visiting drivers, especially those travelling in Southland?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: This technology has the potential to improve safety outcomes in remote locations that are the drawcards for many of our visiting drivers. This trial will complement the many other initiatives that are already in place to provide visitors with road safety information at each stage of their journey and holiday in New Zealand: planning, booking, arriving in New Zealand, inflight information, and when they are, of course, actually on our roads. This includes providing information to those who are obtaining visas to come to New Zealand and an additional $25 million investment in the southern regions of New Zealand for funding road improvements and making improvements to roadsides at popular tourist spots, including, of course, those in the Southland area.
• Police, Minister—Statements
8. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Does she stand by all her statements; if so, how?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): Yes; and as to how, I have been told "quite brilliantly, and yet with modesty".
Ron Mark: Which of these does she stand by: TV3's The Nation programme on 12 June, when she said she was "confident of reducing overall crime and violent crime (including domestic violence) by 20 percent"; or yesterday, when she said "there aren't enough police" and that "family violence rates have increased and put pressure on police resources"?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Both. One is about what has happened, and the other is about the increased reporting of family violence that we expect to go up because people have so much confidence in New Zealand Police.
Ron Mark: Who in the Far North did she speak to recently, who led her to conclude that crime and police resourcing are not a big issue?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am not sure that I said that at all, but I have spoken to several people in the Far North and many say it has never been quite the same since the Hon John Carter was the member.
Ron Mark: On what date was she last in the Far North District, given she spent much of the adjournment in the Far North of the United States and Canada?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, the member is clearly a bit jealous about my excellent fishing photos and my zip lining. As to the Far North, I was there in July. I cannot tell the member the exact dates, but I am happy to provide them should he put that on notice. It is obviously such a big issue for him.
Ron Mark: Which towns, specifically, did she visit in the Far North District when she was last there?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member really does need to put this down as a written question or as a primary question, because I do not normally give a travelogue when I come here. I am going to talk about the Far North. I certainly know I have been to Kaikohe recently, I have been to Ngāwhā prison, I have been to Kerikeri, I have been to Whangarei—I have been to various places in Northland and, actually, all that distance in between them.
• Immigration Policy—Numbers and Impact
9. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister of Immigration: Has he seen any reports that 60 percent of New Zealanders think the Government should let in fewer immigrants; if so, why does he think New Zealanders are becoming concerned about immigration?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I have seen those reports. There could be many reasons why, ranging from genuine concern for New Zealanders' access to the job market, confusion between migration and immigration and the fact that current positive migration is being driven predominantly by New Zealanders' movements, to sensationalised reporting that neglects the fact that the overwhelming majority of migrants are on temporary visas and will return home, as well as some who are being influenced by scaremongering from political parties over things like Chinese-sounding surnames.
Hon Steven Joyce: Oh, Chinese-sounding surnames!
Iain Lees-Galloway: Calm yourself. Why did the Minister dismiss the concerns raised by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and Treasury, that "We have seen increasing numbers of migrants working in lower-skilled occupations with lower pay."?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: On the contrary, those concerns were not dismissed and are constantly being addressed by the continuous nipping and tucking of immigration policy to ensure that it is fit for purpose. The best examples of that, I would suggest, are the 56 occupations that have been removed from skills shortages lists since 2013, whereas only five have been added on. I think that reflects a very important issue.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why did the Government approve work visas for 2,700 sales workers last year, when there are already 23,000 unemployed sales workers right here in New Zealand?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: It is difficult for me to give the exact reasons, but I would suggest that there were two main reasons. One was that those work visas were not subject to a labour market test if, for example, they were the partners of people who were already here. They may have also been in areas where there is chronic short supply of labour, notwithstanding the job seekers that Mr Lees-Galloway suggests—I do not know whether the number is 23,000, given that overall job seeker numbers at the moment are hovering around 50,000. I would hazard a guess that there were not half of them who were looking for sales rep jobs. But the point is that it is important to look through the numbers and make sure that the reasons for those work visas being granted are understood.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why did the Government approve work visas for 6,500 labourers last year, when there are 23,000 unemployed labourers right here in New Zealand, ready to work?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: So we are down 23,000 unemployed labourers and 23,000 unemployed sales workers. That represents just about 100 percent of job seeker support numbers right now. I would suggest those numbers be viewed with a great deal of caution. The simple answer to the question is that there was not a New Zealander available to do the job in the place where the work was. And I note further that we have now moved a long way away from the "Where are the jobs?" call, because the jobs are definitely being made by a growing economy in this country.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why is the Government issuing work visas to fill the jobs that tens of thousands of unemployed Kiwis want—a policy that leaves new migrants vulnerable and that leads to fewer jobs, with lower wages for Kiwis?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am very glad to note that the Labour Party is now acknowledging that there are jobs for every single New Zealander who wants them in this growing economy, but it would be naive to think that there were not barriers to employment for some of those New Zealanders. The Minister of Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, the Minister for Social Development, and I are working extremely hard to remove those barriers, whether they be geography, training, skills, or recreational drug and alcohol use, which needs to be addressed before they are ready for work. We are working hard to make sure that every young New Zealander is fit for work.
Ron Mark: Is the Minister surprised that he has so many anti-immigration questions from Labour these days, given that previous Labour leaders have so viciously attacked New Zealand First and Winston Peters on the very same topic?
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear from Mr Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins: The Minister is not responsible for questions that the Opposition asks.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I cannot see that there is any ministerial responsibility, anyway. We are moving on.
Ron Mark: Is the Minister confused by reports from political parties that have formed a coalition recently, when we have questions such as this and he is being asked to answer questions such as this, and then the leader of the Green Party, James Shaw, goes on radio and says—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no ministerial responsibility whatsoever. [Interruption] Order!
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order, but I hope it is not in any way contesting a decision that I have just made.
Ron Mark: No, I just need your assurance, Mr Speaker, that when Ministers are asked whether they have read reports on issues that affect their portfolio, that, going forward, such questions will stand as legitimate.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is absolutely no way that a scrap between Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First affects the Minister's portfolio.
Mr SPEAKER: I was hoping that I might get something useful from Mr Brownlee, and I guess that in some ways I have. It is not only the words "have you seen any reports" that matter, it is the total context of the question, and there is simply no ministerial responsibility.
Ron Mark: What difference is there between his immigration policy and his Government's beliefs on immigration and those being extolled by his Opposition party right up until that poll came out?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, there is no ministerial responsibility.
• Tourism—Economic Contribution
10. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Minister of Tourism: What reports has he received about increased spending by tourists visiting this winter?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Associate Minister of Tourism) on behalf of the Minister of Tourism: The latest monthly regional tourism estimates show that there has been a strong start to the winter season, with tourists spending more in every region than they did at the same time last year. Otago led the way with $3.2 billion in spending by domestic and international visitors in the year to June, an 11 percent increase on the year before. In total, six regions saw tourists spend more than $1 billion in their region just in the last year. It is fantastic for the industry that these tourists are getting right round the country.
Nuk Korako: What reports has he seen about more tourists staying in regional New Zealand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: June 2016 saw the highest ever number of guest nights for the month of June. Every region in New Zealand saw an increase, with the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Southland, and Northland seeing the biggest increases. This means that all our regional hotels, motels, holiday parks, and backpackers are seeing more people visiting and staying in their towns. Budget 2016 included an extra $12 million in support of regional tourism by helping the regions to pay for their much-needed tourism infrastructure.
Nuk Korako: Has he received any reports on upcoming legislation that creates improved processes around recovering lost airline luggage?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Ironically, I saw a report just this afternoon of a member's bill that has been drawn that will actually make sure that people are able to recover their lost luggage easily, modernising the system yet again into one that is electronic—great for our tourists, both international and domestic. I welcome it from the member.
• Police Resourcing—Numbers
11. STUART NASH (Labour—Napier) to the Minister of Police: How soon after signing off on the Police Four Year Strategic Plan in May of this year did she change her mind about there being no increase in police numbers out to 2020?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): The 4-year plans reflect the known resources at the time of writing. The next month I met with police to discuss any ongoing concerns regarding demands that they will have in the future, particularly around family violence.
Stuart Nash: How many extra police officers did she request in the 2016 Budget round?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: What I had requested was funding for police, which we got.
Stuart Nash: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member to re-ask the question. Ask the question again. If the Minister chooses to answer whichever way, that is the Minister's business.
Stuart Nash: How many extra police officers did she request in the 2016 Budget round?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I did not ask for extra police; I asked for extra money, which is what we got. We got around about close to $300 million to pay for police and also some of the other work that police are doing. I think that is a pretty good outcome for $300 million.
Stuart Nash: How much of the $300 million was specifically earmarked for new police officers on the ground?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I think I have answered that. The member is just refusing to accept that police getting paid properly is part of what Government does.
Stuart Nash: When can Kiwis expect to see more police officers on the beat as a result of her admission that she made a mistake and her realisation that more police are needed?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I certainly have not admitted any mistakes, and the member should know that that is not something I would do lightly. He should not try to put words into my mouth.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: He's been making a few mistakes of his own.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: He does, actually. Just because he is a right-winger and we share certain views, there is no need to think he knows me. [Interruption] You think he is a leftie?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think on this occasion the answer has been given. [Interruption] Order! Dr Smith.
Stuart Nash: Let me use some of the Minister's words. When she said twice yesterday that she was "looking to the future", does she believe that she has a future as the Minister of Police if she continues to make such fundamental mistakes as agreeing to no increase in police numbers fewer than 3 months ago, and then changing her mind when presented with the facts?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: As I have made very clear, I have made no mistakes on this matter at all. In fact, I would say to that member that the only one here who should not be talking about mistakes is him.
• Rail, Auckland—Waitemat Harbour Crossing
12. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Will he commit to prioritising rail to Auckland's North Shore as part of the additional Waitematā Harbour crossing; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): The proposed additional crossing will include a rapid public transit link, and, as I have said a number of times now, as part of planning for the additional crossing the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and Auckland Transport are investigating what type of rapid public transport will be best. Until those investigations have been completed it is premature for me to favour one option over another.
Julie Anne Genter: Is a rail-only option being considered and evaluated by the New Zealand Transport Agency and Auckland Transport right now?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Not rail only, but it is incredibly early days in terms of the kind of rapid public transit link that there might be, and we are keeping options open in that regard.
Julie Anne Genter: So can I confirm that the rail-only option is not being considered as one of the many possible options that could exist for the future Waitematā Harbour crossing?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is clearly not going to be rail only, but in terms of the rapid public transit link that would be part of this, we are keeping our options open.
Julie Anne Genter: How can he evaluate what is going to be best value for money if all options are not being considered?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think, as I have said, it is incredibly early days. We are at the route protection stage at the moment. We are talking about a project, at the moment at least, scheduled to be built in the mid-2020s to the late-2020s. The decisions will be made on the basis of investigation, not ideology. The options are open, and that is certainly the case in relation to the form of rapid public transit link that there will be.
Julie Anne Genter: Given that a rail link is extremely popular with Aucklanders and it would give them better choices to get around, as well as taking pressure off the existing road network and being the logical next step after the City Rail Link, why is he not making a rail option at least one of the options that is being evaluated under the New Zealand Transport Agency's investigations?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think a rail option will be investigated as part of the options they go through, but not a rail-only option at the exclusion of everything else. That is the point I have been trying to make. I would also make the point, of course, when we talk about public transport on the North Shore, that there is the Northern Busway. There are very significant extensions going on to the Northern Motorway at the moment, including extensions to the Northern Busway that are being planned, and, of course, there are other public transport and alternative transport options, which I know the member will be in favour of, that have gone through consultation and are being worked on, such as SeaPath on the North Shore as well. There is a strong number of planning processes under way in relation to public transport right now and in relation to this crossing. It is early days and we will work our way through it.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table the NZTA's route protection designation, which is for a road-only crossing.
Mr SPEAKER: And is that available easily for members to get on the website?
Julie Anne Genter: I think it is not available on the website.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave and then the House can decide. Leave is sought to table that particular NZTA information. Is there any objection? There is objection.