Questions & Answers - 16 March 2017
• ORAL QUESTIONS
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill—Acceptability of Current Provisions
1. JACINDA ARDERN (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she have confidence in the current drafting of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Yes, but we have a robust select committee process in which members and the public can scrutinise proposed legislation in line-by-line detail. I look forward to reading the recommendations of the Social Services Committee for the bill.
Jacinda Ardern: Will the rewording she has suggested proposing put priority, where practicable, on placing children who are removed with their wider whānau?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have not suggested any wording, and it would be inappropriate for me to do so while, as I say, this bill is before the select committee and members of the public and organisations are making their submissions on it.
Jacinda Ardern: What did she mean when she said yesterday: "The best place for any child is with their family … We've tried to nuance that; I think, clearly, we've nuanced it too much …"?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I meant exactly what I said.
Jacinda Ardern: What was correct: her tweet stating "We will not be reinserting the whanau first principle", or her coalition partner who said that kin care was back in the bill and that the Minister had bowed to pressure?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I want to assure every member of this House and the public of New Zealand that my opinion, and the opinion of this Government, is that a child's safety and best interests will always be placed first.
Jacinda Ardern: If the select committee does not recommend adding whānau care back into the bill, will she put a Supplementary Order Paper before Parliament to put the whānau-first principle back?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have tremendous respect for the select committee process, including the submissions from members of the public, and I do not intend in any way, shape, or form to anticipate what decisions that select committee might come to.
Jacinda Ardern: One more time. Does she support a whānau-first principle, where practicable, being placed in her legislation?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Can I quote from the bill in front of the select committee at the moment—of which that member is a committee member—"whenever possible, the relationship between the child or young person and their family, whānau, and usual caregiver is respected, supported, and strengthened.", secondly "the relationship between the child or young person and their siblings is respected, supported, and strengthened:" and, thirdly "the family, whānau, hapū, iwi, and usual caregiver [have a voice and a role] in decisions made about the child or young person." I think it is pretty clear that the legislation strengthens the role of family, whānau, and hapū in the life of a child.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very clear, and it was: does the Minister support a whānau-first policy in her bill? The fact that she tweeted yesterday she was not reinstating it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! No. if the member had not—[Interruption] Order! On this occasion I have listened very carefully to the answer given by the Minister. The Minister is the person in whose name the bill is in and she quoted very clearly the principles of the rule, so I think, without doubt, that addresses the question that was asked.
David Seymour: In respect of the last supplementary question, could the Minister imagine any Government implementing a whānau-first policy that is impracticable?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I think the important thing is everyone knows that the best place for a child/tamariki is with their own family—
Hon Hekia Parata: A loving, safe family.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: —a loving and safe and stable family. That is the intention of these really significant changes, which this Government is leading, in the care and protection of New Zealand children, and I think it is about time that the Opposition got in behind those kids and supported us as we make these significant changes.
Jacinda Ardern: If the best place for any child is with their family, why did she explicitly remove the whānau-first principle from her bill?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, I disagree with the assertion that that member is making about the bill.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 2, Todd Muller. [Interruption] Order! There will be less interchange between one particular Minister and one deputy leader of the Labour Party.
2. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on growth in the New Zealand economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Finance): This morning Statistics New Zealand released the economic growth figures for the December quarter and for the 2016 calendar year. Growth for the quarter was 0.4 percent, and the average growth for the year was 3.1 percent, and that figure is encouraging and demonstrates the benefits of the Government's focus on developing a strong, open economy so that hard-working families can get ahead. Although growth has softened in this latest quarter, GDP per capita has risen 0.9 percent over the last year. This continuing steady trend of growth is consistently delivering more prosperity for New Zealanders in relation to other developed countries.
Todd Muller: How many quarters of continuous growth has New Zealand now recorded?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Today's figures add to the lengthening story of good growth experienced by New Zealand since the global financial crisis. We have now had continuous growth for the last 15 quarters, and in fact New Zealand has had only one quarter of negative growth during the last 6 years. This week's statistics on economic growth, and also our external account figures announced yesterday, show the benefit of the Government's sensible and consistent economic management.
Todd Muller: What contributions are the construction and tourism sectors making to New Zealand's continuous economic growth?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Today's growth figures highlight the impressive growth in the construction sector in the last year. Construction activity grew 1.8 percent in the quarter and 10.5 percent over the calendar year. That is the fastest rate of growth in construction since 2004, which is 12 years ago. In addition, the overall growth in spending in New Zealand was boosted by strong tourism spending, which was up 5.1 percent in the last quarter. The success of the services industries and the construction sector makes up for the softening across our primary sectors and their associated manufacturing. That demonstrates the increasing diversification of the New Zealand economy.
Fletcher Tabuteau: Why, then, did the Reserve Bank Governor, Graeme Wheeler, agree with Mr Peters last December that the economy is only treading water, once mass immigration is subtracted, and "If where you are heading is to say 'Look, in terms of GDP growth, it's a lot less impressive', that's indeed correct."?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think we would have to have a good look at the quotations attributed last December to Mr Peters and the Reserve Bank Governor. But, actually, the Reserve Bank's view of New Zealand's growth has been that it is strong and it will continue to be so over the next 2 years. They name our biggest risk as what is happening in the world economy outside of New Zealand, and that is a very rare thing. In fact, even with the long experience of Mr Peters, I do not think he has seen a situation where the New Zealand domestic economy has been so strong relative to the world economy.
Todd Muller: What reaction does he expect from commentators interested in the details of New Zealand's growth?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I find that different commentators have different measures they are interested in, and indeed in different quarters. One commentator in particular has historically been very interested in real gross national disposable income. Well, I have good news for Mr Robertson: real gross national disposable income increased 2.8 percent in the December quarter, and was up 4.1 percent for the year. So I look forward to him highlighting his concerns in that regard.
Grant Robertson: Supplementary—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh, there is a question.
Grant Robertson: There are many questions, Gerry. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Mr Brownlee; thank you.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that eight of the 15 sectors measured by Statistics New Zealand for GDP had falls in the last quarter?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, it is. It showed, as I said at the outset of the question, that we have seen a softening of growth in that quarter, but actually, over the year, we have grown faster than the UK, faster than Europe, faster than Japan, faster than the US, faster than Australia, and faster than Canada, which I think is probably a good thing, from New Zealand's perspective.
David Seymour: Supplementary—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
David Seymour: You might like this one.
Carmel Sepuloni: I wouldn't bet on it.
David Seymour: You never know. What is the level of private debt within the New Zealand economy, and how does that compare with New Zealand's public debt?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have those figures exactly to hand for the member, but I would be more than happy to supply them to him. If he would like to give me a ring afterwards, I will happily provide them, in relation to those numbers. Given that this is a question on GDP growth, perhaps we will deal with debt next time.
Fletcher Tabuteau: If the Minister told Mr Peters just yesterday "Actually, the last time, they were quite good. I think GDP per capita was over 1 percent", is it still "quite good" given that GDP fell 0.2 percent this quarter, which now represents a full half percent deterioration?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I stand by my comments. GDP per capita growth for the year is 0.9 percent, just under 1 percent. I think the member has got to be careful not to look at those quarterly numbers too much because you deal with fairly minor changes quarter by quarter. It is always a good idea to focus on the annual numbers, and that is what I tend to do.
• Health, Minister—Statements
3. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement regarding the health target update that "The improved access to elective surgery target has again been achieved … Delivering more elective surgery remains a key Government priority"?
Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister of Customs) on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes. Fifty thousand more patients each year are now benefitting from elective surgery than in 2008, and 150,000 more patients each year are now benefitting from specialist assessments than in 2008. But there is always a need to do more, and that is why the Government has invested $96 million more in the last Budget.
Barbara Stewart: With this improved access to elective surgery, is the Minister aware of people dying, one from a preventable aneurysm, while on the wait-list for elective surgery?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: Thank you for that information. We obviously want to provide the best possible healthcare for every New Zealander, and that is why we have increased the amount of electives and cut the waiting lists.
Barbara Stewart: If almost 32,000 people were exited as untreated from the wait-list for elective surgery by district health boards in 2014, what is the current figure for the year to date?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: The current number of elective surgeries that are happening this year is 172,153 but, of course, we always want to give the best possible service to all New Zealanders, so we are investing another $86 million a year.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. New Zealand First has taken some steerage from your guidance over the last—
Mr SPEAKER: Can I have a point of order please.
Ron Mark: Well, the point of order is this: this Minister has had this question laid down for some hours.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I have the point—
Ron Mark: The question was very specific. It asked how many were exited as untreated for the current year. The Minister has not provided an answer to that. The question is succinct, as you have often reminded us it should be. The Minister has had hours—
Mr SPEAKER: I think, if I can understand the member, he is talking about the last supplementary question that has just been asked.
Ron Mark: Yes, the last supplementary just asked.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is surely aware that a supplementary is not something that is presented to a Minister, so the Minister has not been aware of it for some hours. [Interruption] Order! I do accept the point that the question may not have been answered but part of the problem was that I could not hear the answer because of the continuous interjection from a fellow colleague of the member who is raising the point of order. So we will have the question again, and this time, without the chirping from one member, I might be able to hear the answer and determine whether it has been addressed.
Barbara Stewart: If almost 32,000 people were exited as untreated from the wait-list for elective surgery by district health boards in 2014, what is the current figure for the year to date?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: The number of elective surgeries that we have done is 172,153. Unfortunately, I cannot give you the number for those who are exited.
Barbara Stewart: If there is improved access to elective surgery, can the Minister give an update on the current wait-list of people still waiting for ophthalmology treatment in Dunedin?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: What I can tell you in terms of ophthalmology treatment in Dunedin is that we have done 1,683 operations in 2016, which is the latest information, which is 610 more than were done in 2008.
Dr Megan Woods: Answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the answer is that the answer is not known.
Barbara Stewart: What action, if any, is being taken to reduce the elective surgery wait-lists and stop preventable deaths and avoidable permanent disabilities?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: What we are doing is increasing the numbers of patients who can get elective surgery—50,000 this year. We have given $150,000 more for their first specialist treatment and we have invested $96 million more in the Budget.
4. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent reports has she received regarding the proportion of people on working-age benefits?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): I have received a report that showed that the proportion of the population now receiving a working-age main benefit is at 10.3 percent, the lowest it has been since before the global financial crisis. What is more, in December 2016 the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update forecast that this is expected to decrease to just 8.6 percent of the working-age population by June 2021, and that would be the lowest level since benefit numbers were computerised in the mid-1990s. These numbers are a validation of this Government's commitment to and focus on helping people into sustainable employment so that they can lead successful and independent lives.
Jono Naylor: What recent reports has she seen on the number of teen mums receiving a main benefit?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Great news, Mr Speaker. Compared with 2009, at the end of 2016 there were 57 percent fewer teen mums on a benefit, down from 4,263 to just 1,836. This is absolutely fantastic news for these young women, because the evidence shows that supporting those young mums to become independent and break the cycle of welfare dependency will lead to better life outcomes for them, but also for their children. It also reduces the long-term costs to the taxpayer.
Jono Naylor: What do these reductions in benefit numbers mean for the future liability of the welfare system?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The impact of welfare reforms and the hard work of Work and Income staff over the past 4 years have led to a reduction in the welfare system's future lifetime cost for the taxpayer of $13.7 billion. So it is clear that this Government's welfare reforms have had a significant impact in helping more people into work, as well as providing substantial savings for the taxpayer.
• Finance, Minister—Statements
5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm, in light of his statements on economic growth, that today's quarterly GDP figures show the weakest growth in a quarter since the beginning of 2015?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, and all the way back to 2015 that is the slowest over that period. The good news is, as I said to the member before, we have had positive economic growth in every quarter except one for the last 6 years.
Grant Robertson: Can he not see that growth dropping in sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, manufacturing, transport, and telecommunications points to long-term problems for the productive part of the economy that is actually needed to drive living-standard increases in New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, gosh, I think the member just insulted the other half of the New Zealand economy by suggesting it was not productive. That is health services, scientific services, business services, the tourism sector, the construction sector—all of those are, apparently, not productive, according to Mr Robertson. But, actually, I suggest that he goes and has a read of some of the commentary around the quarterly figures, which show that the drop in primary production, which flowed into manufacturing, was likely a result of the wet spring conditions that affected production levels. But he is welcome to press the alarm bells, as he does on an ongoing basis.
Grant Robertson: Is he concerned about a 4 percent fall in exports given that growing exports is actually meant to be one of the major goals of his Government?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member has to be careful with his trainspotting of quarterly figures. The simple reality is that despite the downturn in the dairy industry over the last 2 years, New Zealand exports have risen and, in fact, in the 2016 calendar year they rose over that period. So the member has got to be careful—well, it is up to him—in terms of the quarterly figures, because quarterly figures do move around quite a bit. The good news for the member is that our current account deficit is one of our lowest, at less than 3 percent, so we are paying our way in the world—
Hon David Parker: No, we're not. We're not paying our way in the world.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —and in fact, our international net liability is down to 55 percent, Mr Parker, and back when you were in Government it was 85 percent of New Zealand's GDP.
Grant Robertson: Is he prepared to do anything differently given that per person the New Zealand economy went backwards in this quarter and is growing by less than 1 percent in the year, or will he just continue to complacently rely on population growth and speculation in the housing market to prop up the economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member needs new talking points, because the New Zealand economy is one of the fastest-growing economies in the developed world and our purchasing power, as pointed out by Statistics New Zealand—in a statistic that Mr Robertson used to love but has now conveniently forgotten: real growth national disposable income—has shown that New Zealand's purchasing power has grown solidly over the last year as a result of our improving external position and our improving economy. Again, the member is absolutely entitled to ignore all of that and say that we are heading to hell in a handbasket, but I think most New Zealanders would disagree.
• Wireless Mobile Coverage—4G Target
6. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister for Communications: What update can he give on the Government's 4G cellular mobile target?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister for Communications): This morning I was pleased to announce that 90 percent of New Zealanders now have access to 4G cellular mobile services, 2 years earlier than anticipated.
Hon Member: All his own work.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is the Government's work. In 2013 the Government set an objective that 90 percent of the population would have access to 4G cellular mobile services by 2019. Thanks to the work of Spark and Vodafone, we have reached our target well ahead of schedule. This is a fantastic achievement that will help meet growing consumer demand for mobile data and is essential to improving connectivity right across New Zealand.
Simon O'Connor: How will greater 4G coverage support economic development in the rural communities?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: This Government is committed to delivering greater mobile coverage and network capacity, and we are doing just that. 4G cellular mobile services are capable of speeds more than 10 times faster than 3G mobile data networks. This means that households and businesses have faster access to services, such as videoconferencing, online banking, and the sharing of more content. Currently, more than 95 percent of the New Zealand population has access to 3G. 4G is a better service and our 90 percent requirement ensures better coverage and capacity for rural communities.
Simon O'Connor: What recent reports has he received on New Zealand broadband speeds?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Earlier this month Akamai released its State of the Internet report, which shows that average connection speeds in New Zealand have increased by 38 percent since 2015 and that the average connection speed had increased to 12.9 megabits per second, a significant leap from the previous year. These figures demonstrate that Kiwis are increasingly reaping the benefits of faster, better internet, stimulated by the Government's ultra-fast broadband program and the Rural Broadband Initiative. Improved broadband access and faster internet delivers huge opportunities for homes, schools, and businesses right across New Zealand.
• Social Development, Minister—Statements
7. CARMEL SEPULONI (Labour—Kelston) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement, "the Ministry of Social Development has robust procedures for gathering and protecting personal information"?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Yes. As I said last week, just like doctors and counsellors who collect similar data, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has robust procedures for gathering and protecting personal information, and has done so safely for a number of years from a variety of sources. Each year, MSD provides services and assistance to more than a million New Zealanders, including the most vulnerable people in society, and holds a variety of information on all of them. Its client base includes children, young people, families, youth, working-age people, students, disabled people, seniors, and communities. MSD has been storing sensitive data for Child, Youth and Family (CYF) and Work and Income for many years. The data warehouse has stringent security processes and policies that are tested regularly.
Carmel Sepuloni: How can she stand by her statement, when only last year a man visiting a Work and Income office was given another client's details, in 2014 a Work and Income client was given a stranger's medical certificate, in 2013 the details of 34 clients were emailed to another Work and Income client, and in 2012 thousands of personal files were accessed on a computer kiosk at Work and Income?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: What I can guarantee that member is that the ministry takes client privacy incredibly seriously, but there is no system in the world that can be 100 percent error free, particularly from human-error breaches. As I say, each year MSD provides services and assistance to more than a million New Zealanders and holds a variety of information on all of them.
Carmel Sepuloni: How can she stand by her statement, given that on 10 February 2017, Kelly Stratton, from Kaitāia, received a letter from CYF about an upcoming family group conference hearing that was intended for a completely different person, from a different part of the country, and included the private details of a child?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: It is always regrettable when someone makes a mistake like that and shares data that they have no right to share, but I say to that member that if you are dealing with over a million people a year, there is no system in the world that can be guaranteed 100 percent. I can also assure the member that MSD puts the protection of client information very clearly at the forefront of everything that it does.
Carmel Sepuloni: How can she say that it is always regrettable when client information is accidentally or mistakenly shared, or clients have their privacy breached, when the Deputy Prime Minister has in the past leaked private client information of sole parent beneficiaries, refused to apologise to those women, and would not rule out doing it again?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I have said in answer to a number of the member's questions, MSD deals with information from over a million New Zealanders every year. It holds their information in confidentiality, and does its very best to ensure that human error or accident does not result in the sharing of that information.
Carmel Sepuloni: What led the Minister to her U-turn over the past 24 hours, given a year-long exemption to Rape Crisis and other sexual violence organisations from private client data-sharing, and is this an admission that her Government's approach will have a detrimental impact on survivors of sexual violence seeking support?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said in the House on a question about this earlier, providers ultimately make the decisions about whom they will provide the service to and for. I encourage—as I have with a number of those sexual violence services—providers to come and talk to me. The reality with our specialist sexual violence services is that we are in the middle of a complete redesign of the programmes and the services that are available to people. So what I have said to them is that it is not appropriate at this time, while we are co-designing a new system, to require data from them, when we are not even sure what that end system will look like. So I have said to those services: let us put that to one side, concentrate on the co-design of the new services, for which this Government has funded an extra $41 million, and let us work together to make sure we get an excellent system for those victims of sexual violence.
Carmel Sepuloni: Will her Government consider extending the exemption beyond Rape Crisis and other sexual violence organisations to all organisations that will face the exact same challenges of people being deterred from accessing their services, including Women's Refuge, the Problem Gambling Foundation, mental health services, and also budgeting services, which already have this written into their contracts?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I have said a number of times, every year this Government spends $330 million contracting with NGOs to provide services to some of New Zealand's most vulnerable children and families. We want to make sure that that $330 million expenditure is effective, and we want to make sure that we are not duplicating services to some families and ignoring other families who do not get any services. In order to do that we need to collect the basic data, and we will continue to require that of people whom we contract with.
• Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill—Updates
8. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Social Development: What changes, if any, will she make to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill to ensure a whānau-first approach, after she announced yesterday that she had "nuanced" the current Bill too much?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): As I said earlier, I want to assure all members of this House and the public that a child's safety and best interest will always be placed first. I think it is far too early to talk about what changes I would make to the bill, given the Social Services Committee has only just started hearing submissions on it. I have said all along that the best outcome for all tamariki is to be with their whānau or hapū in a safe, stable, and loving environment, and the bill makes this clear by stating: "whenever possible, the relationship between the child or young person and their family, whānau, and usual caregiver is respected, supported, and strengthened …". I intend to let the select committee go through its process.
Jan Logie: If she is not backing down on the reforms to "whānau first" principles, then what did she actually mean when she said they were too "nuanced", and what can we expect the Government members of the select committee to start advocating for?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I expect that the Government select committee members and the non-Government select committee members will treat any submitter with respect and listen to the points that they are making, both in support of the bill—as I understand most of the submitters are—but there may well be details about the legislation that they want to particularly focus on. My expectation is that that happens with any bill that goes before a select committee; that is part of our process.
Jan Logie: Given that the official advice on the bill says there is no significant fiscal impact from these reforms, how will she resource the necessary cultural and structural changes to enable social workers to work effectively with Māori to find safe placements for tamariki Māori?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, that has been the topic of conversation as I have been around the country talking with iwi, with Māori organisations—with a wide variety of organisations. And, as I have said to them, the bill enables all of those opportunities to work in different ways, to work in partnership, and to share responsibility and accountabilities. But this is a 4 to 5 year process. We are not going to rush it. We are going to co-design it with many of those organisations. Like any organisation, we put a Budget bid in last time, which we were granted, and we are in discussions with the finance Minister again for this year's Budget, and I anticipate that every Minister of this Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki will continue to have those conversations with the finance Minister about how you resource what it is that this piece legislation and the new ministry are trying to achieve.
Jan Logie: On that note, will she commit to working closely with Māori organisations such as the Māori Women's Welfare League, as well as hapū and iwi, to ensure that any changes the select committee might come up with are right this time?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, in the end, this Parliament decides what changes are right for the bill. What I can commit to, and have committed to in meetings with iwi and organisations, including the ones the member has mentioned, is that we do want to work with them, which is why we have put into the legislation the opportunities and the responsibilities exactly to work with them.
Jan Logie: Give than she is wavering on "whānau first" and, clearly, got the plans to collect individual sexual violence client data wrong, will she now also back down on the information-sharing proposals in the bill, which the Privacy Commissioner has said may be unworkable, unnecessary, and put some children at greater risk?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not think there is a member of this House who does not want to have the safety of a child as their absolute first consideration.
Jan Logie: Then why did the Minister ignore the Privacy Commissioner's advice on these specific provisions in the bill that told her that it could potentially put children at risk?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Look, I fail to understand why the member has no respect for the select committee process, which absolutely allows members of the public and organisations to come and have their say about a piece of legislation. This is a significant piece of legislation and I think that that is reflected in the quality and the breadth of submissions that are being made to the select committee. I intend to respect that process.
• Regional Economic Growth—Reports
9. TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What reports has he received that detail the economic growth in the regions as a result of international education?
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Earlier this week I was pleased to see the publication of eight regional economic impact reports that provide an in-depth look into the economic benefits of international education for regions across New Zealand outside of Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, and Canterbury. These new findings give us a more complete picture of how international education is strengthening our regions. For example, we can see that across these eight regions industries supplying goods and services to international students generate a value-add of $270 million, supporting 2,358 Kiwi jobs. This report also goes into the living costs, tuition fees, and average spend per student. It is worth reminding the House that international education is now our fourth-largest export industry, worth around $4.28 billion to the New Zealand economy. These reports will go some way to help our providers and regional agencies make more informed decisions around international education to ensure a long-term benefit to our country's regions.
Todd Barclay: How else are local businesses and communities in the Otago region benefiting from international education?
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: That is a very good question. Out of all the reports produced, the mighty Otago region had some noteworthy statistics. International students living in the Otago region spend, on average, $33,053 per year, of which $23,000 is spent on living costs alone, like rent, food, petrol, and power. The highest contribution to regional economic growth across all reports was in Dunedin, hitting $117 million for the 2015-16 year. Although the financial benefits are important, there are undoubtedly social benefits for Kiwi students and businesses and our communities strengthening our links to the world.
• Transport, Ministry—Police Checks for General Manager Appointments
10. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Will he ensure that police checks are conducted as part of a standard employment process before people are appointed to general manager roles in the Ministry of Transport?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): This is an operational matter for the Ministry of Transport. However, I am informed that since 2015 the ministry has conducted Ministry of Justice criminal record checks on new staff. All new staff are also required to declare previous convictions and conflicts of interest.
Sue Moroney: Is he aware that the New Zealand Police knew Joanne Harrison was being investigated for fraud in Australia in January 2011 and that a police check on either her initial employment or her promotion in 2013 would have uncovered that fact and prevented $725,000 being stolen from the New Zealand taxpayer?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I say, these are operational matters for the Ministry of Transport. That said, I have sought assurances from the ministry and its chief executive about these matters. What I can say very clearly is that they are being taken very seriously by the ministry. There have now been two independent reviews in this area, and what we do know in relation to this absolutely regrettable episode for the Ministry of Transport is that even had the criminal checks taken place in this case, they would not have picked up anything, because that person had permanent name suppression.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was about whether he was aware—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! No, the Minister very definitely addressed it.
Sue Moroney: If he will not ensure—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Can we just lead straight into the supplementary question.
Sue Moroney: If he will not order police checks, will he order an investigation to ensure that staff who raised concerns about Joanne Harrison's financial transactions and were subsequently made redundant in a restructuring influenced by Joanne Harrison were treated fairly by his ministry?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I will repeat that this is a matter for the ministry that it is taking seriously. Be very clear that there are now criminal checks done by the ministry. They are Ministry of Justice checks; they also include a requirement for the declaration of previous convictions and also conflicts of interest. In relation to the other matter the member raises, of course, what is now very clear from public interviews, from the select committee work that the member has been a part of, and from other documentary evidence, as well, is that the person in question here was not involved in the decision-making process in the restructure. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will just have the supplementary question.
Sue Moroney: Given the Minister learned of the fraud in April 2016, why did he keep it hidden from the Prime Minister for 3 months, and not fess up until the day he knew I was going public with the story, in July 2016?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: With the greatest respect to the member, it is a ludicrous line of questioning that she is taking. This is a situation where I was advised by the then chief executive. I made sure a very clear line of questioning was being taken with the utmost seriousness, and I was assured it was. At that point in time, it was very quickly becoming, obviously, a serious criminal investigation. It was not for me to go out to the world and in any way prejudge or play with what was a very serious process indeed.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very straight question about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, the question has been addressed. Does the member have a further—[Interruption] Order! The question has been addressed.
Sue Moroney: How did a person convicted of fraud in New Zealand, also under investigation for fraud in Australia, get employed by his ministry in a senior management role, and then get to have 12 different compliance issues raised with her on 8 occasions over the 3 years of her offending before her fraud was finally discovered by Audit New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Ultimately, the answer to that question is very simple: she was an incredibly manipulative, dishonest person who has now gone to jail for some time. That is not to say that there were not very significant lessons that the ministry could learn and, I am satisfied, has learnt from that. That is why there have been two independent reviews on this and many recommendations, all of which have been or are being implemented.
• Transport, Minister—Statements
11. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement that "the Government is sceptical about light rail" now that both Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency have confirmed rail will go to the North Shore?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): The premise of the member's question is flawed. I have been assured today by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) that all public transport options to the North Shore remain on the table, including increased bus capacity and that no decisions in this regard have been made.
Julie Anne Genter: Can he confirm that buses will face overcrowding and delays at chokepoints along the Northern Busway before 2026?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No. What is very clear is that there is really serious potential for additional capacity through buses. They have got great potential for Auckland, and that is why the Government is investing unprecedented amounts in the kind of projects like the Northern Corridor, the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative, and many others to deliver on that potential.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table the North Shore Rapid Transit Network Strategic Case study, obtained under the Official Information Act. It shows that by 2026 buses will be over capacity and experiencing delays at Albany, Sunnynook and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The documents have been described. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular information obtained under the Official Information Act. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is not. It can be tabled.
Julie Anne Genter: Will he commit to starting whichever rail option is identified as best by the New Zealand Transport Agency and Auckland Transport in time for it to be ready by 2026, when the busway will be reaching capacity?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, because the Government is seriously committed to Auckland and to dealing with its transport issues, including the public transport picture. That is why we are investing very seriously. But the Government believes, based on the advice that we receive, that there is plenty more potential to increase the capacity of buses to move many more Aucklanders in and around that great city. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will just have the supplementary question.
Julie Anne Genter: Will his Government learn from its mistake with the City Rail Link (CRL), where it delayed the start date because it massively underestimated the number of people who are using the trains in Auckland?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: There has been no mistake. There were criteria set, and when thresholds were met we have come in and backed that project. It would not—it could not—be happening without the Government's leadership in this area.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table this graph of Auckland rail trips verses the City Rail Link target set by the Government, showing it is going to be hit—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am not even putting the leave. I was asking the member a question and she continued to talk over me. She is lucky to get another supplementary question. Does the member want to continue with questioning?
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table another graph that was received from—
Mr SPEAKER: I just need the—[Interruption] Order! I just need the source of the graph.
Julie Anne Genter: It was received under the Official Information Act from Auckland Transport and the NZTA.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it available publicly?
Julie Anne Genter: No, it is not.
Mr SPEAKER: On that basis I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular graph. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Julie Anne Genter: Is the National Government going to continue blocking progress on the North Shore rail, just like it did with the City Rail Link, when all the evidence, all the experts, and the vast majority of Aucklanders have told the Government it needs to start sooner, to deal with population growth in Auckland?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: On the contrary, can I assure the member we are making great progress. We are investing like never before in the history of Auckland in its transport projects. There are a number of truly significant ones that have been started, including the East West Connections, including the CRL, including—as I said—the Northern Corridor, and, of course, the Waterview project will be a game-changer when that opens to the public and the people of Auckland in April of this year.
• Offenders—Initiatives to Improve Outcomes for Mori Offenders
12. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Corrections: What recent agreement has been signed with the Kīngitanga to improve outcomes for Māori offenders?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister of Corrections): This morning, the Department of Corrections and the Kīngitanga signed an accord to work together to improve outcomes for Māori offenders. The accord commits Corrections and the Kīngitanga to work together to develop initiative to improve outcomes for Māori. I applaud the Kīngitanga for stepping forward and recognising it has a role in working with Corrections to improve the well-being of Māori.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What specific areas of agreement does the accord cover?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: One of the four areas of mutual interest identified in the accord is the rehabilitation of Māori prisoners. Participation rates in rehabilitation programmes run by Corrections, including drug and alcohol treatment and parenting skills, already have high levels of participation by Māori. The department also offers a range of rehab services specifically for Māori, with around 1,300 places available on these programmes each year. This accord will help ensure that these programmes are targeted at achieving even better rehabilitation outcomes for Māori.
Ron Mark: When Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi has to ask a question about the Government's Kīngitanga accord, what has happened to the Māori representation in the National Government—or are they no longer relevant, or do they disagree with the accord?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no ministerial responsibility whatsoever.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have just made a ruling. I hope the member is not going to disagree. If he is raising another point of order, I am happy to hear it.
Ron Mark: Well, no, I was asking you, is not the fact that they might not agree with it be a ministerial—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I have heard it now. The member is on the dangerous ground of arguing with the Speaker. I have made a ruling that there is no ministerial responsibility. The member may not have heard me, but that is my ruling.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What other initiatives are already in place to improve outcomes for Māori prisoners?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: Around half the prison population are Māori, and it is important that Corrections keeps building on the initiatives it already has in place to improve outcomes. Corrections has established a Māori advisory board, with representatives from seven iwi organisations, to provide advice on policy development and the design of services for Māori. The department also employs a specialist team of Māori advisers, whose objective is to continually promote improvement in the department's services for Māori. I seek leave to table a copy of the accord between the Department of Corrections and Kīngitanga, for the House's interest.
Mr SPEAKER: Is that document publicly available?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: No.
Mr SPEAKER: On that basis I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular accord. Is there any objection? There is objection.