Questions and Answers - June 20
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on growth in New Zealand's economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Finance): Last week Statistics New Zealand released the GDP figures for the March quarter, which showed the economy grew by 0.5 percent in the first 3 months of this year, taking our growth rate for the year to 3.0 percent. Growth in the quarter was across 11 of 16 industries, including agriculture, forestry, and fishing up 2.8 percent; manufacturing up 1 percent; retail, trade, and accommodation up 1.8 percent; and healthcare and residential care up 1.6 percent. They were partially offset by weaker growth in the transport and construction sectors. Construction fell in the quarter by 2.1 percent, but the annual construction figure increased by 9.3 percent over the year.
Chris Bishop: How is the March GDP figure expected to affect growth forecasts?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: When assessing the state of the economy and economic growth, you have to be able to look through individual quarters up and down. This particular quarter was softer than expected, but the forward-looking indicators suggest there will likely be a pick-up in June—for example, the performance of services index rose 5.6 points to 58.8 in May, and the services sector, of course, accounts for about two-thirds of the economy. Also, the performance of the manufacturing index for May has also expanded to 58.5, which is its highest level since January 2016. Other economic data released last week showed that the balance of payments was at 3.1 percent, and the international liability position is down again to 58.5 percent of GDP.
Chris Bishop: What feedback has he received on the Government's economic plan?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: A key priority of the Government's plan is to deliver stable economic growth so that businesses and investors can make positive long-term decisions about their future. That plan was endorsed last week by the OECD, which noted New Zealand's strong economic growth and sound Government finances. Of course, there are also areas where they recommend we can further improve, as we always can, and many of the recommendations made by the OECD are in areas where we already have significant work under way. The Government's ongoing Business Growth Agenda will continue to make policy adjustments to ensure that economic growth continues strongly into the future.
Chris Bishop: What is the market's view of New Zealand's medium-term economic outlook?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The market's view is strong in terms of New Zealand's economic perspective performance. The banks are optimistic—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Minister might have some ability and some responsibility, but one of them is not the market's view of the economy.
Mr SPEAKER: When you are asking questions to the Minister of Finance, he, of course, has a view and listens with great interest to commentary from financial—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. Before I call the member, he is perfectly entitled to raise a fresh point of order, but it must be a new matter. I have ruled on that matter, and I do not want any dispute on that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Your ruling was that he was entitled to express his—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I told the member—[Interruption] The member will be leaving the Chamber very quickly, if he wants to ask his two questions. I have ruled on that matter and the Minister can answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am just recovering from the Rt Hon Winston Peters saying I have some ability. Looking across the economic commentary, the major banks are looking through the March GDP number and looking at the year ahead. Banks are optimistic about the prospects for the economy, with inflationary pressures expected to remain neutered through the rest of the year. The pace of economic growth is expected to remain at 3 percent for this year, and the longer-term track expected by Reserve Bank, Treasury, and the major banks is for a positive 3 percent - plus growth in the years ahead. I appreciate the Opposition hates that, but then—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That part is not necessary to the answer.
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that last week's data showed the second consecutive fall in real GDP per capita and the third consecutive quarterly fall in exports of goods and services in real terms?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot confirm the latter one for the member, although I can confirm for him that the balance of payments is actually 3.1 percent, which is significantly lower than—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: The Minister has been able to answer a number of questions in significant detail about the material that was produced last week. Real GDP and per capita exports were within that. If he genuinely does not have that information, that is the end of his answer, and the rest of it is completely unnecessary.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And the member, on this occasion, is right. The Minister, right at the start, said he could not confirm that, but then I heard the member himself interjecting, asking for the Minister to answer the question. He cannot have it both ways, but the question has certainly been addressed by the Minister saying he could not confirm that information.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Sorry, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a point of order?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, just speaking to the point of order, I had not got the chance to get to one half of the question, which I do have the information—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I have listened to the Minister and, again, he answered the question right at the start by simply saying he did not have the information. Question No. 2—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Sorry to interrupt the member. I certainly do not want the continuation of interjections coming from the front bench of the National members.
2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he believe that the moral standards he sets as Prime Minister are high enough?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes, but we can always do better.
Andrew Little: Is it one of his moral standards that Minister who become aware of a breach of the law by a high-ranking public official should report it to the police; if not, why not?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would expect any Minister who became aware of possible breaches of the law to bring it to the attention of the authorities.
Andrew Little: Why has he left it until today to confirm that he himself gave information to the police about one of his MPs and an allegation of unlawful conduct on the part of that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just ask the member to reflect very quickly on that question, and I am going to read four Speakers' rulings that I think are relevant. Speaker's ruling 172/2: "The Prime Minister and Ministers are responsible for only those matters that fall within their responsibilities as Ministers, not as leaders of parties. That [applies to] all parties in the House." Speaker's ruling 172/3: "The Prime Minister is answerable for any statements made as Prime Minister. But the Prime Minister is not answerable for actions taken in a non-ministerial capacity, whether as Leader of the Opposition or as leader of a political party." Speaker's ruling 173/1: "The Prime Minister is not responsible for funding provided through the Parliamentary Service to the party." Speaker's ruling 173/2: "The Prime Minister has no responsibility either for what occurred at a select committee or for a member of the caucus." I invite the member to consider his questions very carefully, but he needs to keep those four important Speakers' rulings in mind as he proceeds with his line of questioning.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that the comment that the Leader of the Opposition was questioning the Prime Minister about was made at a prime ministerial press conference. Therefore, he must be able to be questioned about it in the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no. I do not think that is—[Interruption] Order! I do not think that is necessarily the case, particularly when I look at Speaker's ruling 173/2: "The Prime Minister has no responsibility … for a member of the caucus." So if it is a ministerial responsibility—[Interruption] Order! I am only relating what are the precedents that have been established in this House. The member might not agree, but she does not need to disagree with me while I am reading what is a Speaker's ruling. I am not ruling any question out at this stage. It is going to be a difficult issue for me to negotiate my way through. I will do my best, but I am asking the member to carefully think of those four Speakers' rulings as he frames his continuation of questions.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In making those decisions about which questions should be in order or not, one of the important distinctions that we ask you to consider is that the Prime Minister is responsible for the conduct of Ministers and what Ministers do with information that comes into their possession, including whether that information was received whilst they were in a current or in a previous role. So the Prime Minister, as Prime Minister today, may have received information in a previous ministerial role. As he is now the Prime Minister, he can still be questioned about when he knew that and what he did with that information.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is absolutely true, and if you consider the first supplementary question advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, it fell into exactly that category. Andrew Little—to continue his supplementary questions.
Andrew Little: Was the then Minister of Finance behaving ethically on 1 March 2016, when he told media that he had not directly talked to his former staff about Todd Barclay's alleged illegal recordings, when in truth he had directly contacted both Glenys Dickson and Stuart Davie about it?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The then finance Minister, I presume, was answering questions about a matter that was in the media and under investigation.
Andrew Little: Is the Prime Minister standing by the conduct of his then Minister of Finance when being asked whether he had direct contact with people associated with the allegations involving the then MP—and still current MP—for Clutha-Southland, and went on to say he had had no direct contact with anybody involved in those affairs, which we now know to be untrue?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and I understand there was some further explanation of that this morning.
Andrew Little: Does he agree with his statement that "It's not leadership to cover up and hope it all goes away?"; if so, why is he covering things up and hoping they will just go away?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I disagree with that. I think a statement to the police is not a cover-up.
Andrew Little: In light of his conduct in relation to not only Todd Barclay but also Alfred Ngaro threating housing NGOs who criticise the Government, Nicky Wagner disrespecting people with disabilities, Simon Bridges attempting to unlawfully withhold public information, why has the Prime Minister always chosen to defend their conduct rather than defend the moral standards Kiwis expect?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, I dispute a number of those statements. Secondly, I think Ministers have demonstrated their adherence to much higher standards than previous Governments because they recognise their mistakes and apologise for them quite quickly. That is how you maintain standards. People will always make mistakes; the question is what you do to fix them.
Andrew Little: If the conduct of Todd Barclay, Alfred Ngaro, Nicky Wagner, and Simon Bridges is OK by him, how can he possibly claim to have any moral standards at all?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Again, I disagree with some of the member's statements, but the conduct he refers to was dealt with by the Ministers who recognised for themselves that their conduct did not reach the standards required by this Government, and they corrected those mistakes pretty quickly.
Andrew Little: Given today's new revelations about Pike River, which contradict his Government's repeated claims, is it morally acceptable for him to delay and frustrate the grieving Pike River families' desire to see justice and get their men back?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I certainly understand the distress of the families, particularly as these matters have been drawn out in a way that must have some of them reliving the tragedy regularly. All the matters that have been raised by the families were dealt with by a royal commission. It is not a matter of what the Government thinks; it is a matter of what the royal commission did, where the families were fully represented. Rather than delaying and frustrating the families, we are actually working with them now on a plan, which is about to be implemented, for a safe, unmanned investigation of the drift.
Andrew Little: How did his Government's morals come to include bullying staff and critics, covering up its mistakes, refusing to cooperate with the police, all the while ignoring New Zealanders who are desperate for mental health care, desperate for a warm, dry home, and desperate for a place to call their own; and is it not, after 9 years, time for this Government to stop governing in the interests of the National Party and govern in the interests of all New Zealanders?
Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Prime Minister—the first part of that question is in order.
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As demonstrated by the recent Budget, which Labour voted against, we focus on the issues that matter, such as raising the incomes of the lowest-income households in New Zealand. In fact, it is because Ministers deal with their issues quickly, recognise mistakes, and move on that we have been able to stay focused on the issues that matter.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did he check out the facts when he conveniently forgot his involvement in the Barclay affair or his involvement with the Prime Minister's budget going towards Barclay's staff—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, we are in the same territory where we have already been. There is no prime ministerial responsibility for a member of Mr English's caucus.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister's budget is the relevant point, with respect, that brings this question inside the ambit of the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: No; that is exactly the reason it is no longer in line with the Standing Orders. I refer the member to Speaker's Ruling 173/1: "The Prime Minister is not responsible for funding provided through the Parliamentary Service to the party." This question is out of order. [Interruption] Order! I have dealt with the matter.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am seeking a point of clarity.
Mr SPEAKER: What is it?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You are saying it is the Parliamentary Service budget. This, of course, came from the Prime Minister's office. Are you saying it is the same thing?
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is exactly the same as the leader's budget.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will put the question again, then.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the question has been ruled out of order. If the member wants to ask a fresh supplementary question and have another go, he can do so.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, I am reframing the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been ruled out of order. It is lost. It is gone. If the member wants to have another—[Interruption]. Well, then, the member rises and asks for another supplementary question. Supplementary question—the Rt Hon Winston Peters. [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I am not putting up with this behaviour from a very senior member of this Parliament. He either starts to behave himself or he will be leaving the Chamber. If he wants a supplementary question, he rises to his feet and asks it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I entitled to ask my question in silence, without the backbench barraging me?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member is totally entitled to, but when he rises to his feet he gets on with the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister whether he conveniently forgot his involvement in the Barclay affair, and how come he told the media one thing that demonstrably is not true?
Mr SPEAKER: As far as there may be some prime ministerial responsibility I am inviting the Prime Minister—if he wishes to address it, he can. [Interruption] Order! The question has been asked. It was a very marginal question. I left it there. The Prime Minister does not have to rise to answer it. [Interruption] Order! If a member wishes to leave the Chamber—that is completely unacceptable parliamentary language. The member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Chris Hipkins: I withdraw and apologise.
Prime Minister—Government Policies
3. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his Government's policies?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly those that the Greens voted for when, in Budget 2017, the Government lifted the incomes, from 1 April next year, of the lowest-income households in New Zealand. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call James Shaw, members have a right, once the question has been asked, to hear the answer. I had difficulty hearing that answer, simply because of the interjection that was coming from directly to my left. I require substantially more cooperation.
James Shaw: Does he stand by his Government's decision to accept merely a quarter as many refugees per capita as countries like Australia, Canada, and Sweden?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: We stand by the additional refugees that have been taken in over and above the quota of 750—250 per year—taking us up to 1,000. We also stand by the process by which we deal with refugees, which is to commit considerable resource, I think worth around about $100,000 per year per refugee, to make sure that they can attain the language and employment skills that will enable them to be participants in the New Zealand community.
James Shaw: Can he confirm that his Government cut the number of refugees New Zealand takes from Africa and the Middle East when it is precisely those people who are in the most precarious and needy situation?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: There will be a range of opinions about the relative need among refugees, but the Government did respond to the very large number of refugees from Syria by opting to take several hundred more of them over the next few years.
James Shaw: Is he aware of other countries that have recently changed their rules to cut down the number of Muslim refugees and migrants, and does he support their approaches?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I am not aware of that.
James Shaw: What does he say to Yibeth Morales Ayala, a former refugee from Colombia who pleaded with the Government to increase the quota to help people like her be reunited with their families?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would say to her that the Government has recently increased the quota in response to the problems in Syria; that it has now embarked, with, mainly, the churches, on a community sponsorship programme for refugees, with the pilot starting just within a month or two; and that we have committed, through building new facilities and through extensive support for refugees, to making sure they can succeed in New Zealand.
James Shaw: What would he say to Bishop Justin Duckworth, who has called on the Government to show leadership on refugees, and said that Kiwis "have the capacity and the willingness to do so much more"?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I just said, we are now working, or immigration officials are working, with the churches, with whom I discussed this matter in the last couple of months, on a community sponsorship programme that enables those Kiwis who are interested in welcoming refugees and supporting them in a sustainable manner, to see whether that is a way that we can increase the numbers.
James Shaw: On World Refugee Day, will he do the right thing and offer a helping hand to families who are fleeing war and persecution by welcoming at least 2,000 refugees per year to New Zealand?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are currently gearing up to deal with the increased numbers that are coming in now and getting the community sponsorship programme started. We are not about to announce very large increases in the refugee intake. Points of Order—Unparliamentary Language
CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you could explain why, on a previous occasion, you ruled that it was acceptable for the Prime Minister to tell the Opposition to "get some guts", but you ruled that the phrase that I just used in connection to the Prime Minister is not in order?
Mr SPEAKER: It depends on the tone and the behaviour of the House at the time, but an interjection like that, I considered to be unparliamentary. I asked the member to withdraw and apologise, and he did so.
CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this another, fresh point of order?
CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes. On what basis was that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, no, I have dealt with that. I have asked the member to do so. It is exactly the same rule as for everybody here. If he wants to relitigate it, then that is disorderly in itself, and I will be asking the member to leave the Chamber. If he wants to raise another new point—[Interruption] Order! If he wants to raise a new, fresh point of order on another matter, I am only too happy to hear from him. [Interruption] Order! The member will now leave the Chamber. Chris Hipkins withdrew from the Chamber.
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to clarify, is it now your ruling that "get some guts" is unparliamentary?
Mr SPEAKER: No, and the member now is trifling with the Chair and at risk of also joining his colleagues. I will deal with matters at the time, but an interjection like that was simply done to inflame the situation in this House and create disorder, and I ruled accordingly and asked the member to leave.
Tax System—Government Initiatives
4. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Revenue: What is the Government doing to make tax simpler for individuals?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Revenue): Yesterday the Minister of Finance and I announced the release of a consultation document that proposes changes to make tax simpler and fairer for individuals. The main proposal is that individuals who receive only income, like salary, wages, and/or interest would no longer have to provide information to Inland Revenue or file tax returns in order to get any refunds due. Currently, Inland Revenue does not automatically pay out all refunds, and people generally need to request them. Under the proposal, Inland Revenue would use the information it receives from employers and banks and automatically issue a refund or a notice of tax to pay. This will mean an extra 1.1 million people would not have to provide any information about their income to Inland Revenue, bringing the total number of people who do not need to file any returns up to 3 million.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: In what other ways will the proposal make tax simpler for individuals?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The proposed changes are aimed at giving individuals more certainty by helping people to be on the right tax code during the year, by clarifying the rules on who has to interact at the end of the year and how they interact with Inland Revenue, and by making it easier when people have to interact. The proposals also include an easier digital process for getting a special tax code and an easier process for claiming a donation tax credit. This builds on legislation currently going through Parliament, which would see Inland Revenue receive income information from employers and banks more quickly, and is part of our work to make taxes simple and as fair as possible. I have sent out to all members an information pack to help all members to be able to advise their constituents.
Boarding Houses—Operation and Condition of Properties
5. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Construction: Why did he allow slum boarding houses like 43 Church St Ōtāhuhu and 454 Great North Road Grey Lynn to be operated year after year, housing tenants in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, before finally sending in the inspectors?
Mr SPEAKER: As I call the Hon Dr Nick Smith, I note that my office has been advised this answer may be longer than normal.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Construction): Our Government—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It would be a shame to see one of the junior whips being asked to leave the Chamber.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Our Government is taking a tougher line on substandard boarding houses than any previously. We passed a new law last year setting up a new Tenancy Compliance and Investigations Team that enables, for the first time, the ministry to directly prosecute landlords. The team is working closely with councils, which also have regulatory powers over boarding houses. I have confidence in the work of the new team. Prosecutions are under way for cases involving over 200 tenancies, including boarding houses. I note that three boarding houses have been shut down today as a consequence of joint work with the Auckland Council. I can confirm that both houses in the question are under investigation, but I am reluctant to comment further for risk of interfering in the judicially independent prosecution process.
Phil Twyford: Is he satisfied that sending in the inspectors only when there is a complaint or a media report means that the vast bulk of slum boarding houses will never be dealt with, because most tenants are simply too afraid to complain and probably assume that the Government is fine with these slums, because they were probably referred there by Work and Income in the first place?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I note that the boarding hostel the member refers to, at 454 Great North Road, Grey Lynn, has been operating for over 25 years. In the 9 years that Labour was in Government, I am advised there were many complaints and Labour did absolutely nothing. We are actually a Government that has passed the law that has given—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! There is simply no point in continuing with the answer if the Opposition does not want to hear the answer.
Phil Twyford: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I hope the members are interested in this answer.
Phil Twyford: Does he think that so many people would have been forced into slum boarding houses on his watch because they could not find anything better if the Government had not reduced the number of State houses by 2,500 and instead of taking $1.8 billion out of Housing New Zealand had spent that money building 5,000 extra State houses?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There are so many falsehoods in that member's accusations that I could spend the entire afternoon—let us go through them. This Government is spending more money on housing support through the social housing budget and for the accommodation supplement than any Government, and, ironically, members opposite voted against the substantial increases in the accommodation supplement that would help many of those families. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just not sure of the point in carrying with supplementary questions when I cannot hear the answer and, clearly, some of the members here are yelling so loud that they cannot either. Can we have a little more cooperation from one or two members to my left.
Phil Twyford: Is not the sight of our most vulnerable citizens, including children, living in filthy rat- and flea-infested slums, without toilets, sometimes even without glass in the windows, the ultimate indictment of his failed housing policies? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No. In fact, I am very proud that it is this Government that has chosen to actually set up a Compliance and Investigations Team to go after those slum landlords, that there are over 200 cases in the pipeline being prosecuted as a consequence of that law change, and that there is a further bill before this Parliament to further strengthen its powers. It will be interesting what members opposite do—because every time we bring legislation to this House to improve housing, they vote against it. Prime Minister—Statements
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Before making a statement, does he check the facts; if not, why not?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes, to the best of my ability. But, as the member may have noted, Prime Ministers are often asked new questions on a very wide range of topics, and if I cannot check the facts beforehand, I will often make a statement that indicates that I will go and check them before answering.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If time of preparation is important, if New Zealand is meant to be corruption-free, with high-quality Government, as he told business leaders in his state of the nation address, why then has Fujifilm Japan revealed $500 million worth of fraud in its operations in Australasia, much of it involving New Zealand taxpayers' money?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member's allegations were correct—and I understand there are certainly problems with Fuji Xerox and its financial reporting, which may breach International Financial Reporting Standards—then that would be concerning, and the appropriate authorities should have a hard look to assess whether it did have any impact in New Zealand and whether there were any measures that should have been taken here to prevent the behaviour.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Talking about appropriate authorities, as the Prime Minister mentioned, can he assure taxpayers that not one dollar of the $55 million the Government spent with Fuji Xerox between 2012 and 2016 was as a result of corruption, backhanders, or bribes?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: My understanding is that there were no problems about the delivery of services by Fuji Xerox in return for Government payment, but, of course, I cannot make guarantees short of a very thorough investigation, if that is what is required, about what happened to the $55 million the New Zealand Government paid it. But I am assured the services were delivered to the value agreed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that "Mr Fix-it's" DNA is all over this issue, is it acceptable for businesses to win contracts from his Government despite paying no tax, ripping off schools, and headlining in the New York Times depicting New Zealand as a corrupt banana republic?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Those are allegations the member has made. The assertion that seems to have some substance is that they under-reported their profits, or over-reported them—whatever—and, if that was the case, then they would have broken financial reporting law in Australia and in New Zealand. Allegations beyond that I have not seen substantiated, but there do seem to be grounds for investigation. Public Infrastructure,
Auckland—Waterview Tunnel and Transport Network
7. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister for Infrastructure: How will the new $1.4 billion Waterview tunnel improve Auckland's transport network?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Infrastructure): Very good question. The Waterview Connection will create a more resilient and reliable motorway network in Auckland and is the final major link in the Auckland western ring route. It will help people and goods move around the Auckland isthmus, particularly between the west and the south, including Auckland Airport. The project is forecast to generate over $4 billion worth of transport and agglomeration benefits over 40 years, along with additional local job generation, improved productivity, and increased accessibility for businesses. It is great to see the project completed and soon to be open for vehicles. I want to thank everybody involved in the tunnel's construction for doing such a fantastic job.
Simon O'Connor: How has the Waterview project evolved over the years?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It has evolved quite a bit and, in fact, in some very positive directions. The first plan for completing the Waterview Connection was proposed to cost an estimated $2.77 billion, which was an amazingly large sum of money, made up of just under $2 billion for construction of tunnels and $550 million for finance costs, plus extra work on State Highway 16. The then Government decided the National Land Transport Fund could not pay for it and it would borrow it separately. This plan, incidentally, would have produced tunnels that were only two lanes in each direction, and the tunnels would have been a kilometre longer. This Government, when it came into office, shaved hundreds of millions of cost off the—
Fletcher Tabuteau: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I apologise to the Minister.
Fletcher Tabuteau: Was this answer on notice? Under Standing Order 386(2) his answers are supposed to be concise and to the point, and we getting an anthology of some kind.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the member has got a reasonable point. This is a very long answer, and I am not going to allow it to continue, but I—[Interruption] Order! But I do remind Mr Tabuteau that I am the sole judge as to when an answer has gone on, though I appreciate his assistance on this occasion.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is—[Interruption] Order! This is a point of order; it will be heard in silence.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I just wanted to make the point: this is about a saving of around $900 million—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That is not a point of order; that is an attempt to complete an answer that was too long.
Jami-Lee Ross: What further reports has the Minister received of historic costings around the Waterview tunnel?
Mr SPEAKER: I will hope for a clear and concise answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the previous costing set up by the previous Government was $2.77 billion. This project was completed by this Government for $1.4 billion, and it is two three-lane tunnels, not two two-lane tunnels. That is what happens when you focus on delivering better results for taxpayers' money.
Director-General of Health—Confidence
8. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Health: Does he have confidence in the Director-General of Health?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, and that is because he has overseen a lift in performance in hundreds of health services that the ministry oversees, including 50,000 more elective surgeries, 150,000 more specialist assessments a year, free GP visits for under-13s, and 6,900 more doctors and nurses across the system. Of course, now he is focused on implementing the historic $2 billion pay settlement for 55,000 of the hardest-working, most deserving workers in New Zealand, the care and support workers. But, of course, there is always more to do.
Dr David Clark: Didhe instruct the director-general and his assistant, Michael Hundleby, to call district health board (DHB) leaders on 31 May and 1 June to tell them that misallocated Budget funding would not be clawed back; if he did not so instruct, why did they do that?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: My view, reached over a number of days, is that the ministry had to correct what was a technical error and make sure that the allocations were correct. To the best of my recollection, no, I did not instruct them to do that.
Dr David Clark: When did he first become aware that assembled chairs and chief executives of New Zealand's DHBs, on 15 June, considered passing a vote of no confidence in Chai Chuah's leadership of his ministry?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I know they had a pretty vigorous discussion last Thursday, but I do not know that they considered passing a vote of no confidence. You would have to ask them about that. Clearly you have got a pretty good source there.
Dr David Clark: If the director-general of his ministry was proven to have lied to a group of senior bureaucrats, would the Minister retain confidence in him?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That is all completely hypothetical. What I can tell you is I have found Mr Chuah to be an extremely honest person who every day comes to work and does his best to improve the health outcomes of the population. He is a man of very, very high integrity, and I stand by that.
Dr David Clark: Who, then, is telling the truth—Chai Chuah, who told DHB chairs and chief executives that he had offered his resignation to the Minister, or the Minister, who said he has not offered a resignation?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Of course we would have to assume that you have got your facts right in the first place. I cannot recall him offering his resignation, but he is an honourable man. Look, the fact is he does not need to offer his resignation. This is a technical error. It does not change the overall allocation of funding to the district health boards, and Mr Chuah has done a very good job for New Zealand health over a very long time. Child Poverty—Statements by the Deputy Prime Minister
9. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by the Deputy Prime Minister's statement in relation to child poverty that "I do question some of the data and the way that they've collected that"; if so, was she disputing all of the conclusions in the UNICEF report?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Yes, and no.
Jan Logie: Does the Minister agree with UNICEF, that "New Zealand is clearly capable of reporting against Innocenti's measures for multidimensional poverty,"; if so, will she agree to start using internationally agreed-upon measures so we can compare her Government's outcomes for children against the majority of OECD Governments?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: To the first part of that question, this Government does use the multi-measure, multilevel approach when addressing issues of poverty and hardship. For example, one way we addressed that was in Budget 2015 when we included a $790 million child hardship package to better support the 60,000 to 100,000 children experiencing severe hardship, and that used the Material Wellbeing Index and the deprivation 17 index. Those measures benefited approximately 203,000 families. That is about 380,000 New Zealand children. We collect income information, both before and after housing costs, and we are one of the few countries in the world to do that, and we know that housing costs are an important factor in hardship, so in Budget 2017, with the $2 billion Family Incomes Package, the accommodation supplement was lifted, to lift about 20,000 families above that threshold for severe housing stress. These are the multidimensional, multilevel measures that the member was asking about. And then we collect and measure fully relative low-income measures that give trends about income inequality, and again, the Family Incomes Package in Budget 2017 of $2 billion is expected—
Mr SPEAKER: Bring the answer to a conclusion.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: —to reduce the number of children living in those families with less than half the median income by 50,000.
Jan Logie: Does the fact that New Zealand is ranked 38th out of 40 countries for child health and well-being, including 34th out of 34 for youth suicides, make her reconsider how effective her Government's policies may have been over the last 9 years?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I understand that the temptation to mix the indexes that were used in this report is great, but I have no responsibility for the health issues that were part of the report that addressed child health issues.
Jan Logie: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you could provide me with some clarity—this question was initially to the Deputy Prime Minister because of the range of issues that were covered in that report. To have it redirected and then for the Minister to say she cannot respond to the wider issues—I think there is an issue.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, not at all. The member used the ranking 38th out of 40, I think, and talked about poverty and health issues, so the Minister took the opportunity to say she is not responsible for health. It clearly can be transferred—there was no difficulty about that. In fact, the Government has a duty to transfer it to the Minister most responsible. The member then may not be happy with the answer, but the question that was given was addressed.
Jan Logie: So why is the Minister wasting time disputing data and justifying potential token efforts when the report has us languishing at the bottom of the developed world in relation to the health and well-being of our children?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not think anyone on this side of the House would describe almost $3 billion of taxpayers' money addressed to the lowest-income people in this country as paltry. However, the advice I have received is that the UNICEF report on child poverty uses three indicators. The first is misleading for international comparisons. It is a relative measure that is relative to the incomes of that country. As I have said in this House before, because it uses median income it can change, depending on the median that you strike in any one year—
Hon Member: Yes, that's true.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: —it can change dramatically. That is true. The second indicator is not even a measure of poverty. It is a measure of the effectiveness of the tax and transfer system. So you could talk about it as the income redistribution—
Mr SPEAKER: Again, bring the answer to a conclusion.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: —which is addressing inequality.
Jacinda Ardern: What is misleading about a relative measure for child poverty?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have said in this House on a number of occasions that it is simply not possible to measure poverty—and no country that I am aware of has done it successfully—by one simple measure. It is a multidimensional, multilevel issue that is on a continuum. We should all be proud of the fact that successive Governments have gathered significant data that we can use, and this Government has used it, as I described in my response to the first supplementary question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): This question is to the Prime Minister—[Interruption] I beg your pardon?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to invite the member to start his question again, and I do not want interjection from the front row of the—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): Thank you for your help, Mr Speaker. It is so appreciated.
Mr SPEAKER: It is a pleasure, sir.
10. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements; if so, how?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If there is, to quote him, "nothing new" regarding footage taken of Pike River mine from borehole 44 showing intact wooden pallets and rubber hoses a month after the explosions, why did the Prime Minister and his colleagues tell the families that there is nothing but ashes and dust down there?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is incorrect in his assertion about what may have been said to the families, but, more importantly, the issue of what happened in the mine was dealt with in great depth by the royal commission. The member is trying to portray the issue of what happened to the miners as a product of political opinion; it is not. It has been investigated in detail by a royal commission, with all the powers of a royal commission to inquire after any evidence that it wanted to see, and that has been fully and publicly reported on.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is true, and there is, to quote him, "nothing new" regarding the recent footage of Pike River mine, then why was the Hon Judith Collins unable yesterday to defend her comments from last year that the mine was—and I use her words—an "inferno", and referred journalists to the Prime Minister himself?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think everyone is aware that there was a very large explosion in that mine—several explosions—and that 29 people were killed by those explosions because they were so devastating. Whether the same thing happened right through the complex structure of the mine is a matter for the experts to sort out. We are working with the families on safe, unmanned investigation of the drift to see if we can answer more of their questions.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Pike River families have seen footage that shows bodies still intact in the mine, then why will he not show leadership and support a manned re-entry to recover those bodies, rather than continuing with the families being the victims of a litany of lies?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply refute the member's last statement. The facts of Pike River are set out best in the royal commission's fulsome report, for which the families had legal representation and to whom all of the video was available. Our response to the families' current concerns is to proceed, as is being planned with them, on safe, unmanned investigation of the drift to see if we can answer more of their questions. The manned entry has been dealt with by people who under the health and safety law had to make a judgment about whether it was safe to send more people into the mine, and they decided that, in the light of 600 risks, it was not safe.
Housing—Three Kings Development
11. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister for the Environment: Why did he join legal proceedings last year over the $1.2 billion Three Kings development, and can this housing project now proceed?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): I joined these proceedings out of frustration that a high-quality urban redevelopment project that would provide 1,500 homes close to Auckland city had been held up for 5 years, despite over 100 consultation meetings and approval by independent commissioners. I was delighted last week that a settlement between parties that have a dispute before the High Court and the Environment Court has now been reached, which will enable the project to proceed. Earthworks will be under way this summer. The first houses will be completed in 2019.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: What broader system lessons have been identified from the drawn out consenting of Three Kings that will help manage housing pressures in future?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Firstly, the planning system needs to be more responsive. The demand for housing in Auckland shifted dramatically 5 years ago, so we cannot have scale projects involving 1,500 homes delayed for up to 5 years with planning issues. Secondly, we need to better integrate the different decisions. That is why in the Resource Management Act reform bill this year the Government incorporated reserve changes into the broader planning process, and that would have made a material difference to getting this Three Kings project completed more quickly. Thirdly, we need a better framework for major urban redevelopment projects, and that is why the Government is specifically proposing an urban development authority Act. And it would actually help if Opposition parties did not spend their energies opposing new houses when they are blatantly required.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: What progress has been achieved on the adjacent Three Kings special housing area?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: We were able to bypass the legal dispute on part of the Three Kings site through the use of the special housing areas legislation. This 1.4 hectare site now has 99 new homes nearing completion. If anyone doubts the success of the special housing legislation, they should visit those homes and see what has been achieved. This also gives me confidence that Fletcher Residential has the capacity to deliver an equally attractive 1,500-home development on the adjacent 22-hectare site.
Disability Issues, Minister—Statements
12. POTO WILLIAMS (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister for Disability Issues: Why did she say that she would rather be out on the harbour than meeting with disability advocacy groups?
Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister for Disability Issues): Thank you for the opportunity to make a statement about my tweet. I would like to make four points. The first is that my tweet was totally inappropriate, thoughtless, and poorly worded. Second, I apologise unreservedly. Thirdly, I have worked with the disability community for 3 years and I would never do anything deliberately to hurt or insult any disabled person or their families or their communities. I respect them far too much for that. Fourthly, I am absolutely committed to making life better for disabled people by developing policies and services that will give them more choice, more control, and more opportunities in their lives.
Poto Williams: If it was not the Minister's intention to give offence, as she has just stated and also stated in her tweet of apology, why did she state that "we all would have rather had … meetings out on the harbour"; and does she not understand that some disabled people cannot access the harbour?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: As I said, that tweet was totally inappropriate, thoughtless, and poorly worded. I apologise, and I will continue to apologise, for it. I would never deliberately do anything to hurt disabled people, their families, or their communities, and I am absolutely committed to making life better for disabled people and to give them more choice, more control, and more opportunities in their lives.
Poto Williams: What feedback did she receive from people with disabilities and disability organisations on her comment that she would rather have been out on the harbour than meeting with them?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: As I have said before, that tweet was totally inappropriate, thoughtless, and poorly worded. I apologise for it, and I will continue to apologise for it. I have worked with the disability community and I respect them far too much to deliberately hurt them in any way. And finally—
Poto Williams: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly invite the member to ask the question again. It has not been addressed.
Poto Williams: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What feedback did she receive from people with disabilities and disability organisations on her comments that she would rather be out on the harbour than meeting with them?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: I received mixed response from the disability community, but the thing that I find most disappointing is that that tweet got so much publicity when the work that I do with disabled communities and disabled people—and whom I tweet regularly about—which would make a difference to people in the disability community, never gets much pick-up.
Poto Williams: How does she respond to disability advocates who are now calling for her to resign?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: As I have said, I have worked for the last 3 years with the disability community. I think we are doing very good work for them. There has been a significant amount of work done in terms of Enabling Good Lives and giving them more opportunities with disability services, plus we have worked extensively with getting disabled people into work. I believe that that work should continue.
Maureen Pugh: What work has the Minister been doing to support disabled people and their families?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: My work for the last 3 years has been focused on giving disabled people more choice, more control, and more opportunities in their lives. We have rewritten the Disability Strategy, now with an action plan and a monitoring framework. I have championed the Enabling Good Lives principles and am now in a co-designed process to totally transform disability support services. Budget 2017 added another $204 million to disability support. I have also worked hard supporting disabled people into work—firstly, with Project 300 in Christchurch, which got close to 600 disabled people into work, and then we rolled out employability across the country based on what we learnt in Christchurch. And, finally—
Mr SPEAKER: Bring the answer to a conclusion.
Hon NICKY WAGNER: —because disabled people will have real opportunities to work only if employers open their doors, I have initiated the Disability Confident employers' scheme, which has brought New Zealand's biggest employers together to support this work.