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Questions and Answers - August 2

Prime Minister—Policies
1. 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 I do, particularly the Family Incomes Package. I want to note with appreciation the Greens' support for the Family Incomes Package, because on 1 April next year 1.3 million families will be, on average, $26 a week better off, and a small number with high housing costs will be over $100 a week better off.
James Shaw: Why is his Government's conservation plan to protect only one in five of our most threatened species by 2030 when he could protect them all?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not agree with the member's characterisation of a strategy that I understand is under discussion. What I can say to the member is that we welcome the Greens' support for the Predator Free 2050 policy, which will engage communities all around the country, as it is now, in efforts to reduce our predators and, therefore, protect our threatened species of birds.
James Shaw: I seek leave to table the Minister of Conservation's note to the draft Threatened Species Strategy, where she plans to protect only 600 of the 3,000 threatened species in New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular note. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is no objection. [Interruption] Order! I need to hear quite it clearly. Was there any objection? There was objection raised; it cannot be tabled.
James Shaw: Why is the Battle for our Birds pest control campaign being fought in only 21 percent of New Zealand's masting forests this year? How can you fight a war in only one-fifth of our forests?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Battle for our Birds was a large investment in the last Budget, and it is my understanding that it is an effort that is on a much greater scale than has been done before. It may not be practical to actually cover the whole of New Zealand in a beech-masting year. The Government is committing more and more resource, but, more importantly, committing it more effectively to the protection of our threatened species.
James Shaw: Why has the Department of Conservation (DOC) lost around 200 front-line rangers under his Government's watch, had hundreds of millions of dollars cut from its baseline budget, or been forced to close five bases and three field centres?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply do not agree with the member's descriptions of what is happening with the Department of Conservation, in particular the allegation of large-scale funding reductions. That is simply not true. The Department of Conservation, though, like most of the other Government agencies, has gone through a process of putting together sound long-term plans with clear objectives, and measures of whether it is effectively achieving those things. That has meant some reorganisation on the way through, as you would expect if you were trying to do the job better and better all the time.
David Seymour: Is this Government open to ACT's sanctuary trust policy, which would bring community-driven, fenced, predator-proof bird sanctuaries to every town and suburb in this country?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course we are open to it. There are a number of such community-driven sanctuaries around the country. Of course, the big opportunity with Predator Free 2050 is the way that it is activating so many communities into various forms of protecting our birdlife, whether it is fenced sanctuaries or the one in five households in some Wellington suburbs, for instance, that are laying traps on their own sections and reducing our predators.
James Shaw: When he said yesterday that he was "happy to budget more for the Department of Conservation where we can see that there are going to be real conservation benefits.", why is it that after 9 years of his Government, the Department of Conservation is not delivering real conservation benefits?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I completely disagree with that. I mean, not only is it delivering real conservation benefits now but, for the first time ever, it is getting in place a long-term strategy to continue to lift that effort. So instead of being driven by annual cycles of hoping for funding increases and maybe doing a bit more, it is now taking a long-term view about our natural capital and how it can grow it. I applaud the efforts that it has made to do a better job.
James Shaw: Can he explain why it was that the Department of Conservation once vigorously opposed a Buller plateau coal mine proposal in the early 2000s with a 100-page submission detailing the unique ecosystem that would be destroyed, versus this year, in response to a similar proposal, when the department made an only 1-page submission that "neither supported nor opposed" the plan.
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not familiar with the work that was done in the early 2000s, but it sounds like it was thorough and comprehensive, and maybe it did not have to cover all the same ground again. DOC is obliged to follow its statutory directives, and I have no reason to believe it does not do so.
James Shaw: Can he explain why, minutes after the Supreme Court recently ruled that the Ruataniwha Dam conservation land swap was illegal, he said he would just change the law to make it happen?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is not describing that correctly. What I said was that there had been an assumption about what the law was and the Supreme Court has changed what we thought the law was. Looking out into the future, we certainly believe that the idea of net conservation benefit—that is, land swaps that result in more conservation—is probably a good idea. One reason we think it is a good idea is that everyone thought that that was what the law meant for the last 20 or 30 years.
Prime Minister—Statements
2. JACINDA ARDERN (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement, "our approach to housing is succeeding", given that just one in five New Zealanders under 40 own their own home?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Prime Minister): Yes, although I would note that the member's figures include 16-, 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds, where homeownership rates are likely to be pretty low. But the Government's approach is succeeding by increasing the construction of houses and helping first-home buyers. Help for first-home buyers includes giving them access to their KiwiSaver savings, and HomeStart grants, which have helped 27,000 first-home buyers in the first 2 years. These 27,000 first-home buyers have been able to access around $1 billion from their KiwiSaver accounts and there is sufficient funding available for HomeStart to assist 90,000 first-home buyers over the next 3 years.
Jacinda Ardern: If he is succeeding, why has the homeownership rate fallen every quarter under his Government, for 9 years, according to Statistics New Zealand?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a phenomenon around the developed world, actually—[Interruption] Homeownership rates have fallen slowly across the developed world over the last 25 years. Our task is to ensure—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister. A reasonable question has been asked by the Leader of the Opposition. I want to hear the answer, even if some of the Leader of the Opposition's colleagues do not.
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said in answer to the first question, we have provided HomeStart grants to 27,000 first-home buyers, and we have enough funding available to assist about another 60,000 first-home buyers. The most important thing that we are doing is getting more houses on the ground faster, so that in the long run people will be able to more readily afford to buy their own home.
Jacinda Ardern: Is it harder for a young person to buy a house today than it was a generation ago?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, we can argue both sides of that. In 2007 when that party left power, interest rates were twice what they are today—10 percent first mortgage rates. Back in the early 1980s, interest rates were 20 percent—20 percent first mortgage rates. So it has always been difficult for first-home buyers. At the moment, the challenge is not so much servicing the debt; it is getting a deposit, and that is why we have the HomeStart scheme, and up to 90,000 New Zealanders will be able to take advantage of that.
David Seymour: How has this Government's approach to the housing market been affected by the policy settings it inherited?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The main change that has been made is actually in the planning laws, because the policy settings we inherited were councils and legislation that were designed to stop our cities growing. That has now changed. All our councils are trying to accommodate growth, and that is why we have record levels of housing construction and we expect that to continue for several years.
Jacinda Ardern: How can it be easier for this generation of first-home buyers, when an Auckland homebuyer now, on average, needs to save a $200,000 deposit to buy a home?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: I did not say it was easier, I said it has always been difficult, and that is why—[Interruption] It always has been, because when interest rates were 18 percent, and when interest rates were 10 percent, under the Labour Government, it was hard to service that size of debt. In fact, a lot of households simply could not afford to borrow the amount of money they do if they were on Labour's interest rates. That is why we have HomeStart in place to assist them with getting the deposit, and also the Welcome Home Loan guarantee.
Jacinda Ardern: Given he himself has said that it is a major problem that only 5 percent of new houses are affordable starter houses, why, after 9 years in Government, is there still this huge shortage of homes to get young people on the property ladder?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: The supply of homes coming on to the market now is more than ever, and that is likely to continue. [Interruption] In the next 3 years New Zealand will build Dunedin, which is our fourth- or fifth-largest city. In the next 3 years New Zealand will build Dunedin, and that is in response to a strong economy, strong population growth, and Kiwis staying home. Of course it is a bit of a challenge, but we are up to dealing with these challenges of success, whereas our opponents just want to shut the country down, to make it easier for them.
Marama Fox: Can the Prime Minister explain whether it is easier or harder for Māori to get a home mortgage since Labour dismantled the Department of Māori Affairs and mainstreamed housing into Housing New Zealand's hands?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no prime ministerial responsibility for another party's policies in the past.
Jacinda Ardern: If his Government is indeed building more houses than ever, why is there a shortfall of at least 40,000 homes, particularly in Auckland, that is growing by the day?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, we do not accept those estimates about shortfalls. Secondly, the Auckland Council—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I gave a warning earlier, saying that once questions are asked I have got to hear the answer. Unless I can get some cooperation from some members to my left, I will be asking somebody to leave the Chamber. It is not something I am keen to do, but the level of interjection and the excitement amongst some of the members to my left is just unacceptable and it does not help the decorum of this House.
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is no doubt that it took Auckland Council a while to understand how successful the New Zealand economy has been and the way that it is keeping home, in the last 5 years, 150,000 Kiwis who were predicted to leave. But when it passed the Auckland Unitary Plan, just 18 months or 2 years ago, it did then signal it wanted Auckland to grow, and that is exactly what is happening. If we can sustain the current rate of house building there for a number of years, you will see it more possible for young New Zealanders to own their own home.
Jacinda Ardern: Can we agree that the Government has a role to play in helping the next generation on to the housing ladder, and that that requires a Government willing to build affordable starter homes for first-home buyers and a Government willing to lock out speculators, as a Labour Government would do?
Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not just a matter of agreement; actually, that is what is happening. The Government has announced its own building plan on its own land in Auckland—35,000 houses over the next 10 years. It has put a billion dollars of infrastructure funding on the table, which is going to bring forward 60,000 houses across our fast-growing cities. As I have said, we have the funding in place to assist 60,000 more young New Zealanders into their first home.
Finance, Minister—Reports
3. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy and the job market?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Finance): The latest household labour force survey, released this morning, showed the unemployment rate dropping to 4.8 percent, compared to 4.9 percent in the March quarter. This is the lowest unemployment rate since before the global financial crisis. It reflects the overall health of the New Zealand economy, which added 76,200 new jobs over the past year and 181,000 over the past 2 years. We currently have the second-highest rate of employment amongst everybody over the age of 15 in the OECD.
Alastair Scott: How is the strong job market helping New Zealand workers?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, over the past year, businesses' demand for workers, particularly in the professional services, education, and transport sectors has seen average full-time weekly earnings rise 2.3 percent compared to the same quarter last year. That is the biggest increase since December 2015. To put that in perspective, annual inflation for the June year was 1.7 percent, so wage growth continues to exceed growth in the cost of living.
David Seymour: How is that possible at a time of record mass immigration, when Winston Peters told me that immigrants were taking all our jobs?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the problem for the member might be his source of material. The good news is that New Zealand has had very strong job growth, and, actually, there are still hundreds and thousands of businesses around the country in all regions of the country looking to add more workers, if they can obtain them in the job market.
Alastair Scott: What opportunities are there for young people in the economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The household labour force survey showed the proportion of young people who are "neets"—young people not in education, employment, or training—fell to 11.1 percent in the June quarter, down from 12.7 percent in the previous 3 months. If you look at young people unemployed and not in education—15- to 24-year-olds—the number there is 29,000 in the June quarter, down from 32,000 in the previous 3 months. As a proportion of the total age group, that unemployment rate is about 4.35 percent, which is lower than the general population's unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, what is his explanation for there being 3,000 more 15- to 24-year-olds not in education, employment, or training compared with this quarter last year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I appreciate that the member has done his swap. I can tell him that it is actually lower than a quarter ago—
Grant Robertson: No, no, no—last year, I asked—last year.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the margin of error is 3,000 over the year, but I can tell him that it has dropped significantly. The Labour Party used to say the number of "neets" was 90,000 and it is now seventy-something thousand.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I very clearly asked the member to compare this quarter, this year to the same quarter last year. He did not answer that question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no—he certainly did address it. The member may have been interjecting at the time so he did not hear. He suggested something along the region that the numbers were within the margin of error. That addresses the question.
Alastair Scott: How does the Government intend to further improve labour market outcomes for workers?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The key to improving labour market outcomes and growing jobs is a growing economy. It is only when the economy is growing that businesses have the confidence to invest, hire new workers, and pay higher wages, and we are seeing that now in the New Zealand economy because of the Government's strong economic plan. We are one of the strongest-performing developed countries since the global financial crisis. We are getting there by keeping spending under control, keeping debt low, and getting it lower, and by investing in the infrastructure the economy needs to thrive—a plan we continue to pursue.
Police Resourcing—Number of Stations
4. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Does the closure of police stations meet current Government policy?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Children) on behalf of the Minister of Police: The location of police stations is an operational matter for the Commissioner of Police. However, it is Government policy that the Police should be continually looking at improving the way the public can access police services. Earlier this year, the Police announced the locations of 20 new 24/7 response bases, which means that these stations will be operational 24/7, covering 200,000 more New Zealanders. These steps make police more accessible and more visible so that officers can be where people need them, when they need them, and, of course, Budget 2017 delivered funding for 500 more officers straight to the front line over the next 4 years. But technology is changing how we communicate across the board, and New Zealanders do want to engage with police in different ways, whether it is by text or email or face to face in their own homes or businesses.
Ron Mark: Given the 31 police stations her Government either closed or relocated between 2009 and 2014, and now the closure of 21 police stations around the country, including Warkworth and Wellsford, can she give an assurance to New Zealanders that her Government will not close down any more police stations in the next 12 months?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I repeat what I said in the primary question, which is that the location of police stations is an operational matter for the commissioner, so he or she would make those decisions. However, I do also think that the member is mixing up police stations with front counters.
Ron Mark: How will these closures make police more visible in communities, given her statement in February that it is important "knowing there is a nearby police presence at all times", or fit with her promise that 95 percent of New Zealanders would live within 25 kilometres of a 24/7 police presence? Are we all expected to move house now?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The last part is unnecessary.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said in my answer to the primary question, we do expect the Police to continually improve people's access to its services, but that does not necessarily mean a policeman or policewoman sitting in a police station. Today, people want to communicate with them using technology, they want to have them out on the streets, and, to my knowledge, not many criminals actually come into police stations in order to commit crimes.
Ron Mark: Very good point, Minister. So Minister, with that last comment in mind, if closure is due to her Government's occupational safety and health law changes, with volunteers not having "necessary training and physical protection measures"—from the criminals who are not going to come in, apparently, now—what does this mean for Community Patrols of New Zealand, or for the Māori wardens or for neighbourhood watch, or for any person who voluntarily assists police in their work? Are they going to get chucked next?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The Police does value the services of volunteers, and there are many. However, some front counters have been temporarily closed to the public due to safety concerns while the Police complete a full front-counter safety review.
Ron Mark: Then can the Minister give the communities of Ōrewa, Warkworth, Wellsford, Arrowtown, Whangaparāoa, Taitā, Kilbirne, or any of the others listed in the announcement, and all of their volunteers, assurance that all of their volunteer stations will be reopened?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said in the answer to the primary question, that is a decision for the commissioner.
Denis O'Rourke: That's no answer
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That is an operational—well, it is the answer; that is the law, actually. But what I can guarantee is that police services will be maintained in those communities.
Stuart Nash: Is the increase in the amount of P on the streets higher because of a lack of local community-based police over the last 9 years?
Māori Housing Network—Funding
5. KELVIN DAVIS (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Māori Development: Does he believe his Māori Housing Network has received enough funding to succeed?
Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL (Minister for Māori Development):
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Kelvin Davis: How can he say that this National Government is delivering for Māori when the Māori Housing Network has delivered only 11 houses to a code of compliance level?
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Kelvin Davis: So when there are 14,000 homeless Māori, how can he possibly say that that is sufficient?
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Kelvin Davis: Does he truly believe that this National-led Government, which he is a part of, has delivered and will deliver what is needed to end Māori homelessness and turn around the falling Māori homeownership rate, which is now at 28 percent?
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Kelvin Davis: Will he join with me and support Labour's Māori housing plan, alongside Mereana Marsters and her family, who have been struggling to buy their own home under this Government but described Labour's plan as "an awesome idea"?
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"Te Matapihi look forward to supporting Te Puni Kōkiri to implement these programmes. We would like to acknowledge Minister Flavell, who has worked hard to consistently secure an increase in pūtea for Māori housing every year, over the past three years he has been in office, for better Māori housing outcomes."
Richard Prosser: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the light of discussions on the matter last week, and given the lack of translation hardware in the public gallery, I wonder whether you could give some consideration to investigating the possibility of subtitles being broadcast on the Chamber monitors for the benefit of the public in the gallery.
Mr SPEAKER: No. At this stage, for the members of public in the gallery who do not understand Te Reo, I suspect they cannot understand the answer. For those watching TV, they certainly have the transcript for them to understand it. As I said last week to this House, Māori is an official language of this House. It has been used now for nearly a hundred years, and if a member continues to use it, that is completely acceptable to me. I have listened to the questions, I have listened to the answers, and it has not impeded me in any way.
David Seymour: Can the Minister confirm that the percentage of homes that were owner-occupied and occupied by Māori fell from the high 40s to the low 40s between the years of 1999 and 2008?
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Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy—Goal to Reduce
6. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister of Health: Can he confirm that the Government has set a goal to reduce Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy by 86 percent over the next 8 years?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes. Today the Government has announced that Hāpai te Hauora will be the provider to deliver the national coordination of sudden, unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) prevention services to support families whose new baby is identified as being at higher risk. To support this new approach, we are investing an extra $2 million into SUDI prevention, taking the annual budget for such initiatives to $5.1 million. This new national programme will help to reduce the overall rate of SUDI by 86 percent, and by 94 percent for Māori, by 2025. This would reduce the number of SUDI deaths from 44 to 6. This Government believes in supporting women and families to have healthy babies who grow up to be healthy kids.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How will the national prevention programme target the biggest preventable risks for sudden, unexpected death in infancy?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: A major focus of this programme will be to tackle the risks of being exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy by better utilising innovative approaches to reduce smoking, including incentive programmes. We will also be targeting the risks associated with parents and babies sharing a bed by providing safe sleep devices such as wahakura or pēpi-pods to families identified as needing them during the baby's first year of life. A range of other evidence-based risk and protective factors will also be incorporated into the national prevention programme, including encouraging immunisation, breastfeeding, and sleeping babies on their back. This strengthened national prevention programme will help to protect the 60,000 babies born each year in New Zealand to ensure that they have the best chance for a healthy and long future.
Central Plains Water Irrigation Scheme—Canterbury Dairy Intensification
7. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for Primary Industries: How close will Canterbury come to the limit for dairy intensification when Stage 2 of the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme is completed?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): I have no ministerial responsibility for the Canterbury region's environmental management. This is, of course, the responsibility of Environment Canterbury, which has issued consents for this project. The impacts of farming on the environment are best managed at a regional council level, and, of course, on a catchment-by-catchment basis. However, as a Government we are setting strong requirements for monitoring and improving waterways. We are also strong supporters of irrigation and water storage projects like the Central Plains Water scheme, because they bring both economic and environmental benefits.
Eugenie Sage: Can he confirm that through grants from the Irrigation Acceleration Fund and loans from Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd he has subsidised a predicted increase of 29 percent in nutrient pollution in the Selwyn catchment through his Government's grants and subsidies to Central Plains Water?
Hon NATHAN GUY: No, I cannot confirm those numbers, because ultimately the Government—we have got two funding programmes. One is a grant allocation to get these programmes up and running, because on average they take 15 years. Then Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd may come in in the end, like it has on stage one—it invested $6.5 million and then got that money returned back to it. Ultimately, it is about farmers making the investment.
Eugenie Sage: Does he agree with the OECD in its 2017 economic survey of New Zealand that "Initiatives that drive large increases in production, such as … government grants and concessional financing for irrigation projects, are potentially in conflict with the need to maintain and improve the quality of the environment."?
Hon NATHAN GUY: When we came into Government there were not national policy statements to do with improving fresh water. We have done a huge amount. We are now consulting with the farming community about fencing regulations, to exclude the next stage of animals out of waterways on medium and rolling country. I cannot agree with the member's assertion.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister confirm that water storage is critical to both growing horticultural exports and improving water quality, and can regions like Nelson expect to continue to lead New Zealand with the lowest levels of unemployment if the Waimea dam project is scuttled?
Hon NATHAN GUY: That is a very good question from the local MP. Certainly, I have seen a report that shows that 75 jobs at Waimea would be at risk from a local nursery owner if this proposed water storage scheme does not go ahead. The nursery director said that, like many within the horticulture sector, their livelihood depends on a secure and sustainable water supply. The Waimea project is supported by one of the local MPs there, Damian O'Connor, despite his party being against water storage, and the Greens. [Interruption]
Eugenie Sage: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear the first point of order, which was raised by Eugenie Sage.
Eugenie Sage: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Minister said he had no responsibility in terms of Central Plains, and now he is claiming responsibility for the Waimea scheme.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not accept that he is claiming responsibility for the Waimea scheme. The question asked by the Hon Dr Nick Smith was actually two questions, but the second question was genuinely one that I think was raised as the local member. He is certainly entitled to answer that. There was a further point of order?
Hon David Parker: The Minister misrepresented the Labour Party position, which he and his local member know, and he has no responsibility for it so he should be called to order and asked to withdraw that comment.
Mr SPEAKER: The second point is probably right; there is no responsibility from the Minister for any particular Labour member of Parliament. As to the first point, whether in the answer given misrepresentation has occurred, then there is a very clear pathway to follow. Have a look at Standing Order 359.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are two issues here. If someone deliberately misrepresents, then that is a breach of privilege that has to go through that route. The point about Ministers not being able to purport to answer for other parties is they have no responsibility for it, and their misrepresentation, whether it is deliberate or not and whether it is a breach of privilege or not, is not to be allowed. And that is why I suggest that he should be asked to withdraw.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am not going to force a withdrawal, and the member is wrong in suggesting that when I mentioned Standing Order 359, that automatically leads to a breach of privilege. There is another process, which has been used once very successfully here: if a Labour member feels that the comment has misrepresented the Labour Party position, I have given very clear guidance as to where to go. Further supplementary—
James Shaw: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you mentioned, Mr Speaker, the honourable Nick Smith did ask two supplementary questions, and normally when a member of the Opposition does that, you actually point that out and refer the Minister to answer only one of those two questions.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a reasonable point. Often, but not always—and, in fact, if you go back and look at questions asked by Ron Mark today, I think one incorporated three supplementary questions, not two. Very often I invite the Minister to answer either one or other, and sometimes I give them the ability to answer both. On this particular occasion, if you go back and look carefully at the Hansard, as indeed I will, Mr Shaw, you will find that the answer certainly only addressed the second supplementary question.
Hon Damien O'Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the Minister's reference to me, is it OK for me to say that that Minister allows in dangerous animal disease—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I have given guidance to the member, to Mr Parker. He should accept the same guidance. If the member has been misrepresented or thinks he has, have a look at and get to know Standing Order 359.
Eugenie Sage: Will the Minister commit to ending taxpayer subsidies for think-big irrigation schemes, such as Central Plains Water, that offer no protection from the future effects of climate change, drive dairy intensification, and degrade our rivers and aquifers?
Hon NATHAN GUY: No. I find it, sort of, quite bizarre that the member is talking about climate change, because these projects are about rural resilience to do with droughts. Some talk about droughts as a result of climate change—so, on one hand, here is the Government supporting large regional water storage projects to get across the line, to ultimately provide economic and environmental gains to rural New Zealand, and yet on the other side of the House they are moaning about climate change.
Marama Fox: Given the degradation of the nation's water bodies since regional councils took control of water management and water allocation systems, how can the Minister state that regional councils are best suited to protecting and managing the environment?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Well, because that is what they have proven to do quite well over time. There are 18 catchments with restrictions to do with nitrates now, and, of course, they are the ones that allocate consents. Seventy-two percent of our rivers and waterways in New Zealand are swimmable, and we have got an aspirational target of seeing that improve over time.
Social Development, Minister—Announcements
8. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made regarding supporting New Zealanders off benefits and into work?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Today I announced that over 1,200 New Zealanders have taken up the 3K to Work grant and moved off benefits and into sustainable employment. The $3,000 grant, totalling $3.6 million in the last year, is to support people who have an offer of employment to relocate and take up work. The initiative follows the success of the 3K to Christchurch programme and has seen people employed in a variety of sectors right across the country. This Government is focused on helping people into work and congratulates all those who have taken up this opportunity to help themselves and improve their situation.
Barbara Kuriger: How successful has the 3K to Work grants scheme been?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: It has been very successful. As we saw with 3K to Christchurch, the vast majority of people who move to take up employment stay in work long term. In the year to 30 June 2017, of the 1,203 people who received grants, over 90 percent of them remained in employment and off benefits for longer than 91 days. It is fantastic news, as not only are these people—
Hon Member: 90 days—come on!
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: —getting the skills and experience—91 days—that are essential to staying off a benefit long term, the programme is contributing to New Zealand businesses and the overall economy by moving people into key industries such as construction, agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
Barbara Kuriger: In what other ways is the Government helping to support beneficiaries into work?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Along with our usual supports, such as Flexi-wage, training allowances, assistance for study costs, and in-work support, Budget 2017 invests $64.4 million in new operating funding to help people move off benefits and into work. This includes an extra $19.5 million to expand the intensive client support to help people achieve sustainable education, training, or employment outcomes. This Government is absolutely committed to breaking the cycle of welfare dependency and helping people live independent and successful lives. We have already had tremendous success, with over 61,000 fewer children now living in benefit-dependent households and the figures out today showing unemployment at 4.8 percent, the lowest it has been since before the global financial crisis.
Health, Minister—Director-General of Health
9. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Social Development: What responsibility does he take as Minister of Health for his Director-General of Health, who "probably overreached a bit" as said by him in the House yesterday?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): The responsibilities of Ministers and chief executives, and the relationship between them, are well established. Under the State Sector Act, Public Service chief executives are employed by the State Services Commissioner, and the commissioner is responsible for managing their performance in this role. The role of Ministers is set out in the Cabinet Manual, which states at paragraph 3.7: "Ministers decide both the direction of and the priorities for their departments. They are generally not involved in their departments' day-to-day operations." The Cabinet Manual applies to the relationship between all Ministers and the Public Service, and, of course, to my relationship as Minister of Health with Mr Chuah as the Director-General of Health.
Dr David Clark: Does he think it is acceptable that the Director-General of Health, the person in charge of his ministry, does the opposite of what he wanted by telling district health board (DHB) leaders that they could keep the $38 million in funding that they had been incorrectly allocated by his ministry?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: We dealt with this yesterday, and what I said at the time is that that allocation was a fraction of less than 1 percent of the total budget and Mr Chuah clearly felt that he could manage that within the $16.8 billion that health receives each year. As I said yesterday, it was a bit of an overreach, but you have got to look at the wider picture, which is that Mr Chuah is involved in delivering more and more health services, hundreds of which have improved over the system, delivering 7,000 more doctors, 50,000 more operations, and 150,000 more first specialist assessments.
Dr David Clark: Has he asked his Director-General of Health why he told DHBs that they could keep the $38 million wrongly allocated?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, the focus has actually been on making sure that the error was corrected, and that was my express decision that that should happen.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very specific question, and I do not believe it was addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion, I will allow the question to be repeated.
Dr David Clark: Has he asked his Director-General of Health why he told DHBs that they could keep the $38 million wrongly allocated?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Actually, all the reports on this have been purely anecdotal, and, quite frankly, I have not bothered having that conversation with him because I have been very focused on making sure that the error is corrected, which it has been. You have got to remember it is a fraction of less than 1 percent of the total budget. I would refer the member over there to the Estimates to understand how they—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the question has now definitely been answered.
Dr David Clark: Does he take responsibility for the Ministry of Health's failed proposed mental health Budget 2017 package, which was described by Treasury as "assemblage of … bids … without an understanding of the mental health population [or] workforce,"?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, the member knows very well that the Government allocated $224 million to mental health in the Budget, and that is going to provide a wide range of services that will benefit New Zealanders. I mean, the spending on mental health has increased from $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion over our time in Government, and there has been a decrease in waiting times, there are an extra 150 psychiatrists, an extra 600 mental health nurses, and a general focus on improving access to services.
Dr David Clark: What responsibility does he take for the findings of the soon-to-be-released Deloitte report on his ministry's $38 million funding stuff up to DHBs, in light of the fact that it follows another major botch-up worth $18 million for its head office?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, I think Parliament has moved past that type of language. We are into positivity now. What I can say is that the Deloitte report is being released this afternoon. The member can access one straight after question time, so he should race up to his office. What he will find is there are some very clear recommendations there around the Budget process for 2018, which I know the member will be very eager to read.
Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was: "What responsibility does he take for the findings …?".
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, that was not the question. It was far more emotive than that, and the answer addressed that.
Dr David Clark: What responsibility will he take for the findings?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Look, the findings are actually related to the ministry's budget process, and Mr Chuah has already taken responsibility for that.
Question No. 9 to Minister
MAHESH BINDRA (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance to find out what the criteria are for unparliamentary words such as "stuff-up". I just noticed that Dr Clark used the words "stuff-up" and you did not stop him, whereas when I used those words during question time, when asking a question of the Hon Sam Lotu-Iiga, you stopped me immediately and reprimanded me.
Mr SPEAKER: As I have said many times, at the end the day, I think the members themselves use language for which they are responsible, and they will be judged by the public of New Zealand for the language they use. Having said that, there are times when, depending on the context in which some words are used and the decorum of the House at the time, I may then intervene. On this occasion, I did not intervene. I think Mr Clark can justify whether, in his own mind, he should have used those words—that is his business.
Biosecurity Management—Robustness
10. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Does he believe that New Zealand has robust biosecurity in light of Mycoplasma bovis and other recent incursions?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Yes, I do. This Government has placed a huge focus on biosecurity, and overall funding is now at a record high of $248 million per year. Even if we completely closed the borders, biosecurity would not be zero-risk; therefore, responding to incursions is an expected part of our overall biosecurity system. On average, the overall number of incursions per year has been consistent with previous years going back to 2000. This is despite strongly increasing passenger and cargo volumes.
Richard Prosser: Does his belief that New Zealand has robust biosecurity and border processes extend to the import health standards for bovine semen and embryos; if not, why not?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Our import health standards are a legal document, and, indeed, there is an investigation under way to try to determine how M. bovis made its way to New Zealand. I would prefer not to speculate; I would prefer that the investigation be allowed to get on with the good job that I am sure it will do.
Richard Prosser: How does his belief that New Zealand has robust biosecurity, border processes, and import health standards square with Mycoplasma bovis, myrtle rust being found almost exclusively in nurseries, and pea weevil and velvet leaf being present in beet seeds that were certified weed-free?
Hon NATHAN GUY: We have got a multilayered biosecurity system. To do with myrtle rust—this is wind-borne. New Zealand First seems to think that a passenger brought it into New Zealand. The reality is that if it has a look at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research's wind-plume modelling, there are six wind events this year with a very high probability of myrtle rust being carried across the Tasman and reaching New Zealand.
Richard Prosser: How does he reconcile his belief in New Zealand's robust biosecurity and border processes with the fact that there have been over 150 biosecurity incursions since the election in 2008—mushroom compost containing animal manure being imported from Europe, and now, of all things, mud from overseas being imported into Rotorua?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I was delighted to see in Budget 2017 that $18.4 million has been allocated to further strengthen the biosecurity system. That will allow us to review the most at-risk import health standards. Actually, if New Zealand First and Labour want to get serious about biosecurity, they will need to front up in the campaign to farmers and woolsheds and cowsheds, up and down the country, and say why they did not vote for the border clearance levy. That is a huge embarrassment for them when they talk about funding.
Richard Prosser: How can biosecurity be robust when not one New Zealand airport has ever achieved MPI's compliance targets, and while this Government's much-vaunted National Animal Identification and Tracing project for tracking livestock movements is only now being initiated, 10 days after Mycoplasma bovis was first confirmed?
Hon NATHAN GUY: If the member wants to refer to the investments that this Government has made, just in recent times, to do with the biosecurity system, I just want to remind him: 50 new biosecurity staff, 20 new dog detector teams, new x-ray machines—which means we can do more at the border—and the border clearance levy, which means we have got more funding. With increased tourism numbers, we have now got more funding to do more and provide more services on the border. We are doing a huge amount. We have got 14 Government industry agreements, whereby industry has signed up and is partnering with the Government on preparedness and response. There is a huge amount happening, and I am actually very proud of the fact that this Government has achieved a huge amount in terms of strengthening the overall biosecurity system.
Regional Culture and Heritage Fund—Announcements
11. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: What announcements has she made on support for cultural facilities through the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): In the last couple of months I have had the privilege of announcing more than $10 million for projects supporting projects in Whangarei, Hastings, and Foxton, from the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund (RCHF), with more to come. Most recently I announced a $900,000 grant to complete the fit out of the ASB Theatre complex in Blenheim, thanks, in part, to the advocacy of their local member. But specifically, it was for the completion of the Anderson Theatre. The RCHF exists to support significant regional projects, such as the ASB, which has the potential to be a major cultural and economic asset for Blenheim and Marlborough, attracting both local and international artists.
Stuart Smith: What announcement has she made about funding from the RCHF for Rakiura Stewart Island?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY: In the last adjournment, the member for Invercargill and I beat the weather to visit Oban, and announce more than $1 million from the RCHF for a complete rebuild of the Rakiura Museum. The Stewart Island community has done well to access other funding from the local council and philanthropic and community sources, and I was very pleased that the Government was able to cover the rest of the cost of the project. It is time Stewart Island had the appropriate facilities to display its extensive heritage collections for islanders and visitors to enjoy, and it will be a fantastic asset for the southernmost community.
Transport, Auckland—Congestion
12. MICHAEL WOOD (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Transport: Does he think after nine years of a National-led Government that traffic congestion in Auckland is getting better or worse when the TomTom index shows that Auckland now has more traffic congestion than Hong Kong, and that congestion has almost doubled since 2014?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): I acknowledge that congestion has been a growing issue for Auckland, because its economy and population has been growing strongly. Auckland, like other rapidly growing cities, is experiencing increasing pressure on its transport network. The member may be interested to know that Auckland is growing at twice the rate of Hong Kong at 1.5 percent a year, compared to 0.8 percent. However, significant improvements in travel times are being experienced by Aucklanders very recently, as much-needed infrastructure is coming on. Two recent examples of projects delivering a real difference for Aucklanders are the Southern Motorway improvements, which have cut up to 23 minutes off commute times, and the impressive Waterview tunnel, which are delivering equally impressive, and in some cases more impressive, travel-time savings. With the pipeline of work this Government has under way, Aucklanders have, and will continue to notice, improvements to their travel times.
Michael Wood: Why after 9 years in Government has Auckland traffic congestion actually got four to five times worse since 2013, according to research released today by the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Infrastructure New Zealand, Auckland Airport, Ports of Auckland, and the National Road Carriers?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Really, I have said the main points here, which are that I accept that congestion has been a real growing issue for a growing city, our city of Auckland. But, actually, very recently we are seeing very meaningful improvements in terms of congestion. Actually, a 7 percent reduction in congestion on the Southern and Northern Motorways, something like a 14 to 21 percent reduction in travel times on the arterials such as Mount Eden and Dominion Roads, as a result of Waterview. So as we get projects that have taken a long time to come to fruition, like new lanes on the Southern Motorway and Northern Motorway coming, and Waterview, that is actually reducing congestion.
Michael Wood: How after 9 years in Government can he justify the $1.3 billion of annual productivity loss caused by gridlock in Auckland, and is this not evidence that National is holding back Auckland's growth and prosperity?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I agree with the thesis of the report. I mean, no one wants to see congestion. That is why we have such an ambition programme, and as those projects come on—
Hon Members: Ha ha!
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: —well, they laugh, but, actually, hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders know that the Southern Motorway improvement and that the Waterview tunnel have delivered very real time and reliability benefits for them. Let me give a couple of examples—Papakura to the CBD via State Highway 1 used to take something like 39-86 minutes; it now takes around 35 minutes. The airport to CBD via Manukau Road used to take 40 to 49 minutes; now with Waterview, it takes 32 minutes.
Mr SPEAKER: Bring the answer to a conclusion.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: There are some very strong improvements happening in terms of congestion.
David Seymour: Why has the Minister been so weak on introducing congestion pricing that he now finds himself to the left of Phil Goff, who wants to bring it in sooner?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not accept that. If you look at what we have done, we have had the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which has made a very clear recommendation around investigating pricing, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Michael Wood: Given his acknowledgment today that the congestion problem in Auckland is growing, why has he not learnt the lessons of the Northern Busway, built by Labour, that if you give people modern, efficient public transport many of them will leave their cars at home, which means moving more people and freight around our city freely?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: For one thing it takes all manner of forms of transport, including public transport, but actually if the member had listened to what I said, I said that congestion has increased, but actually very recently, as we have seen big projects start—new laning on the Southern Motorway, and the Waterview tunnel—in fact we have seen congestion decrease quite meaningfully, both in terms of the State highway network and also in terms of the arterial roads. Aucklanders know—they are emailing, they are writing, they are on talkback, in their hundreds of thousands—that they are getting quicker travel times and much, much more reliable travel times.
Michael Wood: Why can the Minister not see that Aucklanders want a Government that understands their city and is more ambitious for it, rather than one that says it will think about a light rail connection to the airport in 30 years' time?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is lucky it has got such a Government. This is a Government that invests two-thirds of all transport spending in Auckland over and above what the council is doing. It has a very ambitious programme, and it continues to show more ambitio

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