Parliament: Questions and Answers - Dec 5
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1—Deputy Prime Minister
1. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements; if so, why?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes, because I can.
Darroch Ball: Does he stand by his statements about the regenerating of regional rail; if so, why? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and there will be one fewer question, Mr Brownlee.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Most certainly. Regional rail will, by the time we're finished, once again become a core part of this country's transport infrastructure—
Hon Steven Joyce: Ah, yep. National did broadband; Winston does rail.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —after years and years of neglect. Mr Joyce, in a democracy, a man who can't listen can't lead. We know the hidden benefits—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is simply this: what responsibility does the Deputy Prime Minister have for regional rail?
Mr SPEAKER: I think that was possibly something that could have been brought up as part of when the question was asked. He is now halfway through answering it. The member didn't bring up at the first opportunity, and I am going to allow the Minister to finish his answer.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a serious point of order, because, although KiwiRail is meant to be a profit-running organisation—therefore a State-owned enterprise (SOE)—it's not under them, but I am the Minister for it.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I think if that was the case—I think in future what we will do is we will be more careful about ensuring that questions are put down to the Minister for SOEs or the Minister for railways, rather than to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Ball.
Darroch Ball: Does he stand by his commitment to boost regional economic development; if so, why?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: In my role as Deputy Prime Minister—
Hon Simon Bridges: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, that's—I'm anticipating the point of order, and if the Deputy Prime Minister can explain his ministerial responsibility as Deputy Prime Minister for this, then we'll continue.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: In my role as Deputy Prime Minister, it is my duty to ensure that the Government's programme is advanced and progressed, and sometimes, alas, the Prime Minister has to be out of the country, and it will become my primary role. That being the case, yes, we are flat-out ensuring that for the first time for a long time—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think that might be in the category of "a nice try".
Darroch Ball: Does he stand by his commitment to boost employment; if so, why?
Mr SPEAKER: [Shakes head]. Are there any further supplementary questions?
• Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her statements?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): In the context in which they were given, yes.
Rt Hon Bill English: Does she stand by her statement in regards to her Ready for Work scheme, or Work for the Dole scheme, that: "Our view was that you couldn't compel people to take up a job."
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: When I was discussing the way that we would role this programme, we were acknowledging that there's a range of ways in which we could encourage the uptake of the opportunity for employment. I have also acknowledged that sanctions have long been a part of our benefit system, and that won't change. Ultimately, though, this is a Government focused on getting young people into work.
Rt Hon Bill English: Does she agree with the statement of her Minister for Regional Economic Development in regards to the Ready for Work scheme that, "They'll be made to go to work. … there will be no more sitting on the couch."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said, sanctions have long been a part of our welfare system, and that won't change.
Rt Hon Bill English: Does she therefore agree with her parliamentary under-secretary Jan Logie who said: "Benefit sanctions punish families who are already struggling to get by …. These are not the actions of a decent and compassionate government—benefit sanctions are punitive and cruel, and it's going to take a change of government to get rid of them. … The Green Party in government … will immediately end … sanctions."
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has no responsibility for Green Party policy, or statements made by someone who was not an under-secretary at the time.
Rt Hon Bill English: Does she agree with the statements made by members of the Green Party in support of the Government that they oppose sanctions on benefits and intend to roll back those that exist?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely stand by the Labour Party's confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party, which says that we will look at the excessive use of sanctions within the welfare system. I have to say, the excessive use of sanctions ballooned under that last Government, because rather than focusing on providing employment opportunities like this Government, that's what they resorted to.
Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister now outline Government policy on sanctions as they may apply to young people who have been on the unemployment benefit?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have already given a general statement that sanctions have long been a part of our welfare system, but details around the way our particular policy around getting young people into work will go to Cabinet and decisions will be made collectively. But what I am happy to say is that, unlike the last Government, we are not willing to allow more than 70,000 young people not in employment, education, or training to have their lives wasted.
Rt Hon Bill English: If a young person who may be eligible for a scheme of this nature refuses to participate, or attends for a day or two and then refuses to attend, will the Government apply sanctions to them?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've given the general principles that we'll be working to, but final decisions of the programme will go to Cabinet. But, again, this Government is entirely united behind the idea that young people deserve opportunities, and under this Government they'll get them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister whether it's her Government's attitude that the wealth of a country is in its working people, and whether it would be refreshing if some people, instead of looking a gift-horse in the mouth, decided to put a saddle on its back and be grateful?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This is a Government that is focused on providing employment opportunities, and that's exactly what our Minister for Regional Economic Development has been speaking to. Unlike the last Government, who labelled young people "pretty damn hopeless", we'll get them into jobs.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What are the main elements of the Budget Policy Statement that will be released on 14 December?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Budget Policy Statement is a regular part of the financial cycle that sets out the broad fiscal parameters for the Budget and states the Government's priorities for the Budget. It also summarises the economic and fiscal forecasts that Treasury will set out in the half-year update to be released on the same day.
Tamati Coffey: Will the Budget Policy Statement and the half-yearly update include further information about the Government's 100-day plan, as outlined in the Speech from the Throne?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, it will. Excellent progress is being made on implementing the 100-day plan, including today's announcement of the details of the first-year "fees-free" programme by the Prime Minister and Minister Hipkins. The full costings of the 100-day plan commitments will be included in the half-year update, including the families' package, the tertiary reforms, and restarting contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. The Budget Policy Statement will also set out the operating and capital spending allowances that will provide for the other commitments that the Government has made, including the coalition and confidence and supply agreements.
Tamati Coffey: Will the Budget Policy Statement have anything to say about how the Government intends to measure success in the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Why, yes. While the member will have to wait until 14 December for details, what I can say is that the Government intends to measure the success of our economy on more than just fiscal terms—as important as those are. We will measure our success on how we improve the well-being of New Zealanders, how we reduce the rates of child poverty, and how we improve sustainability. We will not try to claim success when more and more families are living in cars, homelessness is the worst in the world, and many of our schools and hospitals are ageing in disrepair, unlike the previous Government tried to do.
• Question No. 4—Prime Minister
4. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her statements?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, in the context in which they were given.
Hon Paula Bennett: So which one of these statements from yesterday does she stand by: "No, the Ombudsman hadn't written to me" or "I'll have to check with my office" or "Yes, we have received that letter"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, to be fair, I said that all at the same time. I was in a post-Cabinet press conference when I was asked the question, and recalled that on my way down I had indeed been told that a letter had been received. I am happy to confirm we have now responded to that letter. So yes, I self-corrected on the spot.
Hon Paula Bennett: Oh, so what was the title of the document she or her office provided the Chief Ombudsman in respect of releasing the 33-page coalition document?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We're in direct discussions now, working alongside the Ombudsman to resolve the issue that's been raised by him, and, as I've said, we will accommodate him and work with him to see resolution to this.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was quite clear in my question, "What title of the document …", and I didn't get that answered, at all.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, have another go.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, I need further clarification: is she asking what the Ombudsman called it, or what she called it? I can answer from my perspective. We've always referred to "a range of negotiating documents", and that's obviously the reference that the Ombudsman was raising. The member will no doubt know, because her Opposition party members were the ones who made the complaint.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister asked me a question to clarify. I'd like the opportunity to re-ask the question, to clarify.
Mr SPEAKER: You can ask the same question again, if you want to have the same answer again.
Hon Paula Bennett: So she didn't answer my question at all, sir, but—
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, I think she did.
Hon Paula Bennett: No—"What is the title of the document?"
Mr SPEAKER: I think she did, and—
Hon Paula Bennett: She did not give a title of the document that she gave to the Ombudsman.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think she came close enough.
Hon Paula Bennett: So what recommendations, if any, has the Chief Ombudsman made to the Prime Minister, and what was her response?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, again, the Ombudsman wrote to us having received a complaint from the Opposition. He's of course following the process that's usually followed when a complaint is made. He's contacted us, we've responded to his questions, and I understand we're likely to meet at some point.
Hon Paula Bennett: So what was the title of the document that her office gave to the Ombudsman when he requested it over the last couple of weeks?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said, I've always referred to it as "a range of documents as part of the negotiations"; of course, the Opposition have called it something else. I don't see how the title is material in this discussion.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the issue here is that if the answer to that question is, "Well, there isn't one document. There's a series.", that would be an answer. But I think in light of a very direct question, that's not an appropriate answer—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the Prime Minister has indicated that she's referred to it as "a range of documents involved in coalition negotiations". That's clear enough.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This issue turns on whether or not the document spoken of is an official document and, therefore, subject to the Official Information Act. That's the question being determined by the Ombudsman, and until that time, I think it's improper that this matter be litigated here, for if he decides—as the Government has said—that this is not an official document, they will have a right to be privy to none of the document at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his advice, and I know that he's had some experience in these areas.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: A lot of experience, in fact.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, yes, more than I have. But I have looked at this question quite carefully, and the question is not one for the Ombudsman. It is one for the Parliament and it is, in the end, my decision whether it is a ministerial document. I have not at any stage ruled that it is.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does the 33-page coalition document contain anything about a work-for-the-dole scheme, or any scheme whereby people receiving a benefit might be made to work?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Programmes to get young people into employment were referred to in the document that both parties signed and that is now public and in the public domain. That is already publicly available because it was in our official coalition agreement.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise. I should've actually have ruled the question out, I think, because no one has yet established that there is a 33-page coalition agreement.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, you're not going to relitigate this, are you, Mr Bridges?
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, I think—a point of order on that matter—I mean, they've accepted it—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, Mr Bridges. I've apologised for allowing the question. I was too kind to Ms Bennett.
Hon Paula Bennett: I just need to get—because there's a number of quotes here, I've got to say. So how does she then stand by her record, which says it is "a record of some of our conversations", and Mr Peters', which says it is "a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development", and, as such, when will the document be released?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I said, I stand by my statements.
• Question No. 5—Finance
5. Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his comments last week that the Government will seek to reprioritise spending programmes of the previous Government, and is investing in new roads one of the programmes that will be reprioritised?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I stand by my statement that Ministers will look at whether there are areas of spending committed to the previous Government that do not fit with the new Government's priorities. This is important work, especially in light of the previous Government's predilection for failed ideologically and politically motivated policies. I am expecting all Ministers, including the Minister of Transport, to take part in that exercise, and final decisions on reprioritisations will be made as part of the Budget process.
Hon Steven Joyce: Does he agree with the Prime Minister, who said yesterday, and I quote,"for instance in roading, we don't consider it a priority in line with what we want to achieve as a government."; and, if so, is he preparing to use petrol taxes for other capital investments or other operating spending outside of roading?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In answer to the second part of the question, we've been clear that the petrol tax that we allowed the Auckland Council to put in place is the extent of our ambition there. What I can say is that we won't be continuing with the process of the East-West Link as announced by the National Government, which would have cost $327 million a kilometre, making it the world's most expensive road, more expensive than the Sochi to Krasnaya road, which was described by locals at the time as it would have been cheaper to put foie gras and truffles down rather than tarseal.
Hon Steven Joyce: Coming back to the matter at hand, is it his intention to continue hypothecation of petrol excise tax and road-user charges revenue into the National Land Transport Fund?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes.
Hon Steven Joyce: Will he then insist that the revenue obtained from the regional fuel tax in Auckland also be hypothecated to transport projects of the Auckland Council?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That is something that the Auckland Council is working on, but my expectation would be yes.
Hon Steven Joyce: What spending restraint and cost controls will he insist on as finance Minister as a condition of the Auckland Council being able to impose a $150 million per year fuel tax on Aucklanders so it is actually spent on transport projects?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We're working closely with the Auckland Council to ensure that the massive funding gap that the National Government allowed to grow in the Auckland transport plan will be closed, and we are very confident that with a Government that is actually ambitious for modern transport solutions in Auckland we can form a partnership with the council to achieve those outcomes for Aucklanders.
Hon Steven Joyce: Given that the Auckland Council's turnover has gone up hugely in the last four years and that its wage bill has gone up hugely and Aucklanders are quite suspicious about its spending of their ratepayers' money, how can he reassure Aucklanders that the money from the regional fuel tax won't go the same way, when that is the record of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member had a question. He had two unnecessary bits before the question. I think we'll just let the Minister answer the question.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We are working with the Auckland Council to ensure that we fill the massive funding gap left by the previous National Government. I can tell the member one thing we won't be doing: we won't be forcing the Auckland Council to sell assets in some mad ideological experiment, as he wanted to do.
• Question No. 6—Housing and Urban Development
6. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Has he been informed of any funding problems in emergency and transitional housing?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Since becoming Minister, I've learnt that recent Budgets left some ticking time bombs in the provision of emergency and transitional housing. Housing, first: the agreed approach to dealing with chronic homelessness has less than half the funding per place that it needs. Over $50 million has been spent on putting homeless people up in motels when only $2 million a year was forecast, and funding for a hundred front-line staff for emergency and transitional housing runs out at the end of this financial year. This underfunding helped the previous Government's Budget projections look better, but it didn't reflect the real costs of the policies.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Why does funding for a hundred front-line housing staff run out at the end of this financial year?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, in 2016 a hundred more front-line staff were hired in response to the growing number of families facing homelessness. But the funding for these staff was not made permanent in Budget 2017. Because of this, money for one-third—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just go back to where we were last week. He doesn't have responsibility for this, and this answer is almost entirely based on what happened—in his view, anyway—in the last Government.
Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I'm very happy, and I refer the member to Speaker's Ruling 159/2. The Minister can address the activities of a previous Government, if he is required to take some action as a result of that. And unless there's a new fact that we're missing out on, I think Mr Twyford has probably finished his supplementary answer.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What is the Minister going to do about—
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, a point of order: the Hon Steven Joyce.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just reflecting on that particular ruling that you've identified—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no. The member will resume his seat now. The member doesn't reflect on a ruling that I've made, at all, and certainly not after we'd moved on to the next supplementary question.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What is the Minister going to do about costs in emergency and transitional housing?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, a point of order, Mr Brownlee. If it relates in any way to a previous ruling that I've made, there's going to be a significant loss of supplementary questions on behalf of the National Party.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Sir, I just think it's reasonable that we get a clarification on the statement you've just made, because if members don't reflect on anything that the Speaker has said, how can they learn from your vast experience?
Mr SPEAKER: That, again, was a nice try, and the member might have got away with it through flattery, but I don't expect to hear in this House every time Mr Joyce reflects on something.
Jami-Lee Ross: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: If this is a continuation of this matter in any way, the member's party will lose supplementary questions.
Jami-Lee Ross: It is different, Mr Speaker. You chastised Mr Joyce for not raising, in your view, the point of order right at the time.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes.
Jami-Lee Ross: In fact, he did stand up. And, Mr Speaker, I submit to you that he was on his feet right away and should not have been chastised.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I have indicated to members that my left ear is slightly deaf—that has mainly been to the advantage of members on my left. If Mr Joyce called, I didn't hear him. Right, continue with the supplementary question.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What is the Minister going to do about costs in emergency and transitional housing?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I will be discussing Budget bids with Cabinet, but the long-term answer is building more houses. The Government is currently spending about $90,000 a day putting homeless people up in motels, because there are too few State houses and so many were sold under the former Government. This Government's solution is more State houses and more affordable homes so there is a decent place to live for everyone.
• Question No. 7—Pike River Re-entry
7. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry: Who will bear potential liability under health and safety legislation for any re-entry of the Pike River drift that he approves, and what is the range of penalties that could be imposed on them in the event of a breach of workplace safety obligations?
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Hon Andrew Little, I will indicate to the House that I have been informed by the Minister's office that this is likely to be a longer than normal answer, and, because of the important nature of it, I've allowed that.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry): Thank you, Mr Speaker. To the first question: there are potentially many people liable as required under the Health and Safety at Work Act, which was passed by her Government. This includes employees, contractors, and subcontractors. Health and safety after all, as we all know, is a shared responsibility.
To the second question: in so far as the member would be aware that I am unable to give legal advice, the penalties in the legislation range—depending on whether they are an individual or a company—from an up to $50,000 fine for failing to comply with a health and safety duty or up to five years in prison or an up to $3 million fine for reckless conduct exposing someone to the risk of death. These penalties will only be applied where the agency fails to meet its obligations. But I can reassure her that I have every intention of ensuring that the re-entry work is consistent with health and safety obligations.
Hon Amy Adams: What was the recommendation from his Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) officials on the optimal decision-making structure for Pike River re-entry, given those health and safety obligations, among other things?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I received advice from MBIE and also from the State Services Commission, and I followed the State Services Commission advice, which was for an arrangement that allowed for maximum accountability to this Parliament. That's what I am here for.
Hon Amy Adams: Why did the Minister reject official advice that a decision about safe re-entry will be best achieved by ensuring the decision maker is independent, with the decision maker being the holder of the key duties of care around ensuring health and safety?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: In putting together this project, I was acutely aware that the previous Government had handled the families involved in this matter in a completely shabby and appalling way, and I wanted to ensure that the arrangements we put in place allowed for full accountability to this Parliament, engaged the families fully and properly, allowed for good quality advice at all levels, and complied with our health and safety legislation.
Hon Amy Adams: Why did the Minister reject advice that the best decision would come from an independent decision maker?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I got a range of advice, including from the State Services Commission, which expressed their preferred option about having a structure that allowed for maximum accountability to this Parliament as well as flexibility and responsiveness. The member should read the papers properly.
Hon Amy Adams: On what basis does the Minister think it's reasonable to expect public servants that report to him to carry the burden of criminal responsibility for decisions that that Minister makes?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member misunderstand the law that her Government put in place called the Health and Safety at Work Act, and she misunderstands the implied obligations in every employment agreement for every employee. Every employee, contractor, subcontractor—anybody involved in a task—has duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act. No employee under our employment law can be required or instructed to undertake unsafe work, and no employer can issue an instruction that is unlawful and unreasonable—and that won't happen in this project.
Hon Amy Adams: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library for my office that makes it quite clear that the chief executive of the agency is criminally responsible.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to the tabling of that document? There appears to be none.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
• Question No. 8—Fisheries
8. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Fisheries: Which recommendations, if any, of the New Zealand Initiative report The Future Catch does he intend to adopt and announce, before Christmas?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Fisheries): None.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does he, at any point, intend to accept the recommendation that all recreational marine fishers should be required to have a licence?
Hon STUART NASH: No.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Will the Government announce that all water crafts supporting recreational fishers should be registered as craft over and above their trailers?
Hon STUART NASH: No.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Are there any recommendations in the report The Future Catch that he does intend to implement?
Hon STUART NASH: Certainly none before Christmas.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked if there were any he was going to introduce. The answer was "none before Christmas." Well, that's not really—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows very well he can't get a yes or no.
Rino Tirikatene: What other examples are there of the Government listening to fishery stakeholders?
Hon STUART NASH: Good question, Mr Tirikatene. Since coming into Government, I have announced a slow-down of the digital monitoring roll-out. It quickly became evident that the previous Government had not meaningfully consulted—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The member's gone far enough to indicate to me that this does not flow at all from the primary question.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Are there any aspects of, or recommendations in, the report The Future Catch that the Minister is going to do some more work on, and if so, what are they?
Hon STUART NASH: I have referred the report to my officials. I'll work through the report with my officials and the House, and we'll wait and see what comes out of that.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does—[Interruption] Supplementary?
Mr SPEAKER: Yeah. The member's got the lost one back again.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Thanks very much. Does he intend to announce that recreational sea fishers will have to record and report recreational catches?
Hon STUART NASH: No.
• Question No. 9—Education
9. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: Who will be eligible for fees-free tertiary education and training next year? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Chris Hipkins—with an additional question going to the Opposition.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): "Fees-free", the flagship Government initiative that I launched with the Prime Minister at Aotea College this morning, is available to students enrolled at funded providers who are New Zealand citizens or have been permanently resident in New Zealand for three years, are studying at level 3 or above in a course that starts in 2018, and either are recent school leavers or have not previously undertaken more than half a year of study. If they meet those criteria, they can receive a free year's study, and students can check their eligibility at .
Jan Tinetti: How many learners will benefit from "fees-free"?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The current estimates that I've been advised of are that there are around 76,000 students eligible for "fees-free" next year, and around 6,000 apprentices and trainees. These students include around 31,000 school leavers, but a majority—44,000—will be older students. An estimated 50,000 learners will be in polytechnics, wānanga, private training establishments, or industry training, compared to around 30,000 at university.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How many extra New Zealanders will start tertiary education next year as a result of the $380 million he plans to spend?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I hope that there will be a significant amount more. One of the things that make the exact estimates difficult is that forecasts for participation in tertiary education were to decline, had we kept the previous policy position of the last Government, by up to 2,000 students a year. So our intention is to, at least, stabilise that, and probably have an increase.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he aware that the slight decline in student numbers was a result of a demographic lowering of numbers in the cohort and, secondly, because there is an incredible jobs boom going on in this country, employing more young New Zealanders? Is he aware of that, and, secondly, exactly how many extra new students are we expecting next year?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Higher levels of employment don't necessarily mean that this policy is not going to benefit those people, because, as we have said, we want to give people more opportunity to earn and learn at the same time, which is why this policy also applies to people doing apprenticeships and other forms of on-the-job industry training.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why is paying more for people to gain an in-depth understanding of golf theory, for example, a priority for new spending?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm not aware of any golf courses that will be eligible for this. The eligibility for this is based on programmes that were approved and funded by the previous Government; so if those programmes are currently being funded, I think the previous Government need take a good, long, hard look at themselves.
• Question No. 10—Regional Economic Development
10. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement, "I am going to take proposals to Cabinet. I'm calling it Work for the Dole"; if so, how many jobs does he expect his programme to create?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): Yes, in relation to taking proposals to Cabinet along with the Minister of Employment. In relation to what it will be called, no doubt Cabinet will suitably christen it. In respect of how many people the programme will deal with, I would point out that it takes 1,250 planters to plant a million trees a day. A hundred days' work—a hundred million a year; times 10—a billion trees.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does he agree with the New Zealand Herald's editorial this morning that said his "work scheme deserves a chance" and that "he has the energy and experience to make it work"; and if so, what arguments will he be making to convince his Cabinet colleagues that it's a good idea?
Hon SHANE JONES: In relation to arguments that I might muster, the first thing that I've taken on board is some sage-like counsel: when one front-foots an issue, do not completely shoot one's own foot.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, does he agree with Barry Soper, who said, "It's hard to see Jones winning, considering the trade unions are against it."; and if not, what arguments will he be making to win the unions over?
Hon SHANE JONES: It's a rather perverse outcome that I should be talking about the unions in my particular role; suffice to say I'm working with the Minister of Employment. Proposals will wend their way through Cabinet, and I'm sure that you'll find there's a suitable blend of stick and carrot.
Hon Simon Bridges: What consequences does he think there should be for young people who decline to participate in his programme?
Hon SHANE JONES: Once again, I'm sure that other Ministers belonging to the Cabinet will provide their perspectives and balance my views that I reflect as a Ngāpuhi chief.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister confirm that we are in total agreement that placing young people in paid, decent employment is an aspiration this Government totally shares?
Hon SHANE JONES: Yes, and on matters of nomenclature, what is a name? A rose by any other name is just as sweet.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, given the seeming consensus on the other side of the House, what is wrong with there being consequences for failing to work?
Hon SHANE JONES: What is wrong is that for nine years, former Ministers on the other side of the House talked a big book and did jack.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Minister backing down on Work for the Dole, meaning many will be destined to meaningless lives on the couch, when he's spent years on this, and many in the media as well as the general public absolutely agree with him?
Hon SHANE JONES: Once again, prior to Christmas, I'm confident—such a busy schedule in our Cabinet committees—that answers will reveal themselves for the other side of the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister if one of the employment programmes he might contemplate would be training a number of diction trainers so that they could possibly help that member ask questions that are halfway understandable in this House?
Hon SHANE JONES: Not wanting to trivialise—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Sit down! Sit down! You are going to withdraw and apologise, aren't you?
Hon SHANE JONES: I certainly would never trivialise the House or the House's man.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon SHANE JONES: I stand, withdraw, and apologise, sir.
Mr SPEAKER: No. The member stands up, and he says, "I withdraw and apologise."
Hon SHANE JONES: Sir, I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member's been absent for some time, but I don't think his memory's that bad.
• Question No. 11—Social Development
11. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by all her statements regarding sanctions?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Yes.
Hon Louise Upston: Will the Government be removing the sanction on those people who repeatedly don't turn up to appointments with the Ministry of Social Development?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The Government has had a sanction regime for quite some time, and at this stage we are looking to review the sanctions that are in place. No decisions have been made about current sanctions, but, moving forward, where there are sanctions that are detrimental or not achieving the objectives that they were set up to achieve, then we will be looking to reassess whether or not we should have them in place or not.
Hon Louise Upston: Does she believe that sanctions should be applied to people who don't turn up for Government-run work programmes?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: There are sanctions that should be in place, but we need to assess whether or not they are working, so I'm not going to make any statements about the current sanctions that are in place, apart from the one that we've already committed publicly to getting rid of, and that's section 70A.
Hon Louise Upston: Does the Minister believe that a young forestry worker on a Ministry of Social Development employment scheme in Northland should be able to pass a drug test, and, if not, what sanction would there be if they didn't?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions about hypothetical people with regard to sanctions. When we make decisions about what sanctions will be in place or will stay in place, it will be because we have reviewed them thoroughly.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a current issue; there is nothing hypothetical about it, and the Minister should answer it.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the member will resume his seat. The question put, without any authentication or evidence, is absolutely hypothetical, and there is no requirement on the Minister to respond.
Hon Louise Upston: Where does she stand on a young person being offered a role that they don't accept, and should they be sanctioned?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Where I stand is that I'm really disappointed with the Opposition making assumptions about young people not wanting to work and taking a deficit approach to young people with regard to employment. I think the Opposition needs to be reminded that when they were in Government, on several occasions there were thousands of young people lining up outside supermarkets because they wanted to work, but there was a lack of job opportunities for them. We're about creating those opportunities.
Mr SPEAKER: While the member got considerable support from her colleagues for the answer, she didn't actually address the question. I'll invite Louise Upston to repeat the question.
Hon Louise Upston: Where does the Minister stand on a young person being offered a role that they don't accept, and should they be sanctioned?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: With regards to Government policy, we need to follow Government policy in every area. So we would need to look at that specific example and see what policy was in place, and apply that policy.
Mr SPEAKER: Question number 12—
David Seymour: Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh. I'm sorry—the member's on leave.
David Seymour: Well, look who's back! Does the Minister agree with the statement in this House of former Labour welfare Minister Steve Maharey with respect to dads welshing on their child support payments: "It is a rort, and I have said time and time again in this Parliament that fathers must front up to their obligations, and we will make sure they do, as much as we can."
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and the member will resume his seat. That's not an area that—the responsibility for statements made by Mr Maharey is not an area that this Minister has responsibility for.
David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your assistance. My understanding was that I had asked the Minister, in her current capacity: does she agree with that particular statement? I'm not asking her to take responsibility for Mr Maharey's statement; I'm just interested in whether she agrees with something that I thought he articulated very well.
Mr SPEAKER: I think we're right at the margin. I will go back and look at it again. If the Minister wants to respond, she may, but I'm not going to require her to.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I'll respond. Can I just say that since I have been the Minister for Social Development, I have been presented with evidence that shows that that particular sanction—section 70A—has not achieved its original objective or intention and, in fact, has been detrimental because 18,000 children are in households that've been sanctioned because of it, and that is why we have made the decision to repeal it.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'm just asking if that evidence is in an official ministerial document, and. if it is, I'd ask that it be tabled.
Mr SPEAKER: Does the Minister have that official document with her now, and is she quoting from it?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: No.
Mr SPEAKER: What I'm going to say to members on my left is that I think we've now had three or four examples of that sort of request—where Ministers have clearly not been quoting from documents. The idea that a Minister is quoting from an official document in response to a question from an Opposition backbencher is highly unlikely, and we'd want to see someone actually looking at a document when they were doing it. I think it's coming very close to trifling with the House, and I will treat it as such.
• Question No. 12—Health
Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour): Why has he appointed a ministerial advisory group on the health system?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will have another go at asking the question.
Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour): Why has he appointed a ministerial advisory group on the health system?
Mr SPEAKER: No, I want to advise the member that she has to read the yellow sheet, or something which says the same thing.
12. Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Why has he established the Ministerial Advisory Group on the Health System?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Today, I announced that I have established a ministerial advisory group because it has become increasingly clear to me that all is not well within our public health system. I require strong, independent advice about how we can lift the ministry's performance and leadership, to begin to address the challenges facing our health system and, in particular, to rebuild the relationships that were seriously strained under the previous Government.
Dr Liz Craig: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What does he expect the ministerial advisory group will do to improve New Zealand's health system?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I expect that the ministerial advisory group will provide the strategic advice required to deliver on this Government's commitments in health and ensure that the $8 billion we have committed to investing in health will make a positive difference in people's lives. This will include, for example, improving access to primary care by lowering the costs of visiting a GP.
Dr Shane Reti: Isn't it more correct to say he's set up the ministerial advisory group to tell him what his health plan in health should be, because he doesn't have a plan?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.
Dr Liz Craig: Will the ministerial advisory group improve relationships across the health sector?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: One of the first things I expect the ministerial advisory group to do will be to rebuild relationships across the health sector. Strong and productive relationships are required to deliver the healthcare New Zealanders expect and deserve. I'm confident that the ministerial advisory group will be able to do this, and I have no doubt that its members will be talking and listening to district health boards, primary health organisations, and others up and down the country.