Parliament: Questions and Answers - Dec 7
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1—Housing and Urban Development
1. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What does the briefing he received as incoming Minister say about the impact KiwiBuild will have?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): It states that the KiwiBuild programme creates a unique opportunity to support transformative change in the construction sector. It says that the sector suffers from capacity constraints and low productivity, but, through KiwiBuild, large scale contracts could support a market for manufactured housing, which could reduce time to build each dwelling by 60 percent and total construction costs per dwelling by 15 percent.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What does the briefing to the incoming Minister (BIM) say about the situation the Government has inherited?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the briefing says that high house prices, and I quote, "generate a significant drag on productivity: … increase government costs: …" and "have stark distributional impacts: …". In short, the previous Government's housing crisis made the country poorer, made middle- and low-income New Zealanders poorer, and cost taxpayers a lot of money.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Does the BIM address the claim that New Zealand has been in a record housing boom?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, actually, yes it does. The BIM notes that house construction compared to the size of the population is well below levels achieved in the early 2000s, let alone in the 1970s. It says that suboptimal performance of the New Zealand housing market is well recognised. It continues to face pressure, particularly in Auckland, where not enough houses have been built to meet the demand from strong population growth.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What conclusions does the BIM reach in support of the objectives of KiwiBuild?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the briefing says that the most important factor for improving long-term housing and urban outcomes is to ensure the responsiveness of housing supply. Supply needs to be responsive to population growth and provide enough choices of location, price, size, typology, and tenure, and that is exactly what this Government intends to deliver.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the KiwiBuild programme's goal to deliver more houses, more affordable houses, or both?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Both.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: In response to that answer, what is the Minister's best estimate of the net increase in the number of dwellings that will be constructed under the KiwiBuild, excluding those KiwiBuild dwellings planned to be purchased from developments already in the pipeline?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The coalition Government will deliver 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years, over and above what the private market or the former Government were going to deliver.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In my first supplementary, I asked whether affordable or total house supply was the goal. The answer was both. Given that, I then asked how many net of those purchased properties would be constructed. I didn't get an answer to that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member did. The question was addressed.
• Question No. 2—Child Poverty Reduction
2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction: Does she stand by all her statements?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister for Children) on behalf of the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction: I stand by my statements made as the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction in the context in which they were given.
Hon Paula Bennett: So does she stand by her statement that, and I quote, "I have long recognised [that] child poverty is a stain on this country" and, if so, is she heartened that the Child Poverty Monitor 2017 showed that there were 10,000 less children classed as living in severe poverty since the 2016 report, and material hardship had reduced by 20,000, all under the previous National Government?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: In answer to the first part of the question, yes; in answer to the second part of the question, yes; in answer to the third part of the question, it is technically true that the National Party was in Government at that time, but it may be a bit early to actually decide that it was all their own work.
Hon Paula Bennett: Can she confirm that the only benefit increase in the last 40 years was done by the previous National Government, because they are the dividends you can get from growing the economy and responsibly managing the Government's finances?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I can confirm that the previous Government raised beneficiary rates; I can also confirm that they slashed many other programmes when they first came into Government.
Dr Liz Craig: What are the Government's plans to reduce child poverty?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The Government has many plans with which to reduce child poverty, and these include the introduction of a child poverty reduction bill shortly, Best Start payments, extending paid parental leave, winter energy payments, increasing Working for Families, and tackling housing issues.
Hon Paula Bennett: What is her Government's target for reductions in the number of children living in benefit-dependent households, given the previous Government's policies resulted in—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has finished her question.
Hon Paula Bennett: Oh, I was just giving it a bit of rounding.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I did make it clear, I think, yesterday, that I was going to be tighter on questions. The member has asked a supplementary question, and adding a given afterwards about the actions of a previous Government is not the responsibility of this member.
Hon Paula Bennett: May I reword my question then, sir, because it was kind of a fullness of question, and I'd like to reword it.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes—I'll be kind.
Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the Government please confirm that we had a reduction of 60,000 fewer children living in households with poverty since 2011?
Mr SPEAKER: I think I am going to ask the member to reword her question again because I think she ended up with a double negative and that she didn't get what she wanted.
Hon Paula Bennett: OK, let's give this another go. Can the Minister please confirm that we have seen a result of 60,000 fewer children living in benefit-dependent households since 2011?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: No, I cannot confirm that, unfortunately. I don't have those figures in front of me.
Hon Paula Bennett: Can she confirm that one of the benefits of a strong, growing economy is the number of children in material hardship dropping from 220,000 in 2011 to 135,000 in 2016?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I can confirm that a strong and growing economy should result in a positive impact for those children that live in poverty, but what we have seen is that, unfortunately, there seems to be a greater impact on those at the top end of the scale, and this Government would like to see that more evenly spread.
Hon Paula Bennett: Will she commit to supporting social investment as a tool for driving the individualised changes needed to lift more children out of poverty?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: This Government will commit to its poverty reduction target. It commits to placing those into legislation so that it can hold itself and future Governments to account for the outcomes for children. With regard to a policy that was part of the previous Government, I cannot make that commitment.
Jo Hayes: When will the Minister announce whether she intends to keep Whānau Ora as the key funding priority for her Government?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I don't believe the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction has responsibility for that area.
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, I shouldn't have allowed it.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Can he confirm that from 1 April 2018 people earning the full-time average wage who are single with no children, families with grown-up children, and young couples starting out with no children will all pay more personal income tax than they would do from that date under the law as it currently stands?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): No.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can the Minister explain how those people—people who are on the full-time average wage, who are single with no children, families who have grown-up children, and young couples starting out with no children—won't pay more income tax from 1 April 2018 than under the law as it currently stands?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Because I'm advised that if a person were working for less than two months of the year on the full-time average wage, they would not benefit from changes in the tax laws that are due to come into force on 1 April 2018.
Hon Steven Joyce: So the Minister is saying that people who work less than two months of the year—
Hon Member: What's the question?
Hon Steven Joyce: Can he clarify that he's concerned only about people who are working for less than two months a year and not the 1.2 million people in this category that happen to work more than two months a year?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, I'm concerned for all New Zealanders, including the member, who might have wanted to put the word "annual" in his primary question.
Hon James Shaw: If the tax cuts outlined by the Hon Steven Joyce were to take effect, would that make it more or less likely that the Government would be able to prevent future mass poisonings like that which took place in Havelock North?
Mr SPEAKER: No, no.
Kiritapu Allan: What responses has he seen to the tax package that is currently in law and is scheduled to come into force on 1 April 2018?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I have seen the New Zealand Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey in which 70 percent of chief executives saw the widening gap between rich and poor as a major issue, and, given this, 56 percent of them did not support the previous Government's tax cuts. I've also seen the response of New Zealand voters, a majority of whom supported parties that reject tax cuts that disproportionately favour the wealthy few.
Hon Steven Joyce: Supplementary—
Mr SPEAKER: Just before the member does, I'd just like to discourage the clapping that is occurring—[Interruption]—and I'd like to discourage interjections from the Minister of Finance while I'm ruling. But I did notice yesterday there was both excessive barracking from my left and almost seal-like activity from my right, and it is to stop.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just on behalf of the Opposition, we just understand that they've had a bad week and they need to encourage themselves today with a bit of a handclap.
Mr SPEAKER: And Paula Bennett, that was not a point of order, and seeing we're in question time, the National Party will lose two supplementary questions.
Hon Steven Joyce: Does the Minister appreciate that of the three parties in Government, two of them voted in favour of the previous Government's tax package, and only one voted against, and only one campaigned against, and that party attracted 37 percent of the vote, which is nothing like a mandate for changing these tax initiatives?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat, because I think, as all members will know, there was nothing in that that actually got us to what the Minister is responsible for.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the answer to the previous supplementary question, the Minister himself raised these matters and—
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and the fact that one member breaches the Standing Orders and I didn't intervene is not a reason for someone else.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member's not going to—especially after the ruling that I've just given—dispute what I'm going to say.
Hon Steven Joyce: I just want to clarify if I could—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no.
Hon Steven Joyce: —in a general sense, if I could, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member can't. I want to make absolutely clear that there is no such thing and no ability in our Standing Orders to have a point of clarification, or to do the sort of interrogation that I believe the member was going to start, as to what the Standing Orders are. When I have ruled, that is the end of the matter.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you now ruling that if a Minister introduces some new material into an answer, that cannot be used in a subsequent supplementary?
Mr SPEAKER: I want to apologise to the House for not stopping the Minister earlier and ruling it out. I should've; I didn't, and I am ruling that irrelevant material introduced in either a supplementary question or in an answer does not give licence for further extension of things that are outside the relevance question for that question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it his view and position that the coalition Government came to the view that an expanded, visionary, forward-looking economic programme was far more likely to deliver justice to the people of this country, rather than voting for something because there's nothing else on offer?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, I do. I mean—
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Peters has just raised the election campaign and voting again, which is the very thing you ruled out in my supplementary question.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, the coalition Government believes that we need to invest in our public services to actually transform the lives of New Zealanders, to lift children out of poverty, rather than delivering a tax cut to members of this House.
Hon Steven Joyce: If the Minister is so obsessed about not delivering a tax cut to people who earn as much as members of this House—
Mr SPEAKER: Question.
Hon Steven Joyce: —can he explain why he wants to give people who earn as much as members of this House a $3,000-a-year baby bonus with no income targeting whatsoever?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Because every piece of evidence I have seen says that the first years of a child's life are the most important in their development, and on this side of the House we make policy based on evidence, not bad ideology.
Hon Steven Joyce: Does he realise that the Government's tertiary package, which he is so proud of, more than eats up the net savings from the tax package, and why does it make sense to give, for example, a nurse a few thousand dollars off their university fees for one year and make her pay an extra $1,000 a year in tax for the rest of her working life?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Because on this side of the House we believe that we're actually all in this together as a country. I want that nurse to go on and study, and I want her children to go on and become whatever they want to be, and we'll back them to do that, unlike that party.
Hon James Shaw: I'm going to have another crack, Mr Speaker. If the Government revenues were to fall by a billion dollars a year or more due to income tax cuts, would that make it more or less likely that the Minister would be able to allocate enough funding to get homeless people out of cars and garages and into new homes?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It would be much less likely that the Government would be able to address the huge social and infrastructure deficits that have been left by the previous Government. We will invest in strong public services, because that's what New Zealanders want.
• Question No. 4—Education
4. JO LUXTON (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reaction has he seen to the Government's fees-free tertiary education policy?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Heaps, including the fact that 33,000 New Zealanders have already visited HYPERLINK "http://www.feesfree.co.nz" www.feesfree.govt.nz to find out more about that policy. New Zealanders are excited about this Government's commitment to cutting the cost for students and making education more affordable and more accessible for everybody.
Jo Luxton: What other reactions has he seen to the policy?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have seen responses from a number of groups, including the Tertiary Education Union, the New Zealand University Students' Association, and others who believe that this policy is a positive step forward. But I was particularly taken by the comment from 17-year-old Denzell Christian from Aotea College, who said, "Coming from a lower income family any financial help I can get is weight off my shoulders and my family's shoulders … this will be a huge help." This Government is committed to supporting people like Denzell Christian to further their skills, to get a higher level of education, and to get ahead in life. We are going to be right behind them.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Whatperformance metrics will he put in place to ensure that he gets a significantly improved outcome for this major investment?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The performance metrics that are already in place will remain in place.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Of the $2.8 billion extra tertiary spending budgeted for the next four years, how much extra money will reach tertiary institutions in order for them to continue to improve the quality of their offerings?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Budget hasn't yet been delivered.
• Question No. 5—Transport
5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Transport: Which specific and identifiable roading projects are a priority for the Government?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Government is focused on getting better value for money from our transport investment. The East-West Link is a priority project because we want to find a more cost-effective option than the past Government's $2 billion plan. Also a priority for the Government is improving rural roads, and particularly accident blackspots, given that we have inherited a road toll that has risen by 50 percent in the last five years.
Hon Nathan Guy: Is the Ōtaki to north of Levin expressway a priority for this Government, and does he support its funding from the National Land Transport Fund?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No existing and funded roading project other than the East-West Link has been altered by the Government. But I want to make it clear that it is not the role of the Minister of Transport to prioritise particular roading projects, because that would encourage pork-barrel politics. Prioritisation of particular projects is the role of the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Tim van de Molen: Is the extension of the Waikato Expressway, from Cambridge to Tirau, a priority for this Government and does he support the funding from the National Land Transport Fund?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No existing and funded roading project other than the East-West Link has been altered by the Government. But I want to make it very clear that it is not the role of the Minister of Transport to prioritise particular roading projects, because that would—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That's now becoming repetitive.
Marja Lubeck: What other questions has he received regarding transport priorities?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I have received a written question from one Judith Collins asking if, and I quote: "If I agree—
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely he can't actually attack on a political point like that on a question from his own member, and also he should really have referred to me as the Hon Judith Collins.
Mr SPEAKER: I think what we'll do is we'll start the reply again, and the injunction for politeness will be enforced.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Thank you. I have received a written question from the Hon Judith Collins asking if I agree with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's statement on 6 August 2017: "We'll also build a Bus Rapid Transit service connecting the airport and East Auckland,". Unfortunately, Mrs Collins seems to have forgotten that Bill English was the Prime Minister on 6 August, but she's hardly alone in that.
Lawrence Yule: Is the four-laning of the Napier to Hastings expressway a priority for the Government, and does he support its funding from the National Land Transport Fund?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Speaking of repetitive.
Mr SPEAKER: And because the member hadn't started, that one goes back. Thank you, Mr Hipkins.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: My answer is the same as the one I gave to the question previous to the last one.
Mr SPEAKER: That's all right.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm worried that—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member's finished. Thank you.
Hon Judith Collins: Will his Government's roading priorities be affected by the needs of the more than 30,000 Aucklanders who have now been told that they can't rely on public transport tomorrow, under his Government, given there's yet another train strike?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Our Government shares the concerns—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will now resume his seat. I think the level of interjection—
Hon Dr Megan Woods: That's right.
Mr SPEAKER: —from my left—Megan Woods has just given another two supplementaries to the National Party. The interjections from my left were not unreasonable—in fact, one of them was pretty witty—and Mr Twyford, as a front-bench Minister, must learn to deal with it and to just keep answering.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The coalition Government wants to see investment in a world-class public transport system, but, unlike the members opposite, we don't want to achieve that by cutting the wages and conditions of the people who run the public transport system.
• Question No. 6—Agriculture
6. Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Minister of Agriculture: What specific costs were identified in the paper he received on 16 November 2017 in relation to creating separate entities for Forestry, Fisheries, Biosecurity, and Food Safety?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): Thank you, Mr Speaker. The paper outlined a range of options for consideration. Costs mentioned in the paper were initial estimates only.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very specific. It was about specific costs. It's not difficult, unless there is a public interest reason—
Mr SPEAKER: OK, the member will resume his seat. I will ask Mr O'Connor to address the question.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The costs were initial estimates only. The paper presents a number of options for consideration by Cabinet. It is not in the public interest to disclose, prior to Cabinet consideration, these final costs. Unlike the previous National Government, we will disclose figures that are accurate, not alternative.
Hon Simon Bridges: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Now, I am going to rule that the Minister has indicated that it's not in the public interest to disclose costs. That is all that the Minister needs to say, and there is no further questioning of—I mean, the member can have another supplementary, but we're not going to question that.
Hon Nathan Guy: Why does he believe it is not in the public interest to disclose the estimates that he has received from the Ministry for Primary Industries?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Because Cabinet has to give due consideration to a number of options. We will not be rushed into a change process that does not deliver better performance in biosecurity, better performance in forestry, better performance in food safety—an outcome that will deliver, over time, lower costs than the previous Government incurred.
Hon Nathan Guy: Will all of these entities be completely separated and located outside of MPI's central location in Wellington, or will the restructuring simply comprise of changing a few stickers on doors or floors to appease the Minister and New Zealand First?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No.
Hon Nathan Guy: To the Minister—[Pause in question] Does he—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We've only got a limited time for questions in this House. [Interruption] Sir, can I be heard in silence. It's a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Absolutely, because all points of order are to be heard in silence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. We've only got a limited time for questions in this House, and affording someone in this time to think up what he wants to ask next is not part of the procedure of this House.
Mr SPEAKER: My view is that there are a number of members who take a little time either preparing in their minds or getting the questions out. Frankly, I'd rather have thought-out questions than many of them that we get.
Hon Nathan Guy: Do the estimated figures that he has received, which he doesn't believe is in the public interest to release to taxpayers and members of Parliament today, include expenses such as paying four new chief executives, leasing new building space, redundancies, IT systems, legal compliance, communication, branding—and the list goes on.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can answer any one of those seven questions.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes.
Hon Nathan Guy: Following on from that answer, to which part of the question?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can reassure that member over there that the Government is taking all possible cost into account. That's why, until decisions are finally made, those are interim decisions and estimates, not specific costs of this restructure.
Hon Nathan Guy: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very specific question, where, previously, the Minister answered "Yes.", and then I asked him: "to which part of that question" did he answer yes? I'm not satisfied that the Minister has even addressed that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I am.
• Question No. 7—Veterans
7. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister for Veterans: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon RON MARK (Minister for Veterans): Yes. In particular, I stand by my statement made at the 101st national council of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association that, in regards to Government funding for the association, "I'm pretty confident that there will be discussions a bit later on which you might like the outcome of." Today, I can confirm that the Government has agreed to make a grant of $250,000 to the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association, and, for the very first time, a grant of $20,000 to No Duff Charitable Trust in recognition of the health services they provide to veterans. This funding will be used to improve the delivery of services, including for the more than 20,000 contemporary veterans, to assist the RSA in professionalising their delivery model.
Darroch Ball: What reports has the Minister received about funding support for the Returned and Services' Association between 2005 and 2008?
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, can the member repeat the question. Sorry, I was just momentarily distracted.
Darroch Ball: What reports has the Minister received about funding support for the Returned and Services Association between 2005 and 2008?
Hon RON MARK: Unfortunately, that picture is not such a positive thing. I have received a report that indicates that the funding established by the Labour - New Zealand First Government ended in 2011, and that it was not renewed. In the five subsequent financial years, the National-led Government of the time made two one-off grants of $150,000, one grant of $172,000, one grant of $175,000, and in 2014 they gave no money at all to the Returned and Services' Association. Quite apart from the funding levels concerned, and the uncertain up-and-down nature of the grants, that money had to be taken from other appropriations to veterans. As my colleague the Minister of Finance is finding across many portfolios, this is yet another example of the previous Government knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
Darroch Ball: What is the Minister's intent for future grants to veterans support organisations?
Hon RON MARK: In future, decisions on grants will be made through the Budget process in consultation with the Minister of Finance and my Cabinet colleagues. We will work to provide some certainty for these organisations, as they previously had under the Labour - New Zealand First Government. Of course, we wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for the previous Government scrapping the multi-year baseline grant funding.
Hon Simon Bridges: What did he whisper in the Prime Minister's ear while they were attending the 101st national council of the RSA on 1 November 2017 that was clearly so successful?
Hon RON MARK: I can tell the honourable member that I simply pointed out to the Prime Minister the fact that under the Labour - New Zealand First Government, we put in baseline funding of $250,000 a year and that the National Government had scrapped it, and I asked her to have a look at it.
Hon Steven Joyce: Given the Minister's support for veterans, does he support the cancellation of the previous Government's tax package next week, which will remove the increase in veterans pensions that would otherwise have occurred from 1 April, which would obviously be of concern to veterans?
Hon RON MARK: Oh, I absolutely support the financial direction that the Minister of Finance is taking. As veterans know, it will be the policies that we advance in support of those veterans that will be of far more benefit to them than anything that Government ever did in the nine long years that they suffered under them.
• Question No. 8—Social Development
Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō): Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Minister for Social Development, and asks: does she plan to reduce the number of people on benefits; if yes, how does she plan do this?
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, "if so", I think—"if so".
Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō): I'll repeat the question: how does she plan to reduce the number of people on benefits, and if so, how does she plan to do this?
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, I apologise. I might—can someone give me a yellow sheet? It appears that—no, I think she actually got it right.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. She said "how does she plan to reduce", not "does she plan to reduce", so there was a difference in the way it was asked. I think she may have said it right the first time—but just a bit confused.
Mr SPEAKER: Let's just answer the one that was written down, all right?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Sure.
8. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she plan to reduce the number of people on benefits; if so, how does she plan do this?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Of course we do, but we intend for people to be better off, not just off benefit. One part of our plan for achieving this will be by investing in the upskilling and training of New Zealanders who find themselves out of work.
Hon Louise Upston: If the number on sole parent benefits is the lowest since 1989, how much lower in numeric terms or as a percentage will the Labour - New Zealand First - Green Government reduce it?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We're not going to set crude targets, like that side of the House did when they were in Government, because, clearly, those crude targets do not work, given that when they left office, there were 72,000 young people that were not in education or employment; given that when they left office, there had been a steady decline for four years of people going off benefit and into upskilling and training; and given that when they left office, 43 percent of those who had cancelled a benefit had done so because they'd obtained work, but 57 percent had not.
Hon Louise Upston: If the Minister agrees with the Prime Minister about child poverty targets to reduce the impact of child poverty, how many fewer children will live in benefit-dependent homes this year?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As I said, we're not going to set crude targets, but what we will be doing is ensuring that the parents of those children are better off. I need to remind the Opposition that when they were in Government, one of their first moves was to cut the training incentive allowance, which supported many of the mothers of those children—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it acceptable for a Minister to say, "We're not going to rely on crude targets.", but then go and rely on exactly the sort of targeting that she's mentioning to give her answer?
Mr SPEAKER: I think it might have been marginal, but I think she was probably just within bounds.
Hon Louise Upston: Is she considering, in terms of her changes, the 100 percent sanctions on parents on benefit, which was in place under Labour, or the more compassionate maximum of 50 percent, which National introduced?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: What we will be doing is reviewing the sanctions that are in place and ensuring that any that have not achieved the objective that they were intended to achieve or any that have negative implications for children will be reassessed and potentially removed.
Greg O'Connor: What is one of the strategies that the Minister is using to ensure that Ministry of Social Development (MSD) clients are successful at moving into genuine paid work?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Strategically, we must reassess the culture of Work and Income New Zealand. As part of this, we're looking at some of the more effective case managers and how they help people into work. What they have in common is that they are incredibly empathetic, build trust and rapport, and make the system work for their clients. We want this to be how all New Zealanders are treated when they require support from MSD.
Jan Logie: Will the Minister continue to focus on numbers without any care for the well-being of people?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Absolutely not. Crude targets for simply kicking people off benefits do not work. I'm not interested in setting crude targets or simply counting people being off benefit as a success. We need to be thinking about improving well-being and work that is meaningful and sustainable. Unfortunately, under the former Government, 33 percent of those who had been surveyed by the social policy evaluation and research unit ended up back on the benefit after two years, having been on one, because they weren't supported into sustainable employment in the first place.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What we got there, Mr Speaker, and we've had it a couple of times—and I accept I didn't interject at the first available opportunity, but on this one I think I have—is questions from the member's own side and then an attack on—
Mr SPEAKER: No. No. The member will resume his seat. That wasn't an attack.
Jan Logie: Will the Minister continue to focus on pushing people off benefits—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: New Zealand First have just lost a supplementary, and it's not one that can be transferred from the Labour Party to New Zealand First.
Jan Logie: Will the Minister continue to focus on pushing people off benefits without caring whether they are living in sheds, their children are going hungry, or they are being forced into unsafe situations because they don't have enough money to survive?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You've got pretty hard on the sort of questions that can come from this side of the House, and fair enough: you're trying to cut some new standard. But there is no way that that question as it's just asked meets any of the standards that you are asking us to accept.
Mr SPEAKER: I am going to ask Jan Logie to repeat her question. I was momentarily distracted, checking that I hadn't taken a question away from people who had none left.
Jan Logie: Happily. Will the Minister continue to focus on pushing people off benefits without caring whether they are living in sheds, their children are going hungry, or they are being forced into unsafe situations because they don't have enough money to survive?
Mr SPEAKER: I am prepared to rule on it. I'm ruling that those situations are actual situations and it is not an ironic question.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Absolutely not. This Government is putting people at the heart of every decision we make. We will not be pushing people off benefits just to make numbers look good. We will be building a culture where the services we offer—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to seek clarification on that. I think it was yesterday when we asked about forestry drug testing, as an example. You said that that required evidence of that. I'm just wondering how this one fits, but that one didn't. Can I seek your very learned guidance on that.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I listened very, very carefully to the question, and I ruled that it was completely within order and did not contain ironic expressions. Has the Minister finished, or is she—
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: No.
Mr SPEAKER: No. But I'd ask her to finish relatively quickly, please.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We will be building a culture where services we offer—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No. The member is now trifling with the Chair and will resume his seat. We will have the end of this answer.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This Government will focus on supporting people into genuine paid work, not penalising them with excessive sanctions that fail to achieve the purpose they were set up for. It's a shame the previous Government couldn't do the same.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a fresh point of order. Just the reference at the end of the Minister's answer in relation to the previous Government—I think there's been a couple of those references in this particular series of supplementary questions. You've been quite focused, and I think rightly so, in making sure you draw that line. I'd just appreciate it if that's going to continue.
Mr SPEAKER: I am watching very carefully, and I'm not using the previous Minister's approach as my standard. I'm much tighter than the member used to be when he was a Minister, and I'm going to continue to try to be. The Hon Simon Bridges—a fresh point of order?
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A completely different, fresh point of order?
Hon Simon Bridges: I'm certainly not seeking to trifle, Mr Speaker. My question is about authentication, not whether there are unnecessary epithets or anything of that nature. It was simply a question of—
Mr SPEAKER: So is the member now going to try and review a supplementary question that's been asked and answered? [Interruption] Well, no, the member's not going to try. But while I'm on my feet, I am going to make clear to Jan Logie that we don't have political slogans clearly apparent in the way that she has. Thank you.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just say, as a matter of seeking your clarification here, that Ms Logie set out her question in a way that the present Government could own up to it or not. That's the way it was couched—
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and—Mr Peters, if you can resume your seat—I have indicated to Mr Bridges that he is so late with his point of order that I'm not even going to bother ruling on it. We've gone past that point.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A new and fresh point of order?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, two. The first one is I note that Mr Peters just asked for a point of clarification, which you previously explained today—
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, yes. I got there eventually.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, it was a bit of a long way round. The other point would be that it's a little bit difficult when you rule that "We will now hear the rest of this question.", when the member had been calling for a point of order before you made that ruling, and then to come around afterwards and say "Well, now you cannot go back to that.", simply because it's already been heard.
Mr SPEAKER: OK. Right, well, I want to assure the member that I had not heard Mr Bridges. He is not normally someone with a quiet voice, and can I ask him, if he does have a point of order—I don't want to encourage him to have them—that he feels is a genuine point of order, to use his loud outside voice. Thank you. Right, we're finished there.
• Question No. 9—Justice
9. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Justice: What reform is he planning to make to the Official Information Act 1982?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): The Act is almost 35 years old, and the public's expectations about access to official information are greater now than ever before. [Interruption] And for the benefit of the members opposite, the Official Information Act is the responsibility of the Minister of Justice. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, this Government will foster a more open and democratic society—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do want to ask—you know, I've just indicated that my left ear is not the strong one, but I'm having trouble using my right ear to hear that member. Can we have a little more hush. Thank you.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I'll try to use my outside voice, Mr Speaker. It will strengthen transparency around—
Brett Hudson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just note that the Minister in his response claimed that the Act was under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice. I refer that Minister, and your good self, to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) website, which is very clear in the delegations for the Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government) that all matters of official information and the Official Information Act are under the delegations for that Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: And I'm going to deal with that. It was a matter that was referred to because it was a question about where the question was going. The Act is administered by the Minister of Justice, and I think now I want to ask the Minister of Justice whether he's said enough or whether he wants to add something.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I'm happy to move on to the supplementary questions, Mr Speaker.
Brett Hudson: Under his planned reform, will it be the norm for the Chief Ombudsman to have to make a recommendation in order for documents to be released?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The approach that this Government has taken to official information is to look to the report of the Law Commission in 2012, which the previous Government did nothing about; the recommendations of the Chief Ombudsman in 2015, which the previous Government did nothing about; and to look to questions of attitude and behaviour, because that is the way we will change the effectiveness of the Official Information Act.
Brett Hudson: Will he and the Hon Clare Curran be in the meeting with the Chief Ombudsman to discuss the Chief Ombudsman's recommendation with respect to the 33 page coalition document?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That's not an area of responsibility.
Dr Duncan Webb: Can he point to any examples where the Government has released information proactively?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Yes, Mr Speaker. This Government—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, no. I'm, in a similar way, ruling that out. The proactive releases as opposed to a review of the Act—it is an area that is quite different and doesn't flow from the original question.
Brett Hudson: Does he support the Chief Ombudsman's recommendations with respect to the release of the 33 page coalition document?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to rule that out again, as I did for Ms Bennett earlier in the week, for the same reasons.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hesitate to say that I'm looking for clarification—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I'll repeat what I said earlier on. I'm yet to be convinced, and I have seen no evidence for the assertion made that there is a 33 page coalition document, and there is certainly not a document for which this Minister has ministerial responsibility, and—
Brett Hudson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I'm just really hoping that Mr Hudson is not going to challenge me.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With regard to your uncertainty about the 33 page document, does that mean that you are not convinced by the admission to the House by the Rt Hon Winston Peters that such a document exists?
Mr SPEAKER: As I indicated earlier in the week, and I think what everyone was aware of, there is a document. What I have not been—no one has provided me any evidence that it is a coalition document that is a responsibility of the Government.
Hon Nikki Kaye: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just on this issue of delegation—I'd ask the Speaker to have a look at the delegation on the DPMC website. It says "all work around official information". It's very clear, so—
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Well—
Hon Chris Hipkins: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker, I think I can probably help. I have the wording in front of me here, which says that the Associate Minister is responsible for all work around official information and the Official Information Act under the purview of the State Services Commission.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.
• Question No. 10—Attorney-General
10. VIRGINIA ANDERSEN (Labour) to the Attorney-General: What evidence did the Report of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry: Stage 2 find regarding undue delay and prevarication in addressing poor drinking water quality?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Attorney-General): The report finds that despite serious non-compliance with New Zealand water standards by many water suppliers, the Ministry of Health did not issue one compliance notice or take one enforcement action anywhere in New Zealand in the last five years, despite unsafe drinking-water causing many tens of thousands of New Zealanders to fall ill from drinking water that comes out of their tap each year.
Virginia Andersen: What does the report say about the Ministry of Health's approach to the drinking-water regulatory regime?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Paragraphs 332 to 334 of the inquiry record that in January 2012 the Mayor of Tasman, on behalf of all South Island councils, wrote to the then Associate Minister of Health, the Hon Jo Goodhew, seeking clarity on defining the affordability test in the drinking-water standards. The Associate Minister did not respond until February 2013, a year later, then saying it was up to councils to decide whether they could afford to comply with the standards. This response exemplifies both the delays and the lack of care that have led to the situation that New Zealand now faces.
Virginia Andersen: What evidence is there of local government representatives attempting to stall the implementation of drinking-water standards to protect the health of New Zealanders?
Hon DAVID PARKER: In 2009, in his capacity as the President of Local Government New Zealand, the Mayor of Hastings and Havelock North stated that the standards went well beyond the requirements needed for clean drinking-water and that the time frame to implement the standards was too fast. Sadly, the last Government listened to Lawrence Yule.
• Question No. 11—Forestry
11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Forestry: Does he agree with the statement in the Speech from the Throne, "This government is committed to a new planting programme, planting 100 million trees a year to reach a billion more trees in 10 years"?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture) on behalf of the Minister of Forestry: Yes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Government be counting, in its 100 million trees new planting programme, the 50 million trees currently planted each year to restock forests that are harvested each year?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The targets laid down by the Government were always targets to be worked through in collaboration with industry. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As good as this Government is, I don't think we ever thought that we would be solely responsible for the planting of a billion trees. We were always going to work with industry to do that.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked, very simply: was the replanting of areas that are logged each year included in the 100 million target? The Minister made no attempt—
Mr SPEAKER: The member did address that question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will existing annual tree planting for restocking be counted towards his promised 100 million new planting programme?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Government's target of one billion trees over 10 years was always going to include the existing initiatives of landowners, of farmers, of foresters—and we are very happy to work on an aspirational target that addresses issues around afforestation, climate change, improving water quality, and regional employment.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not whether the trees were planted by the private sector or the public sector. It was a very straightforward question and that was—
Mr SPEAKER: And it was addressed. Further supplementary?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The question has not been addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you. Next question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Supplementary, Mr Speaker?
Mr SPEAKER: No. Question No. 12, Dr Parmjeet Parmar.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to raise the point of order—it's highly unusual. The member's calling for it, so we haven't moved on. I'm just—I'm clearly seeking to understand what's gone on here.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and to make it absolutely clear, the number of supplementary questions are entirely at my discretion. I have decided, because of the interjection from Dr Smith, I will not allow any further Government or Opposition supplementaries on this question. I'm not taking away—if the members want to use them on the next question, they can, but not on this one, because of Dr Smith's behaviour.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there are some very important questions that should be asked in this. I'm sorry that you've taken this. One of the new pieces of information that the Minister managed to give the House was the new collaborative way that the Government wants to work with all sectors, to see if they can meet the target, and I think it would have been appropriate if there had been an opportunity to ask him if he'll put out a list of suitable species for home gardeners to put on their list of tree plantings to help the Government with their target.
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry; as a result of that frivolous point of order, another one of the supplementary questions for the National Party has been lost.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It's a very reasonable request. When the Government's most important flagship programme is around these billion trees—
Mr SPEAKER: No, Dr Nick Smith will resume his seat. He will resume his seat now. I have ruled that we are moving on to question 12 because of an inappropriate interjection by Dr Nick Smith when he had been called for a supplementary. If Dr Nick Smith intervenes again, on that question, it will result in further loss of supplementary questions to the National Party.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What was the comment that I made, that, as a consequence, has—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat.
• Question No. 12—Research, Science and Innovation
12. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation: What is her target for Government research and development spending over the next 3 years to help her achieve the coalition Government's goal of spending 2 percent of New Zealand GDP on research and development?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Research, Science and Innovation): All Government expenditure on research, development, and innovation over the next three years will be part of a wider plan to reach a target of an economy-wide expenditure on R & D of 2 percent of GDP over the next two years. It is our objective that a high proportion of the growth necessary to achieve this will come from increased business expenditure on R & D, because ours is especially low by OECD standards. But we recognise that businesses need support to do this, and that's why we're committed to expenditure on an R & D tax credit and we remain committed to increasing overall investment in New Zealand's research, science, and innovation system.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: What will be the Government's share of her 2 percent of GDP target?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Currently, business expenditure makes up about 55 percent of our total R & D spend, which is extremely low compared to the OECD's average of 68 percent. Our plan is to put an R & D tax credit in place so we can increase—
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I've a genuine interest in this topic and I was listening to the question, which I understand was in relation—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no. The member will resume his seat. The member cannot have a point of order until the Minister has finished her answer.
Hon Simon Bridges: Yes, he can.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Simon Bridges will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Simon Bridges: I withdraw and apologise. Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member's not going to relitigate the ruling I've just made.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well—point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it might be safer if we let the Minister finish her answer.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue is that I don't want to fall foul of your other ruling that I must raise points of order at the first available opportunity.
Mr SPEAKER: And what I suggest that the member does, because it's already in his in-box, is to read the ruling.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I heard your ruling and I understand. I do want to raise a point of order in relation to what has happened, but I understand, and I want to respect, your ruling that you've also given that I should not do it at this point of time, but I do want to come back to it. So I'm seeking clarification and your help, frankly, to understand how I should proceed.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member had read the ruling, what he would have seen is that it is inappropriate for him to relitigate it now. If he thinks I have made an inappropriate ruling, then he should seek to talk to me about it in my office privately. The ruling is very clear, and it's consistent with at least 114 years of precedent.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Being an apologist for the Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, before that we'll have Dr Smith stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What you said in that ruling that was very clear was that members have a duty to the public and to this House to make points of order primarily, as I understood it, in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will now resume his seat and, look, I don't want the primary teacher to come out in me, but in the end, members, when they're advised to read a ruling, should read the whole ruling to the end of the ruling and not quote parts of it back before they understand it.
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'm going to begin my answer again, if I can remember the question all the way back. The current mix of R & D spending in New Zealand is 45 percent Government expenditure with 55 percent expenditure coming from business. It is this Government's intention to lift business expenditure on R & D through measures such as the R & D tax credit, because that's what successful, innovative countries across the OECD look like.
Hon Steven Joyce: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Simon Bridges: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Are they both points of order?
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I've listened to the answer in full. The question was in regards to what the Minister is going to do in relation to Government research and development. I believe the Minister answered by talking about what she wanted to do in business research and development. I wonder if she could be directed to the Government research and development.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can have another go, trying to address that narrow brief.
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Thank you. Total Government funding, as it was put in place under the previous Government on research and development, would put us on a track to have R & D at 0.5 percent of R & D. Our Government's intention is to raise that expenditure to get that to 2 percent of GDP.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked for the Government's share of her 2 percent of GDP target.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no, I think that was addressed in the earlier part of the question.
Hon Member: No, it wasn't.
Mr SPEAKER: It certainly was. There were even numbers there.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: So is the Minister committing that the Government R & D spend will be increased from 0.5 percent of the GDP to 2 percent of GDP?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The coalition Government's agreement was never to lift Government expenditure to 2 percent of GDP. The coalition Government's commitment was to lift R & D spending across both Government and the private sector to 2 percent of GDP. The fact that the member cannot get her head around that shows—
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! The member will resume her seat. The member had answered the question and didn't need to add anything on to the end.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I was listening very carefully to that answer—before the gratuitous bit—and I'm sorry, but in a previous supplementary the Minister has been asked, "What proportion will be the Government—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I've ruled that it's been addressed. In fact, I've stopped her for over-addressing it.
Hon Member: Supplementary question?
Mr SPEAKER: No, the National Party has run out of supplementary questions.