Parliament: Questions and Answers - Dec 13
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the statement in the Speech from the Throne: "Building a truly prosperous country means sharing the wealth generated by our economy"; if so, under current law how much less tax will a teacher without children on the full-time average wage pay per year from 1 April 2018 compared to now?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes. As for the hypothetical question the member has asked, the answer is $1,060. The reality is, of course, as the Minister of Finance has said multiple times, no one will pay more in income tax in the future under this Government than they do today. In fact, a majority of families will be better off as a result of this Government.
Rt Hon Bill English: So can the Prime Minister confirm that, under the Taxation (Budget Measures: Family Incomes Package) Act 2017, which is currently the law of the land, as supported by National, the Greens, and New Zealand First, a teacher on the average wage would, from 1 April 2018, pay $1,060 less in tax if the current law was to continue in place?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have already answered that question, but, as I continue to point out in this House, it is a hypothetical question because that law has not come into effect, and it won't come into effect.
Rt Hon Bill English: Is the Prime Minister aware of just how many families are in a category similar to a teacher on the average wage, who would pay less tax from 1 April 2018 if the current law was allowed to continue?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm glad the member raised the effect on families. As we've said, we will not be proceeding with fully bringing into effect the tax-cut package that he introduced, because it gives $400 million to the top 10 percent of earners when, in fact, this Government's priorities, which are different, will see 70 percent of families with children better off—70 percent.
Rt Hon Bill English: Is the Prime Minister aware that there are 1.2 million households who do not have children under the age of 18 and, in addition to that, that there are 700,000 superannuitants who would benefit from the reduction in tax that is currently on the law book in this Parliament?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Some of the individuals that that member has just referenced were deprived of the independent earner tax credit because that Government intended to cut it; that is not this Government's intention. Equally, we have looked at what superannuitants are experiencing in this country, particularly in the winter months, which is why we plan to introduce a winter energy payment for superannuitants.
Rt Hon Bill English: Why did her Government decide that money should be taken from a teacher on the average wage and spent on what is now widely regarded as an ineffective policy of providing the first year of tertiary education free for the overwhelming number of young people, who are going to do it anyway?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: First of all, I would say that we have taken nothing away from income tax earners, because they have not received it. What we have made a decision about is that we simply did not believe that it is fair for you and I to receive a tax cut—[Interruption] I include you, Mr Speaker, in that reference—
Mr SPEAKER: No, you don't.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —when, instead, we can prioritise 70 percent of families in New Zealand, including the children that those teachers teach. And that, I believe, is what those teachers would want us to do, as well.
Rt Hon Bill English: Why does the member believe, then, that it is fair to remove the tax reduction payable to a worker on the average wage in order to pay for my children to get a free year of tertiary education?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That member continues to take a very narrow view. Mr English's children—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I ask the Prime Minister to resume her seat. I've tried to let this run, but I do, even with my good my ear, want to hear what the Prime Minister says, and I'm having trouble doing that because of the noise that has just become excessive on my left.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've continued to point out, the majority of people who are likely to access one year's free education will go into polytech, wānanga, vocational education and training, and apprenticeships. That will lift the labour productivity in this country—something his Government never managed to budge.
Rt Hon Bill English: Will the Prime Minister answer the question this time, and that is: if it's unfair for a tax cut that might benefit members of Parliament, why is it fair to remove a tax cut for a teacher on the average wage so that my children can have a much larger subsidy to attend their first of tertiary education?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: First of all, we have removed nothing from those taxpayers. Second of all, I would wager that a number of those teachers would welcome the idea of not having been burdened with student debt by making education more accessible. Thirdly, this is a Government that believes in universally available education and lifelong learning. That is something we are proud of.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister assure the country that it's her programme and the Government's programme to continue with economic and social justice in this country rather than to go on stringently flogging a dead horse?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the best will in the world, you couldn't possibly have that question coming off either the comments made by the Prime Minister in answer nor the question in a primary sense.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the first part of it could very easily have come off a number of the answers that occurred. The practice of flogging dead horses—I think, later on in questions, we do have some things that are maybe not the Prime Minister's responsibility. I'll let her have a go at this one.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.
Rt Hon Bill English: Has the Deputy Prime Minister explained to her why he voted for the tax cut package in the July 2017 Budget and is now going to vote against it in the next few days?
Mr SPEAKER: The Deputy Prime Minister has no responsibility for his actions in a previous Parliament.
Rt Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you had listened to the question—
Mr SPEAKER: I did; I listened very carefully.
Rt Hon Bill English: —it was "has he explained to her". Now, that's up to him, of course, what he actually said, but the question was "has he explained to her", and that's a question that deserves an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Deputy Prime Minister's explaining something for which he has responsibility, or for which the Prime Minister has asked him about as Prime Minister, that might be the case, but there's been no evidence of either of those.
Rt Hon Bill English: If nothing is being taken away from superannuitants, then why is the Government proposing a winter heating payment that corresponds almost exactly to the benefit of the tax cuts those superannuitants would get?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because we want them to be warm.
• Question No. 2—Finance
2. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Finance: Does he support using a wider set of measures of success for the economy; if so, why?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do. While measures such as GDP are useful indicators of activity in the economy, they do not tell us anything about the quality of that activity. That's why this Government has committed itself to measuring our success differently, to focus on improving the overall well-being and living standards of New Zealanders.
Paul Eagle: What reports has the Minister seen of support for this approach?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Both the OECD and IMF are urging countries to change their mind-set on how they measure success. As the deputy director of research for the OECD said when he was in New Zealand last week, it is a dangerous gamble to assume equality will take care of itself. He urged Governments to walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to fiscal management and equality, and this Government is up to that challenge.
Paul Eagle: What specific actions is the Government taking to change the measures of success in the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We will be drawing on Treasury's Living Standards Framework and on the OECD and IMF's work to underpin our Budget decisions. We aim to fully incorporate broad measures of well-being into Budget 2019 as a measurement and evaluation tool. In this regard, I want to acknowledge the commitment in the confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party to create new sustainable development indicators. This Government will be leading the world in work on making sure that Budgets improve well-being.
• Question No. 3—Child Poverty Reduction
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National): Thank you, sir. My question is to the Minister responsible for Child Poverty: Does she consider material—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Whole title?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Sorry?
Mr SPEAKER: Responsible for Child Poverty—
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Poverty Reduction—sorry, sir.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.
3. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction: Does she consider material deprivation as an important indicator of children in poverty; if so, will her Government use it as one of their measures to show any reduction in child poverty?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Minister for Child Poverty Reduction): Yes, and it is my intention that material hardship be used as one of the measures we hold ourselves to. I have today, in fact, signed and delivered a letter to Mr English with these details and others for the child poverty bill, which I'm very hopeful we'll have cross-party support for in this House.
Hon Paula Bennett: In light of that, will she then sign a letter and deliver it to KidsCan to give them some assurances that the $350,000 that they have been told from senior officials will be cut from their funding will in fact be delivered, when they actually do so much for children in material hardship?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: They were not told that by officials. I'm advised that that is not what they were told. What I can say, however, is that the $350,000 they were receiving was time-limited, because the last Government said it would run out in June 2018. In fact, the last Government also cut over a million dollars from their Nit Busters programme as well. This Government, however, has not yet made a decision on KidsCan funding, because we haven't made any of our Budget decisions yet and it is still something that Ministers are considering.
Hon Paula Bennett: In light of the fact that KidsCan has provided over 168,000 children across 700 mostly low-decile schools, why can the Minister not find a measly $350,000 to give them some certainty so they can make a real difference in these children's lives?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said—[Interruption] As I've said, a decision hasn't yet been made on KidsCan funding.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I ask the members behind the Prime Minister to be a little quieter. They are coming through her microphone, and that means we are having trouble, and the public is having trouble, hearing her.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: A decision has not yet been made on KidsCan's funding. As I understand, officials had a conversation with KidsCan, but it was not one that had been brought to Ministers' attention. We haven't made any Budget decisions yet. What I will say is that that funding that was being received wasn't for food. The last Government cut their funding for food programmes some time ago.
Hon Paula Bennett: So can the Minister confirm that Government funding for the KickStart programme is in jeopardy; and, if not, can she confirm if its funding will continue for four years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member is referring to the food programme that led to KidsCan's programme being reduced, then again, as I say, we haven't made any of those decisions yet. That is all part of Budget 2018.
Hon Paula Bennett: With the Minister's commitment to reducing child poverty, will she maintain the Better Public Services targets, which are tailored to reduce hardship by using a multi-agency approach?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We are setting ourselves the most robust targets on child poverty that will ever have been set by any Government. I am proud of that, and I am seeking that member's support for that to be something that is set in legislation for future Governments, as well, because unlike the last Government we are determined to reduce inequality.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order—the Hon Paula Bennett, who's standing, as opposed to the member who's sitting and taking her call.
Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, sir. My question was particularly around the Better Public Services targets and if the Government would be keeping them, and the Minister didn't actually answer that in any way.
Mr SPEAKER: And I think I'll get the member to repeat her question without the preface, which was out of order.
Hon Paula Bennett: Certainly. Can I ask if the Minister will maintain the Better Public Services targets, which are tailored to reduce hardship by using a multi-agency approach?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That Government never set a Better Public Services target to reduce child poverty, and, in fact, that is what this Government wants to do.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. She still hasn't answered that question—
Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] The member will resume her seat. The question was certainly addressed.
• Question No. 4—Education
4. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: Does he accept that there is a major shortage of teachers going into the 2018 school year; if so, what will he do to address it?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Sadly, yes—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Chris Hipkins.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Sadly, yes, and it is particularly acute in some parts of the country, particularly around Auckland. Today I've announced an immediate teacher supply package of $9.5 million to help get teachers into classrooms or back into classrooms for the beginning of the next school year. The funding, which has been approved by Cabinet and budgeted for, will support more graduates into permanent teaching positions, support experienced teachers back into the profession, and recruit more graduates into teaching.
Jan Tinetti: What initiatives are contained within this teacher supply package?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are many elements to the package, and they all interconnect, but three key ones are expanding the Voluntary Bonding Scheme to decile 2 and 3 schools in Auckland and into areas of subject shortage, covering the cost of teacher education refresher courses for those teachers who are fully trained but do not currently hold practising certificates, and providing financial support to recruit and retain teachers with a limited authority to teach into positions where schools have been unable to recruit fully qualified teachers.
Jan Tinetti: Why is this package being put together now for 2018?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The problems in this area have been growing for some time. We do need to take a longer-term view, but I have been convinced by the information that I have received from schools, particularly in Auckland, that urgent action is required to ensure that they have enough teachers in their classrooms for the beginning of the next school year. There are three things that are converging that make this particularly challenging: there is a growing population, there are increasing numbers of teachers over the age of 60 and nearing retirement age, and there has been a steady decline in recent years in the number of teacher graduates completing their training. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that that was going to come to a crunch point at some stage, and it has.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Why has he prioritised $2.8 billion in education expenditure on students, rather than dealing properly with teacher shortages by extending voluntary bonding, in more Auckland schools and other hard-to-staff geographical areas specifically, in New Zealand?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are several points, the first of which is that teacher graduates are students as well, and future teacher graduates will benefit from the Government's commitment to a first year of free post-school education and training. As for the previous Government's commitments around the Voluntary Bonding Scheme, it would have been a nice idea, if they'd actually appropriated some funding to pay for it.
• Question No. 5—Finance
5. Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Is it his intention that in the year commencing 1 April 2018, each superannuitant couple will receive $681 less in New Zealand superannuation payments than they otherwise would under the law as it currently stands?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): It is this Government's intention to repeal the tax cuts that have been legislated but have not come into force, which would have led to the changes in New Zealand super payments. But I have good news for the member: the Government's Winter Energy Payment, which is part of the Families Package, will provide a significant boost to superannuitants' incomes, and the details of that will be announced tomorrow.
Hon Steven Joyce: Why does he believe New Zealand super payments shouldn't be increased and, instead, makes superannuitants visit Work and Income and fill out another form for an additional cash payment for just five months of the year?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It's not a matter of what I believe in that regard. Superannuation payments are indexed to the average wage. But I have further good news for the member, because this Government's excellent plan for lifting wages will mean that in the future, no doubt, superannuation payments will increase enormously.
Hon Steven Joyce: Does this plan of the Government's to increase wages mean that it will, within a year, increase wages by more than is lost in the $1,060 that average wage earners are losing as a result of his plans to change the tax package currently under law?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I've said many times to the member, average wage earners are not losing that, because they never had it, and if that member had been really serious about it, he would've made it come into force while he was in Government, not on 1 April.
Hon Steven Joyce: Is it his expectation as Minister of Finance that all coalition partners, including New Zealand First, will vote for his bill tomorrow, which takes away $681 a year in superannuation payments from superannuitant couples?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: All the parties in this coalition Government are committed to lifting the incomes of New Zealanders and to making sure that we actually get some fairness. This Government has different priorities than the last Government. We actually believe that we should support families, we actually believe that we should make sure that the lives of working New Zealanders improve, and that's what our package will do.
Hon Steven Joyce: How does he tell a working New Zealander that he's improving their lives when, on 1 April next year, they're going to not get the $1,060 that would have improved their lives, and, instead, paternalistic finance Minister Grant Robertson is going to determine—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Order! The member lost that one.
Hon Steven Joyce: Is it his intention that this Winter Energy Payment that he intends to introduce tomorrow will be universal and that superannuitants who go to, for example, the Gold Coast for their winter will still be eligible to receive a Winter Energy Payment, as if they'd stayed in New Zealand?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It's just one more sleep for the member until he gets all the details of this, but I can assure him that the rules that apply around payments to superannuitants won't be changing, other than the fact that they will be eligible for a payment that will offset the increase of cost of living and will make sure that they can stay warm in winter—something this Government is proud of.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It's a fairly straightforward question, as it was actually a specific example of somebody headed off overseas during winter, and I just—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. It was a straightforward question, and it had an answer. It was probably put in condescending terms and maybe not appropriately, but it was clear: the member will know tomorrow.
• Question No. 6—Agriculture
6. Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Minister of Agriculture: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): Yes.
Hon Nathan Guy: How does he reconcile his statement in the House last week that creating separate entities from the Ministry for Primary Industries will deliver lower costs when today he has confirmed additional ongoing operating costs of $2.3 million a year?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The lower cost will be felt by all the industries that were unfairly burdened with additional costs following the chaos at the border in China, where, through the last Government's changes, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), hundreds of millions of dollars of export meat was held up at the border, costing that industry millions of dollars. Those costs will not be incurred when the changes occur under us.
Hon Nathan Guy: Wait and see on that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Does the member have a supplementary question?
Hon Nathan Guy: Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: And the member will ask the supplementary question, not run a commentary on the previous answer.
Hon Nathan Guy: Is this the least-cost option of the four options presented, and has he been rolled by officials who convinced him to put expensive stickers on doors and leave MPI as almost status quo?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No.
Kieran McAnulty: What other statements does the Minister stand by?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We stand by statements that this Government is focused on getting better value from everything that occurs across the primary sectors, not simply driving increasing production at a cost to the environment and relying on additional output without any real net benefit to our country. We will get better value from the primary sectors across the board than that previous Government did.
Hon David Bennett: When the Minister stated yesterday that the test for mānuka honey did not include leptosperin, due to its potential to dilute over time, exactly how long does it take to dilute?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: While I'd like to claim to be a scientist, I can't give exact figures on that, other than the leptosperin and MG, or methylglyoxal, components were not sufficiently scientifically robust to ensure the customers that bought high-value mānuka honey from New Zealand could be guaranteed that they were getting what they paid for. Our move yesterday was to secure the reputation of New Zealand as a trusted trader providing the goods that we say they are.
Hon David Bennett: What evidence does the Minister have that the dilution doesn't take place?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can refer that member to a list of science, and I'm sure he'll ask for it through an Official Information Act request. MPI took three years of extensive scientific testing to arrive at a draft recommendation and set of criteria. They were amended, following extensive consultation with the industry. I know everyone will not agree, but this puts in place the most secure scientifically robust definition for mānuka honey—something that hasn't been done elsewhere in the world. We're proud of it. It will uphold our reputation—something that that previous Government didn't have the courage to do.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will withdraw the last phrase that he made.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I withdraw.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister tell the House when the standard was first promised, how many times it was delayed, and how come he was able, within 43 days, to produce one?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The previous Government learnt of this as far back as 2013. We were warned that our international reputation was at risk, not just for honey but in every product that we sold around the world. That Government chose to sit on its hands and not make the hard call, when necessary, after the scientific work had been done. We made that decision. We're moving on.
Hon David Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister referred to a list of MPI science. I would request that he table that in the House.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The member is now trifling with the Chair. If the member thinks that the Minister was quoting from an official document at the time he referred to it, I think he'll think that Santa Claus and his reindeer are going to wander through here soon.
Barbara Kuriger: On what dates were each of the five new Mycoplasma bovis - infected properties confirmed?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I do not have that information before me. I am happy to provide those dates to the member if she'd like to contact me after question time.
Barbara Kuriger: Does the Minister still agree with the statement in relation to Mycoplasma bovis that "Every animal on that property should be isolated and destroyed immediately, and while this seems drastic we must do everything possible to contain this and eliminate it from New Zealand"?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, and when Mycoplasma bovis was first identified on the property—I stand by that statement. If that had occurred, perhaps it wouldn't have been so widespread now.
• Question No. 7—Defence
7. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: What reports has he received on cost pressures within Defence projects?
Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can inform the House that, unfortunately, as soon as I took office as Minister of Defence, I received a report that the Anzac frigate system's upgrade project was experiencing a cost blow-out. Costs in the project had increased to a point that the project was facing a budget shortfall of $148 million—
Hon Members: How much?
Hon RON MARK: $148 million. This represented an increase of 30 percent on the project budget of $491 million.
Darroch Ball: What were the reasons for this cost overrun? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: And the National Party have just lost a supplementary. [Hon Ron Mark stands] No—sorry, I couldn't even hear the supplementary.
Darroch Ball: What were the reasons for this cost overrun?
Hon RON MARK: Cost overruns primarily occurred due to project management mistakes in estimating the cost of the installation of equipment and delays resolving the issue, which made an unacceptable situation worse. The previous Government was first informed of cost pressures within the project in September 2016—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That's right. We said, "Go away."
Hon RON MARK: —2016, Mr Brownlee—when additional costs were first estimated at between $65 million and $74 million. And, for a year, the previous Government did not act to resolve the issue, despite multiple opportunities to do so and costs continuing to rise.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Irresponsible to pay for that.
Hon RON MARK: This, Mr Brownlee, is not the hallmark of a fiscally responsible Government, as it always claimed that it was.
Darroch Ball: When was a final, fixed, firm price received for the installation phase of the project?
Hon RON MARK: Good question. Lockheed Martin Canada provided a fixed, firm-priced contract to that Government in June 2017—some three months out from the election. And, to my absolute disbelief, they did nothing—nothing, nothing. Because the previous Government did not act on the fixed, firm price, the contract offer had to be renegotiated. This has cost the taxpayer a further $8 million and has caused a delay of seven months for the introduction of the much-needed systems for the Anzac frigates.
Darroch Ball: What has the Minister done to resolve this cost blow-out?
Hon RON MARK: As soon as I received this information, I acted. On Monday, Cabinet agreed to provide the project with the funding it requires through a cost-neutral transfer from funds allocated to defence in Budget 2017. Because of the coalition's commitment to fiscal discipline, defence has had to accept a manageable but real trade-off in capability because National allowed the cost to blow out. As we are experiencing costs across portfolios, this is but the worst example so far of this Government opening the books and finding runaway costs and fiscal holes, and that the previous Government was clearly asleep at the helm.
Darroch Ball: What reports has he received on historical project management capacity within the Ministry of Defence?
Hon RON MARK: Despite managing projects worth billions of dollars of taxpayers' money, the Ministry of Defence was massively under-resourced up until 2014. This was despite multiple reviews signalling that greater capacity was needed. Behind a façade of capacity lay a financial risk, and the previous Government ignored it until too late to avoid the significant errors made in the management of this project.
• Question No. 8—Education
8. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the Treasury statement that the removal of National Standards should "be delayed until the new assessment framework is ready for implementation. This is to prevent a gap in systems-level information on the overall performance of primary schools and the foundational skills of reading, writing and maths, which are critical to later success in education and training"; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): No, because if the member reads just a little bit further through the Cabinet paper, she will see that I am not at all convinced national standards provide that system-level information in a way that is robust and reliable.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Will he immediately release the new national administration guideline so that parents can see exactly what schools are required to report under the law; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The new NAGS, or national administration guidelines, were signed by me on 12 December 2017 and will be in the next Gazette.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Is he confirming that he has already passed into law the national administration guidelines without consulting with parents and without considering adequately Treasury's concerns, and when will he actually listen to the parents of New Zealand?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: We did listen to the parents of New Zealand. It was called a general election campaign.
Jamie Strange: Does the Minister see it as a good or bad thing that Government officials will no longer have access to national standards to guide policy advice and allocation decisions?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Let me be very clear: I think that that is a good thing because national standards provided bogus data. It was problematic, and the officials should not have been making decisions about how to allocate resources based on bogus data, because, for one thing, it showed that students in Wellington should get more money than students in Auckland, because the criteria being applied were different in those two cities. The data was not a reliable basis on which to be making decisions.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does he think it's listening to the parents of New Zealand when a Stuff poll shows more than 50,000 people have voted and 87 percent of them are against the Government scrapping national standards, and when will he actually listen to the parents of New Zealand?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: If that member is relying on Stuff polls, it may explain why she's sitting on that side of the House and not this side of the House. We have listened to the parents of New Zealand. They have told us that they want better information on their child's progress at school—that they agree that national standards were fundamentally flawed and provided bogus information.
• Question No. 9—Police
9. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Police: Has he received any advice from officials about recruiting 1,800 additional police over the next 3 years; if so, on what dates did he receive that advice?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): Yes; 30 October, 13 November, 19 November, 20 November, 26 November, 27 November, 3 December, 4 December, 9 December, 10 December, 11 December, 13 December, and at other times informally when there's good news coming through.
Chris Bishop: Why did he say, "The money is there" on 31 October, in relation to the 1,8000 extra police, when he admitted in the House yesterday that he doesn't know how much the extra police will cost?
Hon STUART NASH: I admitted to no such thing.
Chris Bishop: What advice, if any, did he receive from Nanaia Mahuta that prompted him to back-track on his plan to import foreign police officers to meet his 1,800 extra police commitment?
Hon STUART NASH: I had fantastic conversations with the Hon Nanaia Mahuta, but we agreed that, if entirely possible, and the commissioner agrees it is, we want to recruit a police force that represents the communities they serve—more Māori, more Pasifika, more Asian, more women. This is what our aspirational target for the police service is, and we're going to meet it.
Greg O'Connor: What advice has the Minister received on the recruitment drive currently under way?
Hon STUART NASH: The world's most entertaining recruitment video is truly living up to its name. I'm advised that the video has been viewed more than 6.1 million times since it was launched, and it's reached an estimated 14.5 million people. There has been a huge increase in applications, particularly diverse applications. As of this morning—where I also received some advice—there were 648 new applications made since the video was launched, with interest from over 2,000 people who are seriously considering applying. The first ever recruitment day for women was held over the weekend, where hundreds of women attended.
Chris Bishop: Can he confirm that the extra 1,800 police officers that he has committed to will all be sworn officers?
Hon STUART NASH: We are currently working through what this 1,800 officers is going to look like, but what I can tell that member is there are going to be 1,800 men and women out there keeping our communities safe and fighting crime. And what I would also say is that if that member wants to campaign for less police, be my guest.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member means "fewer", but carry on.
• Question No. 10—Health
10. RINO TIRIKATENE (Labour—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received about the Southern Partnership Group?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): I have seen a number of reports on the Southern Partnership Group (SPG), including one in New Zealand's largest independent daily newspaper, covering my decision to appoint Pete Hodgson and Stephen Willis to the group. The article notes that Mr Hodgson's attributes will be "well deployed dealing with the vagaries of"—
Mr SPEAKER: OK, the member will now resume his seat, and I will remind him of rulings that I've given previously that for primary questions when a member is asked what he has received, seeing a newspaper clipping, even in an area for which he is responsible, is not receiving an official report. He can only be asked primary questions about areas for which he has responsibility or for reports for which he has responsibility, and that is not one of them. If the member has actually received a report about the group, the member can refer to it, but it's not going to be about a newspaper clipping.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have received advice in my material prepared for Cabinet that indicated Mr Hodgson was very well-appointed for the role.
Rino Tirikatene: Why did the Minister decide to make changes to the Southern Partnership Group?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Strong leadership and local knowledge was needed to get the Dunedin Hospital rebuild on track. Pete Hodgson is a former Minister of Health and understands the complexities of the portfolio. He was also the member of Parliament for Dunedin North for 21 years and has an excellent grasp of the local issues involved. Stephen Willis has a nursing background and is Otago University's chief operating officer and has managed significant health-related capital projects abroad.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Has he received any briefings or advice from the Southern Partnership Group since being sworn in as Minister of Health, and prior to the appointment of Pete Hodgson as SPG chair?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Yes.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: How will he ensure that he receives independent advice on the Dunedin Hospital rebuild, now that he has sacked the two members of the SPG who provided that perspective and replaced them with his close personal friend and Labour Party hack Pete Hodgson?
Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister will resume his seat.
Rino Tirikatene: What further reports has he received about the Southern Partnership Group?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have received plenty of compliments on the appointment of Pete Hodgson as head of the Southern Partnership Group. Votes of congratulations have come from across the political spectrum, including from members of the National Party, both former and present.
• Question No. 11—Social Development
11. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Of the 276,041 people currently on working-age benefits, how many have been on a benefit for more than 20 years and how many people will she reduce it by in the next year?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): As of September this year, almost 26,000 people have been on a main benefit for over 20 years. It's clear to me that anybody reliant on a benefit for over two decades faces many barriers to employment. It is highly likely that the vast majority of these do not have work obligations due to disability, ongoing illness, or because they are caring for others. Where any of these people can work, we will support them, but we will not be setting crude arbitrary targets.
Hon Louise Upston: How will the Minister reduce the long-term benefit receipt of the 67,891 people who've been on a job seeker benefit for more than one year?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Some of the figures we weren't able to get going back 20 years, but I do want to share with the member that over the last 10 years, 45,000 of the 63,000 who have consistently been on benefits had a disabling illness or a disability that impacted on their ability to work. We are committed to working with all communities to get them into meaningful, paid, sustainable employment, and, as I've said before in the House, one of the ways in which we will do that is by investing in upskilling and training and providing people with those opportunities.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked about the 67,000 on a job seeker benefit.
Mr SPEAKER: And I think the question was addressed. It mightn't have been answered to the member's satisfaction, but it was addressed.
Hon Louise Upston: In regard to those on the job seeker benefit, how will the Minister—how—reduce the long-term benefit receipt?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We're committed to providing people who find themselves in periods of unemployment with opportunity to upskill and train. Recently, we have announced that we will be making the first year free for anyone that hasn't undertaken any study. That extends beyond just university training; that also includes polytechnic, industry training, and other opportunities. We want to encourage people who find themselves out of work to take up upskilling and training, because in the long term they're more likely to go into meaningful, better-paid employment and be able to support themselves and their families.
Hon Louise Upston: How does the Minister reconcile her answers today with the briefing to the incoming Minister, which states that the Minister's responsibility is for reducing long-term benefit receipt and supporting people into work?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Given that the social policy evaluation and research unit report that was completed under the previous Government's watch showed that a large number of people were ending up back on benefit after two years—having found employment but then ending up back on benefit—I think that our commitment to supporting people who are unemployed to take up upskilling and training is a better strategy for ensuring that they do not end up back on a benefit or become long-term welfare dependent.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: How does she plan to support people on benefits into work?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This Government will support people into genuine paid work by focusing on education, upskilling, and training those who find themselves in need of support and on a benefit. We will be focusing on people's potential and building skills and capabilities to help them into sustainable work. We intend for people to be better off, not just off benefit.
Hon Louise Upston: What advice has the Minister received about long-term benefit receipt and children in poverty and hardship?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Children in poverty and hardship benefit from having parents who have undertaken educational training and have higher levels of educational achievement. When parents role-model that in the home, then kids are more likely to go on and achieve in those areas as well. That's something we as a Government will be supporting.
• Question No. 12—Health
12. ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent reports has she received on Māori and Pacific adults' access to primary health care?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Associate Minister of Health): I've seen the first release of statistics from the 2016-17 New Zealand Health Survey, which shows that the number of Māori adults who reported not visiting a GP due to cost in the previous year was estimated to be 110,000, and the number for Pacific adults was 42,000. This is not good enough. We need to do better to reduce the cost barriers that our people have, especially in terms of early preventative healthcare services and treatment so that they do not end up in emergency departments.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: How do these statistics on cost barriers to visiting a GP, for Māori and Pacific adults, compare to previous years?
Hon JENNY SALESA: Sadly, these reported numbers have remained stubbornly high, relatively unchanged since 2011-12. Again, I want to emphasise that Māori adults were nearly 1.6 times more likely not to have visited their general practice in the last 12 months due to cost than non-Māori, and for Pacific adults, 1.1 times more likely not to have visited their GP due to cost.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What are the Government's plans to reduce the cost of primary care for Māori and Pacific adults?
Hon JENNY SALESA: We are committed to reducing cost barriers for visiting general practitioners, and we're planning to reduce the cost, say, of visiting a GP by $10 for New Zealanders. This will go through the normal Budget process, and we expect that Māori and Pacific will be able to access cheaper GP visits next year. This Government is committed to ensuring that more New Zealanders can access primary care.