Parliament: Questions and Answers - June 21
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy
Leader—National) to the Prime
Minister: Does he have confidence in all his
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: How can he have confidence in the Minister in charge of the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, David Parker, when it has been reported he has close personal relationships with high-end property developers who have sought exemptions from the bill?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The reality is that we inherited that deal from a former Minister Steven Joyce, who did not go through the consultation process, and if Amy Adams knew anything about the law she would know that full well. That being the case, Treasury gave us one set of advice, and the Speaker referred to a separate set of advice. As a consequence, we've acted on the Speaker's advice.
Hon Paula Bennett: How can he have confidence in his Minister in charge of the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, when he said, "We want the prices of New Zealand homes, whether it be a lakeside station, the best [homes] in the Bay of Islands or … modest homes in our towns and cities, to be set by local buyers, not on the international market … New Zealanders should not be outbid by wealthier foreign buyers.", when that Minister's own bill now excludes exemptions allowing that to occur?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That summation by that member is demonstrably wrong. For land and for houses, that statement is totally false. What is true—because we do listen to the market, and being so close to it, we do understand how it works—is we've ensured there are some exemptions where apartments are concerned.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has expressed concern about New Zealanders being outbid when buying land by wealthier foreign buyers but now supports a bill that proposes exempting those wealthier foreign buyers?
Mr SPEAKER: Before I allow the question, I want an assurance from the questioner that the statement was made as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Hon Paula Bennett: Speaking to that, sir, I purposely left it quite broad and not a direct quote, where he has expressed concern repeatedly in many contexts and while the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the question was whether the statement was made as Minister of Foreign Affairs as opposed to the leader of the New Zealand First Party.
Hon Paula Bennett: I haven't given a direct quote of a statement made by the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: What I'm going to do is give the member another chance to get a question which is within order.
Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, sir. Does he have confidence in his Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, when he said in this House last week, that he defined a prison officer who was grabbed on the buttock, squeezed quite hard, and then followed and intimidated by the prisoner as suffering "a pinch on the bottom"?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What I do have is confidence in a justice Minister who understands—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just answer the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —I'll answer the question if you'll just give me a chance to, Mr Smith, not make that poppycock type of shouting you do every day in this House, to every question. Can I say I have confidence in a Minister of Justice who understands the gradations in levels of sexual offending and he expressed one. What would the member do?
Hon Paula Bennett: Does he consider a woman grabbed in the workplace for a prolonged period of time and followed and intimidated to be the victim of an indecent assault?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Depending on the facts and not the hypotheticals, and if the facts were proven, that would be a sexual assault, yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: How can he have confidence in his Parliamentary Under-secretary to the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Michael Wood, when he said, "The office of Ethnic Communities is moving into premises in Onehunga, which will be shared with list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan. We've boosted that support that we're providing in terms of connecting with ethnic communities, so we have more staff members working in our ethnic communities outreach teams.", and the editor of the Onehunga Community News says she has a recording of him saying that?
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The comments made by Michael Wood were made in his capacity as a local member of Parliament, and the first part of the quote that Paula Bennett mentions is not actually a quote. It is a reporter's reporting. It is not a quote of anything that Michael Wood said.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I first—[Interruption] No, sorry, I'm going to deal with this matter first. Can I first check with the Hon Paula Bennett whether the first part of what she indicated was a quote was in fact contained in quotation marks in the publication in question?
Hon Paula Bennett: Yes, sir, it was.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you. Right, the Acting Prime Minister will answer the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I just say that the reports on the opening of the labour office were wrong. They were misreported. And the office is a labour office for—
Hon Member: It's a tape recording.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I beg your pardon?
Hon Member: There's a tape recording.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The office is a labour office for ethnic communities funded by Parliamentary Service, not an office of ethnic community services.
Hon Paula Bennett: Will the Prime Minister be asking to hear the recording from the Onehunga Community News as they believe they have a direct quote from the under-secretary?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What the Prime Minister will be doing is asking that member to produce a report to this Parliament and back up her allegations. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Nathan Guy.
Hon Paula Bennett: Can he have confidence that his Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for Ethnic Communities is not misusing taxpayer-funded money by having offices of bureaucrats attached to Labour electorate offices?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because of my last two answers, and more importantly, if that member wants to make that allegation, please turn up in in Parliament with the proof, and then we'll be able to examine the evidence. But I and my colleagues are just too busy to do her work for her.
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table the article from the Onehunga Community News. I know that we don't normally table media articles, but this is not a widely circulated publication. Anybody looking at it will see that there are no quotation marks over the statement that Paula Bennett has told the House was a quote.
Mr SPEAKER: I'm not going to put it to the House; I am going to ask the member to give it to Paula Bennett so that she, if appropriate, can correct her statement to me, which would be a serious misleading if it was correct. Further supplementary? Sorry, you've finished?
Hon Paula Bennett: I'm done, thank you.
Mr SPEAKER: OK.
• Question No. 2—Finance
2. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Will this Government's policies help transition the economy; if so, how?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes. The Government is ambitious for New Zealand's economy. Through our research and development tax credit we're encouraging Kiwi businesses to look at how they can do new things in different ways. Through our initiatives, such as the Green Investment Fund, we'll be working with the private sector to make investments that benefit New Zealanders in the present, without compromising our ability to meet our future needs, and through our Provincial Growth Fund we're investing to ensure New Zealanders in the regions get the same opportunities to fulfil their potential as those living in our main centres. This Government has put in place the policies to help transition our economy to one that is more productive, more sustainable, and more inclusive.
Willow-Jean Prime: Why is this transition necessary?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, if we look back at New Zealand's growth over recent years, it's very clear why it's necessary. First, we've seen growth driven by an out-of-control housing market and population growth—that's not sustainable. Nor is it sustainable to ignore both our international obligations on climate change and the damage to New Zealand's brand and reputation in the world from failing to shift to a lower carbon economy. Secondly, the growth we've seen has not translated into meaningful improvements to many New Zealanders' lives. That's why this Government is changing our focus to an economy that is more sustainable and inclusive.
Willow-Jean Prime: What will a successful economic transition look like?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: A successful transition will result in an economy where we have productive businesses that can do more with they have, sustainable growth that meets our needs without compromising our ability to do so in the future; and inclusive growth that improves the well-being of all New Zealanders and enables a just transition for businesses and communities. This transition will take time, but we have the building blocks in place, and we can see today in the GDP numbers that the transition is beginning, with growth in business services, information, media, and telecommunications—major contributors to GDP growth.
Hon AMY ADAMS: How is this Government helping transition the economy to becoming more productive when Statistics New Zealand figures published just this morning show real per capita growth is going backwards and is now at its lowest level since 2011?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before the member answers I just want to say to the people in both those quadrants at the back, can they keep their mouths shut while questions are being asked.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What the release from Statistics New Zealand shows today is that GDP growth for the quarter was in line with what economists were expecting. Thirteen of 16 industries grew in the quarter; annual GDP growth was 2.7 percent, in line with the OECD average; and interestingly, business investment is up 5.5 percent year on year, compared with 3.7 percent in the previous year under that member's party. Businesses are investing in the economy. The member should join in. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member—I'm going to ask her to read her question again.
Hon Amy Adams: How is this Government helping the economy to transition to being more productive when Statistics New Zealand figures released just this morning show real per capita GDP growth is going backwards and is at its lowest level since September 2011?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The way that this Government is making the transition, as the member asked, is exactly what I've just spent three answers answering—that we are going to invest in the productive part of our economy, practically, through initiatives like the Provincial Growth Fund and the Green Investment Fund, rather than the previous Government relying on people selling houses to one another and the population growing.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, does he agree that GDP per capita growth is what matters most for achieving higher material living standards and that falling GDP per capita is showing that New Zealanders were working harder and harder for less, with both of those statements having been made by Grant Robertson?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: And what a sensible member Grant Robertson, Opposition MP, was. What I would say to that member is GDP per capita will increase once we move to a more sustainable, more productive, and inclusive economy. I would also suggest to the finance spokesperson for the Opposition that she perhaps listen to her predecessor, who said that it was unwise to look at quarterly numbers because they go both up and down.
• Question No. 1 to Minister
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek to clarify a previous discussion that we had, if I may.
Mr SPEAKER: You seek to make a personal explanation in order to correct a previous statement.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Thank you, sir—
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry—first of all, is there any objection? There is none.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The first part that I said had been quoted in the newsletter had not. It is what the editor maintains Mr Wood had said to her. The second part that was in quotes was. I made an error, and I apologise for it.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Associate Minister of Finance: What is the purpose of the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Associate Minister of Finance): There are three main purposes. The first is to ban foreign buyers of existing New Zealand homes; the second is to bring forestry registration rights into the overseas investment screening regime to ensure they're treated similarly to existing screening for freehold and leasehold forests, whilst at the same time streamlining screening for forestry to encourage foreign direct investment in the forestry sector; and the third and equally important purpose is to preserve policy space for future Governments to protect the rights of New Zealanders to own their own land. This policy space would, in practice, have been lost forever had this Government not acted to do these things before the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) comes into effect.
Hon Amy Adams: Was it the policy intent of the bill for developers of multimillion-dollar homes targeted at foreign buyers, such as the Te Ārai property development, to be exempt?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No. The transitional exemption that was put forward but has been ruled out of order was put forward with the intent of helping the iwi who had suffered long delays on the project. It was a time-limited, transitional measure. There was advice from Treasury that this was procedurally appropriate to allow an exemption. However, the Speaker has advised that the select committee's recommendation is not within the Standing Orders. The Government accepts the Speaker's ruling, and therefore the transitional exemption will not proceed.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, is it his intention to promulgate regulations under the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill to exempt the Te Ārai development, or any other development linked to John Darby, from the provisions of that legislation?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, and, indeed, the other regulation-making power in the bill—and the member will know this because she was on the select committee—would not allow such an exemption.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister: under this visionary and responsible policy, what proportion of New Zealand homes will no longer be able to be purchased by a foreign buyer outbidding a New Zealander?
Hon DAVID PARKER: There are currently 1.8 million homes in New Zealand, and more than 20,000 new homes will be built over the next year. Under this law, foreigners cannot buy any of the 1.8 million existing homes and can only purchase a fraction of the 20,000 new homes that would be built and would then have to either on-sell them or lease them to New Zealanders. The bill as reported back from select committee ensures that more than 99 percent of New Zealand homes will not be able to be sold to foreigners.
David Seymour: Was the bill's process subject to any time pressure due to the need to pass it before the CPTPP is ratified?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes.
David Seymour: Is that why it's such a dog's breakfast of inconsistent amendments now?
Hon DAVID PARKER: It isn't. It's actually quite a complex bill. We don't want to in Auckland stop some foreign direct investment in multi-storey apartment buildings that are going to be onsold or leased. That is probably the most important change that has been made at select committee, but it remains true that a foreigner will not be able to buy any existing home in New Zealand, and, as I said, more than 99 percent of New Zealand homes will not be open to purchase.
Hon Amy Adams: Since becoming the Minister responsible for the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill, has he had any discussions about the bill and the proposed Te Ārai development exemption with the chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, Michael Wood; and if so, when?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Obviously on a number of occasions, but I do that with every bill that I'm responsible for.
Hon Amy Adams: Since becoming a Minister has he met, corresponded with, spoken to, or texted John Darby or Ric Kayne, as the beneficial owners of the Te Ārai development, or any representative of their business interests; and if so, for what purpose?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No. I know thousands of people in New Zealand, including Mr Darby. I have bumped into him probably once or twice in the last decade. The last time I can recall talking to him was when I bumped into him, and it's so long ago I can't remember when it was.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, since becoming a Minister, has he met, corresponded with, spoken to, or texted any representative of John Darby and Ric Kayne's lobbying firm Thompson Lewis; and if so, for what purpose?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Everyone in the House will know that GJ Thompson actually was the acting chief of staff here, so I've regularly spoken with him—unfortunately for the member, not about this issue. Someone made me aware that Mr Lewis had some involvement in this. I have not spoken to Mr Lewis about this at all nor corresponded with him. The two meetings that I can recall having with Mr Lewis since we were elected were in respect of carbon rights and forestry, and members of staff were present at those meetings to witness them, as well.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister saying that notwithstanding his proximity and the Government's proximity to Mr Thompson, this is evidence that the Government is not corruptible on this matter and would somewhat suggest that Mr Thompson was far more successful with the previous Government?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to allow the Minister to answer the question. I am going to deduct two supplementary questions from the Opposition for the interjections from the acting shadow Leader of the House and the finance spokesperson.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Accepting that punishment, I should have perhaps taken the point of order quickly in order to—rather than try and draw your attention to what I think is a breach of the Standing Orders. It is certainly out of order in this House to suggest that something infers corruption. I would suggest that the opposite also applies—that a question can't contain a suggestion that something lacks corruption or corruptibility.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I totally disagree with the member. I think that the first part of the question was certainly in order. The second part wasn't. I was waiting to see if the Acting Prime Minister could use—what he sometimes does—his deft skills to bring things which are apparently out of order into order. He didn't and therefore I ruled out the second part.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'm not challenging; I just want to explain why I raised it in the way that I did. The inference is not in the way the Acting Prime Minister asked the question; it was in the fact that it inferred that the Hon Amy Adams could have inferred it in her questions.
Mr SPEAKER: It couldn't infer anything. It might have implied something; you inferred it.
Hon DAVID PARKER: The involvement of either Mr Thompson or Mr Lewis in this had no effect on my decision. The advice we had received from Treasury to the select committee, based on public submissions that were heard by all, was that this was an iwi-based development that had suffered interminable delays, and we had some sympathy for their position—
Hon Amy Adams: Iwi-based?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, that is as it was described to me, Amy Adams, and the paper trail will show that. The paper trail will show that. We had some sympathy for that position, and so we were willing to agree a transitional provision. We wanted it to be tight because we didn't want there to be exemptions up and down the land, which is why the other regulation-making power is narrow, so that if future Governments want to unwind the ban on foreign buyers, they're going to have to do it by primary legislation and not sneak it through by ministerial discretion.
• Question No. 4—Justice
4. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Justice: Does he stand by his statement in answer to Oral Question No 8 on Tuesday that "The member is alluding to the offender I referred to in a question last week, relating to the pinching of a prison officer's bottom"?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): I stand by all statements in the totality of the issue that that member is referring to, which also included statements that this particular offending was offensive, unwelcome, and totally unacceptable, and I also stand by my statements to the effect that the consequence of that offending should not have been seven years' jail without parole.
Hon Mark Mitchell: When the Minister made that statement, had he read the sentencing note in relation to the indecent assault offence?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No, I had not. I relied on reports in the New Zealand Herald about the nature of that offending. And I go back to the point that I have been very clear and my track record on issues of sexual harassment and sexual violence are very clear, and I take no moral lesson from that member and his party, who had a Minister of Justice who, when he had the opportunity to let the Law Commission do its work on changing the nature of trials for sexual offending so they did not traumatise victims and re-victimise victims, told the Law Commission to stop doing its work.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Why is the Minister commenting on and characterising an indecent assault on a female corrections officer, when he hasn't even read the sentencing notes?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member is completely wrong, because the issue was all about the consequences of that particular offending. In that particular case, the offender was convicted, the offender was sentenced, but it was circumstances in which that offender was facing seven years' jail without parole. This Government is not going to have and continue that party's promotion of American-style justice, with over-the-top, disproportionate sentencing.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Does he acknowledge that the victim in fact had her buttock grabbed hard and held by the offender, and when she tried to get away the offender followed her and grabbed a gate to prevent her from leaving, which left her, in her own words, feeling totally degraded, vulnerable, and uneasy when performing her work duties?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I accept what that member says, and it would be nice if that member and his colleagues had said more when they had a leader who molested a hospitality worker repeatedly by pulling her hair.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The suffix to that answer is entirely out of order and it should have been brought to account very quickly. He had no ministerial responsibility for that, not even in his capacity or in the time frame.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think a very serious accusation was being levelled at this Minister, and I think what he was trying to do was contrast approaches. This is generally a robust Chamber. That was a very robust questioning line from the Hon Mark Mitchell, and I think that the response, while it went right up to the edge and was unusual, was not out of order.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Speaking to that point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No. Well, I'll give the member another go, but I don't want him to relitigate my ruling.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I'm not going to, but I am going to suggest that it is a slippery slope to the bottom if, rather than rejecting or refuting the question, we get into some sort of tit-for-tat "Who was worse at what?" Regardless of the merits of the answer, I would suggest that that is going to cause disorder in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I agree with the member, and I don't want that situation to occur, but when a Minister's values are being questioned, as they were, then one can expect a robust response.
Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to clarify: that question wasn't laying any criticism; it was asking if he acknowledged what actually happened to the victim in that case.
Mr SPEAKER: It was part of a series of questions which were robust.
Hon David Bennett: Oh, my God!
Mr SPEAKER: David Bennett, was that you?
Hon David Bennett: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Stand up, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Does he understand the words and characterisation that he chose to use in relation to an indecent assault on a female corrections officer has sent an appalling message to prison inmates and may have increased the risk, particularly for female corrections officers, in their own workplace?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I don't accept that member's characterisation of the consequences of what I have said. I have been very clear about my attitude towards, and actions on, issues involving sexual harassment and sexual violence, which is a step way better than members opposite.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Will he apologise to the growing number of women who are deeply offended and feel his characterisation of an indecent assault against a female corrections officer as New Zealand's justice Minister is totally inappropriate?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Since nothing I said conveyed that meaning, I think the most important thing is actually for members opposite, who allowed their Minister of Justice to stop the Law Commission doing work that would have made trials on sexual offences a lot better for victims of sexual violence—she stopped it in its tracks. That was wrong.
• Question No. 5—Greater Christchurch Regeneration
Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central): What announcements has she made about learning the lessons from the Canterbury earthquake sequence to help New Zealanders prepare for the future?
Mr SPEAKER: Before the Minister answers, who made that interjection? [Interruption] Sorry, we have two, including a Minister, I understand, wanting to answer a question fairly soon. I think both sides of the House need to know we've moved on to the next question. We might be returning to the issue soon, but in the interests of the Minister who is to answer the question, the question should be asked without interjection. Dr Webb, ask it again.
5. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration: What announcements has she made about learning the lessons from the Canterbury earthquake sequence to help New Zealanders prepare for the future?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration): I'm delighted to share that, in partnership with the Christchurch City Council, a symposium has been scheduled for 29 and 30 November this year. A series of workshops will also be held in the build-up to the event. Around 250 people are expected to attend the symposium, including people from a range of experience and expertise: community and voluntary groups, the public and private sector, as well as academics. I'm thrilled to see this Government committed to delivering this event—something the previous Government was not able to do.
Dr Duncan Webb: What topics can she expect the symposium and workshops to cover?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: While the content of the symposium is still being developed, I can announce that the preceding four-part workshop series is currently being organised on the themes of social and psychosocial recovery, recovery leadership and governance, procurement delivery models, and supporting business recovery. The Canterbury earthquake sequence affected every part of Cantabrians' lives and had deep psychological impacts. I'm pleased to see a range of topics that have been identified and will be discussed.
Dr Duncan Webb: How does the symposium fit with the Government's wider programme of work to advance the recovery of Christchurch?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I'm pleased to say that there is a cohesive programme of work under way to ensure the voices of people affected by the earthquakes are heard. These include extending the funding for the Residential Advisory Service, free and independent advice to homeowners who are experiencing conflict with insurers, including the Earthquake Commission (EQC); introducing a bill into Parliament which proposed common-sense legislative amendments to the Act, including increasing the EQC building cap, removing cover for contents, clarifying EQC's ability to share information, and extending the time frame EQC can accept claims; appointing an independent ministerial adviser, whose recommendations EQC is implementing, including increasing the number of settlement teams in the Christchurch business unit working to settle Canterbury earthquake claims. We've also recently announced that the Government is launching a public inquiry into EQC, as well as a special insurance tribunal to resolve outstanding earthquake and insurance claims. Budget 2018—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Oh, there's such a long list.
Mr SPEAKER: And the Minister's finished for today. Thank you.
Question time interrupted.
• Question time resumed.
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 6—Women
6. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Women: Is it her responsibility to stand up for and improve the outcomes for women in New Zealand?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Minister for Women): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes, absolutely.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she still think that "Many women have had unsafe experiences in the workplace. This needs to stop."; and, if so, does she consider the grabbing of a woman's buttock in her place of work to be an indecent assault?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: In response to the first part of the question, yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does the Minister agree that an indecent assault—
Mr SPEAKER: No, sorry. I am going to ask the member to ask the question again.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Do I have to answer both parts?
Mr SPEAKER: I know there were two parts. They were very clear and it is something which is very important.
Hon Paula Bennett: My first supplementary: does she still think that "Many women have had unsafe experiences in the workplace. This needs to stop."; and, if so, does she consider the grabbing of a woman's buttock in her place of work an indecent assault?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes, I do consider it a very serious issue. Sexual harassment and assault in the workplace or anywhere else is serious, and that's why this Government is taking significant steps like having a cross-ministerial working group on sexual harassment and assault, which is being led by my colleague the under-secretary for sexual and domestic violence, Jan Logie. That's why we've asked the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to improve—in fact, start for the first time collecting data on sexual harassment in the workplace. And it's very important that we do everything possible to ensure survivors of sexual and indecent assault are able to come forward and encouraged to come forward and make complaints.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she believe it is trivialising sexual assault in the workplace when the Minister of Justice calls a woman at work who is grabbed on the buttock, then followed and intimidated, as merely a "pinch on the bottom"?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I agree with the Minister of Justice when he said that indecent assault, including—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Sorry, I am going to ask for this answer to be heard in silence. This is an important issue, and I think that having someone shouted down while they are giving an answer to it is inappropriate. The rest of this series of supplementary questions will be heard in silence. Start again, please.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: As the Minister of Justice has said today and on previous days, indecent assault, including the case that the member is referring to, is insidious and unacceptable. I agree with him.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she believe it is trivialising sexual assault in the workplace when the Minister of Justice calls a woman at work who is grabbed on the buttock, then followed and intimidated, as merely a, to quote him, "pinch on the bottom."?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I agree with the Minister of Justice when he said that indecent assault, including the case the member is referring to, is insidious and unacceptable.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she still think that "the more people know about the scale of the problem, the more we can do to address it."; and, if so, does she think describing an indecent assault in the workplace as a low-level offence helps or hinders understanding of the scale of the problem that New Zealand workplaces have with sexual misconduct?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: It is absolutely the case that there is a problem with under-reporting of cases of sexual assault and indecent assault, and disproportionate sentences of seven years without parole under the three-strikes law make it harder for survivors to come forward and harder to convict people of assault.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister think that trichophilia, which is an obsession with female hair, should also be an offence?
Mr SPEAKER: Not an area for responsibility.
Hon Paula Bennett: Will she speak to the Minister of Justice about his appalling comments trivialising sexual assault in the workplace and ask him to publicly apologise to the hundreds, if not thousands, of women who feel hurt and stigmatised by his antiquated describing of "a pinch on the bottom" comments?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: As I've said earlier to this member, I agree with the Minister of Justice when he says indecent assault, including the case the member is referring to, is insidious and unacceptable. I believe that the Minister is doing very good work, including working very closely with my colleague the under-secretary for domestic and sexual violence, and ensuring that women have greater access to the type of justice and the type of support that they need from this Government, and I won't ask the Minister to apologise for raising issues with our broken criminal justice system.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she believe it's acceptable for the Minister of Justice to refer to a sexual assault in the workplace that stigmatised and traumatised a woman at work as merely a pinch on the bottom?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I have every sympathy with the woman who experienced this at work. We take it very seriously and, like the Minister of Justice, I think that that case is insidious and unacceptable.
• Question No. 7—Social Development
7. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Will low- and middle-income families be better off because of the Families Package; if so, how?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): People will be better off due to some of the changes already in place, including the accommodation supplement increases and the reinstatement of the independent earner tax credit as of 1 April this year. Further changes effective as of 1 July that will support New Zealanders to be better off include the introduction of the winter energy and Best Start payments; increasing the Working for Families tax credit and abatement thresholds; increasing paid parental leave; and increasing the rate of the orphans' benefit, unsupported child's benefit, and foster care allowance. An estimated 384,000 families with children will be made better off by an average of $75 per week because of this Government's Families Package.
Mr SPEAKER: I'm just going to say that that was a very extensive answer and I expect the supplementary answers, if there are any, to be short.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: How do these changes work in practice?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: There are lots of scenarios that could be used to show how the thousands of families will be better off. Here is one. The changes mean that after 1 July 2018, a couple with a five-year-old and a newborn born after 1 July living in Nelson earning $58,000 a year would be better off by $123.24 per week due to the Working for Families and Best Start changes, even when taking into account that their 1 April 2018 granted accommodation supplement will decrease by $4 when the 1 July measures kick in; $123.24 extra a week would mean a lot to many New Zealand families.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Has the Minister received feedback about the Families Package?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Yes—lots of positive feedback on a range of the measures in the Families Package. One person wrote in saying, "I wanted to sincerely thank you for the energy payment being made to my family members. This makes an enormous difference and relieves some worry from my mind about them not using heating to save money. It's honestly incredible." People are doing it tough but are starting to see a tangible—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think we've got the general idea.
• Question No. 8—Transport
8. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his statements, actions, and legislative drafting instructions on matters to do with fuel taxes?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): I do, including my statement that "The Opposition is asking us simultaneously to have less revenue, run less debt, and spend more. The maths [of that] just don't add up." National needs to come clean on what Auckland transport projects they would cut.
Jami-Lee Ross: Did he consider the formal modelling carried out by the Ministry of Transport to assess the possible impact of price spreading prior to issuing drafting instructions for the regional fuel tax bill?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, we did consider the advice around price spreading, and this Government has made very clear its attitude on price spreading to the fuel companies. We've initiated changes to the Commerce Act, which will give the Commerce Commission more teeth to deal with anti-competitive behaviour. My colleague the Hon Megan Woods has called in BP to make very clear our attitude on anti-competitive behaviour. I've directed officials to monitor price spreading. I think that the fuel companies are in no doubt about our attitude to this.
Jami-Lee Ross: Did he read the formal modelling carried out by the ministry to assess the possible impacts of price spreading?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What advice did he receive on the ability of the National Land Transport Programme to fund the promised projects when he came into office?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I was advised that the transport plan that I inherited contained $4.5 billion more spending than revenue, and an 8.2c a litre increase in petrol excise and road-user charges would be needed just to balance the books. That didn't include the billions of dollars of unfunded expressways promised by the Opposition during the last election.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What projects does the regional fuel tax fund?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The regional fuel tax will lead to $4.3 billion worth of investment—$900 million for roading improvements and new roads, $750 million for the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative busway, $700 million for Mill Road and Penlink, $550 million for road safety, $400 million for electric trains, $340 million for walking and cycling, $330 million for bus improvements, and an additional $300 million for other public transport infrastructure. Without the regional fuel tax, there would be no money for these projects.
Jami-Lee Ross: How does he reconcile his answers this afternoon that he, firstly, considered the modelling done on possible price spreading, and read the modelling on possible price spreading, when the answer given to the Transport and Infrastructure Committee for the Estimates, to the question, "What modelling has been done on the possible impact of price spreading as a result of regional fuel taxes?", was, "No formal modelling has been carried out."?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I'll have to go back and check the answer to that Estimates question. But my answer to the earlier question stands: there was advice on price spreading, I read it, and we subsequently made the decision to move ahead with the bill.
Jami-Lee Ross: Is he in the habit of stating in the House that he has read advice on an issue, when answers that—I've checked with the Clerk's Office—were provided by him to the select committee that say no formal modelling was carried out? How can he say he read something but tell the select committee it didn't exist?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I told the member I'll go back and check the advice that was given to the select committee. But I'm telling him again that there was advice on price spreading as an issue. I read it, and we subsequently made the decision to move ahead with the bill.
• Question No. 9—Environment
9. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment: Is the Government assisting the primary sector and regional councils in measuring nutrient use and greenhouse gas emissions; if so, how?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment): In Budget 2018, the coalition Government announced we will work together with the primary sector by boosting funding by $5 million over the next four years to improve the OVERSEER tool that helps measure nutrient use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Angie Warren-Clark: How will the increase in funding for OVERSEER improve farming practice?
Hon DAVID PARKER: As the Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon Damien O'Connor, has emphasised, improved—
Hon Nathan Guy: He's Agriculture. He's Minister of Agriculture.
Hon DAVID PARKER: —land management priorities. As the Minister of Agriculture, the Hon Damien O'Connor has emphasised, improved land management priorities are key to improving water quality. This funding opens up opportunities for farmers to utilise new technologies and techniques to improve water quality in our rivers and aquifers. The extra funding will enable quicker adoption of environmentally friendly and profitable farm practices, the inclusion of a wider range of land types and farming systems, and a more user-friendly interface for the software.
Angie Warren-Clark: Why is the coalition Government backing practical, science-based tools such as OVERSEER?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Because the Government wants to help farmers and growers, as well as councils, to manage their respective environmental responsibilities by improving land use so that we can clean up our rivers to enable young and old to swim in them safely.
• Question No. 10—Children
10. Hon ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Children: Does she stand by her ministry's policies and actions in finding caregivers for children in care?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister for Children): I do support the ministry's efforts to attract more caregivers. It is a priority area. Oranga Tamariki needs more caregivers, and there is a lot of work to both recruit and retain a diverse pool of caregivers who can provide safe and loving homes for tamariki. Since its establishment a year ago, the number of family, whānau, and non-family/whānau caregivers has increased by more than 150.
If the member is referring to the caregiver advertisement that was placed on TradeMe, it has been recognised and acknowledged that the level of information contained within the advert, while not breaching the individual's privacy, was an error in judgment. The chief executive has apologised. I know the staff are disappointed that they did not recognise this before posting the advert, and I am confident it will not be repeated.
Hon Alfred Ngaro: How does the Minister then reconcile her ministry's reported statement yesterday that it worked hard for three months to try and find the girl a home within her whānau, iwi, or hapū, when Ngāti Ruanui head, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, said, "We are constantly being told, as iwi, to be part of the solution, but it's bloody hard when they don't engage with us.", or iwi leader Marty Davis: "Just talk to us in the first instance and there are a number of things we can do when we actually talk with each other."?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: My understanding from the chief executive is that conversations had been taking place with members of that particular iwi over the last three months. It would appear that there were other members of the iwi that had not been part of that conversation—we will seek to rectify that immediately.
Hon Alfred Ngaro: How does the Minister reconcile the comments from the CEO about a TradeMe advertisement for a foster family that "we acted immediately to take down [that] information.", when two of the iwi leaders said that Oranga Tamariki did not remove the advertisement for at least 1½ days after the complaint was first laid?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I thank the member for the information. It had not been drawn to my attention before this moment. I will go and see if I can clarify the situation now that I have that information.
Hon Alfred Ngaro: How does the Minister reconcile her ministry's comments by her CEO, who said, "We've now engaged with the appropriate iwi.", when as of today and this afternoon neither iwi Ngā Rauru or Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi have been engaged at all?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I thank the member for his question. That is contrary to the information that I have been given. I will now take his comments back and I will seek to clarify.
Hon Alfred Ngaro: When her ministry's CEO said, "We've now engaged with the appropriate iwi, which is fantastic. That's going to create more opportunities for children that we didn't have before we made the mistake.", does she believe that making mistakes is the ideal way to create more opportunities for children?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I thank the member for his question. Oranga Tamariki was set up under the previous Government, and quite rightly so—and quite rightly so. It was set up to change the way we dealt with the complex situations for New Zealand's children. Part of that is changing the way that we did things from how we did them before. Sometimes, mistakes will happen. This is one of those mistakes. It will be rectified, but Oranga Tamariki must change the way that we look after our children and our young people in this country because if we keep doing what we did before, we will keep getting the negative outcomes we got before.
Hon Alfred Ngaro: Will the Minister, then, change the way and the appropriateness of operating, and herself as the Minister taking leadership, to contact the iwi leaders such as Marty Davis, who in his comments says, "The TradeMe site, by its very name, suggests a commodity as being sold, bought, or swapped. Some may see that with this little child."—will she take leadership, contact them, apologise personally for the mistake that was made?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I thank the member for his question. Can I just clarify that this is not the first time that TradeMe has been used and the job section of TradeMe has been used. It is a practice that actually started under the previous administration. However, to go to the substance of the member's question, I have no difficulty whatsoever ringing the iwi in particular, having a conversation about how myself and the ministry can create stronger relationships for the better outcomes for the children and the young people of Aotearoa New Zealand.
• Question No. 11—Ethnic Communities
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I note the Minister is not in the House and I seek leave for the question to be deferred, when the Minister is present next Tuesday.
Mr SPEAKER: OK, and I want some clarification. Is the member trying for an extra question, or just holding it back.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Just transferring the question.
Mr SPEAKER: And the member wants an extra question when the Minister's next here. Is there any objection to that? Yes, there is.
11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for Ethnic Communities: Are the statements in the Onehunga Community News that "The Office of Ethnic Communities is moving into premises in Onehunga, which will be shared with list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan." and the quote by her parliamentary under-secretary saying, "We've boosted support that we're providing in terms of connecting with ethnic communities, so we have more staff members working in our ethnic communities' outreach teams.", correct?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister for Ethnic Communities: On behalf of the Minister for Ethnic Communities, in answer to the first quotation the member has used, no. In answer to the second quotation that the member used in his question, I have no ministerial responsibility for Parliamentary Service's funded staff or the comments that MPs make about them.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Did the parliamentary under-secretary tell the Onehunga Community News that the new premises included the Office of Ethnic Communities?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm advised no.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can the Government claim that the Onehunga Community News report is the fault of the publication, when the editor has stated that no correction will be made to the story, as it is consistent with her recording of the interview with her parliamentary under-secretary and Government colleagues, or is the Government saying that the editor is being untruthful?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm not saying that the editor is being untruthful. I am saying that the editor has confused two different issues. There are Parliamentary Service staff employed under the Labour Party Parliamentary Service's allocation, for which I have no ministerial responsibility, who are doing ethnic community outreach, who are in that office. There are no staff from the Office of Ethnic Communities working in that office. That would be inappropriate. Nor has there been any suggestion that there would be staff from the core Public Service working in that office.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why, if the parliamentary under-secretary had no intention to mislead that there was anything other than Parliamentary Service staff, did the parliamentary under-secretary specifically promote the Office of Ethnic Affairs and the provision of funds in the Budget for expanding the staff of the Office of Ethnic Affairs at those premises?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I reject the assertion in the member's question. I have the article in front of me, and it is abundantly clear from reading the direct quotes of the member of Parliament who has made them that he was speaking of Parliamentary Service staff and not staff of the Office of Ethnic Communities.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will she ensure that the parliamentary under-secretary Michael Wood respects the political neutrality of the Office of Ethnic Communities and stops using the role to promote the Labour Party?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Despite the numerous denials from this Government, that member is now making a very serious allegation, and he cannot substantiate it, and there's a more appropriate place if he thinks that's right.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Speaking to the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I don't need any further help with this one. I don't think, in my listening to the question, the member had suggested that Mr Wood had acted inappropriately. I think the request was: did he not? So Chris Hipkins can answer the question.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have received no evidence to suggest that he has done so.
• Question No. 12—Trade and Export Growth
12. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: What announcements has the Government made regarding trade with the European Union?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Trade and Export Growth): Today the Government officially launched negotiations for a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmström. The EU is already the third largest trading partner with two-way trade worth more than $20 billion. A free-trade agreement will increase trade substantially, bringing significant economic gains for New Zealand and the European Union. Wages, business profits, and the New Zealand standard of living will rise. Perhaps as importantly, it's critical to our interests that New Zealand works together with like-minded countries to combat the rising tide of protectionism around the world, and that's what this coalition Government is doing.
Mark Patterson: How has the coalition Government got trade negotiations with the EU started?
Hon DAVID PARKER: This coalition Government has, for a start, worked to rebuild public support and confidence in trade needed at home after the past Government abandoned bipartisanship. The Prime Minister deserves significant credit, particularly in respect of land sales, actually. The Prime Minister deserves significant credit for getting the negotiations across the line by advocating strongly for New Zealand's interest in her meetings with President Macron and Chancellor Merkel. European leaders were, clearly, receptive to our leader articulating the values that New Zealand shares with the EU. We're fortunate to have a Prime Minister who represents New Zealand so effectively on the world stage.
Mark Patterson: How will a potential EU - New Zealand FTA benefit New Zealand's environment, economy, and workers?
Hon DAVID PARKER: We expect a high-quality agreement which will give greater market access for New Zealand's exports, both goods and services—
Hon David Bennett: Except dairy and beef.
Hon DAVID PARKER: —and that it'll include—he says except dairy and beef. Well, let's just wait and see, Mr Bennett. We might do better than your hapless crowd on that side. The EU itself forecasts the agreement could add $2 billion a year to the New Zealand economy—or billions a year to the economy—and increase wages for New Zealand workers. The launch of these negotiations with the European Union is yet another example of this coalition Government building the foundations for a sustainable, fair, high-wage, high value economy