Parliament: Questions and Answers - September 18
TUESDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2018
The Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Assistant Whip—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Following on from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's job ads being up 7 percent on a year ago, record positive terms of trade, strong retail card spending, and the growing ANZ Truckometer, we can see a tangible example of our healthy economy on our skylines. On Sunday, Rider Levett Bucknall released its Crane Index Q3 2018, which highlighted strong growth in New Zealand's construction industry. The index is regarded as a good measure of the current state of the construction industry's workload and in New Zealand, in this quarter, showed a record high. As the company themselves put it—
Chris Bishop: How's the GDP number?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: —the level of construction activity remains high across the country due to "strong underlying demand across nearly all sectors" and is "showing no signs of tailing off.", Mr Bishop. This is yet more real data which shows an economy that is moving along at a solid pace.
Kiritapu Allan: What do the reports say about construction in Auckland?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, the report shows the number of cranes in Auckland is also a record result, increasing to 90. New building work put in place increased 12.4 percent to $7 billion as a result of significant increases in both residential and non-residential work. In addition, new building consents in Auckland are also not slowing down, with the number of consents increasing 8.7 percent in financial year 2018. This evidence demonstrates the level of investment and confidence in the Auckland construction market.
Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen comparing the New Zealand economy with its overseas counterparts?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On Friday, the New Zealand Herald published a piece from Brian Fallow, which showed that despite the positive attention the US economy has been getting, New Zealand's economic outlook is actually better. Mr Fallow pointed out that annual average economic growth in the US and New Zealand is expected to run at about the same rate this year, but, "Beyond that, New Zealand's forecast is sunnier." Real wage growth is higher in New Zealand, inflation and wholesale interest rates are lower in New Zealand, and the US Government deficit is almost $1 trillion while we are running sustainable surpluses. This is a useful comparison to demonstrate the relative strength of the New Zealand economy and that while we are transitioning to a more productive and sustainable growth path, we remain competitive on the world stage.
Hon Paula Bennett: Is that the GDP figures? Is that the GDP figures?
David Seymour: Does the Government—
SPEAKER: Order! Can the member resume his seat. Just—all right? We've settled down.
David Seymour: Does the Government have any more plans to talk up the dollar?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I would expect that as people look at the strong economy that we have in New Zealand, the dollar will reflect that, but we do know that there are movements in the dollar all day, every day.
David Seymour: Why does the Minister suppose that the dollar has weakened so much lately, at the same times as terms of trade have strengthened?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The New Zealand dollar trades in a very competitive global market, and I think some of the forces from the US economy may have quite a bit to do with the movement in the New Zealand dollar.
2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Have she and her Ministers lived up to the commitment—
SPEAKER: Order! I think it's "have".
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Right. Sorry, Mr Speaker. Has she and her—
SPEAKER: No. Order! Take the sheet, I think. Thank you.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, that's what I said, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: No, you said "has", not "have".
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Have she and her Ministers lived up to the commitment to "be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had" in respect of the process for appointing the Government's Chief Technology Officer?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. As has been stated at the time, Clare Curran's failure to accurately answer parliamentary questions about her meeting with Mr Handley did not meet my or the former Minister's expectation. That is why I accepted her resignation from her open Government responsibilities.
Hon Simon Bridges: What were the communications between herself and Clare Curran on the matter of the Government's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) appointment, which were confirmed to have taken place by the State Services minister, Chris Hipkins, in Parliament last Thursday?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check directly, but my recollection is—because, of course, the CTO role was designed to report directly to the Minister but also to have some reporting lines to myself as Prime Minister—that the Minister kept me up to date generally with the process, but only as is would have been appropriate.
Hon Simon Bridges: Were the communications between herself and Clare Curran about the Chief Technology Officer role in the form of emails, texts, conversations, or were they across multiple platforms, and if so, which?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In order to answer that with accuracy I would need to go back and check across all those platforms.
Hon Simon Bridges: What was the content of the communication between herself and Clare Curran on the appointment of Chief Technology Officer?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I referred to in my second answer, the Minister kept me abreast generally with the process she was undertaking, because of the anticipated reporting lines, but it was only as appropriate and as Ministers do, from time to time, on significant appointments.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was there an email between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran by way of private Gmail account?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check any of these questions. I believe that there are Official Information Act requests that have gone into the Minister. Minister Curran has made sure that all of her Gmails have been handed over to the Chief Archivist, which means that they will be subject to the Public Records Act and the Official Information Act. And of course, the Official Information Act covers all my correspondence as well.
Hon Simon Bridges: Given I'm asking the Prime Minister about direct communications by private Gmail between her and her former Minister, does she really expect us to take it that she can't tell us today?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I'm saying to the House is I am happy to answer those questions in detail if the member gives me notice so that I can make sure that I answer them with accuracy. That, I think, is probably fair enough, given that as Prime Minister I will receive hundreds of emails, a number of text messages, and the member's asking me to recall with some specificity about both.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Prime Minister used private Gmail with Clare Curran?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, primarily I conduct my business across my parliamentary accounts, but I want to ensure that I answer the member with accuracy, so if he wishes to put them down in detail, then I will do so.
Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister recall the following quote: "I have quite a number of emails but because I have my electorate office and others I tend to use a private email address."—made by John Key, the former National Party Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I have seen that statement, and that is why I have consistently told the House the most important piece of information here is that all of those forms of communication—be they LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, text message—are covered by the Official Information Act, because it is mode-neutral, to ensure that we can document to this House where all of that work takes place. That's exactly what the former leader of the National Party said himself.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has she had any conversations, emails, or texts with Derek Handley since she's been Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to answer with some accuracy, I would want to go back. [Interruption]
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My best recollection is that I received, some months ago, a text from Mr Handley mentioning the Chief Technology Officer role, which I do not recall directly engaging with, as that would not have been appropriate.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister contemplated putting the leader of the National Party out of his misery by leaking the email?
SPEAKER: Further supplementary?
Hon Simon Bridges: Were the conversations, emails, or texts with Mr Handley about the role of the Government's Chief Technology Officer, and if so, what was discussed?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can rule out any direct verbal communication. I haven't spoken with Mr Handley in at least a year, maybe two. As I say, my best recollection is I received a text message that I didn't directly engage in. For all other platforms, I would want to go back and check, but I don't recall directly communicating in regards to that role.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did she agree to Derek Handley being offered the job of the Government's Chief Technology Officer last month, noting that the Cabinet minute of last December states that the appointment would be made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Government Digital Services?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The appointment went to the Cabinet appointments and honours committee (APH), where all members of APH make a collective decision. I, of course, am a member of APH where that decision was made. I declared at that meeting my knowledge of Mr Handley.
• Question No. 3—Prime
3. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's policies, statements, and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to increase the refugee quota to 1,500 a year in this term of Government, as previously announced by her Minister, and if not, what is the Government's policy?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have said many times before, when we've made a decision as a Cabinet, that policy will be released. I know that the member is hotly anticipating the decision.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to repeal the three-strikes law, as previously announced by her Minister; if not, what is her Government's policy on this law?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This Government's policy is to have an effective justice system, which, unfortunately, we lost under that last Government. We have an increasing prison population and a static crime rate, and that's why Minister Andrew Little is doing excellent work alongside Minister Kelvin Davis to improve rehabilitation, get the prison population down—which they are already doing—and make our communities safer.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to pass the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, as approved by all of Cabinet and reported back to select committee; if not, what changes are being made to the bill?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the Deputy Prime Minister himself has said in this House, the bill will pass. When it does, we look forward to bringing balance back to the workplace, and making sure that we have a fair go for workers and acknowledge the good work employers are doing to try and lift wages at the same time.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her Deputy Prime Minister's insistence yesterday that this Government was not Labour-led?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: While that member's caught up on semantics, this Government is proud that a recent survey said that the people of New Zealand had greater confidence in us than in that last Government, and I don't think they particularly care about descriptors and what was on a website. We have the support of New Zealand. That's why we're here and you're over there.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm going to point out to the right honourable Prime Minister—when she's finished the other conversation—that I'm here, and she doesn't refer to me.
Hon Simon Bridges: Speaking of semantics, why are there over 50 references by her Ministers in this Parliament to it being a Labour-led Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because we're in Government and you're not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, as evidence to the cooperative nature of this coalition, if she is aware of it being a fact that since the election—in less than 11 months—1,055 decisions have been made of unity and, since Monday's Cabinet, more since?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I understand that to be the case, which is an incredible list of achievements that far outstrips anything that last Government achieved, I would say, in an entire nine years.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why did she say yesterday, in respect of the phrase "Labour-led Government", "I've never used that phrase,", when Hansard records her using it more than a dozen times as Prime Minister, right in that seat?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am the leader of the Labour Party. I don't think anyone on this side of the House has lost sight of that. I am also the Prime Minister of a Government that has a coalition partner and a confidence and supply partner, and I am proud of all of them.
Hon Simon Bridges: When the Prime Minister commented on GDP on Hosking's show this morning, was the reason she made the mistake that she did because she was distracted by managing coalition differences in her Labour-led Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. It's not the first time that Mike Hosking and I have not listened to each other.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know the difference between GDP and Crown financial statements?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did she know at 8 a.m. this morning?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. Next question.
Hon Simon Bridges: How will her Budget responsibility rules (BRRs) impact on GDP?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In our minds, of course, it will support them. We need to make sure that we're delivering responsible governance, and our BRRs were delivered on in the last Budget and continue to show that we're able to deliver surpluses whilst maintaining Crown spending at around 30 percent and debt to a level of 20 percent.
• Question No.
4. Hon JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Defence: Is it his intention to continue the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq beyond 2019?
Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Ultimately, those decisions are for Cabinet to make. This Government will undertake a strategic reassessment in early 2019. All options will be on the table at that point in time. Those decisions will be made around the strategic situation, our values, our independent foreign policy, and how we think that this Government might make a difference to the lives of the Iraqi people.
Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that continued military involvement of outside forces has actually further destabilised the region and made it easier for terror groups to recruit and has led to an increase in violence rather than a decrease?
Hon RON MARK: No, we don't. We're confident that the independent, principles-based decision that Cabinet made yesterday was the right thing to do. I think I would add that for Iraq to become a prosperous nation once again, for its people to enjoy a quality of life that we enjoy, and for them to enjoy the well-being and the support of a good Government such as we enjoy, they need security. Security is paramount to the well-being of the people of Iraq, and I think that is the greatest contribution we're able to make at this time. But, again, come next year, this Government will reassess the situation.
Hon James Shaw: Does he agree that if New Zealand were to play a role beyond 2019, then the New Zealand public would rather it be focused on building schools and roads and hospitals rather than a seemingly never-ending military engagement?
Hon RON MARK: Mr Speaker, we understand that that is the view of some people, and we would share those views that ultimately that is where we would like Iraq to be. Right now the most important thing is to guarantee security. Right now where we can make a strong contribution, along with our Australian partners, is to improve the quality of the security forces there and thereby lend greater security. For NGOs to be able to deliver to those people, they need security. We've seen examples in Sudan where the wonderful efforts of NGOs have been interdicted by the lack of security. I would also point out that in Afghanistan alone this Government over the years since 2001 has put in over $100 million in aid. There's another $2 million to the UN Development Programme and there is about $3.5 million going into the UN Development Programme around technical assistance for de-mining support.
Hon James Shaw: Well, would he agree that the money that we spend on these military deployments would be better spent on humanitarian aid and reconstruction?
Hon RON MARK: I guess a quick add-up of the cost of all of the deployments that the Government has just announced comes to a grand total of about $31.4 million, bearing in mind that a couple of those deployments are for two years, not one year. Ultimately, the Government will in time—and I think next year—look at how we can make a contribution. It may well be that there may not be a military contribution; the focus may be on humanitarian assistance. Of course we'd like to build hospitals. Of course we'd like to help build schools. Of course we'd like to help re-establish the infrastructure. Iraq, in particular, is looking at a $100 billion bill for reconstruction, but $31.4 million is not going to build a new school, it's not going to build a new hospital, and it's not going to rebuild the infrastructure. It can make a substantive difference to the NGOs who are delivering that sort of support and thereby enhancing security.
• Question No.
5. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that he would like "less of a focus on celebrating economic growth that is driven by population increase"; if so, will he be disappointed if GDP per capita growth figures released by Statistics New Zealand on Thursday are lower than 1.6 percent, its average since 2012?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I stand by my full statement that the member is quoting from: "I favour more investment in New Zealand going towards the productive side of the economy and less of a focus on celebrating economic growth that is driven by population increase and people selling houses to each other, which is what we saw for the last nine years." In answer to the second part of the question, I will await the quarterly results before passing judgment.
Hon Amy Adams: Has he also been given a hint on the upcoming GDP numbers, as the Prime Minister said this morning that she had?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No.
Hon Amy Adams: Has he seen reports this morning that the New Zealand dollar gained after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was "pretty pleased with the upcoming GDP numbers"?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The New Zealand dollar has fluctuated throughout the morning, as it does on most days. I've also seen the Prime Minister's statement that she was referencing the unaudited Government statements.
Hon Amy Adams: Does he think it's acceptable for any core economic statistics to be indicated to the market ahead of their official release?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There is an awful lot of speculation about economic statistics. We see new economic statistics listed every day, and, as with every previous Prime Minister and finance Minister, we, of course, get material from Treasury on a regular basis before it's announced.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: For the benefit of the primary questioner, would he tell her the—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: difference between—
SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to ask the Deputy Prime Minister to start that question again. We don't do things for the benefit of individual members in here.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I'm always trying to be helpful, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Thank you.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister of Finance point out the great difference there is between the Crown financial accounts and basic GDP figures?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely. So the Crown financial accounts look back over the previous year, and it will be an interesting occasion when they are released. What the GDP figures will show us is how things have been going in the quarter that finished at the end of June. I'm sure the member opposite will be very interested to hear that.
Hon Amy Adams: Does the Minister consider that it's part of his job as the Minister of Finance to make sure that the Prime Minister knows the difference between GDP and core Crown accounts?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Prime Minister certainly knows the difference between those things, as I do. But, you know, everybody makes mistakes, including the member, who put out a press release yesterday telling us that the Government's anti-growth policies are hurting business confidence, and one that also said that New Zealand is now a very highly taxed economy—yet we're 34th out of 35 in terms of tax wedge. So everyone makes mistakes, Ms Adams.
Hon Amy Adams: Is it the case that this sort of mistake by the Prime Minister on something as basic as knowing the difference between GDP numbers and the Crown's own accounts is one of the reasons that business confidence is now at a 10-year low?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Prime Minister is very clear on the difference between those two things. She is also extremely clear on the fact that what we are striving towards is an economy that actually delivers to New Zealanders higher wages and better living standards. I, for one, know that the Prime Minister is not satisfied with GDP growth that saw New Zealand described as having the worst homelessness in the world. We know we can do better on this side of the House, and we will do better.
• Question No.
6—Housing and Urban
6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: How many KiwiBuild homes has the Labour-led Government completed to date, and how many will be completed by 1 July 2019?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The Government aims to build 1,000 KiwiBuild homes by 1 July 2019, ramping up to 5,000 in 2019-20 and 10,000 in 2020-21. The first 18 KiwiBuild homes are completed, and the ballot is open for young families. I'm very glad to say there's been immense interest in these homes, with more than 500 people going to the open home in the first weekend.
Hon Judith Collins: Is it correct that the Mount Roskill development will cost $4 billion to develop over 15 years, with roughly a quarter of the houses being KiwiBuild?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I haven't seen the origin of the $4 billion figure—it may be a gross figure—but, as I've pointed out to the member before, that development will wash its face. It will break even over time, and in the process—over a 10-year period—we will build 10,000 new homes in that community, with more than 2,400 of them being affordable KiwiBuild homes for young families. People in that community have been waiting years and years to have a Government that will actually build affordable homes for young Kiwi families.
Hon Judith Collins: What is the cost of the KiwiBuild component of the Mount Roskill development?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I urge the member to do the maths. If you've got 2,400 homes that are being sold within the Auckland KiwiBuild price caps—I leave the member to work that out. There is no subsidy in the KiwiBuild homes. There is no subsidy. We are simply choosing to build affordable homes, that people desperately need.
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question's pretty clear: what's the cost of the KiwiBuild component of the Mount Roskill development? This follows on from a question where the Minister says he doesn't know the origin of the $4 billion cost for Mount Roskill, when he was actually the origin of the $4 billion cost—
SPEAKER: Can the member come to the point of order?
Hon Judith Collins: He should address the question. I don't believe he has.
SPEAKER: He not only addressed it but he answered it.
Hon Judith Collins: What is the time line of the KiwiBuild component of the Mount Roskill development?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I have to say, I appreciate the member's concern for the speedy progress that is being made in the Mount Roskill development. The houses are actually already being built. There is demolition under way, infrastructure is being laid on the ground, State houses are being built, and KiwiBuild houses are being built. And we're going to roll out that build programme in Mount Roskill around the construction of the light rail line which is going to serve that community, and in 10 years' time, we will have built 10,000 new homes in that community.
Hon Judith Collins: If the Minister doesn't know the cost of the KiwiBuild development at Mount Roskill, the time line for the KiwiBuild development in Mount Roskill, and doesn't know where he got the $4 billion figure he was throwing around last week about Mount Roskill, then why should anybody think he's going to do anything other than grin his way through while these poor houses are not being built?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, needless to say, I reject every premise in that member's question, and I would point out—if she's so concerned about public confidence, I invite her to read the Ipsos survey results, which came out last week, that said that 50 percent of New Zealanders regarded housing and the housing crisis as being the major issue of concern for this country. Twice as many people said that they had confidence in our Government's work on the housing crisis than the performance of the old Government.
• Question No. 7—State
7. VIRGINIA ANDERSEN (Labour) to the Minister of State Services: Is the Government working to improve and modernise the way that the Public Service operates; if so, how?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of State Services): Yes, the Government is embarking on the most significant reform of New Zealand's Public Service in 30 years. We want to see a Public Service that operates as one joined-up system to tackle the big, complex challenges facing New Zealand, and we want much more convenient public services that put citizens at the centre of service delivery.
Virginia Andersen: What's a practical example of how this is likely to make a difference for the average New Zealander?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: One practical example of how public services can be improved is during significant life events. There are at least a dozen occasions in somebody's life where they require major interactions with the Government: the birth of a child, moving house, moving jobs, retirement, the death of a close family member, to name some examples. These are all examples of where having one single contact with the Government would be much better for citizens.
Virginia Andersen: How are the working lives of public servants likely to be improved?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: We're committed to an impartial, politically neutral Public Service that will enable successive Governments to tackle the big challenges New Zealand faces, and the reform process will reflect that. Public servants will have greater clarity around their roles, and, importantly, obstacles to them working together in a connected way to provide better public services to New Zealanders will be broken down.
• Question No.
Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney): Has he seen the quote "Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool's errand, and that training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?", and does he agree with it?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the member read the question, please? Read it again.
8. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Defence: Has he seen the quote "Does he not realise that he sent our brave New Zealand soldiers to Iraq on a fool's errand, and the training the Iraqi Army to stand and fight is literally Mission: Impossible?"; if so, does he agree with it?
Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Yes, I recognise that quote.
SPEAKER: No. The member will finish answering the question.
Hon RON MARK: Yes, I recognise that quote, and on the information I had at the time, I still stand by that statement.
Hon Mark Mitchell: How does the Minister reconcile his statement on Morning Report today that there was never any attempt by the previous Government to work across parties, when New Zealand First declined a briefing, an invitation, to visit troops in Iraq with Gerry Brownlee, Andrew Little, and myself in 2016?
Hon RON MARK: I have never received an invitation from Mr Brownlee or from that member on any visit, and, in fact, that member can enlighten people about the conversation that he and I had on the telephone where that member apologised for not inviting me.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to whether it's a fact that, contrary to being asked, with respect to consultation, the troops were already there before the invitation was sent to the New Zealand First Party in the first place?
SPEAKER: Order! That is not something the current Minister has responsibility for.
Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears to be some confusion. The Minister stood up and said that he'd never personally received an invitation—and I was very clear about the fact that the invitation went to New Zealand First—and the Deputy Prime Minister then stood up and contradicted him and said that we did receive an invitation. Which is correct?
SPEAKER: Well, is that a point of order?
Hon Mark Mitchell: Yes.
SPEAKER: You're not serious? Stand up and ask a supplementary, if the member wants to.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Why didn't the Minister consult with or brief either the New Zealand National Party or the ACT Party before a decision was made to deploy our New Zealand Defence Force men and women into theatres of war?
Hon RON MARK: On numerous occasions, I have taken National Party representatives with me. In fact, I took Mr Simon O'Connor into Iraq and into Afghanistan. In those conversations that we had on that trip, it became very apparent and very clear to me what the National Party's view was on the deployment. In fact, one would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that the National Party supported a continuation of that deployment, unless, of course, it's just now changed its mind.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Has the Minister consulted with the ACT Party?
Hon RON MARK: No, I have not had consultation, but I would say this to that member also, and I would say it to Mr Seymour: the way that we have operated my office is that we make the door wide open. In fact, the member has been into my office for a briefing.
David Seymour: I'll be right over.
Hon RON MARK: We will always keep the door open, and I am fully ready, at any time, Mr Seymour, to give a full background briefing. Members of the National Party sat in on the bilateral conversations with the Prime Minister of Iraq. They sat in on the bilaterals with the Minister of Defence of Iraq and visited Afghanistan and sat in on the bilaterals with the NATO ambassador to Afghanistan. A member of the National Party has participated at all levels of those conversations and has made it very clear to me that the National Party support it. To Mr Seymour: the door's open. I apologise for not getting round to you. I would have done that after the announcement.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Mr Speaker, can I just seek some guidance from you, because—
SPEAKER: No, you can't. The member can ask a supplementary question or, if he has a real point of order, he can do it, but if he trifles with me again, he'll be losing his supplementary.
Hon Mark Mitchell: It is a point of order, because—
SPEAKER: Well, the way the member does it is stand up and say, "Point of Order!"
Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order is simply this: the Minister is talking about taking other members away on trips. That's not the question. The question was around consultation with Opposition parties before decisions are made on deploying New Zealand Defence Force men and women.
SPEAKER: Between the last two supplementaries, that has been very clearly answered.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Why hasn't he applied his own high standards to himself in terms of a cross-party consultation and consensus in an MMP environment?
Hon RON MARK: Right at the outset of being sworn in as Minister, I think I made it very, very clear that I sought, for the benefit of the men and women in uniform, to gain as wide a cross-party consensus on defence matters as we possibly can. It is for that reason that we have gone out of our way to invite National Party representatives to attend briefings. It's for that reason that I have never refused a request from the Hon Paula Bennett. I think there are about two or three National Party members who've sought permission to go on to military bases and talk with Defence Force personnel, unlike what happened to me when I was specifically blocked by the National Government at the time.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member's actually not responsibly for that as Minister.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Did the Minister of Defence ever contact the previous Minister of Defence asking him for support to get access to military bases in the United States because he'd been blocked, and the previous Minister of Defence assisted that member in getting access to those bases?
SPEAKER: Order! There's no ministerial responsibility for discussions that were had before this Minister was Minister.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is, however, a long tradition, Mr Speaker, that matters that arise during question time from answers from Ministers may in fact lead to further supplementaries. Now, the Hon Ron Mark has just made a completely ridiculous comment in the House that he cannot sustain and is simply not the truth. The question the Hon Mark Mitchell seeks to ask is an opportunity for the Hon Ron Mark to set the record right, because he was clearly mistaken in his earlier, outrageous answer.
SPEAKER: Well, the member is absolutely aware that the area that was being discussed is something that is outside the Hon Ron Mark's area of ministerial responsibility. If there is a view that the answer was in error, if it was deliberately in error, then I'm sure I will receive a letter on that matter, and if it was a matter which was accidentally in error, I'm sure that the member concerned will correct his answer.
Hon RON MARK: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I acknowledge and I want to thank Mr Mitchell. It slipped my mind—
SPEAKER: Order! Does the member want to make a personal explanation?
Hon RON MARK: Yes.
SPEAKER: Right. The Hon Ron Mark has sought leave to make a personal explanation. I expect it is to correct an answer.
Hon RON MARK: Correct, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Is there any objection? There appears to be none.
Hon RON MARK: Thank you. I just wish to correct that answer, and I thank the member for reminding me. That member, when he was the Minister of Defence, did assist me to visit the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Luke Air Force Base on a private visit, just as I assisted him.
• Question No. 9—Workplace Relations and
9. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Is he confident the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, as reported back by the select committee, has the support of a parliamentary majority?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Yes, and I want to express my thanks to our coalition and confidence and supply partners, who have helped us, and continue to help us, to shape and deliver a bill that restores workers' rights and strengthens their bargaining position, something that we can all—
SPEAKER: Order! The member's finished his answer. He probably finished it after one word.
Hon Scott Simpson: Was the Deputy Prime Minister, then, correct when he said yesterday it was "not the fact" that the Employment Relations Amendment Bill had been agreed to by Cabinet?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The bill as introduced was agreed to by Cabinet. Should the Government see any opportunities to improve the bill in the future, that will be a decision of Cabinet also.
Hon Scott Simpson: So when the Minister took the employment relations reforms to Cabinet in the first 100 days of the Labour-led Government, a bill that would, amongst other things, take away the 90-day trials, allow union access to business premises without—
Hon Scott Simpson: May I rephrase, Mr Speaker?
SPEAKER: I think the member can start again, and it's going to be quite a lot shorter.
Hon Scott Simpson: Thank you, Mr Speaker. So when the Minister took the employment relations reforms to Cabinet, did the Deputy Prime Minister and the rest of New Zealand First's Cabinet members support it?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As a Government that is focused on growing an economy that is growing and working for all of us—
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: —yes.
SPEAKER: Order! I'm now going to award the Opposition two extra supplementaries, and I'm going to ask the Minister to focus on answering the question in future.
Hon Scott Simpson: Sorry, I'm to ask the question again, or—
SPEAKER: No, he did answer it in the end, but he gave superfluous, not relevant material.
Hon Scott Simpson: A further supplementary, then, Mr Speaker: what parts of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill are still being negotiated with the New Zealand First Party, or is he not involved with negotiations that would make changes to his own bill?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The bill as returned from the Education and Workforce Committee is what I intend to bring before the House for second reading. If the Government sees an opportunity to improve the bill, that will occur at the committee of the whole House, and that will be a decision of Cabinet.
Kieran McAnulty: How does this bill fit in with the Government's objective to grow and share New Zealand's prosperity more fairly?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: This bill provides some of the foundations upon which that objective can be met and restores the rights of Kiwi workers that existed under the previous Labour Government, which was a time of sustained economic growth in New Zealand.
Hon Scott Simpson: If the point of making changes to the bill at this stage of the parliamentary process is, as the Deputy Prime Minister says, to "pay attention to the public", why were the changes not made by the select committee, which had a Government majority and is tasked with listening to all submitters?
SPEAKER: Order! That's not an area that the Minister has responsibility for.
Hon Scott Simpson: With regard to the Labour-led Government's proposed industrial relations legislation, at what point do actions undermining the principles of Cabinet collective responsibility, coalition stability, and cohesion cease being merely disloyalty and become workplace bullying?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order, My Speaker.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: He's just mischief-making.
SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. That is not a question which is either in order or the responsibility of this Minister. Does the member have a further supplementary?
Hon Scott Simpson: Is he concerned that the employment relations reforms were originally supported by the Deputy Prime Minister through Cabinet, were supported by a select committee—sorry, I've misspoken, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Well, the member can start again. It's a bit of a habit we're getting into today.
Hon Scott Simpson: Thank you very much for your patience. Is he concerned that the employment relations reforms were originally supported by the Deputy Prime Minister through Cabinet and were supported by a select committee, which had a majority of Government MPs, including a New Zealand First MP, but are now being used as a political bargaining chip by the Deputy Prime Minister?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last three questions from that member are against the Standing Orders, and, with the greatest of respect—he's been around for a little time—he should not turn this into amateur hour with his baseless attack on the parliamentary process.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Speaker, I appreciate your rulings in the instance of the first two questions, where, clearly, there was no ministerial responsibility as the question was asked. But it is the responsibility of a Minister to shepherd bills through the House, particularly once they have gone into the process. So to ask someone—a Minister responsible—about concerns they may have about potential derailing of original intentions is perfectly legitimate. And I would suggest too that in this newly created environment of MMP—which, apparently the Deputy Prime Minister understands far greater than the rest of us—such a question is perfectly acceptable.
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The only thing that concerns me about the passage of this bill through the House is the way in which the Opposition, that does not have a substantive argument to make against the legislation, has resorted to fearmongering and misleading the business community and the public of New Zealand in an attempt to make a political point.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That can't be an answer to the question. That cannot possibly be an answer to the question. To simply—
SPEAKER: The member was asked—the member will resume his seat. At the tail-end of the question, the Minister was asked about his concerns was regard to the bill. He's indicated what his concerns are.
• Question No. 10—Pacific
10. ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Pacific Peoples: What recent announcements have been made that highlight the progress of Pacific women in leadership positions?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Associate Minister for Pacific Peoples): This morning, members across the House celebrated 125 years of suffrage by honouring 11 Pacific women who have been recognised in this year's Queen's Birthday and New Year's honours. Among the group was our very first Pacific woman in Parliament, Dame Luamanuvao Winnie Laban. On top of this, recently there have been several significant public appointments and acknowledgments of Pacific women across different sectors, including Fepuleai Margie Apa, appointed CEO for the Counties Manukau District Health Board, the first Pacific CEO of a health board; Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga, last week awarded the Prime Minister's Supreme Award for Excellence in Tertiary Teaching; and Tessa Temata, the first Pacific person appointed high commissioner to her country of heritage, the Cook Islands—a great example of the Pacific reset in action.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What is significant about these appointments and achievements?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Having diverse women represented at the most senior levels of influence and decision making is crucial to advancing the priorities and aspirations of all women in New Zealand. While I'm proud of how far we've come, there is still much to do. For Pacific women, the pay gap is wider, there is a higher percentage in lower-skilled work, and they are still too often absent from decision-making tables. However, things are changing. This Government's commitment to things like pay equity, access to upskilling and training, support for families, and diversifying representation at decision-making tables will make a difference to further advancing Pacific women.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: Why is it important that Pacific women are supported into leadership positions here in Aotearoa and in the Pacific region?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: An initiative led by the Australian Government to grow women leaders in the Pacific shows that supporting women's leadership is key to reducing poverty; promoting economic growth and democracy; and increasing the well-being of women, girls, and their families. This research was in reference to the Pacific, but the reality is New Zealand shares many of the challenges our wider region experiences. Our country is sure to go from strength to strength when we are able to truly embrace the value of our shared Pacific heritage, the people who we share it with, and the contribution that they make. This is important not only for the 300,000 Pacific people who call New Zealand home but for all New Zealanders.
• Question No. 11—State
11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of State Services: What was the date of all communications between Ministers and Derek Handley regarding the appointment of the Government's Chief Technology Officer in addition to those publically released by the previous Minister for Government Digital Services and up to the time Mr Handley accepted the role?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of State Services): I communicated with Derek Handley on Monday, 10 September. Megan Woods has had no communication with Derek Handley. Clare Curran has advised me that she had communications with Derek Handley in addition to those publicly released between the final meeting of the interview panel on 30 July and 24 August. It's worth noting that because discussion about Mr Handley's interests was ongoing, the process was never completed.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was the job offer to Derek Handley in August made through Clare Curran's private Gmail account?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I understand it was made during a phone conversation with him.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What was the communication between the former Minister and the Prime Minister over the Chief Technology Officer that he referred to in answer to questions in the House last Thursday?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It was very clear that the Prime Minister and the former Minister had been having discussions about the appointment process as the Prime Minister outlined in questions today. They also had conversations about the incorrect written parliamentary question answer that she had given regarding the matter, which led to her resignation from the portfolio.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will he apologise to taxpayers on behalf of the Government for the waste of over $100,000 of public money on this botched appointment; if not, can he explain what value New Zealanders got for their hard-earned taxes?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'd be happy to do so when the previous Government will apologise for all the payouts that were made during their tenure in Government.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he accept that leadership in the Government's digital services has gone backwards in the last year in that the Cabinet promise of a Chief Technology Officer by February has been flummoxed; the Government Chief Digital Officer has, understandably, resigned through this fiasco; and the Government can still not tell nearly a year into Government what its policy is on his role?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In answer to the first question, no.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he stand by his statement as the Minister of State Services, "The Government's Chief Technology Officer is essential for leadership in digital services.", and, if so, why is it that it is no longer Government policy?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In answer to the first part of the question, yes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he stand by the answer given by Clare Curran to National's question as to what Government business had been conducted through her private Gmail account, that was too incoherent and painful to repeat—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It was the answer—would you like me to read out Clare Curran's answer?
SPEAKER: No, I don't. I want the member to come to the question very quickly.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Well, the question is this: does he stand by the answer given by Clare Curran to National's question as to what Government business had been conducted through her private Gmail account, and if he does not stand by that answer, can this Parliament finally get an answer as to what was in those Gmails?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It's not up to me to stand by those matters or not. What I can tell the member is that those emails—all of the work-related emails, I'm advised by Clare Curran—have been handed over to the Chief Archivist.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that I have now asked eight questions to try and establish the content of those emails. I've now had eight answers in which I've been told I can get them under the Official Information Act and that they might be archived. How can that be an acceptable answer, because if that were the case, we wouldn't bother with question time in Parliament; members of this House would simply go to Archives and through the Official Information Act?
SPEAKER: My view on that is that if the member now, given the fact that they have been given to the archivist and therefore are available to the members, asked a very specific primary question—primary question—then there would be an obligation on Ministers to bring that to the House.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That very suggestion was made by the Prime Minister in response to the Leader of the Opposition's questions earlier today. I have listed two very specific questions, last Thursday and today, and I still do not know the dates or the contents of those emails. So I'm happy to follow your direction, Mr Speaker, but the quid pro quo is that when we do ask direct questions we actually get answers—
SPEAKER: Order! I've just indicated to the member my intention of holding the Government to account if there are well-worded questions. I think that is a matter of the member's responsibility and other members' responsibilities, and one just has to look at the first sentence, the first phrases of his question, to know that the member will have to do better if he's going to get my support—[Hon Dr Nick Smith stands up] No, the member will resume his seat. This issue is now closed. If the member wants a further supplementary he can have one.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is not the issue that you were dealing with when you gave that instruction, but if you look at today's question, it asks for one date—
SPEAKER: Order! And I just made that very point.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, he doesn't know that.
SPEAKER: The Deputy Prime Minister has a wide range of responsibilities to do with the Government and to do with foreign affairs. Educating members of the Opposition on how to phrase questions is not one of them. That's mine, I took it, and I would much prefer in the future not to have his support.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will repeat, as a supplementary, my primary question from last Thursday and see if I can get an answer. How many undisclosed emails through former Minister Clare Curran's private Gmail account are there that relate to the appointment of the Government's Chief Technology Officer, and what is the content of those emails?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have not seen the individual emails in question. They have been handed to the Chief Archivist. Clare Curran has explained to me that the contents of those emails are predominantly post her conversation with Derek Handley where he was offered the job, and related to the scope of the positon. That's the information that I have to date.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House is still none the wiser of the number of Gmails—
SPEAKER: Yes, and the member will resume his seat. What I have indicated to the member is that if he asks his question properly tomorrow or at some stage in the future, with sufficient detail, I will expect a proper answer. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for transparency if in answering a specific and detailed and well-worded question, the Minister brought the emails to the House and made them available in that way.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think what was clear in my last answer was that while those emails have been handed to the Chief Archivist, I do not have a copy of them, and I cannot guarantee that I would have a copy of them tomorrow.
SPEAKER: Well, my view is that the member is now on enough notice, and if there are email systems and there has been a transfer of them to other Government systems, then it should not be beyond the wit of the various people within the State Services Commission to sort out the relevant emails and to have them available for a fuller and more transparent explanation in the House tomorrow if, in fact, members of the Opposition can get their question into the form where that is appropriate.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I'm not disputing anything you've said, but I wanted to use the point of order process to point out that there was an answer to a question last Thursday asking whether or not there were Gmail exchanges between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran. The answer explicitly—from the Minister of State Services, who is now handling this matter—was yes. So it is slightly inconsistent, I think, with his insistence today that he hasn't seen emails.
SPEAKER: I think the member and I might have different memories of that. I think "communications" was the word used, not "emails".
Hon Christopher Finlayson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, you admonished the member for Northland for eating in the House. I need to point out to you that the vanquished member for Northland keeps chewing, or playing with his dentures, and it really is quite out of order.
SPEAKER: Right. Well, I'm going to work out the number of additional questions that I have today granted to the National Party, and they will be lost for tomorrow.
Hon Christopher Finlayson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there one rule for one party and another rule for the leader of New Zealand First?
SPEAKER: The rules are consistent for all people, and the member should be aware of the form for bringing things up. The final part of his comment is something which was unparliamentary.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Does the member really want to continue this?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, Mr Speaker—
Chris Penk: Just woken up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —with respect, that was an uncalled for attack—
SPEAKER: Order! No, the member will resume his seat. I want to know who did that interjection.
Chris Penk: I did.
SPEAKER: Right. Well, I'm going to work out what the further punishment for the National Party is for that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: That was a totally uncalled for attack, and that member has been warned before. What will the consequences be if he keeps up that sort of behaviour? But, first of all, stop getting your knickers in a tangle.
SPEAKER: Well, the member was advised not to start, and the member continued and he sort of did like for like as part of his point of order. As a result of that, I will now be considering Mr Penk's but not Mr Finlayson's inappropriate comment. So I've cancelled that punishment, but I'm considering Mr Penk's.
• Question No. 12—Civil
12. KIERAN McANULTY (Junior Whip—Labour) on behalf of PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What recent announcements has the Government made to improve New Zealand's emergency management system?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI (Minister of Civil Defence): The Government has released its response to the ministerial technical advisory group report into improving our emergency management system. New funding of $5.2 million for specialist rapid response teams, known as fly-in teams, has been allocated to support communities in an emergency. A further $1 million in new funding will progress other initiatives, including the business case for a new emergency management facility, a common operating picture across the sector, and work on legislative changes required. Other non-fiscal reforms to the emergency management system are also being developed to ensure that all New Zealanders get consistent support in an emergency.
Kieran McAnulty: How will fly-in teams help in an emergency response?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Fly-in teams will be comprised of experienced emergency management personnel with appropriate skills and experience, including event controllers. Fly-in teams will respond without delay, wherever they are required, to work alongside and support the local teams to ensure a comprehensive and immediate response is under way. The $5.2 million in funding will resource four teams, each with nine staff who will hold specialist emergency management skills. The staff will be drawn from across agencies and civil defence groups and will be ready to respond when an emergency strikes. The deployment of these teams will not only directly assist communities during disaster relief but support local civil defence groups who work tirelessly, often under tough conditions.
Kieran McAnulty: What other measures has the Government taken to keep people and property safe when responding to emergencies?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: The Government has responded to each of the 42 recommendations in the report, agreeing to implement most of them, because we need to ensure our system is fit for purpose right now and in the years ahead. It is important we are robust in our response to the recommendations, because there are lessons to learn from previous emergencies. Among other things, I want to see the significant role that iwi play in emergency management acknowledged and incorporated into emergency planning. I look forward to working with community groups, local government, iwi, cross-party colleagues, and the emergency management sector to realise this plan.