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Parliament: Questions and Answers - October 23

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Malo ni, and happy Tokelauan Language Week. And, to answer the member's question, yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: How many cents per litre have taxes on petrol increased under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, fuel prices have risen 46c since we came into Government, and fuel excise is being increased by 3.5c this year, with a regional fuel tax of 10c in Auckland. Including the fact it includes excise, not regional fuel tax, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) data indicates tax is 9.53c of that increase, and that discounting changes the price of fuel overall by 15c.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under her Government, petrol taxes have increased by more than 10c outside of Auckland and 20c in Auckland while the trend for importer margin has increased by just 1c?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, no, I don't accept that member's analysis. The change in margin since the Government came into office was 9.28c—that's the actual margin.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the importer margin all profit for petrol retailers or does it also cover costs?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, our concern has not just been the importer margin in recent months, but, actually, the importer margin over the last 10 years. Since the start of 2008, petrol margins increased by 21.65c, or 183 percent. In fact, my understanding is when Simon Bridges, the member who asked the question, was Minister of Energy, the profit margins for petrol companies went up 50 percent. If he's arguing that in that time, that wasn't profit margin—it was solely costs—then I'd be interested in hearing that member's view on whether or not that was consistent.

Hon Simon Bridges: Would she expect the importer margin to increase if costs increased, such as because of higher labour costs?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, I think that's why it's interesting to look at the pre-tax fuel costs across the OECD. We're comparing it across the OECD, who are experiencing similar prices in what's happening to the price of Brent crude, and, when we look at that, we have moved to the highest pre-tax cost in the OECD. Ultimately, though, principle here still stands: either the member agrees that we need to look at fuel costs in New Zealand or he doesn't. On this side of the House, we think it's about time that we had a look on behalf of consumers.

Hon Simon Bridges: So did she ask her office or MBIE whether the 6.8c figure she referred to comprised of the excise tax and the regional fuel tax?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've consistently said, I was quoting, in post-Cabinet, MBIE data. It's obvious it doesn't include the regional fuel tax because the regional fuel tax is 10c.

Hon Simon Bridges: So has MBIE mistakenly added the regional fuel tax to the imported margin figure that she is continuing to reference?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That would be a question for MBIE.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she stand by her statement last week that the reason the Government will not act now on petrol prices is that "we need the evidence before we move forward"?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: When that member was last in office, he thought it was a good idea to look at what was happening at the pump. He undertook a study in 2017. He also wrote to every single fuel company. Nothing happened, and now that we're changing the law so we can do it properly, apparently he's changed his mind.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she stand by her statement last week: "We need the evidence before we move forward"?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There are a range of options of things that can be done about the situation that consumers are facing now. I don't think there's anything wrong with digging in and looking at what exactly is happening in our fuel market. The member, when he was in office, thought that was a good idea, he just didn't do it properly.

Hon Simon Bridges: What evidence did she have when she said that the petrol companies were fleecing New Zealanders?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The increase in the margin—which the member thought, when he was in office, was a problem, but apparently now he thinks consumers are getting a fair deal.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Government have evidence or doesn't it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Did that member have evidence when he wrote to the fuel companies asking them about this exact same issue? I'd love the member to enlighten me about what happened in the last 12 to 24 months that means that now he absolutely agrees with the fuel companies—there's nothing wrong, consumers are paying a fair price, and there's nothing to see here!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It's one thing for the Leader of the Opposition to be shouting out in protest during an answer, but all the contenders can't do it as well.

SPEAKER: Order! And I'm on my feet. The most experienced member of the House knows that he should not use the point of order procedure to be disorderly himself, as he was. He will stand, withdraw and apologise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she seen reports in the Dominion Post of a black market developing for petrol due to record high prices, and if so, does she take responsibility for the black market as a result of the Government's significant increases in taxes?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I did see a report of a case that was referred to around theft between January and July, before excise came into effect.

Hon Simon Bridges: What immediate action is she taking to help ease the cost of living for New Zealanders at the petrol pump, as well as putting an end to the black market for petrol?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We are changing the law, which is more than what that Opposition member ever did.

Question No. 2—Finance

2. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent international meetings has he attended to discuss the global economic situation and outlook?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Malo ni. I recently attended the IMF and World Bank annual meeting in Indonesia, the APEC finance Ministers' meeting in Papua New Guinea, and held a series of bilateral meetings in Malaysia. During those meetings, I met with economists, credit rating agencies, business leaders, and Ministers from countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, the Americas, and Africa. I also met with New Zealand businesses operating in those countries I visited. The meetings were very timely, given rising international economic risks due to trade protectionism. They were also a good opportunity to reaffirm the strong trading relationships we have, particularly in the Asia-Pacific.

Kiritapu Allan: What were the main themes regarding the global and regional economic outlook?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The IMF recently downgraded its local global economic outlook slightly. At the IMF, World Bank, and APEC meetings, a number of regular themes came through in presentations on the international economic outlook. The main theme was on the risks faced by the global economy if the US-China trade war escalates. I was interested to hear concerns from my global counterparts similar to those held by New Zealand. At the meetings I reiterated New Zealand's position, emphasising the importance of a strong rules-based global trading system, not only for our economy but our trading partners as well. Other themes at the meeting included the importance of sustainable levels of public debt and making long-term investments in infrastructure and social services, all of which the coalition Government is doing.

Kiritapu Allan: What did the meetings highlight about New Zealand's economic position?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The IMF recently raised its growth outlook for New Zealand following the release of Budget 2018, which included many growth-friendly policies such as the R & D tax incentive and record infrastructure investment. While New Zealand is in a better position than most of our global peers, on paper, we must keep in mind that we are more susceptible to the classic rainy day like a global economic shock or a natural disaster. That's why the coalition Government is committed to managing the books responsibly, running sustainable surpluses, keeping net debt under control, and managing our expenses wisely. At the same time our careful fiscal management means we can make record investments in infrastructure and social services to ensure that all New Zealanders benefit from a growing economy.

Question No. 3—Finance

3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Is it a goal of this Government's economic management to help New Zealand businesses remain competitive so that they can contribute to lifting the "living standards and well-being of New Zealanders"?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes.

Hon Amy Adams: Does he think that with businesses and the mood of the boardroom ranking this Government's employment law changes as the second-biggest domestic economic concern, that's a pretty big hint that this Government's changes are going to make it harder for our businesses to stay competitive?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No. I think what we heard, and the mood of the boardroom, was that businesses in New Zealand are largely optimistic about their prospects, they know that New Zealand is a great place to do business in, and, while from time to time there may be the odd policy disagreement, they want a Government that's getting on with the job, and that's what we're doing.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, does he think that having more than 65,000 workers go on strike in the past 12 months—more than double the total of the previous nine years—is helping businesses remain competitive?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I'd be interested to know if the member is suggesting that the right to strike should be removed from workers, but I would note that all of that industrial action has taken place under the policy settings of the previous Government.

Hon Amy Adams: Why does he think that New Zealand has now fallen to 18th overall under the past year in the Global Competitiveness Index and specifically has declined in cooperation in labour employment relations and the flexibility of wage determinations?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I note that in that survey the biggest issues were around infrastructure gaps, finding skilled employees, and R & D investment—areas where the Government has inherited a deficit that we're turning around. Specifically, to the member's question about pillar eight on the labour market, I note that an area where we rank below our overall rank is in workers' rights, and we're getting on with solving that problem too.

Hon Amy Adams: How much of the Government's contingency fund in Budget 2018, which was largely set aside for public sector pay rounds, has so far been allocated?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don't have that information with me. What I do know is that this Government has undertaken in good faith a number of public sector pay rounds, and particularly when it came to the nurses we were able to agree on a settlement significantly larger than what we'd been left by the National Party because we had to make up for nine years—can't do it all in one year, but we're doing our best.

Hon Amy Adams: So is his message to New Zealanders to just get used to more and more strike disruption in light of Unite union representatives telling the Guardian that they're gearing up for a big round of strikes in 2019?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No. My message to New Zealand is that it's time for an economy that's growing to have the benefits of that shared fairly across all New Zealanders after nine years of the opposite.

Question No. 4—Internal Affairs

4. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What progress, if any, has been made on the setting up of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): Significant progress has been made in terms of both considering the scope and practical issues. While not yet fully operational, the royal commission has approximately 15 staff who are involved in planning and preparatory work, much of which is focused on looking at how best to conduct the process, hear evidence, and support the people who will be talking to the commission about their experiences. The royal commission has established a contact centre, as well as a website, and through these, approximately 500 people have so far registered to participate. Once the commission is operating, it is expected that this number will grow.

Darroch Ball: What does the Minister say in response to statements that the royal commission has stalled?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The Government established this royal commission in recognition of the fact that the abuse of people in care is one of the most serious issues of public importance, and we have to get it right. It is worth noting that the commitment made by this Government to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care was announced on 1 February this year. At that time, the Prime Minister and I also announced a first under the Inquiries Act, which was a period of public consultation on the draft terms of reference. After four months and over 400 submissions, Sir Anand delivered his findings to me on 30 May. The ministerial group has been working through these recommendations. We know from experience, both here and overseas, that inquiries of this size and scope are complex and take a lot of planning to ensure they can listen to people who will be talking to the commission about their experiences and successfully deliver for the community. That is important for the country and especially for the people who need to be heard.

Darroch Ball: Why is the royal commission taking so long?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The Government has been giving serious consideration to Sir Anand's recommendation following the public consultation period and the inquiry's final shape. There is substantial work in establishing a royal commission and finalising such things as scope, cost, operational set-up and membership. The largest is determining the final terms of reference, which includes looking at a range of technical and legal matters. There are also a number of budget issues to work through, which includes understanding how the royal commission plans to undertake the inquiry, the structure of the secretariat, and other functions such as IT and property that will support it. Establishing an inquiry of this magnitude is similar to setting up a small Government agency. The ministerial working group is meeting this week to consider a range of matters before taking a proposal to Cabinet for final decisions.

Question No. 5—Housing and Urban Development

5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Is he confident KiwiBuild will achieve the Government's "Overall objectives to support a range of family and household types"?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The national housing crisis is so bad that it is affecting all kinds of families: big families, small families, couples without kids, single parents with kids, people who live alone with their cat, and we are building affordable homes for all kinds of Kiwis. I am confident that KiwiBuild will achieve the Government's objectives to support a range of family and household types.

Hon Judith Collins: Why did he tell Cabinet earlier this year that smaller houses were likely to be built to "achieve the price points which have been established for the programme", but that this risked not achieving the Government's overall objectives?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because it's all about striking the right balance. We're going to be building, mostly through the KiwiBuild programme, three-bedroom homes, because that's what most first-home buyers want, but there is a huge shortfall in the current provision of one-storey homes, and one- and two-storey homes for smaller families, and a shortage of larger homes for larger families, like four-bedroom homes. So we'll be building a mix of all of those, and we'll be doing our best to strike the right mix.

Hon Judith Collins: Why are there now only 11 KiwiBuild houses under construction that have three or more bedrooms, with most of those, by the way, being in Wānaka?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I'm not sure what the member is referring to, but more than 70 percent—70 percent—of the KiwiBuild homes that the Government has so far announced in the first year of the programme have three or more bedrooms.

Hon Judith Collins: Is he able to build sufficient three-bedroom houses in Auckland for the $650,000 affordable price point he has established?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, we're going to do our very best to achieve that. In fact, the first KiwiBuild homes are 12 three-bedroom homes selling for $579,000—way under the price cap for Auckland and Queenstown of $650,000. There will also be six four-bedroom homes selling for $649,000. The first 18 families are going to move into their KiwiBuild homes very shortly, and I know they are going to be very happy to do that.

Hon Judith Collins: Why does he believe that 80 percent of people who responded to the KiwiBuild registration of interest stated a preference for a three- or four-bedroom house?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because, as I said, I think that's where the predominant demand lies from first-home buyers, because so many of those first-home buyers are young families. That's why 70 percent of the homes that we have announced for the first year of KiwiBuild have three or more bedrooms and 87 percent of the homes announced for this first KiwiBuild year are stand-alone homes.

Question No. 6—Transport

6. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: What actions, if any, has he taken to maintain public confidence in public transport?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): As Minister, I have made public transport a priority. Over the next three years, we will nearly double investment in public transport to a record $3.9 billion. With regard to the current bus disputes, these contracts were let by regional councils under the past Government, but I encourage the councils, the companies, and the unions to work together to conclude fair deals for the drivers and get the buses back on the road. I've also tasked officials with examining the past Government's competitive tendering policy, the Public Transport Operating Model, which has created significant problems for public transport users, drivers, providers, and councils alike.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How many buses or trains have to not arrive at the station because of strikes before he will take action to restore confidence in public transport?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm doing everything I can as Minister to build public confidence in a public transport system that was run down, neglected, and underfunded for the last nine years under that Government.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How many public transport strikes have there been since his Government came into office?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I draw the member's attention to something the Deputy Prime Minister said: you don't turn up at the bus stop if you think that the bus is never going to come. We are committed as a Government to building a sustainable 21st century transport system, but we will not do that on the backs of low-paid bus drivers.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: What does he say to the typical Henderson, Papakura, or Hamilton commuter who woke up this morning to find the buses not running, the gas more expensive, and congestion not improved?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: What I say to those people is that this Government has been left to clean up the mess left by National in public transport, in health, in education, and in housing, and we're doing it. We've doubled the funding for public transport, and we're looking at fixing the problems that we inherited from that Government's competitive tendering framework, that has driven down the labour costs of drivers and the people who get up every day to make the public transport system work.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he not accept that the Government sent a signal to the unions that it wants them to be stronger, and strikes are an inevitable result of that signal?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: On this side of the House, we do believe in raising incomes. Yes, we believe in improving productivity. It's not our policy to build a modern public transport system by driving down the wages and conditions of the people who get up every day and make that system work.

Question No. 7—Health

7. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What recent announcements has he made to add capacity to district health boards in Auckland?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): On Friday, I accompanied the Prime Minister to North Shore Hospital to announce funding for a new elective surgery block. Planning work is well advanced for the new Waitematā District Health Board (DHB) facility, which will include four new operating theatres and 120 new beds. The project is expected to cost more than $200 million. Auckland is facing significant population growth, and this major new development will help service not only the people of Waitematā and the North Shore but the wider Auckland region.

Willow-Jean Prime: What further capital investment has he announced in the northern region?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: At the same event on Friday, I announced $24 million for the new endoscopy and cardiac care capacity that will be built at Northland's Whangarei Hospital. The prevalence of cardiovascular disease in Northland contributes to the greater life expectancy gap between Northland and the rest of the northern region, and between Māori and non-Māori. The new cardiac catheter lab will mean fewer avoidable deaths, through improved cardiac care for Northlanders, and represents a significant opportunity to improve equity of outcomes.

Marja Lubeck: How do these announcements align with the just released Northern Region Long Term Investment Plan (NRLTIP)?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The Northern Region Long Term Investment Plan highlights the poor state of many of our DHB facilities. It provides a good picture of long-term demand and demographic pressures. Friday's announcements will add significant new capacity in Auckland, but as the NRLTIP confirms, more will be needed. While future capital announcements may not always align exactly with the northern region long-term plan, it will play a useful role as we plan to meet future health needs.

Question No. 8—Education

8. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement, "What I understand the PPTA have asked for is the individual costing of each element of the offer", and has that information been provided to the PPTA?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes, and yes.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Is it an uncanny coincidence that this information, despite months of requests, was finally provided to the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) within an hour of my primary question being lodged?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No.

Hon Nikki Kaye: If I lodge a primary question regarding the individual costing of each element of the primary teachers' offer, will this information be provided to NZEI within an hour as well?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: If they had asked for it, they would be given it.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Will he admit that his statement, reiterated by the Prime Minister, that the current offer amounts to more than all of the settlements they reached under the previous National Government is absolutely false with regard to secondary teachers?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I believe that, at the time, I was speaking about the primary school teachers.

Hon Nikki Kaye: In light of the fact that he made up the offer with regard to secondary teachers and he was absolutely wrong—

SPEAKER: Order! Just ask a straight question.

Hon Nikki Kaye: In light of the fact that the Government has committed billions of dollars on tertiary students, has billions more cash in surplus, and has provided a lot more to other areas of the public sector, will he talk to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance about providing a new offer for secondary teachers?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: As I have been very clear in all of the public comments I've made on this, the Government is absolutely committed to bargaining in good faith with both of the teaching unions on the claims that they have on the table. Many of those claims don't relate to salary; they relate to other things which they—

Hon Nikki Kaye: You lied on the secondary teachers' offer—

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Nikki Kaye: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Many of the issues that have been raised by the unions relate to matters other than salary, including, for example, extra support for children with special needs. All of these things come at a cost, and part of the negotiations is ensuring that we get the balance right in addressing all of the issues that are being raised and not just cherry-picking them.

SPEAKER: And I want to reinforce to members of the House who didn't hear what happened then that the Hon Nikki Kaye made a very serious allegation about me.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I withdraw and apologise.

SPEAKER: No, no—you already have. There seemed to be doubt around the House as to why the member stood up.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Point of order.

SPEAKER: No, no. Just ask the next question. We've had enough.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I've done that. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister didn't answer my question. I asked whether he's going to talk to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance about a different offer.

SPEAKER: He certainly did answer it.

Question No. 9—Social Development

MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green):

[Tokelauan text to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! It is getting pretty serious that the member Nikki Kaye is a repeat offender within about a minute of her previous offence. She's sort of tempting me pretty severely to do what I'm trying very hard not to do, and that is to toss members out. She will withdraw and apologise again, but I tell her, she's on a warning for the rest of the week.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I withdraw and apologise.

9. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Is she concerned that the over 340,000 hardship grants provided by MSD in the September 2018 quarter indicate baseline benefits are insufficient to meet housing and food costs?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Yes, I'm concerned, and I'm also relieved that we have a more responsible Ministry of Social Development (MSD) culture that means those requiring help are getting it. I think it's very important to note that the evidence available to us clearly identifies the cost of housing as the key reason why so many New Zealanders require access to hardship grants. Thankfully, unlike the previous Government, this Government is making housing a priority.

Marama Davidson: Does she think that the significant increase in hardship grants, almost doubling over the past five years, demonstrates beneficiaries are falling further and further behind?

SPEAKER: Order! Grant. Grant Robertson—please be quiet.

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As previously noted, it's really important that we emphasise the fact that all of the evidence supports the fact that hardship grants have been increasing over the last five years due to the increase in the cost of housing. With regards to income adequacy, it's also important to note that this Government has committed to undertaking a welfare overhaul, and as part of that we have appointed an expert advisory group for welfare. Part of the terms of reference is to look seriously at income adequacy.

Marama Davidson: Should baseline benefits be enough to ensure everyone has decent housing and enough food for their families?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As I have said, income adequacy is something that is being looked at as part of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's work. Although we are seriously looking at income adequacy and look forward to the recommendations and report back from the expert advisory group, we cannot ignore that something needs to be done about housing. I'm very glad to be part of a Government that has made housing a priority, because the very families that the MP is asking about are reliant on us making sure that we make housing affordable.

Marama Davidson: Does she agree we have a responsibility to ensure everyone in our country has a decent standard of living, and that the number of people needing food grants or borrowing to cover the basics shows that we're not living up to this responsibility?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I'm highly concerned that there has been a trend upwards for the last five years of New Zealanders having to access hardship grants. I'm committed, as the Minister, and our Government is committed, to making sure that we have a fairer, more accessible welfare system. I'm looking forward to the report that we will receive from the expert advisory group in February, and I'm looking forward to the positive changes that I know that this Government is capable of making.

Question No. 10—Social Development

10. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by all her statements and actions?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Yes, in the context in which they were given.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she stand by her statement in the House last Thursday that "the actual unemployment rate overall is 9.4 percent, which is exactly the same as what it was this time last year."?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Can I reiterate that with the last numbers that came out, 9.4 percent of working-age New Zealanders were receiving a main benefit. That is exactly the same proportion as this time last year.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked quite a specific question about the unemployment rate that she quoted in this House last Thursday.

SPEAKER: My understanding is, in my memory—and I'm willing to be corrected—is that the member referred to benefits in her answer then, as she did now. We're digging back a week, but I'm pretty sure that's what she said at the time.

Hon Louise Upston: Why did she not correct her answer that was incorrect in this House last Thursday, which is what she's meant to do as soon as she becomes aware of it?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: To my knowledge, I referred to the 9.4 percent of working-age New Zealanders receiving a main benefit, and that is the same proportion as last year.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she agree with Statistics New Zealand, who released the unemployment figure of 4.5percent, rather than the 9.4 percent that she quoted in this House in the question last week, as announced on 1 August—that the unemployment rate is 4.5 percent?

SPEAKER: Order! I think we've just had an explanation. We've just had a comment from the Minister that—although it wasn't as part of personal explanation, I think it was a reiteration. OK, well, I'll ask the member to ask the question again, but it is a bit of a problem where a Minister says very clearly in this House that they used one set of figures and another member says, repeatedly, that they used another set of figures. I'm warning both the former Minister and the current Minister that one of them is running into trouble.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she agree with Statistics New Zealand, who released the unemployment figure as 4.5 percent on 1 August, as opposed to her quote in the House last week that the unemployment rate was 9.4 percent?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Last week, when I spoke in the House, I was referring to the 9.4 percent of working-age New Zealanders receiving a main benefit. If there were any semantic mix-ups, then I do apologise, but I was not referring to the 4.5; I was referring to the 9.4 percent of working-age New Zealanders receiving a main benefit.

Hon Louise Upston: Is the 9,000 extra people on a jobseeker benefit higher or lower as a percentage of the population than a year ago?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The most recent stats that came out showed that 9.4 percent of working-age New Zealanders are receiving a main benefit, which is exactly the same as last year. With regards to the actual numbers rather than the proportion, there has been an increase in population—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, you suggested that your recollection may not be entirely on the mark given that it was last week when this was raised. I've checked, now, with our people. The question that was asked was answered last week: that the unemployment rate is 9.—whatever it is—percent. Now, the question was: did the Minister today stand by that—and we got this other answer about all benefits. I think it's pretty unreasonable to have then had a bit of a question from you to the person asking the question and requiring them to base their questions on the new answer from the Minister.

SPEAKER: I'm sure all of us are going to go back and review that situation pretty carefully. I can remember the Minister last week using the expression "proportion of the working-age population on benefits" and using the 9.4 percent around that. If she responded to a question about the unemployment rate and used that figure, that is—I mean, it's not the best answer, but it's not incorrect as long as she caveated it in that particular way. But I'm sure that all of us who are interested in these things will go back and have a look at what the Minister actually said. If she made an error, she will be correcting, and if Louise Upston has made an error, she will be.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last question that I asked was specific about job seeker benefit. I asked a simple question—if it was higher or lower as a percentage of the population as a year ago—and I didn't get an answer to that.

SPEAKER: And the member said it was 9.4 percent both times. Surely, that's an answer. I mean, you know, you couldn't get a clearer answer than that, and it's the same—could you?

Hon Grant Robertson: You don't ask questions.

SPEAKER: No, I don't ask questions—you're quite right. We got into trouble with the wrong people asking the questions last week.

Question No. 11—Revenue

11. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Revenue: What recent announcements, if any, has he made in relation to the collection of GST from offshore suppliers?

Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Revenue): Malo ni, Mr Speaker. Last week, I announced the removal of the current tax break for offshore suppliers. From 1 October 2019, offshore suppliers will be required to register, collect, and return GST on goods valued at or below $1,000 that are supplied to consumers in New Zealand. Kiwis shop online for a number of reasons. This Government is removing any tax incentive that is involved in that decision. It's about fairness.

Dr Deborah Russell: How will he ensure that offshore suppliers comply with the new rules?

Hon STUART NASH: The proposals build on the GST on online services that the previous Government introduced in October 2016. Issues of compliance were worked through as part of those changes. With over 200 registered offshore suppliers of services to New Zealand and over $130 million collected in the first full year, it is clear that offshore registration and compliance is not an insignificant issue. Australia, the first cab off the rank for the collection of GST on imported low-value goods, has also had over 700 offshore suppliers register after only one month of their new rules.

Dr Deborah Russell: What changes has he made to the proposal as a result of consultation?

Hon STUART NASH: The key change was to lift the threshold from $400 to $1,000. Submissions received from offshore suppliers indicated that the higher threshold would make it easier for them to comply, as this threshold aligns with the Australian model and avoids double taxation. This Government has made a bold move to ensure that the playing field is level for our 26,000 New Zealand retailers, who employ more than 62,000 Kiwis. The previous Government had signed off on a similar proposal for consultation, but got cold feet before the election and didn't go public with their proposal. As mentioned, it's a question of fairness, and we have responded.

Question No. 12—Energy and Resources

12. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does she stand by all her Government's policies, statements, and actions in relation to the energy and resources portfolio?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, in the context in which they were made.

Jonathan Young: What policies or actions is the Government considering in addressing potential electricity supply shortages because of hydro lake levels being at an eight-year low and current gas supply disruption?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, this Government doesn't accept the predictions of an insecure energy supply as a result of this policy. Our strategic direction is to encourage a shift towards renewable energy so we can successfully transition to a low-carbon future. There's currently approximately 3,300 megawatts of renewable energy generation consented to be built. Transpower's Te Mauri Hiko report shows that as our electricity demand grows heavily in the years to come, those consents will be able to come on stream to add capacity. There are a number of other major investments currently on the way, particularly in the area of renewable energy.

Jonathan Young: Will, therefore, the Government guarantee there is no risk of power blackouts because of current low hydro levels and gas supply disruption?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We won't guarantee anything, but we will do our best to provide the political courage and the leadership—the willingness to look beyond the three-year electoral cycle—to ensure that this country makes a just and speedy transition to a post-carbon economy.

Jonathan Young: What is the Government doing to ensure adequate gas supplies to businesses like Fonterra, who are coming into their peak production in the next few weeks, considering the current gas supply disruption?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, there are 100,000 square kilometres of offshore prospecting still in place—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm going to ask the member to ask his question again.

Jonathan Young: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What is the Government doing to ensure adequate gas supplies to businesses like Fonterra, who are coming into their peak production in the next few weeks, considering the current gas supply disruption?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, there are a number of very short-term impediments to supply in the current climate. That's a completely separate issue to the need for this country to transition to renewable energy sources, and we have the policies in place to do that.

Jonathan Young: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: No—just ask it again.

Jonathan Young: Ask it again? What is the Government doing to ensure adequate gas supplies to businesses like Fonterra, who are coming into their peak production in the next few weeks, considering the current gas supply disruption?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I haven't been briefed on that particular issue, so I can't give the member a detailed answer on that.

Jonathan Young: Is it the Government's intention to support use of coal-fired generation to stop power blackouts if gas is no longer plentifully available, as is currently the case?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, it's not, because we believe that there is perfectly adequate generation consented coming on stream for renewable electricity sources. I would point to the fact that Genesis and Tilt Renewables have just announced that they intend to partner in the development of a 100-megawatt windfarm at Waverley, and last month the Eastland Group commissioned an additional 25 megawatts of geothermal power at Kawerau, which is now providing baseload renewable energy to New Zealand's grid.

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