Parliament: Questions and Answers - October 25
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What investments has the Government made to support low and middle income New Zealanders to meet the cost of living?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Government's investments were, in part, in response to what the Salvation Army pointed out in its State of the Nation Report in 2017, where it said, "it is clear that the benefits of … recent … economic growth have not been shared across the board, or trickled down, as the theory would have it." The Government agreed with this, and that is why we made significant investments through our 100-day plan and Budget 2018 to support those who have struggled the most with the cost of living. Our $5.5 billion Families Package is lifting the incomes of hundreds of thousands of New Zealand families and helping tens of thousands of children out of poverty. We have received many positive comments about this, including one from a budgeting agency who described the winter energy payment, part of that Families Package, as a "godsend" for their low-income clients. Along with our investments in housing, health, and education, I am extremely proud that this Government is focused on helping those who need it the most.
Willow-Jean Prime: How will the Government's overall economic strategy help low and middle income New Zealanders?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Under our economic strategy, we'll ensure that all New Zealanders get a fair share of the country's economic growth. The previous drivers of growth, such as housing speculation and population growth, have actually resulted in pressure on infrastructure and public services. Our plan is for an economy powered by innovation rather than speculation, and one that meets the needs of the present without compromising our ability to do so in the future. Our economic strategy will see an economy that is more productive, more sustainable, and more inclusive, and where growth will improve the well-being and living standards of all New Zealanders.
Willow-Jean Prime: What alternative strategies has he seen for assisting low and middle income New Zealanders?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On coming into office as Minister, I inherited the settings for a very different strategy, that would have disproportionately benefited the wealthiest New Zealanders, giving the top 10 percent of earners—those who need it the least—collectively, a benefit of $440 million. We decided that this was not focused on low and middle income families, so we reversed those changes, and now 384,000 low and middle income families will be better off by an average of $75 a week by the time this is rolled out. On this side of the House, helping low and middle income families by providing targeted relief, lifting wages, and shifting the economy to one in which they can all share in the benefits of growth is a project, one year on, that we are very proud to have started.
• Question No.
2. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all the Government's actions and statements in relation to the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were made and undertaken.
Hon Amy Adams: Did the Prime Minister discuss with him her concerns about the extension of regional fuel taxes to other regions prior to her announcement in the House yesterday?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Prime Minister and other Ministers have discussed often over this year the question of the way in which we fund transport infrastructure around New Zealand. I've enjoyed being part of those discussions and, indeed, have spoken about them in public previously.
Hon Amy Adams: So what were the concerns the Prime Minister discussed with him about the extension of regional fuel taxes prior to yesterday?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What we've discussed is that there are many ways of funding transport infrastructure. In Auckland, the Auckland Council proposed, and the Government agreed to a regional fuel tax. I can give the member an example of when I was in Hamilton in February and I was asked about this, and I made it quite clear that a fuel tax for Hamilton was not on the agenda.
Hon Amy Adams: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened very carefully, and I had asked for some indication what the concern was about it being used in other regions. The Minister talked about transport funding and having ruled it out for Hamilton. I didn't hear anything where he attempted to address the reason they had concerns about extending it to other regions.
SPEAKER: Well, I thought the Minister said that there are alternative ways of funding it.
Hon Amy Adams: Did the Prime Minister express those concerns to the Minister prior to the legislation being passed which legislated for exactly the situation the Prime Minister ruled out yesterday?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said, what this debate is about is how we fund transport infrastructure across New Zealand. The legislation says that in this term of Government there will be no other regional fuel taxes. The Prime Minister has made that fact absolutely clear. That's an important thing to do when the Leader of the Opposition is spreading false and fake news.
Hon Amy Adams: Has the Prime Minister expressed concerns to him about any other aspects of the Government's programme that might indicate that more backflips are coming?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Prime Minister is always urging Ministers to move faster and further to correct the mistakes and the underfunding of the previous nine years.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just to be clear, Minister, is it the Government's position that despite the numerous calls for the fuel tax to be spread to other regions, we are staying staunch with our commitment to leave it just for Auckland?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely. I'm not entirely clear what the Opposition's stance is now on how they'll fund transport infrastructure, and we once again wonder where the Opposition's fiscal stance is. It's very hard to see today how they would fund transport infrastructure.
Hon Amy Adams: Is the reason that the Prime Minister yesterday ruled out any new regional fuel taxes while she is Prime Minister, despite having just legislated for exactly that, because the Government has now had to accept that it's the one fleecing New Zealand over power prices?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I think the member might have meant fuel prices rather than power prices, but no, the reason the Prime Minister did that was because it was time to clarify in response to the misinformation being spread by the Leader of the Opposition.
• Question No.
3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Mālō ni. I stand by my statements and by my actions in leading record investment in a modern, safe transport system.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Regarding his statement in his corrected answer to the question yesterday, "When did he, as Minister of Transport, know about this change of policy?"—i.e., earlier that morning—whose idea was it to rule out further regional fuel taxes?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The Prime Minister phoned me early yesterday to seek my views on whether—in light of the Opposition's scaremongering and baseless misinformation—it was time for a clarification of the Government's position to make it very clear to people that there would be no further regional fuel taxes under her prime ministership. I agreed.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What exactly is "scaremongering" or "false information" in the assertion that the Government may consider a regional fuel tax outside Auckland when allowed in 2021 by their own legislation—something that he as Minister pointedly never ruled out before?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, it was scaremongering and misinformation for the Leader of the Opposition to go around claiming that the Government was in secret talks with Wellington councils to implement a regional fuel tax. It was never going to happen.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What's changed in the past six months since his earlier answers where he refused to rule out extending regional fuel taxes beyond Auckland after this parliamentary term to yesterday's new policy that it will never happen as long as the Prime Minister is Prime Minister—assuming that's a longer period?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: What's changed in the last six months is the plummeting level of confidence and the growing desperation of the Opposition—that they're willing just to make things up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How did this matter arise when the Mayor of Wellington says his council never ever asked for it?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I'm baffled as to how this idea could be circulated by the Leader of the Opposition. The Mayor of Wellington said there were no discussions going on about a regional fuel tax; I ruled it out. The only person who seems to publicly believe that this was something worth talking about was the Leader of the Opposition.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How does he square his statement on RNZ this morning, "To be fair, you know, we've never had a plan to have additional regional fuel taxes", with his statement in a letter to the Mayor of Hamilton: "If in the future Hamilton City or the Waikato region wish to seek a regional fuel tax, I would encourage you to engage with officials at the Ministry of Transport. Officials will be able to provide guidance for any future applications, including the matters that will need to be considered and addressed to increase the likelihood of an application being approved,"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We welcome discussions about the different options for actually addressing the infrastructure deficit that we inherited after nine years of that Government. I welcome discussions with councils about how we do that, and for the last nine years, those councils have never had a Government willing to talk to them about these issues.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That noise from that side is unbearable. We understand—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The three members who interjected will now stand.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I withdraw and apologise.
Andrew Bayly: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: I said three when I saw four.
Lawrence Yule: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: Thank you.
Nicola Willis: I'll withdraw and apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: To repeat, the fact is that that level of noise is just unbearable. It's inexcusable. Everybody understands that this is a place where people are entitled to voice, with some noise, their level of dissent, but that is just a screaming, disorganised rabble, and they should be stopped.
SPEAKER: I want to thank the member for his advice.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Isn't it the case that it was very much his intention to introduce other regional fuel taxes in 2021 if he had a chance, and that he and the Prime Minister changed their minds because they've finally woken up to the fact that Kiwis are sick and tired of being fleeced at the fuel pump by this Government?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.
• Question No. 4—Housing and
4. JAMIE STRANGE (Labour) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What progress, if any, has been made towards the Government's KiwiBuild homes targets?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): This morning, I announced that the ballot will open next week for the first KiwiBuild homes to be built in the Waikato: 175—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! David Bennett, yesterday I probably should have named you for your behaviour. What you will let this Minister do now is at least start his answer without facetious interjection.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: This morning, I announced that the ballot will open next week for the first KiwiBuild homes to be built in the Waikato. One hundred and seventy five KiwiBuild homes will be built at the Lakeside development in Te Kauwhata. This announcement follows Monday's announcement of 18 KiwiBuild homes in Ockham's Tuatahi development in Mount Albert in Auckland. These homes will provide an excellent start for young families who are currently priced out of the dream of homeownership.
Jamie Strange: When will the first Lakeside homes be completed?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The first 10 KiwiBuild homes to be balloted are two-bedroom, modern, stand-alone homes, all fully landscaped, with off-street parking and a home appliance package. Initial works are already under way, and construction of these KiwiBuild homes will be completed by Christmas 2019.
Jamie Strange: When will the Tuatahi homes be completed?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The 18 Tuatahi properties available via the KiwiBuild ballot consist of nine studio apartments, six one-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments, ranging in price from $435,000 to $600,000. Construction of these apartments is under way and due for completion late next year. While the Tuatahi development began several years ago, this is an example of how KiwiBuild creates efficiencies and accelerates the construction of quality affordable homes.
Jamie Strange: What will these homes mean for young Kiwi families?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: A generation of young Kiwis with good jobs are priced out of homeownership. They made good choices but they still cannot afford the security of their own home. KiwiBuild is building homes for families of all shapes and sizes, right across the country, restoring the dream of affordable homeownership to families who traditionally would have expected to own their own home, and extending that same dream to many more.
• Question No. 5—Social
5. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Is the figure of 4.3 percent which, according to the Ministry of Social Development quarterly benefit statistics is the percentage of the working-age population on the Jobseeker Support benefit, higher or lower than it was a year ago when it was 4.1 percent?
Hon PEENI HENARE (Associate Minister for Social Development) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. On behalf of the Minister, I can confirm that those figures are correct and that there's been increase by 0.2 percent. This is offset by a 2 percent increase in the working-age population in New Zealand from June 2017 to June 2018.
Hon Louise Upston: Why has the percentage increased?
Hon PEENI HENARE: As mentioned in the previous answer, the increase in the population—for example, in Auckland—of the working-age population in Auckland has grown by some 34,000. Therefore, it's quite natural that there would be an increase.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The primary question on notice was a percentage of the working-age population. So population comments that the Minister made aren't relevant.
SPEAKER: Well, I think one of the things that we do know, and it's been established over a long period of time, is that Speakers will not take responsibility for the quality of the answers. The member got an answer.
Hon Louise Upston: How many more people are receiving the jobseeker benefit than a year ago?
Hon PEENI HENARE: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. It may be of interest to the member that the current unemployment rate is 4.5 percent in the June quarter, whereas, under the previous Government, in the June 2017 quarter it was 4.8 percent.
SPEAKER: That did not address the question. The member might like to ask the question again.
Hon Louise Upston: Thank you, Mr Speaker. How many more people are receiving the jobseeker benefit than one year ago?
Hon PEENI HENARE: I currently don't have those figures on me right now.
Hon Louise Upston: Why are there 9,000 additional people on the jobseeker benefit while the unemployment rate has dropped?
Hon PEENI HENARE: I've already mentioned the population increase in this country.
Hon Louise Upston: In addition to the jobseeker benefit statistics increasing, why has the number of benefit advances increased by 27,000, and the hardship grants for food increased by 20,000?
Hon PEENI HENARE: Because we know that, for far too long, communities in this country have suffered under the previous Government. We've made it very clear that we want to make sure that all of those who are eligible receive fair and correct entitlements. That has meant that there have been resets that have made people come to Work and Income to make sure that they are receiving fair and correct entitlements. With regards to hardship, I can say that the housing pressures have put pressure on families. Families have come in and sought the assistance that is available to them.
Hon Louise Upston: Why has there been an increase of 9,000 people on jobseeker benefits while her Government has reduced obligations and sanctions by 35 percent?
Hon PEENI HENARE: We acknowledge that under the last regime, which had a punitive approach towards those who are in receipt of a benefit with regard to sanctions—we want to work with these people to make sure we can give them meaningful employment opportunities. That means that they come in, they work with our people, we manage their aspiration, and of course we match it to an appropriate job to allow them sustainable employment opportunities into the future.
• Question No.
6—Workplace Relations and Safety
6. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Does he stand by all his statements and actions in regards to workplace relations?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: On behalf of the Minister, yes.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does he stand by his statement yesterday "we've made good progress in this House on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill,", and, if so, does he define "good progress" as the Government ignoring the voice of nearly all businesses at the select committee stage of the bill?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Yes, and this Government has good quality—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! No. Sorry, I'm going to rule the question out. It's not an area the Minister's responsible for.
Hon Scott Simpson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Well, does not the Minister have responsibility for relationships between trade unions and businesses? I would have thought that the question was in order.
SPEAKER: Yeah, absolutely, but he doesn't have responsibility for changes at a select committee that either did or didn't happen.
Hon Scott Simpson: Could I rephrase the question, Mr Speaker?
SPEAKER: You can have another question. I'm not giving you an extra one.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does he accept that a gulf has emerged between the business community and the trade unions over the last 12 months, and, if so, why?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: There has been a gulf between workers and employers since the time of the Tolpuddle martyrs that, in the course of history, sometimes is closed and sometimes widens. The challenge for Governments of any country where there are relations between business and workers is not the size of the gulf; it's the quality and strength of the bridge to bring parties together to get fair, good outcomes for everyone.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does he agree with the organiser at Unite union Joe Carolan's criticisms that their workers hold "huge anger" and that the Government has not done enough over the last 12 months to improve their lives and that this is why they have threatened a "big round of strikes in 2019"?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Well, I know Joe Carolan very well and regard him as a friend. He is sort of the Jim Larkin of the New Zealand union movement and a firebrand at that, and he has his view. What I do stand by is the actions of this Government to bring back justice to workplace relations in this country, so workers can look to their employers with a sensible framework to get fair pay increases, fair pay and conditions, and safe workplaces.
Hon Scott Simpson: If, as he said yesterday, employment law settings haven't changed and there were so few people on strike over the last nine years compared to the 65,000 on strike in the last 12 months, isn't it true then that the only thing that has changed in the last 12 months is the Government?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The underpinning sort of principle to that question is typical of a time when the National Party was led by people like Sid Holland, as opposed to the progressive labour Ministers of that party like Jim Bolger and Peter Gordon. But the reality is workers in modern liberal democracies have the right to withdraw their labour and have that protected, and to press their case for better pay and conditions. The fact that workers in New Zealand wanted to do that is a good sign, and we need to have a good legal framework that protects them but, ultimately, gets agreement not only on fairer pay and conditions but on what really matters, and that is—
Hon Jacqui Dean: Speech.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: —lifting productivity across businesses, from which everybody—
Hon Jacqui Dean: Speech.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: —shares the gains.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: The member would like to have a call now—
Hon Jacqui Dean: Thank you.
SPEAKER: —would she, as opposed to a minute ago.
• Question No. 7—Small
7. Hon JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for Small Business: Does he stand by all his Government's policies and actions?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister for Small Business: On behalf of the Minister for Small Business, yes. For example, about an hour ago, in Canberra, I signed a formal trans-Tasman e-invoicing arrangement with the Australian Government. New Zealand and Australian businesses process around 1.3 billion invoices annually, and research indicates that the economic savings of e-invoicing could exceed $30 billion in both countries over 10 years. This Government is committed to growing the economy and working with businesses to encourage productivity. This agreement is yet another step this Government has taken to support small businesses in New Zealand over the last year.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Is the Small Business Council providing value for money?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I believe that it is. The Small Business Council is set up to ensure that there are quality conversations between the Government and small to medium sized enterprises. The Prime Minister is going to come and meet with the Small Business Council, and I'll be delighted to accompany her to that.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Is it correct that part of the report back from the Small Business Council includes a recommendation on whether or not to establish a small business institute?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: On behalf of the Minister, I don't have that level of detail in front of me, but if the member wants to put that question in writing, I'm sure she will receive an answer.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Well, isn't that just, then, a working group tasked with creating another working group?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Does he believe it is a good use of taxpayer money spending $135,000 on a new working group who has been tasked with deciding whether or not to establish another new working group and whether or not to keep the current new working group?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This Government believes in the value of small business. Unlike the previous Government, we want to support relationships and make business easier rather than adding the red tape that was added during the last nine years. We are concerned to make their lives easier. We're progressing e-invoicing that would create savings of around $30 billion across Australia and New Zealand over the next 10 years. We're making improvements to the New Zealand Business Number, including initiating legislative changes. We're renewing the small business payroll subsidy. We're providing the R & D tax credits. We're applying GST to offshore suppliers of goods to make life easier for small businesses. And we're launching the online tools Choose Business Structure and Workplace Policy Builder. I think the small business area is delighted they've got a Government that's finally listening.
• Question No.
8. Hon TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for ACC: Does he stand by all his answers to Oral Question No. 10 yesterday?
Hon PEENI HENARE (Associate Minister for ACC) on behalf of the Minister for ACC: Yes.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Have ACC officials made a "very convincing case to him" as to why petrol prices should increase by a further 1.9c a litre through the proposed motor vehicle levy?
Hon PEENI HENARE: On behalf of the Minister, the consultation process for levies actually ends today. No doubt, upon the completion of the consultation process, advisers will come back to the Minister with the advice from the consultation, where he will forward that conversation into Cabinet for a decision to be made.
Hon Tim Macindoe: What is the current financial position of the ACC scheme in terms of assets, reserves, and investments?
Hon PEENI HENARE: On behalf of the Minister, if the member was listening, only today the current ACC annual report was tabled in the House, and I'm sure all of the up-to-date figures will be in there. The numbers that were given by the Minister yesterday were the data that he had at hand.
Hon Tim Macindoe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was, effectively, a question on notice, because it is exactly the same supplementary question that I asked the Minister yesterday. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, we'll give another couple of supplementaries to make up for the interruption. The member can have his point of order again.
Hon Tim Macindoe: You'd like me to raise the point of order again, sir?
Hon Tim Macindoe: Sir, the point I was making is that this was, effectively, a question on notice, because the primary question asked if he stood by all of his answers from yesterday's oral question, and this is exactly the same as a supplementary question that I asked yesterday that the Minister didn't answer at that time.
SPEAKER: Well, my view is that he sort of not only answered it but doubled down. He said he stood by the figures from yesterday and there are some updated ones available on the Table now.
Hon Tim Macindoe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you saying that by putting a document on the Table of the House, that is a sufficient answer to a question during oral question time?
SPEAKER: Well, I think that if one references a newly tabled document immediately available to members with the updated figures of the type that the member is asking for, then the answer certainly does address the question.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Why does the Minister consider that it would be "bordering on unconstitutional" for him to give advice to his ACC officials?
Hon PEENI HENARE: On behalf of the Minister, it's very clear, the consultation process for the levies. The words of the Minister were, in effect, not an attempt to pre-empt any of the consultation process and to make sure that once the consultation process was finished, the right process would be followed from there, and that is to collect all of the consultation submissions that were made, and put that together. Then there would be a conversation, of course, to be had with ministerial colleagues, and then on to Cabinet for further decision-making to be had.
Hon Tim Macindoe: That was a long answer, but the Minister has not answered the question of why it would border on being unconstitutional for a Minister to give advice to officials.
SPEAKER: Well, I think it did address the question, and this area, both yesterday and today, sort of reinforces to me the need for some better training for MPs on processes.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: When the Minister told the House yesterday that the ACC accounts were very, very full and that there needed to be some rebalancing of those accounts, did he convey that to the board of ACC, and is he concerned that the board appeared not to listen to him by proposing the consultation document that ACC levies for motor vehicles go up?
Hon PEENI HENARE: Sorry, Mr Speaker. Can he repeat—I was mistaken and thought it was a point of order.
SPEAKER: Yes—no, I think many of us thought that you were overriding the point of order rather than asking a question. I think it was a very good question. The member should ask it again.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: When the Minister said yesterday, in an answer to a question, that the ACC accounts were very full and that they needed to be rebalanced down, did he convey that Government position to the board of ACC, and is he concerned that the board of ACC did not listen to him in preparing a consultation document that has motor vehicle levies going up?
Hon PEENI HENARE: On behalf of the Minister, I'm sure that, upon the balance of all of the submissions after the consultation period, the Minister will then be able to make more direct communications to the board and, of course, to his ministerial colleagues in Cabinet.
Hon Amy Adams: That's not an answer.
SPEAKER: Order! Can—I'm tempted to call the member the wrong name. The Hon Amy Adams, the Minister is making an attempt to answer the question. I think he's probably going to make another attempt in a minute, but I want to be able to hear if gets to an answer, and I can't if the member is making those noises.
Hon PEENI HENARE: On behalf of the Minister, can I first say that the figures given by the Minister yesterday were the figures that he had at hand, and acknowledging that the brand new annual report was tabled in the House today. Secondly, with regard to advice to and fro between the board and the Minister, it was very clear that, through the consultation period, we needed to let that take its course to ensure that the voices of the people were heard on the matter. Once that's concluded and the submissions are gathered together, there will be advice and further conversations had between the Minister, ministerial colleagues, Cabinet, and, no doubt, the board.
Hon Judith Collins: Proper process.
SPEAKER: No, I can deal with it. The question asked, I think, was about communications, which included the period before the consultation document. Now, it may be as the Minister's an acting Minister he's not aware of the detail of it—and there's nothing wrong with saying that—but if the Minister who is acting for the Minister is aware of any advice or discussions before the things went out, he should say so—otherwise, he should just say that he's not aware, and we can move on.
Hon PEENI HENARE: I am not aware. However, having the consultation document in front of me, there are proposals in here that make it quite clear what the purpose of the consultation process was.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Despite your assistance to the Minister answering the question, the answer ignores the fact that ACC is a beast of statute. There is a letter of direction to ACC as to how they should operate. There is a concern expressed in this House by the Minister that the funds, or the accounts of ACC, are topping 120 percent, etc., and then a concern and then a suggestion that it's OK for the board to go out and consult on whether even more money should be taken off New Zealanders. Now, I'm simply asking in that question, was the Minister consistent in his dealing with ACC and its board in the answer that he gave to the House yesterday?
SPEAKER: None of that is clear and it's not going to be answered now. But the thing that I will do is remind the Minister acting for the Minister in the House today, especially given what happened yesterday, that we should make sure that we always say "on behalf of the Minister" and that that is understood, because otherwise we might be running into another problem. Now, I don't think we're going to make much more progress here. I think the standard thing is if members want to progress it, they should put down a very specific question about it or follow other processes.
Hon Tim Macindoe: If his Government was "very well aware of the cost pressure New Zealanders face", why did he put out for consultation the proposed 12.1 percent increase in the motor vehicle levy when it was suggested by ACC officials, given that ACC's strong financial position makes it clear the increase isn't needed?
Hon PEENI HENARE: On behalf of the Minister, this is a process that's undertaken every two years, so it wasn't something that was sprung on the general public via the New Zealand Government. This is a process that happens every two years. So, therefore, the consultation scope was very clear from ACC to the members of the public, and that consultation process—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Come on, I want one person to answer it, not three, and the member's not being helpful in encouraging them to do it. I don't think anyone was the wiser from all of that, and I think we might move on if there's no further supplementary.
• Question No. 9—Research, Science
9. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation: Does she stand by all aspects of the Government's R & D tax credit policy?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Research, Science and Innovation): Malo ni, Mr Speaker. Yes, in particular, that we will have our R & D tax incentive scheme in place for 1 April 2019 due to this Government's commitment to prioritising an uplift in R & D, and I was pleased to be able to introduce the enabling legislation today. I want to take this opportunity to thank all stakeholders who submitted during the recent consultation phase, and I look forward to engaging with members as the legislation makes its way through the House.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Why did the Minister tell the House that the R & D tax credit policy, as originally proposed, would help 3,000 businesses, but with the finalised R & D tax credit policy, which has a higher rate and a lower threshold, she's saying only 2,000 firms are likely to benefit?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The figure that has been used from the time that we introduced the discussion has been between 2,000 and 3,000 businesses that could benefit. I've used the number between 2,000 and 3,000 in the media and in statements consistently. We have conservatively estimated 2,000 companies will benefit from this, but we remain optimistic and actually expect that we will see between 2,000 and 3,000 businesses benefiting from this scheme, and we certainly have allowed enough headroom in the funding of the scheme to allow for that.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To an oral question, the Minister said it was around 3,000 firms that will benefit—in the House.
SPEAKER: And why are you telling me that?
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: The Minister is saying that she has been saying it's 2,000 to 3,000, and that is not right.
SPEAKER: Well, if the member thinks that the Minister's been deliberately misleading the House, then there's a process for that. If she disagrees with an answer, well, I think the word is "tough".
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Is she really saying that making something more attractive and easier to qualify for will mean fewer people do it?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Not at all. If the member had listened to my previous answer, the number of between 2,000 and 3,000 businesses that will be eligible is still the same. That is what we expect. We certainly note this is a huge uplift on the 300 businesses that benefited from the previous Government's growth grant scheme. I would point that member to the hugely positive reaction there has been from our business community. They are looking forward to the introduction of this scheme and a Government that truly backs them in an uplift in R & D.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Is the reason she has reduced the number of likely firms that will benefit to give the appearance the new policy will cost the same as the budgeted policy and to hide the risk of the scheme blowing out, the same way the Australian scheme did?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Again I invite that member to listen to my previous answers. Let's be very clear on the amount of money that was budgeted for this scheme in this year's Budget, because this is a Government that believes in the value of R & D. Over a four-year period, there is over $1 billion additional funding budgeted for this scheme. Over the four-year period, there will be available from growth grants baseline funding a further $528 million, making $1.5 billion available over the four-year period. The forecast cost of the scheme at the 15 percent rates that we've gone with, with the $50,000 threshold, is $1.2 billion, give or take. That allows $333 million worth of headroom. While that member might call it a blowout, we will call it a success when we get to spend that money. This is a Government that backs our businesses into R & D.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Does she accept the fact that the R & D tax credit policy will not benefit 99.6 percent of New Zealand businesses, a thousand fewer than originally claimed, is an admission that the policy is not nearly as effective as originally claimed?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: That member should really listen to answers that are given in this House and adjust her questions—
SPEAKER: No, this has gotten to the point of being tedious repetition. I'm going to stop it.
• Question No.
10. GINNY ANDERSEN (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What action has the Government taken over the past year to place young learners and their needs at the centre of the education system?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Heaps, but I'll highlight just two in the answer to this question. I'm particularly proud of the fact that this year's Budget contained the largest increase in learning support funding for those with special needs in over a decade, and the Government has also successfully overseen the roll-out of the first-year fees-free education and training for all those who haven't participated in formal post-school education and training in the past, and it's two years for those undertaking industry training.
Ginny Andersen: What else has the Government done to improve New Zealand's public education system?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Again, there's heaps here, but I want to highlight one issue in particular, and that is the work that we have been doing with the teaching profession to lift the status of the teaching profession and to address the issues that they have been raising. In particular, we are committed to addressing the serious teacher shortages that we currently face, and we've invested over $40 million to do that. We've given teachers back the right to elect representatives to their own professional body, and we are working on a long-term education workforce strategy so that we can ensure we've got enough teachers to meet demand in the future.
• Question No. 11—Building and
11. ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua) to the Minister for Building and Construction: What steps has she taken to ensure a sustainable construction workforce for New Zealand?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister for Building and Construction): Malo ni, Mr Speaker. Lifting the capacity and capability of the construction workforce is key to a number of our Government's priorities in housing and economic development, including KiwiBuild. That is why I established the ministerial group on construction workforce, which oversaw the development of a mobilising construction skills action plan, which my colleagues and I announced a few weeks ago. The construction skills action plan has six priorities intended to work together to increase the profile of construction, the number of people entering careers in construction and training and industry, and business investment in skills and training development. This mobilising action plan we will continue to add to, to ensure that we build the skills that New Zealand needs for our future.
Andrew Bayly: Will the decrease in the number of people undertaking apprenticeships and brick- and block-laying in the year to 31 August 2018 achieve her plans for a sustainable construction workforce?
Hon JENNY SALESA: The reality is that we came into this Government and we were confronted with the fact that we were short by many, many thousands of people in the building and construction area, not just block-laying—block-laying plus many others like carpentry and plumbing. What we are told at the moment by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is that we are short by 30,000 skilled people. This did not happen over 12 months, but what we as a Government are committed to doing is ensuring we train up New Zealanders to build our houses and our infrastructure.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Can the Minister confirm that, of the data that has been released by the Minister of Education in response to written questions from the Opposition about the various building and construction trades, in fact almost all of them have shown increases in the number of trainees since this Government took office, and block-laying is one of the few that's shown a decrease?
SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has no responsibility for that.
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that is the case, then all of the questions are out of order, because they're all questions relating to written question answers that I have given the member.
SPEAKER: And if the member had said that, and that was the basis of his questions, then they mightn't have been out of order. But he didn't, and they're not.
Andrew Bayly: Will the decrease in the number of people undertaking apprenticeships in floor- and wall-tiling in the year to 31 August 2018 achieve her plans for a sustainable construction workforce?
Hon JENNY SALESA: The reality is that there is an increase in trained people in apprenticeships right now. There are 46,000 people who are training to work in the construction and skills area. We are absolutely focused on ensuring that we train up New Zealanders to ensure that we build up our houses. There are a few decreases, as the member states, but overall there are 46,000 who are training in apprenticeships for construction and workforce.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is that Minister saying that despite the tens of billions spent on the Christchurch rebuild, the tradespeople were not trained to be prepared for the building programme of this present Government?
Hon JENNY SALESA: Unfortunately, that last Government did not take the opportunity to train up New Zealanders when we had the opportunity with Christchurch. We would not be in this position if we had used the Christchurch earthquake rebuild to train up New Zealanders. We wouldn't be short by 30,000 skilled people, but we are absolutely committed to ensure that we train up New Zealanders to build the houses that we need as well as the infrastructure for New Zealand.
Andrew Bayly: Will the decrease in the number of people undertaking apprenticeships in heating and ventilation in the year to 31 August 2018 achieve her plans for a sustainable construction workforce?
Hon JENNY SALESA: As the member is focused on heating and block-laying, we are focused on making sure we have enough carpenters, enough plumbers, and enough builders to build the 71,000 residential houses that we're short by. That is what our Government is committed to doing, and that is why we have a ministerial group made up of nine Ministers to ensure each and every one of us and our ministries puts our best foot forward to ensure we train up enough people.
Tamati Coffey: What has been the response of the construction sector to the construction skills action plan?
Hon JENNY SALESA: The construction sector has responded very positively to the announcement of the Government's construction skills action plan. For instance, the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation stated, "The plan will cultivate skills … industry desperately needs." The Construction Strategy Group, key construction sector leaders, are supportive of the Government's plan, commenting—and I quote—"The industry will strongly support these initiatives."
Andrew Bayly: Is she concerned that the announcement today of 10 two-bedroom houses in Te Kauwhata will cause a building boom—
Hon Phil Twyford: Te Kauwhata.
Andrew Bayly: —that will put massive pressure on the construction workforce?
SPEAKER: Order! I want to ask members just to be a little bit more tolerant than they are being. People have a different range of skills in the Māori language. I'm not perfect, and there are members on both sides of the House who have a lot to learn. Mocking people who make mistakes is not useful.
Hon JENNY SALESA: Can the member repeat his question please.
Andrew Bayly: Is she concerned that the announcement today of 10 two-bedroom houses in Te Kauwhata will cause a building boom that will put massive pressure on the construction workforce?
Hon JENNY SALESA: We know from the National Construction Pipeline Report that we will have a building boom right up until at least December of 2023. This is one of the reasons why it is absolutely important that we look at training enough people. But what the member also needs to take into account is the fact that we are looking at new ways of building houses in Aotearoa New Zealand. With prefabrication, we're building houses that take only about three weeks. One builder and three semi-skilled builders can build a house in just three weeks. So we are looking at new ways of ensuring we build houses.
• Question No.
12. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress, if any, has been made in the last year towards a more sustainable public health service?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): This Government has made health a priority since day one. To mention just some of the progress we've made, we've made it easier for people to get care when they need it by making doctors visits cheaper for around 600,000 New Zealanders. We've begun to address long-standing workforce issues with pay equity for mental health and addiction support workers and a significant settlement for district health board (DHB) nurses. We've started work fixing up our hospitals by investing $750 million worth of new funding into capital works. This is a Government that believes all New Zealanders should have access to high-quality public health services.
Angie Warren-Clark: What progress has been made to ensure DHBs can cope with an ageing and growing population?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The staff in our DHBs are world class and deliver quality care day in and day out. This Government has recognised that DHB resources have been stretched too far for too long. That's why, in Budget 2018, as the Dominion Post put it on its excellent front page, health was a big winner. [Holds up front page]
Hon Grant Robertson: Who's that guy?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We put an extra $22.2 billion—that guy, Minister of Finance, is the Minister of Finance—into DHBs over the next four years to help them maintain services and add capacity to cope with growing demand. One Budget can't fix the legacy of underfunding we inherited, but this is a Government that is firmly focused on the long-term well-being of New Zealanders.
Angie Warren-Clark: What progress has been made in the last 12 months in improving mental health and well-being in New Zealand?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Improving mental health is a major challenge that requires a community-wide response. We prioritised initiatives we know will make a meaningful difference, including the Mana Ake programme, which is putting mental health support in primary and intermediate schools in Christchurch and Kaikōura. We've extended the nurses in schools programme to ensure decile 1 to 4 schools are covered, we've funded the construction of new alcohol and drug detoxification beds in Auckland, we've launched the Integrated Therapies Pilot for 18- to 25-year-olds, and we've boosted the DHBs' budget for mental health services by around $200 million over the forecast period. And, of course, next month, we will receive the report of the inquiry into mental health and addiction, which we commissioned in our first 100 days. That will come to shape our response to these issues for years to come.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: If health was the big winner in Budget 2018, why was the DHB funding increase lower than the previous Government's last increase, and how does that constitute progress towards a more sustainable public health service?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I believe the member is expressing those things in a way which is a little misleading. He will be rolling one of the settlements into that funding increase. He's done that before. The actual increase to DHBs for running their services was the largest in nearly a decade.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he think that providing not a single dollar of extra funding for new medicines constitutes progress towards a more sustainable public health service?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We continue to get excellent value from Pharmac. They continue to provide more drugs for more New Zealanders, and that is excellent performance. This Government cares about making sure that the health dollar is spent as wisely as possible to make sure we get the most value we can from the health dollars for New Zealanders, and we will continue to do that unapologetically.