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Parliament: Questions and Answers - Nov 1

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No 1—Finance

1. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Finance: What examples, if any, are there of a well-being approach influencing Government policy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): This Government is currently using a well-being approach to underpin the Budget 2019 process, through which agencies are collaborating across Government on their Budget bids and policies in support of the Government's well-being priorities. These priorities have been informed by a comprehensive well-being analysis, undertaken by Treasury to determine where the greatest need for improvement in long-term intergenerational well-being exists. At the core of this is Treasury's Living Standards Framework, which measures success across finance, environment, communities, and people. The Government is putting the well-being of New Zealanders at the heart of what we do and, in particular, our Budget policy and investment decisions.

Paul Eagle: What specific Government initiatives have been developed under a well-being approach?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: This morning, the Government announced a major $1.5 billion project to revitalise eastern Porirua. The project will renew and build 2,900 State homes and at least 2,000 affordable KiwiBuild and market homes. This project is a genuine partnership with Ngāti Toa Rangatira. I want to acknowledge Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, and the Minister Kelvin Davis for his work with them, but also a range of other Government agencies: Housing New Zealand, HLC, Te Puni Kōkiri, Treasury, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social Development, and, indeed, the Porirua City Council. It is a plan for a total community renewal, including housing, education, urban development, and employment. It is a 25-year intergenerational well-being project and represents a practical application of the well-being approach not just being about a narrow view of a return on investment but actually being about how we can improve living standards, health, justice, and education outcomes all at once.

Paul Eagle: Why is it important that policies are assessed under a well-being approach?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The core focus of this Government is to improve the well-being and living standards of all New Zealanders. Rather than seeing New Zealanders as some kind of liability on a balance sheet, we are using the well-being approach to ensure our policies and investments benefit our people, our communities—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just mush.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: —and our environment. Hard luck, Nick. We've actually got on and done something—

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: —unlike you. This is groundbreaking work, and I am proud to be part of a Government that is truly putting the well-being of New Zealanders at the heart of everything we do. I want to acknowledge all the Ministers who've been involved but, in particular, the local member, Kris Faafoi, for his tireless advocacy for the city of Porirua.

Question No. 2—Immigration

2. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by all his statements and actions in relation to Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Yes, in the context of the information that I had available at the time.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did Mr Sroubek's immigration lawyer seek residence for his client, or simply cancellation of deportation liability?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No. The determination that I made after reviewing the case file was that Mr Sroubek's deportation liability should remain but that it should be suspended for five years on the conditions which I think are publicly available. However, due to the fact that he had initially been issued a residency visa in an incorrect name, I was advised that the way to give effect to that decision was to issue a residency visa in his correct name, carrying the conditions that I would have placed upon him had I suspended his deportation liability.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen statements by Mr Sroubek's lawyer that he did not ask for residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes, but what he asked for was for the deportation liability to be cancelled. I determined that it should not be cancelled, that it should be suspended, but, given the peculiarities of this case, the way to give effect to that decision was the course of action that I took.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did Mr Sroubek or his lawyer assert that he was in danger if he was returned to the Czech Republic?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Given that I have just called for an investigation into—

Hon Members: Answer the question.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Given that I have just called for an investigation into the information that I had available, and some additional information that is allegedly available, I am not making any further comment on what information I used to make that decision.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister didn't assert that he could not answer because it couldn't be given consistently with the public interest. Therefore, the question wasn't addressed.

SPEAKER: Well, my view is that he, effectively, did.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did the Minister believe Karel Sroubek was in danger if he was returned to the Czech Republic?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I am not divulging the reasons that led me to the decision that I made.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware Mr Sroubek twice returned to the Czech Republic while awaiting trial on kidnapping and aggravated robbery charges?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: It is not in the public interest for me to divulge what information I—[Interruption] It is not in the public interest for me to divulge what information I did and did not have.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware the Parole Board considered him unsafe to release back into the community—a decision they made just 48 hours before the Minister granted him residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: It is not in the public interest for me to divulge the information that I did or did not have in making that decision. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was—

SPEAKER: Would the member resume his seat. I do want to say to the Minister that while the Speakers' rulings do make it clear that the discretion as to what is in the public interest and what is not is something for the Minister to decide, I also want to say to the Minister that a straight answer to a question about whether a publicly available document was in his possession or not is quite a long stretch of that discretion that he has when addressing the House, and it's one which I would encourage Ministers to think about carefully. Clearly, the public interest test is one which should be a high test when it is applied, because otherwise it can be used to avoid proper scrutiny of ministerial decision-making.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware the Parole Board considered him unsafe to release back into the community, a decision they made just 48 hours before the Minister granted residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Given that not only does the Immigration Act not require me to divulge the information or the reasons for the decision that I made, but also that I have asked Immigration New Zealand to conduct an investigation into information that may or may not exist that may directly contradict the information that I relied upon in making that decision, I'm not prepared to jeopardise that investigation by divulging that information today.

SPEAKER: Again, the answer in its totality is acceptable, but I do want to make it clear to Ministers that the fact that they are not required to generally disclose something under a statute is not a protection for answers in this House.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Apart from Mr Sroubek's lawyer, who has made representations to the Minister of Immigration in relation to this case?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Sorry, could I get the member to repeat the question, please.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Apart from Mr Sroubek's lawyer, who has made representations to the Minister of Immigration in relation to this case?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: There were a number of sources of information in the file that I considered. In this case, it is definitely not in the public interest for me to reveal those people.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does the Minister still stand by his colleagues who have said this is the most open and transparent Government that this country's ever seen?

SPEAKER: I think the member knows that that's not this member's responsibility.

Question No. 3—Justice

3. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Justice: Does he stand by all his answers given to Oral Question No. 2 yesterday?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): Yes.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Was there an extradition request made by Czech Republic officials concerning Karel Sroubek?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why did the Parole Board say, "We are … aware from the papers on the Board file that there is a current application for extradition to the Czech Republic for outstanding criminal proceedings against him"?

SPEAKER: Before the Minister answers the question, I just want to test the responsibility of this Minister, whether it is this Minister who is responsible for the Parole Board?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Yes.

SPEAKER: It is? The Minister will answer the question—I thought it was the Minister of Corrections.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Parole boards are judicial or quasi-judicial bodies. The chair of the particular parole board that he is referring to is a District Court judge, and it is not for me to account for what information a chair of a parole board or an entire parole board had available to them. The fact of the matter is there has been no extradition request from the Czech Republic to New Zealand in relation to Mr Sroubek.

Hon Mark Mitchell: In light of that answer, where would the Parole Board have received a report from saying that there was an extradition request from the Czech Republic?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: It's impossible for me to answer that question; I have nothing to do with the operations of the Parole Board.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Has the Minister, since question time yesterday, gone back to his officials and asked for more information around the case involving Karel Sroubek and engagement with the Ministry of Justice?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I have said to my officials explicitly that I do not want any information in relation to Mr Sroubek, because the Czech Republic, in 2015, indicated that they may be interested in making an extradition request in relation to Mr Sroubek. They have not yet done so, they may well do so, and because it is a matter that, eventually, I may be seized of, it is entirely inappropriate for me to do anything that might contaminate any future decision I'm called upon to make.

Hon Mark Mitchell: So, in light of the Minister's responses today, is he asserting that the Parole Board is making decisions based on flawed information?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: It is not for me to explain the decisions of the Parole Board; they stand on their own merits. As the Minister of Justice responsible for the Extradition Act, I take a close interest in what happens under that Act. The starting point of anything under that Act is a request by another nation to this country for extradition—that has not happened in relation to Mr Sroubek.

Hon Mark Mitchell: So when the Minister told us yesterday there had been contact between the Czech Republic and New Zealand Ministry of Justice officials in 2015, what was the nature of the information exchanged?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Well, that member might be better to ask the former Minister of Justice, the Hon Amy Adams. What I have been advised is that the Czech Republic made contact with New Zealand authorities and expressed an interest in Mr Sroubek in relation to extradition, and that was it.

Question No. 4—Pike River Re-entry

4. JO LUXTON (Labour) to the Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry: What progress, if any, has been made on the work of the Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa Pike River Recovery Agency?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry): I'm happy to report to the House that yesterday I received a report on re-entering the Pike River drift, following nine months of intensive work by Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa—Pike River Recovery Agency. The agency has identified three re-entry options to recover the drift. These are to drive a small tunnel to create a ventilation circuit; secondly, single entry using the existing main drift access tunnel as the sole means to ventilate the main drift; and single entry with a large-diameter borehole. I've also received advice from my independent ministerial adviser Rob Fyfe, who has reviewed the re-entry options. According to the reports, all of the options are safe and feasible and the product of months of rigorous analysis and risk assessment.

Jo Luxton: Why is the re-entering of the Pike River drift important?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The explosion at the Pike River mine on 19 November 2010 was a national tragedy. Therefore, the re-entry and recovery of the Pike River drift is an act of justice, to bring closure to the families of the 29 men who lost their lives in that event and by ascertaining the causes of the explosion so we can ensure that a disaster like this never happens again.

Jo Luxton: What is the time line on re-entering the Pike River drift from here?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: It's my responsibility as Minister to carefully weigh the options, alongside Rob Fyfe's independent advice. I take that responsibility very seriously, and I expect to make a decision by mid-November.

Question No. 5—Housing and Urban Development

5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does he stand by all of his answers to Oral Questions yesterday?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Yes, I have looked into the matter, and I'm advised that the tenant contacted Housing New Zealand on 19 October because of a burglary. In response Housing New Zealand contractors secured the property the same day. Housing New Zealand has installed deadlocks and were due to install a new locking system yesterday, before the member raised the matter in the House, but the tenant wasn't home. Housing New Zealand has arranged with the tenant to attend at 4 p.m. today to replace the door locks. I understand that the deadlocks took 11 days to be installed. That is, in my view, unacceptable, and I have asked Housing New Zealand for a detailed explanation of why, in light of the particular circumstances and the vulnerable situation that this tenant was in, Housing New Zealand did not install deadlocks with a lot more urgency.

Hon Judith Collins: Is it acceptable for Housing New Zealand to continue to insist on replacing the external door lock and putting a deadlock in when the entire doorframe and the whole locking system are faulty and currently rendered useless with a screwdriver?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm advised that Housing New Zealand were there within hours to secure the property. Deadlocks have subsequently been installed, albeit after far too long a period of time. Housing New Zealand is now reviewing the locks that have been used in all of its homes in the McLennan development.

Hon Judith Collins: Does the Minister, then, agree that wood and duct tape are not an acceptable Housing New Zealand solution that was supplied to the tenant? [Holds up photo.]

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I'm happy to receive that information if the member wishes to pass it over, and I will investigate it.

Hon Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a photograph of the repair.

SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that photograph being tabled? There appears to be none.

Photograph, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Judith Collins: Should Housing New Zealand be especially aware of the fear that a tenant has in losing her home when she has been challenging the decisions of New Zealand's biggest landlord?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: My expectation is, clearly, that Housing New Zealand will respond to tenants' concerns, and situations like these burglaries, promptly and compassionately.

Hon Judith Collins: From the answers given today by the Minister, is he advising the House that all 63,000 of Housing New Zealand houses will now be checked to see if their locking systems are faulty?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As I said, I'm advised that Housing New Zealand are checking all of the locks that have been used in this development, and I will ask them to look into whether or not that review of the locks at McLennan should be applied more widely through the Housing New Zealand estate.

Hon Judith Collins: I seek leave to table two further photographs of the locking system and door, showing that there is a massive gap between the two, and how they do not actually connect very well—

SPEAKER: Is that the full set that the member wants to table today?

Hon Judith Collins: Yes, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: Is there any objection to those two being tabled? There appears to be none.

Photographs, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Question No. 6—Education

6. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement in relation to partnership schools that "The Government's strong view is that there is no place for them in the New Zealand education system", given that UNICEF's Innocenti Report Card found New Zealand has one of the most unequal education systems in the OECD?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes. The UNICEF data from 2015 and 2016 reinforces the importance of the Government's commitment to a quality public education system that caters to the needs of all New Zealanders.

David Seymour: Did the Minister have any official documents or advice suggesting that partnership schools were not contributing to greater education equality?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The reasons the Government has removed the partnership schools model, or the charter schools model, have been well canvassed. They were well canvassed in the debate. The charter schools didn't have to employ registered and qualified teachers, didn't have to teach to the curriculum, and weren't using the quality of educational facilities that we would expect of public schools—in one case, with a school being threatened with closure in the middle of the school year because its lease had expired. That's not the type of educational model that we think some of the most vulnerable kids in our education system should be put into.

David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just ask that if the Minister was quoting from any official document, he table it? He didn't have any official document?

SPEAKER: The Minister was clearly not quoting from anything. He was answering the question. It was a supplementary question.

David Seymour: Oh. Well, in that case—

SPEAKER: Does the member want another supplementary?

David Seymour: Yes please, sir.

SPEAKER: Away you go.

David Seymour: How can the Minister reconcile his answer to the previous supplementary question with an independent report by Cognition Education that said that partnership schools "are aligned with the New Zealand curriculum and provide for the personalised needs of priority learners, many of whom had been failed by the current public education system."?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Quite easily, because the legislative model allowed for those things to happen. Those schools that have been complying with those requirements are transitioning into the public education system.

Question No. 7—Pacific Peoples

7. ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister for Pacific Peoples: What recent announcements has he made regarding the future of Pacific peoples in Aotearoa?

Hon AUPITO WILLIAM SIO (Minister for Pacific Peoples): I recently launched the Pacific Aotearoa website ahead of the 13 November Pacific vision summit to share what the Pacific community have said in relation to a refreshed Pacific vision for Pacific peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand. With nearly two-thirds of our Pacific population now born in New Zealand, our Pacific story has evolved from a story of migration to one of belonging to Aotearoa New Zealand. It's time our Pacific vision, set back in 1999, was refreshed to reflect this.

Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What is the refreshed Pacific vision about?

Hon AUPITO WILLIAM SIO: When I became the Minister for Pacific Peoples, I asked the ministry to engage with our communities through the talanoa process in our search to find inspiration and confirmation from our communities about what issues are a priority to achieving their general well-being, how we have fared in the past, where we are today, and where we want to be in the future in our collective pursuit to achieve success, prosperity, and security for our families. To date, we have engaged with more than 130 Pacific groups and more than 2,500 Pacific people, representing the diversity of community organisations and the diverse make-up of Pacific peoples who willingly provided raw and valuable feedback in developing a refreshed Pacific vision. The ministry have captured this feedback in a reflections report, which will be shared next month at the Pacific vision summit. The Pacific vision work gives us a much clearer picture of what well-being means for Pacific people from a Pacific perspective.

Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What key issues have Pacific communities identified through the talanoa process?

Hon AUPITO WILLIAM SIO: There were many issues captured during the talanoa process, and I just highlight a few of the key priority areas. Pacific peoples value their languages, cultures, their arts and heritage, and our stories, our spiritualties, are key areas of pride, our source of identity, confidence, and our source also of our well-being. They are treasured by Pacific people, including the New Zealand - born generation who want to see it recognised and valued as an asset in New Zealand. They want prosperous Pacific communities, participating in the labour market, embarking in businesses and social enterprises, volunteering, learning, caring, donating, and contributing to New Zealand's economy. They want to strengthen their healthy well-being and resiliency by being the authors of the design and delivery of our own health solutions: a confident thriving, innovative, resilient—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! I think the member has been following the bad example of the Minister of Finance—far too long.

Question No. 8—Energy and Resources

8. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Has she received any reports which show that wholesale electricity prices for the first 22 days of October 2018 are over 2½ times higher than the previous record for October, which was in 2011, and is she aware of the main causes of this record electricity price?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Economic Development): on behalf of the Minister of Energy and Resources: In answer to the first part of the question, no; in answer to the second part of the question, yes.

Jonathan Young: Can we expect the current high wholesale prices to become normal in the future as gas reserves rapidly deplete, as has been the case currently?

Hon DAVID PARKER: On behalf of the Minister of Energy and Resources, no, because the main cause of the current price rise, which is short term, is problems with faults and maintenance of the gas supply system, not a shortage of gas. In these circumstances, why the member would want a system reliant on more gas rather than less is beyond me. However, I am pleased to inform the member that the South Island's coming to the rescue. There's been rain this week and there's more forecast in the next week or two.

Jonathan Young: Is the Minister aware that we are currently burning 5,000 tonnes of coal a day to keep the lights on because of current gas shortages, and is this what the future looks like?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, the future would look like more of that if that member was in Government, but under this, it will be more renewables not more thermal. I would quote from an article in Business Desk, which quotes the chief executive of Genesis, who says that "The problem is a combination of low storage and reduced gas supplies from the Pohokura field. Normally in other dry periods they would have been able to rely on gas, but they can't because of these faults in the system. It's not about the shortage of gas." I would also note that the chief executive of the Electricity Authority says that the problem is that thermal is only running at 40 percent of its potential because of those gas constraints.

Jonathan Young: So does she still disagree with her officials that her offshore exploration ban will increase electricity prices and will increase greenhouse gas emissions, when these two things are happening right now, as an example, due to natural gas shortage of supply?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, for two reasons. The most recent investment, which is a matter of competitive market choices by participants, has been in more wind power not in more gas, because it's cheaper.

Jonathan Young: So with the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Bill going through the House today and next week, can the Minister give us a guarantee that this bill will not contribute to electricity price increases?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes.

Question No. 9—Justice

9. SIMEON BROWN (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Justice: Is the maximum sentence of two years for the supply of psychoactive drugs a sufficient penalty, when the coroner has reported up to 45 deaths over the last 12 months due to these drugs and St John Ambulance has reported up to 30 callouts a week related to these drugs?

SPEAKER: I have received the warning of the possibility of a longer than usual answer.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): In response to the factual assertions in the member's question, there have been six confirmed cases since May 2014 where the coroner found that synthetic cannabis use was the primary cause of the person's death. Since 1 June 2017, there have been approximately 40 to 45 cases nationally which the Chief Coroner has said provisionally appear to be attributable to synthetic cannabis toxicity. These cases are active, as the final cause of death is yet to be determined. Increasing the penalty for supply of psychoactive substances is unlikely to deter psychoactive drug use. I've seen no credible evidence that supports increased penalties resulting in reduced rates of offending. This Government is taking a harm reduction approach to the issue and is looking to do something more effective than simply raising the penalty.

Simeon Brown: So if the Minister says that he's taking a harm reduction approach, does that also mean he's taking a penalty reduction approach?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No, the two are not the same. But I think the member seems to operate under the illusion that regular users of psychoactive substances and other illicit substances—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. This, I think most members of the House agree, is a very serious issue, and I think most members of the House actually want to hear both the questions and the answers. A barrage of interjections is not helping with that.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The point I was making is that I think the problem with the underlying principle of that member's question is that he seems to assume that users of these substances sit around each week waiting for the latest edition of the New Zealand Gazette to see what law changes have been made and what penalty changes there have been; they do not. This is a street drug for people looking for a cheap street high. It needs an approach that addresses the street life of those people, to create a safe environment for them to deal with their problem.

Simeon Brown: Does the Minister understand the difference between a drug dealer and a drug supplier, and does he believe it is just that dealers of cannabis can receive eight years in prison while synthetic drug dealers can receive only two years?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Yes, I fully understand the difference between those two things. What that member doesn't seem to understand—and the advice that this Government has had from the Ministry of Justice, from police, and from others on the front line—is, actually, when it comes to street drugs like synthetic cannabis, they are one and the same. Suppliers are sellers and sellers are users.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Is the Minister aware of any evidence that shows increasing penalties will reduce drug harm?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The advice that this Government has received is that just increasing penalties is the least effective approach to dealing with illicit substances that cause harm. Actually, the approach that countries around the world have now adopted and this Government is going to adopt is a harm reduction approach.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Does the Minister agree with former Prime Minister Helen Clark, who recently said—

Brett Hudson: New Zealanders do.

Hon Jacqui Dean: Gosh, that's something.

CHLÖE SWARBRICK:—that the only people who benefit from a prohibitionist approach to drugs are the criminal underground?

SPEAKER: Before it's answered, could I have an indication of which members interjected during that question?

Brett Hudson: Mr Speaker, that was me.

SPEAKER: And?

Hon Jacqui Dean: I think it appears it might have been me. Thank you.

SPEAKER: Right.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Naturally, it's always difficult to disagree with the former Prime Minister Helen Clark. I'm aware that she is a key member of an international drug harm reduction body. I met their chair recently, Ruth Dreifuss, a senior politician from Switzerland, to talk about these issues. They have been very clear that around the world, Governments are taking an approach that is about seeking harm reduction, which usually—or, in fact, almost inevitably—also leads to less use. That is better for communities and safer for people who are prone to using these substances.

Simeon Brown: How can he be critical of National for seeking the more appropriate maximum penalty of eight years for people dealing in psychoactive substances, when his own Government colleagues in New Zealand First say he is wrong and want 14 years?

SPEAKER: Order! Well, the first part of the question was out of order, and the second part of the question was out of order, because he doesn't have responsibility.

Simeon Brown: Will the Minister agree to meet with the dozens of parents who have lost sons and daughters to these psychoactive drugs, like Lewis and Lorraine Jones, and explain why he is dismissing their plea for tougher penalties for the drug dealers who have profited from their tragedies?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I have met the families of users of these substances, and they have all agreed with me universally that the one thing that this Government needs to do is to provide facilities and places where these people—mainly young people, many who are disengaged, some who have been thrown out of their own homes, some who have left home for a variety of reasons—a place where they can go and get their issues dealt with, their addictions dealt with, and a safe place for them to disclose, without the risk of prosecution either of them or the people seeking to treat them.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Does the Minister agree with the recommendations of the 2011 Law Commission report that New Zealand's drug legislation should be repealed and replaced with health-focused, harm reduction legislation?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I think it is time for this Parliament, and this country in fact, to face up to—after decades and decades of a drug law regime that clearly is not reducing drug use and reducing drug harm, to look at alternatives. Many other countries have gone down that path with very positive effects. We should have a good, close examination of it. It would be good if all members in the House could be involved with that. We all share the same objective of reducing harm, but we seem to have different ways of getting there. We need to do something better and different to what we're doing now.

Chlöe Swarbrick: So, then, does the Minister agree that the best way to reduce drug harm is not to perpetuate prohibition but to regulate and to resource services that are focused on reducing demand?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The latter proposition the member puts of providing resourcing to reduce harm is certainly the priority view that this Government takes, but, in the end, it's going to take all of us to reach an agreement on what's actually going to reduce harm and reduce illicit drug use.

Simeon Brown: So is the Minister saying, by arguing for a drug harm reduction policy, that the Government will also look to remove or reduce penalties for drug dealers?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: There will always be a place, obviously, for suitable penalties for criminal behaviour, but if the objective right now, in the view of the deaths of young people using toxic substances that they should not be using, is to reduce harm, let's find the way to reduce harm, provide the environment for them to stop using, to address their issues, rather than thinking and puffing up our chest that writing another statute that extends penalties is going to make a difference. It never has before; it won't now.

Question No. 10—Transport

10. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: What recent announcements has he made regarding regional rail?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): On Tuesday, along with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, and the Acting Associate Minister of Transport, the Hon James Shaw, I announced $35 million for KiwiRail to reverse the decision made under the past Government to decommission the electric locomotives running on the Palmerston North to Hamilton section of the North Island main trunk line. This follows announcements of the upgrade of the Wairarapa line, the reopening of the Wairoa to Napier line, and the start of geotechnical investigation for the Marsden Point spur. For these initiatives, I would like to thank the Deputy Prime Minister and the Hon Shane Jones, as the first citizen of the provinces, for their leadership.

Mark Patterson: What impact will these projects have on regional New Zealand?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Investing in the rail network will get trucks off the road, reducing deaths and serious injuries and the costs of road maintenance while also reducing carbon emissions. Enhancing regional rail lines will mean more jobs and economic growth in the regions. Our Government believes that rail can be the backbone of a sustainable, 21st century transport system. Our aim is to accelerate the transition to non-fossil fuels, and moving to diesel alone would have been a backward step.

SPEAKER: Order! Can I just ask members—I'm sure you're not calling out about train speeds, and therefore the interjections are not relevant.

Mark Patterson: What has the reaction been to these projects from regional New Zealand?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary, Wayne Butson, said that investment from the Government will be a boon for regions such as Taumarunui, Taihape, and Ōhākune. These regions have highly skilled rail workers on good pay and conditions, putting money back into the local economies. When I was recently in the Wairarapa with the Hon Ron Mark, the local mayors were extremely positive about the Government's long-overdue investment in upgrading the Wairarapa line.

Question No. 11—Workplace Relations and Safety

11. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Does he stand by all his statements and actions in relation to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill; if so, what changes, if any, has he agreed to make to the bill at the committee of the whole House?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): In answer to the first part of the question, yes; and in answer to the second part of the question, if the Government determines that changes need to be made, that would be a decision for Cabinet.

Hon Scott Simpson: If changes have been made, why will he not disclose what those changes are?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Changes have not been made.

Hon Scott Simpson: Which Ministers has he had discussions with in regard to changes of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Many of them.

Hon Scott Simpson: Have any members of New Zealand First discussed with him issues they have with the bill as reported back from the select committee?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: We are a collaborative Government made up of three parties. Of course I've spoken not only to members of New Zealand First but to members of the Labour Party and the Green Party too.

Hon Scott Simpson: Why, when the bill has been through a Cabinet process and through a select committee process where the Government has had a Government majority, can he not be transparent with New Zealanders about what the final shape of his Employment Relations Amendment Bill will be?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because sensible Governments do take all opportunities to make sure that their legislation is fit for purpose and as good as it can be. No decisions have been made. If any decisions need to be made, the public will be made aware of that at the time.

Hon Scott Simpson: Isn't it true that his trade union friendly employment relations legislation, originally supported by the Deputy Prime Minister and his party, is now being used merely as a political bargaining chip by the Deputy Prime Minister and his party?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No. That's a very silly accusation.

Question No. 12—ACC

12. Hon TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for ACC: Does he stand by all his answers to Oral Questions relating to ACC's proposed increase to motor vehicle levies, which would include an increase of 1.9c per litre for petrol?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for ACC): Yes.

Hon Tim Macindoe: Why did he argue on Tuesday that the asset-to-liability ratio, which, in his words "actually maxed out at 115.7 percent" in 2015, and has been significantly above the 105 percent funding position target each year since, explains the proposed 12.1 percent motor vehicle levy increase when those figures actually highlight that an increase is neither needed nor justified?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Over the past two years, the number and lifetime cost of treating accidents that happen on the road involving a motor vehicle has increased. ACC has paid an average of 30,400 road accident claims per year. This is 9 percent higher than the last time it considered levies in 2016. Some of the drivers of increased costs include increased social rehabilitation costs involved in restoring the independence of road crash victims following accidents, the impact of historically low interest rates which can impact the future performance of ACC's investments, a higher volume of weekly compensation claims, and a faster than expected increase in the lifetime cost of treating injuries. ACC is aware that it currently has more money in reserves than is needed to cover the costs of motor vehicle injuries already on its books. The projected solvency ratio, as at the start of 2019-2021—

SPEAKER: Fairly soon, fairly soon.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Nearly there, Mr Speaker. The member has asked me this question several times. I think he's interested in the answer.

SPEAKER: Well, that's right. It's becoming tedious.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The projected solvency ratio at the start of the 2019-2021 levy period, i.e., 1 July 2019, is 111 percent, and it needs to get back to its 105 percent target. ACC intends to do this by charging less than what it needs to cover the costs of treating injuries. This shortfall will be paid by the surplus that it has saved.

Hon Tim Macindoe: Why does the Minister assert that a "exploding road toll" is behind ACC's proposed increase in the motor vehicle levy when the average road toll under the previous National Government was 305 deaths per annum—significantly lower than the average road toll of 416 road deaths per annum during the nine years of the Clark Labour Government?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because, despite the road toll falling consistently for a couple of decades, over the last five years it has gone up steeply.

Hon Tim Macindoe: Has he questioned ACC officials about their decision only to propose an increase in motor vehicle levies in its discussion document, and not a decrease, despite the ratio being so high in favour of assets?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Under legislation, ACC is required to return its ratio to 105 percent over a 10 year horizon. In its consultation documents, it has indicated that these proposals are what it thinks it needs to be able to give effect to that funding policy statement—a funding policy statement gazetted by the Hon Nikki Kaye.

Hon Tim Macindoe: Is he concerned that the proposed increase of 1.9c per litre in the motor vehicle levy will add to the methamphetamine for petrol black market, as reported by Newshub?

SPEAKER: Order! That's not a matter of responsibility of this House.

Hon Tim Macindoe: If the ratio is in such a healthy position, will he recommend to Cabinet that ACC decreases the motor vehicle levy to provide New Zealanders with some much-needed respite from the skyrocketing petrol prices that have occurred under this Labour-led Government?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I will be making a recommendation that I think is responsible for the long-term viability of ACC, and is responsible from the point of view of the living costs that ordinary New Zealanders face. I would point out that the motor vehicle levy is considerably lower today than it was for a large chunk of the time that National was in Government.

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