Parliament: Questions and Answers - Dec 13
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Finance: What are the priorities for Budget 2019?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Budget 2019 will be New Zealand's first well-being Budget, and is an important first step in embedding well-being at the heart of what we do as a Government. Today, in the Budget Policy Statement, I have announced five priorities for Budget 2019—
Hon Amy Adams: They were announced yesterday.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: —which will be delivered in May next year. And I want to thank the National Party for getting that excellent information out into the public arena. I have already announced that one of the priorities will be supporting mental health and well-being for all New Zealanders, and we are putting a special focus on those under the age of 24. The other four priorities are creating opportunities for productive businesses, regions, iwi, and others to transition to a sustainable and low emissions economy; supporting a thriving nation in the digital age through innovation, social and economic opportunities; lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills, and opportunities; and reducing child poverty and improving child well-being, with a specific focus on addressing family violence.
Dr Duncan Webb: How were the priorities selected?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The five priorities were identified through an evidence-based approach—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Borrowed off the previous Government.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: —that's something Gerry Brownlee needs to learn about—using Treasury's Living Standards Framework, evidence from sector-based experts, and the Government's science advisers, and with collaboration among public sector agencies and Ministers, we developed five priorities, which signify the outcomes that will make significant improvements to the long-term intergenerational well-being of New Zealanders. This represents a new way of thinking about how we develop our priorities as a Government and how we measure our success as a country.
Dr Duncan Webb: How will the priorities influence Budget bids?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Instead of setting high-level, values-driven priorities halfway through the Budget process, like previous Governments have done, the five Budget 2019 priorities were sent to Ministers and agencies at the start of the process, in Treasury's Budget guidance document in September. This means that all Ministers and agencies will be collectively responsible for delivering on the priorities and that, for the first time, they are being tasked with developing their own Budget bids through the lens of these priorities. Ministers are being asked to work together from the outset of the Budget process, across portfolios, on initiatives that will deliver the outcomes identified by the priorities. I am proud that the coalition Government is widening the focus of the Budget to look past traditional measures like GDP and to also look at what we can do to improve the well-being of our people, the health of our environment, and the strength of our communities.
• Question No. 2—Prime
2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: What was the content of the text message she received from Richie Hardcore about Karel Sroubek?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: An unsolicited message from Richie Hardcore expressing his opinion on the Karel Sroubek decision was received after the decision was made, and seeing as I have got about 50,000 communications in the last year, it is not in the public interest to release the contents of all of those messages.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will she not release the precise content?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: There is no requirement for the Prime Minister to release any information that came in confidentially—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Most open, transparent Government!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: We don't need a dictate from Nick Smith about openness and transparency. If you're talking about a lack of integrity and dishonesty, yes, I'd listen to him, but when it comes to talking about—
SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister will resume her seat. I want to remind the Deputy Prime Minister that he is answering for the Prime Minister. He has reflected on the integrity of a member in a way which is not in keeping with her normal kind approach. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Quite right, Mr Speaker. I apologise.
SPEAKER: And withdraw.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: And, obviously, withdraw.
Hon Simon Bridges: When she said earlier today that the text was from Richie Hardcore, stating he "knew the individual in question"—that is Sroubek—can she elaborate on that and why she thinks Richie Hardcore would send her such a text?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister—
SPEAKER: No, I am going to ask the Leader of the Opposition to rephrase at least the second part of it, because it goes to the state of mind of an individual for whom she has no ministerial responsibility.
Hon Simon Bridges: When she said earlier today the text message was from Richie Hardcore stating he "knew the individual in question"—that is, Sroubek—can she elaborate on that?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, a simple message, which, if pronounced properly, is quite capable of being understood.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does that mean?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That means he expressed an opinion in a text supporting a decision that had been made prior to when he sent the text and prior to any idea from the Prime Minister's point of view that this was going to be an expression that she would receive. I would believe that there would be many, many other people who expressed opinions on all sorts of matters. To construct that as being in some way engaged in persuading the decision maker is utter poppycock.
Hon Simon Bridges: Can she elaborate, when her chief press secretary said yesterday that the text was "commending the Sroubeck decision", on what was meant by that and why she thinks Richie Hardcore would commend her?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf the Prime Minister, frequently, acting as a Prime Minister and being the Prime Minister, messages are received which are, really, a comment on what fellow Ministers have done, but, nevertheless, the communication goes to the Prime Minister, seen to be the number one Minister of the land. It's not complicated. In this case, a very simple text arrived saying that this person agreed with the decision—a decision, of course, which at that point in time had already been made, and well before the Prime Minister ever knew of the communication, and then no reply was sent back from the Prime Minister. To impute some sort of malicious, malignant engagement, which has been the last two weeks of their line of questioning, shows you what a bunch of Philadelphia lawyers they are.
Hon Simon Bridges: Given that the Prime Minister's happy to discuss so much of the detail of the text, why doesn't she just release its precise words?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, there's no way this Government is going to infringe upon the privacy rights of all manner of people that communicate, just to satisfy a political leader in such desperate trouble to get attention.
Hon Simon Bridges: So, to confirm, was the text a thank-you text?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The reality is that the text wasn't a thank-you text at all.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, you just said it was.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, no, don't say, "Yes, it was." No, it wasn't. On behalf of the Prime Minister, it wasn't. What it said was that, in short, it appreciated that—that person perceived the decision to be the right one. But then, of course, countless emails and texts came in saying the reverse, none of which in any way had any shape of influence on the original decision, which has to be the point that that member needs to get home before any other conclusion can be arrived at.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen the precise words of the text?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I cannot possibly comment on the widespread research of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Hon Simon Bridges: What date was the text received on?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I don't have that information at this point in time but I do know it was subsequent to the decision being made.
Hon Simon Bridges: When can we see submissions on the Sroubek deportation file by Richie Hardcore?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, not making this the final conclusion, but whenever has there been a case of such submissions being made privately to a Minister or anyone else and becoming immediately public property? We're not going to infringe upon people's human rights and rights of freedom and privacy just to satisfy a recalcitrant, malignant line of questioning based on nothing so much as a rumour.
Hon Simon Bridges: When did she notify her chief press secretary or any member of her staff of the text she had received from her friend Richie Hardcore?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, that question cannot be answered today—not that there may not be an answer to it, but because it was not significant. Like so many communications, there was no reason to rush off and tell anybody. That's why there was no reply from the Prime Minister, because being flat out, working 18 hours a day, and getting all these tens and tens of thousands of communications, such a thing could be construed as a mere bagatelle.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why did her chief press secretary go to the press gallery after 6 p.m. yesterday to advise journalists of the text received by her from her friend Richie Hardcore?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because the press secretary, being the responsible person that he is, realised the perverse misinterpretations that were being put around this country and he sought to forestall those, roadblock them down with honesty, and that's what he's done.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why was it only yesterday the text was disclosed, given questions were raised about Richie Hardcore's role as far back as 7 November in this House?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, where this decision was concerned, Richie Hardcore had no role at all—end of story.
Hon Simon Bridges: How can we know that, when we won't see the precise words of the text?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, who's renowned for her honesty, take our word for it.
Hon Simon Bridges: In regard to her chief press secretary, was she—that is, the Prime Minister—hoping the press gallery would not pick up on the matter, given it was after 6 p.m. yesterday? [Interruption]
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, it was foreseeable that some in the press gallery, as is their wont to do, believe in fake news, and will pick up on it. But I have noticed that all questions and investigations today where that member is concerned have been challenging his conclusions to such a pathetic piece of material evidence.
SPEAKER: I didn't want to interrupt members, but I have given some additional questions to the National Party as a result of the interjections while that question was being asked.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many texts has she received from Richie Hardcore since she became Prime Minister?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I'm unable to answer that question. That member will have to put it down in written form and on notice, and he's got a couple of days to do it.
Hon Simon Bridges: What is her understanding about why Richie Hardcore would text her about his friend?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, this is becoming more and more an obtuse line of questioning. The fact of the matter is probably 50,000-plus people have communicated with the Prime Minister's office and the Prime Minister in the last year—maybe much more than that. But here's the point: which part of the question concerns, Mr Bridges, any evidence of any wrongdoing at all?
Hon Simon Bridges: Have 50,000 people got the Prime Minister's cellphone number?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, about 50,000 have got mine. I think probably about 100,000 have got hers.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is Richie Hardcore a close friend of hers?
SPEAKER: Order! That is not a matter for prime ministerial responsibility.
• Question No.
3. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Other than Karel Sroubek's lawyer and family members, who made representations on his behalf in respect of the deportation liability that was the subject of the Minister's decision on 19 September 2018?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): I refer the member to the answer I gave when he asked me the same question yesterday.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: When he said yesterday that some people had requested anonymity, is former martial arts champion Mr Richie Hardcore one of those who requested anonymity?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As I have said a number of times, I do not consider that it is in the public interest to name specific individuals. However—however—given that the Prime Minister has confirmed that she received unsolicited communication from Richie Hardcore, I am prepared to confirm to the House that I did not receive any communication from him prior to making my decision.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he consider an unsolicited text from a friend of Karel Sroubek to the Prime Minister to be a form of representation?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Not when it comes—
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What ministerial responsibility does the Minister of Immigration have for text messages that are sent to the Prime Minister?
SPEAKER: I'm prepared to let the question go, because it could well be—if the timing was different and the Prime Minister did something with it, it could be a representation.
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Not when it comes—
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That wasn't the question. If the member asked that question, it would be a legitimate question. That wasn't the question that he asked. The Minister has no responsibility for the topic of the question that was asked. He could word his question in a different way to get it to a Minister's responsibility, but the Minister doesn't have that responsibility.
SPEAKER: Yes. I'm going to ask the member to ask it again. I thought it was right at the tangential edge of responsibility, and I let it run, and I haven't been convinced otherwise.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Speaking to the point of order—
SPEAKER: No, no. Just ask the question again so we get it straight. If it's badly out, I'll rule it out.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, I'll reserve the right to speak to it. Would he consider an unsolicited text from a friend of Karel Sroubek to the Prime Minister to be a form of representation?
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The text message in question happened after the fact—after the Minister had made the decision. He has no responsibility for it.
SPEAKER: And we have had a number of questions about representations to the Minister. The Minister's interpretation of whether something is a representation or not is something which he can explain to the House. I think he's perfectly capable of doing that. Frankly, the more I listen to the question, the more I think about it, the less merit I think the Leader of the House has.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: No. I've asked the Minister to answer the question. There can't be a point of order.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, it goes to the merit of the question. I would point out that the primary question was carefully worded not to include representations to the Minister of Immigration, but about the deportation.
SPEAKER: That's right, and if I'd ruled it out, the member might have a point, but I've ruled it in.
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No, because a representation has to have some bearing on the decision that I make.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has there been any communication between the Prime Minister and himself with regards to the text message from Richie Hardcore, and when did that first occur?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes, after I made the second decision.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given he is now playing—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Tell Richie we've changed our mind.
SPEAKER: Order! I've just reversed my earlier decision. Thank you.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given he is now playing the process of elimination game which he ruled out yesterday, will he now disclose the names of all submitters who made representations?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No. As I said, I do not consider it in the public interest to name specific individuals. The only reason I've named Mr Hardcore is because his name has been raised in relation to the Prime Minister.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he not agree, though, that we have now reached the point where public interest outweighs any issues of privacy with respect to the deportation liability of Mr Sroubek?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No. I don't want people who, in good faith, made representations to be a subject of a witch hunt from that member.
• Question No.
4. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his announcements, statements, and actions?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were made, given, and undertaken.
Hon Amy Adams: Does he stand by his statements that tax policy should work for the benefit of all New Zealanders, given that today's Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU) figures show that this Labour-led Government will be collecting $17.7 billion more tax from New Zealanders over the next four years than was forecast prior to the election, despite growth having slowed?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The reason that that tax take is happening is because lots of people around New Zealand and lots of businesses around New Zealand are working hard, making profits, and ensuring that the economy ticks over. I think it's a sad day when the National Party think that people actually doing well and paying their taxes is a bad thing.
Hon Amy Adams: Is he aware that today's HYEFU figures show that even with growth slowing, that $17.7 billion of extra taxes mean every household will pay nearly $10,000 a year more tax over the next four years than was forecast pre-election?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I absolutely reject the premise of that question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does it follow, as night follows day, that taxes usually go up when businesses are successful enough and private individuals are successful enough to pay the taxes?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Indeed, that is exactly right. What the books today show is that revenue from corporate tax is going up and that the contributions that people make through their PAYE is going up. I want to remind members on the other side of the House that, with very few exceptions, this is all under the tax settings that they had in place.
Hon Amy Adams: Is the Minister aware that today's HYEFU numbers show that households' ability to save is getting worse and worse every year under this Government, as more taxes—[Interruption]—and higher cost of living take their toll.
SPEAKER: Order! Can I ask people to be quiet. I think people might have assumed, seeing that there'd been two bursts, that the questions was finished. I'll get the member to start her question again but remind her that, as Mr Brownlee has pointed out, questions and answers should not have more than is necessary and certainly shouldn't have more than two legs.
Hon Amy Adams: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to understand your ruling, I'm sorry, the question didn't have more than two parts. I paused because of noise from the other side. That wasn't two parts. Is that your concern?
SPEAKER: I think what we'll do is we'll start the question again, and I will listen carefully to it again.
Hon Amy Adams: Is the Minister aware that today's numbers show that households' ability to save is getting worse and worse every year under this Government as more taxes and higher cost of living take their toll?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I reject again the premise of the member's question.
Hon Amy Adams: Can we take from today's announcements that the transformational Government that this Minister says he's leading really means higher taxes, lower growth, and households worse off?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, we can't take it. What we can take from the books that have been released today is that this Government is doing a good job of getting the balance right where we've got strong growth, where we've got a surplus, and where debt's being kept under control and we're finally addressing the massive social and infrastructure deficits that her Government left us.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the question of capacity to save, is it not a fact that, twofold: (1) the Cullen fund is saving more now than ever before and (2) KiwiSaver has record numbers that are not matched by any previous period in our history?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, both of those things are true, and the fact is that this Government has turned around what the previous Government failed to do, where they did not put in any Government contributions to the super fund for—
SPEAKER: Order! We have had numerous Speakers' rulings over the years about donkey drops to attack the Opposition.
• Question No.
5. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his statements on regional fuel taxes?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, particularly the ones where I've ruled out any outside of Auckland.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How can he stand by his statement in the House in October that "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.", when documents released under the Official Information Act show senior New Zealand Transport Agency officials were circulating documents in June this year, including a regional fuel tax for Wellington gathering $36 million as an option to be considered, after an earlier version of that same document had been sent to Ministers?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I do stand by that statement. Officials provide advice on a range of issues, and in this case they provided briefings on the progress made by the multi-stakeholder Let's Get Wellington Moving governance group, which includes a number of local councils. I specifically ruled out a regional fuel tax to that governance group on 8 October to make it clear that they should focus on other funding arrangements for that programme.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How does he square his statement to Radio New Zealand in October, "to be fair, [you know] we've never had a plan to have additional regional fuel taxes" with a statement in a letter to the mayor of Hamilton, "If in the future, Hamilton City or the Waikato region wish to have a regional fuel tax, I would encourage you to engage with officials at the Ministry of Transport. Officials will be able to provide guidance [on] 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: Well, it was a pro forma letter that reflected the wording of the legislation—legislation which does not allow any more regional fuel taxes until after 2021. Myself and the Prime Minister have both ruled out any future regional fuel taxes.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How can the Prime Minister have been correct on 31 October when she told the House that "this Government never considered spreading a regional fuel tax."?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because we did not.
• Question No.
6. KIERAN McANULTY (Labour) on behalf of PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has the New Zealand Transport Agency made in investigating regulatory non-compliance in the land transport system?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) advises me that all of the urgent cases have been closed. They are making good progress: 441 cases have been closed out of a total of 850, with work continuing on the remainder. I want to commend the board of NZTA and Meredith Connell, who they brought in to take over the regulatory work, for their efforts to clean up this mess and restore public confidence.
Kieran McAnulty: What actions have been taken by NZTA as a result of this work?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As of today, there are 94 compliance actions under way. This includes 48 notices to revoke or suspend, 14 warnings, 26 immediate suspensions, and six licences to certify have been revoked.
Kieran McAnulty: What led to the New Zealand Transport Agency having to investigate this regulatory non-compliance?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: These lapses go back for the best part of a decade. Meredith Connell have advised that there is a lack of internal systems for dealing with compliance breaches and a lack of focus on compliance. Years of underfunding are clearly at the heart of it. Several industry bodies, media, and Government agencies have been raising concerns about compliance failure for a number of years, and until the Government changed last year, these concerns clearly fell on deaf ears.
• Question No. 7—Housing and Urban
7. ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What is the forecast cost of underwriting private developers through the Buying off the Plans scheme, and has this changed in today's Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The forecast net cost of underwriting private developers through the Buying off the Plans initiative is expected to be zero over the first three years of the programme. The target for the Buying off the Plans programme over the 10 years is to achieve a net zero cash cost of the underwrite. This is consistent with the basis of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development's forecast, which remains unchanged. At 30 November 2018, the net expected cost of underwrites that I've approved over the life of the programme is less than $1 million.
The member may be interested to know that the business case modelled risk to the Crown in a number of scenarios as being between $0.3 billion and $0.7 billion over the 10 years. Note that that modelling has high and low volumes and different typology sizes; hence the range. The Crown will always have the flexibility to reshape the programme if there are material costs over the first few years. There was no change in the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU) to the forecast cost of underwriting private developers through the Buying off the Plans programme.
Andrew Bayly: Is Budget 2018 incorrect when it states, "A net $134 million of capital expenditure has been shifted to operating expenditure as a result of the 'Buying off the Plans' programme"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I believe the Budget documents are correct.
Andrew Bayly: What does he say to the commentary on KiwiBuild in the HYEFU released today: "To achieve programme goals, there may be a need to change policy parameters and provide support to developers and/or homebuyers,"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, every time Treasury does a HYEFU or any of the other economic statements that it's responsible for, it considers upside and downside risk scenarios. The member's referred to just one scenario, which includes the possibility of house prices dropping, but I would note that neither Treasury nor the Reserve Bank nor the Government believe that house prices will drop. House prices have stabilised in line with our policies, and on this side of the House we think that's a good thing.
Andrew Bayly: What are the conditions that would trigger the underwriting of private developers for the amount of $210 million that would result in the Crown paying money to KiwiBuild developers who are unable to sell their houses at the agreed KiwiBuild price?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the nature of the underwrite is that it's triggered by a particular house not being sold.
• Question No.
8. SIMEON BROWN (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Education: Does he believe the New Zealand taxpayers are getting value for money out of the fees-free scheme?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes.
Simeon Brown: Does the Minister think it is good use of taxpayers' money that more than $50 million of the fees-free budget was wasted by students that either failed or withdrew during their first year?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It won't be $50 million. The member is making a number of very significant assumptions in order to get to that figure, including assuming that someone who withdraws from a course is withdrawing from an entire programme.
Simeon Brown: Well, then has the Minister done the calculations; and, if so, how much is it?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, it's not possible to do the calculations yet because the data is not available to do them accurately. We don't know how many students have withdrawn at this point in the year.
• Question No.
9. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What announcements has he made about a response to synthetic drugs?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Earlier today, the police Minister and I announced a crackdown on the suppliers and manufacturers of synthetic drugs in response to an increase in drug-related deaths. We intend to classify as class A the two main synthetic drugs—5FABD and AMB Fubinaca—that have been linked to recent deaths. This will give police the search and seizure powers they need to crack down on suppliers and manufacturers, who also face tougher penalties, up to life imprisonment. We're also creating a temporary drug classification category, C1, so new drugs can easily be brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act, giving police the search and seizure powers needed to interrupt supply, which is an important part of a health response. Synthetic-drug dealers are on notice, and they will face the full force of the law.
Angie Warren-Clark: How will these announcements affect people with addiction problems?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Good question. We don't want our jails full of people with addiction problems; we want these people getting treatment and help. So today we've also announced that we will be amending the Misuse of Drugs Act to specify in law that police should use their discretion and not prosecute for possession and personal use where a therapeutic approach would be more beneficial or there is no public interest in a prosecution. We know the police are already using their discretion in this regard, but I want to be clear: misuse of drugs remains illegal. Police will continue to prosecute people for possession where appropriate. We are striking a balance between discouraging drug use and recognising that many people using drugs need support from the health system or education about harm reduction.
Angie Warren-Clark: Why has the Government made these changes?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Under current laws, synthetics and other dangerous drugs are killing people and fuelling crime while dealers and manufacturers get rich. The current approach is failing to keep Kiwis safe; it is time to do what will work. We need to go harder on the manufacturers of dangerous drugs like synthetics and treat the use of drugs as a health issue by removing barriers to people seeking help.
• Question No.
10. Hon TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for ACC: What evidence, if any, did he seek and consider in reaching his reported view that the ACC Vehicle Risk Rating programme had not contributed to a safer vehicle fleet?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for ACC): I received advice from officials, met with the motor vehicle industry expert group, and considered feedback from public consultation.
Hon Tim Macindoe: What does he say to those New Zealanders who are driving the safest cars on our roads, according to their vehicle risk rating category, who will now face an increase exceeding 150 percent in the cost of registering their vehicles?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I would say to them that they are contributing to the motor vehicle account so that ACC is in good health and there where Kiwis need it.
Marja Lubeck: What does the Government intend to do with the data collected by the vehicle risk rating programme?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The information contained in the vehicle risk ratings is useful to consumers. To that end, Cabinet has directed officials to consider ways the vehicle risk rating information can be made available to consumers at the point of sale.
Hon Tim Macindoe: If the Minister believes that the vehicle risk rating programme has not contributed to a safer vehicle fleet, then has he asked the transport Minister why New Zealand Transport Agency is currently focusing on expensive advertising campaigns with slogans such as "the safer the car, the safer they are."?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I absolutely agree that the safer the car, the safer they are, but what I also agree with is all the advice I receive that variable levies based on vehicle risk rating is not making any difference to people's purchasing choices. What will potentially make a difference is providing that information up front when people purchase their vehicle, and that's what the Government intends to do.
• Question No.
11. Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Do detector dog teams provide complete coverage when the International Mail Centre is operating; if not, on how many days since 26 October 2017 have there been times when no detector dog teams have been working whilst the centre is operating?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister for Biosecurity): The first thing to note is that the mail centre does not work 24 hours a day, although dogs are scheduled to work on the international mail lines every day that it does operate.
Hon Nathan Guy: Why doesn't the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) have enough dog detector teams operating on the mail pathway that allowed 26 brown marmorated stink bugs that were alive to come through the border in a shoebox?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We currently have about 50 dog teams, and by the end of next year we will have 60. The dogs are trained either to detect seeds and other unwanted organisms or bugs, not both. I can't explain how that particular box came through, other than to say that we are upping the systems all the time and improving the investment. The hours that the dogs are operating are about the same level as operated in 2016 and 2017, when that member was the Minister.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing as 26 October 2017 was the first day of the new Government, how many months would he have had to take to get the dog detector teams prepared that weren't there when he became the Minister?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: It takes many months to train a good dog. This Government is currently undertaking the training of 10 additional dog teams. The fact that we didn't have sufficient when we took over is an indictment of that previous Government's lack of commitment to biosecurity.
Hon Nathan Guy: As he's confirmed that, historically, dog detector teams have covered the international mail pathway, why now, in the height of the brown marmorated stink bug season, are there not enough MPI resources to get the dogs out of their kennels to protect the primary sector?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There are plenty of resources. What we don't have is enough well-trained dogs, and that's because the previous Government didn't train them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the greater dog detector team—a solution that that Minister is putting in place—a response to the fact that he inherited a situation where twice as many dog detectors were there as there were dogs?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Correct. I have to say that, you know, we do rely on dogs, although it's not the only part of a robust biosecurity system, and the fact that we've had to match up the resources and train enough dogs so that there are an adequate number of dog handlers to manage them at the same time says that the previous Government had a lack of strategic planning for the biosecurity system.
• Question No. 12—Building and
12. KIERAN McANULTY (Labour) on behalf of KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister for Building and Construction: What recent actions has the Government taken to support the construction industry?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister for Building and Construction): The Minister for Economic Development, the Hon David Parker, and I have jointly written to all Ministers asking them to instruct the chief executives of the Government's 137 agencies and departments to begin taking skills and training into account now when contracting for large construction projects, rather than waiting for this to become mandatory. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is currently working to make skills training and development a formal requirement for construction projects valued at over $10 million. This will take effect next year, but we believe the Government should act now and take a leadership role in building and construction. This will give certainty to the construction industry.
Kieran McAnulty: How can Government agencies support skills development and training in the construction industry?
Hon JENNY SALESA: The Government has the opportunity to leverage its construction projects through procurement to encourage businesses to train and develop people in order to address and help our current skills shortage in Aotearoa New Zealand. MBIE's construction procurement guidelines, which are voluntary, were developed, together with the industry, in 2015. However, procurement practices across the Government agencies have been inconsistent, including the practice of taking the lowest-cost approach to procurement and the inappropriate transfer of risk. This has contributed to the current challenges that are facing the construction sector today. This sector agrees with the Government agencies' approach, and they are happy to apply the procurement guidelines. This will have a positive effect on the construction sector.