Parliament: Questions and Answers - Dec 19
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I thank the member for his question. Yes, I'm extremely proud of the actions we have taken this year as the Government, some of which include extending paid parental leave, stopping foreign purchasing of Kiwi homes, making the first year of tertiary study free, stopping the State house sell-off, building that first KiwiBuild home, restarting super fund contributions, increasing the minimum wage, passing the Child Poverty Reduction Bill in my name, implementing the Families Package, making GP visits cheaper for many New Zealanders, investing in fixing hospitals and schools, funding more teachers, beginning to plant one billion trees, investing in the regions through the Provincial Growth Fund, beginning to recruit 1,800 more police—
SPEAKER: All right. I think we've—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When such a question is asked, surely the Prime Minister should be given time or afforded time to answer it completely. So I move an extension of time to the answering of that question.
SPEAKER: Well, are we seriously going to have a Government motion without notice? No, we're not.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that Kiwis are facing a higher cost of living this Christmas; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I accept, as has been listed in our long list of achievements, that we as a Government are working hard to make sure that New Zealanders have an increase in their incomes, be it through increases in the minimum wage; be it through increases in Working for Families; be it, for instance, through the winter energy payment, helping over 700,000 New Zealanders when their cost of living goes up during the winter; be it through the extra $75 on average that families are getting every week once the Working for Families package is rolled out. If we want to talk about some of the biggest costs of living, that would be housing. That last Government did absolutely nothing, and this side of the House is.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept responsibility for the increase in rents under her Government by $30 a week or $1,500 a year for the typical New Zealand family?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because it's Christmas, I'm going to park my dispute with the member's numbers and get to the substantive issue here. We have seen increases in rent continually for a number of years. The reason for that is simple: supply. There are not enough houses in New Zealand. The last Government did absolutely nothing. We have not only brought in KiwiBuild; we stopped the State house sell-off that started under them, we brought in 1,200 more public housing places, and we've started building 6,400 State houses.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she still hope that rents won't go up, given that all the data suggests they already are, and property agents and landlords all over New Zealand have explicitly told renters their rent will now increase due to Government policy?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Let's actually get into the detail of what that Government policy is. The member is referring to, I imagine, the Government's plan to ban letting fees because they are hurting our most vulnerable, and our plan to bring in standards to make sure that a rental property is healthy to live in—that it's not damp, that it is warm and dry. And on this side of the House, we're quite proud of each of those initiatives.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did her officials advise her Government that it's preferable that her upcoming cannabis referendum should not be at the same time as the general election?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I don't recall seeing such advice, but what I can say is that on this side of the House we've long flagged an intention around a referendum by 2020, because we're not afraid of asking New Zealanders what they think.
Hon Simon Bridges: What specific question, then, will New Zealanders be asked in the Government's binding referendum on the personal use of cannabis in 2020?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We'll be using a process to determine the question in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Can I just say, I was on the select committee that determined the flag question, and I can tell you that that last Government had no idea what to ask, how to ask it, or how much money it was going to cost, and that's probably why we've got the same flag now.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why is it that New Zealanders will be asked whether personal use of cannabis should be legalised but the Government unilaterally decided last week to start the process to decriminalise possession of class A drugs?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For a lawyer, I'm somewhat surprised at the way he has characterised that bill.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has she been open and transparent about all her associations with Karel Sroubek and his associates, and, if so, why?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This is around the houses. I have continually outlined in this House that I had no involvement in that case, that my knowledge of the case arose at the time it was put in the public domain, and that the Minister—which the other side of the House previously criticised him for—made the decision in a room with officials on the spot with the information in front of him and had no conversation with any other member of Parliament. So that is where my ministerial responsibility begins and ends.
Hon Simon Bridges: Have any staff from her office been briefing the media against the estranged wife of Karel Sroubek after yesterday's revelations trying to discredit her side of the story?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have said in this House—and I absolutely take responsibility for the actions that I have taken in this regard—as soon as we were advised of concerns about safety, we raised those with the appropriate channels, which was via the Minister of Immigration. And I absolutely stand by that.
Hon Simon Bridges: Have any staff from her office been briefing the media against the estranged wife of Karel Sroubek after yesterday's revelations to try to discredit her side of the story?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, why would there be any interest in engaging in that manner? As I've said—I've been very clear—when concerns were raised, I directly raised it with the Minister of Immigration, and that was how it was dealt with. When I was advised that there is an issue that Mark Mitchell raised, I checked in with the Minister to check on their activities. That was the appropriate thing to do, and we stand by that.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will she do the right thing and check and instruct them to stop?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, I would need to take the member at his word, but I, after question time, will ask the question.
Hon Simon Bridges: You know it's true.
SPEAKER: Order! I think I sort of nodded at the member about four times during previous interjections, but I am getting more than a little unhappy with the Leader of the Opposition and his continual breaches of one particular convention.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister as to whether, in regards to the last question, her inquiry could be seriously advantaged by the Leader of the Opposition giving over the evidence he claimed in his questions to have?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm always open to the member coming directly to me to raise such concerns. I'd like it to have been evident in my response in the House. Of course I take issues of someone's safety seriously, and if those issues he wished to raise with me directly, I would encourage him to.
Hon Simon Bridges: If she knew about threats to Karel Sroubek's estranged wife on 31 October, why did she allow the Rt Hon Winston Peters to say on her behalf in the House on 6 December that the estranged wife "did not want protection;"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I believe he was making reference to what was already in the public domain around Mr Sroubek's ex-wife's willingness to engage with the process.
• Question No. 2—Finance
2. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yesterday, Moody's released its assessment of the Government's Budget Policy Statement and the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU). Moody's said that the continued Budget surpluses and debt reduction forecast in HYEFU support New Zealand's triple A, stable sovereign credit profile. In addition, it said that New Zealand's strong public finances provide fiscal flexibility to absorb any sudden rise in expenditure to support the economy through a shock. This is particularly relevant given Moody's view that the international environment does pose a risk to economic growth globally. This report represents yet another endorsement of the Government's credentials as responsible managers of the books and underscores the importance of our commitment to the Budget responsibility rules.
Willow-Jean Prime: What did the Moody's report say about the Government's well-being approach?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Moody's said that the Government's ongoing focus on well-being denotes very high institutional capacity and fiscal flexibility. It noted that the Government is already demonstrating its focus on well-being priorities—for example, through the Families Package and the Green Investment Fund. Moody's said that, given robust public finances, the Government does have the flexibility to fund spending on families, infrastructure, affordable housing, and education, including through Treasury's Living Standards Framework, while maintaining fiscal surpluses and debt reduction. In short, I'm pleased to see yet more international support for our approach to the Budget process, which puts well-being at the heart of how we make investments and measure success.
Willow-Jean Prime: What other reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The latest Westpac McDermott Miller Consumer Confidence Index for the December quarter, released this morning, shows the consumer confidence index was up 5.6 percent, to 109.1, on the back of lower petrol prices and lower mortgage interest rates. The survey shows households are feeling both more confident about their present situation and more optimistic about the future. What's more, the number of households who think now is a good time to make a major purchase is up to its highest level in four years. I have heard anecdotal reports of the spike in the sale of barbecues in the Papakura, Rodney, and Selwyn areas—
SPEAKER: Question number three, Amy Adams, with a couple of extra supplementaries.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he think New Zealanders are better or worse off this Christmas when, under this Government, petrol taxes have increased, and rents have risen $30 a week?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I do believe New Zealanders are better off this Christmas because they have a Government that cares not only that we are prosperous as a country but that everybody gets to share in that prosperity. Specifically, since last Christmas, I think New Zealanders are better off in the following ways. Those on the minimum wage are better off, with it increasing from $16.50 an hour to $17.70 an hour, on the pathway to $20 an hour by 1 April 2021. I think new parents are better off because we've introduced the $60 per week Best Start payment for newborns, with more than 8,500 parents receiving it. I think that seniors and those on low incomes are better off this Christmas, after we introduced the winter energy payment so that they have enough money to heat their homes over the cold winter months. I think families are better off than they were this time last Christmas, with the Families Package kicking in from 1 July for 384,000 families. I think families without children are better off this time than they were last Christmas through changes to the accommodation supplement and the winter energy payment. I also think single-income workers are better off with the reinstatement of the independent earner tax credit, which the previous Government got rid of. I also think that students are better off than they were this time last Christmas, with more than 50,000 of them accessing fees-free post-secondary education. I think that people who eat are better off than they were last Christmas—
SPEAKER: Order! Thank you.
Hon Amy Adams: Does the fact that the Minister entirely failed to recognise the costs that people face come from the fact that the Government is ignoring that, in the last 12 months, demand for food parcels at the Auckland City Mission has risen 27 percent, and demand for food parcels at Christchurch City Mission has risen 43 percent? Is that people being better off, Mr Robertson?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said in my list, many of the families who are in New Zealand who have suffered for many years by not being able to afford the basics are the very people accessing the Families Package. And it's interesting now to see the crocodile tears from the Opposition about this issue, who for nine years decided this wasn't a problem. This Government is actually addressing it.
Hon Amy Adams: Does this Government's addressing it include the Minister having a read of Treasury's advice that made it quite clear that 1.7 million households are worse off under that Government's Families Package than they were under the package that National put in place in the 2017 Budget?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What we made the decision on—and we in fact campaigned in the election on this—was that members of this House didn't need a thousand bucks a year in a tax cut when there were families who actually needed that money more, which is why we redirected it.
Hon Amy Adams: If the Minister believes that this Government has helped families, why do Treasury's forecasts show the household savings rate is now much worse than previously forecast, meaning New Zealand families are projected to be going backwards every year under this Government?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I reject the assertion at the end of that member's question. What this Government is focused on is making sure that family incomes rise; making sure that the basics of health, of housing, of education, and of infrastructure are supported properly. And I just urge the member, at this time of year, that this is an economy and a country where we are growing, where we're making sure that prosperity is shared better, and I wish that she would join in the increasing confidence of the business community in our economy.
Hon Amy Adams: Will the Government give New Zealand families some real Christmas cheer by today ruling out a capital gains tax on the family bach, the family farm, or their retirement savings, and every small business in New Zealand?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I'm going to take the advice of the Hon Chris Finlayson when talking about Simon Bridges: when it comes to taxes, I say it best when I say nothing at all.
• Question No. 4—Immigration
4. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by all his statements and actions in relation to the deportation liability of Karel Sroubek?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Yes, in their context.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: When the Prime Minister approached him on 31 October, as she advised the House yesterday, of allegations that Mr Sroubek's ex-wife's safety may have been at risk—"I immediately raised that issue directly with the Minister of Immigration. This prompted the Minister to follow up."—what specific action did he take?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I instructed Immigration New Zealand to investigate that matter.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is he at all concerned that police were not aware of those concerns that he was privy to until the Hon Mark Mitchell approached the Minister of Police some days later?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I understand that's not correct. I understand that Immigration New Zealand approached the police.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did he counsel the Prime Minister not to portray him as the victim and not to portray the estranged wife of Karel Sroubek as a political informant with false claims, given what he knew?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Throughout this, I have only held an opinion on the matters that are relevant to the decisions that I have to make. I have no opinion on who anybody associates with. People are free to associate with whomever they like in this country.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is he completely satisfied that he has handled every aspect of this case, including follow-up action taken, properly?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Doesn't his failure to act promptly and appropriately in respect of those safety concerns constitute a pattern of behaviour by him in respect of every aspect of this case?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I reject the assertion in the member's question.
• Question No. 5—Prime Minister
5. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand) to the Prime Minister: Which of her Government's achievements for our kids and our environment, if any, will she be reflecting on this Christmas?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Obviously there are a number of which I feel particularly proud, but having just passed the Child Poverty Reduction Bill in the House yesterday with the support, I acknowledge, of the Green Party, that will be something that I reflect on with some pride. Equally in the environmental space, the work that's being done on waste reduction, in particular—and I acknowledge the Hon Eugenie Sage, as well—is something that I think will be viewed with pride not only by this Government but by all New Zealanders.
Marama Davidson: What work does she think will make the biggest difference for our kids and their families?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I reflected on in my first question, undoubtedly the $5.5 billion package that came into force in July, which brings in the winter energy payment, which over 700,000 families, including those on Government support, benefit from—that includes, obviously, families with children—as well as the Families Package, which is, on average, $75 a week for over 380,000 families. I know that because I get letters. I've had a couple that really stand out: one where a mother said to me, "I can afford now to buy my kids blankets and socks and turn on the heater.", and another that said, "Now I've been able to get that little bit extra bit, I have been able to give them music lessons." You know, that makes a big difference in people's lives.
Marama Davidson: How important is tackling waste to this Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Incredibly important. The confidence and supply agreement, obviously, elevated that—our agreement with the Green Party. We acknowledged that we needed to be doing more. We needed to set targets for ourselves. I want to acknowledge that of all the things that have been done, the act to remove the use of single-use plastic bags in New Zealand has had a profound impact. That one simple act is the biggest thing that I've had contact from young New Zealanders over. I thank again the Green Party and the Minister the Hon Eugenie Sage for her work in making that a reality.
Marama Davidson: What has this Government done to protect nature and preserve what makes Aotearoa so special?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think, probably, undoubtedly, the significant increase in funding for conservation, so an additional $181 million in operational funding for conservation over the next four years. That will have a profound effect in preserving New Zealand's environment, but also making sure that we are guardians on behalf of those species who are particularly at risk. I also want to acknowledge the work that's being done on climate change by James Shaw, the announcement and launch of the $100 million Green Investment Fund, the ongoing work around predator-free—the list is long but they are all things I think this Government should feel proud of and that the Green Party should too.
• Question No. 6—Education
Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central): Question to the Minister of Education: does he stand by his decisions to close 11 partnership schools, remove national standards, scrap the Aspire Scholarship—
SPEAKER: Order! I think the member should maybe read off the yellow sheet.
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Oh, sorry.
6. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by all of his decisions this year?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I suspect I know what the supplementary is going to be. Yes, particularly my decisions to abolish national standards; employ more teachers; increase support for kids with special needs; upgrade school classrooms; introduce a year of free tertiary study; phase out charter schools; open new kura; develop and release the early childhood strategic plan; increase financial support for tertiary students; fully fund teacher refresher training; rebuild several schools, including Onehunga High School, Wainuiōmata High School, and Mana College; employ learning support coordinators; increase support for deaf and hard of hearing students; provide early childhood services, with the first across-the-board funding increase they've seen in a decade; bail out four failing polytechnics—
SPEAKER: OK. I think the question has been answered.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does he stand by his ideological decisions to close 11 partnership schools, remove national standards, scrap the Aspire Scholarship scheme, and how many Māori and Pasifika students have been disadvantaged as a result of those decisions?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In answer to the last part of the question, none. In answer to the first part of the question, the member clearly wasn't listening to my first answer.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does he stand by his decision to have more than 17 reviews in education, at a cost of around $10 million, and next year will he promise to have a little less costly conversations and a little more action?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I absolutely reject the $10 million figure that the member has just quoted. I do stand by the decision to review issues in education on a comprehensive basis rather than on a piecemeal basis. It partly reflects the challenges we inherited, but, actually, more importantly, it reflects the fact that 30-odd years on from the last comprehensive reform of our education system, given the changes in this economy and in society, it is time to make sure our education system is delivering what New Zealanders need to be prosperous and successful in the future.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does he stand by his decision to not deliver on promises such as the $190 million for school leavers; modernising every school building in the country, which wasn't costed; or ending school donations; and when will he deliver on these broken promises?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I utterly reject the notion that we're not delivering on those promises. Some of those promises have already been delivered on, and some of those are still a work in progress.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does he stand by his decision to tell teachers there is no more money despite billions in surplus, and will teachers get a Christmas present of a new offer to prevent the multiple additional strikes looming next year?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Christmas present teachers get is a Government that actually respects them, as opposed to the 10 years of neglect that they received under the last National Government. The offer to teachers is worth $1.2 billion. That is a sign that this Government values our teachers, and we are willing to put the taxpayers' money where our mouth is and ensure that our teachers are paid much, much better than they were under the previous National Government.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does he stand by his excellent decisions to back my second-language bill and Nicola Willis' campaign to "Stick with Vic", and can I take the opportunity to wish the member a very merry Christmas and a relaxing break with his baby girl?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Thank you to the member. I absolutely do stand by both of those decisions, although I am advised that the second of those decisions may come back to be reconsidered in the new year. I look forward to the support of the members opposite as we go through that process.
• Question No. 7—Greater Christchurch Regeneration
7. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration: What progress, if any, has been made on the regeneration of Christchurch?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister for Greater Christchurch Regeneration): The Government has moved quickly to implement a wide range of initiatives in Christchurch. This year in particular has seen some major achievements. I'm particularly proud of the mental health package across primary schools to help children still feeling the effects of earthquakes, and we are already seeing some fantastic programmes under way. We've secured $300 million to progress and expedite city projects, and we're finally taking real action to resolve insurance and Earthquake Commission roadblocks that have been holding people back for far too long.
Dr Duncan Webb: What specific initiatives has she introduced to assist homeowners resolve outstanding issues with their home repairs?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: In October, we launched the Greater Christchurch Claims Resolution Service, which provides independent case management and legal and engineering support to help people resolve their claims. We're seeing good progress with positive feedback from people using this service. For instance, one homeowner recently said to me, "I'm finally beginning to feel I am being listened to." Another said, "The greater claims resolution service is a great service that was desperately needed." This Government is proud to be getting on with delivering initiatives that are making a difference to people's lives in Christchurch, but the job's not done yet.
Dr Duncan Webb: What will be the focus for the coming year?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: In the coming year, we will be keeping up the momentum. We'll be finalising the global settlement with the council to settle outstanding funding issues. We'll be working together with the council to make progress on allocating the $300 million acceleration facility. Finally, Minister Little has been working hard to establish the Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal, which will allow claimants access to justice to help them resolve outstanding claims without costly court battles. These initiatives will make a positive difference to our people and our city.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Has she received any reports on the very considerable staff redundancies at Regenerate Christchurch, and can she tell the House why that's occurring?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I have not received any reports on staff redundancies, but as that member knows, because he wrote the legislation, Regenerate Christchurch does have an end date. What we have said in terms of our global settlement with the city council—and we have said this publicly—is that we will be only considering institutional arrangements in Christchurch under a successful global settlement with the council, something the previous Government was not able to achieve.
• Question No. 8—Regional Economic Development
8. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What is the breakdown of the 7,000 jobs that he told the House yesterday have been created by the Provincial Growth Fund?
SPEAKER: I call the self-styled "Regional Provincial Champion".
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): I—
Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We should probably stick with our proper names.
SPEAKER: Thank you for the Christmas advice.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier in question time, you gave me some, I hope, friendly advice about me sticking to the rules. We'd ask respectfully that you do too.
SPEAKER: Well, thank you for the Christmas advice.
Hon SHANE JONES: Mr Speaker, in Christmas spirit, greetings. Christmas is based around a baby in the manger. We've heard, obviously, from people who feel they're the dog in the manger. Sir, I need the acquiescence of your good self to identify where the 7,000 job figure came from. Prior to doing that, I have to report that the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) has provided our officials with additional information: the figure is now 9,000. But I can confirm that these figures are reflective of what the officials are advising our Government. They are not ductile figures, although I have to say the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) is ductile in the sense it's like a piece of gold—it stretches. The first KiwiRail figure is 690 jobs expected over the coming years thanks to the investment of the PGF, and 1,588 jobs have been identified as a consequence of the Tai Rāwhiti $150 million, five-year project. On a modest note, I would stop and say that, in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, our recent investments will generate 2,658 jobs.
SPEAKER: Well, other than the irony in the last part of the question, it's acceptable.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked for the breakdown. We got a lot of talk there and then three figures that added up to just over 4,000.
SPEAKER: Well, the member can withdraw his comment about being modest and just get on with the numbers.
Hon SHANE JONES: Sir, I will definitely continue. I would like to remind the member opposite that our officials are in possession of a report by NZIER that boosts the 7,000 to 9,000. They are as a consequence of us embarking upon the Coromandel marine farming initiatives. An additional 800 jobs in the Bay of Plenty; 195 in Northland; Tai Poutuni, 214; and Manawatū-Whanganui, 710, and that arrives at a figure just shy of 7,000. I can assure you that with the spam otherwise known as "written questions" coming from that member to my office, it will definitely go over 7,000.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Have I got this right: the Government funds a feasibility study, employs a few consultants—
SPEAKER: Order! I am going to invite the member to start his question again with something for which the Minister has responsibility, and whether the member has it right is not one of those things.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, what I'm trying to understand is if the Government funds a feasibility study employing a few consultants to see if a project might be feasible, and before the study is done he immediately counts all the jobs that the project's promoters say might materialise as jobs his fund has created—is that right?
Hon SHANE JONES: The member can't have it both ways. The member cannot complain that the Government is departing from robust processes, which at least include viability and feasibility studies, upon which, subject to such studies passing a threshold, the capital flows, the jobs grow, and the regions prosper. Now, I cannot depart from the fact that the member himself has insisted that the Provincial Growth Fund observes such levels of robustness, and as we are doing it, he now cannot complain that those figures are made up.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So when is predicting that something might happen over the next 10 years being the same as saying something has happened today and taking credit for it today?
Hon SHANE JONES: As a consequence of the Government stewardship, in the last statistics report for the most recent quarter, we have never had so many jobs in New Zealand—1,958,000. Now, I'm not suggesting that those jobs are totally the result of Grant Robertson, but it would be churlish not to acknowledge that, under our regime, the highest job figure has been created.
SPEAKER: Well, that was probably about as in order as the question.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How many permanent jobs have been filled to date because of the Provincial Growth Fund?
Hon SHANE JONES: As I said yesterday, the Provincial Growth Fund is a far-sighted, long-term agenda to create not only infrastructure, jobs, and enterprises—and we are seeding capital. Now, I accept that the jobs needed in my office as a consequence of his activities are likely to grow, but I said yesterday that well beyond 200 jobs, as I stand here today, have been created, but the figure that our officials have identified—and, with due modesty, I am trumpeting—is now up to 9,000.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How many nephs have actually got off the couch this year as a result of the Provincial Growth Fund?
Hon SHANE JONES: If I can use as a modest example the neglected area, worsened by the prospects of the last regime, of Minginui. Now, as a consequence of our intervention in Minginui, there is now virtually no unemployment in Minginui. Up to 90 jobs have been created both indirectly and directly in that benighted community of Minginui, and I would encourage the member to study that particular case, because the word "mingi" means "to be entangled".
• Question No. 9—Government Digital Services
9. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Government Digital Services: Does she stand by all of the Government's actions in regards to the appointment of a Chief Technology Officer; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Government Digital Services): Yes, in the context in which they were undertaken.
Melissa Lee: How does she justify a half a million dollar budget for small committee of digital experts to replace the scrapped Chief Technology Officer position when the total expenditure of the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group (DEDIMAG), made up of 13 people that met formerly seven times this year, was estimated at just over $200,000?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think the member is getting ahead of herself. The letter that we sent to stakeholders yesterday was around the fact that we have come to the conclusion that in terms of the strategic leadership role in technology for New Zealand there is more than one person required and that policy work will be carried out and a full Cabinet paper will be taken to Cabinet in March. I'd like to remind the member that actually the Government she was part of had nine years in Government and did nothing about putting this leadership in place until the last three months in which they were in Government.
Melissa Lee: Does she stand by her commitment in October that the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group will continue to exist?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I have met several times with that group since I have taken over this portfolio, and I discussed as recently as this week with that group around what their role in the future will be and what an important role they had to play. When the Prime Minister asked me to take on this portfolio, she asked me to consider that role in conjunction with Callaghan Innovation. She asked me to consider that role in conjunction with other parts of the Government, like the Government Chief Digital Officer, and I will continue to work through that with the ministerial advisory group.
Melissa Lee: Why is she establishing yet another ministerial advisory group when she has a digital economy team at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE); DEDIMAG, which is Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group, of 13 people; a digital stakeholder network of roughly 300 people; a Government Chief Data Steward; a Government Chief Digital Officer; and a Chief Technology Officer, let alone countless other public servants, private sector stakeholders, and her own advisers who can already support her for no further cost to the taxpayer?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think it would have been useful if the member had listened to my previous answer: the policy work is still being done on that. But I would like to draw the member's attention to where the previous Government got to in the three months they did work over nine years. The conclusions they came to—and I advise those members to listen carefully—were a working group of MBIE, the Department of Internal Affairs, the State Services Commission, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Treasury staff working on developed options, and the solution comprising a group with an attached secretariat structure was proposed to the former Minister.
Melissa Lee: Why doesn't the Minister just admit this whole process has been an absolute shambles from start to finish, costing the taxpayers hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What I will admit is this is a Government committed to putting in place the leadership around digital technology that that party failed to do in Government over nine years.
• Question No. 10—Education
10. JENNY MARCROFT (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Education: What announcement has she made regarding support for children at risk of disengagement from education in the Hawke's Bay region?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): Kia ora, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, I was able to tell a group of Napier principals, educators, iwi providers, district health board representatives, and police that the Government will be investing over $1 million so that they can start their Managed Moved Service next year. Every school in the Napier region—40 schools; a whole city—has signed up to this. This is a great initiative that has been designed locally to help younger students at risk of disconnection from school. This is the first time that New Zealand will have a support like this for year 3 to year 8 students, those aged from seven to 12. This service will act as a support structure that aims to keep students in their school or manage their moves to another school. It will be a prototype, lasting three years, and will be independently evaluated. The key objective is to help these students manage their behaviour, stay in school, and keep learning.
Jenny Marcroft: How many children will benefit from the announcement?
Hon Member: Not many, if any.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The Napier schools came up with this idea because they have issues around high transience, low attendance, high suspension and exclusions, and a concerning number of students not enrolled in school. In the middle of this year, there were 30 12- to 15-year-olds who weren't enrolled in school. A police officer I spoke to yesterday said he was going to visit an 11-year-old in the afternoon who hadn't been in school for a year and that this service would now give him a tool he needed to help. Unfortunately, we have a problem with children disconnecting from school earlier and earlier and we have to do something about it. The Managed Moved Service programme in the Hawke's Bay expects to deal with about 95 students a year, over five years. This is a prototype, and my hope is that, as soon as possible, we'll be rolling out this sort of service across the country. I hear a member from the Opposition say it's not many children; these children deserve the same amount of investment and the same amount of effort as every other child in New Zealand.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does she agree with the Secretary for Education today who confirmed another drop in the number of kids regularly attending school; and can she confirm that in decile 1 electorates only 47 percent of kids are turning up, and what will those initiatives do for them?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I have not heard the statements that the member talks about with regard to the Secretary for Education, so I cannot say whether I agree or disagree. With regard to there being some decile 1 schools that only have 47 percent of regular attendance, I believe those figures are about right. Will this help every child in New Zealand? No. There's never been a service like this at the moment. Will this help the children of Napier? Absolutely, and as soon as possible we will deliver for the rest of the children in New Zealand.
• Question No. 11—Energy and Resources
11. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: When she was briefed by the US company 8 Rivers on its proposal to produce abundant hydrogen and urea alongside large-scale carbon capture and storage in Taranaki, did she think they made a compelling case for ensuring New Zealand's domestic electricity requirements, particularly for dry year cover?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): As the member notes, I recently met with representatives of 8 Rivers. As energy and resources Minister, I meet a wide range of stakeholders. At the meeting with 8 Rivers, I listened to what they had to say. I explained that the Government has set very clear signals around policy settings and also explained to them that, as I am not a Provincial Growth Fund Minister, I wouldn't be discussing anything related to their application. As for their case, if they choose to proceed, this is one of the issues that would no doubt be explored within the proposed feasibility study for the project and all other commercial deliberations. I do note that I made it my business in this portfolio to meet with a broad range of stakeholders in the sector, such as Greenpeace, who I met with last week, and not just the narrow, vested interests as clearly happened under previous Ministers.
Jonathan Young: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not attempt to answer the second part of this question regarding ensuring domestic electricity requirements and dry year cover.
SPEAKER: I think she, effectively, confirmed that she didn't.
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker—
SPEAKER: Well, right. If I misinterpreted the member—
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Yes, I did. What I went through for the member in terms of addressing that question is what I did at the meeting and the considerations that I need to take into account and what I informed them of. I wasn't convinced either way or the other. That was not my job in the meeting.
Hon Member: Wasn't the question.
SPEAKER: I stand by what I said.
Jonathan Young: Why does she keep promoting through answers and interviews a Taupō project that manufactures hydrogen from a geothermal power station which emits 28,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, while she shows no or little enthusiasm for a Taranaki project that would manufacture hydrogen with zero emissions?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I reject the premise of that question.
Jonathan Young: Well, if the Minister appears to support the outcome of supporting dry year cover through hydrogen, as she has stated time and again, how is it appropriate to ban new exploration for natural gas if the technology exists to manufacture hydrogen and generate electricity with zero emissions?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I've previously said to the member in this House, actually, what the proposal that 8 Rivers is talking about is a feasibility study; it's not commercial production. And, actually, the very notion of carbon capture and storage is something the industry has been talking about for a number of years. But this is still at the feasibility stage. I think the member is getting ahead of himself and he needs to read what the application is actually about.
Jonathan Young: Why does she continue to say that people have been talking about carbon capture and storage for a long time and that it requires a large amount of investment when international companies that have exploration permits in New Zealand have been successfully utilising carbon capture and storage for over 20 years; and why doesn't she come into the 21st century and support that technology?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The reason why I keep saying that people have been talking about this for a long period of time is because they have.
• Question No. 12—ACC
12. Hon TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for ACC: Will 65 percent of vehicle owners pay more to register their cars next year, including for some a 150 percent increase in the ACC levy, due to his decision to dump the Vehicle Risk Rating programme?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for ACC): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank the member for his festive greetings, and I return them. Unfortunately, the member is incorrect. The Vehicle Risk Rating programme is not being dumped.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Why, then, did the Minister answer questions in the House last Thursday indicating that it was being abandoned?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I did no such thing.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Who in the motor vehicle industry expert group, with whom he said he met during the levy consultation period, expressly recommended or supported scrapping the Vehicle Risk Rating programme?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: None of them.
SPEAKER: The member has three more, if he wishes.
Hon Tim Macindoe: If the Minister did not indicate in the House last Thursday that the Vehicle Risk Rating programme was being scrapped and that that was not the meaning of the public releases that have gone out in his name and from his officials, what was being abandoned, and why will so many New Zealanders now face higher motor vehicle registration costs?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The member's on to it now. The Vehicle Risk Rating programme is not being dumped. Instead, the information that it generates is going to be used in a much more effective manner by making that information available to people at the time they purchase their vehicle. It will no longer be applied to ACC motor vehicle levies.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Why will it no longer be applied to ACC motor vehicle levies in view of the fact that the New Zealand Transport Agency is currently running a programme encouraging New Zealanders to invest in safer cars, and that is clearly in the best interests of ensuring a safer national vehicle fleet?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because there is absolutely no evidence that it encourages people to invest in safer cars.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Will different ACC levies continue to apply, based on the safety ratings of vehicles?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No.
SPEAKER: The member still has two more. [Interruption] Order! Look, some of us want to get home this year, and if members on my immediate right keep it up, we won't.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Thank you, Mr Speaker. My Christmases have come at once. To the Minister: how many New Zealanders face an increase in the cost of registering their vehicles next year because of changes in the ACC levy system?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Forty-three percent of levy payers will face an increase of $28.04 per annum; 25 percent of levy payers will face an increase of $8.82; 15 percent of levy payers will have a reduction of $7.49; and 17 percent of levy payers will have a reduction of $34.63.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Has the Minister spoken to the Associate Minister of Transport about the clear contradiction in messages being sent by the answers that he's just given and the road safety programme for which she is responsible, with the tagline, "The safer the car, the safer they are"; and, if so, did she support his decision?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: There is absolutely no contradiction. The safer the car, the safer they are, and that's why we're using the Vehicle Risk Rating programme to provide information at the time they purchase those vehicles. Merry Christmas.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just to get this clear—is it a fact that the numbers who are going to be paying a reduced levy and those who will be paying a much limited rise in the levy are far greater than those who are paying a significant increase in the levy?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Across the motor vehicle levy, there is actually no change. Some people will pay more, some people will pay less. It's a much fairer system, and that's what we're creating.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Why does the Minister consider that it sends a good message to New Zealanders who are being encouraged to invest in safer cars that if they do so, they will now pay more in the motor vehicle registration fee?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: If the member is seriously saying that people will pay tens of thousands of dollars more to purchase a safer vehicle in order to save $28 on their motor vehicle registration every year, then the member has lost the plot.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Ignoring the gratuitous flick. Mr Speaker, does the Minister accept the fact that many people own more than one vehicle, and therefore the charges they will face if they own late model, high safety - rated vehicles are a significant increase, and I ask him again: what message does he seriously think that that is sending to New Zealanders?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The message that it sends to New Zealanders is that we're going to provide useful information that they can actually use at the time they purchase their vehicle to help them make an informed choice so that they do buy a safer car for themselves and for their family. I can say for those who are on lower incomes who own multiple older vehicles, that they are going to face an even bigger reduction in their levy.