Parliament: Questions and Answers - Feb 19
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many of the 12 Government priorities she announced in September 2018 will be measurable, in light of her statement that "[New Zealanders] need to know how we are tracking, and we do too."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There are a range of indicators that are already in the public domain that will give us a sense of how New Zealand is tracking across issues like, for instance, poverty, income, and housing. We as a Government said in September that we would do that within roughly six months. We're looking next month to put out more on that matter.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many more elective surgeries have occurred under her Government since it directed the Ministry of Health to scrap the health performance measure?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I point out that that measure took, I believe, four years for the National Government to generate. But I would say that if the member would like to break from tradition and actually put a question on notice, I would be happy to come back with some more direct information.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many fewer New Zealanders are on a working-age benefit since her Government scrapped the Better Public Services target to reduce long-term welfare dependency?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would note that, of course, we have made sure that through some of our investment we are tackling some of the lowest incomes in this country through, for instance, the changes that we've made to Working for Families. When it comes to benefit numbers, the December 2018 quarter shows the proportion of the working-age population receiving a main benefit has remained about the same, with the rate of people on youth and parent benefits continuing to decline.
Hon Simon Bridges: Were there 11,000 more New Zealanders on the jobseeker benefit in the 12 months to December 2018?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've already said, the total proportion of working-age people on a main benefit is 9.9 percent, compared to 9.8 percent in the December quarter last year.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has the number of people not in education, employment, or training increased by 26,000 in the last three months?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm glad the member's asked the question around the number of NEETs. Statistics New Zealand, whom the member staunchly defended the independence of while in Government, have advised that there were data issues with the NEETs data in this quarter and they have asked that we look at the longer-term trends instead, as more people than usual was surveyed towards the end of the quarter, and that, of course, is at a time when tertiary education had ended for the year.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did Grant give them a talking to?
Hon Grant Robertson: That didn't work when I did it.
SPEAKER: Can I say to the Minister of Finance that when he interjects when the Prime Minister is speaking, his interjection comes through the system. His voice is quite a big one and it also causes a reaction, which is probably not helpful either. It doesn't matter whether the member was reacting to his name being called out; he should be able to just ignore it.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many fewer people not in education, employment, or training is her Government aiming to have by the end of 2019?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I'm so pleased now to see that suddenly the member has some ambition about young people not in education and training, because that ambition was not met with any action when he was in Government. On this side of the House, we have had He Poutama Rangatahi, the programme that the Minister of Employment has established specifically for NEETs. We've had Mana in Mahi. Just yesterday, I was looking at some of the work that has been done in forestry to get young people who are currently on benefits into work. These are tangible differences that we're making for young people. I'd be happy to bring the numbers to the House if the member would choose to put a question on notice for a change.
David Seymour: Could the Prime Minister think of any Government in New Zealand history that didn't, or couldn't, claim to "value who we are as a country"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I'd say in comparison to the last Government—I've seen plenty of examples where they didn't.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, has the leader of the National Party, Mr Bridges, told her why he thinks that people not education, employment, or training is neat?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, we'd like to have seen some more examples of some proactive actions taken on policy, which this Government is absolutely doing.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many fewer assaults on children have occurred since her Government scrapped the specific Better Public Services target in regard to that?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Some of this was canvassed in the Salvation Army report, which I want to also acknowledge. I did acknowledge that there's been a decline in, for instance, food bank access since we've been in office. It does outline that there is more work to do. What I just want to point out to the member is that setting a target does not fundamentally change the way that you behave as a Government, unless you have the policy and interventions that make a difference. This is a Government that is implementing different policies and ideas to invest in our children and our rangatahi, and it took four years for that Government to come up with some targets that didn't make the fundamental difference we need.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many children are in poverty?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There are 64,000 fewer as a result of the Families Package.
Hon Simon Bridges: How many of the 1,000 KiwiBuild houses promised to be delivered by 1 July 2019 have been built?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: More houses than were ever built under that Government, because they did not build affordable homes. This a prime opportunity for me to point out that this Government is building more homes as a Government than any Government since the late 1970s, and we are proud of it.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will light rail to Mt Roskill be delivered by 2021 like she promised?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The light rail to the airport ambition is one that we shared across parties. We are in a Government that it is working through the final delivery of an ambition that we share. The big difference is, of course, that this Government has worked to plug the funding gap that existed for Auckland Transport and that Government didn't.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the case that she's done away with pre-existing measures, has no new measures, and so, in the year of delivery, we're seeing none?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: You did.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I didn't. Is the member finished?
• Question No.
2. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Prime Minister when she said, "If you're a Minister and you want to spend money, you have to prove that you're going to improve intergenerational well-being"?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, I agree with the Prime Minister's full quote, which, while excellent, is too long for me to repeat in this answer. But I do want to thank the member for the opportunity to reiterate that this year's well-being Budget represents a significant step forward in producing a Budget that is focused on long-term outcomes driven by a more joined-up Government. As the member knows, there is a large amount of expenditure that is demand-driven or is the result of pressures that have built up over many years that will have to be met as well.
Hon Amy Adams: So when it comes to assessing Budget bids and their long-term outcomes, as he talked about as part of his approach, does the Government regard avoiding diabetes as more or less important to New Zealanders' well-being than having contact with their neighbours?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What the member is trying to do is draw together the targets that her Government set with the high-level objectives of the Government's Living Standards Framework. The member needs to remember that the Government's Living Standards Framework includes issues like social connections but also includes health, housing, knowledge and skills, the environment, jobs and earning, income, and consumption. On this side of the House, we want to make sure that we're measuring all of the things that make up someone's well-being.
Hon Amy Adams: In light of that, is he aware that the new Living Standards Framework assessment model that Treasury have confirmed is being used for this year's Budget values avoiding diabetes at $3,900, whereas having improved contact with your neighbours is valued at double that, at $8,500?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Treasury is responsible for the weightings that they give various matters within the Living Standards Framework. On this side of the House, we're committed to a more rigorous approach to assessing Budget bids than has ever happened in the past.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, why does that more rigorous approach include a cost-benefit model sitting behind the well-being Budget that treats making a new friend as having nearly double the well-being impact of avoiding a trip to the emergency department?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I appreciate that for members opposite the issue of making friends is a very difficult one, politically speaking, but what I would say is, to quote Treasury's chief economist, "The framework which sets out criteria for assessing well-being is now being used to assess bids for money as part of the Budget process. It will encourage more transparency and evidence for outcomes that Governments typically try to achieve."
Hon Amy Adams: Well, does he agree with the new well-being cost-benefit model that under this Government's priorities, having an international tourist in New Zealand for a day is of greater benefit than providing a day of dementia care for a New Zealander?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member is selectively choosing elements from an overall framework for assessment. This is assessment that Treasury undertakes independently of the Government.
David Seymour: How does Treasury put a price on these things, such as friendship?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Those are matters that the member should take up with Treasury, which he would've had the opportunity to do if he'd bothered to show up to the select committee.
Hon Amy Adams: So how can he or this House, or, in fact, New Zealand, have confidence in the processes behind his well-being Budget when it's underpinned by a cost-benefit model that assigns large value to things like joining a club, making a friend, or having more contact with your neighbours ahead of improving real health outcomes for New Zealanders?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I repeat my answer to the original question, for the member. The well-being framework—which she has seen before—includes environment, health, housing, income and consumption, jobs and earnings, and, yes, it also reflects other matters that are important to our well-being, because the framework that Government used was what delivered us the world's worst homelessness, terrible mental health outcomes, and child poverty. I back this because we're actually going to address those issues.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): A number of reports released recently show that the economy is continuing to move along at a solid pace. The BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Services Index (PSI) released yesterday shows the services sector continued to expand in January. The PSI improved to 56.3 percent, its highest level in eight months, and higher than the long-term average of 54.5 percent. Business New Zealand's Kirk Hope said "it was good to see 2019 start off on solid expansion grounds." I agree with Mr Hope's analysis that it's encouraging that real data—real data—shows that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.
Dr Duncan Webb: What reports has he seen on the contribution of small businesses to the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Earlier this month, Xero published its Small Business Insights for December, which, again, highlighted the solid fundamentals of the economy. Xero's insights showed firms were paying bills faster, sending more invoices, and continuing to show positive cash flow. Economist Cameron Bagrie, using language that I would not use, said that the "data continues to deliver the middle finger salute to those who claim the economy is entering a downturn." I appreciate Mr Bagrie's honest and forthright analysis, and I agree with his sentiment that the Small Business Insights show that yet more real data from the economy demonstrates its solid growth.
Dr Duncan Webb: What reports has he seen on the Government's management of the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, last week, Moody's released its latest credit opinion for the Government, reaffirming our triple A stable credit rating. They said that "The stable outlook is anchored by [the] expectation that, even in the face of shocks, New Zealand's credible institutions with highly effective policymaking and ample policy space will maintain economic and financial stability". Moody's commented on the Government's use of the well-being Budget to enhance the social, cultural, and environmental impact of investment and funding decisions, saying that "The Government's ongoing focus on well-being denotes very high institutional capacity and fiscal flexibility." I'll back Moody's over the Opposition on that any day.
• Question No. 4—Prime
4. JAMI-LEE ROSS (Botany) to the Prime Minister: How many times has she or the Cabinet granted approval for a Minister to travel overseas since 26 October 2017, and how many of those travel approvals have included approval for "personal travel overseas", as outlined in sections 2.124 or 2.125 of the Cabinet Manual?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I am advised that there were 150 trips for official purposes approved and conducted. On two occasions, official business occurred with personal travel attached. This was in accordance with the Cabinet Manual. Thirty-eight trips have been for personal travel. I have been advised that this compares similarly to travel by the previous administration, where between 1 January 2011 and 30 October 2013, 72 personal trips were approved by the then Prime Minister and none were declined, and 367 trips for official purposes were approved between 1 January 2011 and 24 November 2013. I would have liked to have been able to give a member a direct comparison between the past and the current administration, but, unfortunately, I do not have that information and data available to me.
Jami-Lee Ross: Is it a policy of her Government for a Minister to be granted approval to extend an overseas visit outside the formal itinerary if the purpose of doing so is to meet with a foreign national to procure or attempt to procure a political party donation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would expect any personal travel to be within the guidance of the Cabinet Manual. Beyond that, I won't speak to hypotheticals.
Jami-Lee Ross: What action will she take if it's found that a Minister has sought her approval to depart from a formal itinerary while on an overseas visit, to meet with a foreign national to procure a political party donation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, my expectation would be that I would approve all leave within the guidance of the Cabinet Manual, but I will not speculate on hypotheticals; I will deal with information that is provided directly to me.
• Question No. 5—Prime
5. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: Will the referendum at the next election be to decriminalise recreational marijuana?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I said last week in the House, the Government is currently working on developing the question that will be put to New Zealanders. It will not be a Government position; it will be a binding referendum for the public.
Hon Paula Bennett: Will the binding referendum be to decriminalise recreational marijuana?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, we have set about to undertake this to fulfil a commitment under our confidence and supply agreement. Beyond that, of course, we are still working through the details as a Government.
Hon Paula Bennett: What is the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously there are differences. The way that we would put that in a question is something that we are still working through. And obviously it's the extent of the regulatory regime that would apply.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she stand by her previous statements that we will be having a referendum on legalising recreational cannabis?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course I've been making reference to the commitments that we have made under our confidence and supply agreement with the Green Party. I have said also, though, that we continue to need to work through the finer detail of the question that is put and how we will ensure that it is a binding referendum. Again, I'm intrigued, though, that the Opposition cannot see that this is us putting a question to the public. It is not a Government position; it is us going to the public in order to seek their view and their feedback on what is a critical issue of public debate and discourse.
Hon Paula Bennett: Has the Prime Minister thought of the question being around legalisation or decriminalisation makes a huge difference with how people will vote?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, absolutely. Members of the public will have ample time to consider their position. There will also be ample time, I'm sure, with all those with an interest in this issue to put out information and conduct a public discussion over this issue. This should not be an alien concept to the member. Of course, we went through this process with the binding referendum over the flag. I'm hoping the conversation in this regard will be more meaningful than it was last time.
• Question No.
6. JO LUXTON (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What responses has he seen to the vocational education reform proposals he announced last week?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I've seen a number of positive responses from polytechs and institutes of technology. Whitireia and WelTec have welcomed the proposal to broaden the role of polytechs to support people studying on campus through blended delivery and in the workplace. Toi Ohomai agree that it's time for a step change and for the value of vocational education to be fully appreciated across our society, and they believe that the proposed changes are about improving student experience and learner outcomes. And the chair of the Universal College of Learning has said that they welcome the opportunity to reach out to, and work closely with, industry training organisations.
Jo Luxton: What other responses has he seen to last week's announcement?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Sector Workforce Engagement Programme (SWEP), a trucking sector workforce engagement programme, said that the reforms offer an opportunity to end needless course duplication. They would provide better coverage nationally and potentially greater integration for their sector between the industry training organisation and the driver training departments at polytechnics. Kerre McIvor has said that the reforms were necessary "not just because polytechs were in constant need of bail outs, but because they're not delivering the graduates … employers want", which has been the message from employers for quite some time.
Jo Luxton: What concerns has he seen in regards to the proposals for the reform of vocational education?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have seen some genuine concerns raised through the process, including concerns that the proposal could result in less education and training in the regions. They are wrong. That's what the status quo is delivering. Our goal is more education and training in the regions—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yeah right! It would be a good Tui billboard.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: —more training that is relevant—would you like to ask a question, Dr Smith?—more education and training that is relevant to the needs of the workplace, and a system that's more open to innovation. That's what the proposals are designed to achieve.
SPEAKER: Can I just remind Ministers that when they are answering, they should not be inviting the Opposition to answer them, even on a yes/no as to whether or not they'd like another question. And, as a lesson for it, I will give Dr Smith the opportunity to ask one supplementary now that doesn't count.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister give my community of Nelson an absolute reassurance that the $20 million that it has in reserves will not be used to bail out institutions that have failed in other parts of the country and that there will be no reduction in staff or courses in my Nelson community?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In answer to the latter part of the question: no, I cannot give that guarantee, because that is what's likely to happen at the moment under the status quo. Institutes of technology and polytechs throughout the country, for the last decade, have been progressively cutting courses in the regions, and that is something that this Government is not willing to see continue.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not address—
SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. He very clearly addressed one of the legs of the question—the member knows it. And I want to warn that member: as the father of the House he should know the rules. He does know the rules, and, if he breaches them again in that way in a deliberate manner, he will be leaving the Chamber.
Hon Simon Bridges: That makes you the granddaddy.
SPEAKER: Thank you very much, Mr Bridges. I don't regard that as an insult, but it's probably not a comment that he should make from his chair.
• Question No. 7—Housing and Urban
7. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does he remain committed to all of the housing and urban development policies outlined in the Speech from the Throne?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Yes. This Government has ended the State house sell-off; taken the lead in building more State and KiwiBuild homes, directly building more homes than any Government since the 1970s; started work on our Urban Growth Agenda and removing Auckland's Rural Urban Boundary; announced the details of the Housing and Urban Development Authority; cracked down on speculators; banned overseas buyers from buying existing homes; passed the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill; consulted publicly on modernising the tenancy laws; and, in line with our confidence and supply agreement with the Greens, started work on rent-to-own and progressive homeownership schemes.
Hon Judith Collins: Why has the Government not yet removed the Auckland Rural Urban Boundary, as it stated it would in the Speech from the Throne?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because it's important to get these things right. We've done two important things that are about building the platform for removing the urban growth boundary. The first is putting in place new ways of funding and financing the infrastructure that our towns and cities need, because, at the moment Auckland Council is using restrictive provisions in the Auckland Unitary Plan to protect its financial position, because it has no ability to borrow more to pay for the infrastructure needed for new urban growth. That is why we are putting in place new ways of financing infrastructure. We've also made significant progress in loosening up the rules and providing support for quality intensification so that Auckland can grow up. If we were to remove the urban growth boundary first, you would simply destroy the market for quality intensification.
Hon Judith Collins: When will the Government free up density controls by improving the resource management system, as it stated it would in the Speech from the Throne?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We've made considerable progress developing instruments of national direction under the Resource Management Act (RMA) that will—and I've been working with environment Minister David Parker on this. We'll have more to say on it shortly, but the national direction under the RMA will clearly proscribe and prescribe the content of district plans to encourage quality intensification.
Hon Judith Collins: When are we going to see land freed from restrictive rules that stop the city growing up and out?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: This year.
Hon Judith Collins: What planning rule changes does he require from the Government to remove the urban growth boundary he has said creates artificial scarcity of land and pushes up the price of sections?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The urban growth boundary and the restrictive land use rules which go with it are indeed one of the prime causes of the absurdly expensive urban land in our country's biggest city. What we're doing is replacing the urban growth boundary with a more expansive approach to spatial planning that will protect areas of special value, invest in transport infrastructure, and allow the city to grow. We are going to implement these changes over the coming year and a half—something that that party in Government talked about loosely as RMA reform, but did nothing over nine years; nothing.
• Question No. 8—Trade and Export
8. Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: Does he stand by all of his statements?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Trade and Export Growth): Yes.
Hon Nathan Guy: Did he say at a meeting in Wellington last week with the EU agriculture commissioner and his trade delegate, and I quote, that "Hungry sharemilkers screw everything out of their cows and allow them to shit in our rivers."?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No.
Hon Nathan Guy: If he didn't say that "Hungry sharemilkers screw everything out of their cows and allow them to shit in our rivers.", which I have confirmed from my sources, why did he—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will resume his seat. The member has just had a direct denial from the Minister. The Minister's word will be taken, and he will not repeat that comment.
Hon Nathan Guy: What did he say to a high-level trade delegation from the European Union about New Zealand sharemilkers at that meeting last week?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The member is misinterpreting comments that I think he's heard third- or fourth-hand. The meeting with the European Commission included the issue of nutrient pollution. Some of the farming groups at the meeting, I think, were somewhat shocked to hear the European commissioner say that the commission had recently required the Netherlands to cull 100,000 cows because they exceeded their nutrient pollution guidelines. I explained to the European commissioner our Water Programme of Action, I acknowledged the problems that we have in controlling nutrient pollution, and I explained that one of the ways—in fact I flipped to Landcorp to explain one of the ways that we are addressing this is it to prove up the economics of less-polluting farm systems.
Hon Nathan Guy: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very direct question—
SPEAKER: And the member had a very direct answer, which was longer than it needed and fuller, but because of the circumstances I let it run. The member should be satisfied with that.
Hon Nathan Guy: In light of comments that I have been told that he said at that meeting regarding New Zealand sharemilkers, does he realise that these 3,000 sharemilkers have helped fence and exclude cattle from 98 percent of our waterways—that means a distance from here in Wellington to Chicago and back?
SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has no responsibility for what that member's been told.
Hon Nathan Guy: In light of his comments to a very senior European agricultural commissioner, can he be trusted to get the best possible trade deal for the New Zealand dairy industry with some very outrageous and undiplomatic comments.
Hon DAVID PARKER: Mr Speaker—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, the member will resume his seat. There's an assertion at the tail end of that question which causes it to be out of order.
Hon Nathan Guy: Can the Minister be trusted to negotiate a free-trade deal with the European Union when he has said some comments about the New Zealand dairy industry that farmers are outraged about?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Given the controversy that the member's tried to create around this, I had my office check with representatives from the European Union. They received my comments in the way in which they were intended. The member's got it wrong; he's wilfully misinterpreting the statements that I made. The meeting did achieve its purpose: New Zealand and Europe do see eye to eye on environmental issues, which also helps us gain the trade access that we are seeking to improve access for our exports for farmers and other exporters to Europe.
• Question No.
9. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister for Veterans: What announcements has he made regarding recognition for Vietnam veterans?
Hon RON MARK (Minister for Veterans): Last week, we announced that 30 Vietnam veterans who were mentioned in despatches (MID) would be recognised by the Governor-General and have their citations formally presented to them in Government House. Receiving an MID is an honour bestowed following an act of bravery in the face of the enemy, or meritorious service. During the time of the Vietnam War, formal recognition was often never given. Soldiers were, generally, informed of the award by an officer with a handshake in a somewhat perfunctory manner. Formal ceremonies were finally held last week at Government House in Auckland and in Wellington, with members of families of those servicemen who had passed away present.
Darroch Ball: Why was it important to hold these investitures?
Hon RON MARK: Following their return from service, many Vietnam veterans felt very let down by the nation they had served voluntarily. In 2008, the Government of the day arranged a formal parade and an apology. However, deep wounds still remained for many who had served in Vietnam.
Hon Maggie Barry: What about Korea?
Hon RON MARK: Last week's ceremony was appropriate recognition for those who went above and beyond in their service in Vietnam. Some of the citations revealed incredible acts of valour in the face of the enemy whilst under fire. It is worth noting that the practice of mentioning an action of bravery in despatches today has been discontinued and, instead, such men, women, and service personnel would be awarded the New Zealand Gallantry Medal. Last week's ceremony was another small step in healing the wounds of those who served in Vietnam.
Hon Maggie Barry: Korea? Malaya? What about the others?
Darroch Ball: What other announcements has he made regarding recognition of Vietnam veterans?
Hon RON MARK: Today I announced that the Australian Government has awarded unit citation for 120 members of 161 Battery who fought in the battle of Coral-Balmoral in Vietnam. The citation recognises a unit who, as a whole, displayed extraordinary gallantry as a team. This is the first Australian unit citation for gallantry that has been awarded to a New Zealand military unit, and it is a great honour. The award will be presented by representatives of the Australian Government at a ceremony in March.
SPEAKER: Just before I call Paul Goldsmith, can I say that there are some questions which are probably more special than others and require, I think, a level of decorum. I know that members of this House—especially those who are older than the average—will have a range of views on this particular topic, but I think that having interjections through the first two or three parts of that answer showed a lack of decorum, which is not appropriate.
• Question No.
10. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Does she stand by all of the Government's statements and actions in relation to road safety?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes. In particular, I stand by this Government's decision to make road safety a priority for transport investment. This Government does not believe that 380 people dying on our roads each year, and many thousands being seriously injured, is acceptable. That's why we have taken the action of investing $4.3 billion in safety improvements nationwide over the next three years; that's why we announced $1.5 billion for targeted safety upgrades, including on over 800 kilometres of our highest-risk State highways; and it's why we're investing an additional $5.3 billion in roading improvements and boosting funding for much-needed maintenance on our rural and local roads.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Regarding her statement "The NZTA will also speed up the time it takes to deliver safety projects by fast-tracking the approval process for standard proven safety improvements.", is she confident the improvements will be practical and welcomed by the public?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes, absolutely. We heard last year from local authorities and road controlling authorities around the country how important road safety was to their communities and how there were difficulties with getting approval for funding for low-cost and well-proven road safety improvements. I think part of the problem that was occurring was that they had to go through a very onerous business case, sometimes for projects that were worth well under a million dollars, and the business case process ended up costing more than the actual improvement itself. So I stand by the actions already taken by the New Zealand Transport Agency to work with local road controlling authorities to ensure that they're able to make the improvements that their communities are asking for.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the question of road safety and road improvements, what did she make of the television presentation where a member of Parliament was criticising the Provincial Growth Fund improvement of roads on the Kaipara Harbour from a tar-sealed road in Remuera—namely, Mr Goldsmith?
SPEAKER: I think that's too much of a stretch.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does she share Associate Minister of Transport Shane Jones' concern, mentioned in the Ashburton Guardian, that the plan to install barriers down the middle of State Highway 1 between the Selwyn River and Ashburton "will cause more grief if other roading improvements are not put in place beforehand"?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: What I can say is that the Government is going to take an evidence-based approach to road safety improvements, and it's entirely true that there are a number of engineering improvements that can be made to stop deaths and serious injuries—
Hon Simon Bridges: So she disagrees with Shane?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Minister Jones and I see eye to eye on many things, and I'm sure there are many areas where we don't see eye to eye, but I always welcome constructive engagement with him, and we're working well. But, ultimately, these road safety improvements are driven by the community, who want to stop seeing people needlessly die or be seriously injured on our roads. I have to say it's shameful, in the last five years of that National Government, how much the number of people dying and being seriously injured increased.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does she share Shane Jones' attitude, which he described as "I'm all about safety, but I'm about common sense too"?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I very much agree with Minister Jones on that, and we're absolutely working together to ensure that we're delivering the road safety improvements that the country needs.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does she think someone stuck behind a tractor on State Highway 1 for many kilometres, unable to pass because they're in a single lane with a wire median barrier alongside it, would regard the situation as common sense?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I think that the people who are not going to lose a loved one due to an avoidable road crash will appreciate steps being taken to stop those road crashes from happening. I'm sure no one in New Zealand wants to have a call from the police, finding out that their son or daughter or partner was killed in a head-on collision that could have been prevented by appropriate road engineering.
Hon James Shaw: Does the Minister think that public acceptance of evidence-based and cost-effective measures for road safety is being improved by the National Party's constant campaign that four-lane highways are the only way to improve road safety?
SPEAKER: I'm not going to allow that question because it's not a matter of this Minister's responsibility. I will say to that Minister, as I said to the Deputy Prime Minister earlier, that I think people should be taking a little bit of extra care to make sure that their questions are in order.
• Question No.
11. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister of Conservation: Does she agree with the statement on pest control by the Minister for Regional Economic Development that "the reality is that there's a strong case from the environmental movement for the continued utilisation of 1080"?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment) on behalf of the Minister of Conservation: Yes.
Sarah Dowie: Is there also a strong case for "efficient and much more cost-effective methods of pest control", such as investing into breakthrough biotechnology?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The two are not mutually exclusive. We do have to deal with the technology that we currently have available. For example, this year is a mast year; that means that there's a lot more food for rats, possums, and stoats. When that food runs out, unless they're knocked over by 1080, they kill all our birds. So whilst there is a need for more science as to alternatives and also better trapping techniques, we do need to use 1080.
Sarah Dowie: Why has she prevented the Department of Conservation from investigating this technology in New Zealand, when officials have said that, "It could be an effective alternative to 1080."?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Minister of Conservation isn't responsible for the operation of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO Act) in respect of GM technologies. The Minister took the decision that the Department of Conservation (DOC) should be spending its money on predator control. The research arm of Government is not through DOC.
Angie Warren-Clark: Where does responsibility for research into genetic engineering and other predator control methods sit, and can we sit back and wait for alternatives?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Responsibility for this is led by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. Gene technologies are not prohibited by law, but they're regulated under the HSNO Act. That is dealt with under a precautionary principle, which is what the economists actually recently recommended in respect of gene editing technologies more generally. And, no; we can't await new technologies. We actually need to deal with the exigencies of today.
Sarah Dowie: Is she therefore prepared to use breakthrough technology to make New Zealand predator-free?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The breakthrough technologies had not yet been invented anywhere in the world. New Zealand is a world leader in the development of predator control technologies, including advanced trapping, automatic traps that reset themselves and send a signal via satellite to be emptied once they're full of pests.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That's just empty rubbish. They've been shut down.
Hon DAVID PARKER: Mr Brownlee is wrong.
Sarah Dowie: Is her decision making rooted in evidence-based policy or is she being blinded by ideology?
Hon DAVID PARKER: In response to the first part of the question, yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: When the Minister referenced the HSNO Act, given that Minister Sage instructed Predator Free New Zealand that it could not use GE technologies, was she acting in contravention of that Act?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, and, as I said, previously the science challenge is where research into alternative methods of predator control are investigated.
• Question No.
12. GINNY ANDERSEN (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: What recent announcements have been made about ensuring victims' voices are heard in relation to fixing New Zealand's criminal justice system?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): I've recently announced a new survey to enable victims of crime to be heard in their own words about how our criminal justice system can be fixed. Victims of crime are the one group of people in our criminal justice system who are there not because of any choice they've made or action they've taken, and yet they're often the most overlooked part of the system. The findings of the survey will be used to inform the Government's Chief Victims Adviser, as well as the Ministry of Justice and Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata: Safe and Effective Justice programme.
Ginny Andersen: What will the survey achieve?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I've asked Dr McGregor, the Chief Victims Advisor, to lead the programme of work and, specifically, to conduct the survey so that we can fix the system and ensure that victims achieve justice without feeling re-victimised by the process all over again. Preliminary results will be available for the victims workshop being held in early March—that's next month—which follows the successful criminal justice summit last August.
Ginny Andersen: Why is this survey important to help fix New Zealand's criminal justice system?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: We know that many victims feel let down by the current system and that they find it difficult to navigate their way to justice and to restoration. That's not good enough and we're working hard to learn the lessons from the past. Fixing the criminal justice system means putting victims and survivors at the heart of the change we make. We must have fewer victims of crime and they must be better supported.