Parliament: Questions and Answers - May 21
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, policies, and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has her Government's fees-free policy for tertiary students been less successful than she envisaged?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: How can she say that when her Cabinet believed 80,000 students would get to tertiary education last year and, in fact, it was only 50,000 that enrolled—fewer even than the year before?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, when we put in estimates around the potential cost of fees-free, we wanted to make sure that we projected at the upper end so there was no chance of being caught short. The 50,000 people who have taken up fees-free actually represent a halt in declining numbers under that Government. One of the areas where we have particularly suffered in those declining numbers has been education and teacher recruitment, where we now having to pick up the pieces of declining enrolment for people training to be educators. We are stemming that tide. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Before I ask for the next supplementary question, I want to say that I have received quite a lot of correspondence about noise across the Chamber, especially from my left. I would have intervened on that occasion other than the fact that it was being wound up by the Minister of Finance.
Hon Simon Bridges: Stop writing to them, Grant.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she call 2,500 fewer students than the year before a "halt"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There's no question that we had experienced declining enrolment, particularly in vocational training, and some of the initiatives that we've undertaken to turn that around I'm particularly proud of. We're not letting, for instance, our polytech sector continue to fall behind and decline in service provision. We have introduced, for instance, Mana in Mahi, which is all about supporting employers to take on apprentices, and they get the equivalent of the dole in order to do so. It has been incredibly well received by employers and is exactly the kind of initiative we need to get more people into vocational training and, ultimately, into work.
Hon Simon Bridges: Wasn't the whole point of the policy to get more people into tertiary education and, on that basis, isn't it a clear policy fail?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The goal of fees-free was to make sure that we reduced the barriers for vocational training, for apprenticeships, and for post-secondary education. One of the things we're doing now is working actively with the Business Advisory Council to make sure that that fees-free policy is made accessible for those already in the workforce. Unlike the last Government, we are focused on the future of work, making sure that those who are already in workplaces, who are vulnerable to the digitised economy and may potentially lose their jobs, are retraining on the job. So we welcome the fact that businesses have already pledged to, in some cases, double their on-the-job training allowance, and that is something that we will keep working with them on—to use fees-free in the workplace, to make sure people are retrained.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will she confirm her policy of ensuring further years of fees-free past the first year of study?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That's certainly the policy, but, of course, those are all intended to be rolled out in future Governments; not in the term of this Parliament.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why, then, did Grant Robertson last week take the Phil Twyford "neither confirm nor deny" stance?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: He said exactly what I've said: that it's not something that's implemented in this term of office.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did she ask her Minister of Finance to put the $200 million underspend from fees-free into resolving the teachers' strike?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will probably well know that the fees-free policy is being used to equally support additional work around vocational training, because, ultimately, the goal overall of this policy has been to get more people into vocational training, into private training enterprises (PTEs), and into wānanga, ultimately, for life-long learning, and that is what the funding has been used for.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Can the Prime Minister confirm that without further investment by this Government some of our vocational education providers, our polytechs and institutes of technology, would have faced further financial difficulty in the coming year because of the situation we inherited from the last Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can, and we were not satisfied with a system where we continued to bail out the sector instead of actually looking to put them on a footing that ensures they can provide for regional training and education, which is exactly what our communities are asking us to do.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister confirm that until the Government stepped in to address the $100 million fiscal hole of polytechs, the opportunity for people to go to polytechs was being seriously challenged?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that fees-free is a policy fail just like KiwiBuild and a host of others, and how's her "year of delivery" going so far?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I do not. I absolutely don't accept that, and I take that, then, as a concession that the member will get rid of the fees-free policy.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Does she think it will make it easier or harder for a young person to save for a first home if they don't have to borrow for their tertiary study?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely. In fact, we've already seen a considerable decrease in the debt that young people are carrying as a result of fees-free. Of course, we're very encouraged that in terms of those who are first-home buyers in the housing market, we've seen an increase from 18 percent to now 24 percent of the market being made up of first-home buyers. The work of this Government to stop ownership by foreign buyers—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! That's gone too far.
• Question No. 2—Corrections
2. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister of Corrections: What recent announcements has he made about reducing Māori reoffending rates?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Corrections): Recently, I announced a $98 million investment into the creation of Māori pathways inside Northland and Hawke's Bay prisons. The pathway allows prisoners to experience a kaupapa Māori and whānau-centred approach from pre-sentence to integration back into the community and beyond. It would initially focus on Māori men under 30 years of age—the group with the highest rates of reconviction and reimprisonment. One of the most important parts of this announcement is that it will be co-designed with Māori. Work towards implementation is well on its way at both sites.
Willow-Jean Prime: What makes this Māori pathways announcement different from Māori programmes already running in prisons?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: This is not another programme. This is a system change and a culture change inside our prisons. Unlike traditional Māori programmes that last 13 weeks, men and their whānau will walk this pathway for the entire sentence and beyond.
Willow-Jean Prime: How does this announcement support the Government's priorities in this year's well-being Budget?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Good question. We are taking a whole of Government approach to reducing Māori reoffending rates. This pathway is a result of three Government departments working together—corrections; Whānau Ora, led by Minister Henare; and Social Development, led by Minister Sepuloni. To improve the well-being of whānau, we can no longer work in silos. We must work together alongside Māori to deliver the support that prisoners and their whānau need inside and outside the prison gates. This will not only have an impact on Māori reoffending rates but it prioritises the well-being of some of our most vulnerable whānau and tamariki. It will create safer communities and give these men the best chance of leaving prison and never coming back.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he consider that the Government's policies and actions have contributed to New Zealand's slowing economic growth; if so, will we see a plan from the Government to better support New Zealand businesses?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Government's plans are already supporting New Zealand's businesses and supporting sustainable growth in the New Zealand economy, so the answer to the first part of the member's question is "No."
Hon Amy Adams: What is his response to business operators who have stated, in relation to Government policy changes, "Too much change too soon is hitting business confidence and operators' bottom line, and many are finding it hard to keep up."?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I see a variety of comments from the business sector around both the performance of the Government and the performance of the economy, but, overall, I see businesses who are out there working hard, adding to the New Zealand economy. Exports are improving; small businesses are feeling better. It's time for everybody to cheer up about the New Zealand economy.
Hon Amy Adams: Does he accept that in order for the economy to grow, somebody somewhere has to be willing to invest, yet under this Government investment intentions have plummeted and growth in business investment has more than halved compared to the previous five years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In answer to the first part of the member's question, yes.
Hon Amy Adams: Why does he continue to try and blame global conditions for New Zealand's slowing economic growth, when our growth per person over the past 12 months was just 0.6 percent and yet the OECD average for the same period was more than three times faster than that at 1.9 percent?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It's not just me that is looking very seriously at our global growth forecasts. I note that the ASB in their quarterly economic forecast listed that as the very first topic—that global growth has slowed. New Zealand is an open small economy. We rely on exports. When the global economy is slow that has an effect on us, but the good news is that the fundamentals of the economy are strong and we will be able to withstand these headwinds.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, can the Minister name one other country in the OECD where in the past 12 months economic growth has undershot forecasts by as much as it has in New Zealand?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Oh, I don't have the exact details with me, but I can say that Australia most certainly didn't grow as fast as New Zealand did in the last quarter and, in fact, the Reserve Bank of Australia recently downgraded their growth forecasts further. I can also say that the IMF, in their global growth forecasts, had New Zealand well ahead of other advanced economies, and I think New Zealand knows that while the global economy is slowing we have good strong fundamentals; we are shifting to a different kind of growth that's based on actually adding value and increasing exports. That will take some time but the direction of travel is positive.
Hon Amy Adams: When New Zealand business confidence remains at very low levels, businesses are telling the Government that its policies are hurting them, and our growth per person is three times lower than the OECD average, why won't that Minister take some responsibility for the damage that Government is doing to our economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I reject the premise in the member's question. On this side of the House we're focused on making sure that we do support businesses in a challenging time. We're investing in research and development. We're getting alongside them in terms of lifelong learning and skills and training. We are addressing the issues that business raised with us. It is time to back New Zealand and be positive about our economy.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister of Finance as to whether he's received any reports as to who is advantaged by talking down the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It has become the habit of members opposite to talk down the New Zealand dollar.
• Question No. 4—Housing and Urban Development
4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: How many of the KiwiBuild houses offered for sale in Canterbury in February have sold to eligible KiwiBuild buyers, and how many has the Government had to buy as a result of the underwrite contract?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): I'm advised that there have been no sales of the seven homes on the market in Canterbury so far. Three of those Canterbury homes have been bought by the Government, and that's in the context of a contract with Mike Greer Homes that is delivering 104 affordable homes for first-home buyers.
Hon Judith Collins: Why did the Minister underwrite already built and marketed houses after officials had advised him that there was an oversupply of housing in Canterbury?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm advised that none of those houses were built at the time I authorised the ministry to begin negotiations with Mike Greer.
Hon Judith Collins: Then did the Minister not read his briefing to incoming Ministers that told him that there was an oversupply of houses in Canterbury?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That's not the question that the member asked just before.
SPEAKER: Order! The Minister was just asked a very straight question. He will answer it.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Of course I read the briefing.
Hon Judith Collins: What tests were done before the underwrite was signed to determine if sufficient demand existed in Canterbury?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That is a matter for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, who are responsible for doing the demand analysis and negotiating the contracts with KiwiBuild suppliers. But I will say this: Canterbury is our second biggest urban area in the country. It has one of the fastest growth trajectories, and while housing there is currently relatively affordable compared to other main centres, it is rapidly becoming less affordable because of the high rates of growth. Our Government doesn't want to see Canterbury go backwards like so many other urban housing markets under that Government's rule over the last nine years.
SPEAKER: Order! The member will ask the question again.
Hon Judith Collins: Right. I'm just trying to work out which one it was, Mr Speaker. What tests were done before the underwrite was signed to determine if sufficient demand existed in Canterbury?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The tests that are done routinely by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development officials in the process of assessing and then negotiating contracts with KiwBuild suppliers include a consideration of both demand assessment and the additionality that one of these contracts brings.
Hon Judith Collins: If the Minister read the briefing for incoming Ministers, as he's told us today, then why did he not point this out when he signed the briefing document that enabled KiwiBuild to sign the contracts for these new houses in Canterbury?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As I said to the member, I did read the briefing, but can the member clarify her question—point what out?
SPEAKER: This is without penalty.
Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. If the Minister read the briefing to incoming Ministers, which points out that there is an oversupply of housing in Canterbury, then why did he not point that issue out to his officials when he signed the briefing that enabled them to sign the contract for these new houses in Canterbury?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I've already explained to the member that Canterbury is one of our fastest-growing urban areas. It has the second-biggest city in New Zealand—Christchurch—and housing there is rapidly becoming less affordable. Our Government is not prepared to sit around on our hands, like that Government did, and allow those regional housing markets to rapidly deteriorate into unaffordability.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister as to whether or not he is aware of the number of tens and tens of thousands of homes around New Zealand, but particularly in Auckland, that are on the market for six to nine and sometimes 12 months waiting for a buyer, and does that mean that there's no demand for that house?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I thank the member for his question, and it's true that houses routinely take a number of weeks, even months, to sell in New Zealand. That's nothing unusual.
Hon Judith Collins: With his ministry's own figures showing that there is a deficit of 44,000 houses in Auckland and a surplus of houses in Canterbury, why did he sign up for even more houses in Canterbury when he can't sell the seven he's got now?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I have already answered that question. It's important that, actually, we pay attention to the housing market in Canterbury and don't allow it to go down the same track that so many other regional housing markets are. But what makes this Government different to the last one is that we are building public housing, transitional housing, and affordable housing in Auckland, in Tauranga, in Hamilton, in Wellington, in Nelson—all the markets of the country that are suffering from the effects of a housing crisis that that party allowed to get out of control for nearly a decade.
• Question No. 5—Finance
5. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Several recent reports indicate that the fundamentals of the New Zealand economy remain sound in the face of increasing global economic headwinds. The BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index, on Friday, showed that the manufacturing sector expanded faster in April than in March, with a reading of 53 points, up from 52. The BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Services Index, on Monday, also continued its expansion in April, although economists and participants noted that the Easter break and school holidays may have disrupted some usual business activity. It is worth noting that New Zealand's positive April services index reading was higher than Australia's reading, suggesting that we are tracking well in a global context.
Tamati Coffey: What other reports has he seen about the New Zealand economy in the context of the global economic situation?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The ASB's recent quarterly economic forecast noted how the global economic outlook had continued to weaken over recent months due to situations like the US-China trade tensions and Brexit. ASB economists said that New Zealand's trading partners were likely to grow at their slowest pace since during the global financial crisis. In this context, the ASB's forecast growth rates for the New Zealand economy, averaging about 2.6 percent over the next four years, is solid and square with the IMF, who have said that New Zealand is going to grow faster over the next two years than Japan, US, UK, Canada, and the eurozone.
Tamati Coffey: How is the Government's economic plan helping to support economic activity in New Zealand?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The coalition Government has already introduced a number of policies to support the economy, including the research and development tax credit, reforms to our skills training systems, investment in our regions through the Provincial Growth Fund, and a record land transport infrastructure package. We are keeping a close eye on the global economic situation, and in Budget 2019 we will continue to support the New Zealand economy through this international uncertainty. We'll have much more to announce about that on Budget day.
• Question No. 6—Transport
6. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied the Government has the right priorities for transport investment?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, I am. Our Government is rebalancing investment away from a few expensive motorway projects, and putting it towards saving lives and getting our cities moving. Last year, 377 people died on our roads. We are not accepting neglected and dangerous roads. We're committed to improving thousands of kilometres of dangerous rural roads, with interventions that prevent deaths—like side and median barriers and wider shoulders. I make no apologies for putting safety first. New Zealanders are sick of seeing their loved ones die on the roads.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why is an improvement to the already very good public transport service down Dominion Road his priority for the largest and most expensive single new transport project in New Zealand?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the member should consult his colleague the former transport Minister, Simon Bridges, who oversaw the work that selected light rail as the appropriate mode to reduce bus congestion on the Auckland isthmus and provide Aucklanders with rapid transit that connects two major concentrations of jobs: one in the central city and one out at Māngere. That is a priority project. It was apparently a priority for the former Government but not any more.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why did he tell reporters, last week, that he wanted to be reassured that investment in extra roading capacity—this time in Wellington—"won't undermine the core objective we have to get people out of single occupant vehicles and into public transport and walking and cycling."?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yeah, I did tell journalists that, precisely because it's not our Government's view that the only answer to congestion is to build more motorways or add extra lanes on to the ones you've got. We had a nine-year experiment in that, and during that time congestion got worse in all of our major cities. Our Government believes, actually, that building modern public transport systems alongside our roads and motorways is the only sustainable way to ease congestion and actually allow our people to move around our towns and cities and get access to jobs and education and all the things they need on a daily basis.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he worried that doing something to reduce congestion on our roads would only encourage people to use cars?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, our Government is committed to actually reducing congestion by building modern public transport systems in our city. That's why we've committed, alongside local government in the Wellington region, to a $6.4 billion investment to get Wellington moving and to solve the chronic congestion that we inherited after nine years of the former Government.
Jami-Lee Ross: Is an airport to Botany connection still a transport priority; if so, what further progress will be made on this connection?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I thank the member for his question. In fact, only last week, Mayor Phil Goff and I announced the letting of a $60 million contract to build a public transport interchange at Puhinui on the southern rail line that will allow any Aucklander who has access to the rail network in west, east, south, or central Auckland to have a convenient congestion-free 10-minute access from Puhinui station to the domestic and international airports. That connection, which will start off as high-priority bus, moving to rapid transit, will be the first link in a rapid transit line that will connect the airport with Puhinui, Manukau, and up in to the south-east of Auckland.
JAMI-LEE ROSS: Does he support an extension of the Eastern Busway down Te Irirangi Drive as part of an airport to Botany connection?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, very early preliminary work is being done on that by officials in the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport, but that is the logical development that would lead to a rapid transit connection between the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative, Howick, Botany, Flat Bush, Manukau, Hurunui, and the airport. That would be a vital addition to the Auckland rapid transit network that the city desperately needs.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree with his colleague Julie Anne Genter's description of some opponents of the transport plans for Wellington as "car fascists"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Minister Genter has acknowledged that she didn't, perhaps, use quite the right words, but what I would like to point out is that this Government is taking a balanced approach to transport. This Government is investing in rail and public transport, walking and cycling, and roads and motorways rather than just focusing its policy—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
• Question No.7—Health
7. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: What national health target, if any, does the Government have for elective surgical procedures for the financial year ending 30 June 2019, and will it meet that target?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The Government does not have a national health target for elective surgical procedures. That said, district health boards (DHBs) have been contracted to deliver 200,895 elective surgical procedures in the current financial year. I'm advised that as at the end of March, DHBs were reported to be at 98 percent of planned levels.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, why then does the Ministry of Health's own website, in a page entitled "Health targets:", say, "What is the target? The volume of elective surgery will be increased by an average of 4,000 discharges per year."?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I don't have access to that particular page. It may be cached on his computer or it may be one that's live that needs updating. But what I can say is that we're striving to address the contracted volumes because we acknowledge that some procedures have been postponed or otherwise moved due to the industrial action that was under way. I'm happy to report that there's been a great deal of progress on industrial action, which is, of course, addressing years of underfunding by the previous Government. In the example of the nurses, their settlement was worth more than all three done under the previous Government combined. We're addressing a historic underfunding in the sector and, even still, hoping to get to a point where we deliver on those contracted volumes. Indeed, DHBs have plans in place to improve their elective performance.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he agree with Ministry of Health figures that show that the 105,378 elective procedures completed by DHBs as at the end of March are almost 6,500 fewer than that required even to get to last year's activity level and 9,500 fewer required to meet the extra 4,000 target?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I don't accept the member's numbers.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Which part of the question does he not accept?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The numbers I've seen the member's opposite use are ones that don't align with the historic reporting of elective targets under the previous Government. They are not comparing apples with apples. Statistics are to be used in a way that illuminates rather than misleads, and I believe there are better ways of presenting the material that actually gives a clearer picture of what's happening.
Michael Wood: So is the Minister saying to patients waiting for cardiothoracic surgery that there won't be 300 fewer of those cases performed in this financial year and to those waiting for orthopaedic surgery that there won't be 1,500 fewer of those operations performed this year?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: What I would say is that DHBs are working hard to ensure that contracted volumes are delivered. There are some anomalies with the data. The system that we inherited is certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. The investment in health infrastructure was also neglected under the previous Government. But I am encouraged to see an increase in non-admitted procedures, which are up by 2 percent compared with the previous year. Procedures are now being done in an environment often more convenient for the patient and actually more cost-effective for the sector. So we're getting away from the distorted incentives that were in there previously that had Avastin injections and skin lesion removals often done in more expensive settings just to pump up Government statistics. This is a Government that's committed to ensuring New Zealanders get the care they need and deserve rather than pumping up the statistics for political gain.
• Question No. 8—Health
8. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What recent announcements has he made about support for ambulance services?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): This morning I joined the Deputy Prime Minister for a pre-Budget announcement about extra support for our ambulance services to help them plan for a secure, long-term future so they can continue providing lifesaving care to New Zealanders. I know everyone in this House values the work of paramedics, clinicians, and 111 emergency call handlers. That is something they do every day, but we can't take those services for granted. So today I was very proud to announce that Budget 2019 includes a one-off investment of $21 million over two years to relieve immediate pressures on St John and Wellington Free Ambulance, and provide certainty while they work with the Ministry of Health, ACC, and the district health boards on the long-term sustainability of their services.
Angie Warren-Clark: Why is this one-off funding boost required?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Currently, the Ministry of Health and ACC fund approximately 72 percent of the operating costs of ambulances. The remainder is largely funded through part-charges and donations. We recognise the concerns raised by St John and Wellington Free Ambulance about the suitability of the current funding model. We want to work with those providers to better understand the full range of services they currently deliver and how they are best funded into the future. Today's announcement gives us time to do just that.
Angie Warren-Clark: Will Budget 2019 include any further support for ambulance services?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: More good news—more good news: on top of the $21 million over the next two years, Budget 2019 also includes an extra $17.2 million of operational funding over four years. This is a significant combined investment of $38.2 million dollars in our emergency ambulance services and the lifesaving work that they do.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, does that mean that in the far-flung reaches of New Zealand, way out in the provinces and the places often forgotten, there'll be a better ambulance service in the future?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Absolutely. This is a Government committed to funding emergency services more sustainably over time. They provide an amazing service to New Zealanders across New Zealand—in the regions and around the country, from Kaitāia to Bluff. We salute their work and we thank them for it.
• Question No. 9—Prime Minister
9. 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: Does she believe drivers on our roads should be tested for drugs?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We absolutely believe drug impairment is an issue that we need to address, particularly to ensure that our roads are safe. In fact, that's why, within 10 months of coming into office, we have agreed, in principle, that that reform needs to take place, and we're consulting on specific changes to bring those changes about. I note that in 2014, National reviewed the drug-driving policy, but they left office without implementing any reforms.
Hon Paula Bennett: Why then, when the driving consultation document was available in December 2017, has it taken 18 months for her Government to make a decision about going out for consultation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: One of the issues, of course, has been making sure that we use the most effective testing possible to check not just the presence of drugs but the impairment that that then leads to. That has been a complex issue to work through. We are now consulting on specific changes. Again, I'm not sure about the member asking that question when it took their Government five years and they did nothing.
Hon Paula Bennett: Well, on that, then, will the upcoming Budget have funding for police to enable them to test suspected drugged drivers?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, when it comes to checking for impairment—which they already do—what we're talking about here is enhancing the tools that they have to check impairment. So they already do that, and that is already funded out of their baselines. What we can say is that, of course, we do have additional police through the extra 700 that we're putting into the police. That makes it, of course, possible for them to undertake these kinds of initiatives, which they already do; we just want them to do with a better evidence base.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very straight question, sir, which was: will the upcoming Budget have funding? I accept she may not want to answer it, but she could just say that.
SPEAKER: I think it's a long-term tradition in this House that people don't get specific Budget announcements—[Interruption] Mr McClay will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Todd McClay: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: People don't get specific Budget announcements unless the Prime Minister wants to make them, and, therefore, I think the question was—I let it run, but it might have been described as optimistic.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We've always been optimistic here in the Opposition, and, as such, we do like putting questions to the Prime Minister and to other Ministers. As I say, I quite accept that, but it's also been the tradition that if they can't or don't want to answer, then they would say that.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Speaking to the point of order, I believe that I addressed the question. Whilst I'm not going to make Budget announcements in this House, I did draw the member's attention to the fact that police already undertake these kinds of roadside testing, but just not with the specificity and evidence base that this House probably would want.
Hon Paula Bennett: Has she seen evidence there will be fewer or more drugged drivers on our roads if recreational cannabis is legalised?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, this raises a really interesting point, because we know at the moment that we have a problem in New Zealand, actually, with the issue of things like synthetic or designer drugs, and even the most sophisticated roadside drug-screening devices cannot detect that. This is exactly why we've tried to undertake the work that we have. Look, when it comes to the issue of recreational drug-use, this is a question that we're putting to the members of the public. We do not have a Government policy on increasing access to cannabis as a recreational drug.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very straight as to has she seen evidence that there could be fewer or more. I got synthetics, I got that the public will be making their minds up, and not whether or not she has seen evidence.
SPEAKER: Yeah, I will ask the Prime Minister to—
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm happy to clarify again for the member: this is not Government policy. So, therefore, I wouldn't seek advice on something—this is not a Government policy—that we do not have a Government policy on.
• Question No. 10—Education
10. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement regarding the offer to primary school teachers: "The latest offer that the Government has made is it. There is not going to be any more money"; if so, how does he expect to resolve the largest ever industrial action by primary and secondary teachers planned for 29 May?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I stand by my full statement, which was that "The latest offer that the government has made is it. There's not going to be any more money, so they can choose to accept the offer, they can ask for the offer to be reconfigured, but striking in the hope that more money will eventuate is going to lead to disappointment." I've also said that I respect the right of workers to take industrial action, but I do not think that striking is justified. That's why I'm urging the unions to continue working with the Ministry of Education to find a way through, and that includes their potential to agree on other concrete ways to advance teachers' concerns outside of the bargaining process.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Has he had a conversation since his statement in November with the finance Minister or the Prime Minister where he has specifically requested an increase in the financial envelope for primary and secondary teachers?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I discussed the matter extensively with the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister at the time the envelope was increased to accommodate the current offer, which is worth $1.2 billion—just to put that again: $1.2 billion is the cost of the current offer. We have continued to discuss the matter on an ongoing basis, but we have not discussed increasing the size of the envelope for the offer, because we believe that the envelope that's on the table at the moment is a good-sized envelope.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Did he ask the Minister of Finance or the Prime Minister whether the education underspend around fees-free could be used for teachers instead of vocational reform, given his previous comments, and if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, because I'm not willing to see more of our regional polytechs collapse and those young people lose their opportunities at vocational education.
Hon Nikki Kaye: With more than 12 months of negotiation with primary teachers and eight months with secondary teachers, is he categorically ruling out increasing the financial envelope, or will he just keep blaming National?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I've said very clearly that $1.2 billion is the extent of money that we would be willing to put into the salary packets of teachers in this bargaining round.
David Seymour: Is the Minister confident that teacher pay provides less than or equal public benefit with all other expenditure by the Government he's part of?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm confident that the money that we are putting into teacher pay, $1.2 billion extra, does recognise the significant value that teachers provide to New Zealand—to our future generations in particular. Am I ever going to be completely satisfied that that's enough? No, I'm not. I'll continue to push for more money.
David Seymour: Can the Minister give some examples of expenditure by his Government that he might wish to be sacrificed in order to pay teachers more?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No.
Hon Nikki Kaye: What does he say to parents of secondary students who are facing three days of strikes—on 29 May, a regional strike, and a strike for their child's year group—all in five weeks?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I would say to those parents that the Government is committed to addressing a whole host of issues that those parents want action on, including lifting children out of poverty, including dealing with the mental health crisis, and including ensuring that all young children in New Zealand have a roof over their heads and a stable home so that they're not moving from school to school to school because their parents can't find stable housing.
• Question No. 11—Justice
11. GOLRIZ GHAHRAMAN (Green) to the Minister of Justice: What recent announcements has the Government made on family violence and sexual violence?
JAN LOGIE (Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: On Sunday, we announced the largest single investment yet in tackling family violence and sexual violence. It means more prevention and more support for front-line agencies, communities, and whānau, taking a new and collaborative approach, working across 10 agencies to change how the Government responds to the needs of our communities, survivors, and those using violence. This is a long-term project. This package lays the foundations for a violence-free Aotearoa.
SPEAKER: Does the member want a supplementary?
Golriz Ghahraman: Supplementary, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Well, the member should ask it and not clap.
Golriz Ghahraman: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Why is it important to invest in prevention?
JAN LOGIE: On behalf of the Minister, preventing future violence is our greatest opportunity to improve well-being. That is why we're increasing funding for national- and community-led approaches; extending coverage to recognise the needs of diverse communities, including rainbow, disability, elderly, and new migrants; and putting resources into mending the harm of family violence on our youngest New Zealanders so we can break the cycle for them and us.
Golriz Ghahraman: What difference will this make for people impacted by family violence?
JAN LOGIE: On behalf of the Minister, we're creating safe, consistent, and effective responses to family violence in every community. This includes extending community-based pilots which keep people safe; rolling out victim video statements, which give victims alternative ways to interact with the criminal justice system; and extending training to health practitioners so that they too can respond effectively when people make disclosures to them.
Golriz Ghahraman: What will this funding mean for survivors of sexual violence?
JAN LOGIE: On behalf of the Minister, expanding essential specialist sexual violence services will mean survivors can get help sooner and experience less trauma. Developing services for children and young people, improving well-being for male survivors and victims of sexual violence through peer support services, and restoring kaupapa Māori responses to violence will mean people can get the right kind of help.
Golriz Ghahraman: What changes will be made to the justice system to better respond to victims of sexual violence?
JAN LOGIE: On behalf of the Minister, our focus is on doing no more harm; reducing the risk of sexual violence victims experiencing further trauma when participating in the criminal justice process. This includes enabling them to give evidence in alternative ways, such as pre-recorded video, providing specialist counselling and communications assistance through the criminal justice process, and specialist training for lawyers.
• Question No. 12—Transport
12. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his policies and statements in relation to Wellington transport?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes. Last week, I announced, with Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, and Greater Wellington Regional Council Chair Chris Laidlaw, the Let's Get Wellington Moving indicative package. It will reduce congestion by integrating modern rapid transit, walking and cycling upgrades, better public transport, with the city's motorways and roads. Better public transport infrastructure and more services will encourage people out of their cars, freeing up the roads for those that have to drive, and I thank the member for his endorsement of the plan when he described it as sensible.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Can't remember that. How does delaying the Melling interchange and Petone to Grenada Link Road—two vital upgrades to coincide with the completion of Transmission Gully—get Wellington moving?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the Let's Get Wellington Moving project is designed as the biggest transport investment that Wellington City has ever had, but I would note that in doing the financial modelling for the project, a generous allowance of something like $4.4 billion in likely future regional transport expenditure was set aside for other transport projects, like Melling, like the cross-valley link, and I think that's why the regions' mayors have all unanimously backed the Let's Get Welly Moving project, because they see it as a project of great regional significance.
Paul Eagle: What feedback has the Minister received from the region's mayors about Let's Get Welly Moving?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the feedback's been extremely positive. I met with all of the mayors from the wider Wellington region and the chair of the regional council. All of them recognised the regional significance of Wellington's job-rich CBD and the importance of access for the region's people to both the airport and the hospital. In fact, all of these mayors have said to me, and publicly, that they support Let's Get Wellington Moving. But why doesn't the National Party support the regions' mayors?
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Supplementary.
SPEAKER: Paul Eagle.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why have—
SPEAKER: Paul Eagle.
Paul Eagle: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will there be a large, concrete flyover over the Basin Reserve?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Wellingtonians will be relieved to hear that there will be no concrete flyover over the Basin Reserve. This is despite the previous Government threatening to cut off all regional funding if the Wellington local bodies did not go along with their plan for a giant concrete flyover.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! That's not an area the member has responsibility for.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why have safety upgrades for what the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) calls "the Wellington region's most dangerous road"—the roundabouts on State Highway 58 in Porirua—been delayed, despite being previously funded?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Those projects are subject to the normal NZTA processes, completely separate from the consideration of the Let's Get Welly Moving project. There's a number of projects that are under way that are in the pipeline. The member mentioned Melling before; NZTA's board has approved that project and commitment is subject to finance becoming available. In 18 months, this Government's done more for transport infrastructure in Wellington than that Government did in nine long years.
Brett Hudson: Will he confirm that a second Terrace Tunnel and Te Aro undergrounding will be delivered a part of the package announced last Thursday?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, I will not confirm that because there wasn't sufficient money for those two projects, and the clear intention of the Let's Get Wellington Moving project is to reduce car dependency and to provide a sustainable way to ease congestion by getting more people out of single occupant vehicles into public transport, rapid transit, and walking and cycling. That is the future of this beautiful waterfront CBD, and our Government's going to unlock all of that potential.
Brett Hudson: When is it anticipated that Wellington ratepayers will begin paying increased charges and rates to contribute to the Let's Get Wellington Moving package?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, that, of course, is up to the Wellington councils. But I'll say this: this project has a scale and level of ambition that Wellington has never ever seen, and, because our Government was willing to go beyond the tired old business-as-usual policy settings, because we're prepared to make long-term financial commitments to this city and this region, Wellington councils were willing to front up with 40 percent of the cost of the total programme—that is unprecedented, and it shows what a great partnership our Government has with the people of Wellington.
Brett Hudson: Supplementary?
SPEAKER: No, the member's had his supplementaries. I think he knows that—it's a nice try.