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Parliament: Questions and Answers - July 25

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Deputy Leader—Labour) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.

SPEAKER: The smile's not quite as good, though.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Sorry?

SPEAKER: The smile wasn't as good.

Hon Paula Bennett: Will New Zealand have a legal drug-testing regime at music festivals in place for the upcoming summer?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I don't have that level of detail, and it would be good if the member could put the question on notice so that we could actually give a detailed answer. The thing is that this Government does take the drug issue very seriously, and we hope that the Opposition does too.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with Stuart Nash, who said he thought drug testing at festivals was—and I quote—"a fantastic idea and should be installed at all … festivals", or does she agree with David Clark, who said, "There is a danger with such approaches that they encourage or are seen to encourage drug use."?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I have to say that I get on and agree with both of my colleagues because they're very hard-working Ministers in both the police realm and also in health.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with New Zealand First's Darroch Ball, who said that allowing drug testing at festivals was "blurring the lines between right and wrong and what's illegal and not illegal"?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: What I would like to say in terms of the wider work that we do on drugs is that Budget 2019 included significant funding for drugs. In terms of what Mr—

Hon Nathan Guy: What a shambles.

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: In terms of what the member—

SPEAKER: Sorry, I'm just indicating to the member down there that his interjections are coming through my mike, which are echoing back very loud in my ears.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: In terms of what the member from New Zealand First said, I tend to agree—like I said in the previous answer—with my ministerial colleagues.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she think that, when testing drugs at festivals and it proves to be 100 percent authentic, the drugs should then be given to back to individuals who can take them?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Those are matters of detail that will be worked out in time.

Hon Paula Bennett: Has she seen the advice from officials that marijuana edibles "are often much more appealing to new and young users and could, therefore, increase cannabis use" and the subsequent recommendation that these products should not be manufactured commercially; if so, why has her Government decided to allow the commercial manufacture of edibles in the recreation cannabis proposals?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, this is all a matter for the referendum. It will all be dealt with over time.

Hon Paula Bennett: So does she think it is right that active gang members can get a licence to grow cannabis under the proposed medicinal cannabis scheme?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, anybody who's working in that field will need to be police vetted, and it will be looked after in that instance.

Hon Paula Bennett: How does she expect New Zealanders to understand the Government's proposed medicinal cannabis scheme or their proposals for recreational cannabis use if she can't even explain the detail of it?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, there's plenty of time for New Zealanders to get to understand what is going to happen in this area.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Is the Prime Minister aware that there is currently public consultation out on the proposed 98-page medicinal cannabis scheme that is available for public submissions until 9 August?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Yes, and that's exactly the point I've been making. There is the discussion document; there is plenty of time for New Zealanders to get to grips with what's going to happen.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she accept that these are the proposals put forward for the Government and, as such, they have responsibility for what they are putting forward?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Sorry, Mr Speaker, could she repeat the question?

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she accept that these are proposals put forward by the Government and, as a consequence, they have responsibility for them?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: In terms of the whole issue, we have put out the consultation document. We know people have views, and we welcome their submissions; that's the point of consultation. We don't want to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation; so we'll be working with industry and stakeholders following consultation. And, in terms of police vetting, which we've already spoken about, police vetting would be required of the producers. Any criminal history will be considered, and approval is explicitly ruled out if they have been convicted of a drug-related or dishonesty-based offence.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Is the Prime Minister aware of whether or not the Opposition National Party has taken up the opportunity to be engaged in cross-party work on cannabis reform?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I'm not responsible for the attitude or the work of the Opposition.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Word for word, that question started with a phrase that is ruled out by Speaker's ruling 175/4, an area we traversed at length yesterday, and I just draw that to your attention.

SPEAKER: No, I'm going to pull out 175/4 again, and after our problems with having it read yesterday, I will read it: "It is irregular to preface a supplementary question with the words 'Is the Minister aware' and then proceed with a massive statement of fact." I think I'm absolutely happy to rule that there was no massive statement of fact in this case, which is in absolute contrast to yesterday.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Speaking to that point, Mr Speaker, in that case, I would draw your attention to 175/5, which does not require a "massive statement of fact", as you put it—albeit that I would question the definition of that; it is a value judgment—but Speakers Jack and Wilson simply described the prefacing statement "Is the Minister aware" as not appropriate.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker, 175/5 says that they are "Seeking to inject information or propaganda a member wishes to be heard", but it doesn't rule the questions out.

SPEAKER: Well, I think it all depends on whether the members are seeking elucidation or not, and that was occurring now. [Interruption] Is this a supplementary?

Chlöe Swarbrick: It's a point of order.

SPEAKER: No, I don't want any more on the point of order.

Hon Paula Bennett: Would she be surprised to hear that New Zealand First is not taking up the offer to join a cross-party group on drug reform?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, it is up to each party to make their own decisions.

Hon Stuart Nash: Would she be surprised to learn that when I, as police Minister, came out in favour of drug checking at festivals at the beginning of this year, a number of National Party MPs came out in support of that stance?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No, I wouldn't be surprised at all.

Hon Tracey Martin: Can the Prime Minister confirm that New Zealand First backbench MPs, and Ministers have worked constructively with both Government coalition partners and supply and confidence partners on many areas that this Government is addressing, including around drug reform?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Yes, I can confirm that New Zealand First has been most constructive in many, many areas of policy work.

• Question No. 2—Energy and Resources

2. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What announcements has she made about energy-efficient heating sources as part of the Government's Warmer Kiwi Homes programme?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): Last Thursday, I was pleased to announce that grants are now available for energy-efficient heating sources as part of the Government's Warmer Kiwi Homes programme. The grants cover two-thirds of the cost of efficient wood burners and heat pumps up to a maximum of $2,500. This latest announcement follows the launch of the targeted insulation programme last year, and I am happy to inform members that the first heat pump has been installed, and thousands of Kiwis have already had their homes insulated.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Who's eligible for the grants?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Owner-occupiers with a Community Services Card or who live in a lower-income area are eligible to receive a grant for an energy-efficient heat source. Homeowners can be referred via the Ministry of Health's Healthy Homes Initiative. In most cases, the house will need to have ceiling and underfloor insulation already installed to ensure the homeowner gains maximum benefit from the heating source.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan: How does this fit with the Government's broader ambition to keep Kiwis healthy and warm over winter?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Helping insulate homes and installing energy-efficient heat sources will mean thousands of Kiwis can stay warm and healthy over winter and they'll use less electricity. This Government is also providing the winter energy payment to help nearly a million New Zealanders with their electricity bills. In the coming months, I'll be releasing the Government's response to the Electricity Price Review to make sure power bills are kept in check.

• Question No. 3—Finance

3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of the Government's policies, statements, and actions in relation to the economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were given and undertaken.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does the average household in New Zealand pay more or less tax now compared to when the Government took office, as a result of his Government's policies?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don't have that information, precisely, to hand. What I do know is that we, very proudly, campaigned on withdrawing the tax cuts that the previous Government was going to impose that would have disproportionately benefited the wealthy in New Zealand, and instead put that money towards making sure that low and middle income families are better off, and we're very proud of that.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he think the average wage earner with no kids pays a fair amount of tax?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I believe that our tax system, by and large, is fair. There is always room for improvement, but in New Zealand we have relatively low rates of income tax compared to the rest of the world. In fact, most New Zealanders receive excellent value for money from the tax they pay and the public services they get.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Just in rough terms, when he refers to low rates of income tax, how much income tax does the average wage earner with no kids pay?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Again, I'm not going to stand in the House and give an inaccurate statement. What I am going to say is that when we compare ourselves to other countries around the world, we have overall relatively low rates of tax. We don't have, as other countries have, state taxes that get in between central government and the taxpayer. So, overall, I believe we've got a tax system that's fair. If the member wants to put down in writing a very specific question like that, I'm very happy to answer it.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that the increase in petrol taxes has contributed to pressure on New Zealand families?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Obviously, all New Zealanders who use cars and put petrol in them have to pay for that petrol, and if the member wants to define that as pressure, he can. But what I note about the increases that the Government has made in fuel tax, in 2018 it was exactly the same percentage increase as made by the National Government in 2013; the percentage increase this year is the exactly the same as the percentage increase made by National in 2014; the percentage increase for 2020 is exactly the same as the percentage increase National made in 2015. The way that we pay for our roads and our transport system in New Zealand is through petrol tax, and that is what the previous Government did and it's what this Government's doing.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he sure that the Kiwi motorist will get good value for the extra fuel taxes, given the transport Minister's assertion that we have over-invested in roads?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I'm extremely confident that New Zealanders will see the investment from this Government in the whole of the transport system—in public transport, in roads; not just in big highways but roads in the regions, making sure that we actually take safety on the road seriously. On this side of the House, we have a transport plan that covers all modes, and, yes, I'm confident that's value for money.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that the proposed new car tax will increase the cost of buying a car, for most New Zealanders?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I reject the premise of the member's question. The Crosby/Textor - style spin doesn't actually work so well in New Zealand. New Zealanders know that we need to make some transitions in our vehicle fleet. Also, I note that he might just want to check that position with Todd Muller, who's actually very comfortable with the Government's policy, as opposed to perhaps him or his leader.

• Question No. 4—Housing

4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing: Does the KiwiBuild programme remain a policy for the Government to build affordable homes over the next 10 years, as stated in the Speech from the Throne?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): Yes. As the Prime Minister stated in the Speech from the Throne, housing is a top priority for this Government. Action will be taken to address homelessness, State house sell-offs will stop, and the State will take the lead in building affordable houses. Our Government remains committed to all these housing priorities, including getting New Zealanders into affordable homes over the next 10 years. As I've publicly indicated, the KiwiBuild programme hasn't worked the way we wanted it to and I'm currently resetting the policies. Targets and time lines could be part of this reset. I'll be taking a paper through the Cabinet process later next month.

Hon Judith Collins: In what way does she consider the purchase of 10 already completed houses in Ōtāhuhu by KiwiBuild is evidence of a Government building houses rather than just buying some?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Over the last two days I have explained to the member the way in which that purchase can work. But one thing I would like that member to understand is that on this side of the House we do not consider that KiwiBuild has worked the way we wanted it to. That is why we are resetting it. This is not easy and we have the courage to admit that. That party should know that. They tried to build 39,000 houses in the special housing areas over three years. They only achieved 3,100 of those houses and, of those, only 100 were affordable.

Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Well, that was very interesting but I asked specifically: in what way does she consider the purchase of 10 already completed houses in Ōtāhuhu by KiwiBuild is evidence of a Government building houses? That was not addressed, in my opinion.

SPEAKER: And, I think, at the very first line—I probably let the Minister run on a bit long—I inferred that she indicated that she didn't think that.

Hon Judith Collins: Excellent. Was NZ Living's agreement to provide houses to KiwiBuild at Northcote contingent on the Government buying unsold houses at Ōtāhuhu?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As, again, we've previously discussed during the course of the week in this House, the developer of the Northcote development has publicly said that there is a chain in terms of the three developments, and that the Northcote development would have only been a twinkle in his eye without KiwiBuild. But let me repeat: on this side of the House, we do not consider that KiwiBuild has been operating in a way that we are satisfied with. This is not easy; that is why we are resetting it. That party failed, when they were in Government, to deliver affordable housing in the volumes required. We, in this Government, are not prepared to give up.

Hon Judith Collins: Is it appropriate for KiwiBuild to buy houses off developers on a "we'll scratch your back, you scratch ours" basis, as seems to have happened between Ōtāhuhu and Northcote?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I reject the premise of that question.

Hon Judith Collins: What third-party verification, if any, has she received for the claims of developers that the Governemnt purchasing already built houses in one place has driven them to build houses in another place?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The developer has publicly spoken about it. I'm happy to forward the information through to the member, if she would like to see it.

Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you so much. I asked what third-party verification, if any, had she received for the developers' claim. Simply, telling me the developers have claimed it—

SPEAKER: Order! I think it's fair to say that that part of the question was not addressed, and the Minister will address it.

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What we do have are public comments from the developer saying his opinion of what his actions would have been. In answer to that question: no—someone hasn't come out and said, "What he said is right."

Hon Judith Collins: So, then, is the Minister saying that she's simply taken the word of the property developer, without any verification—any third party—that new housing got to be built because KiwiBuild came along and bought up houses that hadn't sold in Ōtāhuhu from them?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: We actually do live in a world where people do say what a consequence of their actions was, and we take it as read. I know that people on that side of the House there do as well. But let me remind that member again: we do not think KiwiBuild has been delivering in a way that we are happy with. We are resetting the policy settings because housing is too important. That member might want to come to this House and play political games; I have yet to hear a positive suggestion in the 501 days she has been the Opposition housing spokesperson about what she would do to fix this. We will not give up on this. I've been the housing Minister for 28 days, and I'm giving it a lot of thought.

• Question No. 5—Defence

5. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: What support is the New Zealand Defence Force providing to the Fox River clean-up effort?

Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Since 20 June, the New Zealand Defence Force has been supporting a Department of Conservation - led clean-up, under the code name Operation Tidy Fox, in the Fox River area of the West Coast that was impacted by severe flooding. With tonnes of rubbish strewn across two of the region's pristine rivers and coastline, over an area equivalent to 3,000 rugby fields, the need for the Defence Force to respond alongside of the Department of Conservation volunteers, in support of the West Coast community, was clear. Accordingly, in mid-August, the New Zealand Defence Force is deploying, in phases, up to 70 personnel, vehicles, and aircraft to support the Fox River clean-up, with further helicopter support planned to help remove rubbish from more remote locations later.

Mark Patterson: How does this effort support the coalition Government's defence policy?

Hon RON MARK: Fifty-three personnel are currently—I'm sorry, did I get the wrong supplementary?

SPEAKER: While the member's doing it, can he tell the House why the operation was named after him?

Hon RON MARK: After—ha, ha! Sorry, Mr Speaker; I'll start the question again. As part of the Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018, the coalition Government reshaped New Zealand's defence policy in the context of delivering value to the community, the nation, and the world. Defence now has a specific outcome to support New Zealand's communities, their environmental wellbeing, and their resilience. This recognises the Defence Force's role to communities—the communities from which it draws its personnel, and the communities from which it needs and accrues support.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! That's enough, thank you.

Mark Patterson: How many New Zealand Defence Force personnel are currently operating in the area, and what tasks are they undertaking?

Hon RON MARK: Currently, there are 53 personnel deployed in the area taking part in the clean-up itself and supporting the Department of Conservation's incident management team, with a further 11 personnel deploying by tomorrow. Eight vehicles are deployed, including light operational vehicles to transport personnel and the medium heavy operational vehicles affectionately known as MHOVs, which have been used to transport the collected rubbish.

• Question No. 6—Health

6. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: What dollar amount was expended on pharmaceuticals for the year ended 30 June 2009 according to Pharmac's 2008-09 annual report, and how does that compare with Pharmac's expenditure on pharmaceuticals reported in Pharmac's 2018 annual report?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I'm surprised the member is asking about two Budgets delivered by the previous Government. According to its annual report in 2008-09, Pharmac spent $653 million on pharmaceuticals. In 2017-19, Pharmac spent $870.8 million on combined pharmaceuticals. I'd also note that the combined pharmaceutical budget for 2019-20 is $995 million.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: So can she confirm, then, that the budget for pharmaceutical funding increased by an average of $24 million per year for the nine years since 2008-09?

Hon JENNY SALESA: As I said in my primary answer, the budget was $653 million and then in 2017-2018, $870.0 million. In terms of the annual increase per year, I do not have that level of figure, but the member is most welcome to put that level of question to the Minister of Health, who'll be happy to answer it.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: How can she stand by her part of the answer to the primary question that Pharmac funding this year is $995 million, when since 2018 the Government has appropriated zero dollars in the 2018 Budget and $10 million only in Budget 2019?

Hon JENNY SALESA: There was an increase of $10 million in this year's Pharmac budget but I can say this: Pharmac's budget is now at an increased record level at $995 million—close to $1 billion. That is up from $884.3 million in the last Budget delivered by that member's Government. Every year, as drugs come off patent and Pharmac is able to make savings, it means that it can purchase more drugs for more people—that is, in terms of the advantages of that Pharmac model and this is one of the reasons why other countries are looking at the model we have here in New Zealand in terms of how we purchase drugs.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! That's well past answering the supplementary.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: By what mathematical alchemy does $884.3 million plus $10 million equal $995 million?

Hon JENNY SALESA: The amount of funding in terms of Pharmac's funding right now is $995 million.

Hon Amy Adams: Are you sure about that?

Hon JENNY SALESA: Yes, this is the advice from Pharmac. In the last Budget delivered by that member's Government, it was $884.3 million. Mr Speaker—

SPEAKER: Order! The member has answered the question.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is it that kind of financial—

SPEAKER: Sorry—which member is making those noises? Well, if it's hiccups, go and get some water—

Hon Amy Adams: Oh, that wasn't me, sir. Sorry. I don't want to claim responsibility!

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is it that kind of financial acumen that means cancer sufferers like Blair Vining, Wiki Mulholland, Terre Maize, and many thousands of other New Zealanders are resorting to family charity and Givealittle pages in order to fund medicines under this Government?

Hon JENNY SALESA: My heart goes out to Blair and his family, and I thank him for his advocacy and campaigning on the issue of cancer care. In terms of Pharmac's role, as defined under the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000, it is "to secure for eligible people in need of pharmaceuticals, the best health outcomes that are reasonably achievable from pharmaceutical treatment and from within the amount of funding provided;". While there are a range of factors affecting life expectancy, New Zealand has a high life expectancy relative to the amount of funding that we spend on pharmaceuticals. In particular, when we compare to the UK, to Canada, and the USA, Pharmac is a really good model.

SPEAKER: Order! Much more than necessary.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he accept that Pharmac can only purchase medicines if they are given the extra funding to do so?

Hon JENNY SALESA: The Pharmac model was established in 1993. This is a model that works very well for New Zealanders. Decisions on drugs and which drugs are funded are taken at arm's length from Ministers by Pharmac and they are based on solid evidence. We cannot have politicians second-guessing clinical experts.

SPEAKER: No, the member will have another go because she didn't address the question. Do you want the question repeated?

Hon JENNY SALESA: Yes please.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he accept that Pharmac can only purchase extra medicines if they are given extra funding?

Hon JENNY SALESA: I accept that Pharmac has that role, and I want to reiterate that Pharmac has $995 million right now in order to do their role.

• Question No. 7—Transport

7. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Is it correct that "despite being previously funded, two roundabouts on State Highway 58 in Porirua won't be built until more money becomes available, which means they won't make their planned 2020 completion date", as reported by Stuff on 21 May 2019, and is she concerned that these safety upgrades have been delayed on what NZTA has described as "Wellington region's most dangerous road"?

Hon JAMES SHAW (Minister for Climate Change) on behalf of the Associate Minister of Transport: On behalf of the Minister, I'm advised that funding for the State Highway 58 programme, including the two roundabouts that Mr Bishop refers to, was set aside in late 2017 based on early estimates. Subsequent analysis showed that the project would cost more than first estimated, and it was split into two stages. In the next few months, work will begin on the stage one safety upgrades. This will include extending median barriers, installing side barriers in high-risk spots, adding an uphill crawler lane, and adding sealed shoulders. I'm advised that the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has approved funding to progress preparatory work for stage two upgrades. This includes funding to progress land acquisitions and consenting for work on the two roundabouts. NZTA will consider funding for the two roundabouts once Transmission Gully has been completed, simply because starting earlier would create disruption on the roads. This is just one component of the Government's $1.4 billion road safety programme that will upgrade over 3,300 kilometres of State highways by 2021.

Chris Bishop: Why have these safety improvements been delayed when there have been four accidents on State Highway 58 in the last week alone, including this morning?

Hon JAMES SHAW: As I said in response to the primary question, there was funding for the entire State Highway 58 programme allocated based on earlier estimates, but subsequent analysis showed that the project would cost more than first estimated and it was split into two stages. Therefore, in the next few months, work will begin on the stage one safety upgrades. That includes the median barriers, installing side barriers in high-risk spots, adding an uphill crawler lane, and adding sealed shoulders. Having done that work, and once Transmission Gully has been completed, work will begin on stage two.

Chris Bishop: Will phase two of the safety improvements to State Highway 58 be in place by the time Transmission Gully opens?

Hon JAMES SHAW: As I said in response to the primary question, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) will consider funding for the two roundabouts that Mr Bishop refers to once Transmissions Gully has been completed, simply because [Interruption] starting earlier would create disruption on the roads.

SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to ask the member to repeat it. Some of us have quite a lot of interest in this, and interjecting on these safety matters, I think, shows a bit of lack of taste.

Hon JAMES SHAW: As I said in response to the primary question, NZTA will consider funding for the two roundabouts once Transmission Gully has been completed, simply because starting earlier would create additional disruption on the roads.

Chris Bishop: Is she concerned that deaths and serious injuries on State Highway 58 could nearly double once Transmission Gully opens, according to the AA, and why has the Government not prioritised these safety upgrades earlier to make sure they're in place by the time Transmission Gully opens?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, as I said, under the previous Government there was an initial estimate of the amount of funding it would take to do the safety upgrades. Subsequent analysis under the current Government showed that it was going to be more expensive than the early initial estimates, and that's why the programme was broken into two halves. We're extremely concerned about road safety, particularly on State Highway 58. That's why this Government has created a $1.4 billion road safety programme to upgrade 3,300 kilometres of roads around New Zealand by 2021.

Chris Bishop: Why is she using funding constraints as an excuse when she is happy to trumpet in the House and around the country that the Government is making road safety a priority and that they're spending $1.4 billion on road safety?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Quite simply because the previous Government didn't put enough money into this project.

Chris Bishop: What changed between March 2018, when the NZTA said "it's a priority for the Agency to make significant safety improvements as soon as possible," and May 2019, when the NZTA confirmed that these much-needed safety improvements would not be in place?

Hon JAMES SHAW: As I said in response to the primary question, subsequent analysis on the package that was put together in late 2017 showed that the overall State Highway 58 programme was going to be more expensive than initially indicated, and therefore it was split into two halves. I know that the member is extremely familiar with the process of project planning and budgeting for highway projects, including road safety projects; the process was followed, and each part of that project has to go through its own business case.

• Question No. 8—Education

8. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What announcements has the Government made about providing a long-term plan for building classrooms to meet student growth?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Good news: earlier this month, the Government released the overview of the National Education Growth Plan, showing how the Government is planning for 100,000 additional places for students in high-growth areas out to 2030. It's supported by the largest investment ever by a New Zealand Government in school property. The $1.2 billion that we've put in, coupled with the additional funding that we already have, gets us half way to meeting the forecasted growth out to 2030. The National Education Growth Plan is a first for New Zealand. It is the first time that a national plan has identified where new schools might be needed to be built, and the additional classrooms needed in current schools, providing certainty to parents, communities, and, of course, the building and construction sector.

Jan Tinetti: How does the National Education Growth Plan show parents and communities the additional students coming into their regions to 2030, and are planning for it?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are 39individualised plans for around the country that provide high-level time lines out to 2030, showing how additional students coming into high-growth areas will be catered for, indicating where investment in school property is likely to be. The plan that we announced last week included the individual growth plans for Auckland and for Te Tai Tokerau, and we'll be releasing further plans over the coming months.

Jan Tinetti: What announcements have been made to deliver modern, warm classrooms in Auckland and Tai Tokerau as part of the National Education Growth Plan?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: When we announced the regional plans for Auckland and Te Tai Tokerau, we announced an additional $200 million investment from the $1.2 billion fund. This investment sees $20 million for the construction of a new primary school in Milldale Wainui, which will cater for 370 additional students; $155 million for 228 additional roll growth classrooms across 42 different schools in Auckland, catering for around 4,700 additional students; and $5 million for the expansion of an existing primary school, catering for 250 additional student places. Around $20 million will provide 27 additional roll growth classrooms to nine schools across the north, catering for 500 additional student places.

• Question No. 9—Police

9. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Police: Does he stand by all the Government's statements, actions, and policies in relation to firearm law reform?

Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): Yes, in the context they were made.

Brett Hudson: Does the Government support the introduction of firearm prohibition orders to target illegal firearm use by gangs and violent offenders?

Hon STUART NASH: It wasn't that long ago that a previous Prime Minister, Bill English, had to correct one of his senior colleagues when it came to firearms prohibition orders because they do raise human rights issues. As I have said, though, I am open to firearm prohibition orders, and I have asked police to undertake work on the possible design of this regime to further restrict serious violent offenders' access to firearms. We'll look to consult more widely on this outside of the bill.

Brett Hudson: Why, after almost a year since opposing National's firearm prohibition bill, is the Government still not ready to even start consultation on firearm prohibition orders?

Hon STUART NASH: Two things I would say—and I'll just repeat that in the previous Government, the Rt Hon Bill English actually had to chastise the then Minister of Police for a flawed bill because of the human rights issues. What I have said, and I will repeat, is that I am open to firearm prohibition orders. I have asked the police to do some work in this area, and we will consult in due time.

Brett Hudson: Why isn't he introducing reforms targeting gangs and criminal firearm use, and instead focusing on law-abiding New Zealanders?

Hon STUART NASH: The Cabinet minute that will be proactively released shortly, in summary, will confirm that if a person is a member of, or has close affiliations with, an organised crime group or a gang, this will be an indicator of their likelihood of being a fit and proper licence-holder. There is one other point I'd like to make: in our 1,800 additional officers that we are delivering to our communities, 700 of those are going to be in organised crime squads. We are doing a lot of work to go after organised crime.

Brett Hudson: What members of Parliament or their offices have made representations to him advising against introducing firearms prohibition orders?

Hon STUART NASH: No members of Parliament have advised against introducing firearm prohibition orders. But I would reiterate that I am not against firearm prohibition orders. I have asked the police to do some work around this, and we will consult.

Brett Hudson: Why is the Government undermining the ability for New Zealanders to have their say on his reforms by only permitting a three-month select committee process?

SPEAKER: Order! The Minister does not decide a select committee process.

Brett Hudson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was noted in the Government's announcements the other day.

SPEAKER: Yes, but the Parliament makes that decision. I don't care what the Government wants to do—that's not relevant—they can't.

Brett Hudson: Why is the Government seeking to undermine the ability for New Zealanders to have their say on his reforms by proposing a three-month select committee process?

Hon STUART NASH: What I would say is the changes that we are making should come as no surprise to anyone. There has been no meaningful change to firearms legislation in 36 years. In fact, if that member did his research, he would find that a number of the recommendations made were outlined in the Thorp report in 1997.

• Question No. 10—Social Development

10. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Social Development: How many working-age people are on the jobseeker support benefit at the end of June 2019 compared to June 2018, and how many more working-age people are on the jobseeker support benefit in June 2019 compared to September 2017?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): The number of people receiving jobseeker support, as at the end of June 2019, was 136,233. As at the end of June 2018, it was 122,513. At the end of September 2017, it was 120,726. This includes people who are actively seeking work and those who are unable to look for work due to a health condition or disability. The difference is 13,720 and 15,507 respectively. As a percentage of the working-age population, this is a 0.4 percent increase from September 2017 to June 2019.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why does she keep blaming population growth, as she has previously, as a primary reason for the increase in jobseeker support benefit recipients, when other benefits have not increased at the same rate?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The member is being disingenuous. I was very clear in the House yesterday that population growth is one of the reasons, but the other reasons are that there has been softening in particular sectors—and I've referred to a couple of those: manufacturing and retail being two examples. Also, employers are looking for a level of skill that our Ministry of Social Development clients aren't always equipped with. That is why this Government is focused on upskilling and training, so that people can get into meaningful and sustainable employment, and so we don't see the churn on and off benefit that we saw under them.

Hon Paula Bennett: If the Minister is so interested in training and support, would she be surprised to hear that there are an extra 5,000 18- to 24-year-olds on the jobseeker support benefit since September 2017, and that the Mana in Mahi programme has completely failed them?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: What we have seen is a reduction of young people going on to the youth payment, which is very positive. Mana in Mahi has not been a failure at all. A 70 percent retention rate for young people, who often have very complex needs, is, actually, very positive. That 70 percent retention rate is much more positive than what we saw under the previous Government, when nearly 50 percent of those who went off benefit, after their welfare reforms, were back on within 18 months.

Hon Paula Bennett: So when there are 5,000 more young people on the jobseeker support, how many young people have gone through the Mana in Mahi programme?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We have reached our target of making sure that in the first tranche, there would be 150. But, as we saw at the Budget, we have budgeted for 2,000 places. We see this as a real opportunity. The Ministry of Social Development is about providing financial support, but also about supporting people into meaningful and sustainable employment, and we're taking that opportunity, and working with these young people in their aspirations.

SPEAKER: Just before we have the next supplementary, I'm going to do something which occurred in the House yesterday, and to remind the member that there is a microphone system.

Hon Paula Bennett: What role do place-based initiatives—or PBIs, as they're often called in emails—have to play with helping vulnerable New Zealanders up to the age of 24 into meaningful employment?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: There's some wonderful work going on with the place-based initiatives. If I refer to the Manukau one, they're looking at the complex needs that many of these families are encountering, and, obviously, employment is one of those areas. We understand that, actually, for many of these families, there are a range of challenges that they might encounter, and that's why, with regards to those that come through the welfare system, it's not just about what we're able to provide through the welfare system, but the support that we're providing across Government, including—can I refer to—the $1.9 billion investment into mental health.

• Question No. 11—Small Business

11. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister for Small Business: What recent announcements has he made about making it easier for small businesses to access services from multiple Government agencies?

Hon STUART NASH (Minister for Small Business): One of Budget 2019's priorities was to create opportunities for productive businesses, and to support them to thrive in the digital age. Last week, I was pleased to announce that $7.1 million had been dedicated to a new digital service to make dealing with Government easier. Business Connect is a new digital platform that will be available later this year to allow small businesses to interact seamlessly via a single portal. In time, it will streamline the way central and local government services can be applied for, managed, and tracked. New Zealand consistently ranks number one as the easiest country to do business, but there is still progress to be made, and this Government is committed to finding and funding those ways.

Marja Lubeck: How will the new platform Business Connect help small businesses?

Hon STUART NASH: Small businesses and businesses in general tell us that they sometimes find public services complex to navigate and fragmented, and it takes more time than it should to deal with repetitive paperwork. We have heard their appeals, and are responding. By integrating access to multiple services and agencies, Business Connect will cut out repetitive paperwork. In time, businesses will be able to apply for a range of permits, licences, and consents without having to repeat the same information and documentation over and over again. Examples could include services that help make it easier to comply with food safety regulations. They will also be able to track the status of their applications, and be notified online of approvals and renewals.

Marja Lubeck: What Government agencies are currently signed up to the Business Connect, and will this be extended to other agencies?

Hon STUART NASH: Business Connect has two major phases. Phase one will initially trial services from three agencies. These are the Ministry of Primary Industries, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the New Zealand Customs Service. Phase two is likely to include other agencies who are in the Better for Business programme, such as Inland Revenue, the Accident Compensation Corporation, the New Zealand Transport Agency, and Statistics New Zealand. Officials are in active discussions with some local councils as well. The agencies in this programme account for around 93 percent of business interactions with Government and local government. We will be actively working with these agencies and local government on the services that make the biggest difference to businesses. Officials estimate the potential benefit to businesses and Government agencies from Business Connect is worth about $300 million per year. New Zealand, as mentioned, consistently ranks number one as the easiest country to do business—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think I've heard that a few times recently.

• Question No. 12—Environment

12. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he stand by his statement about regulation of genetic engineering, "I think that the precautionary approach hasn't done us any harm so far, either economically or environmentally"; if so, why?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment): Yes, because it has benefited New Zealand, which explains why GM regulation did not substantially change over the last nine years of the previous Government.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Does he believe the Ministry for the Environment is incorrect to have concluded that New Zealand's regulatory framework for genetic modification, under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, is increasingly difficult to enforce, and may be limiting the country's competitiveness?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Has he asked for any further advice on the economic or environmental impact of continuing his precautionary approach in light of his colleague the Hon James Shaw's willingness to take a fresh look at the genetic engineering regulations in New Zealand?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I don't understand that the Hon James Shaw was proposing to abandon a precautionary approach in respect of GM. I did say to the Environment Committee last month that there is a rising issue as to whether or not some new genetically modified organism (GMO) techniques are distinguishable from other non-GMO changes. That issue is not quite upon us but may arise in the future, and the Prime Minister's chief science officer is bringing forward some advice in respect of that issue.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Does he believe organisms created using gene editing technology present greater risk than naturally occurring organisms?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I'm not satisfied that that is yet sufficiently clear to allow those techniques to be unregulated.

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: Does he agree with the Ministry for the Environment's advice that failing to update our legislation may result in organisms being regulated at a level not proportionate to the risk they pose and New Zealand missing out on the benefits they could provide, such as advancing success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pests?

Hon DAVID PARKER: If there was a miracle cure for climate change brought about by a GM crop, I'm sure that any Government would consider it. At the moment, it could be considered under the existing regulatory framework.

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