Parliament: Questions and Answers - May 7
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: How many of the 42 recommendations of the Welfare Working Group report will the Government adopt?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will know that at the time the announcement was made, we immediately acted on the issue of case managers and the discriminatory sanction around the naming of both parents. We also moved on abatement. We are progressing as well, and have already started work on, 15 other recommendations and have fully acknowledged that there is further work to do on the issue of income adequacy.
Hon Simon Bridges: What obligations will exist for parents to pay their fair share of child support now that her Government is scrapping the obligation to name both parents?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The obligation still exists; what we've removed is the sanction that then follows that obligation. Our view is that that is important because it is directly affecting children—on average, over $30 a week that families are missing out on—and those are families who are suffering from income-adequacy issues. It's something that we have long flagged that we had an issue with and that we thought was negatively affecting children.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't an obligation without a penalty entirely meaningless, and if, as she says, it's discriminatory, shouldn't she just say that rather than play around with words?
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Again, as I've already said, it is impacting negatively on children, and so that's why we have taken a child-centred approach. The member will well know that there has been some discussion over time on whether or not enough of a sense of obligation on paying child support exists, because it is the State that retains child support payments. So if the member wants to discuss the issue of child support pass-on, we can do that, but our view is that the penalty—the sanction that exists—is negatively affecting children and impacting on child poverty.
Hon Simon Bridges: What advice did her Government receive on how many more women won't name the father given the scrapping of the obligation to name both parents?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I couldn't give him that level of specificity at this time, but, again, we have made a principled decision here that there will often be a range of reasons. As I say, the obligation to name still exists, but we do not think it's right that, as a consequence, that sanction then, ultimately, will impact on children. If the member wants to maintain that those families have that penalty, which can be significant for a family on a low income, then he is entitled to that opinion.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with the Welfare Working Group's recommendation that the Ministry of Social Development be statutorily accountable to iwi and Māori for achieving well-being outcomes?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. I mean, there's, I believe, an obligation to make sure that we fulfil the expectations on all citizens as well, but of course there are specific expectations as well on the over-representation that we have of Māori within our welfare system, also within Oranga Tamariki, and we should not shy away from addressing those directly.
Hon Simon Bridges: When, then, will those statutory accountabilities to iwi and Māori for achieving well-being outcomes in welfare be enacted?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I've said, there's a number of areas where we're continuing to do ongoing work. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Who made that noise?
Hon Simon Bridges: I did.
SPEAKER: Sorry, I mean, last week I remonstrated with a member for making a noise that is not really fit for Parliament, and I'd just like the Leader of the Opposition to show some leadership. I did think it was that member again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister as to whether or not the subject raised by the Leader of the Opposition with respect to obligations to Māori was not identical in the last local government bill that they had prepared? [Interruption]
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is in fact true. I also recall the very specific obligation, again in discussion around Oranga Tamariki, and the last Government didn't have that hesitation then in acknowledging that there was work to do with that over-representation of Māori.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with the Welfare Working Group's recommendation to remove obligations on beneficiaries to be drug-free, to have any children they have enrolled with a GP, and to attend early childhood or primary education?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We haven't made final decisions on some of the recommendations that have been made by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG), and there's additional work to be done.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to former Green MP Sue Bradford, who said her Government's response to the report is "virtually useless" and that "I strongly suspect it will take a way more progressive [Government] than this lot to enact serious welfare reform."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'd say she would still be vastly happier having this Government than that last one.
Hon Simon Bridges: What has her Government achieved in welfare in its year of delivery other than 13,000 more beneficiaries on jobseeker support?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Thank you for the opportunity. We will be employing 170 extra case managers to make sure that those who are seeking work have the support to find work. From 1 May, the winter energy payment will be affecting up to a million New Zealanders. Families will receive $700 over those winter months, including those families on benefit and Government support, and superannuitant couples, and $450 over the winter months for singles so they don't decide between turning the heater on and putting food on a table. We also have the ongoing roll-out of the Best Start payment. For the first time, we have a near-universal payment for the first year of a child's life—that extends to years two and three for those on low incomes. It is the most significant change to our welfare system in over 10 years. The Families Package: on average, $75 a week going to over 380,000 families. It will mean that between 40,000 and 70,000 children will be lifted out of poverty. It is a $5.4 billion package that was introduced by this Government and continues to be rolled out. Is there more work to do? Yes, but I am incredibly proud of what this Government has done already.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister, with respect to these policies that she's unveiling, on the running poll of approve or disapprove, is it not a fact that the disapproval ratio is going down and the approval ratio is going up?
SPEAKER: Order! Resume your seat. That's not a matter for which the Prime Minister has responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just suggest to you, without wishing to contest your ruling but hoping for maybe a more considered judgment, that the approval or disapproval of policies is seriously apposite to the Prime Minister and every one of her Cabinet Ministers and colleagues, and so it's not unusual for the Prime Minister to be aware of it, because any Prime Minister that wasn't aware of it would go the way of the previous one.
Hon Chris Hipkins: On a near daily basis, the Minister of Finance is asked about the mood of the country when it comes to the economy. Therefore, surely the Prime Minister can be asked about the mood of the country when it comes to support for the Government.
SPEAKER: Yes, I think if I'd really considered it carefully, I would have allowed the question, but having ruled it out, I'm going to leave it out.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Excuse me, sir, why did you give that look when I asked for a legitimate point of order, when you've just had three from the other side?
SPEAKER: Because I was just living in the vain hope that we might be getting on with question time.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How is it appropriate for you to entertain several pointless points of order from that side, and when I react to something the Prime Minister has said, I'm the naughty boy in this Parliament?
SPEAKER: Do I really need to explain?
Hon Members: Yes.
SPEAKER: Right. The points of order, as I ruled, were, in fact, legitimate. Both those of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the House were legitimate: they drew to my attention an error in my ruling. The member earlier made a barnyard noise of the sort that would not be accepted in a junior classroom, and I remonstrated with him for it.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I made no such noise, and it is entirely wrong and unfair for you as a Speaker to say that sort of unprofessional comment.
SPEAKER: The member will leave the House.
Hon Simon Bridges withdrew from the Chamber.
• Question No. 2—Health
2. JAMI-LEE ROSS (Botany) to the Minister of Health: Does he agree with the calls made at the teen suicide awareness march at Parliament yesterday for more counsellors in schools as one measure to help reduce New Zealand's youth suicide rates; if so, how many more counsellors will be funded over the next four years?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): School counsellors are just one of a range of supports available in schools to help students with their mental well-being. This Government is committed to helping our young people in distress. For example, yesterday, when the march arrived at Parliament—about which the member speaks—I was at Victoria University announcing the further rollout of the Piki pilot, which is delivering free mental health support to 18- to 25-year-olds in the Greater Wellington region. What we want young people to know is that there is no wrong door to accessing mental health support. In our first Budget, we extended the nurses in schools programme to cover decile 4 secondary schools, and we've also rolled out Mana Ake, which makes mental health support available in all primary and intermediate schools in Canterbury and Kaikōura.
Jami-Lee Ross: Will the Government adopt recommendation 30 of the mental health and addiction inquiry to "Urgently complete the national suicide prevention strategy and implementation plan and ensure the strategy is supported by significantly increased resources for suicide prevention and postvention"?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The report was a very considered report which got 5,200 submissions. We are responding, as a Government, before the Budget to that report, but I'm not able to announce our response today.
Jami-Lee Ross: Is he willing to meet with the organiser of yesterday's march, Pania Te-Paiho Marsh, to discuss ways to reduce New Zealand's alarming rates of teenage and youth suicide?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: My office will consider requests to meet.
Matt Doocey: What does the Minister say in response to the first supplementary—in response to the editorial in the Christchurch Press which states: "overall the mental health inquiry appears to fit a wider pattern of delays, obfuscation, and a lack of transparency that has started to afflict this Government…we see a widening gulf between promise and delivery."
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I utterly reject that assertion. This Government has got on with investing in mental health even while the inquiry was under way. We put an additional $200 million into the ring-fence for district health boards, for mental health and addiction issues. We've put nurses into schools. We have put the Mana Ake programme into place across the Greater Wellington region, which is serving young people 18 to 25—sorry, that's the Piki programme. We have the Mana Ake programme in Christchurch, Canterbury and Kaikōura, which is serving primary and secondary students and making sure that they have mental health supports in schools that were not in place previously. We've also extended cheaper doctors visits to community service cardholders, meaning over 500,000 more New Zealanders will have access to cheaper doctors visits—approximately $20 to $30 cheaper, on average—and that will mean people will be able to access mental health services in primary care. This is a Government committed to getting on with the job of addressing our mental health challenges. The need went up, I'm advised, over 10 years by about 60 percent and resource only went up around half of that. So resource has been lacking in this area, as it has across the health system, and we as a Government are determined to address that. We will be responding soon to the mental health inquiry. It is a worthy inquiry and we will give it a worthy response.
• Question No.
3. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What announcements has the Government made to get more teachers in classrooms and support thousands more in training?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Last week, I announced a $95 million investment in teacher training and recruitment—the largest in a decade. This will fund almost 2,500 more teachers through more scholarships, more on the job training, and new iwi-based scholarships. We're also supporting 800 beginning teachers into the workforce through the new National Beginning Teacher Induction Grants and the voluntary bonding scheme expansion.
Jan Tinetti: How does this additional new funding compare to previous investments made to address teacher supply?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The $95 million I announced last week builds on the $40 million investment the new Government made shortly after taking office. That's about 12 times the mere $11 million of new money invested in the nine years before that.
Jan Tinetti: How does the $95 million for teacher supply build upon previous announcements over the past 18 months made by this Government to support our teachers?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Government has committed, among other things, $500 million to support children with additional learning needs. A significant portion of that money will fund 600 more teachers to fill the role of learning support coordinators in our schools. We've also been working to reduce compliance to make sure that teachers have the time to focus on teaching, and, of course, we've been investing in a large capital upgrade for our schools to ensure that the working conditions and learning conditions of our teachers and students are improved.
• Question No. 4—Prime
4. 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 stand by her statement earlier this year in the House, when questioned about the referendum on recreational marijuana use, "it will be a binding referendum for the public."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with her justice Minister Andrew Little, who in December said, "we have a commitment that it is binding."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: In that case, why are you are not doing option four, that, as the Cabinet paper says, gives the most certainty, and is the closest to being actually binding?
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Because the outcome is ultimately the same. The only way to ensure that people's decision in the referendum is upheld is if political parties commit to abiding by the outcome. All three parties that make up this Government have committed to abiding by the people's decision. My question is, will the National Party?
Hon Paula Bennett: So in light of that, has she seen advice from the Ministry of Justice, provided to her Minister on 24 May 2018, that explicitly states, "binding referendums require referendum legislation. This legislation both enables the referendum and sets out the law that will be automatically enacted in the event of a majority yes vote"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member well knows it is not possible for any Parliament to bind a future Parliament. The only way to ensure that the people's decision is upheld is if a commitment is given by political parties to abide by the outcome of a referendum. All three parties in this Government are giving that commitment. My question is, will the National Party do the same?
Hon Paula Bennett: So does she agree with the advice provided by the Office of the Clerk that in order for a referendum to be actually binding, legislation needs to be passed through the House first, and then have a commencement section stating the Act comes into force when it has met the referendum conditions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: And, again, it still requires all political parties to commit to abiding by the outcome and not repealing the legislation. It is not possible for any Parliament to bind a future Parliament. It is, however, possible for political parties to give a commitment to abide by the decision of the public. The Green Party, the New Zealand First Party, and the Labour Party are giving that commitment. Will the National Party?
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I can't remember the exact circumstances, but last week, I think it was, the honourable Deputy Prime Minister was speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, and you said he could not ask the Opposition a question. I've now had one three times from the Prime Minister, and I'd like consistency.
SPEAKER: That was not helpful, but it was accurate.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: So could I just get this clear from the Prime Minister: there are three parties she expects—the Greens, Labour, and the New Zealand First Party—to keep their word with respect to a binding referendum, and not, as others would suggest, double-cross that bridge when they come to it?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! That's not a matter for which the Prime Minister has responsibility.
Chlöe Swarbrick: Could the Prime Minister explain, and help the Opposition to understand, the difference between self-executing and binding?
SPEAKER: No, she can't, because the question was out of order.
Chlöe Swarbrick: How many times, approximately, has she invited the deputy leader of the National Party to engage in our cross-party group to answer all of these so-called questions about the cannabis referendum?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: On many occasions, and I do so again. Ultimately, this is a process that we have decided to commit ourselves to but leave the decision in the hands of the public. That is what we are committed to. We are making the offer for any member of Parliament to be involved in the drafting together of the draft legislation that the public will then vote on. They will have a draft bill on which to make their decision. If they decide that it should be enacted, then we will abide by that decision.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she stand by the statement in the Cabinet paper that an enacted piece of legislation would provide the electorate with the greatest certainty about the consequences of their vote?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, the greatest certainty will come when the National Party declares whether or not it will abide by the public's decision. We are committed to giving the public their say, we are committed to them having a piece of draft legislation to vote on, and then we are committed to abiding by their decision.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she accept that a select committee process that has experts alongside of it and that takes public submissions, and the committee of the whole House, would actually mean that that piece of legislation is more robust, more suitable, and give more certainty to the public on what their vote means?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: A select committee process does two things. It allows all members of Parliament to come together—we are providing that opportunity. The second thing is it allows people to have their say. There is no greater say than a public referendum.
• Question No.
5. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with Treasury that firms' own trading activity indicator from the most recent Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion suggests annual GDP growth of around 2.0 percent, and when was the last time New Zealand's annual GDP growth was at or below 2.0 percent?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: In answer to the first part of the question, no. In answer to the second part of the question, I'm advised that New Zealand's GDP growth was at or below 2 percent numerous times under that member's Government, most recently in quarter four, 2013, when it was 1.8 percent. I know at that time, when the economy was growing at—
Hon Amy Adams: GFC—that's it. GFC.
Hon DAVID PARKER: —2013's considerably later than the global financial crisis—1.8 percent, the then finance Minister said that there was good economic growth in New Zealand and that business sentiment was strong. That was the Hon Bill English.
Hon Amy Adams: So is he, as Minister of Finance, satisfied with New Zealand growing at its lowest rate for six years, and, if not, what is the Government's plan to grow the economy?
Hon DAVID PARKER: On behalf of the Minister, as he said last week, the IMF has downgraded global growth forecasts three times in the last year. New Zealand's growth rate is higher than Australia, Canada, the Euro area, Japan, the UK, and higher than the OECD average.
Hon Amy Adams: What is the Government's plan to grow the economy?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The transition from volume to value is already occurring. Exports have grown as a percentage of GDP under this Government after having dropped from 30 percent to under—I think it was—27 percent of GDP under the last Government when they had the ambition of growing. One of the reasons why exports are growing is we've introduced an R & D tax credit. We've stimulated the economy through a tax package that the Prime Minister outlined earlier in the day, which benefits low to middle income people who spend money into the economy, and we've introduced, amongst other things, the green growth fund to support new initiatives.
Hon Amy Adams: So should the public take from that that when this Government talks about transitioning the economy, they mean transitioning it from one growing at 3.7 percent to now growing at a meagre 2.0 percent?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No, and most New Zealanders are aware that since World War II, growth rates under Labour administrations have exceeded those under National administrations.
Hon Amy Adams: So who is correct—Treasury, who have used business confidence surveys to predict our current GDP track, or associate finance Minister David Parker, who has said that business confidence surveys are just junk?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Associate Minister of Finance's spokesperson was correct, and his predictions were proven correct because history already shows that. But I note, in respect of Treasury, that Treasury were not adopting the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) view; they were reporting it. And it's true that the NZIER view is a sentiment survey and so is subjective. It also has a hole in it. As the Opposition spokesperson on agriculture will be able to tell the member, the high performing and optimistic agriculture sector is excluded from that survey. We prefer to deal with real data.
Hon Amy Adams: When will we see this Government deliver the more productive economy that he has promised; when economic growth is now predicted by Treasury to be at its lowest rate for six years and per-person growth is close to zero?
Hon DAVID PARKER: As I said earlier, IMF international growth forecasts have been downgraded three times over the last year. That does have an effect on the New Zealand economy, but it remains true that New Zealand's growth is forecasted by both the New Zealand Treasury and the IMF to be higher than that in Australia, Canada, the Euro area, Japan, and the UK and higher than the OECD average.
No. 6—Social Development
6. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made about making the welfare system fairer and more accessible?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): On Friday, alongside the release of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's report, Whakamana Tāngata: Restoring dignity to social security in New Zealand, I made three pre-Budget announcements that will contribute to the fairer and more accessible welfare system that this Government is committed to: first was the repeal of section 192, formerly section 70A, which penalises parents and children by reducing a client's benefit if they do not name the other parent of their child and apply for child support; second, there was an increase in the abatement threshold for main benefits over the next four years to reflect this Government's commitment to increasing the minimum wage; and, finally, we announced 263 extra front-line staff at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) over four years to better support people into meaningful and sustainable employment.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What impact will these announcements have?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: These announcements show that this Government is taking immediate action to support people into work and improve income security for New Zealanders. By repealing section 192, around 24,000 children will be better off as a result of this change, with sole parents who are currently affected receiving, on average, an extra $34 a week. The changes to the abatement threshold will ensure that as this Government increases the minimum wage over the next four years, clients who are working and on minimum wage will receive the benefits of these increases, and our extra front-line staff will mean there is a more proactive employment service available to support people into the right work for them.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What are the next steps for overhauling our welfare system?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The Welfare Expert Advisory Group's report will contribute greatly to this Government's welfare overhaul. The three pre-Budget announcements are important steps, and, in total, we have already started working on around 15 of the recommendations in the report. However, we know there is much more to do, which is why we will be taking action in our three priority areas: income support; supporting everyone who is able to be earning, learning, caring, or volunteering; and improving access to affordable housing. At the same time, we will also be developing a three- to five-year plan that sensibly addresses recommendations in the report through a systematic overhaul of the welfare system that is effective and enduring and ensures those who need access to MSD support are actually better off.
• Question No. 7—Housing and Urban
7. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does he stand by his answer to oral question No. 6 on 12 March that the additionality test for a KiwiBuild development can be met in four key ways, "by getting a development under way; by bringing forward a development, or the stage of a development that is scheduled for a later time period; or by redesigning part of a development to provide for additional affordable homes, rather than a smaller number of more expensive homes"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Yes, in its original context. But the fourth element not in the member's question is to reduce the price of homes by reducing cost, risk, and margin.
Hon Judith Collins: Is he confident the Ōtāhuhu development met that test when officials advised the Minister before he bought them that all 19 houses were already under construction, including 10 that were already completed?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I am confident in that advice received, and I note that the Ōtāhuhu development done by NZ Living—Shane Brealey, the developer of that project, has stated that one other development would still be a figment of his imagination if not for the KiwiBuild deal. He said it's the result both of the deal freeing up his investment for new developments and from it giving him the confidence to build affordable homes because of the backing he got from KiwiBuild.
Hon Judith Collins: How can houses be initiated, redesigned, or completed earlier after they've already been completed?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the member seems to want the KiwiBuild unit to tell developers to stop building affordable houses while contracts are signed. The member can't have it both ways. She wants us to do due diligence on contract negotiations but wants the contracts to be signed with the houses not even started or planned.
Hon Judith Collins: What price or design details have changed for the nine houses under construction as a result of the KiwiBuild purchase?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: If the member wants to put a written question down about that level of operational detail—[Interruption] Look, we are focused on getting affordable homes built, not on nit-picking and endless excuses for not building affordable houses.
Kieran McAnulty: How many homes are more affordable or being built faster through this programme?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The members opposite don't like to hear this, but Government agencies, including KiwiBuild, are building more homes right now than at any other time since the mid-1970s. Working with the private sector on KiwiBuild is a small part of that programme, but we make no apologies for backing builders to build more affordable homes.
SPEAKER: Order! I think that "many more" is not a suitable answer to that sort of supplementary. The member will repeat the question.
Kieran McAnulty: How many homes are more affordable or being built faster through this programme?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: There are more than 1,300 homes that are either completed or under construction or contracted as a result of this part of the KiwiBuild programme.
Hon Judith Collins: How comfortable is he that of the 10 Ōtāhuhu KiwiBuild houses offered for sale six months ago, only one has sold?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm comfortable that we are supporting the building of more affordable homes in Ōtāhuhu and in a dozen other locations around the country. These are homes that would not have been built if it were not for the support they get through the KiwiBuild programme. We are committed to building more affordable homes for first-home buyers, in stark contrast to that party when it was in Government.
Kieran McAnulty: How does this programme fit within the Government's broader housing supply programme?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As I said before, Government agencies are building more homes than at any time in the last 40 years, and as well as the KiwiBuild programme, in March there were more than 2,300 new State houses under construction. We're getting on with tackling the housing crisis. It takes a while to scale up and implement when you're starting from zero, but we're making good progress.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Have tenements and new house consents reached a record level in the last 12 months?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes. It's not just the houses that are being built by Government agencies; the market itself is responding to our policies, and the market—the private market—is building more homes right now than at any time since the Helen Clark – Labour Government in 2004.
• Question No.
8. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: What advice, if any, has he given to the Prime Minister about an early access scheme for patients seeking faster access to new medicines through Pharmac?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The Prime Minister has asked me to accelerate work looking at options for early access to medicines. While I've had some initial advice, it is not yet sufficiently developed to provide to the Prime Minister or her office.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: When did that work first commence?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have received reports around questions I've had around early-access schemes since I became the Minister. I couldn't name them all.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he accept that many of the cancer sufferers who signed one of the six petitions tabled today will die waiting for that advice?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Obviously, this is a difficult and emotive issue, and I understand the anger and frustration directed at Pharmac over these matters. It is why I have instructed Pharmac to look at the openness and transparency of their decision-making process, and it's also why we are looking at options for early access.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he agree with Pharmac CEO Sarah Fitt that taking more money from district health boards (DHBs) means less money for hospital services, and will he commit that any funding for an early-access scheme won't be funded out of existing DHB budgets?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I would expect that the Pharmac CEO provided that comment in a wider context, because Pharmac is able, with its purchasing power, to gain more drugs for more people through using the budget that also sits in DHBs.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, isn't it true that early access to at least some of the medicines that are the subject of those petitions could have been funded by the $200 million of Pharmac savings achieved in Budget 2018, had that money not been reprioritised to other parts of the health sector?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The Pharmac budget is at a record amount currently, and I'm not about to make the clinical decisions that Pharmac makes. They are difficult decisions to make—prioritising drugs—and they do it based on evidence.
• Question No.
9. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Associate Minister of Finance: What effect, if any, has the ban on foreign buyers of existing homes had on the number of foreign buyers of existing New Zealand homes?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Associate Minister of Finance): The ban on foreign buyers of existing New Zealand homes, a core policy of all three Government parties and strongly supported by the public, has caused a very significant drop in the number of foreign purchasers of New Zealand homes. In the March quarter last year, before the ban came into effect, there were 1,083 homes transferred to foreign purchasers. In the March quarter of this year, there were only 204—that's a decrease of 81 percent. Even though these statistics paint only a partial picture of how well this is doing—because the earlier data excluded foreign companies and trusts—the numbers show that the foreign-buyer ban is yet another example of this coalition Government delivering on its promises to New Zealanders.
Tamati Coffey: Where was the decline in foreign buyers most noticeable?
Hon DAVID PARKER: In the March 2019 quarter, the percentage of homes transferred to overseas persons dropped to just under 3.3 percent in central Auckland, down from 22.2 percent in June 2018, before the ban came into effect, and in the Queenstown-Lakes district a year ago, one in 10 homes were being transferred to overseas persons; now it's just one in 37. These, of course, have been two of the most overheated residential property markets in New Zealand, in part due to foreign speculators. This Government has ensured that we now have a New Zealand housing market that's shaped by New Zealanders for New Zealanders. This is something that the vast majority of New Zealanders want.
Darroch Ball: What's the principle underpinning the ban on foreign buyers of existing homes?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The basic principle is that if you have the right to live in New Zealand long term, then you have the right to buy a home here. But the Government believes that it's the birthright of New Zealanders to buy homes in New Zealand, not the birthright for overseas people; for them it's a privilege. We don't think it's right for a very wealthy person from overseas to outbid our most successful people for the most beautiful bay in the Bay of Islands or a beautiful bit of land around Queenstown, but we also believe that principle extends across the socio-economic scale to the most modest house in South Auckland which is, none the less, someone's dream.
Darroch Ball: What would have happened if the ban on foreign buyers of existing New Zealand homes had not been passed before the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) came into effect?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, in effect, New Zealand would have lost for ever the right to control who buys our homes. It was critical—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Rubbish!
Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, Mr Brownlee still doesn't understand that the terms of the agreement and its precursor Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement meant that new categories of investment could not have been introduced into the screening regime if they were not introduced before CPTPP was passed. So while others were happy to ignore that, we protected the sovereignty of New Zealand Governments, both current and future, by having this policy space preserved both for this Government and future Governments.
• Question No. 10—Social
10. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: How many of the 42 recommendations in the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's report will be implemented by the end of this parliamentary term?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): We have already made three pre-Budget announcements to make our welfare system fairer and more accessible. Those announcements align with three of the recommendations in the report. Work was already under way to address around 15 of the report's recommendations prior to receiving the report. After receiving it, I immediately commissioned further advice on another five. However, we know there is much more to do, and much of what needs to be done will be rolled out in a phase two plan that is yet to be developed. We want to make sure the changes we make to the welfare system are effective and enduring. As is noted by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group in their report, more work is needed to be done on the interactions with other Government systems in wider areas, and this is important work that we will be doing before we commit to a long-term welfare overhaul work programme.
Hon Louise Upston: Will the Government remove the obligation to be drug-free and have children registered with education providers, as listed in recommendation 11 of the report?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This Government committed to removing excessive sanctions. We take the advice that is in the report and we'll be considering all the recommendations that embody that advice, but that member will need to wait until we roll out phase two of our overhaul programme.
Hon Louise Upston: What advice has she received on the additional number of mothers who won't name the father, when the Government removes the obligation to name both parents?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: With regards to repealing section 192, that was formerly section 70A, the advice that this side of the House received was that there was no evidence to support that that sanction actually did anything to get child support out of the absent parent. Instead, the evidence that we were presented with, which is the same evidence that the previous Government was presented with in 2016, was that the sanction was in fact throwing the sole mothers into further hardship and causing further poverty for the 24,000 children that live in those households. So we make no apologies for the announcement that we will be repealing that sanction.
Hon Louise Upston: What advice has she received on the additional number of fathers who will avoid being financially responsible for their children?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As has already been noted, there was no evidence to support that that sanction was actually doing anything to ensure that the absent parent was paying child support. So the premise on which that member asked the question is incredibly flawed. On this side of the House, our concern is for the 24,000 children that are living in those households, and we're proud of the fact that they will not be punished because of the fact that they have an absent parent.
Hon Louise Upston: When the Labour Minister Steve Maharey introduced the sanction initially, it was about ensuring fathers are held financially responsible for their children; what will the Government do to ensure that fathers are held financially responsible for their children?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Given that the evidence that we have been presented with shows that there is no evidence to support that that sanction has in any way contributed to holding the absent parent to account, then we make no apologies for repealing that sanction.
Marama Davidson: Does she endorse the vision of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group that the social support system should move beyond a safety net to enabling whakamana tangata by restoring dignity to people so they can participate meaningfully with their families and communities?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Absolutely, and can I just say that on this side of the House, we are very interested in the international evidence that shows that excessive sanctions aren't necessarily the way to move people forward. In fact, we've been presented with evidence and seen international evidence that shows things like excessive sanctions can actually dissuade people from getting into employment. So on this side of the House, we want to make sure that all of the over 1 million people that access the support of the Ministry of Social Development every year, which includes our superannuitants, disabled people, unemployed people—that all of them are treated with dignity and respect and that we have the resourcing and the mechanisms in place to support those that are able to get into employment, but not just any employment: employment that is sustainable and meaningful to them, so that we don't experience the churn on and off benefit that that side of the House had when they were in Government.
• Question No.
11. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Police: Does he stand by all his statements, policies, and actions in relation to the New Zealand Police?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Police: Yes.
Chris Bishop: Can he confirm the total new number of front-line police added to the force since 1 November 2017, taking into account attrition, is only 496 full-time equivalents, and with just 18 months to go until the next election, how is he going to reach his target of 1,800 new police in three years?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Minister, what I can confirm is that the police have the lowest attrition, virtually, of any Civil Service—at, now, 5 percent—so keen are the men and women to stay on, now that they've got a supportive Government. What I can also say is that over 830 have already been trained, or are being trained, in just 12 months, and this week, on Thursday—good news—80 will graduate out at Porirua College and, just today, a further 80 have been taken on.
Chris Bishop: If the Government has only managed to recruit 496—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Questions start with a question word.
Chris Bishop: Sorry, Mr Speaker. How can he claim the Government will meet its target of 1,800 new police in three years, given the Government has only managed to recruit 496 net new police since November 2017?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Minister of Police, those graduating for the years 2019 and 2020 will be over 830, just in that period of time. That's more than in any two-year combined period in any previous administration—in other words, we are delivering twice as many police.
Chris Bishop: Does he accept that official advice to him in 2018 was that he required funding of $515 million over four years to deliver the 1,800 new police and that Budget 2018 only appropriated $299 million, and can the police expect a further injection of the balance in Budget 2019—namely, $216 million?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Minister, I always get worried when I hear people quoting figures, particularly when they're not qualified to. Can I say, in particular, here are the real facts: we have deployed more than 1,200 new constables since we've been in office. That's 1,200, and if you look at the election cycle, we just might make the 1,800 before the three years is out.
Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, my question was about funding and about various Budget documents that are in the public domain. That answer was about new police delivered, but the question was actually about the funding.
SPEAKER: Yes, and I think right at the beginning, although not in a very satisfactory way, that was addressed.
Chris Bishop: Does he stand by his statement of 12 June 2018 that in relation to the Minister of Finance, "He has also assured me if I go back next year, he will top me up,", and if he doesn't get the required $219 million top-up, how will he explain to the Police Association that he hasn't delivered on his commitments?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Minister, it's well-known—it's in theBible, in fact—"He who sets his hands to the plough and looks backwards is not fit for the kingdom of heaven." In short, he's going to see the Minister of Finance determined to succeed.
• Question No. 12—Internal
12. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What recent announcements has she made regarding the recovery from the devastating Tasman fire?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): It was a pleasure, on Saturday last week, to attend an event at the Richmond Fire Station to acknowledge International Firefighters' Day. Can I thank all the members across the House that also did that to acknowledge their local firefighters. I particularly want to acknowledge Melissa Lee and how wonderful she looked in their level 2 gear. At that event, I had the opportunity to announce another $792,000 from the Lottery Grants Board for the restoration efforts via the Tasman Mayoral Disaster Relief Fund.
SPEAKER: I'll call a supplementary question—but if I gave that answer I'd be in trouble. Mark Patterson
Mark Patterson: Is this the only funding that the Lottery Grants Board has provided for the restoration efforts?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: No. Earlier this year, on 15 March, I travelled to Nelson to announce an initial payment of $1 million of Lottery Grants Board funding through my lottery ministerial discretionary fund. The subsequent amount is recognition that Fire and Emergency New Zealand and the Tasman District Council have since made a more accurate assessment of the extent and cost of damage.