Questions and Answers - March 31
Questions to Ministers
Welfare Reforms—Support for Families
1. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What changes is the Government making to increase support for families in need from 1 April?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): From tomorrow the Government’s $790 million child hardship package comes into force. We are strengthening work obligations for beneficiary parents and providing additional childcare subsidies for low-income families, because the best thing we can do for these children is help their parents into work. Low-income working families will benefit from an increase in Working for Families of up to $24.50 per week, and for those who cannot get a job, benefit rates for families with children will rise by $25 a week after tax—the first such increase over and above inflation in 43 years.
Alastair Scott: How is the Government supporting the creation of jobs to help people move from the benefit into work?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I think one commentator said today, the New Zealand jobs machine just keeps chugging on—175,000 more jobs in the last 3 years, with a further 173,000 expected by 2020 and unemployment at a bit under 5.5 percent. At the same time, the annual average wage continues to rise. In fact, over the last 7 years, it has risen 24 percent compared with inflation of 11 percent. These conditions of moderate wage increases and robust job growth create more opportunities for people to move off welfare and into work.
Darroch Ball: Of the 110,000 families and 190,000 children that the Government says will benefit after 1 April, how many of those families will actually receive $25?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot give the member the exact number. As I have said, it is an increase in Working for Families of up to $24.50. That depends, of course, on their income—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am sorry to interrupt the member, but if the member asks a question, I expect that he wants to hear the answer. Would he please listen to the answer without continually interjecting. I invite the Minister to finish his answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —but in the case of families with children who are on a benefit, they will get an increase of $25 per week.
Alastair Scott: What other changes come into force on 1 April, cutting compliance costs for businesses and the self-employed, and what progress overall has been made since 2008 in reducing costs to business?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably the largest single area is in the payment of ACC levies. ACC’s finances have been turned round since the mess that they were in back in 2008, and the gains from this turn-round have been passed on to employers, the self-employed, and vehicle owners. From tomorrow, ACC levies will fall by $232 million. Over the next 12 months, annual motor vehicle levies will be cut by $218 million. In total, ACC levy cuts in 2016 will see New Zealanders $450 million better off. Levies today are now $2 billion a year lower since 2008—that is $2 billion per year lower since 2008. That is the same cost as reducing the middle tax rate from 30 cents to 20 cents.
Darroch Ball: How can less than a dollar a day for a family of five children make a real and meaningful increase in support for families in need?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: How much they get per day will depend on the family’s circumstances, but if they are a family on the benefit with five children, they will get the $25 per week. The member is free to ask them whether they think that is a waste of time or not. I suspect they will say that they welcome the extra $25, because in the world of very low family incomes, that is actually a fair bit of money.
Alastair Scott: What other changes is the Government making on 1 April to lift support for Kiwi households?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Alongside the big further cuts in ACC levies and the implementation of the hardship package, paid parental leave will increase from 16 to 18 weeks, which follows a boost from 14 to 16 weeks last year; the minimum wage will increase to $15.25 per hour—that is an increase of 3.4 percent and is directly benefiting 152,000 workers; and superannuation and veterans’ pensions will increase by 2.7 percent, affecting 600,000 superannuitants.
Prime Minister—Anti-Nuclear Legislation
2. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “We have anti-nuclear legislation and New Zealanders wear it as a badge of honour”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
Metiria Turei: Why then has his Government repeatedly refused to vote for an international convention that would outlaw the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstance?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because New Zealand just does not consider that that is going to be an effective way of achieving what everyone wants to achieve.
Metiria Turei: Given the Prime Minister’s previous comments that there is no point in trying to outlaw nuclear weapons if the US does not want to, is he not essentially saying that there is no point having an independent New Zealand foreign policy unless the US agrees with it?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister, at the summit, promote New Zealand’s values and condemn the US’s refusal to support nuclear non-proliferation at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit; if he will not do that, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is free to see what comments the Prime Minister has already made at the summit, and they will continue to represent New Zealand’s policy.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister refuse entry to American warships if the Americans will not say whether or not they have nuclear weapons on those ships?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member can be reassured that the Prime Minister will act in accordance with New Zealand’s anti-nuclear legislation.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister stand up for New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance and support the United Nations resolutions on nuclear deterrence and disarmament, based on New Zealand’s nuclear-free policy and not just on how the US votes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course the Prime Minister will stand up for New Zealand’s nuclear policy.
District Health Boards—Service Delivery
3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement that “Only National can deliver more services while reducing district health boards’ deficits”?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Associate Minister of Health): on behalf of the Minister of Health: Yes, because in 2008 the deficits were $155 million and growing and they are now reduced to $66 million per year, and these are forecast to be less this year. In respect of whether only National can deliver more services—absolutely. Under National there are 110,000 more specialist assessments a year, and under that member’s watch, where she increased the budget by $3 billion, there were 7,000 fewer during her reign.
Hon Annette King: Why does he continue to make the claim that only National can provide more services, when Ōāmaru Hospital is being forced to reduce its bed numbers by 20 percent to meet a predicted 10 percent funding cut, and at the same time demand for services has almost doubled on what it is funded for?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I would continue to assert that because it is true.
Hon Annette King: Is he going to ignore the warning from the New Zealand Medical Association chair, Dr Stephen Child, who said the increasing pressure being put on the Ōāmaru community could have serious implications for quality of care, increasing burnout, decreasing job satisfaction, and increasing staff turnover?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: No, it is not true, because the health budget has increased by $4 billion since this National Government took office. Elective surgeries have increased by 50,000 under this National Government, and specialist assessments, as I have already said, have gone up by 110,000 per year.
Hon Annette King: If there are more services and funding, why did Dr Stephen Child, chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, say the funding issues faced at Ōāmaru Hospital are “a microcosm of the healthcare system at large”, which, as most thinking people know, is underfunded by $1.7 billion?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: As I have already said, the budget for health has gone up by $4 billion.
Dr David Clark: Answer the question.
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I am answering the question, and that member knows that health services are a lot more effective and a lot more efficient under this National Government.
Hon Annette King: Is the way to provide more services and reduce deficits to serve up inedible hospital food, like the slop in this picture served to a woman after giving birth at Dunedin Hospital under the Government’s flawed hospital plan—
Alastair Scott: What’s that?
Hon Annette King: You are right—what is it? What is it?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been asked.
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Sorry, I did not catch the last part of that question. Could she just—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On the basis—[Interruption]—order! On the basis that the Minister has not caught the full part of the question, I invite the member to ask it again.
Hon Annette King: Is the way to provide more services and reduce deficits to serve up inedible hospital food, like these slops in this picture served to a woman after she gave birth at Dunedin Hospital under the Government’s flawed hospital food plan?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: That member knows that the quality of district health board food is a matter for the district health boards themselves. There are nutritional standards that still have to be met, and at Southern District Health Board, as that member knows, there has been an increase in funding of over $134 million since this National Government took office.
Hon Annette King: When he said the new hospital food plan would provide food with nutritional value, is an example of his claim the wet, soggy, empty pastry case in this picture, served on a dollop of spud, given recently to a patient under the new, improved food policy his Government approved? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Can I just remind the Hon Annette King that when I rise to my feet that is the time to stop interjecting—I know the member was responding—then to sit down. Equally, can I again remind people at my right-hand side that when I rise to my feet interjections will cease.
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: I will reiterate for that member, because she did not understand the last answer, that the quality of district health board food is a matter for district health boards. There is some good food and there is some not so, shall we say, nutritional food, but it meets the nutritional standards that are prescribed.
Maritime New Zealand—Health and Safety
4. CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Does he have confidence in Maritime New Zealand’s management of the safety issues at Taharoa ironsands export operation?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Transport): Yes, I do have confidence in Maritime New Zealand’s management of the safety of the Taharoa ironsands operation. This is undertaken by the Director of Maritime New Zealand as an independent function of this role.
Clayton Mitchell: When was the Minister first informed that the Taharoa single-buoy mooring is far beyond its use-by date to be safe and far short of the required loading capacity to cope with the largest vessels ever to come into New Zealand waters?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have assurance from Maritime New Zealand that the buoy that the member refers to is quite safe and adequate for the task that it is doing. There has recently been an audit, of which some recommendations came through, and of those 42 recommendations around 30 have been implemented, seven of which have been implemented by Maritime New Zealand.
Clayton Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question I asked was “When was the Minister first informed?”.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The question that the member asked was “When was the Minister first informed that the mooring was not safe?”. The Minister rose to his feet and said he had been informed that the mooring was safe. Is there a further question?
Clayton Mitchell: When will the buoy be replaced, as per the recommendations of the recent safety audit, given that Australian-owned New Zealand Steel has reported a half-yearly loss of $47.1 million and is currently looking to sell the operation?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Those issues are completely separate. Maritime New Zealand safety rules do not care who the owner or user of a particular vessel is; the rules are the rules are the rules. As I understand it, there has been a lot of work and upgrading of the existing buoy, and the new replacement buoy has been ordered. I believe it is supposed to be in the country or, perhaps, in place by the end of this year.
Clayton Mitchell: What is the Associate Minister going to do about this known high-risk situation, which maritime experts are referring to as a ticking time bomb, and which they predict to be the next Rena disaster, but on a more devastating scale, considering that the three ships are more than twice her size?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Most of the rhetoric that the member refers to relates to incidents prior to and including 2012, on a vessel that was not designed for this purpose. There have been three new purpose-designed vessels using the buoy and doing the loading since 2012. There has not been one incident—or even one near-incident—since 2012 with the process they are using for loading on the buoy.
Clayton Mitchell: Is he comfortable with the availability and proximity of equipment to respond to any marine disaster at Taharoa; and, if so, how does he rationalise the enormous time it will take for an oil de-bunkering vessel to reach the disaster zone?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I acknowledge that the member just does not want this operation to happen, and, quite possibly, for New Zealand Steel to close. But, yes, I am confident in the arrangements in and around any emergency or business-as-usual scenario for the operation.
Welfare Reforms—Support for Sole Parents
5. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What changes are being made on 1 April that will help support sole parents into work?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development): on behalf of the Minister for Social Development: Tomorrow the $790 million child hardship package comes into effect, which will support more parents into work. Childcare assistance will increase from $4 to $5 an hour. Working for Families tax credits will increase by $24.50 for some very low-income working families, and by up to $12.50 for low-income working families, benefiting 380,000 children. To balance this increased support, sole parents with part-time work obligations will be required to look for 20 hours of work a week, once their youngest child turns 3, instead of 5.
Alfred Ngaro: How is the Government supporting sole parents while they look for work?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Tomorrow benefit rates for around 100,000 families with children will rise by $25 a week after tax—the first real increase in 43 years. Additionally, a funding boost in Budget 2015 means that an additional 40,000 places in work-focused case management are available, and all those on sole parent support can access intensive support into work. As we know that work is the best route out of poverty, it is important that we focus on getting parents off the benefit and into work. This extra support will help sole parents to do just that.
Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry—Payroll
6. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Economic Development: Who has provided payroll services to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment since it was formed in 2012?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): It is the same provider that provided payroll services to the largest of the forerunner agencies since 1999, which is the Department of Labour. The provider, which was identified publicly this morning, is Advanced Management Systems Ltd. The Department of Labour was the largest of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s four forerunner agencies, in terms of staff numbers, and it was migrated across in 2014. The Department of Labour signed a contract for payroll services with Advanced Management Systems back in 2004.
Dr David Clark: Does he expect to quantify the size of liability owed across New Zealand due to Holidays Act breaches; if so, when?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have any ministerial responsibility for doing that. My responsibility as Minister is the monitoring of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. In terms of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, it is working on its scoping out of the solution to the problem at the moment, and I will keep the House and the public updated with that.
Dr David Clark: Can he give a categorical assurance to doctors, nurses, public servants, and all of Advanced Management Systems’ 50,000 other payroll clients—who are receiving $3.5 billion in wages annually—that they are not exposed to underpayment problems similar to those that have beset the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are a couple of things there. Firstly, I am not responsible for Advanced Management Systems. It is more than capable of speaking for itself. In terms of underpayment, the member has to be a little bit careful because this is a calculation around annual leave, and it is about the calculation of ordinary-time earnings versus average weekly earnings. The member, I know, is disposed to hyperbole but, actually, this is a widespread, but not necessarily large, issue for individual employees.
Dr David Clark: What action has he taken since receiving advice on 5 October last year—nearly 6 months ago—to quantify how many millions of dollars his ministry owes staff in back-pay as a result of failing to comply with the law?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The ministry has been working on that issue, as I said, since October last year. [Interruption] Well, of course, the law was passed back in 2003 by a Labour Government that promptly forgot about it, so 6 months compared with 13 years is probably a reasonable time for them to work it out. I could say to the member that, actually, the Labour Government was warned that there would be issues when the law was originally passed back in 2003.
Dr David Clark: Can he confirm that pack-house employees affected by Holidays Act legal breaches announced by his ministry yesterday are additional to the 24,000 affected employees identified in the previous 20 investigations the labour inspectorate conducted?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Questions in regard to the labour inspectorate have to be put to the Minister for employment relations. The member is confusing the roles. It is very important that we keep it separate because the labour inspectorate has the job of regulating the sector. In terms of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, as the monitoring Minister I am responsible for the payroll. [Interruption] There are a few excitable ones over there, but I think that is the key point.
Dr David Clark: Given his previous answer, and when prominent employment lawyer Olivia Grant says that the majority of issues she is seeing relate to changes to the Holidays Act in 2011 following the Government’s full review of the Act in 2010, does the Minister understand this as a signal that he needs to step up and take some responsibility?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That was positively “Cunliffean”, that particular approach. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been asked. You now need to listen to the answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Actually, Mr Speaker, can you get the member to repeat the question? It has been so long, I cannot recall it.
Mr SPEAKER: On that basis, I will invite the member to repeat the question.
Dr David Clark: Certainly. When prominent employment lawyer Olivia Grant says that the majority of issues she is seeing relate to changes to the Holidays Act in 2011 following the Government’s full review of the Act in 2010, does the Minister understand this as a signal that he needs to step up and take some responsibility?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I did not hear what Ms Grant said, but I can tell the member that this is very clearly in relation to the Holidays Act 2003. It is in relation to the calculation of annual leave, which was not changed in 2010 at all. It was not changed in 2010; it was done in 2004. The previous Government was warned at the time that annual leave calculations would be very difficult, and so it has turned out to be.
Paid Parental Leave—Increases
7. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Can he confirm the Government is helping young families get ahead by expanding the eligibility for paid parental leave from tomorrow, as well as increasing its length?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Yes, I can. This Government is increasing paid parental leave to 18 weeks and making more workers eligible for the scheme. Parental leave payments are being extended to casual and seasonal employees, as well as to adoptive parents. In addition, parents of pre-term babies will be entitled to a longer period of payment than the standard 18 weeks. The changes aim to make it easier for parents to stay connected to the workforce, better support Kiwi families, and help get children the best possible start in life.
Jonathan Young: What else is the Government doing to assist families from tomorrow?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In addition to expanding eligibility for paid parental leave for families, from tomorrow the Government is outlawing zero-hour contracts, strengthening sanctions for breaches of employment law, and increasing the minimum wage to $15.25 per hour—well ahead of the rate of inflation. All of these changes are designed to give workers a fair go while ensuring employers still have access to the skills and labour they need to increase productivity and grow the economy.
Housing New Zealand—Resource Allocation
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister responsible for HNZC: Is he satisfied that the resources allocated to Housing New Zealand are being used in the best possible way?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): Yes, generally, although it can always do better.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why does Housing New Zealand require tenants to seek the permission of tenancy managers before putting up a blow-up paddling pool in their backyards?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member may be referring to a Housing New Zealand campaign called “The Summer Safety House”. Like all other landlords, it has to comply with the law. The law says that pools over, I think, 400 millimetres deep need to be dealt with properly. Housing New Zealand advises me that it makes no apology for the fact that it is now trying to comply with the law and that children in its houses will be safer as a result.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table the Housing New Zealand newsletter that went to tenants, indicating that they had to apply for permission for paddling pools under 400 millimetres—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been described. Leave is sought to table that particular newsletter. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he think that an on-site inspection of each blow-up paddling pool for which permission has been sought, which I am assured by the Hutt Valley management of Housing New Zealand occurs, is the best use of Housing New Zealand staff time?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Housing New Zealand is in the best position to make the decisions about, in the first place, its compliance with the law, and, secondly, making sure it keeps track of the updates in the law, because the pool fencing law is being changed. I understand the member’s party is opposing that. Thirdly, Housing New Zealand needs to conduct itself as a responsible landlord regarding the safety of its tenants. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the member to ask further supplementaries, can I ask for a little more cooperation so that we can hear the answers that are being given, without the continual carping coming from a few members to my left.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Would Housing New Zealand staff time be better used sorting out the case they have known of for 2 years of—
Alastair Scott: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I believe only the questioner can use a visual aid, not anyone else.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is allowed to be held up by someone else so that I can point at it, surely?
Mr SPEAKER: No, it should be held up only by the member asking the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I apologise. I will start again.
Mr SPEAKER: We will hear the question first. [Interruption] Order!
Hon Trevor Mallard: Would Housing New Zealand staff—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I asked for quiet on the left-hand side when the question is being answered. I expect silence on the right-hand side when the question is being asked.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Would Housing New Zealand staff time be better used sorting out the case they have known of for 2 years, of my constituent who lived in a water-damaged, mouldy State unit with no power?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am advised by Housing New Zealand that it is having some challenge verifying the member’s assertions. The circumstances he describes are, of course, well outside policy. If there is any mould alerted, or water damage in a house where ill-health is involved, it is expected to be fixed within 12 hours, otherwise within—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am sorry to interrupt. I asked for cooperation. The next interjection I get while the answer is being given, the member will be leaving the Chamber.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —otherwise within 10 days. I might also say that often when these cases are brought up, what is left out is that the tenant is often refusing access. Housing New Zealand can deal with these problems only if tenants enable access, and I would hope that if the member’s case turns out to be genuine, the tenant will enable access, because he can be sure that the problem will be fixed. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I have given enough warnings. I now—[Interruption] Order! I give a very specific warning to Grant Robertson.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has long been accepted in this House that it is different to interject between questions than it is during an answer, and that interjection from my colleague Grant Robertson did not fall within the scope of your earlier ruling, nor normal rulings.
Mr SPEAKER: The member should become more familiar with the Standing Orders. [Interruption] Order! Interjections are, in fact, not allowed. I allow them. I am relatively genuine and accommodating in order to allow a little bit of atmosphere during question time, but when I have called the member to ask a supplementary question and the interjection continues, particularly when I have been on my feet too often this afternoon trying to get some cooperation, then I have issued a warning that I will not hesitate to carry out if need be. I hope that is not the case.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he think it is reasonable for Housing New Zealand to relocate tenants from above the unit in this photoand do that flat up, the units on both sides of this unit and do those flats up, and leave the tenant in this flat without power from 2014 until February this year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I must say to the member that given his description of those activities, there is something interesting, if not tricky, about this particular case if the circumstances are as he outlines. In the expenditure of some $300 million—in fact, more than that—in improving and lifting the quality of Housing New Zealand houses, it seems to me very unlikely that a cooperative, informative tenant was left sitting in a mouldy home without power for 2 years, in the middle of units that have otherwise been done up. That seems to me worthy of much more description of what might have gone on.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table two photographs of a unit in which this Government failed its duty of care—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need the description that has been given. I assume that the member is seeking leave to table the two photographs that he has used as visual aids.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I certainly am.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes. I will put the leave. Leave is sought—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you do not like these points of order, but it would help the House enormously if we were to know that the photographs would be verifiable by an address being put on them.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Housing New Zealand is aware of the address. It was aware of it in February.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This matter is easily resolved for me. I will put the leave and the House will decide. Leave is sought to table those particular photographs. Is there any objection to them being tabled? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave of the House to table a file note on the case, indicating the names of the two Housing New Zealand officials who visited this flat in February.
Mr SPEAKER: The source of the file note?
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is my file note of the case. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The document has been described. I will put the leave, and the House will decide. Leave is sought to table that particular file note. Is there any objection? There is.
Darroch Ball: Supplementary to the Minister—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, I have called Darroch Ball.
Darroch Ball: Will he support New Zealand First’s one strike and you are out for life - policy for tenants who contaminate their State homes with P; or is he happy with current Government process that those tenants can be back in another State house to contaminate it within 12 months of being evicted?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The question will be better directed to the Minister for Social Housing, but we do have concerns about the significant number of P-contaminated houses. It has grown rapidly. In the handover of stock to the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company tomorrow, for instance, it turns out that 17 of those houses are contaminated with P and are, therefore, unable to be occupied. I think it illustrates the challenge of dealing with some of our reckless, irresponsible, and criminal tenants. So I am sure the Government would consider support for firmer measures for dealing with such tenants.
Building and Construction Industry—New House Growth in Auckland
9. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister for Building and Housing: What progress has the Government made in growing the rate of new house construction, particularly in Auckland?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): New home construction data out yesterday showed 2,400 consents for February nationally—the highest February in a decade and the second-highest on record ever. In Auckland, 787 new homes were consented in February—up 50 percent on February 2015’s 528. This rate was 300 a month when I became Minister and 200 a month when we became Government. The number of houses being built in Auckland has grown by 23 percent, 22 percent, and 30 percent over the last 3 years, making it the longest and strongest period of building growth ever in history in Auckland.
Jami-Lee Ross: What reports has the Minister received on the total value of residential and commercial building work currently under way in Auckland and New Zealand?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The value of total new building consented over the last year to February 2016 is $13.5 billion, made up of $9.2 billion in the residential sector and $4.3 billion of commercial work. This total is the highest ever in both nominal and real inflation-adjusted terms and reflects the level of confidence that there is both in New Zealand and in the building sector. In Auckland the value of residential building work bottomed out in the global financial crisis at $1 billion per year, but is now $3.4 billion per year and, again, this is the highest level ever of residential investment in Auckland in both nominal and real terms.
Jami-Lee Ross: What do the latest figures show about growth in the building sector outside the main centres?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The level of building growth is well above Auckland levels in a whole number of centres throughout regional New Zealand. In Whangarei, building consent numbers, year on year, are up 44 percent; Hamilton, up 20 percent; Tauranga, up 22 percent; Rotorua, up 90 percent; Palmerston North, up 40 percent; Wanganui, up 50 percent; Ashburton, up 20 percent; Queenstown, up 41 percent; and Invercargill, up over 20 percent. Regional New Zealand is also enjoying renewed confidence in the building and housing sectors, and that is good news for our whole country.
Phil Twyford: When does he expect to attain the levels of new builds achieved under the last Labour Government of 31,000 new dwellings a year compared to his best efforts, after nearly 8 years in office, of only 27,000, and by how many will he have to exceed the massive Labour new-build number to catch up on the 40,000 home deficit that Auckland has built up under his watch?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Firstly, I would point out that in the last parliamentary term we built more houses than Labour did in its last parliamentary term. I would further advise him that the advice I have from Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials is that 36,000 new homes will be built in Auckland in this term of Parliament. That is more than has been built under any parliamentary term in Auckland and substantially more than what Labour did. I would also point out that, actually, at the core of Auckland’s housing problems are the dopey planning policies of the previous Government, which slowed down the supply of sections and contributed to the high house-price inflation. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It was initiated by a very long question, I might add.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with Bill English, who confirmed to the House yesterday that despite all of the Minister’s exaggerated promises of hundreds of new houses on Crown land in the last Budget, “none have actually been completed”, and is such a stinging rebuke from a senior ministerial colleague of his ongoing failure—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!—[Interruption] Order! We are now leading to a stage where that question is going to be ruled of order. The first part of the question can be answered.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member’s claims on what the Minister of Finance said yesterday are about as accurate as his figures on Chinese house buyers in Auckland—they are rubbish. What the Minister of Finance said yesterday is that in last year’s Budget we provided $55 million for my ministry to buy land to be able to provide new housing. We said then that it would take about 18 months for those houses to come on stream, and we stand by that. What I find extraordinary is that we are building more houses in Auckland than at any time ever, and the member still complains.
Family/Whānau and Sexual Violence—Review of Services
10. POTO WILLIAMS (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Associate Minister for Social Development: Is she reviewing family violence and sexual violence services as part of the Ministry’s line-by-line review of contracts?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development): The line-by-line reviews, which are part of the Community Investment Strategy, are internal reviews of some of the services that the ministry funds. This does include both family violence and sexual violence services, alongside a multitude of other services funded within the community investment portfolio. This work will align with wider cross-Government agency work; in particular, the ministerial programme of work on family violence and sexual violence. The ministerial group is reviewing all aspects of Government spend in this area to ensure better intervention and results for victims and perpetrators. No decisions have been made yet.
Poto Williams: What percentage of family violence and sexual violence contracts does she expect will be cancelled or not renewed?
Hon JO GOODHEW: As I said in my answer to the primary question, no decisions have been made yet, and I will not be speculating.
Poto Williams: If she believes there is a duplication of services within the sector, can she advise where the duplication is, considering providers are struggling with over 100,000 reported family violence incidences each year?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The reason we are going through this line-by-line review is to ensure that what we get out the other end is better services that are more appropriately targeted to get results for vulnerable New Zealanders. I am not going to speculate or get ahead of myself or the work that is being done, and it would be mischievous to do so.
Poto Williams: Does she agree with the UN that New Zealand has the worst rates of sexual violence in the OECD, with a quarter of all women reporting a sexual offence; if so, is this the right time to be considering cuts to services?
Hon JO GOODHEW: First of all, I want to disagree with the premise of the member’s question, because I do not believe she was accurate in that. However, I do want to say that unlike previous Governments, we intend to do things differently. This Government will do things differently to make a difference in the end, but it is not a simple matter. We have said that the money that is currently in the community investment portfolio will not be reduced. The money will still be spent on services that make a difference, and that is what matters.
Poto Williams: Is it appropriate to be considering cuts to the sexual violence services when providers say they are underfunded and struggling to meet demand while receiving increased requests for help?
Hon JO GOODHEW: It is distressing to hear the member purport to say that we are doing something we have clearly and repeatedly said we are not. We are investing the same amount of money. What this Government wants is results, and that is what we think victims and perpetrators deserve as well.
11. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister for Primary Industries: How is the Government supporting sustainability in our fishing industry?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): With Government support, Sealord, Sanford, and Aotearoa Fisheries have launched a new premium seafood category called Tiaki. Tiaki is a result of the $48 million Primary Growth Partnership programme called Precision Seafood Harvesting. This programme is developing a new net design that replaces traditional trawl methods. When fishing inshore species like snapper, Tiaki-caught fish are brought on board in pristine condition and undersized fish or unintended catch can be returned to sea with a much higher survivability rate.
Ian McKelvie: So how will the Precision Seafood Harvesting programme and the Tiaki brand add value to our seafood exports?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Customers here and around the world will know when they see the Tiaki label that fish have been caught and carefully selected in a new, revolutionary way. They will be able to use their smartphones to connect with a specially designed traceability app showing where the fish was caught and when. The programme is expected to deliver around $44 million in economic benefits by 2025. The recent announcement of 100 percent camera coverage of the Snapper 1 trawl fleet and the vessel monitoring system shows that industry and the Government are indeed serious about greater transparency of the commercial fishing fleet.
12. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister of Immigration: Will he double the refugee quota?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): The Government is reviewing New Zealand’s refugee quota, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I will be taking a recommendation to Cabinet shortly, in time for the new 3-year quota to come into effect on 1 July. I would point out that the Government has already made a commitment to accept an additional 600 Syrian refugees over 2½ years, outside New Zealand’s normal refugee quota.
Denise Roche: Will he, then, listen to the 20,000 New Zealanders who signed a petition to double the quota, and actually double the quota?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I have been listening very carefully to a wide range of views on the question of what New Zealand’s response in the refugee area should be, and they will inform the recommendations that go to Cabinet.
Denise Roche: Will he take up the offer of church leaders and other community organisations that are willing to assist with refugee settlement so that New Zealand can immediately increase our quota?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I have been very encouraged by the offers of support and community engagement with the Syrian community, in particular in my home city of Dunedin, which will be the next refugee location. The issue of community sponsorship is something that has been taken into account in the next quota period.
Denise Roche: Should Kiwis be proud of this Government’s refugee record when New Zealand has slipped to 90th per capita in the world for refugees accepted, during the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The primary question is about the refugee quota so it is a little disingenuous for the member to then talk about New Zealand being 90th in accepting all refugees—they are different things. New Zealand is one of only, I think, 21 countries that takes quota refugees and it ranks seventh in the world on a per capita basis, and I think we can be proud of that.
Denise Roche: Does he care that thousands of women, men, and children are fleeing from their homes every single day because of war while he pussyfoots around with this 3-yearly quota review; and why is he keeping those people waiting?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In rejecting the accusations of pussyfooting around, I would remind the member that there are a number of ways that countries can support the many millions of people around the world displaced by war and conflict. New Zealand has contributed significant amounts of money into some of those areas, including southern Turkey, where we are building schools and providing other support both through the United Nations Human Rights Council and directly.