Questions and Answers - Nov 15
• ORAL QUESTIONS
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the forecast for the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Last week, the Reserve Bank, as part of their Monetary Policy Statement, reported their forecast for the New Zealand economy, incorporating their assessment of Government policy decisions. They forecast that GDP growth will be higher than 3 percent annually over the next three years, following some weakness earlier this year. They also forecast the official cash rate track would reach 2 percent in March 2020, and that inflation is forecast to hit the midpoint of 2 percent in 2019. Overall, the Reserve Bank forecast shows an economy that, with the right investments, can become stronger and more resilient.
Tamati Coffey: What reports has the Minister received from other economists on the prospects for the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I have received reports from several bank economists. None of these reports state that it will not be possible—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just want an absolute assurance that these are reports to the Minister he has received.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I have received them.
Mr SPEAKER: To the Minister? Reports—[Interruption] No, no. You might have seen them; you only receive official reports.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've received official reports.
Mr SPEAKER: From banks, as Minister of Finance? Grant Robertson.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I have received a range of official reports, all of which show that it will be possible for us to meet our goals within our Budget responsibility rules, and I can assure the House that that includes a commitment to the goal of reducing net debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years.
Tamati Coffey: What objective does the Minister have for core Crown net debt?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As indicated during the Speech from the Throne, the Government is committed to reducing net debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years. Progress towards this will be set out by the Government during the usual Budget reporting cycle to the House, starting with the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update, before Christmas.
Hon Steven Joyce: Has he seen amongst those reports the economic forecast from ANZ chief economist, Cameron Bagrie, who calculates that the Minister , in fact, won't be able to meet his own Budget responsibility rule No. 2, to keep net debt below 20 percent of GDP, even with some rather heroic spending assumptions?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I have seen those reports and I disagree with them.
Tamati Coffey: Why is the Government committed to this net core Crown debt track?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government is committed to twin goals of reducing debt as a percentage of GDP while at the same time dealing with the social and infrastructure deficits we have inherited. We make no apology for making provision for a $2 billion investment in affordable housing, a $3 billion investment in securing superannuation, or a $1 billion annual investment in giving regions a fair go.
2. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's policies?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister stand by her Government's policy to deny mothers and fathers the flexibility to decide how they take their paid parental leave as it suits their own individual family needs.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Ēhara tēnā he kaupapa here—
[On the contrary, that's not a policy—]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member will resume his seat. I'll count only Paula Bennett as being the cause of National losing one; I could have taken four or five. The Acting Prime Minister will start his answer again please.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Ko te kaupapa here mō ngā 26 o ngā wiki, tō matōu kaupapa he reka, āta whakaarohia e mātou wētahi atu whakaaro ā tōna wā.
[The policy is for 26 weeks, our sweet policy; we will consider other views carefully at an appropriate time in the future.]
Rt Hon Bill English: So why does the Prime Minister think that the Government knows best how mothers and fathers should distribute the paid parental leave entitlement that they share?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Ēhara tēnā i tō mātou whakaaro.
[On the contrary, that is not our view.]
Mr SPEAKER: Was that Clare Curran on that occasion? Which member was it? [Interruption] Right, well that means that the Labour Party has just lost a supplementary.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: E kore mātou e whakaae ki tēnā whakapae nā te mema.
[We will never agree with that allegation by the member.]
Rt Hon Bill English: If the Prime Minister disagrees with that description, does she agree with this description—that under the Government's policy the Government is saying it must be the primary caregiver, almost always the mother, who takes all the paid parental leave, and that the Government is opposed to the idea that the mother and the father, or the two parents, can chose how to distribute the paid parental leave?
Mr SPEAKER: I'm sorry to have to keep on doing this, but people will take a while, and seeing the chief Government whip has previously been punished, the Opposition will have two extra supplementaries.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Nā te Kāwanatanga i whakaroangia te wā ki te 26 ngā wiki, ka āta whakaarohia e mātou, whiriwhiri mātou i wētahi atu huarahi ā tōna wā.
[The Government considered the period of 26 weeks, and we will carefully consider and choose other avenues in due course.]
Rt Hon Bill English: So can the Prime Minister, therefore, having given this matter a lot of consideration, give us one reason why mothers and fathers should not be allowed to decide for themselves how to distribute their 26 weeks of paid parental leave?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Ko te pūtake o tēnei pire, kia whakaroangia ake te wā e taea ana e te māma, e te pāpā rānei ki te tiaki i ā rātou pēpi. Koia te tino pūtake.
[The reasoning of this bill is to extend the period the mother or father is able to nurse their babies. That's the real reason.]
Rt Hon Bill English: So if the intention of the bill is to extend the time available to 6 months, why is the Government not taking the opportunity of the legislative process to allow parents—mothers and fathers—to make their own decision about how they use the paid parental leave, given circumstances they have to deal with, such as a sick child, or a mother with post-natal depression who may want the extra support of her husband?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Ko tā te Āpitihanga whakaaro kia whakapopotongia te wā e taea ana e ngā mātua ki te āta tiaki i ā rātou pēpi. Ko ngā rangahau e mea ana, me tō mātou hiahia, kia whakaaroangia ake ki te 26 ngā wiki, ka āta whiringia e mātou wētahi atu whakaaro ā tōna wā.
[The Opposition's view is to shorten the period in which parents are able to nurse their babies properly. Research states, plus our desire is, that it be stretched out to 26 weeks; we will carefully consider other views at some time in the future.]
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am going to ask the Acting Prime Minister to have another go at answering that specific question.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Can he repeat that question?
Mr SPEAKER: Mr English, could you repeat the question, in rough form? It was almost like "Why not?", slightly extended.
Rt Hon Bill English: So can the Prime Minister give any reason why, having considered the extension of paid parental leave, the Government will not allow two parents of a child the opportunity to decide for themselves how to use the six-month entitlement, for instance in the case of a sick child who needs extended and extra care, or a mother with post-natal depression who may need desperately the support of her husband?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Te mea e hiahia ana te Kāwanatanga kia āta whiriwhiria ngā kōrero, ngā rangahau e pā—mehemea e pai ana rānei, ki te mahia i tā te mema e kōrero ana.
[The thing the Government desires is that related comments and research should be selected carefully—whether it is OK to do it according to what the member has stated.]
Rt Hon Bill English: Can I take it from the Acting Prime Minister's answers that the Government is opposed to this simply because it believes that the Government should decide how parents use their paid parental leave?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Kāhore.
• Government Financial Position—Crown Debt
3. Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Can he confirm core Crown net debt was $59.5 billion at 30 June 2017, and that it is his intention as Minister of Finance to increase net debt to $67.6 billion by 2022, as laid out in Labour's pre-election fiscal plan?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I can confirm that at 30 June 2017 net core Crown debt was $59.48 billion. I can further confirm that it is this Government's policy to reduce net core Crown debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years. As the member knows, the exact dollar amount of debt in each year will be determined by the Budget process.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a question written down on notice, and I don't believe the Minister of Finance answered the second part of the question. He talked about something about 20 percent of GDP, but he didn't actually answer yes or no to whether it was his intention to increase net debt to $67.6 billion by 2022.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Speaking to the point of order, I'm not sure if the member heard the last part of my answer, where I did specifically address the question of what the exact dollar amount might be.
Hon Steven Joyce: He didn't answer the question. Nobody is any the wiser as to whether, actually, he will allow net debt to get to $67.6 billion by 2022, as laid out in Labour's pre-election fiscal plan.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, Speakers' rulings are pretty clear in this area. I think somewhere around page 171 is the ruling that members cannot demand a yes/no answer, and I'm just about confident enough that the former Minister of Finance understands that these figures might be affected by growth figures.
Hon Steven Joyce: Sorry to prolong things, Mr Speaker, but actually it is possible to say whether it will be higher or lower or about that figure. It is a question on notice—it's not a supplementary question—and I do think that the Minister of Finance could be a bit more specific as to that number, given that prior to a certain date in September he was actually accusing people of showing an affront to democracy for—
Mr SPEAKER: OK—[Interruption] All right, OK. I think where I'm going to leave it is that I might be slightly more liberal, as long as they are direct, on the supplementaries, if the member wants to drill down that way.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can the finance Minister confirm that the pre-election fiscal update forecasts net debt to reduce to $56.2 billion by 2022, meaning that his forecast of $67.6 billion is over $11 billion higher than in the pre-election fiscal update?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can confirm that those were the numbers in the pre-election fiscal update. What we have discovered is that those numbers did not take account of the need for increased spending in education capital expenditure, health capital expenditure, or a range of other areas.
Hon Steven Joyce: Is the Minister then saying that, actually, he expects to increase debt significantly higher than $67.6 billion because of his concerns about the matters he raised in the previous answer?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The commitment of this Government has been that we will reduce net core Crown debt to 20 percent of GDP. The member well knows, from having prepared a Budget himself and being beside someone else who's prepared Budgets, that the exact dollar figures for debt are never decided until later in the Budget process.
Hon Steven Joyce: Why then was it an affront to democracy to question those figures prior to the election?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no responsibility for that whatsoever.
Hon Steven Joyce: Why doesn't he agree with the ANZ analysis of 7 November that concludes net debt will be billions of dollars higher than he has forecast, and that he will breach his own Budget responsibility rule number 2 to reduce net debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years, particularly as he's just told the House—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member's finished his question.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Because nothing that I have seen, in terms of the advice I've got to this point, would point to that, and because this Government is committed to reducing debt as a percentage of GDP—20 percent—within five years of taking office.
Hon Steven Joyce: If he doesn't like the ANZ's commentary, does he agree with the comments from the Bank of New Zealand on Monday, who stated that Labour's election campaign budget was just too tight to be credible; if not, what does he think the BNZ has got wrong?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What this Government has committed to is a set of Budget responsibility rules, and we will work within those. We made commitments before the election to address the social deficits in health, in education, and in infrastructure, and we will do that. I make no apology for having a slower debt track than that Government if it means that we build affordable houses, contribute to superannuation, and invest in our regions.
Hon Steven Joyce: Just to be clear, does he commit to meeting all the Government's promises, including those in his coalition agreement and his agreement for confidence and supply with the Green Party, and also the Speech from the Throne, while increasing net debt by only $11 billion, from what it was going to be, over the next five years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I absolutely stand by those Government commitments and the Budget responsibility rules that we have put forward.
Kiritapu Allan: How does the Government's plan for net core Crown debt compare to recent historical trends?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can inform the member that net core Crown debt in 2008 was 5.4 percent of GDP, or $10.3 billion. By 2016, it had grown to 24.5 percent of GDP, or $61.8 billion.
Hon Steven Joyce: Just to be clear, then, is the Minister saying—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to ask the member—and, again, I accept that it's a bit of a new experience. I'm going to advise the member to have a look somewhere around Speaker's ruling 173 about prefacing questions with statements. The "just to be clear" thing, or "in light of this" or "in light of that", add nothing to the question. I'd like the member to go straight to it, and then I can be more helpful in getting an answer.
Hon Steven Joyce: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does he commit to meeting all the Government's promises, including those in those coalition agreements from the Speech from the Throne, not in relation to a percentage of GDP but by increasing net debt by no more than $11 billion relative to the pre-election fiscal update over the next five years? A very specific question.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The final exact dollar figures, as the member well knows from the Budgets he's been involved in, will be decided later in the Budget process, but we remain 100 percent committed to our goal of reducing net debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years.
Rt Hon Bill English: I seek leave to move a motion to refer the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill back to the relevant select committee for further consideration.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that? There is objection; it will not happen. [Interruption] Sorry, I just want to check that Mr Joyce is finished.
Hon Steven Joyce: Yes.
• Education—Teacher Supply
4. JO LUXTON (Labour) to the Minister of Education: Is he confident that schools will be able to recruit enough teachers next year to fully staff classrooms, particularly in Auckland?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Regrettably, no, I'm not at this point. Student numbers are increasing, the number of teacher trainees completing their training has been declining, and an increasing number of teachers are nearing retirement age. Some schools are already advising that they are getting no applications for the jobs that they are advertising. I've initiated an urgent package of measures, which I'll be taking to Cabinet for approval very shortly.
Jo Luxton: Does he intend to proceed with the previous Government's decision to extend the voluntary bonding scheme to all Auckland schools?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Regrettably, the previous Government made no such decision. While the previous Minister did make that announcement during the election campaign, there was very little supporting policy work, there were no supporting papers going to Cabinet, and as a result, we are left with a $37.5 million hole because no funding was appropriated to meet that commitment.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Will he fund the extension of expat relocation grants and voluntary bonding for Auckland if this is such an urgent situation; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: On the expat relocation grants, the money was appropriated for that by the previous Minister, so that will go ahead, but she didn't appropriate the $37.5 million required to extend the voluntary bonding scheme, so I can't give that commitment, because there's a big funding hole where the money should've been appropriated by the previous Government.
• Education—National Standards
5. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement that National Standards "will be gone very quickly"; if so, why?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes, because they will.
Hon Nikki Kaye: How does he reconcile his comments, then, that some schools will be able to keep national standards with the comments, as well attributed to the Secretary of Education on 6 November, that national standards will be replaced?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Because the Government will be abolishing national standards. Whether schools choose to use them or not is up to them.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Firstly, I seek leave to table a New Zealand Principals' Federation newsletter—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Don't try; that goes to all members.
Hon Nikki Kaye: OK, well, I seek leave to table the Ministry of Education education leaders' news bulletin, which doesn't go to all members, of 6 November, where the Secretary of Education—
Mr SPEAKER: Is it available on a website? Is it available on a publicly accessible website?
Hon Nikki Kaye: I will have to check that, because it actually goes to a link that I don't think is accessible to all members, but, also, the other point that I'd make is that, while it is available to education leaders, it's not available to a whole lot of parents and, necessarily, members of this House.
Mr SPEAKER: What I'm going to advise the member, and all members, is to ascertain, before they attempt to table things here, whether they are in fact available on a publicly accessible website. I'm willing to, if the member comes back at the end of question time and gives me an assurance that it is not available on a publicly accessible website—at that stage, I will put the leave.
Hon Nikki Kaye: How can parents have confidence in the robustness of their future school reports on the progress of their child if there is no nationwide consistent set of data that enables progress to be benchmarked against?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Well, there hasn't been up until now, because national standards have been neither national nor consistent. I think they can have trust in the teachers who work with their children.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Why will he not just admit that he does not have a detailed new system and that he is just trying to rename national standards and systems of progression that already exist, to please some of his union mates?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The previous Government acknowledged the problems with national standards when they themselves proposed to replace them and rename them. So there is already a widespread acknowledgment within the Parliament and within the education system that they were fundamentally flawed.
6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied that cancelling the East-West Link Road of National Significance will be beneficial to transport in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): The East-West link has not been cancelled and it is not a road of national significance. That is simply a political label coined by the National Party. This Government will find a higher-value, lower-cost option for the East-West Link.
Hon Judith Collins: How does he respond to the chief executive of the Auckland chamber of commerce, who has said it is unfortunate that Ms Ardern's Government did not consult with the Auckland business community before announcing a scaling back of the East-West Link project?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: In fact, we consulted extensively with the Auckland business community, including Mr Barnett, and I have to say that the Auckland business community along with the likes of Ken Shirley of the Road Transport Forum actually agree that we need to find a more cost-effective option than the $327 million per kilometre option that that side of the House chose without even a benefit-cost ratio.
Hon Judith Collins: Is he aware that there are over 6,000 heavily laden lorries and tankers passing through Neilson Street and Church Street, Onehunga, every day and that any delay in progressing the East-West Link will do nothing to alleviate major congestion and loss of productivity that leads to increased costs being passed on to New Zealand families?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The Government agrees that it's urgent to find a cost-effective and higher-value option for the East-West Link. We just don't believe that a gold-plated option that would have been the most expensive road project in human history would have been a good use of taxpayer funds.
Raymond Huo: What is—
Hon Judith Collins: How will—
Mr SPEAKER: I have called another—sorry, Ms Collins. I have called another member.
Raymond Huo: What is the benefit-cost ratio of the East-West Link option considered by the board of inquiry?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Incredibly, the past Government committed to a $2 billion East-West Link option without an up-to-date BCR, benefit-cost ratio, which shows a reckless disregard for the public finances.
Mr SPEAKER: OK. I am going to intervene and ask members who are asking supplementaries, on both sides, to listen to earlier answers, because otherwise what will happen is what just happened now and that is the member asked for something that—it was very clear from listening—did not exist.
Hon Judith Collins: Will congestion along Neilson Street and Church Street, Onehunga, be improved by his Government not accepting the East-West Link board of inquiry's unanimous decision, published yesterday, confirming that the positive effects of the proposal outweigh the negatives?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm sure that the member opposite understands that the Environmental Protection Authority's board of inquiry is a resource management consenting decision that does not consider the economic merits of the project and does not consider any other option other than the one that the National Party put in front of it.
Hon Judith Collins: Does he agree with the New Zealand Transport Agency's prediction that freight movements in the Onehunga-Penrose area will double by 2035 and that the East-West Link is a necessary road for the 68,000 people employed in the area, as well as the distribution and logistics businesses that contribute a whopping $4.6 billion a year to the Auckland economy?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, which is why we're going to invest urgently in a higher-value, lower-cost option.
• Women—Gender Pay Gap
7. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Green) to the Minister for Women: What is the most recent data she's received on the gender pay gap?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Minister for Women): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koutou e Te Whare. The most recent data I've seen shows that, nationally, women's median hourly earnings are 9.4 percent lower than men's. Despite consistent improvement in the gender pay gap in the early 2000s, in recent years—in fact, over the past decade—progress on closing the gender pay gap has stagnated. Women continue to be paid less than men and, as of yesterday, women in New Zealand are, effectively, working for free for the rest of the year.
Marama Davidson: How does the gender pay gap specifically affect Māori and Pasifika women?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The pay gap is even worse for Māori and Pacific women, for Asian New Zealanders, and for women of colour. According to Statistics New Zealand, the median hourly earnings for Māori, Pasifika, and Asian women are between 18 and 21 percent lower than they are for men for the same quality of work, even taking into account education, hours worked, life experience—all of those factors. There's still this huge gap. If we look at the average, it's even worse. For Māori, it's close to 23 percent. For Pasifika women, it's nearly 28 percent. What's clear is that Māori and Pasifika women and women of colour have been working for free this year for much longer than the average woman. That's not fair, and that's not right.
Marama Davidson: What is she planning to do to end the gender pay gap?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. This Government is committed to undertaking the work that is necessary to end structural discrimination, particularly against women, tangata whenua, wahine, Pasifika, and women of colour. This Government recognises that everyone in society is better off when they all receive fair pay for their contribution and their work. So we've started by halting the previous Government's legislation that would've made it harder for women to find a clear pathway to equal pay. We'll be bringing fresh legislation into this House that will implement the agreed principles of the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity. We will lead by example by closing the pay gap in the core Public Service, with a particular focus on Māori and Pasifika women, and we'll be working with the private sector, because there are many businesses that are already seeing the productivity benefits of measuring and closing the gender pay gap. We want to help other businesses catch up with that.
Hon Paula Bennett: Can the Minister please confirm that the median gender pay gap was over 12 percent earlier this year but has closed to just over 9 percent very recently, and will she be getting a 3 percent drop in the gender pay gap within the next six months?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Thank you, Mr Speaker. There are different ways of measuring it, and so if you measure the average pay gap, it's 13.1 percent. The median pay gap is 9.4 percent. I'm not aware of the accuracy of the figures that member has proposed, but I'll certainly be talking to my ministry to see if that is correct, and I'm confident that, with an ambitious Government that is committed to equality and not afraid of talking about the hard issues, we will make enormous progress.
• Economic Development—Regional Development (Provincial Growth) Fund
8. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: When does he think that decisions on significant initiatives under the Regional Development (Provincial Growth) Fund will start being made, and when will the first of these projects physically start? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Who was that? Who made the interjection? Right, well that's—
Darroch Ball: It was after he finished his question.
Mr SPEAKER: And if the member had been listening yesterday, I made it very clear to the House that the silence period finished when I'd called the Minister. I'll be very generous and just call the Hon Shane Jones, and no one will be confused by that again.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would just like to make the point that you took a supplementary off this side because I did exactly that just earlier this question time.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I apologise for being inconsistent. When I get everything right, I'll be very surprised.
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): Before I embark, Mr Speaker, I just want a little bit of clarity. The member is asking me what I think, which could be a guess.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it's fair to say it's a "what" not a "whether" question.
Hon SHANE JONES: In relation to his decisions on significant initiatives under the provincial growth fund, when will they start to be made? The criteria—the full character and content of the provincial growth fund—is still being developed. When will the first of these projects physically start? That depends on the quality of the analysis, but I look forward to early announcements, including one promoted by his colleague in Ōpōtiki—Mr Joyce.
Hon Simon Bridges: So is it the case, therefore, that he cannot tell us when we can expect to see rail projects, tree planting, or large-scale capital projects at all?
Hon SHANE JONES: In line with the rules around supplementary questions, let me focus on tree planting. That is weather dependent, climate dependent, and seasonal.
Hon Simon Bridges: Who will make decisions, and on what criteria will they make them, regarding the fund? Can he give us any information in relation to that?
Hon SHANE JONES: A very good question. Firstly, the Minister is wading through the ragbag of ideas and mess that was left behind under the other side of the House, but I am making progress in that regard—with a very sharp slasher. I can assure the member that he will hear, as his colleague Mrs Tolley will hear, as they pester me for announcements about projects in their regions that they never got around to doing when they were in power, once the criteria has been settled upon.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does he agree at least with what he's previously said publicly: that the process must be rigorous and not just decided by politicians but meet a "higher threshold"?
Hon SHANE JONES: I'm presuming he's attributing that remark to me. Obviously, I agree with it.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will he give the House an assurance that the $3 billion being spent this term, in terms of decisions and its criteria, will be to the highest standards of process and probity?
Hon SHANE JONES: It's actually a serious question. It deserves a serious answer. The distribution and the allocation of such a large amount of capital will, obviously, meet very high criteria. It will not just be the decision of the Minister standing; a number of them will go through the full Cabinet committee process, something that members on the other side of the House have advised me to do.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light of all of the foregoing answers to the primary and the supplementary questions, how is it then that he has already told his local newspaper of the four regions that will get the fund and "Upgrading rail to Northland and a spur line to Northport, it is simply going to happen.", and doesn't this House deserve the same sort of candour that he gives his local paper when answering questions here?
Hon SHANE JONES: In relation to the extension of the rail and the spur to Marsden Point, what he has just reflected is dead accurate.
Hon Simon Bridges: So is it politicians deciding, or is it the higher standard he said earlier in questions?
Hon SHANE JONES: Naturally, given that I said it, it's a high standard.
9. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: What are the exemptions in section 70A of the Social Security Act 1964 that mean sanctions aren't imposed on sole parents who don't name the other parent?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): There are five exemptions to the benefit reduction. These are applied if, one, there is insufficient evidence available to establish who is in law the other parent; two, the client is taking active steps to identify who in law is the other parent; three, the client or their child or children will be at risk of violence if the client carried out or took steps to meet their child support obligations, or there is another compelling circumstance for the client's failure to meet their child support obligations and there is no real likelihood of child support being collected; or, five, the child was conceived as a result of incest or sexual violation.
Hon Louise Upston: Does the Minister now accept, given the comments just made, that there are already exemptions available for situations related to family violence?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The advice that I have been given—and the same advice was given to the former Minister for Social Development—is that the sanctions regime for this particular section has been applied inconsistently and also that there is no evidence to support that the sanction has achieved its own goals in terms of its original intention, and I'm concerned because there are 18,000 children that have a reduction in their income because of the way in which this sanction is applied.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There was actually a very specific question asked, and while the Minister gave a very good answer, it wasn't to the question that was asked. Carmel Sepuloni, have another go.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: No, I'm not concerned.
Hon Louise Upston: When will the Minister do her job to make sure that existing policies and exemptions are actually implemented by her department?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The advice that I have been given on this sanction is the same advice that was given to the former Minister for Social Development, which points out very clearly that there is no evidence to support that this sanction is achieving its objective, but what it is doing is that it is punishing 18,000 children for a parent being absent. I think that this is my job.
Hon Louise Upston: What evidence does the Minister have that the current sanctions—which were introduced by a Labour Government in 1990 and increased by the Labour Government in 2005—are not working? That's what I'm wanting to hear.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We are talking about section 70A here, and I think I've given a very clear description of why we will be repealing it.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was quite clear in my question around the evidence that she has. She referred earlier to the evidence, and I'm asking that that is put before the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Ask the question again, and I'll make a decision about whether—
Hon Louise Upston: What evidence does the Minister have that the current sanctions introduced by the Labour Government in 1990 and increased by the Labour Government in 2005 are not working?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Advice from my officials and anecdotal evidence from places like Triple P and other beneficiary advocate groups.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would request that the Minister table that advice.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, she didn't quote from an official document. Did the Minister quote from an official document right then, which she's got now?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: No.
Mr SPEAKER: No, she didn't, so there's no—
Hon Louise Upston: Does the Minister accept that changing the rules and removing this sanction will mean that pressure will go on the very solo mothers you've been talking to, by their liable fathers, so that they don't have to pay to support their own children?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: What I accept is that women and children should not be punished for an absent parent. There are currently 18,000 children that are being punished, and we want to stop that.
• Crime Statistics—Trends
10. GREG O'CONNOR (Labour—Ōhāriu) to the Minister of Justice: Has he seen any evidence that victimisations of serious crime are increasing?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): I'm advised by the Ministry of Justice that New Zealand Police data shows that since the 2014-15 financial year the number of reported victimisations for violent crime has increased from about 48,000 to 54,000, in the 2016-17 financial year. The rate of burglaries has also increased over the past three years, and that's why this Government is determined to do something meaningful to address crime and its causes.
Greg O'Connor: How will the new Government reverse—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think Mr Joyce has just accepted that he's lost a supplementary for the National Party. Mr O'Connor, could you ask the supplementary again, please.
Greg O'Connor: How will the new Government reverse the increases in violent crime?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: In two ways: first of all, by being tough on crime, as we strive towards adding 1,800 new police officers over three years and commit to a serious focus on combating organised crime and drugs. The second limb of our approach is doing what works and not political point scoring. We will build more houses, making sure houses are warm and dry so there is housing security; have an education system that works and provides opportunity; have decent wages, jobs, and a New Zealand free of child poverty; and, finally, seriously address family and sexual violence.
Greg O'Connor: Why is it important to reduce violent crime in New Zealand?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: We all suffer when there are broken victims and broken communities, and we must break the intergenerational cycle of abuse that was ignored by the last Government.
• Conservation, Minister—Statements
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore): Thank you, Mr Speaker. To Eugenie Sage, the Minister of Conservation, does she stand by her statement in the House, "Under this Government, we will have a Minister of Conservation and an Associate Minister for the Environment who believes in nature and in safeguarding the values of our species here in Aotearoa", and if so, how?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It's a longstanding tradition in this House to read the question as it is on the sheet. In the nine years I've been here, I've never heard anyone named in a question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think what we'll do is we'll do the excusing, as we've done on a number of occasions, for people who haven't had much recent experience in asking primary questions, and we'll ask Maggie Barry to start again.
11. Hon MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Conservation: Does she stand by her statement in the House, "Under this Government, we will have a Minister of Conservation and an Associate Minister for the Environment who believes in nature and in safeguarding the values of our species here in Aotearoa"; if so, how?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE (Minister of Conservation): E Te Māngai o Te Whare, tēnā koe. Yes, by implementing policy that recognises that nature is at the heart of New Zealand's success and by adequately resourcing the Department of Conservation to better safeguard our indigenous plants and wildlife and their habitats.
Hon Maggie Barry: So did the Minister specifically advocate for endangered marine species, such as Maui and Hector's dolphins, in the Government's decision announced on Friday to defer the roll-out of electronic observation on commercial fishing vessels?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The delay in the roll-out of the integrated electronic monitoring will allow the Department of Conservation to better identify how that monitoring can be used, because there are significant problems with the camera resolution: it is unable to adequately identify some of the by-catch species.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked a very straight, factual question: did she advocate? She didn't go anywhere near that.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I thought she did.
Jami-Lee Ross: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appeal to you: you ruled that we lost a question earlier when one of our side interjected before a Minister started speaking; Mr Jones did exactly that.
Mr SPEAKER: No. Mr Jones interjected after. He interjected, I think, three times, but all of them were after Ms Sage started her answer, or at least after the question was finished. Back to Maggie Barry.
Hon Maggie Barry: Does the Minister agree with Christine Rose, the chair of Maui and Hector's Dolphin Defenders, NZ that "the decision was fatally flawed, a massive disappointment, and a huge setback for conservation. Electronic [observation] coverage is essential" and "the new Labour Government has shown itself … to be no friend of science, or conservation"?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: No, I don't agree.
Hon Maggie Barry: I didn't hear that.
Mr SPEAKER: She said no, she doesn't.
Hon Maggie Barry: Electronic surveillance on fishing boats is widely believed to improve outcomes for threatened marine species—
Mr SPEAKER: Question, please.
Hon Maggie Barry: —so does the Minister of Conservation agree with the decision to defer its roll-out and put further creatures at risk?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: If the member had listened to my previous answer, she would be aware that there are deficiencies in the integrated electronic monitoring that the former Government was proposing to roll out, and the delay allows some of those defects to be addressed.
Clayton Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A member made a comment to another member, saying that we're in some pocket, I think. We take offence to that, and I would ask her to withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Who made that comment?
Clayton Mitchell: Paula Bennett.
Hon Paula Bennett: Bit of banter.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think the member is tempting me to have a bit of banter back. The member will withdraw and apologise.
Hon Paula Bennett: Oh, you want it to get that sterile around here? I withdraw.
Hon Members: And?
Hon Paula Bennett: Withdraw and apologise, with vigour.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will withdraw and apologise unreservedly.
Hon Paula Bennett: I shall withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.
• Film Industry—Collective Bargaining
12. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Is the Government committed to restoring the right to bargain collectively in the film and television industry?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Yes. The right to seek fair wages and conditions by negotiating together is part of the basic human right to freedom of association. New Zealand has committed to this right by ratifying International Labour Organisation Convention 98. I am further advised that the current law would, in fact, be in breach of article 19.1 of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Willow-Jean Prime: How does the Minister intend to restore rights?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: It is important that any change works for the industry and the people working in it. To that end, we are convening a film industry working group to investigate and propose solutions. That working group will involve organisations such as the Screen Industry Guild, the actors' union Equity New Zealand, Weta, the Screen Production and Development Association, and the guilds for directors, writers, and stunt people.
Willow-Jean Prime: What has the industry said about the proposals so far?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Good news: the industry has welcomed a more mature discussion around these issues. They've been clear that it is a delicate conversation but one that they are ready to have a constructive conversation about and to craft an enduring solution. Noted producer Barrie Osborne said he felt reassured by the Government's approach, and he said, "I want to encourage the people back home this is a good place to work."
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does the Minister accept that thousands of Kiwis will continue to enjoy great incomes from the $3.3 billion local film and television industry only if major international players choose to invest in New Zealand?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I do accept that, and that is why this Government is taking a constructive and collaborative approach. The only thing that will threaten that industry in New Zealand is scaremongering from Opposition members.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why, then, after seven years of good progress, is he risking ongoing investment in this country by introducing significant uncertainty into the industry at the behest of his union mates?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I recommend that that member listen more closely to the industry. The producers, the guilds, and the unions have all stated on record that they are confident in this Government's approach. They have welcomed the joint working group that this Government has established, and what they have made clear to me is that the only thing that will threaten those jobs and will threaten that industry is misinformation and mischief from members like that member.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, you've run out.