Parliament: Questions and Answers - April 10
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Ka tū a ia i runga i tana kōrero mō te iti rawa o te mahi haumi i roto ratonga tūmataiti, ā, nā runga i tērā, "we didn't know it would be this bad" ā, mēnā kua pēnei rawa, ka pēhea te nui o te iti rawa o te mahi haumi nei?
[Does she stand by her statement on underinvestment in public services that "we didn't know it would be this bad", and if so, how significant is this underinvestment?]
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, absolutely, and much of that we could see from Opposition, as could New Zealanders in everyday life, as they saw individuals sleeping in cars or being unable to access health services. But what we are seeing now is in almost every portfolio I can find other signs of under-investment.
Marama Davidson: Does she agree that the state of the books she inherited from National represents a moral and fiscal deficit, which we see every day in our homeless and unemployed, in our impoverished families, and in our threatened species?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, and being in Government obviously is about making choices and about priorities. The last Government decided that the priority, rather than investing in issues around unemployment and homelessness, was tax cuts—a huge amount of which went to the top 10 percent of income earners. This Government has different priorities.
Marama Davidson: How significant is the under-investment in health in light of revelations that there is sewage and mould running through the walls of Middlemore Hospital, as a direct result of it?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would say Middlemore Hospital is emblematic of a much wider problem. District health boards are telling us that 19 percent of their assets are either in a poor or a very poor state. If you add to that the fact that they're running what will be an estimated up to $200 million deficit, I think it's fair to say New Zealanders in every walk of life will be experiencing issues with their health services.
Marama Davidson: Has there been significant under-investment in other areas of Government spending, and has that impacted on core services, as we have seen in our health system?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I say, health, I think, is emblematic of what's gone on in other areas. You'll hear today, for instance, the Minister of Education talking a little bit more about the under-investment in early childhood education, which, essentially, has meant that parents have been picking up the tab from a lack of investment from the last Government. I'm happy to share the numbers.
Marama Davidson: What plans does she have, if any, to restore investment in public services to urgently help those who are struggling the most, such as the 10 to 20 homeless people I spoke with who were sleeping outside the City Mission yesterday morning?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I say, we identified from Opposition that this was an issue. We made a very deliberate decision to cancel the tax cuts. The second decision that we made was to run a slightly longer debt track than the last Government, because we wanted to prioritise investing in housing and making sure that there wasn't the scale of homelessness we saw under the last Government. As I say, Government is all about priorities, and ours are very different to the last Government.
Marama Davidson: Will the Government consider any new taxes in the future to help solve these problems, given that it has ruled out any new revenue streams this term?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we've said, there will be no new tax regimes in this term of office, from this Government. Of course, we do have the Tax Working Group under way, but they may very well produce an outcome that could be fiscally neutral as well. Ultimately, we have budgeted and set out a debt track that allows us to make the investment that is the priority, and we did things like cancel tax cuts, so we could reinvest in health, education, and housing.
• Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's policies and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, including the priorities we're placing around investing back in core services so we don't have situations like Middlemore.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You were very fast last week to prevent people from adding little bits to the end of a question. You made the point—if you've asked the question, that's it. What we just saw from the Prime Minister was something you pulled other Ministers up for last week, which was answering the question and then going on with a little bit more. So a little bit of consistency would be something that would be helpful to the order of the House.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I'm going to ask the Prime Minister: is she really going to add to the order in the House, or is she going to cause a further problem?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It depends which way you're going to rule, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, what I'm going to ask is for the Hon Gerry Brownlee to be just a little bit more tolerant. That was a short answer with a very mild flick to an Opposition question, not a Government patsy. Therefore, I think it was well within the bounds of what all my predecessors would have accepted.
Hon Simon Bridges: How will someone living and working in South Auckland benefit from the 25c a litre petrol tax for their petrol?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm assuming that's a reference to the Government policy statement (GPS) for transport, which we're consulting on whether or not the investment we want to make off the back of 3c—up to around 3c a year, something which I understand the Opposition has said that they would maintain. I'm happy to speak to how they would benefit, because under this Government they're likely to be a family that, on average, would get $75 a week once our Working for Families changes come in in July.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that the majority of the upwards of 25c a litre tax increase over the next decade will go to the tram to Auckland Airport?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have said in this House previously, the kind of example that that member is using is a family who currently doesn't have choices around how they move around their city. We need to give them choices, and we also need to invest in that household as well. They need higher incomes, better wages, and they need decent transport. Under that Opposition, apparently they would keep that same excise that we're planning.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very clear question about whether the majority of that tax would go to the tram to Auckland Airport. She didn't even address that.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I'm ruling she did. She certainly referred to giving Aucklanders choices as to their methods of moving around Auckland. I think that's close enough.
Hon Simon Bridges: So will the majority of that petrol tax over the next decade go to the tram to Auckland Airport?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that there's been a $5 billion transfer from roading to public transport, in particular trams, under that proposed GPS?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I do not. As I've pointed out in this House, we are increasing the amount of funding that is going into regional transport and also local transport and also transport safety. That's because that's what we've prioritised, while at the same time having only an 11 percent decrease in State highway improvements.
Hon Simon Bridges: How can she possibly say that, when her transport Minister, just last week, in this House, accepted that $5 billion is being reduced from State highway improvements?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because we are also putting more back into regional and local roads. Would the member like me to reiterate the cuts that that last Government made to those very same transport areas?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister, I think, knows that she shouldn't be asking questions of the Opposition. [Interruption] Order!
Hon Simon Bridges: What use is the tram to the airport to someone living and working nowhere near it in Auckland?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, that's taking a very narrow view of what is a comprehensive plan to improve public transport across the Auckland network. As I say, that is only part of what the GPS was about. It was also about making sure that we are increasing regional and local road improvements to the tune of $1.2 billion.
Hon Simon Bridges: How will the several-billion-dollar City Rail Link be paid for, does she think?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm assuming he's talking about the City Rail Link which he was very late coming to the party to support. We continue to support it and did from the very beginning.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked how it would be paid for.
Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the Prime Minister to have another shot at that. How will it be paid for?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I imagine in the same way that the last Government pretended they were going to pay for it as well.
Mr SPEAKER: Question number—
Hon Phil Twyford: Supplementary.
Hon Simon Bridges: No, no—I apologise Mr Speaker. I'm still going.
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order, the Hon Simon Bridges.
Hon Simon Bridges: No, no—I've got further supplementaries. I'm sorry.
Hon Phil Twyford: Does the Prime Minister believe that investing in a modern rapid transit system gives people transport choices enabling some people to leave their car at home during peak hour, thereby allowing the roads to move more freely for everybody else?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely. That is our aspiration. Some will continue to choose to move by car, but currently they are losing in productivity because of the excessive congestion in Auckland. We need more transport options, and that's what this Government is focused on whilst also dealing with the regional neglect of the last Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: How will someone in Manurewa, in the North Shore, or in West Auckland be able to leave their car at home when they're definitely not getting any mass rapid transit any time in the next decade, and probably longer.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: And we do have plans to extend the public transport network. The ability—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm going to ask members of the Opposition just to settle down. I had some hopes, with a bit of a reshuffle, that there'd be a little bit less noise from my immediate left; unfortunately, that hasn't quite worked.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: May I finish the question, Mr Speaker. To finish the question, what the member seems to be forgetting, in pointing out the lack of transport options, is that this is a Government that has been in for five months; that last Government, for nine years, neglected their lack of transport options.
Hon Simon Bridges: What is the Prime Minister's position on the Ōtaki to Levin section of the lower North Island road of national significance?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we said when we made the announcement, those projects remain on the same track they're on now, and the New Zealand Transport Agency, at the moment, is still consulting on the route option—and consulting with the public.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that $5 billion will come out of the State highway improvements class on her proposed Government policy statement?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I said last week in the House, in the next three years State highway funding reduces by $500 million—or 11 percent—and regional and local road improvements increase by $1.2 billion.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Do any of the Prime Minister's comments or statements on transport include building 10 bridges that were promised by a certain gentleman—none of which have even been started?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Thank you for the question. In my understanding, that may have actually been one of the oral questions that the Leader of the Opposition had to correct in this House, for the very reason that they haven't been delivered.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will she commit to the road of national significance from Ōtaki to Levin happening, given its pre-existing status?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we said, with everything that had that pre-existing status, it's still going through the same process. And that is a decision for the board, as it was three weeks ago before we announced this policy.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Is he committed to reducing core Crown net debt to 20 percent of GDP by 30 June 2022?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): This Government is committed to reducing core Crown net debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years of taking office, as indicated in the Speech from the Throne. In the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU), core Crown net debt is forecast to reach 19.3 percent of GDP by 30 June 2022.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I saw you use a two fingered gesture. Was that to subtract two questions from us, and, if so, when did laughing at a joke become a parliamentary sin?
Mr SPEAKER: The answer to your question is yes. A further point is that I've made very clear that interjecting or making noises while people are asking questions results in a loss of supplementary questions, or a gain for the side that wishes to have it run that way—which is the case as far as the National Party—and the member is exceptionally lucky that I do not compound that loss because of his approach to this point of order.
Hon Amy Adams: If the Minister is committed to his debt-to-GDP target, why did he rule out public-private partnerships that the previous Government had used successfully across many years for schools, hospitals, and prisons, before claiming the fact that he can't pay for everything outright is a symptom of under-investment?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We've been very clear over an extended period of time that we simply don't believe in the privatisation of health and education, as the previous Government did.
Hon Amy Adams: So to maintain his debt-to-GDP anchor, why won't he tell New Zealand which of the Government's stated commitments and expectations he has raised around teachers' and nurses' pay will now have to be dialled back because he's now simply realised that he's already run out of money?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member will just have to wait until 17 May, but what I can be absolutely clear about is that this Government understands the importance of a balance between a prudent fiscal approach and making the investments we need to undo the social and infrastructure deficits left to us by the previous Government.
Hon Amy Adams: Can he confirm that the additional Government revenue available to him for the current year alone, tracked from the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update projections to the Crown accounts to the end of February, is in fact an additional $700 million?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member has been paying attention to the monthly statements from Treasury. The final forecasts are still to be done. What's important to remember, though, is it's not so much about how much extra revenue might be available to this Government; it's about what the last Government didn't do with the revenue that it had.
Hon Amy Adams: Can he also confirm that the HYEFU shows additional tax revenue over the next four years from that which was predicted in the pre-election update is $6.6 billion more?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There is indeed money available to be spent, and this Government will invest that wisely in making sure that we invest in health and education and housing, not the priorities of the previous Government, which were tax cuts slanted towards the most wealthy.
Hon Amy Adams: So if the Crown accounts in fact show the Government has inherited an even stronger economy than previously thought, creating more revenue from the Government than was predicted pre-election, aren't his claims of things being worse than he had allowed for just a realisation that his numbers were never going to stand up to the realities of being Government?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No. What it is is a realisation of the fact that the previous Government, in an attempt to look good, create artificial surpluses, and put tax cuts that went to the wealthy, under-invested in critical public services. This Government is going to make sure that we invest in the services New Zealanders need.
• Question No. 4—Finance
4. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the state of the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Last week, credit rating agency Moody's released its latest annual credit analysis, awarding New Zealand a Aaa stable credit rating. It said its rating reflects New Zealand's very high economic resilience, very strong institutions and policy effectiveness, and strong fiscal position. Moody's said that New Zealand's economic profile supports the newly elected coalition Government's credit-positive commitment to preserving surpluses and reducing Government debt as a percentage of GDP over the next five years.
Dr Deborah Russell: What does the Moody's report say about the Government's fiscal policy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Moody's makes the point that the Government's commitment to preserving strong public finances provides room to pursue expansionary fiscal policy. This Government is committed to managing our finances carefully, including delivering sustainable surpluses and reducing net debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years of taking office, but, at the same time, making investments, such as our Families Package, and increased investment in health and education, that are so desperately needed to address the social and infrastructure deficits facing New Zealand.
Dr Deborah Russell: What do recent reports he has seen say about the need for infrastructure investment?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Moody's highlight the fact that the Government will spend more on road, rail, and housing infrastructure. These are important investments to meet the infrastructure deficit that has been left to this Government. As highlighted in Treasury's investment statement released last month, 19 percent of district health board assets are in poor or very poor condition, 38 percent of school buildings are at least 50 years old, and 40 percent of social housing assets are over 50 years old. It will take more than one Budget to undo nine years of neglect, but this Government has a plan to deliver social and public services that New Zealanders deserve.
David Seymour: Why is this Government working so hard to lower expectations?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What this Government is doing is working extremely hard to make sure that New Zealanders get the public services that they deserve. I think the member might be better off lowering expectations about his dancing.
David Seymour: Is it not the case that his colleagues have already been housetrained by the bureaucrats and don't know how to manage them—there actually are no problems?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I wouldn't want to speak about the housetraining or otherwise of my colleagues, but what I can say is this Government is committed to making the balance that New Zealanders want, which is between an economy that's carefully managed and making the investments that are needed to correct the social and infrastructure deficits we've been left with.
• Question No. 5—Health
5. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Yes, in the context in which they were made and undertaken.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: On what date was the Minister first informed of the nature and extent of the building issues at Middlemore Hospital that are the subject of recent media attention, and what action did he take?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I was informed about the Scott Building when I visited about one month ago, roughly. In the days that followed, I signed off funding to repair that. I've had many subsequent conversations with the district health board (DHB) in which they've ensured me that patient safety is not at risk and have alerted me to further issues with their buildings that are a result of nine years of neglect by the previous Government.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the funding mentioned by the Minister in addition to the $17 million already approved by the previous Government for the reclad of the Scott Building—the one issue that was raised with, and quickly addressed by, the previous Government?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: If the previous Government raised and addressed one issue, effectively, that's one more than I've been aware of up till now. But I'd also make the point that if the member is still fixated on deficits, I wonder where he's been for the past couple of weeks, because he's obviously missed the fact that the public are aware now of rot, sewage, and mould in the walls, which has required additional funding to fix, and the public really want to know that the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That's enough. Thank you.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the Minister aware that the issue of the state of the buildings at Counties Manukau District Health Board was not even raised with the Health Committee during the review of the Auckland District Health Board on 21 February, the very forum within such issues should be raised?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: If the member is trying to repeat the message that the acting chief executive has delivered about the district health board being afraid to raise issues about the buildings because they were expected to run surpluses, I'm not sure how that is in his political advantage.
Hon Members: Answer the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: No attempt to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am reflecting on that. I am going to ask the Minister to address the supplementary asked. Does he want it repeated?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Repeat.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the Minister aware that the issue of the state of the buildings at Counties Manukau District Health Board was not even raised with the Health Committee during the review of the Auckland District Health Board on 21 February?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That has been brought to my attention.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is he aware that the Counties Manukau District Health Board were fully briefed on the building problems at Middlemore at their meeting 25 October 2017, and is he concerned that they were not brought to the attention of the select committee at all, or to his attention earlier?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Sorry. Mr Speaker, could the member please repeat the question.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is he aware that the Counties Manukau District Health Board were fully briefed on the building problems at Middlemore at their meeting 25 October 2017, and is he concerned that they were not brought to the attention of the select committee at all, or to his attention earlier?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I think the member is referring to a select committee that happened prior to that briefing—if I'm not mistaken. [Interruption]
Hon Michael Woodhouse: No; 25 October last year, 21 February this year.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This year? OK. Am I concerned about that? I am concerned that these issues have taken some while to come to light, but I think that that speaks to a culture where people were afraid to raise the issues. And I think that this Government is going to do something about it. We have been unashamed—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. No, I couldn't hear that, and I have trouble ruling things in or out if I can't hear it. I'll ask the member to wind back a little way and to repeat it, and I'm going to require silence from my left while that happens.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: So, as a consequence, this Government is going to address the issue. We have determined that we will actually ask for a full report, a comprehensive understanding of the assets across this country, so that we can address the neglect of our infrastructure and social settings, because we believe New Zealanders deserve decent healthcare, and we intend to make sure that over time we address that historic neglect.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'd ask you just to reflect on the little exchange that's just happened. The answer that Dr David Clark just gave is perfectly reasonable. It's what Governments do. It's what everyone would expect, and there's no trouble maintaining a high degree of respect while he's answering. It was the comments he made in the answer that you asked to be repeated that caused the problem, and I'd ask that you have a look at that on the tapes tonight to just better understand why there was such an adverse reaction on this side of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I'll do that.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the Minister aware that the costs, serious though the issues are at Middlemore Hospital, of remedies comprise about 0.006 of 1 percent, and if he reacts in this way to one issue, how is he going to perform over a $17 billion Health vote?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: To be honest, I'm not sure why the member wants to keep raising the failures of the previous Government. The previous health Minister hasn't even given his valedictory. We on this side have signalled clearly that we intend to address the historic neglect of our health system.
• Question No. 6—Transport
6. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: What is the total increased level of funding for the Public Transport activity class for the next 10 years if the mid-point level of funding proposed in the draft Government Policy Statement in the 2018/19 year continues at that level for 10 years without increase; and can he confirm that when that increased funding is added together with mid-point level funding for the new Rapid Transit and Transitional Rail activity classes over 10 years, the total new and increased funding for these three activity classes is $5.398 billion?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): As to the first part of the member's question, if the mid-point level of funding in the draft Government policy statement (GPS) for 2018-19 continues for 10 years, the amount that the public transport activity class will increase is zero. The question is a confused hypothetical and a contradiction in terms, and for the same reason I cannot confirm the second part of the member's question.
Jami-Lee Ross: I seek leave to table a table prepared by the Parliamentary Library earlier today which does exactly the calculation the Minister says he can't do, which gives an answer of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That's it. Leave is sought to table a document alleging to do that calculation. Is there any objection to that? There appears to be none. It will be tabled.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Jami-Lee Ross: Why is he prepared to cut $5 billion from the State highway improvement category to fund $5 billion of new public transport funding, and expecting the rest of the country to pay more in tax for that privilege?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I reject the member's assertion. Even with the investments into public transport and rapid transit in our three biggest cities and investment in freight and passenger rail adopting the mid-point, as the member does, our GPS spends on average only $90 million less per year than the former Government did on roads, because we are increasing spending on local roads, regional roads, State highway improvements, and road policing. We are spending only 2 percent less on roads than National did in their last GPS. The member is scaremongering, and if he thinks that public transport is so unpopular, he may want to know that the ridership in the Auckland public transport system has increased by 29.5 percent, and rail has nearly doubled in the last five years. The only thing that has increased faster than that is congestion under that Government's policies.
Jami-Lee Ross: Why does he expect taxpayers in Cambridge, Ōtaki, and Invercargill, to have to pay more in petrol taxes—up to 25c a litre—to fund trams in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I completely reject the member's assertion or implication that we are spending less in the regions than he would have. Over the nine years of the last National—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I'm going to ask that member to repeat his question, because I'm not sure that the Minister heard him.
Jami-Lee Ross: Why should taxpayers in Cambridge, in Ōtaki, and in Invercargill have to pay more in petrol taxes—up to 25c a litre—to fund trams in Auckland?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before the Minister is required to answer this question, could we have some sort of understanding that jeering and shouting from the other side is not adequate in this Parliament, and they should be asked by you to desist.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I—[Interruption] Order! I will listen more carefully, and maybe the member could talk to some of the people behind him as well, because there has been quite a lot of noise from—[Interruption] Because there has been quite a lot of noise from both sides today. Now, I think we're at the point where—[Interruption] That's all right. We're now at the point where we will have the question repeated for the second time in order for the Minister to address it.
Jami-Lee Ross: Why should taxpayers in Cambridge and Ōtaki and Invercargill have to pay more in petrol taxes—up to 25c a litre more—to fund trams in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the member is quite wrong to say that. The good people of Cambridge and Ōtaki and Invercargill are not being asked by anyone to pay up to 25c extra a litre. Our Government is consulting on three consecutive—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member's finished answering the question.
Jami-Lee Ross: Is the Minister telling us that the 3c to 4c a litre petrol tax over three years added together, plus GST, plus the regional fuel tax, which he's legislating for in legislation this year, does not add up to 25c a litre?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The people of Cambridge, Ōtaki, and Invercargill are not being asked to pay a regional fuel tax.
Jami-Lee Ross: Why is he passing legislation to allow regional fuel taxes around the country when he claimed at the election that he would only allow it to happen in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Our legislation only allows Auckland Council to put in place a regional fuel tax in the next three years. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: OK, I'm now going to ask both sides to settle down once again. Is the member finished?
• Question No. 7—Earthquake Commission
7. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission: What reports has she seen about the financial impact of remedial repairs in Canterbury by EQC?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission): Last week, I asked the Earthquake Commission (EQC) to prepare urgent advice to me on the total, actual cost to date of remedial repairs for both cash settlements and managed repairs in Canterbury. I was advised that this figure has reached $270 million, up substantially from the 2016 estimate of $60 million to $70 million provided by the previous Government. This is a mess the Government inherited and is committed to cleaning up.
Dr Duncan Webb: What action has she taken to help resolve outstanding EQC claims?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I have asked Treasury to urgently forecast the parameters of the ongoing liability on remaining remedial claims. On top of the specific work to help resolve the wider concern about outstanding claims, I've appointed an independent ministerial adviser to look at EQC's current processes and to report back to me in the coming weeks. I've also appointed a new interim chair, Dame Annette King, to bring a different perspective to the resolution of claims. A claims management system is also being implemented to ensure claimants have a single point of contact when dealing with the commission. I anticipate there will be further changes following the report of the independent ministerial adviser.
Dr Duncan Webb: Will this blowout in remedial costs mean that some people will not be able to have their homes re-repaired?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: No, not at all. The Crown guarantee ensures that people can have faith that there are sufficient funds for their re-repairs. I have asked Treasury for advice on the parameters of this liability, as this Government are prudent financial managers that will not wilfully ignore liabilities that may be facing us.
• Question No. 8—Agriculture
8. Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Minister of Agriculture: Does he stand by all his Government's actions in the agricultural sector?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): Yes.
Hon Nathan Guy: Did winding back Government support for irrigation go through his rural proofing test, and what impact does it have on rural communities?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Rural proofing is not in place yet, but it will be within the next few months.
Hon Nathan Guy: When the Minister praised the Ashburton Lyndhurst irrigation scheme at its opening on Friday by saying, "This has got to be the best value for money that politicians have made.", why—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. Unfortunately, there's a couple of members with quite loud laughs which are coming through the system—through the open microphone of Nathan Guy. I think, to be consistent, I would have to deduct supplementaries. I'm not going to be consistent but just issue a warning to the member, who knows he is responsible. Start again.
Hon Nathan Guy: Thank you, Mr Speaker. When he stated on Friday, at the opening of the Ashburton Lyndhurst irrigation scheme, that the benefits will flow in multiples, all through Canterbury and the rest of the country, why is he not supporting the Hunter Downs scheme, given that that has been farmer-led, with them raising almost $40 million of capital to support the project?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Government has said we always support irrigation, but we have stated quite clearly that we will not ask pensioners and paperboys to contribute to private large-scale schemes. This Government has prioritised quite openly the fix-up of hospitals, of schools that have been run down because of nine years of Government neglect, and if that previous Minister hadn't wasted over $350 million in Primary Growth Partnership grants, there'd be more money for hospitals and homes and schools.
Hon Nathan Guy: When the Minister praised the Ashburton Lyndhurst irrigation scheme at its opening just on Friday by saying, "This has got to be the best value for money investment that politicians have made." why does he support winding down irrigation projects?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I've stated before, the Government has better priorities for the money that Crown Irrigation Investments Limited has spent. Can I say that for less than $1 million of assistance, $150 million of farmer money went into that scheme. I have on record here the fact that the Hunter Downs project will proceed without taxpayers' funding. We will spend that money on hospitals and homes and schools because our priorities are the priorities that will give New Zealanders a fairer chance.
Hon Nathan Guy: Has the Minister met Crown Irrigation officials since becoming a Minister; if not, why not?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have met with a couple of officials from Crown Irrigation and we have sent letters to them and informed them and given them a heads up on this change from the time we became Government. This is no surprise to them and it shouldn't be to that member.
• Question No. 9—Employment
9. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Employment: Does he stand by all his policies, statements, and actions?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does the Minister have concerns from a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report that warns that 3,000 jobs are in jeopardy due to minimum wage increases?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: We are very committed to workers in this country, and in terms of concerns, we are not overly concerned at the moment. We think there's a lot of scaremongering being done from the Opposition.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary—no, well, if Paula Bennett wants one, she gets it first.
Hon Paula Bennett: How many additional hours per week will an Aucklander on the minimum wage need to work to offset his Government's increase in fuel taxes?
Mr SPEAKER: Not an area of responsibility for that member.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'm sorry, it's about minimum wage, and I'm speaking to the Minister of Employment, and asking how many additional hours they would need to work.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and the responsibility for the minimum wage is not with that Minister.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can he confirm that in the nine occasions that the last Labour Government increased the minimum wage, they too received advice that it would lead to an increase in unemployment, and they maintained, at that time, some of the lowest unemployment rates in the OECD?
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will resume his seat. That Minister also doesn't have responsibility for reports to the previous Government.
Hon Paula Bennett: Is the Government quick to increase the minimum wage because it is covered by employers, and then take that off workers through fuel taxes, leaving workers no better off?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: That's an assumption, and I don't agree with that statement.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm that he received advice that suggested that the rumour that unemployment would rise if the wages of workers were picked up—did he receive advice that such talk is classical neo-liberal nonsense?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Yes, I can confirm that.
Paul Eagle: What are the Government's policies to support employment and workers?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: The Government's policies to support employment and workers are investment in our regions, we're investing in our young people with He Poutama Rangatahi, we're providing dignified job assurance, and we've just increased the minimum wage to $16.50 as a start to ensure that all people benefit from a strong economy.
Hon Paula Bennett: Has the Minister discussed minimum wage increases and jobs at the Mangere Bridge Tavern, and did it cause a kerfuffle?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I haven't been to the Mangere Bridge Tavern for about 12 months, but you might want to talk to my colleague Peeni Henare, who frequents it every Saturday.
Mr SPEAKER: Right. I think I'll leave the obvious comment.
• Question No. 10—Education
10. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What funding challenges does the early child education sector face?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): The early childhood education (ECE) sector is facing a number of challenges, one of which has been caused by the lack of any universal funding increase to early childhood education to meet inflation for over a decade. Minuscule adjustments were made to the non-salary component over that time. However, 70 to 80 percent of teacher-led early childhood centres' costs are salaries, for which there has been no increase in funding over the past decade. This means that for centres with mainly qualified teachers, their funding rate has declined by 12 percent in real terms since 2009, and the decline is 14 percent for kindergartens.
Jan Tinetti: What implications does ECE funding not keeping pace with inflation mean for the affordability of early childhood education?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Statistics New Zealand's Consumers Price Index shows that between June 2009 and June 2017, early childhood education fees increased by 30 percent whilst over that time New Zealanders' earnings only increased by 21 percent. I have asked the Ministry of Education to do more work on the data that we record about early childhood education affordability and fees.
Jan Tinetti: What difference will New Zealanders notice in this Government's approach to the early childhood sector?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: This Government is absolutely resolved that we must focus on quality as well as participation when it comes to early childhood education. We recognise that the near funding freeze that early childhood services have been under for the last decade is unsustainable. However, we also have to balance that against a number of other cost pressures in the education system that have been caused by underfunding over the last decade.
• Question No. 11—Government Digital Services
11. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister for Government Digital Services: Does she agree with the comment made by ICT veteran and expert in the industry, Ian Apperley, who said "when you read the Government's chief technology officer job description it occurs to me that making the role effective is provably impossible. It is largely waflly which means the Government may not know what it wants"; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister for Government Digital Services: No, because the Government has clearly articulated what it expects from the chief technology officer.
Brett Hudson: Does she agree with the comments of Mr Apperley, who said, "Creating an environment where the industry can flourish is simple: normalise the procurement processes, speed up the legislative process, open overseas markets, stop thinking you know best, stop thinking you're the leader, and start thinking about how to create an environment in which the technology business can flourish—and we don't need a $500,000 person to tell us that."?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. The Government does believe that there is a role for leadership in this space, and that is why we're employing a chief technology officer.
Brett Hudson: If she doesn't agree with the comments of Mr Apperley, a 25-year veteran of the industry, can she confirm that she is now holding meetings, both formal and informal, that could be construed as the Minister headhunting for this position?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In respect to the first part of the question I can say that there are a number of people who would disagree, including Rod Drury, who's made comments in favour of it; Don Christie, who's made comments in favour of it; the McGuiness Institute; Chris Kiehl; Craig Walker; and many others who are in favour of the Government's decision to employ a chief technology officer. I also note that a previous Minister proposed a chief technology officer role: that was one Simon Bridges.
Brett Hudson: Has she held any meetings, formal or informal, breakfast or otherwise, with Carol Hirschfeld regarding the position?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Clearly, no.
Question No. 6 to Minister
JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany): I seek leave to table a document that shows the Minister of Transport can put regional fuel taxes outside of Auckland after 2021. [Interruption] The source of it is his own bill, the regional fuel tax amendment—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
JAMI-LEE ROSS: Well, it's there! [Holds up printed sheet of paper].
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is—I'm assuming it's a bill that's either introduced to the House or it's been on the Table?
Jami-Lee Ross: Schedule 1.
Mr SPEAKER: I'm trying to work out how to deal with the member, who I think is being deliberately, deliberately mischievous. My view is that he got a very clear answer from the Minister on the question, especially one which related to timing. He is now seeking to use a point of order process to relitigate that, and, worse still, he's doing it with something which is already on the Table of the House and has been introduced to the House. I'm giving the member a pretty serious warning that further behaviour of that sort by him—and I'll ask Mr Brownlee to impose some discipline on his colleagues—is likely to result in something pretty serious.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I don't think—I've just made a ruling, Mr Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, you did.
Mr SPEAKER: Are you going to make a new point of order?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, you made a ruling and a request, so it's natural I would respond to that request.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the request was that you respond to your colleagues, not to me.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That's right, and I'm indicating to you that I will not be telling my colleagues to let Ministers away with making statements in the House—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Opposition just lost five supplementaries from tomorrow.
• Question No. 12—Health
12. Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What advice has he received about DHB deficit levels?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The majority of district health boards (DHBs) are struggling to live within their current level of funding. I'm advised that DHB financial results for the year to the end of February showed a combined deficit of $189 million. I'm further advised the Ministry of Health is forecasting a total DHB deficit of $209 million or more by the end of the financial year.
Dr Liz Craig: Why have DHB deficits grown to their current levels?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: To put it bluntly, the health service has been underfunded, as everyone can see from the state of Middlemore Hospital. As Minister of Health, DHB chairs know my expectation, that DHBs be careful stewards of health funding, but this is not, as was claimed on Morning Report yesterday, just an accounting issue you deal with. That was what the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Dr Liz Craig: So what will the Government do to address DHB deficits?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As the Prime Minister indicated yesterday, the focus of Budget 2018 will outline the first steps in rebuilding quality public services that keep our nation strong. I expect DHBs will see the benefit of this focus in the upcoming Budget. However, after nine years of underfunding and neglect, it will not be possible—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I seek leave to table a document compiled by the Parliamentary Library entitled Combined DHB Deficits 2000 to 2017.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that? There is objection. It will not be tabled.