Parliament: Questions and Answers - May 15
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. 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.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was Iain Lees-Galloway reflecting Government policy when he said, "If a small change to the minimum wage is going to be detrimental to them they don't sound resilient. … a lot of businesses come and go, … That's the nature of doing business."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think he was reflecting the fact that we have an expectation that people be able to enter into the workplace and receive a decent wage. We increased the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour in April, we have flagged our intention for it to be $20 by April 2021, and the member clearly is articulating that he's not as ambitious for New Zealanders who are in low-paid work.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to those workers of the businesses who would lose their jobs under the minimum wage policy?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would rather speak to the actual examples the member has of a business closing because of an increase to $16.50 an hour.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, does she accept her officials' advice that the increases will result in job losses?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Even that last Government probably got that same advice. In fact, when Labour was last in office and increased the minimum wage nine times, we had the opposite problem and had some of the lowest unemployment in the OECD—a record that on this side of the House we're quite proud of.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light of Iain Lees-Galloway's statement that changes to the minimum wage need to be signalled, what other increases to the minimum wage will there be this term?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we've said, we've already signalled in the coalition agreement with New Zealand First that it's our expectation the minimum wage will be increased to $20 by April 2021.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Since the coalition Government announced its aspiration and target of $20 an hour, has unemployment gone up or down?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've very pleased to say it has gone down and is projected to continue to go down.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Prime Minister any advice on what the effect of that $20 minimum wage would be on jobs?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said, we routinely receive advice on the projected impact, but in the past we've received that same advice and, in fact, what we have seen is unemployment going in the other direction.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she believe her Government's industrial relations reform contributed to today's Staples Rodway Business Confidence Survey's finding that only 15 percent of 500 business leaders thought job security would increase, with 45 percent thinking it would decrease?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am, of course, interested, yes, both in the feedback that we get from those business surveys and also the reality, and I know the reality is that in fact, a firm's own outlook is something incredibly important to us as a measure. It's still a net positive, and that includes for the long-run average. We, of course, also have projected growth of around 3 percent and declining unemployment. The reality is looking very, very positive, and come Thursday will look even better.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why does the Prime Minister believe more than half of the respondents to the survey believe this week's Budget will have a negative impact on the economy and that the Government's performance around the economy to date has been poor?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I would ask for the member's evidence points, given, of course, again, I'm speaking to the evidence—the reality of what exists out there—and that is projected growth of 3 percent, unemployment declining down to levels around 4 percent, and the fact that when you look at some of the stimulus that'll be coming on track, like, for instance, the increase via the Families Package, both taxpayers and business have plenty of reasons to feel very, very positive.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Prime Minister saying that business confidence doesn't matter, and isn't that an incredibly high-handed, arrogant approach to take?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. I have, in fact, myself said that I'm very keen to make sure that a survey of perception matches reality.
Hon Simon Bridges: Can she, then, just tell me why it is that the survey makes clear that businesses around this country think that the Budget will lead to a declining economy, and that the Government so far is doing a poor job on the economy?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, you'll forgive me for not wanting to allow anyone to get ahead of themselves before the Budget actually comes out. Two more sleeps.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Prime Minister aware that in the two years before the election 10,000 jobs were created every month, and will she commit to a similar target over the next two years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: And again I would point out that, actually, minimum wage increases therefore—case in point—do not necessarily lead to job losses. We're not going to apologise for wanting to make this a productive, high-wage economy. That's exactly the kind of leadership that New Zealand needs.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does that mean the Prime Minister will commit to a similar target to 10,000 new jobs a month over the next couple of years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, what's important is what happens to your overall employment rate, and that's why we've set ourselves a goal of 4 percent unemployment, because, of course, what matters is whether people are coming and going and staying in the job market, not just new job creation.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister accept, though, that there may be a cause for downwards wage adjustment for poor professional performance, such as is coming from the Opposition at this present time?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, no, no. It's a very good question, but it's not within the Prime Minister's responsibility.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, it's not actually a good question. Given how important wage growth and productivity are to the Prime Minister, is she aware that between 2008 and 2017 the average wage increased by $13,000, twice the rate of inflation, and will she commit to a target of wages growing at twice the rate of inflation for her Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I would like is some consistency from the Opposition. On the one hand, increasing wages are going to lead to businesses closing and job loss, and on the other, we're apparently not being ambitious enough. What I can tell you is that we are focused on making sure this is an economy with high wages, with decent wages, and with a growing economy, and you'll see that the proof will be in the pudding.
Hon Simon Bridges: Given that need for decent wages, as she says, will she hold her Government to account and commit to a target of wages growing at twice the rate of inflation for her Government, like they did when we were in Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course we're setting a high bar for ourselves, including making sure that we have the minimum wage continually moving, and not sacrificing the fact that we believe that those individuals deserve a decent wage, decent conditions, and low unemployment.
• Question No. 2—Finance
2. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: What effect will additional borrowing and the proposed increase in petrol tax and levies have on the New Zealand economy?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the member, can I just ask the senior members who are having an exchange across in front of me to cease. Thank you.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Government is committed, using the favoured measure of the previous Government, to reducing net core Crown debt as a percentage of GDP to 20 percent within five years of taking office. The Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update shows nominal GDP growing faster than core Crown net debt in the years 2017 to 2022 and, importantly, shows that core Crown finance costs fall both as a percentage of GDP and in nominal terms over the period. In response to the second part of the member's question, I draw her attention to the evidence we have from when the previous Government increased petrol levies by 40 percent over their nine years in office—the sky didn't fall and she needs to cheer up about the New Zealand economy.
Hon Amy Adams: Does he accept that increases to petrol tax, the new regional fuel tax, the five-year brightline test tax, and the new "Amazon tax" add up to Kiwis paying around $2.27 billion more tax over the next four years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can't confirm the member's figures, but what I can say, in answer to the question about the so-called "Amazon tax", is we're very grateful for the work of Judith Collins in developing that.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, can he confirm that the Government's plan to borrow around $10 billion more over the coming years will result in more than $1.1 billion in additional debt-servicing costs over the next four years, or $650 for every household?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can't confirm all of those numbers from the member, but what I can confirm is that core Crown finance costs, according to the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update will fall from 1.3 percent of GDP in 2017 to 0.96 percent of GDP in 2022. I can also confirm that in nominal terms core Crown finance costs are proposed to fall from $3.5 billion to $3.3 billion.
Hon James Shaw: Can the Minister confirm that the money that the Hon Amy Adams is talking about will lead to a reduction in child poverty and better protection of the environment?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can confirm that, because the evidence is that tens of thousands of New Zealand children will be lifted out of poverty by the Families Package. On this side of the House we are prepared to borrow and invest and make sure that we're building roads and houses, rather than waiting for the benefits to trickle on down.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the member, I am going to remind her that when the Minister is answering, she is of course allowed to interject, but she is not allowed to bring me in—I think she did it at least four times.
Hon Amy Adams: My apologies. Why is the Government imposing additional taxes on Kiwi families, and additional debt-servicing costs, all during good economic times, which is driving an increase to the Australia - New Zealand wage gap for the first time in a decade?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I reject the premise of that question. What we're doing is doing exactly what the previous Government did when it comes to the fuel excise duties. In terms of what we're doing in the other tax changes—they're actually about getting some fairness into the tax system. I really do encourage the member to talk to her neighbouring member Judith Collins about why those moves are important.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, has he seen today's Staples Rodway business survey results, which found that more than half of the respondents believe that their Government's performance around the economy to date has been poor; if so, why is he continuing to dismiss survey after survey showing low business confidence in his Government?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As the Prime Minister has already said, the thing that correlates to GDP growth is businesses' confidence in their own activity. That is still strong. We have a Budget on Thursday that will show that we're going to build both a productive and sustainable economy and manage the Government's finances well.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, does he agree with the 88 percent of businesses surveyed, who say that it's important for the Government to avoid taking on further debt; if not, how does he justify taking on $10 billion more debt when the Government's tax revenue is already forecast to grow by nearly $20 billion over the next four years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It's interesting, isn't it, because the previous Government managed to borrow an additional $49 billion during their term in Government—$49 billion. I'd also add that our revenue is forecast to grow by around 29 percent, but that compares to a 37 percent increase in that revenue by the previous Government. This side of the House is prepared to invest in New Zealand's future. We're borrowing at exactly the right time, Mrs Adams, because, actually, we need to build some houses and fix up the mistakes of the previous Government.
• Question No. 3—Minister of Finance
3. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Will the Government demonstrate fiscal responsibility in Budget 2018; if so, how?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, we will show fiscal responsibility through a strong commitment to our Budget responsibility rules. I am pleased to be able to say that Budget 2018 will show that we are meeting all of these challenging targets. This means, among other things, that we will deliver sustainable operating surpluses and we will reduce net core Crown debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years of taking office. When we announce the Budget on Thursday, New Zealanders will see that we have got the balance right between fiscal responsibility and implementing our plan to rebuild critical public services.
Dr Deborah Russell: Why has fiscal responsibility been an important part of Budget 2018 considerations?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Because every Government has the responsibility to future generations to ensure we budget responsibly and have the means to make significant and sustained investments. We need to futureproof the economy to ensure that New Zealand is resilient to any shocks, natural or global, that we may face. Our economy must be fit for purpose for this generation and for our children and grandchildren.
Dr Deborah Russell: How does this fiscal responsibility fit within the Government's wider policy agenda?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Our Budget responsibility rules underpin the Government's work programme. The Government knows that we need Budget surpluses and a growing economy to be able to fund our public services to the high standards that Kiwis expect and deserve. Budget 2018 will show that we have got the balance right, between being responsible fiscal managers and also rebuilding critical public services like hospitals, classrooms, housing, and police.
Hon Simon Bridges: You just said all that.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: You didn't hear it, though, did you, Mr Bridges? Budget 2018 also shows that this Government has a plan for a more productive, sustainable, and inclusive economy, where the Government is a partner, rather than waiting for wealth to trickle on down.
• Question No.4—Housing and Urban Development
4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: When he told the media last week in relation to KiwiBuild that "The important thing is to have some clear guidelines out there, make them transparent and stick to them", what did he mean?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): What I meant was that it's important to have some clear guidelines out there, make them transparent, and stick to them.
Hon Judith Collins: Why did he raise the price of a KiwiBuild house from his initial promise of $600,000 to $650,000 and only told New Zealanders about it last week?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We raised the price points for the maximum prices in Auckland and Queenstown to $500,000 for a one-bedroom place, $600,000 for a two-bedroom place, and $650,000 for three bedrooms or more. For houses outside Auckland and Queenstown, the maximum price is $500,000 for all houses. We made the decision based on advice from both industry and the Public Service about what would be the most logical way to do it, and then we announced it.
Hon Judith Collins: What calculation is he using to show that a $650,000 KiwiBuild house is affordable for first-home buyers?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We've based that calculation on extensive advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment about what first-home buyers would be able to borrow. But I would note that Ms Schultz, the developer of apartments in Papakura, that that member wanted us to include in KiwiBuild, said that construction costs had pushed the price of her apartments up $75,000. So, on the one hand, that member criticises us for increasing the maximum price of a three-bedroom KiwiBuild home in Auckland, and, on the other hand, she criticises us for not increasing them further so that her friend can take part in KiwiBuild. That's bizarre.
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take offence at that last comment from the member. That person is not a friend; I've met her once. The Minister has attacked my integrity.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has taken offence. I think it might even be simpler, without having to rule on that, to say that the comment was superfluous and should be withdrawn.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I withdraw.
Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. How long has he known that his KiwiBuild houses are going to cost first-home buyers $50,000 more than he told them eight months ago?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The decision to increase the price points was made several weeks ago.
Hon Judith Collins: Why did it take him so long to realise that the $600,000 KiwiBuild promise was out of date?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: It didn't take long at all, but we've had a lot of expert advice from people, including—
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Minister didn't hear me. I said "Why did it take him so long".
Mr SPEAKER: Well—
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I reject the member's assertion.
Mr SPEAKER: I don't think we've got a point of order any more.
• Question No. 5—Minister for Biosecurity
5. Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Does he stand by all his statements and actions in relation to Mycoplasma bovis?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister for Biosecurity): Yes, and, in particular, I stand by my statement of the shameful inaction of that member to develop an animal tracing system that works, because National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) has let us down immensely through the whole Mycoplasma bovis response.
Hon Nathan Guy: Does he agree with his senior officials in the select committee last week who said "We were prepared for this—yes we were.", knowing that biosecurity funding in the 2017 Budget was the highest ever, at $248 million?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I don't agree them. I don't think they were prepared. A lot of changes had to be made by this Government, and we exposed a total inability of the National Animal Identification and Tracing system because that Government and that member refused to implement it properly.
Hon Nathan Guy: What specific recommendations were contained in the most recent technical advisory group report he has received?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can't repeat all of them—I don't have the report in front of me—other than to say that at that point, eradication was still possible. They are convening today. I hope that they come back with a similar recommendation. However, the goal posts have shifted. We have a lot more infected farms, a lot more unfortunate farmers are under huge pressure, and the inability of our National Animal Identification and Tracing system has made this job far more difficult.
Hon Nathan Guy: What specific scientific advice has he received that has caused him to repeatedly defer making a decision on eradication or long-term management—specific scientific advice?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Part of the scientific advice is the fact that more farms are infected. I don't know whether the member's noticed that, but we've certainly disclosed as much information as we get to industry leaders. This afternoon, I'm meeting with industry leaders. We're happy to share all the information we have. If that member has an idea, perhaps he should have put it in place when he was in Government.
Hon Nathan Guy: When will he make a decision on what option will be funded, when the Budget is two days away, hundreds of thousands of dairy cattle have already begun farm movements, and farmers are screaming out for certainty right now?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can absolutely appreciate the pressure on farmers. Farmers who are shifting their stock—if they're not under a notice of direction, they are still able to shift their stock. What I would recommend is that they adhere strictly to the legal NAIT requirements. I suggest that they take sound biosecurity measures when they're shifting their stock and they know where they're shifting to. This is all basic information if you run a proper farming system and a good biosecurity system. Unfortunately, the previous Government never told farmers the right instructions.
Hon Shane Jones: What reports has the Minister received about NAIT recently?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: One of the most concerning reports I've heard is that properties of significance in the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak were set to undergo NAIT compliance activities in 2015, and compliance officers were discouraged from carrying that out. Maybe the previous Minister can explain that.
Hon Shane Jones: In light of that report, what can the Minister confirm as to the reasons as to why there was such a level of inattention and inactivity—political interference?
• Question No. 6—Housing and Urban Development
MARJA LUBECK (Labour): My question is the Minister of Housing and Urban Development and reads: How will KiwiBuild—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Sorry. I'm going to ask the member to start again. I'm going to ask members on both sides to stop their cross-the-House conversations while questions are being asked.
6. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: How will KiwiBuild help developers build new homes for Kiwi families?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Many residential developments across New Zealand have stalled because the developers struggle to find finance on acceptable terms. This is where KiwiBuild steps in to rescue these stalled developments, in three ways. One, it enables developments that otherwise would not be undertaken to be completed; second, it speeds up developments to add to supply faster; and, third, it enables the construction of affordable homes, rather than McMansions that young Kiwi families cannot afford.
Marja Lubeck: What interest has there been from developers in the initiative?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Over 150 developers have approached us over the last few months wanting help to get hundreds of their developments off the ground. Partnering with developers will mean we can use the confidence that the Crown brings to build more KiwiBuild houses faster, to recycle capital faster, and to achieve our KiwiBuild targets with a smaller impact on Crown debt in the near term.
Marja Lubeck: Are there any indications as to how many homes will be built through this initiative?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, initial soundings by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) with these developers are very encouraging, and we are confident that we will meet our KiwiBuild targets for new affordable homes. We'll have more announcements on this in the next few months.
Marja Lubeck: How does he expect KiwiBuild to increase new residential construction?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The stalled developments that we rescue will not only lead to more KiwiBuild homes but also lead to the construction of more open market homes in those developments too, increasing supply overall. Forecasting residential construction is inherently uncertain and depends on a number of assumptions, but MBIE suggests that KiwiBuild could generate up to $11 billion in additional residential construction over the next four years. We're getting on with building starter homes for young Kiwi families.
• Question No. 7—Transport
7. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his actions and statements on fuel taxes?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, when described and reported accurately.
Jami-Lee Ross: Will he provide an assurance that his Auckland regional fuel tax will only be paid by Aucklanders and not spread to taxpayers outside of Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I can confirm that it is a regional fuel tax.
Jami-Lee Ross: Does he agree with the founder of petrol price monitoring company Gaspy that fuel companies appear to be rising prices ahead of the 11 cents per litre Auckland regional fuel tax, which comes into effect on 1 July?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I haven't seen that report, but I will say that this Government is taking action on anti-competitive behaviour by the petrol companies. We're progressing the Commerce Amendment Bill to give the Commerce Commission more teeth. My colleague the Minister of Energy and Resources, the Hon Megan Woods, called in BP recently over their statements, and I've directed officials to monitor any price spreading. The petrol companies can be under no mistake as to what our view is of anti-competitive behaviour. If there are indications it's going on, we will deal with it [Interruption].
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can I just ask the Leader of the Opposition to just wind it back a little bit—both frequency and volume.
Jami-Lee Ross: If he hasn't seen that report, what is his explanation, then, for why retail petrol prices increased by 9.3c per litre across the South Island over the last month but only 1.7c in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: It's true that there is inconsistent pricing within the petrol industry. It is not a perfectly competitive market, but our Government's committed to sending a very clear signal to the petrol companies that we want the best possible deal for consumers and we're willing to use tools like the regional fuel tax to invest in a better transport system in our country's biggest city.
Jami-Lee Ross: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister what his explanation was. In fact, he was talking to the Minister when I was providing figures, so he probably didn't even hear it. He didn't provide any explanation at all.
Mr SPEAKER: He both addressed the question and, almost certainly, improperly replied to the irrelevant interjections.
Jami-Lee Ross: Given he's in denial about fuel price spreading as a result of his Auckland regional fuel tax, does he accept that he is just as bad as BP and he'll be on Megan Woods' naughty step fairly soon?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Any—
Hon Dr Megan Woods: I'll answer it!
Mr SPEAKER: No, well, it's clearly ruled out for irony. The member knows that.
• Question No. 8—Education
8. JAMIE STRANGE (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What actions has the coalition Government taken to work with New Zealanders to develop a future vision of education?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Consistent with our coalition agreement with New Zealand First, over the last two weekends, Ministers Martin, Salesa, Henare, and I were in Christchurch and Auckland for two education summits involving almost 1,600 Kiwis from all walks of life. The summit events are a key part of bringing people into the process of improving and modernising our education system to set it up for the next 30 years. We want to work together with everyone who has an interest in education: students, parents, teachers, employers, Māori, Pasifika, those with disabilities, and others from our diverse community. As well as this, we're also seeking to engage with people whom the education system has failed. So far, nearly 10,000 people have taken part in the online conversation and almost 1,400 New Zealanders have contributed their views in our summit events.
Jamie Strange: How will the discussions at the summit inform the wider three-year programme in education?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It's important that while we undertake reviews of Tomorrow's Schools and the NCEA, put in place a new early learning strategic plan, reform the way we manage school property, and fix up the vocational education and training sector, we need to ensure that we're shaping an education system that meets New Zealanders' hopes and aspirations for the future. The education summit conversations will play a very important role in informing that reform programme.
Jamie Strange: What steps is the Government taking to address some of the issues raised in the summit?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: One of the issues that was raised consistently through the summit was lack of available support for those with additional learning needs, particularly in early childhood education (ECE). Early intervention services make a real difference to a child's development in learning for the rest of their life. On Sunday, the Prime Minister announced that an additional $21.5 million for early intervention services will help nearly 8,000 more children get the support they need over the next four years. This extra funding will halve the waiting time for early intervention services in ECE, and I would like to thank both New Zealand First and the Green Party for their tireless advocacy to make this happen.
• Question No. 9—Children
9. Hon ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Children: Does she stand by her statement in relation to childcare services that "We need to know who the kids are; what places are best going to meet their needs; and then match them"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development) on behalf of the Minister for Children: Yes. Those comments were made in relation to care placements. Obviously, the better we can match carers and children, the better the outcomes. What we know is that strong, stable, and loving relationships are key for children. Going forward, we also need to design and purchase services that work best for children and will best meet their needs.
Hon Alfred Ngaro: Does she agree with the Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan and Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan about Stand Children's Services in Roxburgh meeting the children's needs and, I quote, that they did "utterly critical work, … no other agencies provided the intensive, residential, wrap-around service[s] the Roxburgh facility provided for children who had experienced … trauma."?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The mayor's comments that are made in relation to Stand are made almost on the premise that funding has been cut. I need to assure this House that Stand is still receiving $20 million each year to provide intensive wraparound services to children and their families—the same amount of funding that was received under the previous Government. Stand, though, has decided to close two of their villages—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: You're shutting them down.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Stand has decided to close two of their villages. These villages have nine intakes per year with a maximum of 21 children per intake. The Minister has directed the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children to track the 21 children at any given time that would normally be referred to the village. The chief executive of Oranga Tamariki will ensure that any additional support that is required is made available to these children.
Hon Jacqui Dean: If her Government's aim is about looking after vulnerable children, what service provider will replace the only facility in the whole of the lower South Island providing intensive, residential treatment for traumatised children and their families to best meet their needs?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Oranga Tamariki has given assurances that the children will still receive the services they need through the ministry and through a range of other providers, including Stand, Anglican Family Care, Mirror Services, and Presbyterian Support Otago. That network of services is made up of competent, professional providers who are already moving towards more integrated ways of working across the child well-being, health, and education sectors in the region.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister confirm that at any given time in Roxburgh there are roughly 21 children utilising this service and that therefore, by necessity, there are a range of other services available through the country to meet the kinds of needs Stand meets in just seven current facilities?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I can absolutely assure the House, on behalf of the Minister, that that is the case. There are other services providing the types of wraparound and therapeutical support that those two villages were providing, as well as there are still seven existing villages, I understand, that continue to operate and provide that therapeutical support.
Hon Alfred Ngaro: How can she tell Stand Children's Services, the 21 children per month that utilise the beds in those villages, the 220 children per year, and the 85 that are on a residential waiting list that the $3 million funding required could not be secured at this time—and I quote—"because of the restrictions on the Government budget", when her Government found a billion dollars for diplomats, invested $2.8 million—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member's question finished some time ago.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I can assure the children and the families of those children that they will continue to get the support that they need. I will raise with the member who just asked that question that the last time any additional funding was given to these particular services was back in 2009. If the previous Government were that concerned, then perhaps they should've made the investment earlier.
Darroch Ball: What is the Minister doing to ensure that children get the best services that they need?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Excuse me, Mr Speaker. I forgot that we had one other question coming, perhaps. On behalf of the Minister for Children today, Oranga Tamariki are holding the first of 14 regional hui with their 525 providers to talk about how they will work together in the future to ensure that all services meet the best needs of the child. Collectively, they receive around $268 million from Oranga Tamariki per year. The ministry is trying to give them greater certainty around their funding and is moving to longer-term contracts—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. David Bennett will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The ministry is trying to give them greater certainty around their funding and is moving to longer-term contracts, but they are also being challenged to think about the design of future services. These need to focus on the best outcomes for our children and not be locked into a particular organisation.
• Question No. 10—Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety
10. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Does he stand by his statement on Q+A, in respect of New Zealand businesses, "if a small change to the minimum wage is going to be that detrimental to them, they don't sound resilient"?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Yes, in the context of the question I was answering when I made it.
Hon Scott Simpson: How many jobs will be lost as a result of what he calls "businesses coming and going" because they are unable to afford increases in the minimum wage and other Government-imposed compliance costs?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: That's a hypothetical question and—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: That's a hypothetical question.
Hon Scott Simpson: When he said "businesses need to be resilient.", what is the Government going to do to help small businesses, other than to tell them to harden up?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: This Government is making changes to our tax system, to make it fairer and work better for businesses. This Government is investing in research and development tax credits to support high-productivity businesses, and this Government has a regional development growth fund to support businesses in the region. This is a Government that is very active in supporting businesses around the country, and it's a good thing we finally got one.
Kieran McAnulty: Does the Minister agree with Mike Hosking, who said last week, "Isn't that the point of economic expansion and success, the money and profit gets spread about the place?"
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes. I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with Mike Hosking. I also agreed with him when he said "maybe it's time we shake off the low wage economy tag, and start handing out the dosh; maybe it is time for a pay rise."
Hon Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Would it be true to say that the Minister's answer proves the adage that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day?
Mr SPEAKER: That could well be true, although the Minister is clearly not in the—no, I think we'll leave that. But I will say it was not a point of order, and for that reason the Opposition will have two additional supplementary questions.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does he think his weekend comments that "a lot of businesses come and go" support the Prime Minister's commitment that "I'm interested in how we can ease the burden on small businesses in particular"?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I'm advised that it is absolutely a fact that businesses come and go. In fact, just a quarter of the businesses that started 10 years ago still exist today. It's called capitalism—I thought that member would understand that.
Kieran McAnulty: Does he agree with Richard Prebble that the response to these changes from business has been hysterical?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I think that was a bit unfair of Mr Prebble to say that, although those comments do fit the Opposition perfectly.
Hon Scott Simpson: What does he say to hard-working small-business owners and operators employing staff and often earning less than their employees—that they must simply absorb all increased Government-imposed costs or go bust?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I have more faith in them than that member does, clearly, because I believe they are resilient, they are strong, they are adaptable, and that as this Government leads us to a more productive, sustainable, and inclusive economy, they will be on that path with us.
• Question No. 11—Social Development
11. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made regarding the Growing Up in New Zealand study?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Mr Speaker—
Hon David Bennett: Oh, has she got her notes this time? Good on her!
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Today, I announced that the Government would restore more than $1.9 million—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. Now, Mr Bennett, your interjections are very, very frequent. Referring to members using notes in the House to answer questions is an area which is totally my responsibility and not for you to comment on. I would like to remind the member that several of his colleagues rely heavily on notes, not to answer questions, which is quite a lot harder, but even to ask them.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Today, I announced that the Government would restore more than $1.9 million of funding to the Growing Up in New Zealand study. Growing Up in New Zealand is the country's largest longitudinal study of child development, gathering information over time about what it's like to grow up in 21st century New Zealand. The children and families at today's announcement were relieved to know that they will be able to continue to be part of the study, to tell their stories, and to share their experiences of growing up in New Zealand.
Angie Warren-Clark: What does this mean for the participants in this study?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Today's announcement means that all of the 6,800-plus families who have been part of this study since it began can now be invited to participate in the current round of data collection. Our decision to restore funding also comes at a critical point in the project, where, for the first time, this study is hearing directly from the children themselves. Around 2,000 child interviews have been completed this year to date, and with the new funding, interviews of the remaining 4,800 children will now be able to be completed.
Angie Warren-Clark: Why is this important?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: These families committed to this study for 21 years. To pull a significant number of them out at year 8, after a considerable personal investment, poses significant issues with the integrity of the findings and poses ethical challenges. With this funding, we won't be doing that. Restoring the sample size gives us time to preserve one of the study's unique characteristics and strengths: its diversity of participants. It will allow us to draw insight across a broad range of communities, to develop policy and services that help New Zealand to be the best place to be a child.
• Question No. 12—Employment
12. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Employment: Does he stand by his joint press statement with the Minister for Social Development of 16 March 2018, which said "Seasonal work can be a good option for many people looking to get back into work and for some could provide the type of work life and meaningful employment they are seeking"; if so, what is his policy response to jobseekers who would rather stay on the dole than take up one of the 7,000 fruit-picking job vacancies that are available?
Mr SPEAKER: OK, I'm just going to ask the member to ignore the additional words that were in the question, over and above what was here.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): Thank you, Mr Speaker. In response to the first part of the question, of course I stand by my statements. As for the second part, the policy response for job seekers remains the responsibility of the Minister for Social Development.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does he stand by his statement that "people have commitments," as reasons that unemployed New Zealanders cannot pick fruit, and, if so, how many commitments does an individual need to not have to show up to work?
Hon David Bennett: How many commitments have you got?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Of course I stand by—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! David Bennett, once again you have interjected, involving me in the answer, and what we're going to do is have you on an interjection ban for the rest of this question time and tomorrow. [Interruption] Order!
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Of course I stand by my statements in terms of people having commitments. The member fails to understand. This isn't about being tough; this is about being caring and compassionate for all those people who make up our communities. This is a Government that's been clear right from the start that we are a caring Government, and we want to see people do well. As a former Minister for Social Development, that member should know that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister as to whether or not his department has given him reports that suggest New Zealanders cannot pick fruit because their hands are too big, as was said by a former National Party Minister?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: No, I haven't quite seen those reports yet, but I'll wait for them to come over my desk.
Hon Paula Bennett: Has he discussed this labour shortage with his colleague Shane Jones, who said of unemployed people not in education or training that "They'll be made to go to work," and "there'll be no more sitting on the couch."?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I've had many wonderful conversations with Mr Jones. I think we've discussed that many times, and sometimes we agree to disagree.
Tamati Coffey: Why does the Minister believe that seasonal work can be "a good option for some"?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Kia ora. I believe the information collected by Work and Income indicates that for some, seasonal work is a good option. For example, we have seen many Kiwis placed into work in the Hawke's Bay for short durations. For others, as I keep saying, there are barriers that need to be considered, such as travel, childcare, and health—all of which can make them unsuitable for short-duration placements.
Hon Paula Bennett: Should unemployed ne'er-do-well nephs sitting on the couch in the Bay of Plenty, the Hawke's Bay, and Tasman be expected to pick fruit if they are physically able?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Again, I suppose it depends on the circumstances: sometimes yes, and sometimes no, because they have family commitments and they can't just walk away from their family at the drop of a hat.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does he agree with an RNZ report that some job seekers would rather stay on the dole than pick apples, and does him constantly excusing people on the dole from working help?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Yes, and no.
Hon Paula Bennett: So what sanctions would he apply to job seekers who have tried picking fruit, lasted only half a day, and would rather remain jobless?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: In terms of sanctions, I have no delegations as the Minister of Employment for sanctions. However, currently Minister Sepuloni has a wide-ranging review of the welfare system, and I fully support the review and the work that the Minister is currently doing.
Hon Paula Bennett: So if unemployed New Zealanders in the Bay of Plenty, the Hawke's Bay, and Tasman, with commitments, are asked to work and don't show up, does he believe the welfare system should sanction them?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Again, as I said last week, it's not black and white; it depends on the circumstances. Obviously, there will be some who have to go through that process. The other side of that is that there are some real excuses why sometimes people can't travel, like whānau—they can't just walk out on their kids—like no transport costs, and like no accommodation costs. There are a lot of reasons, but it is not just black and white, as the member well knows.
Hon Paula Bennett: Supplementary—
Mr SPEAKER: No, that concludes oral questions.