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Parliament: Questions and Answers - September 25



Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by the Government's policy to end offshore oil and gas exploration?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Acting Prime Minister): The Government has made it very, very clear that it's not its policy to end offshore oil and gas exploration.

Hon Simon Bridges: How much will global greenhouse emissions reduce as a result of Cabinet decisions to stop the offshore oil and gas exploration—and, also, everywhere apart from Taranaki?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: As was made very clear when the original announcement was made, and by the Minister of Energy and Resources yesterday when she said the Government introduces a bill to halt new offshore oil exploration. Words matter, and the Opposition should stop going out there and misleading the public. Read the primary question.

Hon Simon Bridges: How much will global emissions reduce as a result of those decisions by Cabinet and Ms Woods?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I'm sorry to tell the Leader of the Opposition that when you start with a false premise, you're caught with it. The Government is stopping all new offshore oil and gas exploration, not that which exists now and possibly for the next 35 years.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Prime Minister seeking to turn this into a farce because he doesn't want to answer questions because he's embarrassed by—


Hon Simon Bridges: —what his Government did?


Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I'm happy to answer it.

SPEAKER: No. No. No. I'm not prepared to let the Acting Prime Minister answer it. Further supplementary question—Simon Bridges.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Prime Minister agree with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) advice that the oil and gas decisions by his Government will likely result in an increase in global carbon emissions as production shifts to other countries that have higher emissions footprints?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That is fallacious nonsense and we are not going to waste Parliament's time by giving it the options of respectability.

Hon Simon Bridges: So is the Prime Minister saying that the, what, 53 pages of regulatory impact statement done by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), one of the—in fact the biggest department in Government, and then reviewed by Treasury, is all "fallacious nonsense"?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I say, when a body of research begins with the cost possibly being $200 million or $8 billion or $22 billion, and possibly higher—as I have said, if NASA had that sort of accuracy, then Neil Armstrong would be still trying to find the moon.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Prime Minister that embarrassed by his decisions that he's just not going to answer today?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, the Prime Minister and the Government is not embarrassed by the kind of research which we know from an academic point of view is simply not adequate enough. But then again, I can see why they made so many mistakes in the previous administration, because whatever the bureaucracy told them, they went along with.

David Seymour: If MBIE can't estimate the true cost of the Government's policy, perhaps the Acting Prime Minister could tell us what it is?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Ha, ha! We didn't raise the issue in the first instance, but could I say to the House: do they surely mean to prospect that a gap of $200 million or $22 billion is of no moment in terms of empirically sound research?

David Seymour: So is the House to take it that the Acting Prime Minister doesn't know either?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, the House can take it that the Acting Prime Minister is all over this issue, but he left it to his colleague the Minister for energy, who is doing a wonderful job at the moment.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Prime Minister agree with his statement this morning about MBIE analysis that the oil and gas decisions could result in an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions, and that "It's hardly a stroke of genius. It's just a plain statement of common sense."; and if not, why not?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The fact is that the Prime Minister and the Government agrees with Methanex, agrees with Todd Energy, and agrees with Genesis, who have skin in the game to the tunes of billions of dollars, and they believe the policy will work.

Hon Simon Bridges: So, is he then accepting, as he said this morning, "Actually, global emissions will go up as a result of the decisions his Government has made on oil and gas earlier this year."?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well I don't know what transcript that member's listening to, but certainly it wasn't the one that I was being quoted on. But can I just say this: we now know from this side of the House that the offer of a long-term climate change policy across party lines is clearly over. It didn't even last two weeks.

Hon Simon Bridges: How many families in Taranaki will lose their jobs as a result of the Government's oil and gas decisions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I think you can be very clear from what the mayor said—

David Seymour: He dosen't know. He doesn't know.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I do know. The mayor was quoted just recently, talking about how explosive—for example—the Provincial Growth fund is for Taranaki, and we'd see only more jobs coming to the Taranaki area, particularly with our added-food-value policy. There's a whole host of policies this Government has got which are going to be magnificent for the Taranaki, even as much as it might improve their local rugby team as well.

Hon Grant Robertson: Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that in the Westpac-McDermott Miller Regional Economic Confidence survey for the September 2018 quarter, confidence in the Taranaki area went up?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The Prime Minister's not only aware of it; he's not surprised about it. But it comes hard on the latest news, for example, of the GDP growth figures from last week, which shows us at 1 percent for the last measureable quarter, which is higher than Australia at 0.9 percent, and then, of course, other great figures of material over the weekend which demonstrate how well we're going in terms of wages rising above inflation. And here's the point: downtown, the naysayers and the misery talkers have got nothing to fly a flag on at the moment.

Question No. 2—Finance

2. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): On Friday, international credit rating agency Moody's reaffirmed the New Zealand Government's Aaa rating—

Hon Members: Yay!

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: —with a stable outlook. This is—

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: —the highest score it can give. The Moody's assessment was underpinned by its expectation that New Zealand's strong institutions and strong fiscal position will mitigate the impact of any major external or domestic shocks, and provide the flexibility in being able to respond. Moody's said that they expect the coalition Government, comprising the Labour Party, New Zealand First, and the Green Party, to remain committed to fiscal discipline, as shown in the Budget projections for continued fiscal surplus and Government debt reduction. This report underscores the Government's responsible fiscal management and the fact that we are investing in critical public services that New Zealanders deserve.

Kiritapu Allan: What other reports has he seen on the current strength of the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: This morning, Business New Zealand released its planning forecast for the September 2018 quarter, which highlighted continued growth in the New Zealand economy. The Business New Zealand economic conditions index, a measure of New Zealand's major economic indicators, is at 5 for the September quarter, up 3 on a year ago—up 3 on a year ago. The report shows that despite some risks, including from international protectionism and uncertainty, the economy is forecast to grow at around 3 percent out to September 2020. While this is good news, the Government knows that—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Enough.

Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen on the strength of particular sectors in the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Just to name one, Beef and Lamb New Zealand released research this morning which shows 68 percent of sheep and beef farmers surveyed in August are confident about the future—the highest reading in the history of the survey. This research comes on the back of last week's GDP figures, showing the New Zealand economy had its best performance for two years in that quarter, and business investment is up 5.7 percent from a year ago. On this side of the House, we acknowledge all the people in New Zealand who make that happen, and just ask the National Party to cheer up a tiny bit.

Question No. 3—Prime Minister

3. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all of the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern's statements in the House relating to communications with Derek Handley?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Prime Minister consider receiving an email from Derek Handley, after the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern texted him her personal email address, an unsolicited email?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have to tell that member that as we travel around the world, the Prime Minister, myself, and my colleagues, we are being beset by people who have discovered the new Government in this country and what it stands for. We've got an exodus in reverse happening. In fact, there are people who are wanting to join our economy, and that conversation that the Prime Minister had with Mr Handley was purely about that. It happens hundreds of times every time I go overseas, and possibly for the Prime Minister, because of her importance, a thousand times more.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did the Prime Minister text Derek Handley her personal email address rather than her work one, when Mr Handley's texts clearly show he wanted to contact the Prime Minister in her capacity as Prime Minister about how he could "best serve you and New Zealand" and about the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The member was going fine when he laid out the framework for that question until he said "about the CTO role". That part of the question is demonstrably false, and the transcripts show that. So, to go back to my primary point, the Prime Minister clearly was asked, from someone who was interested in re-joining New Zealand's economy, "Can I possibly get in contact with you?", and being the friendly, honest person she is, she sent him her private information. We are doing it all the time. I don't know what he does, but, then again, he probably only gets a call once a month.

Hon Simon Bridges: What did the Prime Minister mean when she said to Mr Handley, "I'll talk to the team about how we can make use of you and your kind offer."?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Again, on hundreds of occasions, we are all, in this Government, being asked by people as to how they can help our economy. We thank them for doing that, we thank them for making the offer, and we get back to them. There's nothing untoward in that at all. But to try and extrapolate out from that that the Prime Minister knew about the job—the particular job—is, again, demonstrably false.

Hon Simon Bridges: Who did the Prime Minister talk to about Mr Handley's offer?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have to tell the member that I can't answer that question. However, there is going to be a release of all the communications when they've gone through the Official Information Act requirements and any privacy requirements there might be, and there'll be no attempt to not disclose everything—unlike an inquiry I know, which is almost a month old, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and a famous law firm—


Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —and after one month we don't know—

SPEAKER: Order! I realise it does flow from the supplementary question somewhat, but we are getting right into areas which are not the Prime Minister's responsibility.

Hon Simon Bridges: Who is making the decision about which communications are public or private across all platforms and between all parties, including the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, her Ministers, their staff, and Derek Handley's communications, relating to the CTO position?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer to that is that last Thursday, Mr Grant Robertson made very clear the format of that disclosure, what the parameters would be, and the time lines, roughly, that we could expect. As to who's making the decision, I suppose a number of people are making the decision, because we work in tandem to ensure that all information's made available, not just that which suits us.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the Rt Hon Jacinda Arden was asked in the House whether she had any conversations, emails, or texts with Derek Handley since becoming Prime Minister—a question that was deliberately broader than communications about the CTO role—why did she omit mentioning nine other text messages between herself and Mr Handley?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I'm glad the member's raised that, because he said, "about the CTO role". And when one looks at that, the facts, and what the Prime Minister—

Hon David Bennett: Tell the truth.

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.

SPEAKER: And the member is on a warning that any repeat will result in a substantial punishment for the National Party. The Rt Hon Winton Peters.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am glad that the member has raised that because the real trigger here is the CTO role, and communications that didn't relate to that are of no relevance whatsoever. The Prime Minister has confirmed again in New York what she said in this House as well: "When he sent me an email I did not reply. When he mentioned it in a text I did not engage." Mr Handley himself has confirmed that. If Mr Handley is prepared to confirm that, why is that Minister throwing doubt on it?

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Prime Minister really trying to tell me that these texts aren't in their totality about Derek Handley asking how he can best serve the Prime Minister of New Zealand, his thoughts he wants to put down, and "about the number of people who've urged him to seriously consider this CTO thing, and the like" to which she's replied?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer to that—if that member bothered to listen to the last answer that was given to him, she says, "When he sent me an email I did not reply when he mentioned it." That's the CTO role. "In a text, I did not engage." Mr Handley himself has confirmed that, and they can put all the prior communications together, but it has no meaning until the CTO role was mentioned, and then the Prime Minister knew this was not for her to be replying on and she did not.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is not the reality that when I asked the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, she replied that she sent not even an emoji? In fact, what she went back with was her private Gmail address.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Again, that member should as a former prosecutorial lawyer—he said he worked for the Crown prosecution, although he never held the warrant, of course; he's very big on that—


Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: But as a well-trained lawyer he would know that chronology of events matter, and if you're asking about two days ago and the issue didn't arise until a day after two days ago, then any prior information could not possibly be relevant, and that's what happened here.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the course of the Acting Prime Minister's answer, he said that all documents and information would be provided. During question time last Thursday, the Hon Grant Robertson, in answer to three questions on this issue, said that he would provide me and the House with the answer in those documents. Those have not yet been provided, and I would ask the Speaker as to what is a reasonable time frame for those to be received.

SPEAKER: Yes, I—well, I'll let the Hon Dr Megan Woods reply.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: My understanding is that my office has sent through that information to Nick Smith this afternoon.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. One of the answers has been provided. Immediately, when Megan Woods provided that information to my office, her office contacted me and said that it'd been provided by mistake and that she was to withdraw it. [Interruption]


Hon Dr Megan Woods: Speaking to the point of order—

SPEAKER: Order! No—in a second. If National Party members are asking me to do something now, and if they really want me to do something, then they will be quiet.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: What Dr Smith is referring to is that a member of my staff, in error, sent through an attachment. They rang Dr Smith's office and said there was some confidential information in that attachment. The answer in the body of the email was not sent in error—and that was made very clear—to Dr Smith's email. That was a genuine attempt to provide Dr Smith with the information that he asked for in this House, and we were committed to giving him.

SPEAKER: OK, that's the end of the matter.

Question No. 4—Education

4. JENNY MARCROFT (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: What response has she had to the release of the Government's Disability and Learning Support Action Plan discussion document?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Acting Minister of Education): Feedback to date has been overwhelmingly positive. I met with a broad range of stakeholders prior to the announcement, including principals organisations, unions, parents groups, disability organisations, special schools, representatives of alternative education activity centres, and support groups for gifted children and dyslexia and other difficulties. They gave very positive feedback and a number of useful comments. It was great to also see that there is support for this plan across the House, and I acknowledge the comments by the Hon Nikki Kaye at the weekend commending the work to support children with complex needs and stating that this is a time when parties could come together to agree more needs to be done.

Jenny Marcroft: What are the main points being consulted on?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The draft action plan proposes to enhance the education system's ability to support all children and young people by the development of universal screening tools, improving the way the education system responds to neuro-diverse and gifted learners through the development of information and other supports for teachers, providing a flexible support package for children and young people who are neuro-diverse and other children and young people who are not eligible for ongoing resourcing scheme, creating a new learning support coordinator role in schools and kura, and responding to pressures in a number of specific supports such as early intervention, intensive wraparound service, New Zealand Sign Language and deaf education, and residential special schools.

Chlöe Swarbrick: How does this action plan address the 43 recommendations from the select committee inquiry into dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders last term instigated by former Green MP Catherine Delahunty?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I thank the member for her question. This represents the first set of recommendations from that minority report and from that inquiry. Can I acknowledge the previous member of Parliament Catherine Delahunty, but can I also acknowledge the Hon Judith Collins and the support that she gave that inquiry to get it across the line.

Jenny Marcroft: Why is the Government looking at universal screening?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: We want to be able to identify earlier if a child needs learning support so that we can respond earlier to their needs. This will reduce negative impacts on their learning and, for some children and young people, the need for more serious interventions later on. The focus on screening responds to the submissions to the inquiry, as mentioned just earlier, and into the identification and support of students with significant challenges of dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders in primary and secondary schools.

Question No. 5—Prime Minister

5. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all of the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern's statements and actions in relation to the previous Minister of Customs?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: What specifically caused the Prime Minister to lose confidence in Meka Whaitiri?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: There was an incident on the 27 August in Gisborne involving Meka Whaitiri and one of her staff. We can't, of course—because of the privacy issues to do with the staff member—disclose that information, but there was, as the report said, an incident, and the Prime Minister acted on it.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did Ms Whaitiri assault a staff member?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The report says that there was an incident. That is contested by the former Minister, and there the facts lie.

Hon Simon Bridges: What were those facts?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The two facts I set out very succinctly for that member.

Hon Simon Bridges: So why, then, did the Prime Minister lose confidence in Meka Whaitiri?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because the Prime Minister had a report saying that there was an incident and, being the Prime Minister she is, she acted swiftly and responsibly.

Hon Simon Bridges: What did the report say?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: For the third time, very slowly now, the report said that there had been an incident. That is disputed, but, nevertheless, the report said that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will the Prime Minister now tell the House and the public of New Zealand exactly what happened between Meka Whaitiri and her staff member; if not, why not?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Contained in the report, of course, is confidential information which protects the staff member concerned. That is a serious matter for this Government and we are not going to infringe upon that person's rights to indulge the member. But let me say this: we did not sit around for almost a month with a highly costly inquiry and then decide that we'd do press statements writing what we've got on our fingers—like was seen this morning from that member. His cue cards are on his hand. Has he seen that photograph? We don't behave that way.

Hon Simon Bridges: How on earth does disclosing the nature of the incident affect the privacy of the alleged victim; let's be clear, it doesn't, does it?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, that's fascinating. Now that member asking a question has rushed to giving his question his own answer, which demonstrates why so many criminals went free in Tauranga, if that's the standard of prosecutorial skill he shows.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did the report make clear that the alleged victim, the claimant, received a bruise?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The report has yet to be released. It will have to be, of course, released with the consent of the staff member, and those issues are being worked upon. There's no desire here for any attempt to not be transparent about it.

Hon Members: Ha, ha!

Hon Amy Adams: Put the report out then.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, actually, there are certain types of laughing one recognises. One goes to the question of a person's sanity and that's the type of laugh I just heard there.

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if she's going to laugh and jeer—

SPEAKER: No, no—it's all right. I think it doesn't do the House any good to get into areas like that.

Hon Amy Adams: It doesn't do that member any good.


Hon Simon Bridges: Why does the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern want to leave the door open for Meka Whaitiri to return to a ministerial position?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can recall so well Peter Dunne—remember him? Nick Smith—well, nobody remembers him but he's back and he was restored to a ministerial post. And Judith Collins—well now, how you ever got back from that situation I don't know, but congratulations, she did.

Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Mr Speaker. That member has referred to me in quite a derogatory way. I was completely exonerated after the Chisholm inquiry, unlike that—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Right, the member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise because she has deliberately breached the Standing Orders of the House.

Hon Judith Collins: Well, I stand, I withdraw, and I apologise.

SPEAKER: And the member's going to do it one more time without the additions.

Hon Judith Collins: Stand, withdraw, apologise.

SPEAKER: No, just withdraw and apologise.

Hon Judith Collins: Withdraw, apologise.

SPEAKER: The member's been here a long time; she's heard it many times. She's got it right eventually. Thank you.

Question No. 6—Finance

6. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement to Newstalk ZB last week in regard to the Tax Working Group that "One of the things we have written and asked the group to do is to come back to us with a package which is as we say revenue neutral"; if so, will he guarantee New Zealanders that any changes based on the Tax Working Group recommendations will be revenue-neutral?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes. And in answer to the second part of the question, as we have consistently stated, no decisions will be made until after the Tax Working Group's final report is delivered in February.

Hon Amy Adams: Is the reason he won't make this commitment to New Zealand because he plans to use new taxes to fill up the $8 billion revenue gap that the Government's oil and gas decision is leaving in the Crown accounts?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I completely reject the premise of that question.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, will the Government rule out bringing in a capital gains tax on small businesses, retirement savings, and rental properties to incentivise New Zealanders to work, to save, and to grow the supply of rental houses?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I've stated, final decisions will be made once we see the Tax Working Group's final report. What we definitely have ruled out—definitely—is any kind of capital tax on the family home, and the member might want to speak to Paul Goldsmith, who seemed to think that was a good idea on Thursday.

Hon Amy Adams: Why does he think that a capital gains tax will help housing costs when the Tax Working Group themselves have said that tax is not the main driver of high house prices and the cause of unaffordable housing is straightforward: New Zealand is simply not building enough houses?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It is of great comfort to me that that revelation has dawned on the member, after nine years of denying that there was a housing crisis. On this side of the House, we do accept that we need to build more houses, especially more affordable houses, and guess what? We're getting on with doing it.

Hon Amy Adams: Has he seen comments by the Rt Hon Winston Peters in 2017, who said that a capital gains tax was "off the table … it doesn't work, and … there is no fairness" in it?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen comments from the Rt Hon Winston Peters in 2018 where he said that everybody should wait until the final report of the working group comes back.

Question No. 7—Economic Development

7. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps, if any, is the Government taking to improve the productivity of the New Zealand economy?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Economic Development): We're encouraging productive rather than speculative investment to transition our economy from volume to value. Our R & D tax credit is a billion-dollar tax break for businesses investing in innovation. The $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund is already revitalising our long-neglected regions. The Green Investment Fund will incentivise investment in new technology, and the tax review is advising on other tax changes needed to better allocate investment capital to the productive sector. Finally, we're also protecting New Zealand exporters from rising protectionism abroad via an ambitious and successful trade agenda.

Tamati Coffey: Why is improving New Zealand's productivity particularly important now?

Hon DAVID PARKER: We're in the midst of a technology revolution in the world, and if we had sat on our hands, the New Zealand economy would continue to be dominated by housing speculation, population growth, and low productivity. Instead, we're making important changes to help ensure that New Zealand creates and sustains the better-paid jobs and higher standard of living that new technology can deliver. It's the duty of Government to make sure New Zealand gets our share of the productivity improvements, the new products, the new jobs, and the higher wages that these new technologies can bring, and this Government's doing just that.

Tamati Coffey: What reports has he seen about the success of the Government's economic approach?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As the Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr recently said, and I quote, "All signals are green for business investment,". Runaway house price inflation has been tamed, which has both increased the proportion of homes sold to first-home buyers while encouraging greater investment in our productive export sectors. Real business investment, which excludes residential building, is up 5.1 percent year on year, and this is one of the reasons why unemployment remains low while wages are increasing. The latest 1 percent increase in GDP for the quarter reinforces the long-term statistic that growth under Governments on this side of the House exceeds average growth under National Governments since World War II.

Question No. 8—State Services

8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of State Services: Does the Government stand by all its statements and actions in respect of the process and appointment of the Chief Technology Officer following today's release by Derek Handley of the Prime Minister's and former Minister's communications with him, and his criticism of the Government?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Acting Minister of State Services): As the Prime Minister has said today, no one is arguing that this has been a good process; it has not. I also agree with the Prime Minister that we do owe Mr Handley an apology for the fact that Mr Handley went through this process that did not eventually lead to his taking the role. I spoke to Mr Handley just after midday today and offered him that apology.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did this Minister not take the opportunity to apologise when she decided not to continue with the role—that more than two weeks ago—given the fact that Ministers engaged in over 29—

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. He's finished the question. We don't do "givens" after questions.

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Around 10 December, the decision was made by Minister Hipkins and myself—as the two Ministers that the Prime Minister had asked to deal with this issue after the reallocation of this portfolio—that all communications with Mr Handley would go through Government officials, and that is what was done. It was our intention that once we had gathered and collated and compared all the material for release, at that point ministerial communication with Mr Handley would resume. Events overtook that, and given that situation, I rang Mr Handley this afternoon.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to provide the opportunity for the Minister. She said "10 December"; I think that was—

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: 10 September.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: 10 September—thank you; I think it would be important to correct that. Does she agree with the statement by Derek Handley "The Government has been anything but open and transparent over the appointment and the subsequent dropping of the chief technology officer role."; and does she accept her share of responsibility for that lack of openness and transparency?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: In regard to the first part of that question, no, I don't accept that. What I do accept is what the Prime Minister said today: that nobody is arguing that this has been a good process; it has not, and that is precisely why Mr Handley has been apologised to.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is it Government policy for senior State sector appointments to be conducted through Ministers' private email accounts, noting that both the Prime Minister and the former Minister conducted communications with Mr Handley, including the Prime Minister, when specifically asked about the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role, forwarding her private email address?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I reject the premise of that question. The Prime Minister did not communicate with Mr Handley, via either text message or her private email address, about the CTO role. That is very clear. In fact, Derek Handley makes that explicit in the information that he has released today: that there was no direct communication via text message with the Prime Minister over the CTO role. I think that member could go back and consider his own Government, with John Key and Murray McCully's use of Gmail for conducting Government business.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: That never happened.

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I bet it did. I bet it did.

SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to ask both the Minister and the Hon Gerry Brownlee to be quiet while Dr Smith asks his question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was the Prime Minister correct when she said, in respect of Derek Handley and the chief technology role, on 24 August, "Mr Handley is still in the hunt.", when the documents that have been released show that the appointment was approved on 15 August, and specifically state that the appointment was made by Cabinet on 20 August?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: On around—the dates between 10 and 12 September are the dates when the Minister for Government Digital Services made the assessment that the role needed to be re-scoped to fit more within the innovation portfolio. So when the Prime Minister made that statement on 24 August, she was correct.

Question No. 9—Fisheries

9. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Fisheries: What recent decisions has he made to ensure the sustainability and utilisation of specific fish stocks?

Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Fisheries): The purpose of the Fisheries Act 1996 is "to provide for the utilisation of fisheries resources while ensuring sustainability." Recently, I have reviewed the total allowable catch and other management controls for 32 stocks as part of the regular twice-yearly sustainability round. There'll be increases to catch limits for 11 stocks, such as southern bluefin tuna and orange roughy, decreases to catch limits for 12 stocks, and the catch limits for the rest of the stocks will remain the same this fishing year. These decisions are based on the best available scientific information and follow public consultation, and most come into effect from 1 October this year.

Angie Warren-Clark: What has he decided in relation to the rebuild of tarakihi stocks?

Hon STUART NASH: The tarakihi fishery is of great social, economic, and recreational importance to New Zealanders, and approximately 90 percent of what is caught commercially is sold within our supermarkets and stores throughout the country. I've decided on a package of measures that is required to get this important fishery back to where it needs to be. I've decided on a phased approach, beginning with a 20 percent catch reduction in the first year. The commercial industry has been given eight months to develop and begin executing an innovative plan to rebuild the stock. If the plan is not sufficiently robust, then further cuts, adding up to 55 percent of the current catch, will be introduced for the October 2019 fishing year. The decision I have made reflects my desire to increase the benefits obtained from New Zealand's fisheries whilst ensuring sustainability and working proactively with all key stakeholders.

Angie Warren-Clark: How is he supporting the use of innovative technology to ensure the sustainability and utilisation of our fisheries?

Hon STUART NASH: Eighty-five percent of our total seafood export volume is made up of wild-captured fish. We hold about a 0.5 percent share of total global production. Consumers in key markets are increasingly demanding environmental sustainability and veracity of our seafood products. In order to maintain and enhance our global brand, it is important that we develop and facilitate the use of innovative gear technology, such as precision seafood harvesting that has the potential to reduce bycatch and minimise damage to fish. Further, electronic reporting will enable more informed and faster decisions about managing our fisheries to maximise their recreational, cultural, commercial, and environmental value.

Question No. 10—Energy and Resources

10. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Has she seen MBIE advice that her Government's policy to end offshore oil and gas exploration may "result in an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions"?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes.

Jonathan Young: Does she agree with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) advice that her policy to ban new offshore exploration could increase the price of both gas and electricity for New Zealand households, and, if not, why not?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: No, I don't agree with that, because of the time frames in which we are making these decisions. The very long-term transition that we are charting out, because we are honouring all existing oil and gas permits, gives us a 40-year time frame, and I have confidence that this country can move to 100 percent renewable electricity.

Jonathan Young: How much will electricity and gas prices go up as a result of the new offshore exploration ban as gas reserves deplete, according to data that MBIE have produced?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: That information is, simply, not available. What I can tell that member though—if he looks to other reports that have been produced, such as the Productivity Commission's report and also the Transpower report—is that, actually, renewable energy is cheaper per unit than fossil-generated electricity. So, actually, we could see cheaper electricity prices in this country as a result of an expansion of our renewables base. When the member asks for details like that, I think he needs to reflect on what science lies behind the GNS modelling, the GNS modelling that lies behind the economic modelling: that they're being asked to quantify the unquantifiable.

Jonathan Young: Does she agree with MBIE's advice that her Government's policy to end new offshore oil and gas exploration could cost the Government billions in lost revenue, excluding the impact on the Taranaki economy and the families that will be under pressure with their jobs as a result, and, if not, why not?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What I do take issue with is the point that the Acting Prime Minister brought up: the very large range that we are dealing here. When we're dealing with a range that goes from $1.2 billion to $23.5 billion, we might as well use a crystal ball—we are guessing at this stage. What we can point to is that since 1970, royalties under the New Zealand Government from the oil and gas industry have been $4.1 billion. This includes the Māui find. We have no guarantee that we will have a find of that magnitude again. What I can tell this House—will be a cost is that if we are a Government that lacks courage to plan for the future. We are not that kind of Government. We are putting in place the long-term plans, with the courage to look beyond the three-year political cycle.

Question No. 11—Conservation

SPEAKER: Question No. 11, Sarah Dowie, and with a warning that I've been informed by the Minister's office that this answer might be longer than normal.

11. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister of Conservation: On what advice has she based her recent decision to cull Himalayan tahr from the Southern Alps area, and what procedures has she used to implement this decision?

Hon EUGENIE SAGE (Minister of Conservation): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Thank you. In answer to the first question, monitoring data from aerial counts was independently analysed for the Department of Conservation. It highlighted that tahr numbers had increased to an estimated population of more than 35,600 animals on public conservation land alone. That is more than double what is allowed by the long-established Himalayan tahr control plan, a statutory plan approved under the Wild Animal Control Act.

In answer to the second question, the department raised concerns with the tahr liaison group in 2015 about increasing tahr numbers and the damage they were doing to our distinctive indigenous alpine and subalpine vegetation. The department met with the tahr liaison group recently to discuss the proposed control operation. Further discussions are occurring with stakeholders, and a further meeting of the tahr liaison group is planned.

Sarah Dowie: Is she aware that recreational hunters have raised over more than $100,000 in just four days to stop her wholesale cull because they have not been properly consulted?

Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Yes, I am aware of that, but the member should go back to the statutory plan, the Himalayan tahr control plan, and in the foreword to that plan, the former Minister of Conservation the Hon Denis Marshall notes that the objectives of the plan include—and I quote—"To facilitate control by the Department of Conservation where thar are not being held at or below target levels." The plan sets a level of 10,000 animals.

Sarah Dowie: Will she halt the cull announced to start this weekend, and acknowledge the value that recreational hunters play in tahr control, or will she continue to run her ideological line of "She knows best."?

SPEAKER: Order! No, the member's going to rephrase the question.

Sarah Dowie: Will she halt the cull announced to start this weekend, and acknowledge the value that the recreational hunters play in tahr control?

Hon EUGENIE SAGE: I acknowledge the value that recreational hunters play, but they are not able to control sufficient tahr. The population is well over the level in the plan. The control operation needs to start to avoid the tahr population exploding further, with another breeding increment. After the control operation, there will still be thousands of tahr for Kiwi hunters to hunt.

Hon Tracey Martin: Supplementary.

SPEAKER: Tracey Martin.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question.

SPEAKER: Tracey Martin.

Hon Tracey Martin: I'm sorry, I—

SPEAKER: I'd called Tracey Martin before the member called.

Hon Tracey Martin: I stood up first, sorry. Supplementary to the Minister: can she confirm that there have been no changes or amendments to the control plan in the last nine years?

Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Mr Speaker, I can confirm that the plan has existed since 1993, and there have been no changes under this Government or the former National Government.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister possibly advise the House and the questioner as to the level of consultation that occurred in 2015 when the National Party was in Government?

Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Mr Speaker, the tahr liaison group was let go; it has been recently re-established. The former National Government did very little monitoring. The department is now—


Hon EUGENIE SAGE: —consulting with stakeholders.

SPEAKER: Order! I think that members know that we can't use supplementaries from the Government to attack the Opposition in that way.

Question No. 12—Community and Voluntary Sector

12. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: What recent announcement has he made on the Community Leadership Fund?

Hon PEENI HENARE (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): Tēnā koe e Te Māngai o Te Whare. Last week I was proud to announce the successful recipients of this year's Community Leadership Fund - Hapori Whakatipu. The community leadership fund, worth half a million dollars, offers grants to not-for-profit organisations, with a focus on providing leadership and capability either across the whole community and voluntary sector or within a specific interest area of the community and voluntary sector. This announcement was welcomed by the sector, who work tirelessly to support our communities.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What are the outcomes we can expect from this fund?

Hon PEENI HENARE: The outcomes that are expected as a result of this funding will recognise the important work of groups in connecting the sector, fostering social enterprise, and supporting volunteering and community-led development. These organisations will build capability across New Zealand's diverse communities, which will result in thriving, connected communities in this country.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Who are the successful recipients of the community leadership fund?

Hon Ruth Dyson: Ah, good question.

Hon PEENI HENARE: Thank you. This year we are proud to be able to fund six organisations. Amongst those organisations are Hui E! Community Aotearoa, Philanthropy New Zealand, and the Inspiring Communities trust. These organisations are some of New Zealand's most innovative community and voluntary groups, who do great work in our communities. One standout in particular, the Volunteer Army Foundation, provides leadership and capability building for volunteering in New Zealand. The grant will support the foundation's programme of working with young people and schools to develop volunteers for the future.

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