Parliament: Questions and Answers - October 24
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERSQuestion No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Mr Speaker, malo ni. Yes. I particularly stand by our actions to extend paid parental leave, stop foreign purchasing of Kiwi homes, stop State house sell-off, building that first KiwiBuild home, restarting super fund contributions, increasing the minimum wage, committing to child poverty reduction targets, implementing the Families Package, making GP visits cheaper, investing in hospitals and schools, funding more teachers, beginning planting 1 billion trees, investing in regions through the Provincial Growth Fund, beginning the recruitment of 1,800 more police, running a healthy surplus, sticking to the Budget responsibility rules, committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, stopping new offshore oil and gas permits, creating tax breaks for research and development, phasing out plastic bags, and making the first year of tertiary education fees free. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Enough. Thank you.
Hon Simon Bridges: What is the current national price of petrol and how does that compare to this time last year?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, I haven't got the exact Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) number today. I keep an eye on the fuel prices in Auckland regions, which are fluctuating at the moment between mid $2.30 and mid $2.40 in the Auckland region.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: What? Where do you buy that?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In Auckland.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Where do you buy that?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: You're not from Auckland. We've always—if Minister Brownlee actually reflected, this is the exact problem we are talking about: the fact that it is more expensive in other parts of the country than it is where there's an Auckland regional fuel tax proves our point.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know how much extra that is costing the average Kiwi to refill their car?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, we are cognisant of the cost of living for New Zealanders, which is why the first thing we did when we came into Government was improve the incomes of low and middle income families through the Working For Families package, which is over $5 billion straight into the back pockets of those who need it most, instead of tax breaks for those who do not.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know any numbers on the price of petrol and how much more it's costing people today?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I know that the margin—the actual margin—since the Government has come into office by fuel companies is in the order of 9.28c, and that's been enough for this side of the House to act on this issue, change the law, and look at what is happening at the pump for consumers and why, in 10 years, we now have the most expensive pre-tax fuel price in the OECD. For us, we're going to do something about it. That member seems to think that it's OK and stands on the side of fuel companies.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the average Kiwi who is now paying $25 more every single time they refill their car?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For those across the country, they'll know the 3.5c that came in on 1 October is not the vast bulk of the problem. They'll want something done about that, and we are.
David Seymour: Is the Prime Minister happy that rising petrol prices are reducing people's driving and, therefore, the country's carbon emissions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There is absolutely something to be said about a just transition, but we have said that we are not comfortable with the fact that we are in a situation—we have an infrastructure deficit—
SPEAKER: Order! I am going to interrupt the Prime Minister. It's now just got too noisy from my left. All right? I want to be able to hear the Prime Minister. She's got the advantage of the microphone, she's quite close to me, and I'm struggling.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There aren't the public transport options available to people that there should be, and that is why we are transitioning to ensure that those options exist. And in the meantime, we are concerned about the prices that they're paying.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it true that support for these policies is unwavering, in contrast to Mark Mitchell overnight: "Support for Simon is unwaving"?
SPEAKER: Order! Out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What's wrong with that?
SPEAKER: No. Now, can I just make it clear to the right honourable member that he is the most experienced member of the House [Interruption]—and he should know that he doesn't interject while I'm on my feet. He knew that question was out of order, and when you ask a question that one knows is out of order, that is in itself disorderly. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are in grave danger of losing the character of this House if when you're given a golden goose, you cannot use it.
SPEAKER: Order! We are in danger of losing one of the characters in the House.
David Seymour: So would this Government like the price of petrol to be lower or higher?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It is about giving options to those who currently rely on their vehicle for transport. At the moment, those options aren't widely available for people, particularly in parts of Auckland. We're investing in public transport alternatives, and we are moving towards a just transition of low-emission alternatives, but at the moment we're dealing with a deficit left by that Government, and consumers are paying for the price.
David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister gave us a lot of information, but I don't see how she addressed the very simple question: what is the Government's intention with respect to fuel prices?
SPEAKER: Well, no, I think she addressed it at length.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why, when petrol prices have gone up by 46c a litre across the country under her Government, is she still pressing onward with two more petrol tax increases over the next two years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It is absolute mischief-making to imply that a 40c increase comes down to the 3.5c excise that has been introduced by this Government. But the member is in the habit of mischief-making, throwing out this morning completely fake, false information about regional fuel taxes that, by law, cannot be introduced by this House. It was absolutely false and incorrect, and a complete distraction by that member.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why, when petrol prices have gone up by 46c a litre across the country under her Government, is she still pressing onwards with two more petrol tax increases over the next couple of years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I'm pressing on with is getting to the bottom of that 40c increase, which is what consumers want us to look at. That is our duty, that's why we have changed the law, and that's why we are committed to getting to the bottom of an issue he gave up on when he was Minister.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why doesn't she just use some of the $5 billion sum surplus she's got from the legacy of the economy over the last few years rather than piling on yet more taxes on fuel, hurting Kiwis today?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The 3.5c goes directly into the kinds of initiatives that are required to keep our people safe on our roads and the kinds of initiatives that will give them options to get out of their vehicles. What I'd like to hear from that member is what he's going to cut as a result of not having excise in place?
Hon Simon Bridges: What relief will the market study she's referred to a number of times today provide New Zealanders right now when they fill up at the petrol pump?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The direct relief we're giving New Zealanders are increases to the minimum wage, the families tax credit, which results, on average, in $75 a week going directly to those families, getting rid of things like letting fees, making sure that there are more housing options, including State and public housing. That's the kind of thing that makes a marked difference to people's lives. When it comes to fuel, we've said that we will undertake a market study so we can look at competition. We can look at what's happening to Wellingtonians because they're paying a huge amount for their fuel that cannot be explained by transport. Clearly, that member thinks we don't have a problem.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light of her claim today of mischief-making, has she or any of her Ministers discussed with any regional council other than Auckland the possibility of introducing a regional fuel tax?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It is a matter of public record that a number of councils have asked for one because of the infrastructure deficit that Government left them, and they are so desperate for investment in their area. We have ruled it out. In fact, if the member knew a little bit about the legislation we've passed, he'd know by law it is being ruled out.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why does the Government's regional fuel tax legislation enable other councils to bid for a regional fuel tax from 2021 onwards?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The regional fuel tax legislation puts in a date, but I can give this guarantee to this House and to consumers: there will be no other regional fuel taxes while I'm Prime Minister, which at the moment feels like it might be for a while.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did she just make that undertaking on the hoof because she knows how much this is hurting Kiwis all over this country?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've made that statement because that member is circulating false information.
• Question No. 2—Finance
2. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Is it a goal of this Government's economic policy to make it easier for New Zealand families and businesses to get ahead?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes.
Hon Amy Adams: How does he think having 65,000 people go on strike in the last 12 months alone, more than double what we've seen over the last nine years combined, will be affecting the abilities of families and businesses to get ahead in New Zealand?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I imagine for many of those people who are undertaking that strike action it's because they and their families experienced nine years where they didn't get the benefits of economic growth. On this side of the House we're doing something about that by lifting the minimum wage and through the Families Package and paid parental leave. All of those things will make a real difference to the well-being of those families, so sadly neglected by that member and her party.
Hon Amy Adams: How does he think taxing people more for their petrol is the right thing to do at a time when New Zealand families and businesses are facing higher costs and more transport strikes than they've seen in a decade?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On the matter of transport strikes, the member should look squarely in the mirror to the model that her Government put in place that led to a race to the bottom in contracting, that said that the way to be able to provide transport services was to pay bus drivers less—some of the lowest paid people in the country. On this side of the House we actually think that bus drivers and others who deliver people to work every day deserve to be paid decently.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just to be clear, considering that the Employment Relations Amendment Bill is yet to reach its second reading, who is responsible for the present policy settings under which these strikes are happening?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It's quite clear that all of the strikes that are taking place are taking place under the legislation that the previous Government put in place. On this side of the House, we're actually trying to make it fairer.
Hon Amy Adams: Does he see a relationship between the rising cost of living and the fact that 20,000 more people are now needing food hardship grants than at this time last year?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I see is a population of low and middle income New Zealanders who were neglected for nine years by the previous Government, who are finally getting some assistance from this Government through the Families Package. We've said many times it will take more than one year to undo nine years of neglect, but we're getting on with the job.
Hon Amy Adams: What's the Government going to do, then, for the 75 percent of New Zealand families who are worse off under that Government's families income package than the families income package it replaced, as they too struggle with transport strikes and rising fuel costs?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I'm sorry to say that on this side of the House we don't believe that people like us in here needed a $1,000 tax cut when there are low and middle income families who are struggling. We are very proud of the fact that we redirected that funding to low and middle income New Zealanders, because that's how we'll reduce inequality.
Hon Amy Adams: Is the fact that Government Ministers are not concerned about rising fuel prices more to do with the fact that all of their petrol is paid for by taxpayers?
SPEAKER: Order! No. The member will ask the question again. That was out of order on two counts.
Hon Amy Adams: Is the fact that this Government is not concerned about rising fuel prices and their impact on families that they're not connected to the real cost of living pressures facing families in this country?
SPEAKER: I'll let it go, but we will at some stage review with the member the assertions that she is making. Members cannot rely on unsubstantiated assertions to hang a question off.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We are concerned about fuel prices. That's why we're actually doing something about the majority of the increase, which relates to the margins that oil companies have; that's why we're going to give the Commerce Commission powers to look into it; and it's why we put in place a Families Package. The former Minister might be missing her BMW; on this side of the House, we're trying to get it right.
• Question No. 3—Finance
TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Malo ni. My question is to—
Hon Amy Adams: Tetchy, Grant, tetchy.
SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, the member will resume his seat. Who was the member who interjected then—who called out then?
Hon Amy Adams: I withdraw and apologise.
3. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What are the most significant investments the Government has made in the past year?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): At the risk of trying your patience, the coalition Government has made many significant investments to address the issues that New Zealanders are facing. I cannot go through all of them today, but I'd like to just name a few of the highlights: a $5.5 billion Families Package that will see 384,000 families better off by an average of $75 per week; a $2 billion investment in KiwiBuild to begin delivering 100,000 affordable homes; the restarting of contributions to New Zealand Superannuation Fund after nine years of them being frozen; the billion dollars of the first year of Provincial Growth Fund; a billion dollars for the R & D tax incentive, and much, much more. And we've done all of that while maintaining a surplus and keeping debt under control. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! We're not performing seals. That's to stop.
Tamati Coffey: Why has the Government made these investments?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We've made these investments so that New Zealand families will be better off. They will have more money in their pocket from increases to the family tax credit, extensions of Working for Families, the Best Start payment, and the winter energy payment. They will have an opportunity to achieve the Kiwi dream of homeownership. Wherever they will live, they will see economic opportunities thanks to the Provincial Growth Fund. They can have confidence that their schools are being fixed, their hospitals are being rebuilt, and their transport infrastructure improved. They know that their environment is being looked after through policies like the phasing out of plastic bags and the move to a zero-carbon New Zealand. We came into office and got on with the job from day one. We still have much to do, but I am proud to be part of a Government where we are making investments that are about the long-term well-being of all New Zealanders.
• Question No. 4—Housing and Urban Development
4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What is the total target number of KiwiBuild dwellings via "buying off the plans" across the three financial years to 2020-21, and what is the total financial value the Government is expected to underwrite if this target is met?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister for Building and Construction) on behalf of the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Malo ni, Mr Speaker. Happy Tokelau Language Week. The number of KiwiBuild homes being built through the Buying off the Plans initiative depends on a number of factors. The business case set a target of 800 in 2018-19, 2,500 in 2019-20, and 4,000 in 2020-21. The total financial value may be between $3.7 billion and $4.7 billion over the three years, depending on the types of homes being underwritten and their price points. The financial value of the underwrite will depend on the price points of the individual homes.
Hon Judith Collins: Does he stand by his advice to Cabinet that while the Crown is "taking the sales risks as [the] houses we end up with through [an] underwrite may not be sold.", the Crown has the option of using KiwiBuild houses for social housing?
Hon JENNY SALESA: The Minister stands by his statement, and we are making sure that we build KiwiBuild homes, because the reality is that in Aotearoa New Zealand we do not have enough homes.
Hon Judith Collins: Is he ensuring that KiwiBuild buyers are aware that some of the neighbouring houses may be used as Housing New Zealand rentals?
Hon JENNY SALESA: We do not have all of the plans of, say, for instance, the 10,000 homes that we will be building in Māngere set out right now. Some of them will be KiwiBuild homes, some of them will be social homes, and some will be sold in the market, but the fact is that we are in this position because we inherited housing under the National Government where we do not have enough houses. We're short by 71,000 residential homes, which is why we are building KiwiBuild homes.
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That's all very interesting, but it did not address the question of whether he is ensuring that KiwiBuild buyers are aware that some of the neighbouring houses may be used as Housing New Zealand rentals.
SPEAKER: I think that was addressed in the first part of the answer. There was probably some superfluous stuff at the end of it.
Hon Judith Collins: How will the eligibility criteria that requires KiwiBuild buyers to own the home for at least three years be applied in the situation where a homeowner wants to sell due to any antisocial behaviour from Housing New Zealand neighbours?
Hon JENNY SALESA: That is a question that we haven't had to deal with yet. As the honourable member knows, we are going to be ensuring that the first folks that are moving into KiwiBuild homes in her electorate, in Papakura, happens before Christmas. I do not have the specific answer to her question, but if she's wanting to have the Minister answer that specific question, she is most welcome to put it down in writing.
Hon Judith Collins: Then why did he say earlier this year, when announcing a Housing New Zealand development on Greys Avenue in Auckland, that having a mix of State and non-State houses together "[avoided] the potential pitfalls of having a very high concentration of high needs people living in a close vicinity,"?
Hon JENNY SALESA: We are a Government that is absolutely committed to ensuring we house all of our families. Those who are vulnerable, we've made announcements that we will build public houses for them. Those who are homeless, we've also made announcements that we will build and make sure that they are housed. These are challenges that we, as the Government came in, were landed with. Under the previous Government, over nine years, they did not build enough houses. They sold off State houses. We are a Government that is absolutely committed to ensuring that we build enough houses to house all of our vulnerable people.
• Question No. 5—Transport
5. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Will he rule out a regional fuel tax for the Wellington region?
Hon SHANE JONES (Associate Minister of Transport): on behalf of the Minister of Transport: On behalf of the Minister of Transport, yes.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What's changed in the last six months since he would only rule out regional fuel taxes outside of Auckland for this parliamentary term and today, when the Prime Minister ruled it out for as long as she is Prime Minister?
Hon SHANE JONES: What has changed is the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern has just told the nation, via the highest court in the land, the answer.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: When was the decision made to rule out any future regional fuel taxes?
Hon SHANE JONES: The law outlines what the options are. The Prime Minister has indicated what the course of travel is. The answer is there are no more options while she's the Prime Minister.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: When did he—the Minister of Transport—know this was the new policy?
Hon SHANE JONES: The Minister of Transport is well-versed in the law. There was never going to be an option over the next two years, and in terms of—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did you legislate for it?
Hon SHANE JONES: Taiho, Nick, taiho.
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Hon SHANE JONES: The answer has been given by the Prime Minister. There will be no regional fuel tax options.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very simple question about when and there was no answer in a timely fashion.
SPEAKER: I'll get the member to ask it again.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: When did he, as Minister of Transport, know about this change of policy?
Hon SHANE JONES: When the Prime Minister stood up. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I've warned the other side of the House as to their seal-like behaviour. Just try a little bit of dignity.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Was the Minister of Transport responsible for the very law which prohibits the eventuality that the questioner constantly keeps asking about?
Hon SHANE JONES: The development of an option for a regional fuel tax is rich in the legacy of the Labour Party. It was initially promoted by Dr Michael Cullen, it was picked up by the actual Minister of Transport, and the fact that the law clearly states there was no possibility of any other region gaining access to that statutory provision just shows there's too much innuendo being spread by the other side of the House.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Isn't the thing that's changed in the past six months that his Government has finally woken up to the fact that Kiwis are sick and tired of being fleeced by this Government with extra fuel taxes, and that he and his colleagues are backpedalling as fast as possible?
Hon SHANE JONES: Without a doubt, there is great responsiveness on the part of our Cabinet, but the most important thing is that this Government does not have control over the amount of oil flowing out of the various oilfields around the world, we are not responsible for interest rates set by the federal bank of America, and those are the largest contributing factors to the current challenges that we do have, as a nation, with fuel prices.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the member confirm that the only thing that has changed in the last six months is that the Opposition has started spreading utterly false information contrary to legislation that prohibits the use of a regional fuel tax, and that responses in the House today have been for the sake of clarity in the wake of the Opposition leader throwing down what's called, loosely, a "dead cat"?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that you are often mesmerised by anything the Prime Minister says, but that was a question of exceptional and unreasonable length.
SPEAKER: While the question was long, the member has reflected badly on me in a way that I find unacceptable. As a result of that, the Opposition will lose five supplementary questions.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a most unreasonable action. In the last two days, you've pulled up the Deputy Prime Minister on no less than four occasions, requiring him to withdraw and apologise to the House. One of those occasions was a reflection on you, and there was no penalty. That can only lead others outside this House to reach their own conclusions about the way the place is being operated.
SPEAKER: I want to thank the member for his comments. I think he's just reinforced my determination to stick with my decision. The Hon Shane Jones.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Tough day for the Government—protection from the Chair.
SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Gerry Brownlee will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. When the going gets tough, you look to your mates.
SPEAKER: No, no. We're now at the point of last warning for Mr Brownlee, and he will withdraw and apologise again. If we have a repeat, he will have an early shower.
David Seymour: Point of order.
SPEAKER: No, I'm dealing with this point of order. The member will resume his seat.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order. It's a sad day when you can't make observations in this House about what you see going on.
SPEAKER: Very tempting.
David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely, the question was one designed to attack the Opposition, which you've ruled out of order many times in the past.
SPEAKER: Shane Jones.
Hon SHANE JONES: The Prime Minister has rightly identified that there has been misrepresentation, there has been rumour-mongering, and there has been innuendo, which is why the other side of the House have their current dramas.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What are the requirements for authentication of supplementary questions? We know what they are when it comes to our side of the House, and you pulled up the Hon Amy Adams on that very point, but you have allowed the Prime Minister to make those accusations without any authentication whatsoever.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Speaking to the point of order.
SPEAKER: No, I don't need the Prime Minister to assist me. On occasions, people run into hard luck when the Speaker happens to be listening to a radio in the morning.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a reflection from the Chair on this side of the House, and I think it deserves some further explanation.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Speaking to the point of order, I am happy to seek leave of this House to table the transcript in which the very subject matter I was referring to in my supplementary question was canvassed by the Leader of the Opposition, where he made the false claim I've referenced.
SPEAKER: The Prime Minister—well, she hasn't sought leave. You want to seek leave?
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: I'll seek leave, if it helps, Mr Speaker.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You can't seek leave to table something and at the same time make an accusation. So she's either tabling information and that's it, or not at all.
SPEAKER: As I've said when I intervened earlier, there are some things where you don't need authentication, where it's either common knowledge or, on occasions, my knowledge. In this particular case, I did listen to the radio interview where the comments were made.
Hon Simon Bridges: I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
SPEAKER: Regarding what?
Hon Simon Bridges: Regarding the accusation that I said something false.
SPEAKER: The Hon Simon Bridges seeks leave to make a personal explanation in relation to the accusations made by the Prime Minister about comments he made on the radio this morning. Is there any objection? There appears to be none.
Hon Simon Bridges: This morning on television, I made clear that a source had told me that the council in Wellington was talking to the Government in some detail in relation to a regional fuel tax in Wellington. That was then confirmed by the spokesperson for the council, who made it very clear that was true. Unfortunately, that spokesperson was then heavied out of that position by Mr Twyford and the mayor.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker—
SPEAKER: No, no, just—the member will sit down. We do have a problem when people are given leave to make a specific personal explanation. The member very deliberately went on beyond what was a personal explanation to relate something which did not relate to what he said and was, again, an abuse of this process. Now, I am quite reluctant to continue this, but we have a point of order from the right honourable gentleman.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: This point of order relates to the fact that two people on that side of the House were going for a point of order. You did not choose the leader of the National Party; you chose Mr Brownlee. Why was that?
SPEAKER: Well, I—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I'm much bigger—he saw me first.
SPEAKER: Volume—he was louder. I heard him.
• Question No. 6—Regional Economic Development
6. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What reports has he seen recently regarding regional development?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): It has been brought to my attention that Statistics New Zealand has shown for the first time in eight years that the population has increased in every region. This is after years of neglect and a decrease of numbers in West Coast, Manawatū—
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Mark Patterson: What regions in particular showed strong population growth?
Hon SHANE JONES: Obviously, the regions that I'm focused on: Northland, Bay of Plenty, Manawatū, Whanganui—in fact, from the rafters of every hall in the country, they're happy that the provincial champion's at work.
Mark Patterson: Why is this good news for provincial economies and the country?
Hon SHANE JONES: Well, obviously, as a consequence of unfettered immigration, enormous pressure has been placed on metropolitan infrastructure, and as more people move into the provinces on the back of the investments and the good news that has been spread around the four winds, we'll find that we are getting a better level of utilisation from our provincial assets. People can have the option for a greater quality of life, and I will continue to lead that charge.
• Question No. 7—Social Development
7. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statements, including the statement in the House last week that "the proportion of people that are currently unemployed is exactly the same as what it was at this time last year: 9.4 percent"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Malo ni, Mr Speaker. I stand by the answer that I gave when viewed in its entirety, including answers to the supplementary questions. As I indicated to the House yesterday, I accept that I could have caused some confusion for the member and other members of the House by referring to the proportion of the working-age population on a main benefit as the unemployment rate, and I do apologise for this.
Hon Louise Upston: Why did she include those on sole parent support and supported living payment as "currently unemployed"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: When I was referring to the 9.4 percent number that I was using in the House, that number was specifically in relation to the number of New Zealanders on main benefits. Main benefits includes the supported living payment, the sole parent support benefit, and the job seeker benefit.
Hon Louise Upston: What is the percentage of the population on the job seeker benefit that are, in other words, unemployed?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but if that member would like to put that question in writing, I would be more than happy to answer it for her.
Hon Louise Upston: Is the figure of 4.3 percent of the population on the job seeker benefit higher or lower than it was a year ago, when it was 4.1 percent?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The last figures that we received with regards to those that were unemployed were the June figures that came out in August. That figure was 4.5 percent. At the same time last year, it was 4.8 percent.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question specifically was about the job seeker benefit. I gave as much detail as I could about the 4.3 percent and whether that is higher or lower than the 4.1 percent.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Speaking to that point of order, Mr Speaker, as I said earlier, with regards to specific numbers that that member wants, I can look them up if she would like to put the question in writing. However, I did refer to the actual current unemployment rate, which was 4.5 percent in the June quarter, and at the same time last year was 4.8 percent.
SPEAKER: OK. I know we've had a bit of back and forth around the authentication of questions today, but it is my view that if exception hasn't been taken to specific figures—and Ministers might want to caveat their replies, as Ministers sometimes do—I think it is possible to address the question as was asked.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: No. We've finished the point of order now. The member will—does the member want the question repeated?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: She can repeat the question.
SPEAKER: Repeat the question, thank you.
Hon Louise Upston: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Is the figure of 4.3 percent, which is the percentage of the population on the job seeker benefit, higher or lower than it was a year ago when it was 4.1 percent?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The actual primary question is in relation to the figure that I used in the House yesterday of 9.4 percent. If she has specific questions about another figure that she's referring to, then she will need to put it in writing because I do not have that information on me.
• Question No. 8—Workplace Relations and Safety
8. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: How many people have gone on strike in the last 12 months, and how does this compare to the 12 months prior?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): I'm advised that the data the member is looking for is collected and reported on an annual basis from the beginning of each calendar year. So far, in 2018, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has received reports of 7,285 employees going on strike. The number for 2017 was 421.
Hon Scott Simpson: How can he have confidence in the Government's approach to industrial relations when information supplied to me by the Parliamentary Library indicates that 65,000 people have gone on strike in the last 12 months, more than double the number that went on strike in the previous nine years?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I would point out to the member that although we've made good progress in this House on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, thus far the Government has made no changes to industrial relations law. We're operating under the settings we received from the previous Government.
Hon Scott Simpson: How can he have confidence in the Government's approach to industrial relations when Joe Carolan, an organiser at Unite Union,, has said, "We're gearing up for a big round of strikes in 2019 that is coming with the new mood"?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I can understand why people whose wages were supressed for nine long years under the previous Government now see the opportunity to get a fairer share of a prospering economy. They've seen how this Government is running the books, they've seen the fact that this Government is responsible in the way it runs surpluses and in the way it spends taxpayers' money, they're feeling confident, and they want a decent share—at last.
Marja Lubeck: Malo ni. How does the Minister characterise the proposed changes of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill?
Hon David Bennett: Communism.
SPEAKER: Order! Who said that? Stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon David Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: For the benefit of everyone, especially those who are travelling the country spreading misinformation about the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, the bill overwhelmingly restores settings that were in place—many, as recently as 2015, but which were all in place when Labour was last in Government; a period of sustained growth, nine years of surpluses, and record low unemployment.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does he believe the way union organisers went about advising bus companies of their intention to strike over the long weekend was constructive given the union hasn't been engaged with bus companies for a number of months and they're not currently in collective bargaining?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, I'm relying on what that member says about that situation, and I find that hard to do given that the member has claimed this year that 81,000 people have gone on strike—no wait, 70,000 people have gone on strike; no, no, it's 65,000 people have gone on strike. I would say, though, that that trend is downward, not unlike the member's party's polling.
• Question No. 9—Education
9. JO LUXTON (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What action, if any, has the Government taken to increase the supply of teachers for 2019?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): The latest analysis suggests that we'll need around 850 more teachers in classrooms from the beginning of next year. The Government has put in place a number of short-term measures to ensure that we have enough teachers in classrooms next year, including recruitment from overseas. I've been advised that 2,284 applications have been received through the overseas recruitment process—315 of those have already been assessed as meeting requirements and they have begun the registration process. We are pulling out all of the stops to ensure that we have enough teachers for next year.
Jo Luxton: What do schools need to do to take advantage of this pool of teachers available for 2019?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Government will do everything it can to support schools to recruit teachers to fill any vacancies they have. Of the 315 that have been assessed as "ready" to date, only 115 of those have been interviewed by schools. My message to schools is that if they are concerned that they are going to have vacancies they cannot fill at the beginning of next year, they need to advertise those as quickly as possible and work with the Ministry of Education and the recruitment agencies to ensure that we have people available to fill them.
Jo Luxton: What else is the Government doing to increase the supply of teachers for 2019?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Two other notable measures the Government has in place are: fully subsidising the cost of refresher training for teachers whose registration would otherwise lapse—1,250 people have been undertaking refresher training as a result of that—and we have also introduced new grants of up to $10,000 to support those schools that are taking on teaching graduates, so that they get a good start to their teaching careers.
• Question No. 10—ACC
10. Hon TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for ACC: Will he rule out proposed increases to ACC levies, including a 12.1 percent increase in the average motor vehicle levy for road users that would raise the price of petrol by a further 1.9 cents per litre?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for ACC): Although I have said that ACC will need to make a very convincing case for an increase, it would be irresponsible of me to rule something in or out before consultation ends; so I will neither rule in or out any proposed increases to ACC levies nor will I rule in or out the proposed decreases to levies that they are also consulting on.
Hon Tim Macindoe: If the Minister won't rule out further petrol tax increases through an increased ACC motor vehicle levy, what does he say to New Zealanders on modest incomes who are already struggling to cope with the recent rapid increases in petrol taxes and the cost of living?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I would say to them, first of all, "Don't listen to the National Party's fearmongering." and, second of all, I would say to them that this is, ultimately, a decision for Cabinet, and Cabinet gets to take into account the entire economic context, and that's exactly what we'll be doing when we make the final decision on ACC levies.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Why did he not advise his ACC officials not to propose a 12.1 percent increase in the average motor vehicle levy for road users in the current levy consultation process?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, if the member wants to be an effective Opposition spokesperson for ACC, he'll need to learn the process. ACC is a Crown entity. It has the responsibility for consulting on its recommendations to me; that's what it is doing. Once it makes a recommendation to me, I'll take those recommendations and make my recommendation to Cabinet.
Ginny Andersen: What does the motor vehicle levy fund?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The motor vehicle levy funds treatment and compensation for people who have suffered an injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident. One of the things driving ACC's consultation on an increased levy for motor vehicle users is the fact that we have seen the road toll explode over the last few years, something that that member and his party should be ashamed of.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Minister tell the country what the Government thinks of the proposal for our Crown entities officials to be muzzled to the extent they don't make any representation to the Minister, legal or otherwise?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I would consider that bordering on unconstitutional.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. One thing: how did that question relate to the primary question?
SPEAKER: Well, it related to the supplementary that Mr Macindoe asked. It's absolutely related to it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It is a reasonable question to ask. He cannot make an assumption in a question. For the Deputy Prime Minister to continue with his sort of disruption of the afternoon's events by bringing up irrelevant questions like that is completely unreasonable and outside of the Standing Orders.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Speaking to the point of order—
SPEAKER: I'll let the Rt Hon Deputy Prime Minister have a go.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Macindoe began by saying, "Why didn't he ask his officials not to report to him?" That was the substance and the portent of what he said, which is so outrageous that I just wanted to make sure that my colleague had a chance to show the level of outrage this Government has with such undemocratic ideas.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Mr Speaker, I did not say "Why will the Minister not report or ask for that report?" That's not the words I used at all.
SPEAKER: Well, I think it might be helpful to the House if the member just repeated what he did say so we all understand it.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Why did the Minister not advise his ACC officials not to propose a 12.1 percent increase in the average motor vehicle levy for road users in the current levy consultation process?
SPEAKER: Well, I don't think we need to go any further, do we?
Hon Tim Macindoe: What is the current financial position of the ACC scheme in terms of assets, reserves, and investments?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: That is a very good question, and, frankly, I'm surprised the member goes there. Under the previous Government, ACC's assets were able to balloon to a point where they are nearly 120 percent funded in many of the accounts, something the previous Government did to prop up its own surpluses. It is true that we do need to get those accounts back to being more sensibly funded. We need to do that smoothly, over time, and that is certainly something Cabinet will take into account when it makes a decision about future ACC levies.
• Question No. 11—Justice
11. CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Justice: Does he stand by all his Government's actions and statements in regards to the Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): Yes.
Chris Penk: Does the bill contain any measures to preclude accountability of the commission?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The legislation establishes the Criminal Cases Review Commission as an independent Crown entity. Ultimately, it reports on its functions to Parliament in the usual way.
Chris Penk: Will the commission decide to refer cases to an appeal court on the basis of consensus or unanimous decision-making or, as with the courts, majority decision-making?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The legislation is clear that the commission will determine its own decision-making procedures. The way that Criminal Cases Review Commissions operate in other countries is that those designated as commissioners consider the reports put before them following an investigation, and they make their decision in the way they choose to decide to refer a matter to the Court of Appeal or not. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: No, no, the member's run out of questions.
• Question No. 12—Social Development
12. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What progress, if any, has the Government made with the Te Hiku o Te Ika - Crown Social Development and Wellbeing Accord signed in 2013?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): The accord was signed in 2013 and is an agreement between the iwi and Crown agencies to work on solutions to remove disparities and create socio-economic equity for the people. However, work languished until June this year, when the iwi came to Parliament to meet this Government's Ministers and recommit to the renewed Te Hiku - Crown social accord. Progress has been made. Last week the Ministry of Health and Oranga Tamariki signed agreements with Te Hiku iwi to join the accord, and the development of a co-governance model is under way, which will focus on the social and economic revitalisation of the rohe.
Willow-Jean Prime: How are Te Hiku o Te Ika's priorities for its people in line with this Government's priorities?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The iwi is focused on investing in industries to create sustainable, meaningful employment and improve social outcomes for Northland people. This Government has invested $3.5 billion to grow infrastructure and job opportunities in the regions. Northland was one of the first areas the Government invested in. In June, the Ministry of Social Development invested $2.5 million into He Poutama Taitamariki, a programme providing young Northland people with more meaningful employment pathways and pastoral care. There are signs that this Government's investment in the Northland region is paying off: unemployment dropped to 4.7 percent in the June quarter—that's 2.5 percent lower than in the same period last year.
Willow-Jean Prime: How has the dialogue progressed between the iwi and the Crown since the signing of the renewed accord?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Iwi leader Haami Piripi stated publicly that the iwi is "100 percent committed to making sure the social accord succeeds and provides real outcomes for our people that help them raise their children in safe and nurturing homes and improve the quality of their lives. This is what our people expect from us as iwi leaders, and this is what we have already agreed with the Government through the Te Hiku social accord. We're looking forward to working seriously with this Government to achieve these outcomes." This Government is committed to doing our part to achieve these outcomes.