Parliament: Questions and Answers - October 31
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
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): Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: When exactly did she decide that there would be no more regional fuel taxes while she is Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In the same way that this Government is not looking at or considering reintroducing the death penalty, this Government never considered spreading a regional fuel tax. No decision was required, because we never intended to expand it beyond Auckland.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why, then, did Winston Peters confirm yesterday that the decision was made on Wednesday last week—Shane Jones has confirmed it was made then; Phil Twyford has confirmed it was made then; and Michael Wood said it was made then as well?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In, roughly, December, I believe, of last year, in conversation we were discussing the fact that in law we would be ruling out the ability to spread the regional fuel tax. We discussed the intention in my view that it would not go beyond Auckland. I simply made public, something that had already been discussed as a Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was Phil Twyford wrong to say on Thursday last week that he knew about "Earlier yesterday,"—that is Wednesday—"the Prime Minister gave me a call and asked me what I thought about the idea of ruling out future regional fuel taxes. We had a conversation about it and agreed … that it would be better to just rule out future regional fuel taxes."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: He also made reference to the conversation the previous year where we discussed that this would not be extended beyond Auckland. Let's come back to the reason we're even having this discussion: that member spread false information—false information—around this Government's plans, and in order to put a line in the sand to point that he was utterly wrong, we made sure that there was no question left in anyone's mind beyond this term because he was spreading false information.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is she really saying that Phil Twyford hadn't been talking to the mayor and the council at Wellington City Council?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am really saying that we were not and will not spread a regional fuel tax beyond Auckland.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was her Associate Minister of Transport Shane Jones wrong to say that he only found out about the stopping of the regional fuel taxes "When the Prime Minister stood up."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have already said, last year we were having this conversation, and, again, it's there for all to see in the fact that we put it in law that for this term of Government, it would not happen. I have simply confirmed that that will be in perpetuity as long as I am Prime Minister.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, what was the Cabinet committee that supposedly this was talked at, and how come no one else can remember the conversation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I come back to the original reason we are even having this discussion. Somehow the member thinks the fact that we put in law that this wouldn't be happening for three years, now the fact that I'm saying it won't happen for, say, between nine and 12 years or for however long I am Prime Minister—this is not groundbreaking news. We had already put it in law.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why did her Government grant residency to Karel Sroubek?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to correctly categorise the decision that was made, my understanding is that he already had residency, albeit in an incorrect name.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked why, and that wasn't addressed.
SPEAKER: Well, I think the question was certainly answered. It was corrected, but answered.
Hon Simon Bridges: What is her response to the Dominion Post this morning, which said, "So yes, prime minister, we have read between the lines. Our reading of it suggests that Sroubek is a person of poor character, a criminal who cannot be trusted, who arrived here under false pretences. He should be deported. You have got this wrong."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as that member should know given that when he was in office there were roughly 100 deportations cancelled. From time to time to time Ministers do have information put in front of them that makes for very difficult decisions. I have seen information that would suggest, from the information reports, that they have been in very similar circumstances.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't it clear that her Government has prioritised a dangerous criminal's welfare over public safety, contrary to her statement that any further offending actions by Karel Sroubek "sits with this individual … anything further is off the minister's conscience and it's on theirs."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is being made absolutely clear by the Minister. He has put into writing that anything further would mean that he would automatically be deported. On the face of it, of course, it looks like an obvious decision, which demonstrates that from time to time, Ministers in this position do receive additional information. What we have to make sure is that that information that the Minister makes the decision on is consistent and clear, and that's for officials to ensure that they have provided that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister been told why National let this man in?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have not been privy to any information in that regard.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't it the case that since the early 2000s, Karel Sroubek has been back to the Czech Republic, and doesn't that make any decision by Iain Lees-Galloway ridiculous?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Minister made the decision based on the information he had at the time, and he is no different to any other Minister of any political persuasion. They have to deal with the information provided to them by officials. If there is information that contradicts the basis on which the Minister made the decision, then that would be for him to go back to the officials and seek further advice. I would have an expectation that he would do that.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did she and the Minister not know he had been to the Czech Republic since the early 2000s, and is she going to fess up they just got this clearly, badly wrong?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Every Minister does rely on the advice that they are provided by officials, and the Minister is no different in that regard to the last Minister, who overturned 108 deportations. We are all, as Ministers, reliant on the information we are provided. Again, if there is anything that contradicts the information that's been provided, it is for the Minister to go back to officials, and it would be my expectation he would do that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the basis of Mr Bridges' question, how many times did National let this man back into New Zealand?
Hon Member: It's out of order.
SPEAKER: Well, no, the question of him coming and going was raised by Mr Bridges.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do not have—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was in relation to the National Party. The Prime Minister has no responsibility for the National Party.
SPEAKER: Yes, but the—I'm going to ask the member to rephrase the question.
Hon Members: Oh!
SPEAKER: Right, who—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the—
SPEAKER: No, no—sit down, please. I want to deal with whoever interjected then.
Rt Hon David Carter: I did. Point of order. I did, Mr Speaker.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I did, as well.
SPEAKER: All right—
Rt Hon David Carter: Because it's not your job—
SPEAKER: That's six. Any more?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yeah, OK. It's worth it.
SPEAKER: That's 10 supplementary questions that will be taken from the National Party today.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the basis of information being given to this House in good faith, has the Prime Minister been appraised of the number of times this man came back into the country, and who was the Government at the time?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, members will draw their inference from the fact that we have only been in Government for 12 months. Again, though, I reiterate that a Minister would make a decision based on the information in front of him, and we would all have a fair expectation that if there is information to contradict that, we would expect the Minister to go back to his officials.
• Question No.
2. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Justice: What is New Zealand's process for extraditing Czech nationals to the Czech Republic, and what stage is the application for extradition of Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik, at?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): The Czech Republic is able to make an application for extradition of one of their citizens, and any application is made under the Extradition Act 1996. There is a process that usually starts with an application being made through diplomatic channels. It goes to the Minister of Justice in New Zealand. It is an application ultimately determined by the District Court on the grounds of eligibility, and then the final decision on whether or not an extradition is made is made by the Minister of Justice of the day. On the second part of the question, despite the Czech Republic indicating to the New Zealand Government in 2015 that it had an interest in Mr Sroubek, no formal application for extradition has been made.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Why is the Parole Board aware of an extradition request?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I'm not responsible for the determinations of the Parole Board.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Did the Minister speak with the immigration Minister ahead of the Minister approving residency for Karel Sroubek?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The Minister of Justice has no responsibility for immigration matters. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, I will ask the Minister to answer the question.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Was the Minister aware of any controversy around Karel Sroubek before the Minister of Immigration granted residency?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No, and there'd be no reason for me to have been so.
Hon Mark Mitchell: If officials advise there is sufficient evidence to support an extradition request, will he extradite Karel Sroubek back to the Czech Republic?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member will be well aware that it would be entirely inappropriate and not in the public interest for me to comment on any case that may be the subject of an extradition application.
• Question No.
3. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What actions, if any, has the Government taken to ensure the sustainability of New Zealand Superannuation?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The coalition Government restarted Government contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund in December last year, after nine years of the previous Government refusing to acknowledge future generations by freezing those contributions. Today, in Wellington, there will be a celebration of the super fund turning 15. This is an excellent opportunity to thank those who had the vision to create the fund—in particular, former finance Minister Michael Cullen. The coalition Government recognises the importance of the rationale for the super fund, which is to ensure future generations are not unfairly burdened, by smoothing the cost of an ageing population across generations.
Willow-Jean Prime: How has the New Zealand super fund performed over its 15 years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The super fund has delivered an annualised return of 10.44 percent over the last 15 years. These returns are well ahead of the fund's reference portfolio benchmark, meaning the fund's independent managers have been making sound investment decisions for the future benefit of all New Zealanders. The outperformance of the super fund has generated approximately $7.9 billion of additional value to the Crown beyond what would have been earned in the reference portfolio. This shows that the decision to not make contributions to the fund over the last nine years was misguided and is a decision that cost future taxpayers $24.1 billion.
Willow-Jean Prime: How much is the coalition Government investing in the super fund?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Prime Minister and I hit the button to resume contributions in December last year. The coalition Government plans to invest $7.7 billion in the super fund between the last financial year and 2021-22. These are important intergenerational investments, which look out beyond 30 years and beyond the electoral cycle. By resuming Government contributions to the super fund, we are helping to protect the Government's ability to keep the super age at 65 and showing that we care about future generations. The super fund—the Cullen fund—is a great legacy to New Zealand.
4. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he believe he has considered all relevant factors in deciding to grant residency to Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Shortly before question time today, I became aware that information may exist that appears, on the face of it, to directly contradict information that I used and relied upon to make that decision. I am now taking advice on my options and need to consider the veracity of the new information that has been made available to me.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did all of those factors include submissions from Czech Republic officials about any statements Mr Sroubek had made relevant to them, and, if not, will he be also asking the Czech officials to provide submissions?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Given the potential new information that I have just become aware of, I do not intend to make any further comment on the information that I was provided. I need to take advice, and I need to carefully consider the way forward from here.
• Question No. 5—Housing and
5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does Housing New Zealand own or lease any rental houses in the entire McLennan development, where the first of 18 KiwiBuild houses have been built; if so, how many?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The previous Government limited State houses to 15 percent of the total number of houses in Housing New Zealand's McLennan development. This meant that when private developers couldn't get finance to build market homes in the third stage of the development, Housing New Zealand was left unable to build more State houses and so was stuck with empty land. Fortunately, KiwiBuild enabled Housing New Zealand to build affordable homes and sell them to first-home buyers such as the lovely families that the Prime Minister and I met on Saturday. There are 28 State houses in the McLennan development, with a further 48 State homes to be built, and, in keeping with Housing New Zealand's new design philosophy, they are visually indistinguishable from the KiwiBuild and market homes.
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was put down on notice. I asked for the entire McLennan development, which I understand has around 600 homes, and I'd like the Minister to please address the question, which was how many of those homes are owned or leased by the State.
SPEAKER: Well, he did. He said 28.
Hon Judith Collins: No, he said 28 out of 40 homes—or something; 28 homes entirely. There are 600 homes in that development. He hasn't answered the question.
SPEAKER: Well, the member said that there were 28 State homes.
Hon Judith Collins: In the entire 600—OK. Is the Minister aware of any security complaints that have been made by Housing New Zealand tenants in McLennan?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.
Hon Judith Collins: Is it acceptable that Housing New Zealand has refused to allow a tenant in the McLennan development to have her locksmith of choice replace outdoor locks on her property after her home has been burgled three times in two weeks, with the latest burglary defined by police as "aggravated burglary with intent to rape"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That is an operational matter for Housing New Zealand, but I'm very happy to receive the details of that case either from the member's constituent or the member herself, and I'll happily look into it.
Hon Judith Collins: Is the Minister aware that, following the burglary with intent to rape, Housing New Zealand have still advised the tenant that if she replaces the locking system on her house, Housing New Zealand will not pay for it?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.
Marja Lubeck: What have been the recent trends in Housing New Zealand - owned or leased homes?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The number of Housing New Zealand homes reduced by more than 6,000 over the last nine years. In fact, public housing declined from 4 percent of the entire national housing stock down to 3.4 percent in 2017, at a time that the general population ballooned and the housing crisis was created. We've turned this around. We've ended the mass sell-off of State housing that took place under the Government—
SPEAKER: Order! I was waiting for some slightly relevant area that wasn't an attack on the Opposition and out of order. It appears we're not going to get one.
Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What urgent auditing of failing locking systems in the McLennan development has been undertaken by Housing New Zealand since Housing New Zealand was alerted of the fault two weeks ago?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm happy to find out, and I'll let the member know.
Marja Lubeck: Why is the Government building KiwiBuild homes at McLennan?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, we are building KiwiBuild homes at McLennan because a generation of young New Zealanders with good jobs are priced out of homeownership because of the housing crisis that we inherited. The families at McLennan represent many of the areas of the workforce, including nurses, warehouse workers, concrete workers, a medical student, administration workers, engineers, designers, and stay-at-home mums. KiwiBuild aims to increase homeownership, to increase the number of homes that are being built at an affordable price point, and to use Government procurement to drive down build costs. Only 5 percent—
SPEAKER: Order! That's enough. Thank you.
Marja Lubeck: Why does the Government need to build both State homes and KiwiBuild?
SPEAKER: Without being retrospective.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The answer is that we need to build both State and KiwiBuild homes to build our way out of the national housing crisis. There are more than 1,200 more public housing tenancies than there were a year ago—1,200 more—and 451 more over the September quarter alone. Budget 2018 funded more than 6,400 additional public houses over four years, and Housing New Zealand is investing $4 billion to build these homes and make sure that the existing State houses are warm and dry.
• Question No. 6—Earthquake
6. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission: What recent announcements has she made regarding the Crown guarantee for EQC?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission): On Monday, I announced that tomorrow the Earthquake Commission (EQC) will receive $50 million under the Crown guarantee, the first time this has been needed in the 74 years the guarantee has been in place. The Government has long expected the Crown guarantee would be needed and have planned for this, but we have needed to make the payment earlier than originally forecast. The payment to EQC is an operating grant and provides additional financial support to EQC alongside the Natural Disaster Fund and EQC's reinsurance programme and provides the buffer so that EQC can to continue to pay claimants.
Dr Duncan Webb: What has been the cause of the earlier than expected payment under the Crown guarantee?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The key cause is that EQC is now making improved progress to fast-track the settlement of claims, currently resolving a thousand claims per month. In Canterbury, this means people who have been living in damaged homes for almost eight years can move on with their lives. Of the claims that EQC had on hand at 10 May, when I received the report from my independent ministerial adviser, 54 percent have now been resolved.
Dr Duncan Webb: Why is the Crown guarantee important for New Zealand?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The Crown guarantee means that New Zealanders know the Crown is standing behind the EQC's Natural Disaster Fund and that they can have confidence there is money to settle their claims. Having this level of backing helps keep insurance premiums more affordable for New Zealanders, giving us one of the highest rates of residential insurance in the world, which yesterday's events remind us that we need.
• Question No.
7. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of the Government's policies, statements, and actions in relation to the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were made and taken.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he take responsibility for the prolonged slump in business confidence as demonstrated once more by today's ANZ own activity index?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There is a long-run historical trend to the perception survey that the member refers to, and I think he should focus more on real data in the economy—for instance, the words this week of ASB: "So far we have yet to see a smoking gun that would point to actual activity slowing. Indeed quite the opposite has been true."
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he understand the consequences of low business confidence take time to flow through to GDP figures, and is he saying that low business confidence will be without consequences?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I look to historical evidence in this regard. When the Labour Party was last at the core of a Government, business pessimism was in place for 82 of 99 months, and across that period there was an average annual growth of 3.2 percent.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why is he considering additional taxes from the Tax Working Group when tax revenue is already forecast to grow by $9.3 billion, or 11 percent, over the next two years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Tax Working Group has been given the task of looking at the overall balance and fairness of the New Zealand tax system. We haven't made any final decisions on its basis at all. What I would say to the member is that the growth in tax revenue that's forecast for the next two years is, of course, in fact, lower than it was in the years 2015 to 2017, under the last Government's watch.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Because growth is lower, I suppose—
Hon Paul Goldsmith: My apologies.
SPEAKER: The member is very lucky.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why are good-looking race horses the only ones deserving of tax cuts?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On this side of the House, we are focused on a better-balanced, fairer tax system, and I note that the member doesn't mention the $1 billion research and development tax incentive that is going to grow the economy and innovate and provide more productive businesses—something his Government didn't think was important at all.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On this issue of perpetual gloom, what did David Hisco, the ANZ chief executive, put down to the success of the ANZ current profit?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Mr Speaker, what he said—I happen to have that with me—was that the continued strength of the economy is down to strong exports, a tourism sector, continued demand for housing, and growth in household incomes. And he said the Government's investment in major infrastructure across the country and trade achievements are providing jobs and fuelling consumer spending and saving.
• Question No.
8. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement regarding discussions on next year's Budget that "Actually, many of those things we have been talking about through the Budget process address the concerns that teachers have been raising", and will he commit to delivering on all of his education promises?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes, and as I've said before in the House to the member repeatedly, I am absolutely committed to delivering on the commitments made in the Speech from the Throne, the coalition agreement, and the confidence and supply agreement.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Will he confirm that the $6 billion promised over four years for education by the Prime Minister will be delivered, and that it will include special education coordinators to help prevent strikes?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In answer to the first part of the question, yes. In answer to the second part of the question, the member will have to wait and see.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Was the last year of National's pay increases for secondary teachers 2.7 percent, and if so, why has the Government offered less than 0.5 percent more, despite having billions of dollars in surplus?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The previous Government chose to prioritise tax cuts over pay increases for teachers. The pay increase the member suggests is, from my recollection, correct, in terms of the most recent settlement the National Government reached, which, of course, is better than the 0.6 percent they gave to teachers in at least one of the years that they settled. I can confirm that the percentage increase on offer under this Government is worth more in percentage terms than the increases in all three settlements reached under the previous Government.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does he agree with previous reports that say teachers' low wages are at the centre of shortages; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I do agree with that—I was the one that said it—and I was very concerned with the low level of settlement reached under the previous Government. That is one of the reasons why in this Government's first contract negotiation round, we have put on the table an offer to teachers that is worth more in percentage terms than all of the settlements they reached under the previous Government put together.
• Question No. 9—Trade and Export
9. JAMIE STRANGE (Labour) to the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: What announcements has the Government made regarding trade and export growth?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Trade and Export Growth): Today, New Zealand, as the official depository under the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), received notification from Australia, the sixth country to ratify CPTPP. This means the agreement will come into force on 30 December. From day one, our exporters will have greatly improved market access into three of the world's largest economies: Japan, Canada, and Mexico. The benefits of the agreement will be felt across the entire economy, from north to south and from factory floor to business owner. It's a momentous day not just for New Zealand but, actually, for world trade. It's the result of a decade's work of officials and Ministers on both sides of the House, but I would especially like to thank the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for their strong leadership in getting this across the line.
Jamie Strange: Why is the CPTPP important for New Zealand's economy?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The CPTPP has taken on added importance in recent times because the World Trade Organization (WTO) is under threat. As a small exporting nation, New Zealand relies upon the rules-based system for fair trade. In Ottawa last week, we put forward options to address legitimate concerns of the United States and other economies about how the WTO operates. However, New Zealand must also be prepared if it's weakened, and although our first preference is for a functional and effective WTO, there's no doubt that CPTPP is relatively more important than it was, and we look forward to its expansion over time to better protect New Zealand's interests.
Jamie Strange: What else is the Government doing to grow exports?
Hon DAVID PARKER: We're progressing important trade negotiations in many parts of the world—with the EU, the UK, the Pacific Alliance, South and Central America, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in Asia, as well as upgrades with China and Singapore. But free-trade agreements aren't the only key to export growth; New Zealand needs to grow new points of comparative advantage to broaden our export offering to the world and grow productivity. Here it's our R & D tax credits, the Provincial Growth Fund, the tax review—key elements of the Government's ambition to grow exports, create jobs, and raise incomes as we move New Zealand's economy from volume to value.
• Point of
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Recognising that it is completely at the discretion of the Speaker as to how many supplementary questions might be offered to the Opposition parties in their scrutiny of the Government on any given day—mindful also that we are having a meeting at 4.30 today to try and get some agreement about an orderly process for next week in the House—I'm seeking advice on whether or not it is possible for me to seek leave for there to be three supplementaries granted on questions 10 and 12 today.
SPEAKER: No. The member will resume his seat. I am prepared to allow the unusual arrangement of the National Party using three of their supplementaries from tomorrow, today, if they wish to do that, but I do also want to warn the member that the implicit threat in his request—the implicit threat in his request—meant that I wouldn't put his original leave.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I simply asked was it within the power of Parliament to grant leave for such a request.
SPEAKER: And the answer is it would be, yes, but it's not going to be granted, because there will be an objection. Right. Does the member want to seek leave in terms of taking three from tomorrow?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No.
SPEAKER: No, you don't. OK, question number—
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I've just been sitting contemplating this matter, Mr Speaker. I fully understand why you took the supplementaries from the Opposition, and it is absolutely at your discretion and I certainly wouldn't wish to challenge that. I do think that it's challenging—having sat on that side of the House for nine years, it is challenging when the Opposition loses a significant number of supplementary questions for them to do the job which they do have to do, which is to hold the Government to account. Ministers spend time preparing to come down to answer questions. It's disappointing for us when we don't get a chance to answer the Opposition's questions, and I wonder whether we might be able to consider some alternative sanctions, if you like, than taking away the Opposition's supplementary questions in cases like that, because I'm not sure that the broader public interest of the Opposition doing their job to hold the Government to account is served well when question time, effectively, gets significantly truncated.
SPEAKER: Well, I'm willing to consider, at some stage, suggestions as to alternative methods, but I do recall the last comment made by Mr Brownlee, which resulted in the last set of questions being withdrawn, and that was that as far as he was concerned, it was worth it.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It may help the House, in light of what has been said by Mr Hipkins—if the motion was put it would not be opposed. That's my belief. So Mr Brownlee should be invited to do that. After all, I haven't had a question for seven weeks.
Hon Simon Bridges: Cos you're doing nothing.
SPEAKER: Order! That doesn't help either, Mr Bridges. I think I've made it clear originally that in fact if leave was sought it would be opposed, Mr Peters, by me. Thank you.
• Question No.
SPEAKER: I will warn that I've been informed that it will be a longer than normal answer to this.
10. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: What minimum wage jobs, if any, are not suitable for the 129,643 people currently on the Jobseeker Support benefit?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Firstly, can I acknowledge that this Government recognises the importance of having a minimum wage, and moved quickly to lift that minimum wage within the first 100 days in office to $16.50 per hour. In reference to jobseeker beneficiaries, when a person's skill level, work and life experience, amongst other things, align with a minimum wage job on offer, then it is absolutely appropriate for the person to be supported into that relevant job. If people find a job that they like or love that pays minimum wage, then that's great. What needs to be noted is that jobseekers come with varying levels of skills, qualifications, and experience. Each person needs to be supported to find work that is appropriate to their skill level and expertise—into work that is meaningful to them. There are numerous examples of where this didn't happen under the previous Government's target to reduce long-term welfare dependency, including where a former female deputy principal was being encouraged via a Ministry of Social Development contracted service to take up work in a fast-food restaurant. This case was covered by Stuff. It is an example where the minimum wage job was not suitable for the jobseeker. This Government is committed to maximising people's potential and supporting people into sustainable and meaningful employment, not just pushing people off benefit with no regard for whether they are better off.
• Question No.
11. KIERAN McANULTY (Labour) to the Minister for Biosecurity: What recent announcements has he made on work to improve the country's animal tracing system?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister for Biosecurity): Yesterday, I announced that we're ramping up work to strengthen New Zealand's animal tracing system, National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT), which plays a vital part in protecting our economic base and unique way of life. Yesterday, at a meeting of farming leaders and industry stakeholders, the Ministry for Primary Industries launched a public consultation that asks farmers who use NAIT every day to tell us what will make the system both good for business and effective for biosecurity. We want to improve the use of data, tighten rules around the handling of untagged animals, and align penalties with our other Acts to reflect the seriousness of non-compliance with NAIT.
Kieran McAnulty: How does this latest effort to fix NAIT fit alongside other work the Minister is overseeing to improve the animal tracing system?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Operational changes have been made to NAIT by management agency Operational Solutions for Primary Industries New Zealand after I demanded the release of a year-overdue report on the NAIT system. Urgent law changes to fix the NAIT Act of 2012 have been introduced to bring its search and inspection powers in line with other Acts, such as the wine and fisheries Acts, to ensure compliance officers can do their job. Hundreds of warning letters have been sent to those not meeting the rules, and thousands of farmers are also upping their game and treating their NAIT obligations with the respect they deserve. We took action and we are seeing the results.
Kieran McAnulty: Why has he made this latest announcement now?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We are currently on track to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis. We now have more properties back farming than are infected. Manawatū and Wairarapa are free of Mycoplasma bovis once again. We said that when we had a handle on the disease we would look to fix the NAIT system. This is what we are doing.
• Question No.
12. Hon DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Corrections: When was he first made aware of the communications blind spot at the Te Korowai unit in Upper Hutt, where violent criminals and sex offenders are placed?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Corrections): I was made aware at the outset. Corrections have always been aware of the black spot, and that is why we've never relied on GPS monitoring for inside that facility. At Te Korowai we provide physical onsite staffing with 24/7 line-of-sight monitoring by security staff, corrections staff, and CCTV cameras. When offenders leave, they are tracked by their ankle bracelets and, at times, accompanied by an officer. To be clear, the GPS black spot is contained to the residence; it does not affect the ability of corrections to monitor them when they leave the gates.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could the Minister please clarify what "outset" means. Does that mean beginning, does it mean—what date that was, perhaps?
SPEAKER: It would be useful for the Minister to—
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The first two residents were received on Monday, 20 August, and consultation with the community began on 14 August. It was around that time that I was first made aware.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Can the Minister confirm that there is only one entrance and exit from the facility, and that it is staffed?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: That's correct. During the day there are three staff members inside the facility and one around the perimeter. There is only one entry and exit point.