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Parliament: Questions and Answers - Nov 27

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Finance

1. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): In recent weeks, I have seen a number of reports which indicate that the fundamentals of the New Zealand economy are strong. We've got unemployment at a 10-year low of 3.9 percent, the manufacturing and services industries are expanding, and a number of economists have published new forecasts of strong economic growth. All of this good news, I think, was best summed up on Morning Report recently by a commentator who said, "I think we can all agree [that] there's serious momentum there, whether it's the high employment, the low unemployment, the GDP …" On this matter, I can only agree with that commentator, the Hon Simon Bridges.

Dr Duncan Webb: Has he seen reports about which direction the economy is heading?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen a report from Westpac economists where they upgraded their growth forecasts, which show the New Zealand economy growing by about 3 percent a year over the next three years. This shows that the economy is heading in a positive direction, a view endorsed by one commentator who said, "it's not going to hell in a handbasket," and "we're not heading for a recession,". If only that commentator, the Hon Simon Bridges, would pass that optimism on to Amy Adams.

Dr Duncan Webb: What reports has he seen about the ability of New Zealanders to secure employment in the economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Obviously, we've recently seen those figures which show a 10 year - low unemployment rate of 3.9 percent. There are also more New Zealanders in work, with employment growing 2.8 percent from a year ago. When it comes to the ability of New Zealanders to secure employment, this situation is again summed up very well by a commentator who said, "we're in a situation where almost anyone who wants a job today can get it," I thank Simon Bridges for his acknowledgment of the strength of the New Zealand economy.

Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, and, apparently, so does the member.

Hon Simon Bridges: How many dollars a week has the median rent increased under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've actually seen some of the statements from the member on rental increases, and what I wanted to point out was that the numbers that he's used have been quite selectively chosen. When you look across the country at the—and I can give a percentage rather than a numerical figure to the member; but, if he puts it on notice, I'll bring a dollar figure for him—geometric mean growth, that's remained relatively steady. So in September 2018, that was 4.8 percent; September 2017, it was also 4.8 percent; September 2016, it was 4.5 percent; September 2015, 5 percent—you get the picture. So it is fair to say rents have consistently increased over the years. Obviously, the member will know the most significant driver of that is supply, and this Government is focused on fixing that issue.

Hon Simon Bridges: Well, is she aware that the median figure is some $30—2½ times higher than the year prior, and that, even using the mean, rents have gone up $26 a week under this Government compared to just $13 under the previous?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I know that that member chose one month and used figures which aren't an accurate way of capturing what's happening in our rental market. I absolutely accept that rents have increased—I accept that. What I do not accept is that somehow the last Government had nothing to do with the issue that we are now facing. There is a supply issue. That was a Government who got rid of State houses and that did not address the lack of supply. Unlike that Government, we are turning the ship around; it just takes a bit of time to build houses.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she seriously disputing the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures that show, on a median basis, rent has gone up 2½ times, and on a mean basis it's doubled?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. What I am referring to, though, is the geometric mean growth, which is the most accurate average, because the arithmetic means are too sensitive to changes in the higher value. Again, I'm not arguing with the member over whether rents have gone up; what I am arguing over is whether or not we've got a solution that the last Government didn't even try?

Hon Simon Bridges: How do we calculate geometric mean growth?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I've argued here is that when taking into account spreading over that period of time, spreading over the increase is a much more accurate way of taking one month out of the year, when we know that a lot of people experience an annual increase, say, at the end of a calendar year. That is the most accurate way to reference the increase that people have experienced.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think that higher taxes, such as extending the brightline test to five years, ring-fencing losses on rental properties, and the prospect of a capital gains tax will have no effect on rents?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I saw the member being asked which exact precise tax he thought had made an in increase rent, and he couldn't name one. That's because most of what this Government has done already has been focused on tenants: looking at getting rid of letting fees, for instance, making sure that there are healthy homes that our renters are in. We're focused on not only building houses but making sure that those who are in the rental market are getting a better deal. And another that we've done is made sure that they will only experience annual increases in the future. That Government did almost nothing for tenants.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she saying that more taxes and higher costs will not reduce the supply of rental properties or be passed on to consumers in terms of higher costs?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Some would argue the biggest change that those in the rental market have seen in recent years has been the brightline test, and that was brought in by the last Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she seriously saying, in terms of her thesis about supply, that more taxes and higher costs won't reduce the supply of rental properties or be passed on to consumers in terms of higher costs—straight question?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I'm saying will make the biggest difference to supply is building houses.

Question No. 3—Prime Minister

3. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, I do.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) that "$2 billion is insufficient working capital to meet the target of 10,000 homes per annum (on an optimistic average three-year recycling of the capital, only 1000 homes could be built per year)"; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, we're talking about the supply issue, which is a good thing to be talking about. As a Government, we are actually doing something about the housing crisis. What the member is referencing was a strawman put up by MBIE in a paper which he then turned into—as I believe—a press release, and the New Zealand Herald later had to correct the story when we provided information to them that demonstrated that that member was patently incorrect.

Hon Simon Bridges: When she says the Government is working with the private sector, is that simply another way of saying that the Government is buying properties off developers that were being built anyway, thus not increasing supply at all?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Government subsidising private developers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she stand by her statement in relation to KiwiBuild houses in Wanaka, "there is demand there" and that not selling houses through the ballot system is a "hypothetical"?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I understand, we've sold, now, seven of the houses, out of 10—[Interruption] hold your horses—off the plan, so before they've even been built, we have sold those houses. There are a remaining—[Interruption] They're getting very excited about three remaining houses over there. There are three remaining houses, which we remain confident, once built, will be sold.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she aware that her houses in the New Plymouth KiwiBuild development are going to cost around $100,000 more than the median house price in the area?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If he's talking about the area that was absolutely neglected, shamefully, by that last Government—shamefully—with State houses in a dire need, we need a rejuvenation in that community, and it has been widely welcomed by the New Plymouth community, because we not only need affordable houses; we also need more and better State houses.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can she confirm, then, that those KiwiBuild development houses are going to cost around 100 grand more than the median house price in the area?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Given that member's issues with accuracy of information to the New Zealand Herald this week, I'm not going to confirm anything that he puts to me.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why are KiwiBuild houses in New Plymouth going to cost around $100,000 more than the median price in the area?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm not going to answer a question based on assertions by that member. Again, if the member had a little bit of credibility in the way he's used numbers in previous questions, perhaps I would, but he does have the option of putting a question on notice, if he chooses to.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to Gareth Kiernan, an economist at Infometrics, who, in relation to the KiwiBuild houses announced in New Plymouth, has said, "It almost seems like they've chosen it because it's somewhere they can stick houses and meet their target price without giving it any thought."?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would absolutely disagree with that assertion.

Question No. 4—Housing and Urban Development

4. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Will the Housing and Urban Development Authority accelerate the pace of building of affordable homes; if so, how?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The Housing and Urban Development Authority is a new agency with cut-through powers to partner with local government, iwi, and the private sector to build quality State and affordable and market homes and create thriving, master-planned communities. The authority will be a new Crown agency with two key roles: leading small- and large-scale urban development projects and being a world-class public landlord. It will consolidate all three essential centres of development capability within the public sector: Housing New Zealand, its subsidiary HLC—the people who did Hobsonville—and KiwiBuild.

Paul Eagle: How will the authority's cut-through powers speed up the construction of affordable and public homes?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The authority will undertake a range of large and small urban development projects throughout the country. For some large-scale, complex projects, it will have access to a range of statutory powers that will better enable development. These include streamlined resource management planning and consenting processes where project master plans replace local plans; the ability to build, change, and fund infrastructure; and the ability to purchase land.

Paul Eagle: What response was there to the announcement?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, there have been a range of very positive responses from across different sectors. For example, Stephen Selwood of Infrastructure New Zealand said the Urban Development Authority (UDA) "will be in a better position to manage wider and more complex national challenges around growth management, homelessness and cumulative environmental impacts, to name but a few." The Employers and Manufacturers Association was also supportive, saying that the approach was good to speed up the brownfields development in cities experiencing strong population growth.

Paul Eagle: What response was there to the announcement from potential partners of UDA developments?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, again, there are a range of positive responses. Local Government New Zealand president Dave Cull said "This is a huge opportunity to massively increase the supply of housing in our fastest-growing cities, that was not previously possible because of the regulatory logjam created by our planning laws." The chairman of the Independent Māori Statutory Board, David Taipari, said "Through our ongoing discussion with the Government on this, we recognise considerable thought has gone into the UDA approach and how iwi aspirations will be respected, and this is a credit to the Government's decision making and the work of agencies."

Question No. 5—Education

5. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Education: Have student numbers for Student Achievement Component enrolments and learner numbers for industry training enrolments decreased by a total of 2,402 in August 2018 compared to August 2017?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): From August 2017 to August 2018, the number of equivalent full-time students at universities increased by 970, while the actual number of students increased by 10, reflecting a shift in participation from part-time to full-time students. At polytechnics, the number of equivalent full-time students decreased by 724, while the number of students increased by 678, suggesting a reverse of the pattern in universities. In wānanga, the number of equivalent full-time students decreased by 498, while the number of students decreased by 1,188.

In private training establishments, the number of equivalent full-time students was up 310, while the number of students was down 674. In industry training, the standard training measure decreased by 947, while learner numbers decreased by 4,740. However, by contrast, the number of apprenticeship standard training measures increased by 1,065, while the apprenticeship learning numbers increased by 3,441. The numbers in the member's question draw on aggregate student and trainee numbers rather than full-time equivalents, and therefore don't reflect the shifting nature of participation.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he believe that spending $236 million so far on free fees for students who would've studied anyway is good value for the taxpayer?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think those students and their families will be grateful for the fact that their student loan debts are significantly lower than they otherwise would have been, bearing in mind that the Government would have largely covered that cost anyway, had it not been for the fees-free programme, because we would've had to outlay the money through the student loan scheme, where we only recoup 55c in the dollar anyway. So, yes, I do think it was a good investment.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he believe that that $236 million would have been better spent on teachers in the education system instead of on fees-free for students that would have gone and studied anyway?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Government has no intention of abolishing the student loan scheme, which is, effectively, what the member is asserting. In order to not put the money that went into fees-free into something else, we would have to first abolish the student loan scheme, because if we did away with fees-free, the students would borrow the money and the Government would have to lay it out anyway.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is he still committed to expanding fees-free to a second and third year, and, if so, will those commitments come through in 2021 and 2024, as he has previously announced?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: As was clear in the Speech from the Throne, that's a matter for future Budgets and for future Cabinet decisions.

Hon Paula Bennett: What would the cost be of expanding the fees-free, as he has previously promised would happen?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: That would depend on participation levels.

Question No. 6—Finance

6. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he consider that ensuring the Government spends tax revenue wisely is part of his role as Minister of Finance; if so, what is the total projected cost of all working groups, advisory groups, reference groups, ministerial groups, governance groups, reviews, inquiries, ministries, commissions, units, tribunals, committees, summits, panels, forums, task forces, teams, investigations, think tanks, councils, studies, action plans, hui, boards, stocktakes, conferences, authorities, work programmes, agendas, schemes, and reports if any, announced by this Government's Ministers to date?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): In answer to the first part of the question, yes. In answer to the second part of the question, I refer the member to my announcement of those projected costs of Government spending, otherwise known as the Budget.

Hon Amy Adams: Does the Minister think it's a good use of taxpayers' money to spend—what has been costed so far—$262 million on 192 of those working and other such groups?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I would contest that particular costing that the Minister has put forward for working groups, but even if it were true, it would equate to one-half of one-tenth of 1 percent of total Crown spending over the forecast period.

Hon Amy Adams: How, when New Zealand families are struggling with the increasing costs of living—like increasing rents and higher petrol taxes—can he justify spending $262 million on working groups because the Government failed to do their work in Opposition?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can justify the spending of money on a working group on mental health and addiction because it is one of the most serious issues facing New Zealand—tragically neglected by the last Government over the last nine years.

Hon Amy Adams: Is the Minister aware that the $262 million the Government has spent on working groups so far is equivalent to the annual salary of more than 3,500 teachers, 4,300 nurses, or 3,200 police?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said earlier, I don't necessarily accept the member's costings. What I do know is that it is the equivalent of half of one-tenth of 1 percent of total Crown spending. I also note that included in that is the royal commission into the abuse of people in State care—something, again, the last Government avoided facing up to for nine years.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, does the Minister think it's a good use of taxpayer money to have spent $4.7 million—which is the same as the annual tax of 414 middle-income earners—on a criminal justice summit and two education summits?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What the member fails to understand is that, on this side of the House, we want to deal with some of the long-term, intractable problems that a Government faces. Putting your head in the sand, as the previous Government did, and ignoring the fact that our criminal justice system isn't working properly isn't good enough for members on this side of the House. It is going to cost a bit of money to tidy up the mess of the last nine years, but we're getting on with doing it.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Which does he think is better value for money for the taxpayer: inviting them to have their say on justice and education matters, or spending $20 million on a flag referendum?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Oh, I'm very, very clear on that. I do, however, want to correct the member: it was $26 million on the flag referendum, and I would stand up our working groups against that any day.

Hon Simon Bridges: How much will three referendums coming up some time around the next general election cost?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That's very dependent on timing issues.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister of Finance concerned about certain members of Parliament spending over $100,000 to go around the country and losing support?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I'm very concerned if that kind of expenditure leads to people's poll ratings plummeting further and further.

SPEAKER: Any more?

Question No. 7—Regional Economic Development

7. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What recent Provincial Growth Fund announcements has he made?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): During the first week of the recess, I had the pleasure of visiting the great province of Whanganui and Manawatū. Manawatū, for the edification of the other side of the House, means "a rousing heart", and the hearts of the provinces were certainly roused in that part of the country when I announced a $48 million package which covered areas such as transport, food, beverage, digital connectivity, tourism, and the neglected area—unfortunately, attributed to the other side of the House—of training our people out in the provinces.

Darroch Ball: What are some of the key projects that were supported?

Hon SHANE JONES: I won't list them all for fear of not using the time of the House efficiently, but the $40 million contribution to help KiwiRail build a new regional freight hub—and in fairness to members from the other side of the House, this is something that although they have had a historical level of animus to KiwiRail, they widely applauded it during the period of time I was up there. In addition to that, Minister Faafoi and I announced an additional $40 million from the provincial growth fund to address digital connectivity in areas such as Tararua, and for dealing with historic problems. Mr Ken Shirley has congratulated me for turning my attention to a $2.8 million allocation for a national driver training centre so we don't rely excessively on migrant labour to fill up our trucks and other excavators.

Darroch Ball: What further regional packages will the provincial growth fund be supporting?

Hon SHANE JONES: On Thursday, we will be travelling to Te Tai Poutini—otherwise known as the West Coast—and this will be one of the most significant announcements to date. It deals with areas that have been neglected for a long period of time, but after only several visits there and a tremendous amount of work undertaken by the civic leaders and a very sensible meeting where everyone was sensibly behaved in the deputy leader's office, we will be announcing substantial allocations to the Te Tai Poutini as evidence that work's happening on the ground—not only very popular rhetoric in the House.

David Seymour: Has the Minister had advice in any form that some of his provincial growth fund expenditure may have to be reported to the World Trade Organization as it qualifies as agricultural subsidies—the first time New Zealand would have reported such subsidies in 25 years?

Hon SHANE JONES: Yes. Naturally, advice has been sought from the foreign affairs department. However, given that the adjudication and the appeals of so-said international trade body are in a state of disarray, I'm not bothered by that at all.

Question No. 8—Housing and Urban Development

8. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does he stand by his statement on Saturday that "many of the KiwiBuild houses that we're building don't require the Government to spend a dollar, and that's why we're doing it through a buy-off-the-plan scheme"?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Yes, in the context it was made. All of the KiwiBuild channels leverage private sector investment—that's the point of the programme.

Hon Judith Collins: What actions will the Crown need to take under its underwrite agreement if any of the 211 houses underwritten in Wānaka cannot be sold at the price points agreed with the developer?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Under the underwrite agreement, they'll buy them.

Hon Judith Collins: Is the business case for KiwiBuild buying off the plans reasonable in assuming the Crown will face an average cost of between $20,000 and $50,000 per house delivered by the buying-off-the-plans initiative related to unsold houses, a cost of up to $1.8 billion over the life of the programme?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That's based on very conservative risk modelling.

Tamati Coffey: Why is the Government leveraging private sector investment through buying off the plans?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The buying-off-the-plans business case shows that between $3.7 billion and $4.7 billion worth of KiwiBuild homes will be built over the life of the programme, and because KiwiBuild is only part of any development, it will enable the construction of approximately $5.5 billion worth of additional homes. It also incentivises the construction of more affordable homes, rather than larger homes that earn the developers a bigger margin.

Tamati Coffey: What reports has he seen from developers about the benefits of KiwiBuild's buying-off-the-plans programme?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, one developer, Shane Brealey from NZ Living, who is undertaking KiwiBuild apartment developments in Onehunga and Ōtāhuhu, said recently that KiwiBuild enabled him to get under way faster and with reduced costs. KiwiBuild has allowed him to go from the purchase of land to construction in just two months, when it would normally take around a year, with much more certainty as to whether those developments would even proceed.

Hon Judith Collins: Does he have confidence in the assumption made in the buying-off-the-plans business case that the KiwiBuild capital fund could be depleted by up to $1.8 billion to cover the cost of underwriting?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, that's a high-end risk scenario as part of a modelling; it's not a projection that one could be confident in. It's one part of a theoretical modelling exercise and it happens to be the high-risk, high-cost end of the modelling.

David Seymour: What advantage does the Government bring to the housing sector through KiwiBuild other than the sovereign right to tax about 5 million people?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The Government brings to the housing affordability crisis the ability to use its balance sheet and its buying power to incentivise modest, affordable starter homes that the market has failed to build over the last 10 years.

Hon Judith Collins: How does he propose having the KiwiBuild capital fund deliver projects such as the one announced in Porirua recently if the fund is consumed covering the cost of the underwrite scheme?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, it won't be consumed by the cost of the underwrite scheme. The capital fund is there to sustain the delivery of KiwiBuild: first, through the buying off the plans and underwrite channel; and, secondly, through the land for housing programme within which the Crown makes available land to developers who agree to build KiwiBuild and public housing on it and then pay for that land at the end of the development project. The KiwiBuild fund will also be sustaining the building of new KiwiBuild homes for sale to first-home buyers in large scale projects that the urban development authority will run in places like Porirua and at the Unitec development.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: To proceed with Mr Seymour's question in the interests of accuracy, are there 5 million New Zealanders paying tax in this country? [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I know, but if we required accuracy from all questions we'd be authenticating all day. I think everyone in the House knows that Mr Seymour was wrong. We don't need to rub it in.

David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think if you review the Hansard you'd say the "right" to tax approximately 5 million people. I never implied that there were 5 million taxpayers and, frankly, I think it's wrong for you to enter the debate and say that I was wrong.

SPEAKER: Well, I respect the member's view.

Question No. 9—Health

9. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements and actions and the actions of the Northland DHB relating to the outbreak of the meningococcal disease in Northland?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: On behalf of the Minister of Health, in particular I stand by the announcement yesterday of a targeted vaccination programme for the W strain of meningococcal disease in Northland. We know the vaccination campaigns work, and I want to thank the Ministry of Health and Pharmac for securing 20,000 doses of vaccine at a time when there is a shortage of supply of the vaccine due to international demand.

Matt King: Why did the Northland District Health Board deem it appropriate to send out an internal memo in May to advise staff to get their children vaccinated but not let the Northland public know?

Hon JENNY SALESA: In April of this year, there were two unrelated adult cases of meningococcal disease W (MenW). Dr Hammer's memo in May encouraged clinicians to be alert to potential cases of meningococcal disease. That was appropriate at the time, given the information available. The definition of an outbreak is one where there are three unrelated cases over a period of three months or when there are 10 cases out of 10,000 people. The Ministry of Health and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research have been closely monitoring the rates of MenW across New Zealand since last year. In November of this year, the technical advisory group convened by the Ministry of Health decided that the number of cases in Northland met the criteria for a community outbreak, and it recommended that a vaccination programme be implemented. That programme will begin next week.

Dr Shane Reti: How soon after the internal memo did the district health board (DHB) speak with the Ministry of Health about the meningitis outbreak, given the Prime Minister's comment "you would think that would be a trigger point at least for them to be talking to the Ministry of Health"?

Hon JENNY SALESA: I refer to my previous answer of the definition of a community outbreak of meningococcal disease, which is three or more confirmed cases of the same strain within the three-month period that are linked and are within a specific age group or community group, and the rate of the disease is at least 10 cases per 100,000 people. I do not know exactly when the DHB advised the Ministry of Health, but I can say that the expert group, the technical advisory group convened by the Ministry of the Health—8 November is when they actually then came to the conclusion that it is now an outbreak and that we should do as much as possible to make sure that we have a vaccination programme.

Dr Shane Reti: Why was the decision made not to go public about meningitis concerns in Northland until after the vaccine was on order and on its way?

Hon JENNY SALESA: As I said earlier on, the definition of an outbreak of meningococcal disease is when there are at least three unrelated cases—

Dr Shane Reti: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: Point of order, Dr Shane Reti, but I will warn the member that he might be being disorderly, because the Minister is nowhere near completing her answer yet.

Dr Shane Reti: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'll let her complete her answer.

SPEAKER: Maybe the question could be repeated now it's been interrupted.

Dr Shane Reti: Why was the decision made not to go public about the meningitis concerns in Northland until after the vaccine was on order and on its way?

Hon JENNY SALESA: Because the technical advisory group that was convened by the Ministry of Health, which then made the decision that this was an outbreak of meningococcal disease over in Northland, was in November, and as I said earlier on, the definition of an outbreak is three—

SPEAKER: OK, I think we've got that.

Dr Shane Reti: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically crafted the questions in terms of meningitis concerns, not a meningitis outbreak. We had a delivery about the outbreak.

SPEAKER: I think that the Minister indicated that there was a responsibility for a response for an outbreak, not a general response.

Dr Shane Reti: Has he made any representations to Cabinet about increasing the $700,000 available for outbreak meningococcal immunisation in light of the foreign affairs Minister announcing a $10 million immunisation project in Papua New Guinea?

Hon JENNY SALESA: There is a shortage of this particular vaccine right now. The fact that the Ministry of Health and Pharmac have been able to obtain 20,000 doses is actually a good thing, which is why in my original answer I said that I would congratulate the Ministry of Health and Pharmac for getting these doses. We're getting 10,000 of these doses from Australia. It takes about a week for them to come here. In order to ensure that we have this vaccine, it takes about 18 months. This particular strain is a really devastating strain, and there are other countries in the world that are experiencing MenW, and we're doing as much as we can. This vaccination programme is going to be implemented next week, and the Minister of Health has already announced this just a day or two ago, and this is the vaccination programme that we're doing. He has done it without even coming through Cabinet.

Question No. 10—Research, Science and Innovation

10. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation: What recent announcements has she made regarding kauri dieback and myrtle rust research?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Research, Science and Innovation): Last week, I announced surge funding for critical research that will provide new knowledge to help manage the impacts of these diseases, protect our taonga species, and deliver on our coalition agreement: additional new funding of $13.75 million over three years for kauri dieback and myrtle rust research, and $8.75 million will be directed to kauri research, and $5 million for myrtle rust research.

Angie Warren-Clark: Why is new research necessary?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The current knowledge and tools are not enough to manage kauri dieback and myrtle rust, and this Government is committed to an effective response to these diseases. Research is critical as it identifies and enables new ways of managing and controlling the pathogens. We need new knowledge and approaches if we are to slow the spread and protect our taonga species and ecosystems. The funding will go to the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, working in partnership with—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member was well finished answering the question.

Angie Warren-Clark: What new areas of research will this funding support?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The funding will build our understanding of the pathogens that cause myrtle rust and kauri dieback and how they spread through New Zealand's forest ecosystems. Results will be applied to breeding programmes to enable disease resistance.

Question No. 11—Immigration

11. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: What progress, if any, has been made with the currently suspended Parent Category visa, which was temporarily closed to new applications in 2016?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): I am currently considering advice from officials on the timing and conditions under which the category may be reopened and queued applications selected for assessment.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was Mila Srobkova, a recent arrival from the Czech Republic and mother of Karel Sroubek, granted a parent category visa on arrival?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I have absolutely no idea. If the member wants to put that down in writing, go ahead.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has the Minister been asked for a special direction to grant Ms Srobkova a parent category visa?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: If the Minister is required to consider a special direction for Ms Srobkova, will he ensure that the Court of Appeal judge's description of her involvement in the importation of ecstasy with her son will be taken into account?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I'm not commenting on a hypothetical application. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! This is a serious matter and the member deserves the respect of being heard in asking the question rather than having laughter from his colleagues.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: What assurance can he give to the thousands of parents of hard-working recent migrants that any application by Mr Sroubek's mother to remain in New Zealand permanently would not be favoured over their own?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Oh, I would imagine that immigration officials would consider every application on its merits and it would be dealt with appropriately.

Question No. 12—Energy and Resources

12. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does she stand by all her statements regarding the potential importance of hydrogen technology for New Zealand's energy system?

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

Jonathan Young: Will she support a proposed natural gas - fed plant in Taranaki that could produce high volumes of low-cost emission-free hydrogen?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think what that member is referring to is a Provincial Growth Fund application for which I have no ministerial responsibility. But what I will also tell that member is: what this Government is committed to is developing a hydrogen strategy for New Zealand so we can realise all the exciting opportunities it presents to us as a country.

Jonathan Young: As the Minister of Energy and Resources, why wouldn't she support a proposed natural gas - fed plant that could not only produce hydrogen but also replace over 600,000 tonnes of imported fertiliser with domestically produced fertiliser, reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by international shipping?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think the member is confused. I have never once said that I wouldn't support such a project if it came to fruition. What this Government is very clear about is we have sent very clear long-term signals to the market around what the future of oil and gas is in this country. Any company that wants to make commercial decisions within those frameworks is more than welcome to make those commercial decisions. What I will note to that member is the company that is considering it has said that it has confidence in the gas supply situation in New Zealand and recognises the long-term transition this Government has put our country on, unlike that member who has been arguing in this House that the sky is going to fall in.

Jonathan Young: Therefore, would she support a proposed natural gas - fed plant that could contribute to security of supply for electricity demand that does not increase CO2 emissions?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As the Minister of Energy and Resources, such a plant would not require my support. We have sent the long-term economic signals and all around the country, commercial players will make decisions based on those long-term signals. I note that this Friday there is going to be a ground-turning from Tuarōpaki Trust with Obayashi with the commercial venture that they are starting in the central North Island. I have not had to give any kind of permission for that one, either.

Jonathan Young: Well if the Minister appears to support these outcomes, how is it appropriate then to ban the new exploration for natural gas, if the technology is emerging to use it with zero emissions?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: All the talk of the technology, I would remind me that member, is still about feasibility studies. People have been talking about carbon capture and storage for a very long period of time. It is something that requires a large amount of investment. What I can tell that member is what international commentators are showing. If we have look at what the World Economic Forum has been saying around hydrogen, in saying, "As green electricity gets cheaper every day, low cost green hydrogen is coming. In parallel, as with solar and wind, the cost of hydrogen production is falling exponentially, as system sizes and production volumes grow, while performance improves." So, I think the answers are very clear.

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