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Parliament: Questions and Answers - Feb 13

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Finance

1. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making on implementing its economic plan?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Government has a plan for a more resilient economy by transitioning to a more productive, sustainable, and inclusive growth path, and, as outlined by the Prime Minister yesterday, we are making excellent progress on implementing this plan across a number of fronts. We are modernising the New Zealand economy. We have introduced a research and development tax incentive that will come into effect this year. Tens of thousands of young people will benefit from Fees-free. We will continue to invest in our regions through the Provincial Growth Fund and invest record levels in our infrastructure and continue our negotiations on important trade agreements. As I announced this morning, we will also deliver our first well-being Budget on 30 May, which will be a significant step in ensuring that the well-being of New Zealanders is at the heart of everything that we do.

Dr Deborah Russell: What factors has the Government taken into account in formulating its economic plan?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: While the New Zealand economy is forecast to grow solidly over the next few years at around 3 percent and our strong economic fundamentals mean that we are in a position to deal with the emerging challenges we face from the downturn in the international economy, there is still a lot of work to do. We have developed a plan to adapt and modernise our economy to be more resilient, but we must be realistic that global growth is predicted to ease, largely because of rising trade tensions and political uncertainty. Advanced economies are forecast to grow at only 2 percent a year compared with our forecast growth of nearly 3 percent.

Dr Deborah Russell: What feedback has the Government received on its economic plan?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: From informed commentators, we've seen very positive feedback, particularly from international ratings agencies. Just a couple of weeks ago, Standard & Poor's upgraded New Zealand's credit outlook to positive. Standard & Poor's specifically identified that the Government's proactive policy-making supports sustainable public finances and economic growth. At the end of last year, Moody's said that given our commitment to robust finances, the Government had the flexibility to fund the spending on families, infrastructure, affordable housing, and education while maintaining fiscal surpluses and debt reduction. We know that there is plenty to do, but it is pleasing that the vote of confidence is coming from these agencies in the Government's management of our finances.

Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Has New Zealand's relationship with China deteriorated under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. There is no question that an economic and people-to-people relationship with China is incredibly important to New Zealand. Visitor numbers in the last year are up 8.4 percent. There's also been an increase in goods exports by 20 percent in the year to September. That demonstrates the strength of our economic engagement and, I would also say, demonstrates the importance of a bipartisan approach to our relationship.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are five of her Ministers currently seeking visits to China, and are they currently waiting for agreement from China to visit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It's fair to say that we have had a number of invitations over the last year. In fact, to be more explicit, the Minister of Foreign Affairs visited in May, the Minister for Climate Change visited in July, the Minister of Education visited in July, the Minister of Forestry visited in September, the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation visited in September, and the Minister for Trade and Export Growth visited in November.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are five of her Ministers currently seeking visits to China, and are they currently waiting for agreement from China to visit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As is demonstrated by the number of Ministers that have been, of course we have ongoing engagement, and at any given time there will be a number of Ministers working through their next visits.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know how long those five Ministers have been waiting for agreement to visit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I've said, at any given time there may be a number who are working through the logistics of visits. We've had six that have been already, and we may well have five intending to visit in the near future.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the case that these Ministers have not yet been granted visas, and why is that?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I have answered in previous questions, we have a number who have been, and there will no doubt be a number who intend to go in the future.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister elaborate on her comments yesterday about the collapse of New Zealand's hitherto foreign policy consensus?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely happy to, because I do think this is an important point. New Zealand, for a number of years, has rightly had an independent foreign policy line that is in the best interests of New Zealand economically, in terms of national security, and in terms of its values. That has generally been followed by both the Government of the day and the Opposition. It's disappointing that in recent times, we have seen the politicisation of our relationship, which sits directly in contradiction to our economic interests and our national security interests.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the last Government Minister to go to China, David Parker, visited last year, did he secure a meeting with his equivalent ministerial counterpart?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do not have in front of me the individual bilateral engagements of every Minister who has visited in recent times. But let us speak frankly in this House: there are challenges in our relationship. There are challenges in our relationships with a number of countries at any given time when you run an independent foreign policy. My question to the Opposition would be this: we stand by our decisions, particularly as they relate to the use of the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act (TICSA) and the scrutiny of any telecommunications vendor in the national security interests of New Zealanders; would the Opposition do the same? That is my question to the Leader of the Opposition.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the case, then, that things are getting better with the relationship with China, as the Prime Minister said in answer to the primary, or that there are significant challenges, as she just said? Which is true?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member chooses to look at foreign policy in such a simplistic way, then he's going to run up against some challenges. I think the answer that I've given demonstrates that our economic relationship is both incredibly important to us but also very strong. That is not mutually exclusive from us having challenges from time to time, and that is the case with the likes of, for instance, our relationship with Australia.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it true that the Government's position is to treat every nation and every people fairly, politely, equally, and respectfully, and would never say, for example, what member of this House said—that "Two Chinese are better than two Indians."?

SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister can answer the first part of the question; the second part is not her responsibility.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely. Respect is an incredibly important part of our relationship. New Zealand has a long history of ensuring that we do speak directly with our counterparts where we have areas of concern, and we have continued that foreign policy position.

Hon David Parker: Can the Prime Minister confirm that when I visited China as Minister of Trade and Export Growth in November last year, I met with Vice Minister Chang from the Chinese administration, who is responsible for both the World Trade Organization negotiations on the part of China and for the bilateral trade relationship with New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I can.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her foreign Minister's former comments that "Two Wongs don't make a white."?

SPEAKER: Order! There's no part of that that the Prime Minister's responsible for, and I am going to warn both the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Prime Minister that I consider they knew that both of their comments were outside the Standing Orders and, therefore, were deliberately disorderly. I will treat deliberate disorder of that sort more seriously going forward.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will her foreign Minister, Rt Hon Winston Peters, next visit China?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I've already referenced the fact that he visited in May 2018. I haven't asked him about his forward intentions for visits there, or in fact about any other of our engagements. But let us in this House speak frankly. I do not resile from the position that this Government has taken in support of our independent foreign policy, our economic interests, and our national security interests. My question for the Opposition is this: will they uphold the TICSA legislation they introduced, or are they willing to trade away our interests for the sake of the politicisation of our relationships?

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Prime Minister, in that answer, tacitly acknowledging that her Ministers aren't getting visits to China anymore?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. I am calling out the playing politics of our relationships.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she have a date set yet for when she will visit China?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I have spoken openly about the fact that I have received an invitation, but it's quite obvious that I have not yet visited. But, again, I stand by every decision that we have made and that the GCSB has independently made. It seems to me that the Opposition does not.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she have a date set yet for when she will next visit China?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've already answered that question, but I will point out that I have met already with both the President and the Premier.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is any progress being made on her visit to China as Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I've already pointed out, I have already had high-level engagement at the highest level, where, in fact, the Premier, the last time we met, talked about his invitation to me to visit. But, again, I do not measure the strength of our relationship in such binary terms. We have—[Interruption] Our people-to-people exchanges have increased—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to interrupt the Prime Minister and ask people on both sides to settle down. I think all of us know that this is a very important issue, and I don't want any confusion through people not being able to hear. So that includes people from not far away behind the Prime Minister. No, don't look round, Mr Jones.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I said, our people-to-people exchanges have increased, as have our exports. Those are equally incredibly important measures.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the Prime Minister, effectively, blames the TICSA and the Huawei decision for the complexity of the relationship, does she also have a view on whether the foreign Minister's comments on the Belt and Road Initiative, the defence strategy paper of New Zealand, and his Georgetown speech have also contributed to the deterioration in relationships between New Zealand and China?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely reject that. But, again, if the Opposition is now taking a different view on some of those issues, like for instance the South China Sea, I'd be very interested to hear that.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of the fact that she hadn't read that Georgetown speech before it was delivered, does she confirm that she agrees with all of its contents today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Deputy Prime Minister's address acknowledged that the United States had taken a different foreign policy line in recent times and that it is in all of our interests if the United States continues to engage both at a regional level and with multilateral institutions. If the Opposition doesn't agree with that, then that's a matter for them.

Hon Simon Bridges: Just who is ultimately responsible for New Zealand's foreign affairs: the foreign Minister or Jacinda Ardern?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As is, of course, convention the Prime Minister and not the Leader of the Opposition.

Hon Simon Bridges: Then why didn't she read the foreign Minister's incredibly significant speech to Georgetown University before he gave it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We absolutely have agreeance on the principles of our position and our engagement both with the United States and with China, and in past Governments, there's equally been general agreeance around New Zealand's foreign policy interests between Government and Opposition as well. I was already aware of the principles contained in that speech.

Hon James Shaw: Does the Prime Minister think that the relationship with China might be improved by, say, gifting a sheep farm to a wealthy businessman from that country?

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Hon Simon Bridges: When she said recently at a Chinese event that I also attended that she fully supported the Belt and Road Initiative, how is that consistent with comments her foreign Minister has made consistently bagging it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It's absolutely consistent. What the Deputy Prime Minister has pointed out is that the now Opposition signed an agreement without having put any infrastructure around it, and that's a job that's been left to us.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't the reality that she's, post the events, trying to cover up the mess he's making in relation to our China relationship?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely not.

Question No. 3—Prime Minister

3. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: What will the question be that the public will vote on in the binding referendum on legalising marijuana in 2020?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, what sits behind the question around the potential legalisation of cannabis is a level of detail that is still being worked on by the Government.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Join the cross-party group.

Hon Paula Bennett: What process is her Government going through to come up with the question?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, that's detail that is being worked through, led by the Minister of Justice. Again, I hear that there is an invitation. Given this is a referendum being put to the people of New Zealand, we would welcome the engagement of the Opposition as we develop up the question and the work that sits behind it.

Hon Paula Bennett: Will the cross-party group on drugs be deciding what the question is?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: You'll appreciate that we have to add the rigour of advice from the Ministry of Justice but, no question, we welcome input.

Hon Paula Bennett: When will the public know what the question is?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously in good time. There needs to be relevant debate in the lead-up to the general election so that people are able to genuinely engage in the question. This is an issue that we want the public to give full consideration to, which is why it's important we get both the question right and the detail that sits behind the question.

Hon Paula Bennett: Will there be a yes/no question as to whether or not marijuana should be legalised?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Even if you have a binary question like that, people need to understand, of course, how the law would change as well, alongside that. So even simple questions like that have to have a level of detail underneath it, and that's what we're working through now.

Hon Paula Bennett: In the context of that answer, then, when will the public know what the question is and have the level of detail, as the Prime Minister has just pointed out?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously well in advance. We need to give the preparatory time for the Electoral Commission, which is why we've flagged our intent this early out. Obviously we are some way off a general election. We will, as a Government, be maximising every month we have between now and then. But we will ensure that there's enough time for the public to properly engage. But, again, the detailed time line is something we're working on presently.

Question No. 4—Internal Affairs

4, CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What recent reports has she received regarding Fire and Emergency New Zealand's response to the Nelson Tasman fires?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): I received a briefing yesterday evening outlining the state of the emergency. The fire perimeter is approximately 35.8 kilometres and with favourable weather conditions yesterday significant progress has been made towards containing the fire. I was heartened to see that the safety, health, and well-being of everyone involved is of paramount consideration. I've been advised that while the hours are long and conditions are challenging, morale is high due to the support and well-wishers from around across the country. As Minister, I am proud of the outstanding work being done by firefighters who are working long hours in difficult hazardous conditions to protect life, property, and livestock.

Clayton Mitchell: What information has she received regarding the support the New Zealand Defence Force has provided to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) in response to the Nelson Tasman fires?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: One hundred and fifty-three New Zealand Defence Force personnel have been deployed, including 14 firefighters embedded with Fire and Emergency New Zealand, four New Zealand Defence Force fire appliances, 111 defence force personnel working on the cordons, and 20 personnel are participating in the welfare of those on the front line by providing catering services. Other tasks since 6 February have included supporting evacuations, vehicle escorts, overnight patrols, and support to the police.

Clayton Mitchell: What advice has she received regarding the support the New Zealand Police has provided to FENZ in response to the Nelson Tasman fires?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I have seen official reports and media reports, including a comment from the Tasman District councillor Dean McNamara, who says the presence of police and New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) patrols made it a lot easier to leave his home in Wakefield when he got the instructions to evacuate. Thanks to significant Government investment in police, we have been able to ensure a strong presence of personnel alongside fire and emergency teams. More than 100 dedicated police personnel were deployed as part of the response. This includes 37 brand-new recruits who completed their final exams at the Royal New Zealand Police College last week, took their oaths as constables, and travelled immediately to Nelson, with thanks to transport assistance from the NZDF Hercules and KiwiRail's Interislander ferry. The Wakefield police station is able to be kept open 24 hours a day during the state of emergency. Police are assisting through a number of ways. Their function is to keep the community safe, such as assisting with evacuations and maintaining the cordons; to prevent crime such as looting and other property crime, or the unauthorised use of drones; and to investigate crimes such as two suspected arsons. Their visibility in the community is also a wonderful signal for the locals, who just want to get their lives back to normal.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will she consider providing funding to ensure volunteer firefighters or their employers are not financially disadvantaged for their tremendous effort over the past week, given that this is the largest fire New Zealand has had in 60 years and that the length of commitment by those volunteer firefighters has gone beyond the normal duties we would expect of those volunteers?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Can I thank the member for his question and for making sure that we recognise the businesses who allow the volunteers to go out and do this very important work. I have a meeting at 4 o'clock today with Fire and Emergency New Zealand. This is a topic that I will be discussing with them.

Clayton Mitchell: How many volunteer firefighters have actually been involved in the Tasman fires?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: There are up to 200 firefighters working at any one time and the majority of these are volunteers. As the honourable member from the Opposition side has already pointed out, each one of those volunteers is taking time out of their own lives, out of workplaces, out of businesses that they own, and we need to acknowledge that this is a vital service they do for their community and for their country—and just take the time to acknowledge those businesses that allow them to participate.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she agree that the merged rural and urban fire service, now Fire and Emergency New Zealand, has resulted in a far better response to these Nelson fires than what occurred with the Port Hills fire in Christchurch; and, if so, has she change the view where she vigorously opposed the merger and said in Opposition that we'd be better to have separate rural and urban fire services?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: First of all, to the first part of the question, I do. I think the work done by the Hon Peter Dunne to actually bring together the fire and emergency services, to recognise that we needed a better response after the Port Hills fire—and considering that they are only part-way through their amalgamation into integration and this is been the biggest test that they have had to face since they became FENZ, I agree. This is a much better response. With regard to the second part of the question, I'm actually going to have to go back and check the Hansard, because I'm not confident in the member's basis of the question.

Question No. 5—Finance

5. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Is it his view that the current tax take in New Zealand is sufficient; if so, does he agree that income tax thresholds should be adjusted over time to keep up with inflation?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The current tax take in New Zealand is sufficient to run the operating balance before gains and losses surplus, which the coalition Government delivered last year, is delivering this year, and is set to deliver over the forecast period. These surpluses are part of upholding a fiscal position that allows us to make investments in infrastructure and keep debt under control. In response to the second part of the question, the Government set up the Tax Working Group to look at the overall balance and fairness of the tax system. We will look at their recommendations in this regard and respond to them in due course.

Hon Amy Adams: How does he justify taking $17.7 billion more in tax over the next four years than was predicted at the election when economic growth is slowing, rents are up $40 a week, and middle New Zealanders are struggling to keep up with rising costs of living?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We covered some of this ground before Christmas, and, leaving aside the difference between forecasts and projections, that extra revenue is a result of Kiwis earning more, businesses doing better, and the economy growing. So it's quite sad that the member opposite is not celebrating this kind of success in the economy.

Hon Amy Adams: Given that the Minister entirely failed to reference the impact of inflation on that number, how much of that extra tax take comes from the impact of inflation, as acknowledged by Treasury and the Reserve Bank?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don't have that number with me, but what I can say is that in the period between 2013 and 2017, an additional $17 billion was collected above what was forecast when the previous Government was in office. This is part of a growing economy.

Hon Amy Adams: Well, will he commit to adjusting tax thresholds to keep pace with inflation to ensure that it's workers, not the taxman, who get the full benefit of any wage increases?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said in answer to the primary question, we set up the Tax Working Group to get experts to look at the balance and fairness of the tax system, and we will respond to their recommendations in due course.

Hon Amy Adams: Does he agree with his associate finance Minister, who said yesterday that this Government doesn't deserve to be re-elected if it doesn't bring in a capital gains tax, or does he prefer the comments that Winston Peters has previously made that it's very clear a capital gains tax is off the table?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That member knows full well that she's quoting from a time in my career when I was not a Minister, and therefore she cannot raise it in this House in the way she seeks to do now. She's been around long enough to know those rules.

SPEAKER: No, I am going to allow the question. I think there's a difference between asking a Minister directly about something they said in Opposition and just mentioning a statement quoting a member.

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A Minister is not responsible for a comment another member made when they were not a Minister. If that was the case, the Government would welcome that, because we could then be questioned on some of the comments being made by members opposite.

SPEAKER: Yes, and members have been asked on a number of occasions if they agree with comments in reports or comments made by people opposite, and that has not been ruled out.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I've stated, the Government will look at the report of the Tax Working Group and make up our mind as a Government about what position we'll be able to take. People take a number of positions on tax issues over the years. For example, members of the Opposition have called the policy that was announced just a few weeks ago by them "chewing gum tax cuts" in the past.

Hon Amy Adams: So is it his position, then, that he won't make sure tax thresholds keep pace with inflation; he's more than happy to take $17.7 billion more in tax from New Zealanders and leave them with the threat of a capital gains tax hanging over their heads?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No.

Hon Amy Adams: Which one of those statements does he not agree with?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I already have said the member is confused about the difference between our forecasts and projections around the $17 billion figure. What that is about is the fact that the economy is forecast to grow because people will earn higher wages and businesses will make more money. I just wish the member would celebrate New Zealand's success.

Question No. 6—Housing and Urban Development

6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What changes are being considered to the KiwiBuild programme to, in his words, "make KiwiBuild a stronger incentive for developers and how we can make it work better for first home buyers" and "provide a package of assistance to developers that will be enough of an incentive to get them to commit to serious volumes of affordable housing"?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): We came into Government with a plan to tackle the national housing crisis. Part of that plan hasn't worked as well as we expected in the early stages, and we haven't built as many KiwiBuild homes as fast as we had planned. But, in spite of this, we're making good progress to address the housing issues that we inherited. Consent numbers show that between KiwiBuild and other Government house building, we're building more homes than at any other stage in the last decade. I am currently preparing options for Cabinet to consider, and Cabinet will make decisions on specific changes in due course. However, I can confirm that we are considering how we can better support builders to build more KiwiBuild homes and accelerate large-scale projects and acquire land faster. Changes to the underlying system are also required to address the dysfunction in the housing market. That's why we are moving faster to reform the planning rules, establish the urban development authority, and progress infrastructure funding and financing reforms.

Hon Judith Collins: Will either the purchase or construction of KiwiBuild houses be subsidised?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.

Hon Judith Collins: What kind of programmes is he envisioning putting in place that will incentivise developers without providing a subsidy?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As I said, we're considering a number of options to strengthen the Buying off the Plans part of KiwiBuild. I'll be taking options to Cabinet shortly, and the member will find out shortly after that.

Hon Judith Collins: How can he assure New Zealanders that he will successfully redesign the KiwiBuild programme in the next few weeks, since he has stated that his initial design of KiwiBuild is in need of "recalibration" so soon into the Government?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, we're doing something that no Government has tried to do since the 1970s, and that is to work directly with builders to encourage the building of more affordable homes. We're actually trying to do something about the housing crisis and build affordable homes, unlike the former Government, who, basically, did nothing of that kind for nine long years. We're doing our best, and we will build more affordable homes.

Hon Judith Collins: How does he respond to the Deputy Prime Minister's statement that "there are many in this Government who are seriously going to be practically committed to ensure that we do meet our targets." and that "I am going back to former Governments, where practical men who had never been to university, and women, decided they would get on with the job and get it done—and get it done we are."?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I think the Deputy Prime Minister's statement exactly reflects the spirit that we bring not only to KiwiBuild but to the entire housing and urban development programme.

Hon Judith Collins: When will he announce any KiwiBuild targets that will allow the public to hold the current Government to account on KiwiBuild progress before the next election?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We've made it very clear that we are totally committed to the target of 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years. We will continue to be completely transparent—as we are, and as we have been—about the number of homes that are being built through KiwiBuild, through State housing, and all of the other things that we're doing.

Question No. 7—Education

7. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: Has he released any proposals to strengthen and grow trades training and other vocational education?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): The Government has released three proposals for consultation to transform trades training and other vocational education. Under these proposals, industry and employers will be given a much greater leadership role in setting skills standards and overseeing qualifications and programmes across the entire vocational education system, including off-job training. The New Zealand Institute of Skills & Technology will bring together 16 polytechs into a robust regional network to offer high-quality vocational education throughout New Zealand, and a new unified funding system will remove barriers to collaboration and flexibility.

Jan Tinetti: What are the problems with the current model of vocational education?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are many, and I won't go into all of them, but it's clear that many learners are not getting the skills that they need. We have significant skills shortages, and we also know that the need for training and retraining is going to increase. We know that the system makes it hard for education providers and industry training organisations to work together, and clearly our polytech sector is unsustainable when the Government has to spend $100 million in one year alone simply to keep the lights on. We cannot continue to tweak the system when we know that the model is fundamentally broken and it isn't delivering our workforce the skills they need to thrive.

Jan Tinetti: How would the proposals for reform support learners to get the in-demand skills that they need?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: One of the biggest benefits for learners is that they will be able to move from campus to workplace and around the country without disrupting their studies. This is the step change that's needed to shift from the idea that the ultimate goal of secondary school is to prepare young people for university. Large national employers will be able to deal with a single organisation to arrange consistent training and education across the country. We want industry to take a leadership role and to have a greater say in the provision of trades training and other vocational education so that learners are getting the skills that they need for the workforce.

Jan Tinetti: How would the proposals for reform support regions to play a leadership role in the delivery of trades training and other vocational education?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Ultimately, these proposals will increase the amount and the range of education and training available in regional New Zealand. Campuses will continue to offer a wide range of delivery. The courses on offer in each region won't be limited to just what the local campus can provide on their own, because each campus will be able to draw on the resources of the whole nationwide network of polytechnic provisions, and their offerings will be able to be tailored to regional needs through the establishment of regional leadership groups.

Question No. 8—Transport

8. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Is he committed to building light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland and if so, when will work begin?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes. Light rail will be a game-changer for Auckland. It will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal, and each line will be able to carry 11,000 commuters per hour, the equivalent of four lanes of motorway. The light rail project will extend Auckland's rapid transit network, a core part of our plan to build a modern transport system for the city. There is a procurement process under way now, so work has already started.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the Government on track to have built light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mount Roskill within four years of becoming Government, as promised by Jacinda Ardern in August 2017?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: At that point, Jacinda Ardern was not the Prime Minister.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That's not answering—

SPEAKER: Well, it answered as much as the Minister has any responsibility for it.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, the core part of the question was—

SPEAKER: Well, the member can ask it again. Ask another question if he wants to.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the Government on track to have built light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Mount Roskill within four years of becoming Government?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I've expressed the view that we hope to have shovels in the ground in 2020. There's a procurement process under way; that's what we're working towards.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is that another target he no longer intends to keep?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I reject the premise of the question.

SPEAKER: The Hon Jami-Lee Ross.

Jami-Lee Ross: Not honourable, Mr Speaker, but thank you. Is he, as part of the Government's wider Auckland transport strategy, committed to also building an airport to Botany transport link as either light rail or a dedicated busway?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The south-east of Auckland is one of the most underserved areas of the region when it comes to public transport. I was happy the other day—with Mayor Phil Goff—to announce the new Pakuranga to Howick busway as part of the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative project. Work is under way now looking at the possibility of extending a rapid transit service that would connect the Auckland Airport with Manukau, Puhinui, and up through Flat Bush to Botany. My hope is that that will be something we'll be able to get up and running and make progress on in the coming years.

Jami-Lee Ross: Is he willing to work with me as a local MP to progress future plans for an airport to Botany transport link?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, I would welcome the member's cooperation in that.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does the Minister agree with infrastructure Minister Shane Jones' message to Phil Goff about the light rail project: "I would say before Phil Goff gets too enthusiastic about the Dominion Road idea he needs to sort out how he's going to fund the CRL project. It hasn't been completed yet and now he's got to find $500 million to $1 billion for that."?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I would point out that the light rail project is being pursued through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project and is expected to be funded and financed as part of that 30-year transport plan, and funded partly through the National Land Transport Programme. The member will know that the City Rail Link project that was entered into under the former National Government is funded through Crown contributions—completely separate from the National Land Transport Programme.

Question No. 9—Education

Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei): Does the Minister stand by all his statements and actions around tertiary education and vocational education reforms?

SPEAKER: I am going to ask the member to ask the question again as it is on the sheet.

9. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by all of his statements and actions around tertiary education and vocational education reforms?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes, and I particularly stand by my statement that those who've created the mess in vocational education continue to be in denial about it and don't seem to have any plans of their own about how to fix it.

Simeon Brown: Supplementary.

SPEAKER: Simeon Brown, sorry. It's almost like the first time. Thank you.

Simeon Brown: Happy New Year, Mr Speaker. What are the implications of the announced reforms for wānanga and private training establishments?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In the short term there aren't any. In the longer term there are great opportunities for both wānanga and private training establishments. We've committed to meeting with—very quickly—the wānanga, in particular, to talk about the opportunities for them. I know that in the past they have expressed a desire to be more actively engaged in on-job training, and this does create the opportunity for them to do so, as it creates an opportunity for private training establishments.

Dr Shane Reti: Will jobs be lost in the announced vocational education reforms; and, if so, from what areas?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Jobs are already being lost in vocational education and training around the country, and doing nothing will result in even more jobs being lost. It is simply irresponsible to speculate at this point on ultimately how many jobs might be lost and how many people might need to be redeployed or retrained for different roles. That work will be done now that the proposals are public. It would not be possible to do the analysis around that work without making the proposals public, because we wanted to ensure that people knew what we're planning, rather than think that we're going around behind their backs, planning their futures without them.

Dr Shane Reti: How is the local decision-making and self-direction of well-performing Otago Polytechnic better off under these reforms?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It's very clear that we need the system to operate as a whole. The whole system is not delivering, for businesses and for employers, the skills that they need. We have seen a 20,000-plus reduction in the number of people studying at polytechnics across the country. We need to do a much better job of providing a system that meets the needs of the whole country. In so far as those regions where they've got strongly performing institutions, those institutions will continue to perform strongly as part of a national network.

Hon Ruth Dyson: What reactions has the Minister seen to the release of the proposals on the reform of trades training and other vocational education?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There's been a lot of reaction so far, but I'll just pick out three briefly. The Tertiary Education Union have welcomed the bold changes, particularly saying that they will provide more security and certainty for staff. Business New Zealand have welcomed the proposals. The Employers and Manufacturers Association have welcomed the proposals, saying, "We're pleased to see that the imbalance that's developed between the focus on tertiary and vocational education is being addressed." Many, many other businesses have also been saying that this is what they've been waiting for for a very long time.

Question No. 10—Trade and Export Growth

10. JAMIE STRANGE (Labour) to the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: How much money has been spent on the Saudi sheep farm in the desert also known as the Saudi agri-hub, and have any steps been taken to stop more money being spent?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Trade and Export Growth): Around $10 million had been spent on building a sheep farm in the Saudi Arabian desert before we took office, including taxpayer money spent flying ewes on Singapore Airlines and a $4 million cash payment to a Saudi business not owed any money. On 31 December, this Government terminated the remainder of the contract to ship and install an abattoir in Saudi Arabia. This has saved taxpayers almost $1 million. We don't believe any more taxpayer money should be flushed down the drain on this shabby scheme.

Jamie Strange: What have been the benefits of building a sheep farm in the Saudi Arabian desert?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Thus far, I've seen none. There was never any credible legal threat to New Zealand, so building a sheep farm didn't resolve it. We still don't have a trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council. New Zealand's reputation for fair dealing was undermined by the so-called incentive payment of $4 million to a Saudi business not owed any money. The Auditor-General found the payment was "provided under the guise of a contract for services." She was undoubtedly correct. This money was wasted.

Jamie Strange: Has he seen the report back required by the Auditor-General from the responsible department on the benefits of the sheep farm?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I'm advised that officials are still working on it, but I would opine that they would probably work for a decade and still not find any benefits to justify the scheme. There were no benefits from the $4 million cash payment to the Al-Khalaf business, no reputational benefits from the mass deaths of lambs, and there was no benefit for the terms of the deal allowing the media to be blocked from the showcase farm. I agree with the Auditor-General that the lack of transparency around this venture was appalling, and I will ensure that a fulsome report is provided.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister saying that the claim that there was a legal threat and therefore action had to be taken by the previous Government was simply not true?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I am. I am saying that. It's clear that there was no legal threat and that the ban on the export of live sheep for slaughter was always legal. I have seen departmental reports from ministry officials that do record that the Saudis did take offence at expectations that were created by a former Minister for Primary Industries and also at the somewhat arrogant statements that were made by one of his staff members as he talked down to the Saudi officials. Perhaps those on the other side of the House who've been casting aspersions should look to their own house.

Hon James Shaw: Has anyone been or will anybody be held accountable for wasting taxpayer money on a sheep farm in the Saudi desert?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, sadly, no. The money's been lost; we've got no right to recover it. But I suppose one form of accountability was the election result.

Hon James Shaw: Has the Minister seen any reports that corroborate former Minister McCully's assertions about why the deal was needed?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I haven't, and I would also make the point that after the Auditor-General's highly critical report, that Minister gave but one interview, held 20 minutes after the report had been released as he came into question time, before the media had even had the chance to read the report, and since that time he has not given one interview to the media during the year or so that followed prior to his leaving Parliament.

Hon James Shaw: Has the Minister seen any media reports that Murray McCully and Michelle Boag have moved on from the Saudi sheep scandal to establish a blue-green party in Auckland?

SPEAKER: Order! Even if he had, he wouldn't have any responsibility.

Question No. 11—Social Development

11. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for Social Development: How much did the Government transfer in social security and welfare payments according to the Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand for the Year Ended 30 June 2018 on a per household basis?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): The Crown spent $25.99 billion on social security and welfare in 2018 according to Financial Statements of the Government of New Zealand, 30 June 2018. However, this includes spending on departmental expenses and so is not the amount provided for transfers on social security and welfare payments. The Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update 2018 records the amount provided for the benefit expenses, which was $24 billion in the fiscal year to 30 June 2018. The majority of that spending actually relates to New Zealand superannuation: 56 percent of that. According to Statistics New Zealand the estimated households and private occupied dwellings on average over the year ended 30 June 2018 were 1,735,200. I've been provided with Treasury advice that, based on those two figures, the total spend is approximately $13,834 per household.

David Seymour: Given that the Government is spending $13,834 per household on cash transfers, why does the Salvation Army say this morning in its State of the Nation Report that, "there are few signs that government policies are beginning to address seemingly entrenched aspects of poverty in New Zealand."?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: With all due respect, I have received the Salvation Army's report but I do not have responsibility for the Salvation Army's State of the Nation Report.

David Seymour: If transferring $13,834 to the average household every year in social security and welfare payments is not enough to end poverty, how much does the Government plan to transfer each year?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Can I just remind the member that 56 percent of the spend that we have just discussed is actually allocated to superannuation. I think it's a really important point to make. Seventeen percent of the transfers with regards to the benefit amount is spent on main benefits. The information I have in front of me shows that for the last few years that's been fairly static. I'm unsure of where the member is trying to take this House; however, I've laid out the information I have in front of him.

Question No. 12—Tourism

12. Hon JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Tourism: What was the date he first found out about the need to postpone the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism opening ceremony?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Tourism): The Chinese Embassy informed the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on 28 January. I was informed by MBIE officials shortly after.

Hon Jacqui Dean: Why did he not make a public announcement on the postponement?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The event is being organised by the Chinese Government, and it would be silly for me to upstage them.

Hon Jacqui Dean: When did he inform the Prime Minister of the postponement, and what was her response?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I informed her immediately.

Hon Jacqui Dean: What actions has he now taken to secure a new date for the opening ceremony?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Again, this is down to the Chinese Government. It's down to their scheduling and coordination, so I'll leave it up to them and MBIE officials to organise this.

Hon Jacqui Dean: Does he agree with the Prime Minister, in question time today, who said that there are "challenges in the relationship with China"?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I agree with almost everything the Prime Minister says, especially when she says that the numbers of Chinese tourists continue to rise: 8.4 percent growth in the last year and we're expecting those numbers to continue to rise.

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