Parliament: Questions and Answers - Feb 14
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: How would she define our relationship with China, given her foreign Minister has made it clear her Government is concerned about Chinese influence in the Pacific?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, words matter. When a very, very carefully crafted speech is given, what is said is factual; what is not said is malicious inference.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with her Deputy Prime Minister that New Zealand's relationship with China is "excellent", and would that remain a fair description if New Zealand exporters were now facing delays when trying to export their goods to China?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the last time there was a delay was when the former Government was in office, where goods were on the wharves whilst they were trying to sort out the melamine scandal at that time. I recall who the Minister was and how hopeless he was in trying to solve it. There are no delays on our ports or Chinese ports at this point in time. In fact, if you look at the growth in exports, the growth in inter-country travel, the growth in expenditure between China and New Zealand, it's all gone up in the last year dramatically.
Hon Paula Bennett: What recent reports or advice has she received from Government officials regarding delays for New Zealand exports at Chinese ports?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, making an allegation like that, impugning that there is a crisis when one does not exist—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It's a question. Try answering it!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Pardon?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It's a question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, I know, "Mr Woodwork Teacher", it's a question—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I want to remind all members in the House that this is regarded by most New Zealanders as a very serious issue and should be treated that way. The level of interjection, or the type of interjection, is not helpful. I will remind the Deputy Prime Minister while answering to stay within the bounds of the Standing Orders and to apologise for the comment made about another member before the Deputy Prime Minister resumes the answer for the Prime Minister.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I, with great delight, apologise to all woodwork teachers, including Mr Brownlee.
SPEAKER: No. The Deputy Prime Minister will now apologise without any qualification.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I apologise without qualification and unreservedly. Can I say that in that question was the allegation or inference that there was some crisis with respect to the product arriving in China. I'm asking the member who asked that question to give us, for the first time in a long time of parliamentary questions, the facts to back it up, because it does not exist.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do ask permission to ask my question again without having to take one. It was very clear, it was a short question, there was nothing impugned in it, and it wasn't answered at all.
SPEAKER: It was answered. It was very clearly answered, not just what reports but the fact that none existed.
Hon Paula Bennett: If, as the Prime Minister says, she has not sought recent reports or advice, how can she unequivocally state that there are no hold-ups of our exports at Chinese ports?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, thank heavens that my mind processes are not so convoluted. We do not start at shadows or go looking for false rabbits up unusual trees. The fact is that no businessman or woman has raised the issue with us. So why would the Prime Minister's job require her to start making inquiries where there's no concern about trade.
Hon Shane Jones: Does the Prime Minister stand by her comments on the Air New Zealand flight being turned around?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, most definitely yes, because, paradoxically, two Governments knew nothing about this matter: the New Zealand Government and the Chinese Government. Air New Zealand has admitted that it was a total botch-up and that they turned the plane around without any contact with China whatsoever. They've taken full blame.
Hon Paula Bennett: Is she aware that Government officials are actively discussing that exporters experienced delays at Chinese ports?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, that is not information that is presently before us, but we would welcome that member providing the background evidence that I hope is the substance of her question, but hitherto and now the answer is no.
Hon Shane Jones: Does the Prime Minister stand by her remarks pertaining to the five Ministers who, apparently, have had their visas revoked?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Can I just—can the Prime Minister resume her seat; I'm not sure how we put this. Can I make it absolutely clear that it is the right of any member to ask a supplementary question. It was a very broad opening question, and the questioning of a member of the Government's right to ask a supplementary that members don't like is just not acceptable.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was no case of the Opposition not liking the question; it was just the inference that there had been a suggestion that visas had been revoked. The question that was asked yesterday was, "Have they simply had trouble getting visas issued?"
Hon Chris Hipkins: Speaking to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If you're going to be ruling out on the basis of objection from the other side imputations in questions, then, actually, you'd be knocking out most of the questions being asked by the Opposition on the basis that we don't agree with the premise of them.
SPEAKER: And, obviously, if the Prime Minister hasn't made any such statement, then it's up to her to say so.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the comments that I made were to do with the allegation from the National Party that five Ministers had had their visa applications stopped. That's an accurate summation of the allegation. Now, the next question is: have the Chinese failed to process five ministerial applications? And strangely enough—we've got to wait for the punchline—the answer is yes, and guess why? Because not one of those five Ministers has made an application for a visa at this point in time.
Hon Paula Bennett: Will she now ask official advice on delays at Chinese ports, as we had New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) in the select committee today saying that they had had phone calls of concern from businesses around exports on Chinese ports?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I just say that, on behalf of the Prime Minister, a comment from NZTE about phone calls which are mistaken and probably originate from—
Hon Nathan Guy: Throw them under the bus.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —base allegations that are not true—and if that Minister's record was put on the line, we'd see how inadequate he was. It went on for months, you recall—at enormous loss—and when it was all over, we'd lost control of our infant formula business. This guy should have been retired a long time ago.
SPEAKER: Order! I am going to remind the Deputy Prime Minister—I understand that he shouted at the Prime Minister, but I will remind the Deputy Prime Minister that he is speaking for the Prime Minister and answering for her, and that might enter the nature of the answers given.
Hon Shane Jones: Does the Prime Minister stand by her comments in respect of the statutory process pertaining to Huawei and the delivery of independent information related to security?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, most definitely, yes. The legislation under which that decision was made was passed by the then National Party - led Government, not supported by the Labour Party or New Zealand First. I cannot recall what the Green Party did, but it was a National Party piece of legislation. So here comes the process which post the election was still in place, and the Prime Minister is not—nor are any Cabinet Ministers—involved. It is the process set up by the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act that the National Party put in place. [Interruption] Yes, she does.
• Question No. 2—Finance
2. ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he seen on the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I've seen a number of reports that demonstrate the solid fundamentals of the economy. Statistics New Zealand's labour market statistics published last week show that across the last two quarters, we've recorded the lowest unemployment rates in a decade. The Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Index for December showed that confidence in the labour market rose strongly to 121.3, its highest level since early 2008. Likewise, the Westpac McDermott Miller Regional Economic Confidence survey showed improved confidence across all 11 regions. In Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast, and Otago, at least a net 50 percent of households were expecting improved prospects in their region over the next year. Confidence in the main centres also rose, particularly in Auckland—up 30 percentage points. I'm pleased to see that these sentiment surveys show that Kiwis are seeing the reality of our economy's strong base.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What reports has he seen on the impact of international factors on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, yesterday the Reserve Bank released its February Monetary Policy Statement, which highlighted the continued strength and resilience of the New Zealand economy. What it also showed was the warning from the bank that slowing momentum in the global economy is expected to weigh on growth in New Zealand. The Reserve Bank also pointed to risks from political tensions and trade disputes overseas. In addition, the IMF is forecasting global growth to slow this year, with advanced economies averaging around 2 percent, well below New Zealand's forecast growth rate. These international risks underscore the importance of this Government's commitment to responsible fiscal management and building a more modern and resilient economy.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: How will the Government's plan to reform New Zealand's institutions help modernise the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: This morning, the Reserve Bank Governor and I signed the first remit setting out the Reserve Bank's new dual objectives around maximum sustainable employment and price stability. We also signed the charter that will govern the decision making of the bank's new monetary policy committee. Under the remit signed today, the Reserve Bank's operational objectives for monetary policy are to keep inflation between 1 and 3 percent over the medium term, with a focus on keeping inflation near the 2 percent midpoint, and to support maximum sustainable employment. These objectives will ensure that monetary policy better supports the New Zealand economy as we head towards the middle part of the 21st century.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Prime Minister's statement on Tuesday that "the economy is performing above expectations"?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, and let's just run through a few comparisons with the member's favourite document, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update (PREFU). The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.3 percent from 4.7 percent in the election, and in the pre-election update it was not expected to reach 4.3 percent until 2020 under the previous Government's economic settings—above expectations. The size of the economy at 30 September 2018—the latest numbers we have—was $291 billion against the PREFU forecast of $285 billion—above expectations. The PREFU forecast net core Crown debt would be 22 percent of GDP at the end of the 2017-18 year. We got it to 20 percent due to strong growth and healthier surpluses—above expectations. The latest monthly Crown accounts show a larger than expected operating balance before gains and losses surplus, because employment and consumption growth has been greater than Treasury expected not only at PREFU but also at the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update 2018—above expectations. To sum up, the economy is stronger under the coalition Government than Treasury had expected at the election, when the previous Government's settings were in place.
Hon Amy Adams: Is it a sign of an economy performing above expectations that the last quarter's and the last year's economic growth have been the lowest rates in five years, and yet the ANZ is still predicting future growth to, and I quote, "disappoint further"?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The growth rates—in fact, let's take the Reserve Bank's Monetary Policy Statement—are expected to be 3.1 percent for 2018 and then staying close to 3 percent through 2019, 2020, and 2021. If the member was listening to my earlier answer, globally, growth amongst advanced economies is expected to be around 2 percent. New Zealand will be outperforming that.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, does he regard it as a sign of an economy performing above expectations that the number of people receiving jobseeker benefits has gone up 11,000 in the last year and there's now 26,000 more NEETs than when he took office?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In respect of the last part of that question, I'd encourage the member to look at the statement that Statistics New Zealand made about the reliability of the NEETs data in the latest forecast. What I can say, though, is that on this side of the House, we're actually going to be investing, and are investing, in programmes that will get young people into work. We've got Mana in Mahi. We've got He Poutama Rangatahi. We have a range of programmes that are doing that, because on this side of the House we believe in investing in young people instead of writing them off as lazy and hopeless, as the previous Government did.
Hon Amy Adams: Is it a sign of an economy performing above expectations that job creation has fallen from 10,000 new jobs a month, when that Minister took office, to just 650 a month in the last quarter?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Over the last year, I believe, the figure is around 60,000 new jobs in the economy. That is a good result. We are at the point now—when unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade—that it becomes harder and harder to create the next job, but businesses in New Zealand are doing that.
Hon Amy Adams: Is it above his expectations to see investor confidence falling again and farmer confidence at the lowest level since the global financial crisis?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: This highlights the member's difficulty, because those investor confidence numbers zeroed in on concerns around global sharemarkets and global equities. The member might like to think that the New Zealand economy operates completely separately from the rest of the world. But, I have to say, I'd much rather prefer the endorsement of organisations like Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings that have come out in recent times and said that the New Zealand economy is strong and resilient and able to face up to these international headwinds.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect to the economy performing above expectation, is it or is it not a fact that we are building more houses now in New Zealand than back to 1978—that is, for 41 years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Indeed, that is in fact true, and what members on the other side of the House, when it comes to the place of house building in the New Zealand economy, need to remember is that this is a Government that came in and said we will stop the sell-off of State houses, because it's not just not building enough of them; it's that that lot were selling them off. For the first time in a very long time, we have a Government committed to building affordable homes for first-home buyers.
Hon Amy Adams: Doesn't he think that New Zealand deserves a finance Minister who has higher expectations—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Start again, please.
Hon Amy Adams: Thank you. Doesn't the Minister think New Zealand deserves a finance Minister who has higher expectations for this country than slowing growth, rapidly rising rents, fewer new jobs, and more people on benefits, which is the legacy of his tenure so far?
SPEAKER: Well, I'm tempted to rule it out for irony, but I will give the Minister the opportunity to answer it with a wide brief.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Far be it from someone as modest as myself to speak about what kind of finance Minister we have today. What I can say is that I'm extremely proud of a coalition Government that has made sure that the New Zealand economy continues to be managed carefully. But, on this side of the House, we don't believe that you can crow about a growth rate of 3.5 percent when child poverty's growing, when homelessness is growing, and when our health and education systems are underfunded. That member over there wants to take a good, square look in the mirror and say what is the point of a growth rate like that if New Zealanders don't see the benefits of it? On this side of the House, we're making sure that happens.
• Question No. 4—Housing and Urban Development
4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does he stand by his statement in regards to the Reserve Bank November 2018 Monetary Policy Statement that "I don't accept those estimates", and does he now accept the KiwiBuild estimates in the February 2019 Monetary Policy Statement?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): In general, yes and yes.
Hon Judith Collins: Does he agree with Adrian Orr, Reserve Bank Governor, who told the Finance and Expenditure Committee this morning, in regards to KiwiBuild, "If they were going to build 100 houses, that means that between 50 and 75 houses elsewhere aren't built."?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, there's much that I agree with Adrian Orr on in relation to the comments about KiwiBuild in the Monetary Policy Statement, particularly the importance of overcoming the capacity constraints that this Government inherited to building houses. But when it comes to the issue of crowding out, I don't entirely accept what the Governor had to say. KiwiBuild is fundamentally about building affordable homes, and if all these affordable homes were going to be built anyway, where have they been built over the last 10 years? The market has simply not been building affordable homes.
Hon Judith Collins: Does he believe his officials from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, who told him, in relation to developments at Te Kauwhata and Wānaka, that if KiwiBuild didn't underwrite the houses, all 386 of the KiwiBuild houses in those two projects would have happened anyway, courtesy of the private sector?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, there's a range of advice for the Te Kauwhata, the Wānaka, the McLennan, and the Mason Square developments, and in all of those projects our priority is to incentivise the building of affordable homes, not just any homes.
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the Minister said a few things, he didn't actually answer whether he believed his officials, who have told him those houses were due to be built anyway by the private sector.
SPEAKER: No, I think, at a broad interpretation, the implication was pretty clear that he didn't.
Hon Judith Collins: Does he stand by his answers to written questions Nos. 32124 and 38048 that in regards to the Porirua development, KiwiBuild is not making any financial contribution to the project, but its role is to simply "monitor the delivery and manage the ballot sales process"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes.
Hon Judith Collins: Is it his intention that KiwiBuild will incentivise developers to build "smaller, medium-density dwellings in sub-urban locations", as noted in the KiwBuild Buying off the Plans business case?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes.
Hon Judith Collins: Is he ready to acknowledge that KiwiBuild is not substantially adding to the house supply in areas where it is needed and in homes the sizes that people want to buy, but is simply redirecting workers away from private home builders?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Not at all.
• Question No. 5—Education
5. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What responses has he seen to the vocational education reform proposals he announced yesterday?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): We've had some very positive responses from business and industry. Business New Zealand was very positive about the change. The Motor Trade Association said that "It's a phenomenally radical approach and we need it. We're short of about 2,000 technicians just in automotive." It's been welcomed by the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, who say there are obvious benefits to having a centralised model; the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, who have called it a great step forward; and Federated Farmers, who say it fully supports the Government's determination to put the spotlight on vocational education.
Marja Lubeck: What responses has he seen from the polytechnic sector itself?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: We've had some very positive and constructive comments from the polytechnic sector body. Some chief executives have expressed concern and some have identified concerns with the proposals that haven't actually been made. The Ara Institute of Canterbury has called it "a strong vision for vocational education". The Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki have said, "If anything it brings more teaching and learning to regions such as Taranaki." Karla Davis, a student leader at the Universal College of Learning, has said that she's excited for this necessary change, and the Tertiary Education Union has called it a "Bold proposal [that] puts people at the heart of vocational education", and they go on to say, "having a single polytechnic provides a genuine opportunity to ensure long-term stability of jobs not just in [the] major centres but … in the regional communities who have been the big losers under the previous government's failed market experiment in tertiary education,".
• Question No. 6—Transport
6. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Transport: Is he confident that light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland is the best use of resources; if so, why?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes. It will be a magnet for private investment in urban renewal, and it will be able to carry 11,000 commuters per hour—the equivalent of four lanes of motorway. The New Zealand Transport Agency advises that the latest transport modelling results indicate that in 2048, there will be 20 million passengers per year using the light-rail line between the city centre and Māngere, including an estimated 70,000 people per working day. The aim is to provide modern and efficient rapid transit for communities that are now plagued by traffic congestion.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, how does he know it is the best use of resources if he hasn't yet received a business case?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because I'm relying on the advice and the modelling of the experts. The business case is under way. The project will not be proceeded with until that business case has been accepted and endorsed.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What evidence has he got that $3.7 billion—if that is the final figure—invested in light rail down Dominion Road will reduce congestion across the Auckland transport network as much as other potential investments, such as a second route south along Mill Road dealing with pinch points on the Southern Motorway, such as through the East-West Link, and other options?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the evidence is contained in a number of studies that have been carried out by Auckland Transport, by the New Zealand Transport Agency, and by the Ministry of Transport, and, I think, in the fact that the only progressive transport Minister in the last National Government, the Hon Simon Bridges, adopted and endorsed light rail between the city centre and Māngere and announced a process as the route alignment.
GOLDSMITH316Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: Is reducing congestion on Auckland's roads his top Auckland priority in transport?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The top priority of our Auckland transport policy is to give people access to the things that they need, to spend money wisely, and to reduce the extreme car dependency that city suffers because of years of the last National Government investing only in expensive motorways and starving the rest of the transport system of the resources it needs.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is reducing congestion on Auckland's roads his top Auckland priority in transport?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, reducing congestion is part of the wider goal of giving people access to the things that they need. But, as Aucklanders understand, simply building more motorways or adding lanes to the existing motorways induces demand and actually adds to the chronic congestion that the city suffers. Our policy is to give people genuine transport choices by investing in roads, motorways, walking and cycling, public transport, and rapid transit. That's how we're going to deliver a 21st century transport system for our country's biggest city.
• Question No. 7—Health
7. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement that National Health Targets created "perverse incentives"?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The previous Government's targets produced perverse incentives leading to what were traditionally cheaper surgeries being performed in more expensive environments. I want a health system that has honest and transparent measures. I want a system that doesn't pump up numbers by counting Avastin injections and skin lesion removals that could have been done in primary care as surgeries only if they're done in the most expensive environment. The answer to the member's question is yes.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Would he agree that the removal of the targets has created other perverse outcomes, such as for cancer patient Blair Vining, who described at a recent cancer conference that he would have died before the date of his first public hospital appointment?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I think everybody in this House and I think every New Zealander would feel deeply for Mr Vining and his wife Melissa in their circumstances. They wrestle with the end of Blair's life in coming months. What is really important here is that a cancer plan is developed. I was at the conference—the member was not there—and that's what Mr Vining spoke passionately about. The Director-General of Health has promised to have that cancer plan in place—an interim plan—by June this year.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has cancer treatment timeliness improved or worsened since the Minister removed the national health targets for cancer treatment?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The member will know that the results are on the website, and they are roughly in line across recent years.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, in that case, can he confirm that, since removing the targets, the published data on the Ministry of Health website shows four of the five targets, including cancer, have got worse, not better, and that the data hasn't been updated for the past six months?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I can confirm that, across the targets, one more of them has been met than was the case in quarter one, 2017-18.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is he aware that since the conference, around 100 patients have contacted the Vinings to share stories of wait times for first appointments from just two weeks to more than two months, and isn't this an example of the postcode medicine that health targets were designed to avoid?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As I've said previously, the previous Government's targets—some of them had merit; collectively, they were too narrowly focused. I want a system that delivers better quality healthcare across the board to New Zealanders. In particular, in respect to the faster cancer treatment target, I note that it didn't cover all cancer types. I want honest and transparent measures that drive better outcomes across the wider health system.
• Question No. 8—Health
8. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent announcements has she made regarding youth mental health?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Health): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. On Monday, Minister Clark, my colleague Chlöe Swarbrick, and I launched Piki in Porirua, the first community to benefit from a pilot of free mental health support for 18- to 25-year-olds. Piki will be targeted at young people with mild to moderate health needs to ensure that they get the early intervention and support that they need. Piki will help an estimated 10,000 young people across Porirua, Wellington, the Hutt Valley, and the Wairarapa.
Angie Warren-Clark: How will people get access to mental health support through Piki?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: There is no wrong door. Young people can access Piki through self-referral, contact through the Government-funded mental health support line 1737, seeking help from district health boards (DHBs), or their GP.
Angie Warren-Clark: Why is this Government involved in early intervention?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The mental health and addictions inquiry heard a lot about the need for intervening earlier to ensure that problems don't escalate and become a crisis. This pilot is based off a United Kingdom model, which has a very strong evidence base. We need to ensure that that model works in a New Zealand context, particularly for Māori and Pasifika young people, who are especially vulnerable in this area.
Chlöe Swarbrick: Does this Government have the intention of expanding this pilot throughout the rest of New Zealand?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The vision that the Green Party and the Government share is that all 18- to 25-year-olds in New Zealand will have access to mental health support when they need it. I am extremely pleased that the pilot has launched, and I know that we need to ensure that it works for our young people. The pilot will be working through issues like workforce shortages and peer support scalability. We know that many communities need more support, and that is why this Government has prioritised mental health.
Matt Doocey: Why is the Minister using the figure of 10,000 young people across the three DHBs in the Wellington region when the Ministry of Health reported at the Health Committee that the pilot would be delivered to 3 percent of young people across the three DHBs in the Wellington region, approximately 61,000 young people—
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I am not aware of the specific answer given at the select committee, so I don't know if the numbers the member is referring to are correct. What I do know is that the advice we have from the Ministry of Health is that this pilot is expected to be accessed and used by 10,000 young people, which is nearly 20 percent of the population of young people in the affected area.
• Question No. 9—Social Development
SPEAKER: Before the member asks her question, I have been warned, I think thrice, that this is likely to be a longer than normal answer.
9. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: How many more children are living in hardship following an increase of 9,000 people on benefits compared to one year ago?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Answering the member's question is problematic for a couple of reasons; however, I'm going to try to answer her question as best I can. The recent Household Incomes in New Zealand report did not include low income and material hardship figures for children in 2016 and 2017, because of a sizable change in levels that the officials cannot fully explain, even when the relatively small sample size of 3,500 is taken into account. This makes it difficult to directly respond to the member's question.
What I can tell the member is that as at December 2018 the number of dependent children of working-age people on main benefits were 180,715. In December 2017, this figure was 178,310, an increase of 2,405. Through changes, like the winter energy payment, these families have been able to lift their incomes, which is critical to lifting children out of hardship. Treasury projects that this Government's Families Package will lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty by 2021.
However, it is important that the member does not oversimplify hardship by confining it to beneficiary households. What we know from the Household Incomes in New Zealand report is that a sizable portion of poor children actually come from working families—it's estimated around four in 10. That's why this Government's commitment to raising incomes through increases in the minimum wage is also important in reducing the number of children living in hardship.
Hon Louise Upston: Given her response about the number of children living in benefit-dependent homes not being the poorest, what's her response to the Salvation Army State of the Nation Report released yesterday, that states most children living in households receiving only a benefit are likely to be the poorest?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I wouldn't dispute that statement. In fact, in my previous answer I said that four in 10 children living in households that are living in poverty are likely to be in households where someone is working. Four in 10 is not the majority; the other six in 10, yes, are likely to be in beneficiary households.
Hon Louise Upston: Why has the percentage of all children living in benefit-dependent homes increased under her watch, when it had fallen steadily and consistently since 2013?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Can I just give some context to that. The unemployment rate at the moment is 4.3 percent. That's the second-lowest that it's been in the last 10 years. The lowest was actually the last quarter—both those figures under us. I've explained in the past that the dropping of the unemployment rate but the lifting of the numbers is largely due to population growth. As you can imagine, when there is population growth with adults, there's also population growth with the children in those households.
Hon Louise Upston: Can the Minister explain what benefit numbers as a proportion of the working-age population means?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The benefit numbers as a proportion of the working-age population means exactly what the member has just said. It is the proportion of the population that are on benefits.
• Question No. 10—Workplace Relations and Safety
10. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Does he consider the recommendations made by the working group chaired by Jim Bolger are fair and will respect the right of individual workers to negotiate their own individual employment agreements?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Yes. The Rt Hon Jim Bolger and his team of experts have done an excellent job of identifying longstanding problems with the New Zealand labour market and suggesting innovative solutions to those issues.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does he agree with the recommendation from that working group that just a small minority of only 10 percent of all workers within an industry would, by compulsion, be able to trigger a bargaining process, even if it goes against the wishes of the other 90 percent of workers in that sector and against the wishes of business owners?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As is the case with all of the recommendations in that report, they are recommendations. The Government is considering its response to those recommendations, and that response will be made public in due course.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does the Minister agree that independence and freedom of choice are among the foundations of an innovative and competitive economy, and, if so, why is he intent on removing these freedoms from both employees and employers?
SPEAKER: Order! No, the member will rephrase the question and put it within order. There's an assertion in that question that has not been clearly established.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does the Minister agree that independence and freedom of choice are among the foundations of an innovative and competitive economy, and is he planning on removing these freedoms from both employees and employers?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I do agree that people should have the ability to make individual decisions and have freedom of choice and freedom of association. What we're talking about with fair pay agreements, of course, is the opportunity for industries to negotiate minimum standards that apply and are relevant to those industries. So, just in the same way that having a minimum wage or minimum entitlements to holiday pay do not restrict people's individual choice, neither will fair pay agreements.
Hon Clare Curran: What issues with the New Zealand labour market did the fair pay working group identify?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The Fair Pay Agreement Working Group found that New Zealanders work longer and produce less per hour than most OECD countries. Our productivity growth has been poor and driven by people working more hours, not more efficiently. Wages in New Zealand have been growing more slowly for workers on lower incomes and have not kept up with labour productivity. In other words, we have both an equality and productivity challenge. The working group's recommendations are set to address both.
Hon Scott Simpson: Will he make the agreements recommended in the working group's report voluntary?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As with all the recommendations in the report, they are recommendations that the Government will now take its time to consider. When the Government has done that and reached its position on the working group report, that position will be made public.
Hon Clare Curran: What have the OECD and other international institutions said about industry-based bargaining?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: New Zealand is an outlier amongst developed countries by having bargaining at only the individual enterprise level. Two-thirds of OECD countries have some form of sector-based bargaining, and as recently as 2008, the OECD has recommended a combination of sector- and enterprise-level bargaining because it is associated with higher employment, lower unemployment, better treatment of vulnerable groups, and less inequality.
Hon Scott Simpson: How does the Minister reconcile the concept of compulsory sector-wide collective bargaining without opt-out provisions against international labour standards that specifically state voluntary negotiations of collective agreements are a fundamental part of our labour laws?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, again, I would refer the member to the fact that we are talking about setting minimum standards. We already have minimum standards that are compulsory. The minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay, and bereavement leave, for instance, are all minimum standards that are compulsorily applied across the labour market. But I would also say this: the working group recommended to the Government—and we will do this—that we work alongside the International Labour Organization as we build a framework for fair pay agreements to ensure that we are upholding people's individual rights.
• Question No. 11—Housing and Urban Development (Mori Housing)
11. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand) to the Associate Minister of Housing and Urban Development (Māori Housing): Is she concerned with the finding in the Salvation Army's State of the Nation report which shows Māori are almost nine times more likely to be on the social housing waiting list?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Associate Minister of Housing and Urban Development (Māori Housing)): Yes, it is really concerning and a stark reminder of why we are in Government. Forty-six percent of people on the public housing register are Māori, so we can expect approximately 4,300 whānau will benefit from secure, warm, community homes that we are building. We know we need to do more, but we're starting and I think we're going in the right direction.
Marama Davidson: What specific Māori housing initiatives is she working on to help more Māori into homes, and does she think there'll be enough to make a real difference in time for next year's Salvation Army's report?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Well, like the member, the Government recognises that it's important to address housing needs for Māori across the continuum, from homelessness to public housing through to homeownership. That's why we're actively working with the Salvation Army on housing solutions and we know that more can be done. We're also working with Māori and iwi organisations to ensure that the solutions better meet the needs across our regions and that we are developing housing packages to better respond to those needs. What that will look like in a year is that we are having impact where it matters most, but you can't fix things in a minute that have been left to linger for far too long under the previous administration.
Marama Davidson: Does the Minister agree that it is essential to empower Māori and ensure the housing is appropriate for whānau, and what are some of those specific plans to work directly with Māori providers?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Yes, we do believe that it's essential to work alongside Māori and iwi organisations. In fact, if we look across the spectrum as it exists now, many Māori housing organisations are participating in providing transitional housing as a step towards more secure housing options. We do understand that across the housing continuum there is more to be done, especially in terms of affordable homeownership options, but we're starting where the need is most and where Māori organisations have identified that they want to make a difference. In fact, right now we have arrangements with 19 iwi-based organisations and are contracting with them in the areas where the need has been identified in specific communities.
• Question No. 12—Transport
12. Hon TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Does she support NZTA's current campaign, which promotes the message "The safer the car, the safer they are" to encourage New Zealanders to purchase safer vehicles?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes, I do. Vehicle safety, along with road design and speed, can make the difference as to whether someone survives a crash or not. This campaign is about raising awareness with New Zealanders about vehicle safety before they buy their car, not after.
Hon Tim Macindoe: What is the total cost of the safer cars campaign?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: You would have to direct that question to the New Zealand Transport Agency. They are entirely responsible for administering their own budget on road safety awareness campaigns.
SPEAKER: Order! That's not a satisfactory answer. I think if the member is answering a transport question of this type, she has parliamentary responsibility for it, even if she doesn't have operational responsibility. If she doesn't have the figure, then she should say so and provide it later.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I don't have the figure, but I can request it from the New Zealand Transport Agency. But it's within the overall budget that has been allocated to road safety awareness campaigns.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Was she consulted by her colleague the Minister for ACC before he decided to increase ACC levies on New Zealand's safest motor vehicles?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I assume that what the member is referring to is the fact that ACC levies are going to be the same for all vehicles now, which I think is a fairer policy. Of course, across Government, we had discussions about the vehicle risk rating (VRR) policy and whether or not it was effective at driving behaviour change, and the evidence is that it wasn't.
Hon Tim Macindoe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked the Minister if she was consulted by the Minister for ACC.
SPEAKER: She said she had discussions.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Were the Minister's officials consulted on the proposals to increase ACC levies on New Zealand's safest vehicles?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Officials and the Minister and myself all had discussions about changes to the VRR policy, which was to ensure that it was fair to all New Zealanders. I know that member is characterising it as raising levies. It wasn't raising levies; it was ensuring that all New Zealanders pay the same levy for their motor vehicle.
Hon Tim Macindoe: What official data did she receive from those officials to inform the advice they gave her?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I have advice from the Ministry of Transport that there has been no change to the rate of vehicle scrappage since the introduction of VRR, and evidence from overseas is that annual charges, as opposed to those at entry, are not effective tools to modify vehicle purchase decisions. I understand where the member is coming from. The reality is that it sounds good in theory, but VRR did not work in practice to drive behaviour change, because the levy is after people have made the decision about what vehicle to purchase. The point of what the Government is doing is ensuring that we raise awareness so that New Zealanders can make that decision when they're buying their vehicle and not be punished after they've already made a decision for which they had virtually no information.
Hon Tim Macindoe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked what official data the Minister had received. I don't believe she's answered that question either.
SPEAKER: I think quite early on she said she received information or similar.
Hon Tim Macindoe: Data.
SPEAKER: Well, you can't have information without data. You can have data without information, but not the other way around.