Parliament: Questions and Answers - April 11
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Energy and Resources
1. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does she stand by MBIE's decision to extend OMV's Great South Basin application last year, given the company is now seeking a consent to drill?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Acting Minister for Energy and Resources): On behalf of the Minister of Energy and Resources, the 2018 decision approved changes to some of the conditions of OMV's work programme for the permit. This allowed OMV to seek more information on the underlying geology before commencing drilling. The application was made to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and assessed against the statutory criteria in the Crown Minerals Act. It met the criteria, and so the changes to the work programme were approved. This is not an extension of the length of the permit, which still expires on 11 July 2022.
Gareth Hughes: What does the Minister have to say to New Zealanders who thought the Government had banned new offshore oil and gas permits for good?
Hon DAVID PARKER: On behalf of the Minister, the Government, I think, has been clear that we are pursuing a transition away from fossil fuels towards clean, renewable, affordable energy. This has been very well publicised, and I think most New Zealanders understand the detail of it.
Gareth Hughes: Doesn't this change to the work programme that OMV is benefitting from, and the 16 other possible extensions raised by the Minister in the industry over the next 10 years, undermine the historic oil and gas line we drew in the sand?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No; we don't think so. We think that we are helping New Zealand transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy.
Gareth Hughes: Given we've already discovered enough fossil fuels to guarantee catastrophic climate change, why are we looking for more?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I think we have signalled a pretty clear direction. We are transitioning away from the use and exploration for fossil fuels. We've been clear that existing rights are protected, but we have blocked more block offers in the offshore area.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister agree with climate strike organiser Greta Thunberg, who said, "I want you to act as if the house was on fire,"? And isn't looking for more oil we can't afford to burn like pouring petrol on that fire?
Hon DAVID PARKER: On behalf of the Minister, I do agree that New Zealand and the world need to quickly transition away from the use of fossil fuels, towards renewable energy, and that it is a pressing and urgent problem.
• Question No. 2—Prime
2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions? And happy 74th birthday to her deputy.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does he support an inquiry into Pharmac?
SPEAKER: Order! We're going to go back and we're going to say "she" because we're remembering who's answering.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she support an inquiry into Pharmac?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, that was made very clear in today's New Zealand Herald, where she said that she'd asked health Minister David Clark to look into the issue of early access to new drugs after the pleas made to her yesterday.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she have full support from her coalition partners for the members to vote down a select committee inquiry into Pharmac?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: First of all, the select committee is independent of Cabinet, as we well know. No instructions were given to those members. They made the same decision that those members made for nine years. If it was such a pressing issue for the last nine years, why didn't they do something about it, rather than finding a social conscience the moment they received the Opposition benches? Can I just say that the Prime Minister made it very clear that this is not the end of it; she's concerned about these drugs, and she's asked her Minister of Health to look into it.
Hon Paula Bennett: So does she agree with the Government members of the Health Committee voting yesterday to turn down a request for an inquiry into Pharmac?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I say, on behalf of the Prime Minister, that we have not had a chance to discuss that as a Cabinet, so I can't really represent what Cabinet might think of that other than to say that this is a seriously complex issue. Of the two drugs that were present at the select committee inquiry, so to speak, yesterday, the significant thing is that there are countless other drugs of similar magnitude of equal health and we have to consider the whole lot in tandem and then all together and its potential costs. But we remember the Keytruda argument. Do you remember that? The National Party did nothing about it at all until the last moment.
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just reflecting on the question that the member asked, is it now acceptable for the Prime Minister to be questioned on the actions of members of Parliament who are not part of the executive?
SPEAKER: And the answer to that is no, and I should have stopped the question. My apologies.
Hon Paula Bennett: Based on her answer, does she believe it is fair and reasonable for New Zealanders to currently have to travel to Australia to get the care and the drugs and the access that they need?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, given that that's what they'd been doing for the nine years that the National Party was in Government, the real issue is—[Interruption] For the nine years that the National Party was in Government they had to do all that and more, with a substantially reduced health budget, which is not the case for this Government. Let me say that because of that—this Government having a sense of conscience and fairness—it's going to be looking into the matter.
Hon Paula Bennett: Is she aware that in a previous Labour-led Government, New Zealanders were having to travel to Australia just to get access to the care they needed for cancer; now they have to travel to Australia to get access to the drugs?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I just say that this Government—as the Prime Minister has said, and I'm speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister now, she's going to ask her Minister of Health to look into it. But I want to say this on behalf of the Prime Minister as well: there's nothing so dreadful or turgid or despicable as to use people's illness and sickness for political points.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she not think that an inquiry into Pharmac through the select committee would actually mean that the issues that she is raising in her answers in this House today could be explored through that very inquiry?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Again, on behalf of the Prime Minister, if that was the case and it had merit, why, for nine long years, didn't the National Party do something about it? It suggests that maybe an inquiry's not the best way to go about it. Maybe something of greater immediacy within the Minister of Health's office might be the way to go about it, and that's what the Prime Minister has asked him to look at.
Hon Paula Bennett: Why did her Government not reinvest the $200 million of savings made by Pharmac back into new medicines in last year's Budget?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, first of all—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Whoops!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, it's not a whoops case; it's a "let me remind you" case. Pharmac is independent of Government. That's the whoops, Mr Brownlee. That member doesn't know that, but we do. So they are budgeting internally themselves, and we're taking that advice. It doesn't mean though that we don't keep alongside of them in terms of their future needs, and the Minister of Health, as he is, will consciously go about that in a way that never happened with his predecessors.
SPEAKER: Supplementary question, the right honourable Rev. David Clark.
Hon Dr David Clark: Is the—[Interruption]—thank you, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Or maybe not right honourable; just ordinary honourable.
Hon Dr David Clark: Is the Prime Minister aware that the combined pharmaceuticals budget was a record $985 million last year and that it will not be reduced as a consequence of any savings?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, not only is she aware of it, she remembers the gruelling, grinding pathway of success of that Minister of Health in a very difficult Minister of Finance's office environment to get that magnificent outcome.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she believe in a democratic process that sees all parties in Parliament involved in making a decision into an inquiry about a Government agency?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Again, on behalf of the Prime Minister, if an inquiry was the best way to go, why, for nine years under the National Party, was there no inquiry? Why? Well, it may be that there's a more immediate way to respond. [Interruption] No, shouting and screaming in Parliament doesn't attend to this matter.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It wasn't a problem.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It wasn't a problem? Well, the Pharmac funds were far less then than they are now. It was a big problem back then—no inquiry. We think the way that the Minister of Health is going about it is the best way to go in responsible Government, and that's what we're going to do.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she have any concerns about the decision-making process of Pharmac?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, on behalf of the Prime Minister, the decision-making process of Pharmac has been there for decades now, never required to be challenged. Neither was an inquiry, for 24 years, since it was established. So why, all of a sudden, in 2019, does it become of a pressing interest, other than that it is being used as a tool, and the victims of health funding are used as a tool, for nefarious, malicious, political purposes?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I just want to remind the Deputy Prime Minister, speaking for the Prime Minister, that he is speaking for the Prime Minister and to ask him to use the voice and language of the Prime Minister, and I think he's getting a bit far away from it.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Speaker. If I could do that, I'd be the Prime Minister!
SPEAKER: Yes, and some of us notice an improvement most of the time!
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she believe that the process of decision making by Pharmac at this time is a good one?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I think we'd all admit that every organisation needs to constantly review and examine its processes to see that they have best practice in the current time, and I would believe that that's what Pharmac is doing for themselves right now.
Hon Paula Bennett: As she has stated in the House today that she does not believe that there should be an inquiry, does she stand by her reply to media in February? When asked whether she would block an inquiry into Pharmac, she said, "Absolutely not." and further said, "I hope they would." And, if so, was she aware her Government members in the Health Committee were going to block an inquiry?
SPEAKER: That's not an area she has responsibility for.
Hon Paula Bennett: Why doesn't her Government put the money that is needed into Pharmac so these people can get the care they deserve in New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, let me say that the Minister of Finance is dealing with a set of circumstances of an inherited economy that wasn't performing. We are seeking to turn it around—we are seeking to turn it around. We are seeking to grow the economy so that we can better afford First World drugs, but we can't do it all overnight. Look at the last nine years of the National Party—they couldn't average even 1.5 percent for those nine years.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I'd ask you to have a look at the question that was asked and the ruling that you made on the one supplementary prior to the last one. The supplementary, as I heard it, certainly was asking for the Prime Minister to comment on a statement that she had made and then asked her what her opinion was on actions of her colleagues in light of her public statements. It seems odd to say she has no responsibility for her own statements and then odd to say that the leader of the Labour Party has no responsibility for her members.
SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The first thing to do is remind him of Speakers' ruling 20/3 as to the timeliness of interventions. He's too slow in this particular case; it has to be taken up immediately. The second point I'll make to him is that the core of the question went to a select committee proceeding for which the Prime Minister has no responsibility.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Three legs to a question.
SPEAKER: Well, if you get one wrong, you lose it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh—new rule.
SPEAKER: Does the member want to withdraw and apologise voluntarily, or—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, your reference to the timeliness of taking a point of order I think is somewhat unreasonable given that it's never something people want to do, disrupting the flow of a question. I deliberately left it to the end, and I didn't ask for anything turned back or anything else; simply that you might have another look at it. I don't think that was unreasonable, nor was it untimely.
SPEAKER: Well, we differ.
• Question No. 3—Housing and Urban
3. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does he stand by his statement that houses purchased off the plans as part of the KiwiBuild scheme were purchased off the plans "Because they were included in the plans at the time they were built"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Yes, in its original context.
Hon Judith Collins: What definition of Buying off the Plans has Cabinet used in approving the outright purchase of private sector houses for KiwiBuild?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The Buying off the Plans scheme is a generic name for a scheme that involves both the use of the underwrite and buying off the plans literally, in order to incentivise developers to build more affordable houses.
Hon Judith Collins: Why did the KiwiBuild Buying off the Plans business case that was adopted by Cabinet last year define a time line on page 48 where all legal and contractual steps occur before construction begins?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Oh, look, I'd have to have the document in front of me and read it in order to specifically answer that question, but, look, I'll say this: the Buying off the Plans initiative through KiwiBuild, the use of the underwrite, is part of our commitment to get the market to build more affordable homes, something it hasn't done for a very long time, and something the previous Government never even tried to do. We're doing it.
Hon Judith Collins: What proof does he have that Cabinet made a decision that allowed him to use his KiwiBuild budget to buy houses that are already well under construction?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm advised that the purchase of houses as part of bigger KiwiBuild deals is perfectly within the remit that Cabinet signed off. You know, the member can't have it both ways. On one hand, she wants to quibble about the fact of saying we should do more due diligence on projects, and then on the other hand, she criticises us for actually assessing projects properly as we negotiate the KiwiBuild contracts.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just do what you said. Do what you promised.
SPEAKER: Order! No. Dr Smith will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Judith Collins: Is he certain KiwiBuild is allowing developers to reduce profit margin when developers such as Mike Greer Homes have two identical attached townhouses for sale in Rolleston, one with a KiwiBuild underwrite and one for sale to the general public, and both are marketed at exactly the same price?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I've said this before, but I'll say it again: the mistake that the member repeatedly makes on this issue is to quibble about individual homes. The Mike Greer project actually has delivered 104 affordable homes—104 affordable homes—for first-home buyers. That's more than the affordable homes that the last Government built in nine years.
Hon Judith Collins: Do houses underwritten that have already been offered to the market prior to entering the KiwiBuild programme meet the Cabinet definition of a KiwiBuild house as one that is "offered for sale, in the first instance, to an eligible [KiwiBuild] purchaser;"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, as I said in an earlier answer, the purchase of those homes or the underwriting of them is perfectly within the remit that Cabinet's signed off. It would be silly and nonsensical to tell developers to stop building affordable homes while we take the time to do the due diligence properly, to take three, six, or nine months to properly negotiate a contract. I'm not going to tell developers to stop building affordable homes, because that would be silly.
Hon Judith Collins: Is he the only person who believes that buying off the plan includes buying a house that has been built and marketed unsuccessfully to the public?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, because there's a huge majority of the New Zealand public who want to see affordable homes built, who support our Government's efforts to work with the private sector to build affordable homes for young Kiwi families. That's the basis of our policy, and that's what we're doing.
• Question No. 4—Housing
and Urban Development
4. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What progress, if any, has Housing New Zealand made providing assistance to tenants affected by previous methamphetamine contamination policies?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Housing New Zealand advises that since September, they've been in contact with 900 people on this issue. Of those, 425 people have received discretionary grants averaging $7,889. A further 336 claims for assistance due to the meth contamination fiasco are being considered, and 33 claims have been approved and are awaiting payment.
Paul Eagle: What steps will the Government take to ensure that this does not happen again?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, Housing New Zealand's previous meth contamination policy was a moral and fiscal failure, which harmed many people and, in the worst cases, left families—
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: —homeless.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! What the member's going to do is he's going to answer the question, which was in order. His answer describing policies of a previous Government was not.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: So, under our Government, Housing New Zealand has become a compassionate landlord that supports people to live in its homes with dignity and respect. Housing New Zealand no longer ends tenancies and makes people with addictions homeless or throws people out on the street on the basis of no decent evidence. If there are issues around addiction, Housing New Zealand now connects people with the support services they need to help them.
Paul Eagle: What else is Housing New Zealand doing to better support its tenants with issues such as addictions?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, Housing New Zealand is now a very different organisation and is well on the way to becoming a world-class public housing landlord. It's partnering with other agencies and specialist NGOs to help those tenants with complex issues such as mental health and addiction—for example, the new Greys Avenue development in central Auckland will have 24-hour specialist social and health services on the premises.
• Question No. 5—Regional Economic
5. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): Ae.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Which Filipino truck drivers was he referring to in his statement to Newstalk ZB last Thursday when he said that he talked to the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) chief executive and "I wanted clarification as to why they have been offering immunity and amnesty for Filipino truck drivers to, arguably, spy on New Zealand - owned businesses."?
Hon SHANE JONES: I'm glad the member has asked that question. The reported comments I made on the ZB show reflect the fact of what I am focused on—that there are foreign, migrant, Filipino workers right throughout the entire four winds of the transport industry, and the notion that they should be encouraged to begin spying against New Zealand businesses is something that bothers me immensely.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Were the Filipino truck drivers working for Semenoff Logging?
Hon SHANE JONES: The Filipino truck drivers no doubt may be employed by businesses that do include such logging contractor. The fact, however, is that Meredith Connell—where did they get their authority from to publicly state that it is the policy of the Crown prosecutor to encourage; incentivise? What inducements were they proposing to offer these Filipino migrant workers to begin acting as pimps?
SPEAKER: Well, I don't know that that's quite the word. Take care going forward, I think. It does have another meaning for most people.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: From whom did he hear the allegation that Filipino truck drivers were being offered the opportunity to "spy" by the prosecutors in the Semenoff case?
Hon SHANE JONES: To the best of my knowledge, Mr Steve Haszard—by name and nature—said that on Radio New Zealand.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So how can he stand by his statement in the House yesterday that his conversation with the NZTA CEO was not about the decisions and methods of the prosecutor in the Semenoff Logging case?
Hon SHANE JONES: I stand with a tremendous level of ease.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: That's extraordinary. Does he—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Does the member have another supplementary?
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Yes, I do.
SPEAKER: Well, he very nearly lost it.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, thank you very much, Mr Speaker. When he quoted his grandmother the day before yesterday, "Words once issued might be forgiven but are not forgotten.", was he meaning that the Prime Minister might forgive him for talking to the CEO of NZTA about the regulatory case but the CEO would not forget this words?
Hon SHANE JONES: From time to time, I do fall back on my heritage and the culture that has made me the champion of the provinces that I am. That, from time to time, is a cautionary lesson to me that, like the Book of Isaiah says, neither the spoken word nor the baby given birth to goes back to where it came from.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So if he agrees that the Filipino truck drivers worked for Semenoff Logging, his conversation with the NZTA CEO was about the decisions and the methods of the prosecutor in the Semenoff Logging case?
Hon SHANE JONES: The trucking industry know they have a champion in my good self, and they should suffer no doubt that when issues of regional significance occur in the industry they are able to bring those issues to my attention. I realise that the trucking and heavy freight industry have to balance their statutory requirements for safety, but in the absence of a thriving trucking industry regional development may be undermined.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He did not answer that question at all.
SPEAKER: Ask the question again.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So if he agrees that the Filipino truck drivers worked for Semenoff Logging, his conversation with the NZTA CEO was about the decisions and the methods—
SPEAKER: I've heard enough. He did answer the question.
• Question No.
6. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all of his answers to Oral Question No. 6 on Wednesday, 3 April?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Yes.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen a report of comments by patient advocate Malcolm Mulholland who said yesterday, "I again spoke with Ms Wall and asked where the inquiry was at. She then told me that the inquiry was being blocked by Dr Clark and at a 'higher level than him.' "?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have seen some of those comments reported, and I would comment that I'm not responsible for the comments of Mr Mulholland.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he discussed those claims with the chair of the Health Committee, and what was the nature of those discussions?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he agree or disagree with Mr Mulholland's version of events?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I'm not responsible for the comments of Mr Mulholland, and, in so far as I've seen them, to the best of my knowledge they're not correct.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: What, then, if anything, did the Minister communicate to the chair of the Health Committee that could have been perceived by Mr Mulholland as blocking the inquiry?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Again, I'm not responsible for the perceptions of Mr Mulholland, but I would say that I've been completely consistent on this issue. I don't believe that an inquiry is necessary. That's been my public comment, and it's been reported as far back as October last year in Stuff. I've always said that the Health Committee is free to hold any inquiry it sees fit. That's my public comment and that's on record from last year.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen reports of the Health Committee chair saying, "There does need to be some form of independent review", and might that form of review be the one that he explicitly ruled out in a media interview on 14 March?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I just want to observe that I am no more responsible for the comments of Louisa Wall MP than I am for the comments of Michael Woodhouse MP.
• Question No.
7. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What recent feedback has he seen on the proposals for the reform of vocational education?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yesterday, a statement was made by eight of the country's 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand (ITP), who collectively represent more than half of the students enrolled in the polytech sector, backing the reforms. They see this as a generational opportunity to design a sustainable and effective vocational education sector, with a move away from counter-productive competition. I welcome their feedback, and I welcome their constructive approach.
Jan Tinetti: What problems have the ITP Group and other stakeholders identified in the current vocational education system?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In their statement yesterday, the ITP Group said that the current funding process was inflexible and it had led to institutions trading quality against cost. UCOL have said that in their meetings on the reforms, industry representatives have shared their concerns around an ongoing shortage of workers with the right skills and training. The chairman of the Central Otago Labour Market Governance Group said the horticultural industry was in a rapid growth phase and needed nearly 30,000 trained people over the next 10 years, and, for him, the proposed vocational education reform is the first opportunity in decades to address the imbalance and move to create a vocational education and training system that is fit for the growth and expansion needs of New Zealanders into the future.
Jan Tinetti: What opportunities have the ITP Group identified in the proposed reforms?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The chief executive of The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand strongly supports an integrated system that puts learners at the heart of its thinking, enabling frictionless mobility between locations, modes, and types of learning. The chief executive of the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki recognises this is an opportunity for the real value of online distance learning offered by The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand and other providers to be realised in concert with local ITPs. The chief executive of Unitec said Māori joint-ownership of the new model was also critical, because it would assist in closing the gap between the success rates of Māori and non-Māori students. There have been a number of interesting observations made by those currently in the sector. Nobody in the sector is arguing there should be no change.
Dr Shane Reti: Why is the Minister driving a wedge between high- and low-performing polytechnics by not showcasing the views of polytechnics like the Southern Institute of Technology and instead showcasing the views of eight polytechnics, in whom six reported deficits and five currently have commissioners—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member can start the question again, without the assertion.
Dr Shane Reti: Why is the Minister highlighting eight polytechnics today—of whom, six are reporting deficits and five currently have commissioners?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Over the last week or two, I've been highlighting feedback—both good and bad—that's been made by a number of different players within the sector at the moment. I think it's important that the comments that I highlight are those that are well informed, rather than those that are based on misinformation.
• Question No.
8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Statistics: Does he stand by his statement, "this census looks to be more successful than previous censuses, that we're meeting all of our targets", and when will core public sector agencies like health and education have access to reliable census population data for allocating public funding?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Statistics: In answer to the first part of the question, yes, in the context that it was made. In answer to the second part of the question, the Government Statistician has made it clear that on 29 April, she'll publicly announce when Census 2018 data will be available.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why does the Minister continue to claim that Census 2018 was a success when Professor Spoonley from Massey University calls it, quote, "a failure", when Victoria University—
SPEAKER: Order! The member's had two legs.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Well, there's a series of academics—
SPEAKER: Well, if there's a series of statements, the member can have a series of supplementaries.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Well, perhaps I start from the beginning again, Mr Speaker?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why does the Minister continue to claim Census 2018 was a success, when academics and researchers have described it as, quote, "a failure", "a disaster", "a shambles"—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: —as "useless", and "a tragedy for New Zealand"?
SPEAKER: The member can answer any bit of that he wants.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: As I was very clear in my first answer, the Minister stands by the comment made in the context that it was made. It was made in April last year in the context of questions in particular about online response rates and other targets.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he agree with the senior staffer from within Statistics New Zealand, who has stated publicly, and I quote, "There is no accountability or responsibility being taken within Statistics New Zealand for what has turned out to be the worst Census in over 50 years."; if so, why is he telling people who are questioning Statistics New Zealand to, quote, "back off"?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I disagree with the premise of the member's question. The ultimate accountability for the census rests with the Government chief statistician.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Which Government and what Minister was responsible for establishing this census process, and when did that happen?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The parameters for the census and the budget for the census were established before this Government took office. I understand that during the course of that process, there were three different Ministers responsible for overseeing it.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can he confirm that from October 2017, when he became the Minister of Statistics, until March 2018, he did not have a single specific briefing with Statistics New Zealand to ensure all was well with the delivery of Census 2018, when his predecessor Maurice Williamson in the same months prior to the successful 2013 census had five such specific briefings?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I can confirm that the Minister is a much harder worker than Maurice Williamson and has many other responsibilities.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister regret his decision as Minister of Statistics to be overseas for the very week of the 2018 census and not follow the example of his ministerial predecessors, who actively promoted participation, now that we know that over 700,000 New Zealanders failed to complete Census 2018?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think if the member seriously believes that Maurice Williamson urging people to fill in the census form had any material impact on the result rate for that census, the member is dreaming.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister regret last March and April dismissing the concerns that were expressed by census field officers, by the media, and by Opposition members of Parliament over the obvious implementation problems occurring around the country with the census implementation, when at that time they could have been addressed, and now it has been confirmed that over 700,000 New Zealanders did not complete Census 2018?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I reject the premise of the question. Ultimately, the responsibility for dealing with any such concerns rests with the Government chief statistician.
• Question No.
9. Hon DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: Yes, within context.
Hon David Bennett: When he said last week that to ensure the safety of prison officers, the biggest measure the Government has introduced is to continue to safely reduce the prison population, will the number of prison officers reduce as the number of prisoners reduces?
Hon STUART NASH: What I can say is that the prison population is below 10,000, and in the last year the prison numbers have dropped by 821.
SPEAKER: No, I think the member better have another crack at answering the question.
Hon STUART NASH: As far as I'm aware, at this stage—on behalf of the Minister of Corrections—we're not looking at dropping prison officer numbers.
Hon David Bennett: What incentives does he believe prisoners should have for good behaviour when dealing with the issue of assaults on staff?
Hon STUART NASH: Well, on behalf of the Minister of Corrections, they won't get parole.
Hon David Bennett: Did he ask the Department of Corrections to provide a range of options that could set out incentives for good behaviour by prisoners, with the goal of positively impacting on staff assaults?
Hon STUART NASH: I don't have the answer to that question right now, but if the member wants to put it down in writing, I'm sure the Minister will provide a response.
Hon David Bennett: I seek leave to table an email sent by the Department of Corrections on 22 March 2019, which is not publicly available, which requests incentives—
SPEAKER: All right—OK. It's been clearly described. Is there any objection? There appears to be none.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Bennett: Does he believe prisoners should respect prison officers and the justice system without the need for incentives?
Hon STUART NASH: We're not dealing with kids here; we're dealing with some of the worst offenders in our society. To ask them to respect authority—part of the reason they're in prison is because they have disrespected authority. We're working very hard to ensure that we give these men and women the opportunity to become productive citizens once they leave prison.
• Question No.
10. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Police: What reports has he seen in response to public safety and security concerns in the wake of the 15 March terror attack?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): I've seen numerous reports of police moving across a number of fronts to provide reassurance and guidance, and to ensure safety and security in regards to newly prohibited weapons. Today, police have announced an information and education campaign aimed at responsible gun owners to let them know how they can take part in the amnesty and buy-back. Police have also separately launched an outreach campaign and have already made over 3,400 visits to schools, mosques, and churches, and are providing security advice around significant public events.
Dr Duncan Webb: What advice has he received from police around public safety and assurance in relation to significant public events, such as Anzac Day?
Hon STUART NASH: Police are working with the RSAs and community leaders to provide advice and ensure that police resources are deployed appropriately at Anzac Day services. It is important that the public be safe and feel safe when attending Anzac Day services, and police districts are working hard to achieve this. Police Commissioner Bush informs me that the decision to provide advice to community leaders and that some services should be consolidated was not taken lightly, and it was made with the safety of everyone involved. In the current environment, it is important that members of the public attending Anzac events remain vigilant and report anything suspicious or concerning to police.
Dr Duncan Webb: What advice has he seen around the measures that police are taking against those who are threatening to undermine public safety and security?
Hon STUART NASH: Our national threat level remains high. Sadly, there are a small number of individuals who are emboldened by what occurred on 15 March and have made threats and preached racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric online and in other forums. As I said in the House last week, police are monitoring these individuals closely. Police take this conduct extremely seriously and encourage the public to remain vigilant. I'm also advised that over the last week, a number of firearm seizures have been made by the police. As Police Commissioner Mike Bush has made clear, if you see something, say something.
Darroch Ball: What recent reports has he seen around police actions regarding organised crime since 15 March to help improve public safety and security concerns?
Hon STUART NASH: As per the coalition agreement with New Zealand First, of the 1,800 new police officers, 720 have a serious focus on national security, organised crime, financial crime, and cyber-crime. This investment is paying dividends. Just today, a year-long operation into the Comanchero gang saw the execution of search warrants at seven properties across Auckland—$3.7 million in assets were seized, including luxury vehicles and two homes. The importation of drugs, the profiteering off addiction and harm to others, is abhorrent. The professionals who aided this gang will also be held to account. I thank New Zealand First for their support for our police, and I thank police for their continued efforts to keep our communities safe.
• Question No.
11. CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statements and actions in relation to light rail in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, in the context they were said and taken.
Chris Penk: When, if ever, will construction of light rail to Auckland's north-west be completed?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Light rail is the plan for both of Auckland's proposed light rail lines. The two—city centre to Māngere, and the line for the north-west—are designed to extend Auckland's rapid transit network, which currently consists of the heavy rail network and the Northern Busway. A market-sounding and procurement process is now under way, and the Government will be considering options shortly.
Chris Penk: Why did the Minister say at a recent public meeting that if it's not possible to do both, Cabinet has prioritised the city centre to Māngere over light rail to Auckland's north-west?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because that is the situation in the hypothetical scenario that there's not enough money to fund and finance both those lines. Cabinet has, indeed, prioritised the city centre to Māngere line because that has the strongest case; it's connecting two of the biggest concentrations of jobs in the country. But make no mistake about it, we intend to deliver rapid transit on the State Highway 16 corridor to support the north-west growth corridor. It's a massive growth area, and the north-western motorway currently resembles a carpark in the morning and afternoon peaks.
Chris Penk: So is there enough money or not?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, there's never enough money for transport projects. There are always more projects than can be funded at any one time. We have a procurement process under way now with business cases, so the member's question can only be answered substantively by the completion of that process.
Chris Penk: Does the Minister not accept that he'd already answered the question by promising that within the Auckland Transport Alignment Project document; namely, the completion of the project would be within 10 years?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That is certainly our intention: to deliver that project within 10 years, both light rail lines. But we are well aware that west Aucklanders were let down by the short-sighted decision to spend $860 million widening the north-western motorway without any provision for rapid transit on that motorway corridor. We don't intend to take such a short-sighted decision. We will deliver rapid transit to support the north-west.
Chris Penk: I seek leave to table a uniquely annotated page within the Auckland Transport Alignment Project document.
Hon Member: By who?
Chris Penk: Annotated in the sense I've crossed out the bits that the Minister's now broken promises on.
SPEAKER: So is the unannotated thing publicly available?
Chris Penk: For what it's worth, yes.
SPEAKER: So all we're being offered in this particular case is a publicly available document with the member's markings on it?
Chris Penk: I thought that might be helpful, given the circumstances.
SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat.
• Question No.
12. KIERAN McANULTY (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture: What recent reports has he seen about the importance of sustainability to farmers?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): The Ministry for Primary Industries survey released this week shows the growing understanding among farmers that sustainability is vital for them to get the most value for what they produce. The results show that 92 percent of farmers surveyed focused on making their farm more environmentally sustainable, up from 78 percent in the last survey in 2009. That is very, very heartening. In my travels around the country, I've seen some excellent work farmers are doing using riparian planting, waterway control, and improving fertiliser management. I'd just like to acknowledge the good work that they're doing in this area.
Kieran McAnulty: Why is sustainability so important to farmers?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I'd like to inform the National Party and the rest of the country that it's really important that our farmers and growers know that international customers are more discerning now about the origins of the food and fibre they buy. Those customers want to know the story behind their food and that it's been ethically and sustainably produced. I note that Rabobank's chief executive recently said that we can't rely on the ways of the past if we're going to get more value from what we do now. That's why we applaud the farmers that are taking on sustainability with enthusiasm.
Kieran McAnulty: What is the Government doing to help farmers achieve their objectives?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We're doing heaps to help farmers—heaps and heaps. We've rolled out the SFFF fund, which is the Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund, which has $40 million available, not for business as usual but for leading edge initiatives across the private sector. We're working on an integrated farm plan template to help farmers meet all their obligations. We'll be putting in money and effort to make sure that farmers get more from what they do, not just expect them to do more.