Parliament: Questions and Answers - July 31
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Acting Prime Minister): Yes. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Amy Adams, since you've had diminished responsibilities your behaviour has diminished consistently. I call the Hon Kelvin Davis—
Hon Grant Robertson: He's already answered the question.
SPEAKER: Oh, sorry. Well, I'm going to ask the member to answer it again because I was distracted.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is he concerned that more New Zealanders think the economy will be in a worse state in the next year than think it will be in a better state; and does he think that the Government's policies have played a role in the growing level of economic pessimism?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does he agree with Grant Robertson, who said declining business confidence is "a vote of no confidence in the Government by the business sector"?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: At the time that Mr Robertson said that, he was actually talking about the National Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it still true?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: So is it a case that the Government thinks a vote of no confidence in the Government by the business sector is true when there's declining business confidence under National, but not under Labour?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The New Zealand economy continues to grow solidly in the face of global uncertainty—we know that. GDP grew 0.6 percent in the March quarter, higher than Australia and the OECD. Annual growth is 2.7 percent; the average under National was 2.1 percent growth. Our per capita GDP grew 0.9 percent over the year—same as the average per capita growth under National. The performance of services index continued to expand in June, higher than comparable countries; so did the performance of manufacturing index—it expanded faster in June than in May. The Consumers Price Index (CPI) shows the economy growing strongly compared to the rest of the world. We've got near historic low unemployment of 4.2 percent, and wages are rising.
Hon Simon Bridges: To quote the Prime Minister, how does CPI show the economy growing strongly?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: It's about everything that I've just outlined. It's showing that the economy is growing, and this is the thing: they don't like to admit that this country is actually going ahead under us when it went backwards under them.
Hon Simon Bridges: What is the CPI—
SPEAKER: Who made that noise?
Greg O'Connor: I stand, withdraw, and apologise.
SPEAKER: Another one and the member will be out.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does he agree with Grant Robertson, who said declining business confidence is "a vote of no confidence in the government by the business sector"?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: As I've said, I tend to agree with many things that the Hon Grant Robertson says, because he's a hard-working and very successful Minister of Finance. The big thing is that our economy is growing, is doing well—near historic low unemployment, higher wages. In all of these measures that I've said, we're doing as well as, if not better than, what the previous Government did.
Hon Simon Bridges: Are business confidence figures out today that show declining six points to a net negative 44 a vote of no confidence in the Government by the business sector?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No; it's a reflection of international circumstances. Also, business confidence is an opinion survey. We know that businesses are looking at the international economic uncertainty and factoring that into their responses to these sentiment surveys. We're a small, open export economy, and so global economic conditions do have an impact.
Hon Simon Bridges: So does he agree with Minister David Parker that business confidence is "junk"?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No. As I said, the business confidence is an opinion survey.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does he agree with Grant Robertson, who said, "kicking off a house-building programme like KiwiBuild would give business more confidence in the future"; and, if so, when are they going to start building houses?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We have started building houses. In fact, we've got the biggest house-building programme since the 1970s—more than they ever did.
Hon Simon Bridges: Should the Government ensure houses are built at Ihumātao?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Ihumātao is a very complex and fluid situation. We're very mindful of making sure that we don't undermine business decisions. We've got to make sure that we don't undermine private property rights, we've got to make sure we don't undermine settlements that have already occurred, and we've got to make sure that we don't undermine settlements that are yet to occur.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it true that the Government's involvement in Ihumātao has stopped more houses being built than his Government's delivered so far under KiwiBuild?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.
• Question No.
2. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I can understand why the member's emotional about it, because they're so good. A number of recent reports highlight the strength of New Zealand's economy in the face of global economic headwinds. Statistics New Zealand yesterday reported that residential building consents rose 5.8 percent nationwide in the year to June and that all consents for construction activity were 6.7 percent stronger than a year ago. Within this, residential building consents in Auckland were up 13 percent to a new all-time record of 14,032 new homes consented in the year to June—four times the rate in 2009. These are another sign, along with near record low unemployment, the stock market doing well, and rising wages, that New Zealand's underlying economic fundamentals are sound in the face of international headwinds.
Dr Duncan Webb: What recent reports has he seen on how the New Zealand economy and business are being affected by these international headwinds?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There's no doubt that international economic issues like Brexit and the US-China trade war are having an effect on business confidence in New Zealand. A report in the Southland Times yesterday highlighted how falling overseas log prices were impacting on local logging firms. While these international headwinds are having an impact, it is important to note the view of one local forestry company manager in Southland, who said that activity in the domestic log market in New Zealand was helping to offset that in the international arena. Again, this highlights that our strong domestic economic fundamentals are doing well compared to the rest of the world.
Dr Duncan Webb: What other reports has he seen on the position of the New Zealand economy relative to the rest of the world?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I saw a report on TV Three recently, interviewing the chairman of ANZ bank—a Sir John Key—who said, "We can't stop what's happening around the rest of the world. As I used to say, we're a little country at the bottom of the world. No one owes us a living, [so] we've got to sell things to the world. So if they slow down, that has an impact." He also said, "You can't control a trade war that happens between China and the United States, or all those sort of international things." And he went on to say, "There's always those issues—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I know the source, but it's—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh, no—we were loving it!
SPEAKER: Oh. Well, given Mr Brownlee's interjection, rather than making him withdraw and apologise, I'll get Grant Robertson to go on.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I'm nearly done, Mr Speaker. Mr Key went on to say, "There are always those issues, but I think part of it is just feeling confident about what's going on and making sure we don't talk the place down."
• Question No.
3. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Education: What recent announcement has she made about support for children and young people with learning needs?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): On Friday, I announced a new action plan to improve the support for children and young people with learning needs. One in five children—around 200,000 children—need extra support for their learning. We need to do a much better job of helping these young people. The Learning Support Action Plan 2019-25 is focused on prioritising those things which will make the greatest difference to the majority of these young people, who are part of a natural learning diversity among children and young people in the learning environment.
Mark Patterson: How was the Learning Support Action Plan developed?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The Learning Support Action Plan responds to the recommendations made by the select committee inquiry into the identification and support for students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism spectrum disorders, as well as feedback from engagement with young people, whānau, educators, sector group unions, agencies, and disability organisations. One of the most special consultation meetings I attended was here in Parliament, with students from the Hillcrest High School learning support unit. They overcame huge barriers to travel to Wellington to ask Minister Sepuloni, as the Minister for Disability Issues, and myself to ensure that their unit would stay and be part of the dedicated learning support model that we are going to do for these students.
Mark Patterson: What are the priorities that the plan will address?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: First, we are introducing the first tranche of learning support coordinators in schools and kura, and I will make that announcement this Friday; developing new screening tools to help early identification of learning support needs; strengthening early intervention for pre-schoolers; providing services and supports for neurodiverse children and young people; better meeting the learning needs of gifted children; and improving education for children and young people at risk of disengaging. The plan is a living document and will be reviewed and revised as needed and as new priorities emerge.
Mark Patterson: What resources have been invested to achieve greater support for these children and young people with learning needs?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Budget 2018 increased support by $283.8 million over four years. Budget 2019 provides further increases for learning support of $335.8 million over four years. This is a total of $619.65 million announced over the last two years, compared to the inadequate investment of $249.8 million over five years by the previous Government.
• Question No.
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of the Government's statements, policies, and actions in relation to the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were given, made, and undertaken.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How can he stand by his Government's economic policies when most measures of economic sentiment, including this week's One News Colmar Brunton poll on the economic outlook, and today's ANZ survey—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the member ask a question.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Yes—well, when all those things show that levels of confidence are at the lowest since the global financial crisis?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've got confidence in the fact that this Government has a plan for a 21st century economy that's one where we actually build a sustainable growth path, that's one where we actually include everybody in the economy; it's not one where we have our eyes firmly fixed on the rear-vision mirror, trying to recreate some kind of economy from the 20th century that's not going to work. On this side of the House, we have a plan and we're executing it.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Shouldn't our economy be doing quite well right now?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, indeed—and relative to the rest of the world, it most certainly is. We had higher growth rates in the last quarter than Australia, than Japan, than Canada, than the euro area; our Performance of Services Index was expanding higher than Australia, the UK, China, Japan, and the US; in other countries, where their manufacturing index was contracting in the last month, New Zealand's was expanding—
Hon Simon Bridges: Not going well.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We are doing well, relative to the rest of the world. We are also at a point in the economic and business cycle where, overall, the global economy is slowing, but New Zealand's well-positioned to handle that.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Following the Prime Minister's intervention in the Ihumātao dispute, has he requested or received any advice on the fiscal risks to the Government and current taxpayers, if full and final Treaty settlements were to be reopened?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that it was misleading for him to say yesterday that an extra $114 million went to Pharmac in Budget 2018, when that money did not represent new spending on medicines but simply transferred responsibility and funding for hospital drug buying from health boards to Pharmac?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, I don't. The way that Pharmac's budget is measured is the combined pharmaceuticals budget—that did increase by that level. Just as earlier in the 2010s, the Government included vaccines into it, and that also increased the value of that fund.
Hon Dr David Clark: Does the finance Minister accept that when that money's transferred into the combined pharmaceutical budget, it means that the purchasing power of Pharmac means that more New Zealanders get more medicines for the same amount of money?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Indeed. In fact, the beauty of the Pharmac model is that it actually does allow New Zealanders to get more medicines at a cheaper price. Unfortunately, there are some people who want to play politics with that particular model.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Did Budget 2018 increase the Government's total funding for medicines by $114 million?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don't have that detail to hand with me. But what I can tell that member is that the Pharmac budget now sits at close to $1 billion. There have been increases in Pharmac's budget for the last two years. What I can also say to that member is that he and his party need to accept that if we're going to address cancer, it's not just about drugs; it's also about all of the treatments. That's what happens in DHBs, that's why we increased funding for them by over $2.9 billion in the last Budget, and it's why the last Government failed by underfunding them to the tune of $2 billion.
SPEAKER: Order! I didn't interrupt the Minister, and I have had some criticism for my description of noises emanating from members in the House at previous times. But, frankly, one of those noises was too loud and too much like an animal. I'd like people just to take some care, thank you.
• Question No.
5. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What actions, if any, has the Government taken to remove cost barriers to the public education system for New Zealand families?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): This year's Budget removed fees for NCEA, it removed fees for New Zealand Scholarship, and it provided additional funding for schools who don't ask parents for donations. I was also happy to announce that the Government has written off historical NCEA fees dating back to 2002. This means that 150,000 current and former students with unpaid NCEA fees will now be formally awarded their NCEA credits and qualifications, and will have them added to their records of achievement.
Jan Tinetti: What does this mean for the 150,000 current or former students with unpaid NCEA fees?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member's just answered that question.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, I haven't.
SPEAKER: Oh, well, if the member can—sorry, I thought that's exactly what the member had just said. The Minister just said that it got it added to their credits.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Mr Speaker, if you'd like to have a crack, I'm sure that you're welcome to answer the question, if you would like.
SPEAKER: Further supplementary, Jan Tinetti.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I do think that you should be the referee and not a participant in question time.
SPEAKER: I note the member's comments, but I'm one of the unusual members who happens to listen to the questions and the answers. It's a pity some of the Ministers didn't as well.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it your ruling that if a supplementary question either repeats a question that's been asked, or a question that's already been answered, that it's out of order?
SPEAKER: It is my ruling where it asks for exactly the information that has just been provided to the House. Further supplementary, Jan Tinetti.
Jan Tinetti: What does the removal of NCEA fees mean for schools and their staff?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: NCEA fees administration has been a significant burden for schools, and the administration of hardship grants has also been a significant burden for schools, often requiring more administration to deliver the hardship applications than actually was saved by those who, ultimately, received them.
SPEAKER: Question No. 6, the Hon Judith Collins.
Hon Judith Collins: Oh, thank you, Mr Speaker. Might I say, good tie.
SPEAKER: Order! And if I say to the member I'll send her to the African Union to get one for herself if she continues, I think I might get some support from around her.
Hon Judith Collins: Ha, ha! The trouble is, Mr Speaker, I'm sure to come back.
SPEAKER: The Hon Judith Collins.
• Question No.
6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing: Does she agree with the former Minister of Housing and Urban Development, who said, "Our urban land and housing is literally some of the most expensive in the world" and "It's largely the fault of land use planning"; if so, what is this Government doing that will address the cost of urban land and housing?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): In answer to the first part of the question, yes, in the contexts in which they were made, and this Government has been willing to admit that solving the housing crisis is complex. That's why we're taking a cross-Government approach to these issues, with work under way across the housing, urban development, building and construction, and environment portfolios. In the housing portfolio, we are progressing the delivery of large-scale developments across Auckland and Wellington. We are working with developers and iwi to ensure affordable houses are delivered, and we're looking to expand the use of offsite manufacturing. In the urban development portfolio, my colleague is working on the establishment of an urban development authority, and the development of a national policy statement on urban development. In the building and construction portfolio, my colleague is working on reform of the Building Act. In the environment portfolio, of course, my colleague is working on the Resource Management Act (RMA) review.
Hon Judith Collins: If she agrees that land-use planning is largely to blame for house prices, then why is the Government not progressing planning reform in a time frame that will result in changes to rules during this term of Parliament?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As the member and I discussed yesterday, actually, this Government is quite proud of the fact that we have got the RMA reforms under way in our first term of Government. I note that that party, when it was in Government, spent nine years, delivered nothing, and, indeed, their leader, Simon Bridges, has labelled it as one of their failures in Government, to deliver on RMA reform.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, who, when asked if the Greens could get on the same page as the Government on reform, answered, "No … I cannot agree with their race-based approach"?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: All parties in our coalition Government have approved the start of David Parker's work on resource management reform. That party, when it was leading a Government, may not have been able to pull together its coalition partners to get resource management reform across the line, but we have started that work, and we are proud of the fact that we have begun that work where that party failed in Government.
Hon Judith Collins: So why is the Government not willing to try and achieve consensus with the National Party on land-use planning reform since it is "largely at fault" for urban land and housing prices being so high?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: If the member feels left out, I suggest she put that question to the Minister who is responsible for that piece of work.
Hon Judith Collins: So what is this Minister doing about it?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I've outlined, both in the primary and in subsequent supplementary questions, we recognise housing is a complex set of issues. The Hon David Parker is leading the work around the RMA reforms. Obviously, all Ministers that have an interest in housing are kept informed of this, but we intend to actually get this across the line, unlike the previous Government.
• Question No.
7. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Does he intend to make a public announcement about the Interim Cancer Action Plan before the end of this parliamentary sitting block; if not, when?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): I'm not going to be rushed into making announcements by that member. It's important the actions in the plan are lined up correctly to ensure we're delivering actions that will benefit those living with cancer, but I can assure the member that it will not take nine years for this Government to take action on cancer.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: In relation to that answer, is he not aware that the previous Government had a comprehensive cancer plan published in December 2014 for the period 2015 to 2018?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am aware that the previous Government scrapped Cancer Control New Zealand, the one agency at the time with a mandate to provide strong central leadership on cancer control. I do, though, welcome their change of heart.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: That's not an answer to the question.
SPEAKER: The member's right. That's not an answer to the question.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I let the member know what I was aware of, which is that they scrapped the cancer control agency that was actually responsible for mandating change.
SPEAKER: All the member has to do is indicate whether he's aware or unaware of the existence of the plan.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I reject the member's characterisation of it. It was a continuation of the cancer work that was started under the previous Labour Government.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: When he said yesterday "It is great to see the National Party adopting Labour Party policy from 2017.", did he not think it ironic that his Government didn't also adopt Labour Party policy? [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Mr Doocey, you're on your last warning.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am glad that the National Party has caught up to where the Labour Party was in 2017. Since that time, of course, I've had the opportunity to build relationships with the sector to work through the best way to deliver on the principles of centrally directed, strong cancer care with accountability, and I do look forward to the member's support when he catches up to where we are in 2019.
Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Minister see any irony whatsoever in the promotion of an agency such as this by a party who, in Government, said it would be a complete waste of money?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! No responsibility.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: How can he be confident his plan will be an improvement on the previous three-year plan, when he didn't even bother to undertake a review of that previous plan?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Earlier this year, there was a conference called Cancer Care at a Crossroads, which was supported by the Ministry of Health and which also had participants from across the cancer care spectrum at the conference and people suffering living with cancer. That conference was the basis for building the new plan. What people there recognised was that we had inherited as a Government an uneven quality of care across New Zealand. We're focused on dealing with the problems that we've inherited with the underfunding in the health system and with making sure that in the future there is a high standard of cancer care across New Zealand so that no matter who you are, no matter where you live, you can expect a high quality of cancer care. As Minister, I accept the problems I've inherited from the previous Government, and I'm determined to fix them.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Isn't it true that at that conference he was embarrassed by the Vining family in January over his lack of a plan, made a promise to deliver one within a few weeks, and has broken that promise?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No. Melissa Vining expressed to me directly that she felt she had been let down by the system and that there needed to be accountability and that in future we needed a cancer action plan. I have since spoken with the Vinings. They are very clear with me that they think we need to take the time to get this right, and they are very clear with me that we need to invest in making sure we have a high standard of cancer care across New Zealand, and I'm determined to deliver on that.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: When he said yesterday "We're a Government that consults and works with others to deliver cancer care", does that mean there will be yet another six months of consultation when the interim plan is released before any further initiatives are put in place?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No. I've been very clear that the interim plan will contain actions. After years of underfunding and neglect, there are some actions which are incredibly obvious, not just the drugs that the member has spoken about but across the spectrum of care: screening, radiation therapy, and other interventions. There are a lot of opportunities, when cancer care has been neglected for so long, to make investments immediately, but, of course, in terms of finalising the longer-term plan, we want to make sure that those who are delivering the care are involved. We won't ignore them and announce policy on the hoof, like his party did on the weekend.
No. 8—Arts, Culture and Heritage
8. ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: What is the New Zealand Film Commission doing to support diversity in film making and content?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): Last year, the New Zealand Film Commission launched its first Rautaki Māori strategy, appointed its first Pou Whakahaere, and launched the 125 Fund, which supports opportunities for women filmmakers. Since then, the New Zealand Film Commission have created a fund for films in Te Reo Māori and have established two joint funds, one to support Asian and Pacific Island New Zealanders to develop a one-off drama and one to support creative collaboration between indigenous people of the Pacific region impacted by the arrival of Captain Cook. They also continue to actively support the annual Māori Screen Excellence Awards. It's exciting to see the work of the New Zealand Film Commission truly reflecting the diversity that exists across New Zealand and the region.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What evidence has the Minister seen to showcase the work the New Zealand Film Commission is doing to support diversity in the film industry?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We have seen international recognition of Pacific films with the Berlin International Film Festival's NATIVe section focused on the Pacific. The New Zealand Film Commission supported the making of Pacific films Vai, Liliu, Toa'ipuapugā Strength in Suffering, and For My Father's Kingdom. Last night, it was a privilege to speak at the New Zealand premiere of For My Father's Kingdom, the first Pacific feature documentary funded by the New Zealand Film Commission, co-directed by Tongan Vea Mafile'o and Samoan Jeremiah Tauamiti and produced by another proud Tongan, Sandra Kailahi. The premiere, held at The Civic in Auckland, was attended by over 1,800 people. Efforts like this show the New Zealand Film Commission's contribution to supporting more diverse filmmakers and showcasing New Zealand and the Pacific region on the international stage.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: Why is this important?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: One of the Government's priorities through Budget 2019 was lifting Māori and Pacific incomes, skills, and opportunities in every sector, including the film industry—and every sector, including the film industry, has a part to play in this. We have also made a commitment to value who we are as a country, and the work of our film commission is doing exactly that by providing opportunities for New Zealand's diverse talent pool and showcasing their stories to New Zealand and the world. It's exciting to see New Zealanders engaging with Pacific arts. The most recent national arts engagement survey showed that a record number of nearly one in five—18 percent—everyday New Zealanders attended at least one Pacific arts event in the previous 12 months. Our competitive edge on the international stage is strengthened by our uniqueness, and Māori and Pacific artists have a great contribution to make in this space.
No. 9—Social Development
9. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: How many of the 23,574 Emergency Housing Special Needs Grants paid in the year to June 2019 are repayable?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Of the 23,574 grants granted in the June 2019 quarter, 955 were recoverable. As I said in the House yesterday, under the previous Government 11 percent of emergency housing special needs grants were recoverable; under our side, it's 4 percent.
Hon Louise Upston: How much of the 1,580 percent increase in emergency housing special needs grants in Wellington, going from 20 to 336, is a direct result of the increased costs of living that her Government's policies have created?
SPEAKER: I'm trying to relate that to the repayability of special needs grants, not the number. It's not about the increase in the numbers; it's about the repayability. So can the member focus her supplementary back on that?
Hon Louise Upston: How much of the 1,580 percent increase in emergency housing special needs grants in Wellington—that have gone from 20 to 336—that are repayable are clearly the direct result of her Government's policies on the cost of living?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I reject the premise of that question. This Government, when it got into power, put $5.5 billion into a Families Package that was targeted at some of the lowest-income earners in this country. The housing crisis that we inherited was a direct result of the previous Government's inaction. This Government is responding, and we're not going to apologise for giving New Zealanders who need housing support the support they need, because that need is a direct consequence of their inaction.
Hon Louise Upston: Under what circumstances are the emergency housing special needs grants repayable?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The emergency housing special needs grants are recoverable if the applicant has failed to make a reasonable effort in the circumstances to access other sources of housing assistance, or if the grant is a second or subsequent emergency housing grant made to the applicant within a 52-week period and the applicant has unreasonably contributed to the existence of the immediate emergency housing need. Any emergency housing special needs grant paid in respect of bond or security is also recoverable. Examples where emergency housing special needs grants might be recoverable because they've failed to make a reasonable effort are where the person has not actively looked for a house, hasn't shown they have made any effort to look for alternative accommodation, have not met with a transitional housing provider when arranged, and there are a list of other reasons. I think it's important to note that, actually, the previous Government made a point in a press release on 1 July 2016, "During our review of emergency housing last year, it became apparent that vulnerable people were getting into debt to pay for accommodation when they needed it most. This was not right and we have fixed it." They had an 11 percent recoverable rate. Ours is 4 percent. We're fixing it better than what they did.
Hon Louise Upston: Who is correct: the Minister, who said yesterday, "4 percent is repayable" or the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), who, on their website, say, "We'll pay [it] directly to the emergency housing provider. … You won't need to pay this money back"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I've been very clear in the House that with regards to—
Hon Louise Upston: Who's right—the Minister or MSD?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: —the emergency housing special needs—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member asked a question. Her mike is live. The Minister is attempting to answer it. I can't hear it because of the noise she's making.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I've been very clear in this House today and yesterday that, under us, 4 percent of those who have accessed an emergency housing special needs grant have had that grant made recoverable for whatever reason. Under the previous Government, it was 11 percent.
Hon Louise Upston: Is it kind and caring to be misleading the public with the MSD website on which of the special needs grants are recoverable?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I have to say that I would have concern about the interpretation of that member's reading of the website. I have been very clear in this House, and I will repeat myself: the most recent statistics show that, under this Government, 4 percent—
SPEAKER: Order! I think we've had that set of figures about seven times in the last two days. I've had enough of them.
Hon Louise Upston: I seek leave to table a document that I was quoting—
SPEAKER: Is the member purporting to table a screenshot of a website?
Hon Louise Upston: Well, I'm not sure the Minister's seen—
SPEAKER: No. The member knows that's disorderly. She'll resume her seat, and she's lucky to stay in the House. Question No. 10, Chris Bishop.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, Mr Speaker. I thought you were still dealing with that last exchange, and—
SPEAKER: No, I've dealt with it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, it's a little surprising, then, that there was no requirement for there to be an answer, because there wasn't one.
SPEAKER: Well, you don't normally have an answer to leave to table a document unless it's put to the House, and it wasn't. And I'm not putting it, because Speakers for quite some time now have indicated that material that is generally available, especially by way of a website, is not something that should be tabled. Louise Upston absolutely knows that and was trifling with the Chair in her attempt to table it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That's all good; my question was about the question that was asked, which you stopped an answer to because you, rightly, identified some repetitive material coming from the Minister. But the question itself was "Is it fair to the public that a website contains some information counter to the Minister's answer in the House?"
SPEAKER: And my ruling was that that was answered right at the beginning of the question and there was much superfluous material added afterwards.
• Question No.
10. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What does her 26 March 2019 letter to the Minister of Transport regarding the Let's Get Wellington Moving indicative package say, if anything, in relation to a second Mt Victoria tunnel?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): Thank you, Mr Speaker. The final Let's Get Wellington Moving package outlined our Government's plan to deliver a step change in Wellington's transport, to enable more people to move freely through the city with less congestion, and to protect the climate. My letter to Minister Twyford expressed my concerns at the time that the indicative package had not yet been sequenced to deliver the optimal benefits to help people get around Wellington. This was resolved in the final package.
SPEAKER: Order! I'm now going to ask the Minister to answer the question.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The question was about the content of the letter—
SPEAKER: No, what it says, if anything, in relation to a second Mount Victoria tunnel. I didn't hear that being addressed.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Well, I was discussing my concerns. What the letter expressed was some concerns about the lack of sequencing of projects, and that includes the Mount Vic tunnel, but it includes all of the projects in the package, the order in which they are to be sequenced.
SPEAKER: Thank you; that's clear now.
Chris Bishop: Why did she not disclose the existence of her 26 March 2019 letter to the Minister when first asked through written questions? Is it because she's embarrassed by its contents?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Not at all. As the member will know, our offices are answering hundreds of written questions from National Party members every week, and it was a mistake. As soon as my office and Minister Twyford's office realised the oversight, it was corrected.
Chris Bishop: When, if ever, will she release her 26 March 2019 letter to the Minister?
Nicola Willis: What are you hiding?
SPEAKER: Order! Who did that interjection? The member will withdraw and apologise.
Nicola Willis: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I can assure all members that the Government has nothing to hide. The letter has been withheld in line with the Official Information Act and opinions put forward by the Chief Ombudsman. I'd quote the Chief Ombudsman's recent opinion on political consultation: "There is a strong interest in maintaining the Government's ability to undertake effective and efficient political consultation with political parties, and to receive free and frank opinions from the political parties that are being consulted". This side of the House, unlike that side of the House, has robust conversations about policy and comes to agreement, whereas, on the other side of the House when there's disagreement, people lose their portfolios.
Chris Bishop: When she said to my colleague Nicola Willis she wouldn't release a letter to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions, how free and frank was she with her colleague Phil Twyford, and is it correct the letter refers to "car fascists"?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: No, it is not correct.
• Question No.
11. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Assistant Whip—Labour) to the Minister of Employment: What recent announcements has he made about helping rangatahi in the Bay of Plenty into employment?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): On 18 July in Tauranga, I launched a joint Te Ara Mahi and He Poutama Rangatahi - funded programme, Pathways to Trades: a $1.6 million commitment over two years to connect over 100 rangatahi—those are young people—into trades-based apprenticeships across the Western Bay of Plenty, primarily in Rotorua and Tauranga.
Kiritapu Allan: How does the Pathways to Trades programme work?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Pathways to Trades provides support to our rangatahi who aren't earning, learning, caring, or volunteering to gain skills training and work in the trades-based industries. This includes careers in trades such as building, plumbing, painting, and concrete laying. The programme includes up to six months of pre-employment support and nine months of ongoing mentoring from the point of being placed into employment.
Kiritapu Allan: What difference will the programme make?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: The Pathways to Trades programme is not just about making a difference in the lives of the 100 rangitahi and their whānau. It's also about committing to skills and investment in our key growth industries, which has been lacking for too long. This Government wants to see our young people build skills and participate in their communities so that we have a strong economy that delivers for everyone as well as highlight to our communities that careers in the trades and their supporting industries can deliver life-long successful employment pathways for our young people.
No. 12—Energy and Resources
12. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Why was the average daily wholesale price of electricity across New Zealand on 30 July 2019, 67 percent higher than it was a year ago?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): It's impossible to pinpoint a specific reason for a daily price. Prices vary from day to day, season to season, year to year. There is a complex range of factors, such as weather, lake levels, infrastructure outages, and demand. There is an inherent volatility in the wholesale prices. While the July 2019 monthly average price at the Ōtāhuhu node has been $113 per megawatt hour, in 2018 it was $82 per megawatt hour. I remind that member that in July 2017, when that member's party was in Government, the monthly average price was $135 per megawatt hour. That is a percentage increase in monthly average spot prices between July 2016 and 2017 of 98.52 percent, and a percentage increase in monthly average spot prices between July 2018 and July 2019 of 37.8 percent.
Jonathan Young: What is driving the price up—considering that North Island hydro storage is 107 percent of average, South Island hydro storage is 120 percent of average, and natural gas and geothermal are flowing normally?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I told that member in the answer to the primary question, given the question he asked me was about a specific day, it is impossible to pinpoint a specific reason for a specific day. But I'm sure the member full well understands that what we are seeing at the moment is generators seeing that there's going to be an increase in demand and prices starting to reflect that. We are also seeing, on the other side of that balance, an increase in investment. We've had over half a billion dollars of investment committed in the last year to renewables projects. This is what that member would describe as the market working well, I'm sure.
Jonathan Young: Does she agree with Pattrick Smellie, who said last week, "Where $50 to $60 per megawatt hour had often been the norm in recent years, wholesale spot prices have risen to sit [comfortably] above $100 per megawatt hour in most parts of the country."?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I just gave the explanation for that in the answer to my last question—that yes we are currently seeing higher wholesale rates. I'd remind that member there is no reason to think that this will necessarily flow through to retail rates, as they didn't in 2017 when we saw prices in the $300s per megawatt hour. But what we are seeing is the market reflecting the fact that there is an appetite for investment, which we are seeing. We are seeing commitments in investments around renewable energy. But the good news for that member is that what we are seeing is investment in renewable energy, which has a far lower levelised cost of electricity than fossil fuel modes, and, actually, what commenters are saying is this will ultimately lead to lower prices for consumers.
Jonathan Young: After the Minister has said that prices are higher, does she agree that major electricity users like the Glenbrook steel mill, fertiliser companies like Ballance and Ravensdown, Methanex and the oil refinery—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! No lists.
Jonathan Young: —thank you, sir—are all facing tens of millions of dollars in higher electricity costs?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What I remind that member of is the inherent volatility of this market. If we go back to July 2017—let's go back to a period of time in there where we had 9 July, $106 per megawatt hour; 10 July, $122; 11 July, $144, 12 July, $212; 13 July, $351—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! That concludes oral questions.