Parliament: Questions and Answers - August 6
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Justice
1. JAMI-LEE ROSS (MP—Botany) to the Minister of Justice: What is the latest date he can receive recommendations from the Justice Committee on foreign interference, that he asked it to look at as part of its 2017 general election inquiry, in order for him to introduce any necessary legislation in time for the next general election, and does he intend to do so if the Government adopts any recommendations from the inquiry?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): Mr Speaker, kia orana. For the Electoral Commission to implement changes before the 2020 general election, legislation is required to be passed by Parliament by early next year. The Justice Committee has been significantly delayed in producing its report on the 2017 general election inquiry, in part due to its consideration of the End of Life Choice Bill and other work, and as such, I have progressed an Electoral Amendment Bill, which makes minor administrative changes which will make it easier to vote. If the committee has recommendations to the Electoral Act that deal with foreign interference and donations, then they will need to work smartly in order for them to be implemented for the 2020 general election. In my meetings in London last week, it was clear that Governments around the world are concerned about interference in electoral and parliamentary processes, and as such, if members are equally concerned about this issue, I would certainly be happy to work with them to implement any changes necessary before the 2020 general election.
Jami-Lee Ross: When he identified an example of foreign interference in April, overseas donations that were "disaggregated and routed through different mechanism", was he referring to overseas persons routing overseas donations through New Zealand companies, and, if so, will he take steps to protect New Zealand from that practice before the next election?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The reference I made in answer to a question at that time was in relation to a perceived risk or threat that that could be happening, and that had been the subject of public debate, I think, as recently as last year. In my conversations with members in this House, including at least one member opposite, there has been an expressed concern by members about the need to make sure we have a robust electoral donations regime provided for under the Electoral Act, and that's why I'm looking to the Justice Committee to make sure that through their examination and inquiry into the 2017 general election, we get good advice and, hopefully, any recommendations on a more robust regime for electoral donations.
Jami-Lee Ross: Given a parliamentary majority exists to ban foreign donations, and the Justice Committee's inquiry has been delayed, will he consider supporting a motion that would instruct the Justice Committee to consider electoral donation law as part of the committee's consideration of the Electoral Amendment Bill, intended to be referred to the committee later today?
SPEAKER: I'm going to ask the member to restate his question without the preface, which contains an assertion. So ask the question without the assertion.
Jami-Lee Ross: Given he said the Justice Committee has been delayed in its consideration, will he consider supporting a motion to the Justice Committee instructing it to consider electoral donation law as part of its consideration of the Electoral Amendment Bill, which is intended to be referred to that committee later today?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I wrote to the Justice Committee in October last year specifically requesting that they consider the issue of political interference in elections and the issue of donations, and so I'm not quite sure what more a motion would add to it. I understand that member's concerns, and I share his wish to make sure that our electoral law is robust enough to deal with the growing threat of overseas political interference, including through overseas donations. I would simply urge members on the Justice Committee to bring their work to a close—hopefully, expeditiously—and to bring their recommendations back to the House so that we can all consider them.
• Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly the coalition Government's economic plan, which is delivering more jobs for New Zealanders and a strong underlying economy in the face of global headwinds, as shown by today's unemployment figures, with Stats New Zealand reporting that the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent, I believe—a low that we haven't seen in roughly a decade—and in the June quarter, wages rose, of course, by 4.4 percent as well.
Hon Simon Bridges: What will the total financial deficits through our district health boards (DHBS) be this financial year?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again—
Hon Amy Adams: Doesn't know.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —I'm not going to project final deficits—
Hon Amy Adams: Doesn't know.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —for DHBs—
SPEAKER: Order! Who was that?
Hon Amy Adams: Me.
SPEAKER: Well, the member will just zip it.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: But what I will say, of course, is that we have inherited a health system that has had significant under-investment. No one in this House wants to see, however, DHBs running deficits. We have put in record investment—$2.9 billion in the last Budget, and $1.7 billion in capital investment into health. That is enabling them to make critical investments, of course, in equipment like, for instance, radiation therapy equipment that hasn't been replaced in sometimes over a decade. All of that has been about turning around the state that we found the health system in after a decade of a National Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is the answer over half a billion dollars?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I'm not going to forecast the final position of our DHBs.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why were the figures only released after Michael Woodhouse asked for them, on Friday afternoon, when her health Minister has had them for over six weeks?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That would be a question for the Minister of Health. But what I am also happy, again, to remind this House is no one wants to see our health system in dire straits. We've had now, roughly, just going on two years to try and turn around what have been projected issues within the health system since 2013, and it is going to take some time to turn that around. We've had record investment under this Government, though, into our DHBs in an effort to do that.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was her Government embarrassed by the size of the deficits?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That member may wish to be cautious given we're having to deal with things like the National Oracle Solution, which cost more than $100 million over seven years and failed to deliver anticipated benefits. We've also had to deal with increasing wages, obviously, within the health workforce. We've also had to put more workforce into the health system, and we've increased nurses. And we've also had to try and deal with the fact that in Auckland, Counties Manukau, there was sewage pouring down the walls, no investment in just the basic pipes, and no investment in even the lifts in some of those areas. It is taking considerable investment. We are committed to turning it around and making sure New Zealanders get the health services that they deserve.
Hon Simon Bridges: Can she confirm these are the largest deficits in the history of DHBs?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I'm not in a position to do that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister: has she seen this comment? "Its started. Unemployment is up. Is anyone seriously going to debate that this isn't because of the Ardern Peters [Government] policies?"; and given today's 3.9 percent announcement, is not the converse true?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is correct. That appears to be a statement from the Leader of the Opposition, which he may wish to correct.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is the half-a-billion dollar DHBs' deficit the reason why the Government can't afford to fund lifesaving cancer drugs or do a national cancer agency, as the Prime Minister has previous promised?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we've already said, we'll be announcing our cancer action plan by the end of the month. I do note that it was only four years ago that National wound up Cancer Control New Zealand, which I see they've done a U-turn on. Of course, also, Steven Joyce and Bill English panned the idea of a national cancer agency, calling it an unnecessary bureaucracy. I'd say that since we took office, we've also increased Pharmac funding and also invested now in replacing half of the radiation therapy equipment in New Zealand, whereas under that Government, they left it up to DHBs, who couldn't afford it, which meant they weren't replaced and New Zealanders in the regions did not get the radiation therapy that they needed and deserved.
SPEAKER: All right. Before we have the next supplementary, I'm going to ask the Hon Dr Smith, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, and Kiritapu Allan to have at least quarter of an hour with no further interjections.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with Associate Minister of Health Julie Anne Genter, who said, when releasing sustainability guidelines for DHBs last week, that "The single biggest risk to our health now is our changing climate,"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, globally you'll see that there has been a significant move by those who work in health forces to raise the fact that climate change is a concern. That's been accepted globally, so it's up to the member whether or not he chooses to follow that trend.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that it is "The single biggest risk to our health now"—a changing climate?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will forgive me for wanting to see the full quote rather than the member's interpretation of what the Minister has said.
Hon Simon Bridges: Which ranks more highly now as a health risk: climate change or 9,000 people who die a year from cancer?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: National's under-investment in our health workforce, our health services, and also making sure that we have the basics to ensure that there isn't regional variation in people's treatment is also a threat to the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and that's something we're working very hard to reverse.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with Minister Genter that hospitals shouldn't serve as much meat and dairy to patients in order to reduce their carbon footprint?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I'm going to want to look at the Minister's statements directly rather than the member's interpretation of them.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. 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): Just this morning, Statistics New Zealand reported that the unemployment rate fell to an 11-year low of 3.9 percent in the June quarter. This is down from 4.2 percent in March, is below the 4.7 percent rate that the coalition Government inherited, and is well below the OECD average of 5.2 percent. Statistics New Zealand also reported today that the number of employed people rose by more than 21,000 in the June quarter. All of this shows the coalition Government's economic plan is delivering more jobs for New Zealand and shows a strong underlying economy in the face of global headwinds.
Dr Duncan Webb: What did the data released today say about wages?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Statistics New Zealand today reported that the average ordinary-time hourly earnings rose 4.4 percent in the year to June to $32.37. This was the biggest increase since 2009, or, as the Stuff headline says, the biggest pay rise for New Zealanders in 10 years. Statistics New Zealand notes that Government policies like the minimum wage increase for our lowest-paid workers helped boost wages alongside the pay settlements between the Government and workers, such as with nurses. The Government's economic plan focuses on making sure that everyone shares in our economic success, and today's figures show that we are delivering a more inclusive economy that raises the living standards of all New Zealanders.
Dr Duncan Webb: What did today's data say about unemployment for young people and Māori?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We're continuing to make good progress on Māori unemployment and in getting our young people into work and training. Today's report showed the Māori unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in June, down from 9.4 percent last year, the lowest rate since June 2008. Today's report also showed the NEET rate for 15- to 24-year-olds not in employment, education, or training also fell to 10.3 percent from 13.1 percent. I would like to particularly acknowledge the Minister of Employment, the Hon Willie Jackson, for his drive and management of schemes such as Mana in Mahi and He Poutama Rangatahi. This Government will not be complacent, particularly with a volatile global economic situation, but we are making good progress.
Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: In light of those answers, how does he reconcile the news that wages are up and unemployment is down with assertions from certain commentators that this Government's approach to collective bargaining and increasing the minimum wage would result in fewer jobs and workers losing their incomes?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Mr Speaker—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Taking some real care not to make this out of order.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I would never do that, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Well, that's deviating from veracity with a—
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Ha, ha! What I would say is that in the time I've been in this Parliament, I've heard many people say that a lift in the minimum wage would somehow or other see a reduction in employment, and the figures today tell the opposite story. We are seeing wages rise, we are seeing employment rise, and we are seeing unemployment go down. It is a good thing to lift the minimum wage, and I'm proud to be part of a Government that has a plan to do just that.
SPEAKER: Question No. 4, the Hon Paul Goldsmith.
Kieran McAnulty: Here we go.
SPEAKER: Order! Who did that interjection?
Kieran McAnulty: That was me.
SPEAKER: Well, the member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Kieran McAnulty: I withdraw and apologise.
• Question No. 4—Finance
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statements, policies, and actions in relation to the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context that they were made, delivered, and taken. I particularly stand by a statement I've just made that the coalition Government's economic plan is delivering jobs and higher wages for New Zealanders following today's unemployment reading of 3.9 percent—an 11-year low.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How does he square today's household labour force survey figures with the 14,000 increase in the number of Kiwis on the jobseeker benefit in the year to June?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That matter was traversed at some length, and at some frustration of the Speaker, in the House last week. What I would say is that it is only the member opposite who could find something negative about today's news. This is a story of more people in work. This is a story of lower unemployment. This is a story of higher wages. Today's the day for the member to find the glass half full.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree with the Newsroom columnist today, who said unemployment has fallen "mostly because more people gave up looking for work."?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Actually, surprisingly enough, no, I don't. The people that I would agree with today are those of the likes of the ANZ, who called this solid, the ASB, who said that the results radiate warmth throughout the economy, and the Kiwibank economist who described the results as impressive. I would prefer to take their word on this.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is he already missing Amy Adams' insightful questions?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Mr Speaker, I have—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Last warning.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why are more Kiwis going on the jobseeker benefit when employers are crying out for workers?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said, this was traversed at length in the House last week. As a percentage, the figure remains relatively steady. On this side of the House, we also want to make sure that people, when they do have entitlements, actually get them, because that's what our system is about. But what the statistics today show is, in those groups that are really hard to reach, like those young people right around the country—Mr Jones' nephs and others—we are now making some excellent progress. This is a day to celebrate the fact that there are hard-working people all over New Zealand creating jobs and filling jobs. It is not a day for the "Brothers Grimm" over there.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What changes, if any, has he made to his Government's economic policies in response to the slowdown in economic growth?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: If the member had been paying attention at Budget time, he would've seen a lift in operating spending from $2.4 billion per year to $3.8 billion per year. He would've seen $10 billion worth of capital expenditure going into building new schools, in hospitals, and improving our roads. On this side of the House, we understand that it is the Government's role to stimulate the economy in times like this, and, unfortunately, what we're having to do as part of that is make up for 10 years of under-investment. If the member wants to go back and look at the statistics for investment into infrastructure, for example—capital expenditure—he'll find times in the 2010s when it barely moved. This Government's committed to a long-term investment in New Zealand.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: If more infrastructure spending is an option, will he revisit his Government's decision to stop or delay around a dozen major road projects that, in several cases, were ready to go, in favour of new projects that won't be ready to go for years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We know that on this side of the House, we will be investing more in transport infrastructure over the period of this—
Hon Member: When?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We've already started, and we are making sure that that transport infrastructure doesn't go on a handful of highways, but actually goes across the country in improving regional roads, in significantly making safety improvements, and improving rail. On that side of the House, there were a lot of promises made about those roads, but they were, well and truly, ghost roads.
• Question No. 5—Housing
5. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing: What recent announcements has she made about the provision of public housing?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. On Friday, I announced that an extra 2,178 public houses have been delivered over the last 12 months. We exceeded our target of 1,600 additional public houses this year by 578. One of this Government's first actions upon taking office was to stop the sell-off of State houses. This announcement demonstrates how much progress we've made since then, with Housing New Zealand building, on average, four new homes a day. I'm proud of the progress we're making, and happy to inform members that this represents the biggest increase to public housing in 20 years.
Paul Eagle: How did the Government enable the construction and timely delivery of these houses?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Budget 2018 set aside $234 million to fund the delivery of 6,400 public housing places. That means that under this Government, not only have we stopped the sale of State houses but we have also set aside funding in our first Budget to ensure that the construction and completion of the houses I announced last week was progressed as soon as possible. We're also partnering with registered community housing providers to ensure we can maximise the delivery of public houses. Of the additional 2,178 houses I announced, those providers delivered 955, and I want to thank those providers who are working alongside the Government to tackle one of the most significant challenges facing New Zealand.
Paul Eagle: Why is it important that the Government continues to invest in public housing provision?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Because too many people are still struggling to find secure long-term accommodation that will keep them warm and dry. It's clear from the public house waiting list that a significant gap in supply has opened up over the last decade, and we simply must do more to ensure we're getting Kiwis into warm, dry homes. That's why this Government is committed to continuing to build more public houses over the coming years.
• Question No. 6—Health
6. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: On what date did he first read the report he received on 21 June entitled "DHB Sector Financial Performance for the ten month period ended 30 April 2019"?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. I receive a range of advice on district health board (DHB) performance, including regular updates on financial performance. Those briefings clearly demonstrate the consequences of years of deliberate—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. It's a very direct question, and talking about other stuff before the member has actually addressed the very direct question is out of order.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: In terms of the report the member specifically asks about, I read and signed it out on 1 August, but I was well aware of its contents before that, having discussed the individual circumstances of many DHBs with their chairs directly. I am acutely aware of the challenges that DHBs face in delivering the services that people need—given the history of underfunding, estimated at $2.3 billion by Infometrics research—whilst they at the same time work towards financial sustainability.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Doesn't he think he should have read that latest document outlining not only the DHBs' financial performance but the projected full-year financial performance when he had already taken action at Canterbury DHB and Waikato DHB in part due to their ballooning deficits?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As I say, I regularly receive reports on the DHBs' individual circumstances and discuss with the DHB chairs their financial positions. Where we have become concerned that they haven't mapped out a path to sustainability, we have acted. Over half of the deficits projected belong to just four DHBs, and one of those commissioners was put in place by the previous Government. I have put Crown monitors into the other three. And one of them, where I became concerned that there was no path being mapped out to sustainability, I have moved further and put a commissioner in place. But, first and foremost, I am concerned that New Zealanders get the services they expect and deserve.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does the Ministry of Health only publish financial information on his direction?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Certainly not.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Why, then, did the Ministry of Health not publish the information once it had been finalised?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: There is a normal process for ensuring that the data is being checked by the Minister and the Minister's office, which the Minister is familiar with—in this case, the financial wash-ups and the underlying direction. When I became aware that it hadn't been signed out, I asked for the documentation and signed it out the very same day.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: So if he directed the ministry to publish the information, is he also saying that he directed the ministry, prior to that, not to publish the information?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Mr Speaker, I'm not sure how that follows.
SPEAKER: I'm just going to—no. It is within the realm of the Minister to say that the assertion's not correct, because I think there was an assertion in the beginning of the question which was not consistent with the previous answer.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I reject the assertion that the member makes. I am focused firmly on the performance of our DHBs, acknowledging the significant underfunding that they've had. The member will probably not be surprised to learn that we're also dealing with some other problems we inherited, including the previous Government's failure to pay out properly under the Holidays Act—employees have not been paid properly for a decade, and we are concerned to provision for that; we will see that the final figure will take that into account—and also the failure of oversight with the implementation of an IT system across the sector, and there'll be a write-off associated with that as well. The underlying deficit, of course, is projected to be closer to $400 million, but we'll wait to where the final figures get to, just acknowledging that, of course, we are dealing with those three big issues of underfunding, failure to provision to pay properly the employees, and also the failure of oversight with the IT system that was being implemented under the previous Government's watch.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Can the Minister confirm that district health boards' annual reports are tabled in the House and available to any member who wants to read them?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am very happy to confirm that. There is no great conspiracy around this data. It is all made transparent when it's appropriately finalised.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: When it comes to DHB financial performance, is he completely disinterested or completely disorganised?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.
SPEAKER: Question No. 8, Angie—sorry, Question No. 7, the Hon Louise Upston. That was a Freudian slip, which might have been appropriate, given the interjection that came.
• Question No. 7—Social Development
7. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: How many more children are living in benefit-dependent homes as of June 2019 compared to September 2017?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): As at June 2019, there were 176,630 dependent children of working-age people on main benefit. In September 2017, there were 172,301. The difference is 4,329. I note these figures are publicly available online.
Hon Louise Upston: What percentage of children living in poverty are in benefit-dependent homes?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The most recent statistics that we have on that are around 60 percent. Can I say that with regards to those living-in-benefit numbers, we can gain a sense of positivity by the unemployment rate of 3.9 percent today. Also, there are a number of children that are living in hardship in working households, so the increase of 4.4 percent in wages is also a positive indication of what's happening in the country at the moment.
Hon Louise Upston: Is she concerned about the increase of more than 4,000 children, now totalling more than 176,000 children, living in benefit-dependent homes since September 2017?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: What I am relieved about is that we've got a Government that is responding to the needs of children living in beneficiary households. With the repeal of things like section 192, which punished children living in beneficiary households, we will see increases in those particular households—24,000 children living in those households; those households will be better off by about $34 per week because of repealing that section 192.
Hon Louise Upston: Does she acknowledge that children are better off in households where a parent is working?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: With us—with this Government—we want to work with New Zealanders who come through the welfare system to support them into meaningful and sustainable employment. For some, that means working with them to make sure that they can upskill and train towards the jobs that are available. We're working very hard to do that. I think we see that with the statistics that came out today, with an additional 20,000 New Zealanders in work over the past quarter. It's all looking very positive, and we will continue to do that work with families who come through the welfare system.
Hon Louise Upston: Why are children worse off under her watch?
SPEAKER: Order! Oh, answer the question.
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I reject the premise of that member's question.
• Question No. 8—Health
8. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What recent announcements has he made about improving cancer care in the regions?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. More good news: on Sunday, I joined the Prime Minister at Wellington Hospital to announce that the Government will fund the replacement of 12 linear accelerators (LINACs) over the next three years. These machines are used to deliver radiation treatment for a range of cancers, including lung, breast, skin, bowel, and brain cancers. Currently, more than a thousand people a year travel from the Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, and Northland so that they can receive this treatment. We know that others choose not to travel, and they're missing out altogether. We don't think that's fair and so, as we replace these LINACs, we will be putting one into each of those regions for the first time ever.
Angie Warren-Clark: Why is improving regional access to radiation treatment important?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We know that we currently have regional variations in the standard of cancer care. We also know that one in two cancer patients could benefit from radiation treatment, but currently only one in three is accessing these services. There is no question that the cost and convenience of travelling for treatment is a barrier for some people. By putting state-of-the-art LINACs into more regions, we can ensure improved treatment and fairer access to cancer care in the provinces.
Angie Warren-Clark: How will these replacement linear accelerators be funded?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Up until now, district health boards have had to fund the purchase of these vital pieces of equipment themselves. That has forced them to make difficult choices about when to replace their LINACs and has left us with some machines that are up to 16 years old, when they are usually replaced after 10 years. It is just another reflection of the underfunding of health by the previous Government. We are stepping up and we're stepping in to fund these machines directly from the $1.7 billion we invested in health for capital projects in the Wellbeing Budget, with $25 million set aside for the first five machines in the current financial year.
• Question No. 9—Justice
9. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Justice: Does he stand by all his actions and statements in respect of electoral and referendum law?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): Yes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he agree with the statement by Labour during the last Government that the topic and wording of referendum questions is so important that it should be subject to cross-party discussions as well as a bill—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I'm going to interrupt the member and ask him to go back and—in fact, it's so far out that I'm going to rule the question out and he can start again with a new supplementary.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the reason Cabinet and not Parliament will determine what referendum questions are held that Cabinet is behind closed doors and secret, whereas Parliament's processes are open, transparent, and enable full public submissions to be heard?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No. There is full transparency and openness. That member has now spent the best part of the last 10 days under a complete misapprehension about the conventions and rules around referendum setting. So, for example, in the referendum on the flag change process under the previous Government, that question was set by Cabinet, which approved the legislation that went to the select committee. No change was made by the select committee and it was sent back to Parliament. There are two other pieces of legislation that deal with setting referendum questions. The Citizens Initiated Referenda Act provides for the question to be set by the Clerk of the House and the Referenda (Postal Voting) Act of 2000 provides for the referendum question to be set by Cabinet, or at least by Order in Council.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Minister commit to the same process Labour demanded of the previous Government on the flag referendum, where there were cross-party discussions on both the topic and the questions and a full parliamentary process?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I have already said that the question for the referendum relating to legalisation of cannabis will be a yes/no question. The most substantial part of the question is the draft bill that accompanies it, and I have written to the leader of every party in Parliament inviting them to be part of a cross-party group to determine the content of that legislation. Oddly enough, I have heard public comments from the National Party that they don't wish to participate in that cross-party group, so I don't know what they're complaining about.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Government arguing that a cross-party group discussion on an issue is a substitute for a bill going before Parliament and a full select committee process? If so, why do we bother having a Parliament?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Sadly, once again, the member is deeply confused. There is a bill that is currently before Parliament, being debated in its first reading, called the Referendums Framework Bill. It will go through all the stages of Parliament, with total scrutiny by the select committee, committee of the whole House, and any member will be able to speak upon it. Then there is—as part of preparing the referendum question for the question on the legalisation of cannabis—a draft bill that will not go through Parliament, but it will be a draft bill that will be publicised as part of the referendum question. I have invited every leader of each party in this House to provide a member—I'm happy to consider more than one member if it helps—for them to participate in a process to determine the content of that bill. That is the opportunity for that member and his party to participate in the process of determining the substantial part of the question in the referendum on the legalisation of cannabis.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will he categorically rule out using his referendums bill's powers for Cabinet to trigger a poll on abortion at election 2020, as advocated by the Deputy Prime Minister?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I have no plans to organise any referendum, other than the one on cannabis that has been mandated by Cabinet. But Cabinet is also aware—and the reason why we're having the Referendums Framework Bill—that there is a possibility there will be another referendum which will be part of the End of Life Choice Bill. No other referendum has been mandated or contemplated or anticipated by Cabinet.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was whether the Minister would categorically rule out the proposal put by the Deputy Prime Minister—
SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. He's been here a very long time and he knows that yes/no answers cannot be required.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Minister "angry" with the Rt Hon Winston Peters on the question of a referendum on abortion, as stated—
SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat when I stand. Question number 10, Chris Bishop.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: The member is meant to ask something about ministerial responsibility.
Hon Simon Bridges: Yeah, I am.
SPEAKER: He didn't come close. He's taking a point of order on my ruling now; unless he can quote me a Speakers' ruling or a Standing Order, he is trifling with the Chair.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, I can't do that.
• Question No. 10—Transport
10. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What were the first three paragraphs, not including salutations, of the letter she wrote on 26 March 2019 to Hon Phil Twyford, Minister of Transport, regarding the Let's Get Wellington Moving indicative package?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): It is in the public interest for the three parties of Government to be able to have free and frank discussions before decisions are made. This is particularly the case in an MMP Government, where all parties need to be able to—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. As a member from the Hutt Valley I actually have some interest in the answer to this question, and I would like to be able to hear it. That will require there to be a lot more quiet, especially from that quadrant of the House.
Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just wonder if you could ask the Minister to start from the beginning, because I couldn't hear it either.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: This is particularly the case in an MMP Government, where all parties need to be able to have free discussions in a relationship of trust and confidence, and in a timely manner. Accordingly, and in line with Speaker's ruling 176/5, I do not consider it in the public interest to provide the member with further detail about the content of a letter that details matters for political consultation.
Chris Bishop: Is she aware of the Chief Ombudsman's investigation, launched this morning, into whether or not the letter should be released; and if the Ombudsman recommends that her letter should be released publicly, will she do so?
SPEAKER: Oh, no, it's probably not for me to interpret the Ombudsmen Act for the member, but—
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Kia orana, Mr Speaker. Yes, to the first part of the question.
Chris Bishop: Was her 26 March 2019 letter to Phil Twyford sent on ministerial letterhead?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The member will be aware that while I am Associate Minister of Transport I am also the Green Party spokesperson on transport issues. The letter highlighted the Green Party's position on aspects of the transport project. As I've already stated, I do not consider it in the public interest to provide the member with further detail about the content of a letter that details matters of political consultation, and I'm not going to go through a yes or no answer—[Interruption]
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: —to every question the member has about the content of the letter.
SPEAKER: All right. Well, unfortunately, because of the noise I couldn't hear a direct answer to the question. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Who interjected then?
Ian McKelvie: I withdraw and apologise, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Right, well you two can withdraw and apologise too.
Maureen Pugh: I withdraw and apologise.
Simeon Brown: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: And the three of you can leave the Chamber.
Maureen Pugh withdrew from the Chamber.
Simeon Brown withdrew from the Chamber.
Ian McKelvie withdrew from the Chamber.
SPEAKER: Now, the point that I was attempting to make is that it is within the rights of the Minister to say that she will not answer a question of this type because it's not in the public interest. I would have thought that unless there is something extraordinary that we do not currently understand, relating to this letter, the type of letterhead that was used would not get that public interest protection. Having said that, it is the Minister's decision and not the House's. So is the Minister saying that it is not in the public interest to tell us what letterhead the letter was written on?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I can confirm that the letter was written in my capacity as transport spokesperson for the Green Party.
SPEAKER: I'm now going to ask the Minister to, once again, actually address the question that was asked.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: And the Speaker believes it's in the public interest to answer details about letterhead? Is that really what the member's interested in? I'm happy to answer the question. As it happens, I had only one type of letterhead, but that is something I will be changing.
SPEAKER: Well, that might be a lesson for members to ask answer questions directly.
Chris Bishop: Why is she relying on an Ombudsman opinion about Green Party emails to a Minister as justification for not releasing the letter when she wrote the letter to Minister Twyford as an Associate Minister of Transport on ministerial letterhead and has answered written and oral questions about the letter in that capacity?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The content of the letter was very much about political consultation and that is how we are treating the letter from now on.
Chris Bishop: Has the Hon Phil Twyford advised her not to release the letter to them?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: No.
• Question No. 11—Conservation
11. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Conservation: What recent announcements has she made regarding biodiversity?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE (Minister of Conservation): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. Thank you. Yesterday, I was pleased to launch Te Koiroa o Te Koiora – our shared vision for living with nature, a discussion document to encourage a national conversation to help shape a new New Zealand biodiversity strategy for the next 20 years. We have a global biodiversity crisis as serious as the climate crisis, with a million species threatened or at risk of extinction; 4,000 of those species are found here in Aotearoa. We need to turn that crisis around so that nature can thrive for its own sake and for our wellbeing.
Marama Davidson: What are the goals for the strategy?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The proposed goals that the public are asked to comment on include that by 2050, Aotearoa New Zealand is free from stoats, possums, and rats; populations are increasing for all threatened native species; and by-catch of seabirds, coral, and marine mammals is reduced to zero.
Marama Davidson: What action is needed to achieve these goals?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: We need to put nature at the heart of our decisions at central and local government. This requires shifts in thinking and in the way we use nature. Restoring the dawn chorus will require action from all of us: landholders, councils, iwi, hapū, businesses, the Department of Conservation, and the wider community. It requires scaling up the landscape-scale predator control that Budget 2018, with its boost of funding, has enabled the Department of Conservation to do.
Marama Davidson: How does Te Koiroa O Te Koiora and the proposed biodiversity strategy implement a Treaty partnership approach?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The proposed set of values is strongly influenced by Te Ao Māori. The document says that there needs to be better recognition of Māori as partners in protecting our natural environment. It proposes that partnership between tangata whenua and the Crown should reflect aspirations for co-management, with tangata whenua holding key roles at all levels of the biodiversity system, including governance, and it recognises a need for increased capability and support to enable iwi, hapū, and whānau to play a greater role in managing biodiversity.
Marama Davidson: What involvement has there been with iwi and hapū in developing the document?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: A Te Ao Māori reference group has worked closely with officials to ensure that a Te Ao Māori perspective was embedded in the document and the process. More than 20 regional hui have been held with iwi, hapū, and whānau between November last year and April 2019. These conversations fed into the discussion document, and a further round of hui will be held over the coming months.
• Question No. 12—Education
12. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by all his statements, policies, and actions around the Reform of Vocational Education?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Dr Shane Reti: Does the Tertiary Education Commission programme business case state that the risk of the new model not achieving desired outcomes is likely?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The business case sets out all of the risks that the officials considered in preparing the business case. It then sets out the inherent risks and then the managed risks, effectively, and what the business case does then is it goes through and identifies how the risks profile changes once the mitigation strategies are put in place. So, for example, the inherent risk of unmet needs of industry moves from being almost certain down to possible, the inherent risk of not achieving outcomes moves from being likely to being unlikely, and the inherent risk of workforce disruption and reduced participation moves from almost certain to likely. That has to be weighed, of course, against the status quo where many of those risks also exist.
Dr Shane Reti: Does the programme business case state that there will be, "a decline in students, apprentices, and trainees (up to a total of around 18,000 learners) as a result of the reform programme"?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Business cases, of course, cover all likely scenarios, or as many as likely scenarios as can possibly be envisaged. I would point out that participation in vocational education and training has been trending down for about five years since before this Government took office.
Dr Shane Reti: Did Treasury and the Ministry of Education review the regulatory impact assessment and state, "the panel does not find the RIA fully convincing"?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In fact, I think they were involved in writing it.
Dr Shane Reti: Does the programme business case include the base case mergers of Unitec and Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT); Whitireia and WelTec; and NorthTec, Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT), and Te Tai Poutini?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm sorry, can the member repeat the question?
Dr Shane Reti: Does the programme business case include the base case mergers of Unitec and MIT; Whitireia and WelTec; and NorthTec, WITT, and Te Tai Poutini?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think, as I said to the member in one of my earlier questions, the business case canvasses a wide range of possibilities—those being among them. The ultimate one that the Government settled on was the establishment of one institute of skills and technology to cover all of the existing 16 Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics of New Zealand.
Dr Shane Reti: Does the programme business case predict the loss of 2,310 apprentices each year in the short and medium term?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: As I said, the business case canvasses a range of possible scenarios. That is one of the possible scenarios. I point out the fact that we currently are not meeting the skill needs of business already. We have been losing people from vocational education and training for about five years and we could not guarantee that that wouldn't continue even if we weren't making these changes.