Parliament: Questions and Answers - August 7
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I've seen a number of reports that emphasise the current strength of the New Zealand economy, following the release of yesterday's labour market statistics. Yesterday, BNZ economists said, "For the economy, today's figures were all good news. More people are being employed, the unemployment rate is low, and, on average, consumer spending power is on the increase". ASB economists said that the labour market radiates some warmth, and Stuff said, "The [best] pay rises in 10 years". I am pleased to see we still have many New Zealanders who see the glass as half-full.
Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on the impact of international factors on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: According to the ASB's latest Rural Economic Note, dairy prices dipped 2.6 percent overnight against the backdrop of the escalating trade war between the US and China. ASB economists have said we are in uncharted territory with regards to the US-China trade war. Similarly, ANZ economists warned yesterday that global risks have escalated dramatically in recent times, after developments in the US-China trade war. They said, "The escalation in trade tensions will hit both the US and Chinese economies hard, and cause collateral damage across Asia in particular". We are cognisant of these risks but, fortunately, the fundamentals of the New Zealand economy remain strong. The books are in good shape, unemployment is low, and we are well-placed to respond to these challenges.
Dr Deborah Russell: How is the Government ensuring New Zealand's economy is resilient to international risks?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We have taken action to stimulate the economy by increasing investment, including through Budget 2019, where we significantly lifted both operating and capital allowances. This includes investing $10 billion more capital than the previous Government had done. We've also, over the last two years, brought in an R & D tax incentive that is going to benefit 2,000 businesses. We're investing in regional economies, through the Provincial Growth Fund. We are reforming skills and trade training to address long-term labour shortages and productivity gaps. We've established, and we are working closely with, the Business Advisory Council to harness the expertise of the private sector. We're deepening our trade base, and we're ensuring that capital is flowing through both the Green Investment Fund and the soon-to-be-established Venture Investment Fund.
• Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that GJ Thompson took "a leave of absence" to work in her office as chief of staff; if so, did he take leave as an employee or a director?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Mr Thompson took a leave of absence from his day-to-day duties at Thompson Lewis for the duration of his fixed-term agreement. The management of any conflicts of interests, as the member knows, is a matter for Ministerial Services. I'm advised that Ministerial Services followed standard process, and no issues were raised in the management of Mr Thompson's conflicts of interest. I would add that GJ Thompson was only ever appointed on a temporary basis, 18 months ago, while the intended permanent chief of staff was receiving medical treatment. This appointment should be seen in that light: a temporary appointment that lasted four months, over a year and a half ago.
David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister accept that during that temporary appointment, Mr Thompson, as a director, had all of the obligations under the Companies Act to act in the best interests of his lobbying firm?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I accept that Ministerial Services had responsibility for managing any conflict of interest. I've been advised that the conflict was managed based on Ministerial Services' practice and also the Department of Internal Affairs' (DIA) code of conduct.
David Seymour: Can the Prime Minister elaborate, for the House, how those conflicts were managed—such as that with his firm representing the firm Huawei that the Government was making important decisions about at the time?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I highlight that this temporary employment was 18 months ago. I'm advised by the department that the employment offer made to Mr Thompson for the position of interim chief of staff in the office of Prime Minister was conditional on Mr Thompson taking a leave of absence from Thompson Lewis for the duration of the employment agreement. Mr Thompson confirmed, in writing, to Ministerial Services that he had taken that leave of absence from Thompson Lewis. It's also a requirement, as part of the DIA's standard employment process, that office staff sign two codes of conduct and a completion of conflict of interest declarations—and that was completed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wonder if the Prime Minister could point out to the previous questioner that the obligation to act in the interests of the business is when you're about that company's business; not when you're not—which he wasn't?
SPEAKER: The Prime Minister can answer right up to the last bit, which was an assertion.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, the primary focus here, of course, was that the person in question fulfilled the obligation set out by Ministerial Services; they managed the conflict, and, obviously, were satisfied that that was dealt with appropriately—particularly, given the length of the contract.
• Question No. 3—Prime Minister
3. 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 creating jobs and supporting our regions, as shown by yesterday's Statistics New Zealand release, which showed that unemployment has declined in 10 out of the 12 regions, and that the number of people employed has grown by 92,000 since this Government took office.
Hon Simon Bridges: What was annual GDP per capita growth in the last year?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've spoken about with the member many times before, 0.9 percent—not far off what it was under his Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why does she think GDP per capita has fallen to just 0.7 percent—the lowest since 2011 and the seventh-lowest in the OECD?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we've traversed many times in this House, one of the issues that we've historically had in New Zealand is that we haven't had the productivity increases that we need. Part of the issue has been we're a low-wage economy—very pleasing to see yesterday a 4.4 percent increase in wages, showing that the actions of this Government are helping to stimulate wage growth in the economy, which is good for New Zealanders. I notice the member continues to fixate on those things that he is dissatisfied with. We continue to focus on the positive and driving the growth that will make a difference to New Zealanders.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it a sign of a strong, positive economy that the Reserve Bank has just now cut the official cash rate by some 50 basis points?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It's actually a sign that the Reserve Bank follows their remit and the obligations under their remit, which are maximum sustainable employment and of course managing inflation and trying to keep it at the mid-point. That's the basis on which they've made this decision. If the member looks abroad, he'll note that there is a pattern of very historically low interest rates globally. In fact, I notice the member tends to compare New Zealand to Australia. In this case, I'd point out that their rate is exactly the same following the cut that's been announced by the Reserve Bank today. I'd also note that, actually, their unemployment's sitting at 5.2 percent relative to our 3.9.
Hon Grant Robertson: In light of that last question, would it surprise the Prime Minister to learn that the Reserve Bank cut the official cash rate 12 times under the previous Government, including seven cuts during 2015 and 2016 when members opposite were calling it a rock star economy?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member knows the Prime Minister has no responsibility for that, and dressing it up with "surprise" doesn't bring it into order. The Minister of Finance will withdraw and apologise.
Hon Grant Robertson: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Simon Bridges: What is her position on the protest at Ihumātao?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That of course, as probably all members in this House would respect, people are free to protest, share their voices and opinions on issues of significance—and for the people at Ihumātao, this is an issue of significance. There was obviously, though, an escalation some weeks ago around the issue. I think it was only appropriate that we seek to de-escalate the situation, which is the role that myself and Ministers have sought to play. Now there's engagement involving kīngitanga where we're seeking a for Māori by Māori solution, and I hope that all members of this House would support that process.
Hon Simon Bridges: What's her position on the Government buying the land at Ihumātao?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said many times when asked publicly, I'm focused on the solution that can be brokered by kīngitanga—a for Māori by Māori solution. The role of the Crown at present is facilitating those discussions.
Hon Simon Bridges: So what's her position?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I just gave it to you.
SPEAKER: Well, can I just say that neither of you—the "you". We were having a discussion at the Business Committee about the use of the word "you", and both members did not use the word appropriately then.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she support a referendum on abortion at the next election?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously that member is asking me the question in my personal capacity, because obviously every member in this House—[Interruption] I'm about to give an answer.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Do the members want an answer or not?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am going to answer the question. I think it's only fair, though, that we highlight that every single individual member of this House has their own vote. My position is not a Government position. My personal view, as I expressed clearly yesterday, was that this is an issue I hope to see resolved this term. So I will not be personally supporting a referendum.
Hon Simon Bridges: When did she find out about a referendum on abortion?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yesterday—that a member of this House may choose to put forward a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP), as it is the prerogative of any member of this House to bring forward an SOP at any time during the course of debate. It's curious to me that the member is not familiar with the process of this House and the fact that an SOP could be raised at any time.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think the non-release of Julie Anne Genter's letter to Phil Twyford is open and transparent?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That's a question for the Minister or, indeed, the member.
Hon Simon Bridges: When she said her Government would be the most open and transparent ever, did that pertain to the non-release of Julie Anne Genter's letter to Phil Twyford?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, the rules of the Official Information Act still apply.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she or her office know the content of that letter?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, this question is relevant to the Minister and the member. I'd also—[Interruption]
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That's pretty much it.
Hon Grant Robertson: Which does the Prime Minister consider to be more important: the fact that we have an 11-year low in unemployment, or whether or not a particular letter was written on a particular piece of letterhead—which is the big issue for New Zealand?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Clearly, for New Zealanders, the fact that their wages are going up and the fact that 92,000 more New Zealanders are in employment since this Government took office. Those are the issues that New Zealanders care about. There are also issues around whether or not we're investing in those who need it most with skills and trade training, investing in an underfunded health system, and building and creating more public housing spaces than have been created by a Government in 20 years. I am proud of the issues that this Government focuses on, and I have to say the fact that—
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —they do not—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! When I stand up, the Prime Minister sits down, and that answer was far too long for a patsy.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, as leader, has she ever said that one of her colleagues is "[expletive deleted] useless"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why have unemployed on the dole gone up some 14,000 and children in benefit-dependent homes 8,000 in the last year?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That should also be caveated with the fact that—and I'm going from my memory here—roughly 17,000 have come off the benefit in that period of time, and also that the percentage of the working-age population who are on benefits is still lower than when that Government left office.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'm just going to ask you to, when you do your reflection on the day, have a look at the answer that was given to the question to the Prime Minister about the referendum. This is a referendum being proposed by a Government party on a Government bill. For the Prime Minister to say that she had no responsibility for that is, I think, quite wrong and not fair to the question time process. Further, you also allowed the Deputy Prime Minister to ask the Prime Minister to answer a question as a leader. So it's either one or the other: the leader of the Labour Party is either currently the Prime Minister and always answers as the Prime Minister, or are you allowing this new category of party leader to answer questions?
SPEAKER: I'll—yes, speaking to the point of order, the Prime Minister.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker, clearly, as you've articulated in some of the discussion around the way that this issue will be handled in the House tomorrow, it clearly is a conscience issue and, therefore, there cannot be a Government-supported SOP. Secondly, yes, I did choose to answer the question, but I made it very clear that I was doing that simply out of generosity and clarity, albeit I was answering as a member and not as Prime Minister because it is a conscience issue.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, all right, Mr Speaker—
SPEAKER: I just want to—no, I'm going to indicate something first of all. You know, I do have the right to stand, as members found out yesterday, and I'm going to indicate that the decision I made as to extra supplementary questions as a result of Government interjections has just been reversed as a result of National Party interjections while that point of order was being heard. Points of order are always heard in silence. Further to the point of order, the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I thank the Prime Minister for being so generous to the House, but the reality is that we're also at the moment considering a bill on referendums, and it is also a fact that any referendum ultimately has a question approved by Cabinet. It's not changing under the new legislation that's being brought in. It's the way it has been all the time. So to suggest that it is simply a matter of conscience is quite incorrect, and I think you need to consider whether or not the approach taken to the answer to this question was reasonable.
SPEAKER: OK, I'm willing to deal with it, and I'll deal with the second matter that the member raised first, and that is whether the Prime Minister has any responsibility for members that approach her, or her approach to members or her description of members. She might well, in her prime ministerial role, describe members in that way; she has indicated that she does not. Right, so the second question, which the member put first, related to a suggested SOP to the bill, and it was in that context that the member indicated, consistent with a ruling that I have made that the matter will be treated as a conscience issue, that the Government did not have a position on it, but she gave her personal position. Possibly this whole performance is my fault because I let the question run when there wasn't actually prime ministerial responsibility, and if that is the case, I apologise to the House.
• Question No. 4—Trade and Export Growth
4. JAMIE STRANGE (Labour) to the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: What progress, if any, is the Government making on increasing trade and growing exports?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Trade and Export Growth): The Government is helping deliver strong progress on trade to grow our exports. In the first six months of this year, goods exports have grown by more than 7 percent compared to the previous half-year. From January to June, New Zealand sold around $31 billion of goods to the rest of the world, the highest half-yearly figure on record. Increasing exports is vital to job and income prospects in New Zealand, and so it's no surprise that with strong growth in exports, the unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in more than a decade and income growth is strong.
Jamie Strange: What have been the standout export sectors and markets in the first half of 2019?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Despite some ill-informed commentary from some so-called experts at the start of the year, our trade relationship with China is very strong. Exports to China grew 29 percent to $8.1 billion in the first half of 2019. Elsewhere, under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which came into force at the start of the year, New Zealand exports have grown strongly into Canada and Japan. For example, Kiwi volumes to Canada have gone up by 30 percent, and 18 percent to Japan. Sheep meat exports to Canada have gone up by 14 percent, milk fat and butter to Canada has tripled in volume, beef exports to Japan—frozen beef—are up 44 percent, and cheese is up 10 percent. These exports are delivering jobs and higher incomes, and are benefitting everyone, from the farm to the factory floor to the boardroom.
Jamie Strange: What progress is the Government making in establishing further trade agreements?
Hon DAVID PARKER: We are active at trying to strengthen our trade ties bilaterally and plurilaterally. The upgrade to the free-trade agreement with China is progressing well. Our talks with the EU are continuing—you know, they're not without challenges, but they're continuing well. This past week, the Hon Damien O'Connor made positive progress at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership talks, which are also important, and I met with the new UK trade secretary, where we agreed to rapidly progress a high-quality agreement with the UK as soon as they're in a position to do so. It's vitally important that we push ahead with these plurilateral and bilateral agreements, given the problems with the World Trade Organization and the rising protectionism abroad. These storm clouds are affecting global confidence and trade flows, and one of the ways that we can protect the interests of our exports is with better market access.
• Question No. 5—Finance
5. 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.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he at all worried that at a time when New Zealand still has historically high terms of trade and should be doing well, we have the lowest interest rates in our history?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As we were talking about just in the earlier questions, this is a global phenomenon. We are seeing historically low interest rates across the world. What we do know is a combination of what the monetary policy levers can pull and what the Government can do with our fiscal policy stimulus means that New Zealand can build on the strong position we have to weather this global downturn.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree with the Reserve Bank Governor's conclusions in the statement released at 2 o'clock, "Indicators of growth have remained weak or weakened further over the past few months."?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Just as the member has, we've both just received that statement, and I note that the tone of it overall is one that says, yes, there is lower growth. We've covered that before in this House. That is a global trend and, indeed, that is reflected in the Governor's statement.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So what responsibility, if any, does he take for that weakened growth outlook over the next few months?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The responsibility I take is for ensuring that the New Zealand economy is well positioned to weather a global storm—we've done that. We've kept debt relatively low. We have a Government surplus, but, at the same time, we have invested significantly by lifting our operating spending to $3.8 billion per annum in new operating spending, and by lifting our capital spending to historically high levels as well.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So following his statement yesterday "On this side of the House, we understand that it is the Government's role to stimulate the economy in times like this", 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?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, I do not back off that statement, because they weren't ready to go. There was no funding put aside for the majority of those roads.
Hon Simon Bridges: East-West.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: They were ghost roads. Where there was money put aside, such as the Leader of the Opposition is interjecting about with the East-West Link, that would have been the most expensive piece of road in the world had we gone ahead with buying it, at around $300 million per kilometre.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has Mr Simon Bridges or any member of the National Party showed that there was one cent in the Warkworth to Whangarei four-lane highway that they were promising?
SPEAKER: Order! No, there's not responsibility for that.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Regarding his statement yesterday "We are making sure that transport infrastructure doesn't go on a handful of highways", is it his plan that it all goes on one tram instead?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No. It is our plan that we actually have a balanced investment in transport. That means roads in the regions, which are getting a much better deal out of this Government. It means improving safety. It means investing in public transport, and, yes, it means investing in other modes of transport as well. It's actually the 21st century over here.
• Question No. 6—Health
6. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does she stand by her statement, "the single biggest risk to public health now is our changing climate"; if so, why?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Health): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. Yes, in the context of which it was given: of global health risks and the need of the health system to be equipped to deal with emerging threats and play a role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet concluded, "Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.", but also "Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century." The sentiment about the biggest global health threat of the 21st century is echoed by the World Health Organization. The threats from climate change include the spread of disease like dengue fever, increased pollution causing respiratory diseases and asthma, food insecurity, health-related deaths and illness, and mental health impacts from drought. These echo what the Pentagon said, which is it's a "threat multiplier", which could exacerbate many public health problems that already exist.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is she saying the 9,500 New Zealanders who will succumb this year to our biggest killer, cancer, should be more concerned about climate change than getting access to world-class drugs and care?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Not at all. Our Government has made a significant commitment to addressing the issues faced by New Zealanders who need treatment for cancer, by extending access to radiation therapy. Of course, we have to make up for nine years of underfunding from that previous Government. But this Government can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Should district health boards (DHBs) focus on providing plant-based protein alternatives to address the single biggest risk to public health, as is recommended in the document she launched called Sustainability and the health sector, ahead of, say, timely emergency department care?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The Government is leaving it up to DHBs to make decisions about operational matters.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does she believe that hospital patients should be encouraged to explore walking and cycling options to hospital ahead of, say, effective increase in immunisation rates?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: It is not the case that we have to choose between having sustainable transport options for staff working at hospitals and increased immunisation rates. In fact, there are many opportunities to get better health outcomes and better environmental outcomes and save money. This Government is dealing with all of the serious risks to New Zealanders' health and the global risk of climate change, which, apparently, the National Party no longer believes in taking action on.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is that a reasonable comment?
SPEAKER: Well, the questioning line is actually—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Straight out of her report.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the reduced throughput in elective surgery part of a Government plan to reduce anaesthetic gases that are harmful to the environment?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: This Government has made, in the last Budget, the biggest increase in commitment to health funding—a record increase. Of course, we have to take all of these considerations into account, but, ultimately, it's up to DHBs to make operational decisions. This Government is committed to making up for the nine years of underfunding that has led to enormous pressure on our health system.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Shouldn't she be focused on the things that actually matter to New Zealanders, like reversing the rapid decline in health services on this Government's watch, rather than whether DHBs grow their own food?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I'm very proud of the progress this Government is making on addressing the many issues facing New Zealanders when it comes to health, investing a record amount of capital expenditure in infrastructure that was long overdue. It is entirely possible—in fact, very practical—to invest in energy efficiency in those buildings, which means there'll be better health outcomes for New Zealanders and lower operational costs for DHBs. It's a shame that the National Party never took the opportunity of being empowered to invest in our health system.
• Question No. 7—Workplace Relations and Safety
7. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: What reports has he seen this week regarding salary and wage growth?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. Statistics New Zealand yesterday reported that the average ordinary-time hourly earnings rose 4.4 percent in the year to June this year. That was the biggest increase since 2009. We're tackling the big, long-term issues, and this Government's economic plan focuses on making sure that everyone shares in our economic success. The figures show that we are delivering a more inclusive economy that raises the living standards of all New Zealanders.
Marja Lubeck: What does the Minister attribute this increase to?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, Statistics New Zealand attributed much of the increase to increases in the minimum wage and the settlement of significant collective agreements. I also attribute it to the coalition Government's balanced approach of delivering more jobs for New Zealand and sound fiscal management to maintain a strong underlying economy in the face of global headwinds.
Marja Lubeck: What message does this increase send to New Zealand workers?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, I think the message is that after nine years of neglect, there is a lot to fix, but the Government's plan is working. We can grow the pie and share it better. It also says: don't listen to the doomsayers. We can improve wages, we can improve workers' rights, and we can grow the economy at the same time. We can't solve everything straight away, but we are making good progress.
SPEAKER: I do want to say to the Minister who just answered the question that many of us noted his voice.
Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: Thank you.
SPEAKER: Well, no, I'm not asking for thanks. I'm recommending to him that if what is bothering him is viral he not come back in here and do it again.
• Question No. 8—Transport
8. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Does she agree with transport Minister Phil Twyford's statement, "I received a letter from the Associate Minister of Transport, Julie Anne Genter on the LGWM indicative package on 26 March 2019"; if not, why not?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. I can confirm I sent the letter on that date.
Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question is does she agree with the statement not whether or not she sent a letter on that date—does she agree with her colleague's statement?
SPEAKER: I think she's indicated that the letter the member talked about that was received that day was sent the same day. I think she's more than addressed it; she's answered it.
Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The statement by Minister Twyford is actually critical to this whole exchange and the preceding day's exchange because the critical point of Mr Twyford's statement is it refers to a letter from the Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter, and she has claimed yesterday and on other occasions that reverted to fact that the letter was not sent as the Associate Minister of Transport. So whether or not she agrees with Mr Twyford's statement to the Parliament through a written question is actually of critical importance.
SPEAKER: I think it's fair to say that she's indicated on multiple occasions, by answering questions, including those from his colleague Nicola Willis, that, in fact, it was sent as Associate Minister of Transport; otherwise, she would have said so.
Chris Bishop: OK. Why did the Minister state yesterday in the House "I can confirm that the letter was written in my capacity as transport spokesperson for the Green Party.", when we now know that she sent the letter as the Associate Minister of Transport?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Kia orana, Mr Speaker. I can confirm that I am the Associate Minister of Transport. I am also the Green Party spokesperson on transport issues. Many Ministers before me, and indeed all Ministers, in successive Governments have held roles as MPs, in some cases as party leaders, and also as Ministers. I did say yesterday that I sent the letter, and the content of the letter was political party consultation, and that is why we consider that it is not in the public interest to release it.
Chris Bishop: Was her 26 March 2019 letter to the Minister of Transport signed by her as Julie Anne Genter, Associate Minister of Transport?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Kia orana, Mr Speaker. Yes—[Interruption]—and of course it is nothing new for Ministers—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! When I stand up, the member sits down. As I've indicated, this is an area which some of us have quite a lot of interest in and would like to hear the answers. If National Party members don't want to hear the answers, they may leave.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Should I answer? Well, I've answered it.
SPEAKER: I think the member has answered. She's certainly answered the question.
Chris Bishop: Does she stand by her statement in Parliament last week "I can assure all members that the Government has nothing to hide.", and, if that's the case, why will she not release her letter about a $6.4 billion transport project for Wellington?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes. The Government has nothing to hide. Indeed, all of the inputs and public consultation about Let's Get Wellington Moving that led to the historic package that this Government has achieved are available on the website. The project package that has been announced has the support of every regional mayor, the Greater Wellington Regional Council, and all of the parties in this Government. I know the member is probably feeling a bit embarrassed that this Government managed to achieve what his Government never did in nine years.
Chris Bishop: Why will she not release a letter written in her capacity as Associate Minister of Transport, written on letterhead marking the Associate Minister of Transport, and signed by her as Associate Minister of Transport to her senior colleague the Minister of Transport, and is this the sort of transparency that we can expect from this Government going forward?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Kia orana, Mr Speaker. As I've explained multiple times in this House to that member, the letter detailed political consultation, and we have accepted advice that we should not release the letter, in line with the view of the Ombudsman expressed in June 2019, and that it is not in the public interest, because we care about the ability of parties to undertake free and frank consultation. But the result of that consultation is public. The public can all see that, finally, Wellington is going to get a significant investment in rapid transit, which was the number one issue raised in the public consultation under Let's Get Wellington Moving. All of that is in the public.
Chris Bishop: Is it now the position of Green Party Ministers in the Government that Ministers or Associate Ministers can receive information in their capacity as a Minister, answer written questions in their capacity as a Minister, and write letters in their capacity as Associate Ministers to other Ministers, and then not release that information to the public on the basis that they are Green Party MPs?
SPEAKER: Order! I am going to ask the member to ask the question again because the Minister, in her current capacity, certainly does not have responsibility for other members of Parliament, notwithstanding their party. And, as the member is aware, this is an issue which has been well covered over quite a long period of time, including the time when he was advising a Minister.
Chris Bishop: Thank you for that reference, Mr Speaker. Is it her position as the Associate Minister of Transport that she can receive information in that capacity, write letters to her senior colleagues about that information as the Associate Minister of Transport, and sign it as so, and then not release that information on the basis that political party consultation overrides those obligations?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I know the member is very excited about my stationery and letterheads—
SPEAKER: Order! Look, I did some work to get a straight question for the member; I think it ill behoves her then to start off with the sort of approach that we don't expect to come from that corner of the House.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: It is entirely normal—indeed, over successive Governments—that Ministers hold roles also as MPs, and the decision that we've made about the public interest in the letter has to do with the content of the letter, which was normal political consultation. I think the National Party is fishing for some sort of ability to criticise a package that, clearly, has universal support in Wellington.
• Question No. 9—Education
Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central): Does she stand by her allocation decisions around learning support coordinators in schools—
SPEAKER: Who interjected there? Who made that noise? Mr McClay, did you make a noise?
Hon Todd McClay: Mr Speaker, if I'd made a noise, I would have stood up and told you that I did so.
SPEAKER: The Hon Nikki Kaye, start again.
9. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Associate Minister of Education: Does she stand by her allocation decisions around Learning Support Coordinators in schools, and does she believe they are targeting children who are most in need?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): Yes, I stand by my allocation decisions. The first tranche of 623 learning support coordinators was never going to be able to provide an allocation to all schools. What I was trying to ensure was that all of New Zealand had coverage and that that has been achieved, and that this role has the best chance of success. That is why learning support coordinators will be allocated into schools in clusters that are the most advanced in implementing the learning support delivery model in the first instance. To make sure there was a variety of types of schools and settings in this initial allocation, the allocation decisions also took into account some specific characteristics of clusters, such as the proportion of rural schools and the distance between schools, the proportion of Māori and Pasifika students, the number of Māori-medium kura in a community, and the number of students in a cluster. Learning support needs are part of the diversity of every learning environment. One in five children and young people receives some form of learning support due to disability, disadvantage, behavioural challenges, and not making progress. For example, one in seven children has dyslexia. We do not currently have a comprehensive national database on learning support need. I intend that there will be further tranches to progressively roll out the learning support coordinators coverage to all schools.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does she agree with principal Andrew King, who said, regarding her decisions, "This is not about the growing needs of children and whānau or our communities, growing numbers of complicated needs on SENCO registers. This is about who has opted sooner for the system the ministry wants us to be using. I am lost for words—stunned, in fact."
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: No, I do not. No, I do not agree with that principal's comments. If he goes and has a look at the allocation—and, shortly, I will seek to table the allocation across New Zealand—there are people who are the most advanced in the learning support delivery model, there are those who are in the beginning stages, there are those who have had initial conversations that are moving forward. I have deliberately attempted to make sure that I can cover as many dimensions and diversity of schools and need for children across New Zealand with the first tranche to make the most substantial changes to learning support we have seen since Special Education 2000.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Does she stand by her decisions regarding learning support allocation in the Far North, with principals up there saying that they have received hardly any support for children with the most complex needs?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Yes, I do, and at the end of this series of questions, I will table a map of New Zealand showing the allocation across all of New Zealand. It shows that the majority of New Zealand has been covered: 1,000 schools covered by 623 learning support coordinators at a variety of decile levels, at a variety of rural, urban, semi-rural, isolated, Māori-medium, English-medium—as many varieties as I can get I have covered with the number of coordinators that we have.
Hon Nikki Kaye: What does she say to principal Gaye Turner, who has said, "As a principal of a low-decile school who's missed out on a coordinator while the high-decile school up the road was allocated one, I don't know how the allocation of these coordinators addresses the issue of equity."
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I would welcome that principal to contact my office directly, and I'm happy to go and speak, as I have offered, in any cluster, as I have over the last 12 month spoken about the way that this allocation would be done. I also would point out that, when one looks at the numbers around the allocation, the majority of those have been allocated to those that are deciles lower than 5. But I would also point out that there are children—one in seven children in this country, for example, are somewhere on the dyslexia scale. They do not reside in single clusters inside this nation, and they deserve to be supported in their education as much as any other child.
Hon Grant Robertson: How many of these learning support coordinator positions were funded when she took on the portfolio at the end of 2017?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: At the time I took on the portfolio, while the learning support delivery model had been created and was being rolled out under the previous Government, there were no learning support coordinator positions factored at that time.
Hon Nikki Kaye: I seek leave to table the previous announcement, which showed that there were, I think, 70 learning coordinators under the previous Government.
SPEAKER: The member seeks to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Will she commit to changing her allocation decisions to ensure that the most disadvantaged children and children with complex needs get the support that they deserve and that there is a more fair and equitable allocation for schools?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: At the time of the original announcement of the $217 million required to provide 600—and I note that we have now stretched that to 623—learning support coordinators, it was obvious, with 2,500 schools, that there would not be a learning support coordinator for every school. The member is asking me now to take away from some schools and give to others. That is not what I am going to do, because the member is asking around need when she cannot prove, when there is no central data collection around need—the member has completely ignored the moderate needs of students across New Zealand, those students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and on the mild autism spectrum. She has asked me to make a decision based on a criteria that does not exist, and so, therefore, I will not be changing the allocation.
SPEAKER: A criterion, anyway.
Hon Nikki Kaye: I seek leave to table an email by a principal, Andrew King, to the Minister whereby—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member seeks to table an email—
Hon Nikki Kaye: They know what the need is.
SPEAKER: Order! Well, I'm not going to put it.
Hon Tracey Martin: I seek leave to table a map showing where the allocation of the first tranche of learning support coordinators has been placed around New Zealand.
SPEAKER: I'd seek an assurance from the Minister that that map is not otherwise available as part of any Ministry of Education documentation online.
Hon Tracey Martin: To the best of my knowledge, I had it created for me, but I'm happy to go and check that and seek leave at another time.
SPEAKER: Well, what I'll do is I'll put the leave on the basis that it is an originally created document. We won't table it. If the Minister comes back to me and says that it's not, then that's solved; otherwise, she'll table it by the end of the day. Right, a further supplementary? No. [Interruption] Oh, is there any objection to that? There better not be. There appears to be none.
• Question No. 10—Employment
10. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Employment: What recent labour market reports has he seen that show outcomes for Māori and young people?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): Mr Speaker, kia orana.
SPEAKER: Kia orana.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Yesterday the household labour force survey was released and I was very pleased to see a drop in the unemployment rate to 3.9 percent—the second lowest in 11 years. I'm encouraged by the continued positive trends in the reduction of the unemployment rate for young people and for Māori.
Kiritapu Allan: What did the household labour force survey released indicate for Māori?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Things get even better there. There are now 6,400 less Māori unemployed—
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: —with the unemployment rate for Māori dropping to 7.7 percent, the best in over a decade. What I continue to be encouraged by is the supporting data that shows the underutilisation of Māori is also decreasing, which means for those who want more work they're getting it.
Kiritapu Allan: What did the household labour force survey say for those young people who are not engaged in earning or learning?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: The survey released yesterday was positive, with the rate for those not engaged in education, training, or employment falling to 10.3 percent. What this indicates is that we have successfully activated and engaged 5,000 more rangatahi into employment or skills training, with great support from the Provincial Growth Fund and Shane Jones. Programmes such as He Poutama Rangatahi, Mana in Mahi, and Pae Aronui are really making a difference for our young people, their whānau, and our communities all around the country.
• Question No. 11—Education
11. 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 TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): on behalf of the Minister of Education: Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Dr Shane Reti: Will 1,000 or more polytechnic jobs be lost in the documented $130 million of management team savings?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: It is impossible to predict what is the outcome of one of the biggest changes, most positive and aspirational changes, to—
Dan Bidois: Positive!
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: —vocational education this country has ever seen, but it is more likely—
Dan Bidois: It's a shocker.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: —that there will be increased employment around training from the perspective that we are shifting from training just inside the classroom to actually a more comprehensive on-the-job training to better futureproof New Zealand's workforce.
SPEAKER: Before Dr Reti takes his question, I'm just going to warn Mr Bidois that when he is yelling out next to an open mike, it gets to be very loud, and in this case probably louder than the Minister. He's got to learn to—[gestures for member to be quiet]. Thank you.
Dr Shane Reti: Is it correct that the documented base case describing the merger of NorthTec, Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki, and Te Tai Poutini was never discussed with the chief executives of those organisations?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: On behalf of the Minister, unfortunately I am unable to confirm or deny, because I don't have that level of detail with me. If that member wishes to put that question down in writing, I'm sure that the Minister of Education would be happy to answer it.
Dr Shane Reti: Will up to $400 million be spent establishing the new mega polytechnic, despite the reforms losing 18,000 learners and 2,310 apprentices per year?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: It is possible that that is the amount that the new reforms may cost. Unfortunately, the member is taking the worst case scenario inside the business case around the loss of learners. Unfortunately, the biggest threat at the moment to the loss of learners and apprentices is that member.
Hon Grant Robertson: Would the Minister believe it to be correct that if the Government did nothing and allowed further polytechnics to go broke, that would absolutely, certainly lead to job losses?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: That is absolutely certain. It does appear, however, that that may have been the plan of the previous Government.
Dr Shane Reti: Would the Minister stop the reforms if he knew the $400 million establishing the new mega-polytechnic is more than the yearly cost of treating all New Zealand women with advanced breast cancer drugs for the next decade?
SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to ask the member to rephrase the question, which stays within the responsibility of this Minister.
Dr Shane Reti: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question started off with the Minister—
SPEAKER: I listened to the question very carefully, and I'm allowing the member one chance to rephrase it. If he argues, he loses it.
Dr Shane Reti: OK. Has the—let me rephrase it then. I'll re-pose another question, if I may, if you're asking me to.
SPEAKER: The member can do that.
Dr Shane Reti: Are further fees-free underspends reprioritised to pay for these reforms?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: To the best of my knowledge, no.
• Question No. 12—Women
12. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister for Women: Does she stand by her statement, "We know there is a huge amount of work to do to make things better for women … and this Government is absolutely committed to that work", and does that work cover unacceptable behaviour ranging from bullying and intimidation to sexual harassment and sexual assault?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Minister for Women): Yes, the Government is particularly proud to be making changes to end family and sexual violence, including Budget 2019, which had a record $320 million package to break the cycle of family and sexual violence. We've also passed legislation to update the definition of family violence, increased police safety orders to 10 days, enabled them to be issued at the same time as an arrest, and encouraged agencies to share information to keep people safe. Justice under-secretary, Jan Logie's, bill provided a new right to 10 days' domestic violence leave. I am proud of the Government finally apologising to Hayley Browne, after many years of legal battles, for the working conditions she experienced in the New Zealand Navy, including sexual harassment that she experienced.
Hon Paula Bennett: When she said that the most important thing we can do in dealing with sexual harassment is to "create an environment where we are listening to women, where we trust women", does she agree that a safe environment is driven by those in positions of leadership?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does she believe leadership and accountability starts at the top when dealing with allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault?
Hon Kelvin Davis: It's everyone's responsibility.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes, I believe it's everyone's responsibility. [Interruption].
Hon Paula Bennett: What, then, would she say in response—
SPEAKER: Order! Can I just say to members that this is—some of us regard this as a very serious area of questioning, and laughing while the member is asking questions is just not appropriate.
Hon Paula Bennett: What, then, would she say in response to allegations from sexual assault victims that they feel they are not being heard by those in positions of leadership who have a responsibility to protect them?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: It's difficult for me to answer when the member's question is quite vague as to what the specific allegations are and who they are regarding. I'm very happy to answer specific questions if the member wants to put them to me.
Hon Paula Bennett: Would she expect accountability from the top if that leader had earlier promised to take the time to go and look into it personally?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Again, these are hypothetical questions. If the member wants to ask me a specific question about a specific person or circumstance, I can try to answer it for her.