Parliament: Questions and Answers - August 20
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, particularly action to hold a market study into fuel prices, which has confirmed that the market is broken and margins have doubled since 2008, and confirms the Prime Minister's statement that New Zealanders are being fleeced at the petrol pump. We don't want to pre-empt the next bit of work, but the Government will act quickly on the final report to ensure New Zealanders do not continue to pay more than they should for fuel after a decade of inaction.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she stand by her statement that Kiwis are being fleeced at the petrol pump; if so, does she accept that her Government has legislated for 24c in petrol tax increases since coming into office?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In answer to the first part of the question, yes, and I do wonder why it is that the Leader of the Opposition has decided to line up with the fuel companies, against New Zealanders.
Hon Simon Bridges: How can she say that Kiwis are being fleeced by petrol companies when her Government has legislated for 24c of petrol tax increases since coming into office and, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, petrol company margins have increased by just 0.1c in that time?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I can say that because that is the import of the Commerce Commission's report. I would note in terms of the rest of the member's question that the average increase under National for the fuel excise duty was 5.76 percent and the average proposed increase from this Government is 5.6 percent.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that 0.1c for petrol companies is a world away from 24c in more taxes from her Government?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I accept what the Commerce Commission has said today. The import of what they are saying is that New Zealanders have been fleeced, and I repeat: I cannot understand why the National Party wants to get on the side of fuel companies against the interests of New Zealanders. But given that they got such an easy ride under National, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.
Hon Simon Bridges: Would petrol prices be more like $2, rather than $2.20, if it wasn't for all her taxes?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member opposite knows that every cent of the fuel excise duty goes to the cost of transport in this country, just as it did under his Government and just as it does under this Government. I repeat again: I thought the National Party believed in competition, but it seems they just want to back the fuel companies.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't the reality that that additional petrol tax revenue is quite simply sitting in the bank because her Government isn't spending it?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely not. On this side of the House, just as previous Governments have done, we have increased fuel excise duty because that's what we need to do to pay for the transport needs of New Zealand. Every cent of that goes there. What the member should be focusing on is how he can support Kiwis to make sure that petrol companies give them a fair go. I'm shocked he doesn't want New Zealanders to have a fair go.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think her Minister of Corrections, the Hon Kelvin Davis, has done all he could to ensure that the man accused of murdering 51 people in the Christchurch terror attacks was unable to send out his extremist views by letter?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The chief executive of the Department of Corrections has been absolutely clear that this was not handled well and that she does not have confidence in that process. The Minister is now putting the matter right; that is the focus for the Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Can she confirm the current law states corrections officials can read and withhold mail so that no shortcomings of law are actually apparent?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We've been very clear that these letters indeed should have been stopped. That doesn't mean that the law is perfect. The law does need to be relooked at. It does need to ensure that not only does it focus on individuals but also on the impact of publishing to a wider audience, and it predates the overall use of email and the internet—all of those things can see the law upgraded, but nothing takes away from the fact that this should not have happened.
Hon Simon Bridges: How can the New Zealand public have confidence in corrections and the Minister, following the decision to release convicted murderer Jason Reihana from prison nine years before the end of his non-parole period and without advising the family members of his two victims that he was released so that they had to find out by seeing him for themselves.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Obviously, the member knows that the decision was one for the Parole Board, not for the Minister or indeed for the Government. In terms of the wider matters around the circumstances of that release, clearly that was not handled well at all by the police or corrections, but I would add that it is not new for there to be issues with corrections. Need I reference Philip John Smith and Brazil, or Serco, or fight clubs, all of which happened under the previous Government. We are getting on with fixing the issues in corrections.
David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister accept the finding of this morning's Commerce Commission draft report on petrol prices that of the $2.20 for a litre of 91, 34c is taken by petrol companies?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don't have that particular bit of paper in front of me right now, but I think all New Zealanders will understand that the report that has been provided by the Commerce Commission today is very clear that New Zealanders are not getting a fair go at the pump, and the Government is going to make sure we address that.
David Seymour: How much does this Government think that the petrol companies' 34c share on a $2.20 per litre of petrol could reduce without putting out of business the companies that store, transport, and retail petrol?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise to me that Mr Seymour is backing the petrol companies against the best interests of New Zealanders, but, on this side of the House, we have now finally got the information we need to give New Zealanders a fair go, and that's what we'll do.
David Seymour: Point of order.
SPEAKER: I don't think I need a point of order; the Minister will have another go at answering.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Could he repeat the question.
SPEAKER: Repeat the question.
David Seymour: How much does this Government think that the petrol companies' 34c share of a $2.20 per litre of 91 could be reduced without putting out of business those companies that store, transport, and retail petrol?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Those are matters that will be decided as we go through looking at the Commerce Commission's report. What I know is that that report has been clear that people right across New Zealand are not getting a fair deal. If we compare ourselves to the rest of the world, we're not getting a fair deal. We have to act on that. I am absolutely bemused as to why the Opposition—who I thought believed in competition—are now saying that they don't actually want to sort that out.
Hon Simon Bridges: So what is the Government going to do now it's got this report, to stop, in her words, the "fleecing"; and when can we expect to see those actions?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As was announced today by the Commerce Commission, this is the interim report. We will wait for the final report to come. But I'll tell you what, we will act on it, rather than the nine years of inaction we saw over there. What's been confirmed today is that the Opposition wants to back big petrol companies against New Zealanders. This is a very clear fight, Mr Bridges.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Would it be possible for a future Government to increase spending on road building and cut the revenue to pay for them by cutting fuel taxes at the same time?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That is indeed a very good question, because, as I stated earlier, all of the money that is collected in fuel excise duty goes to transport, and it is incumbent on any political party to be able to say how they will pay for their roads if they're not prepared to increase fuel excise duty.
Hon Simon Bridges: Given the answer to my last question about waiting for a further report; is this a case from the Government that talk is cheap but petrol prices won't be for a very, very long time?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, what this is a case of is a Government that's actually (a) given the Commerce Commission powers to do this, (b) got the report, and (c) is going to act on it. It's not a case of nine years of giving petrol companies an easy ride, which is what we saw from his Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: So when will something happen?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As soon as we get the final report, which will be a lot quicker than the nine years of do-nothing from the member opposite?
Hon Simon Bridges: What will this working group cost?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: This is not a working group; it's the Commerce Commission.
• Question No.
2. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of the Government's statements, policies, and actions in relation to the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context that they were given, made, and taken.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What policies, if any, is he considering to help Kiwis who have saved all their lives for their retirement and are now facing very low interest rates on their deposits and the prospects of negative interest rates?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As the member well knows, the decisions around the official cash rate are made independently by the Reserve Bank. When it comes to what we're doing to support, particularly, older New Zealanders, I think the achievement I'm most proud of in that regard is actually restarting contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, which the previous Government had stopped for nine years.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that retirees receiving less interest from their savings will particularly struggle to pay this Government's higher fuel taxes?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I know is that those who are in receipt of New Zealand superannuation are especially pleased about the fact that this Government has brought in the winter energy payment, which is actually making it much easier for them to meet their costs of living right at the moment. As I stated before, the decision around the official cash rate and what that means for interest rates is an independent one made by the Reserve Bank Governor.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that the Government's winter heating bonus was simply a device to compensate older New Zealanders for the cancelation of National's tax cuts?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I accept is that it's a policy that has been received around New Zealand with acclaim. It was part of a package—the Families Package—that meant that low and middle income New Zealanders and those on fixed incomes got a boost in their income, rather than a series of unfocused tax cuts that would have delivered more than $1,000 a year to Mr Goldsmith and myself.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he comfortable with the prospect of negative interest rates or printing money; and, if not, what's he doing to avoid it being required?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Those are not decisions that are taken by the Government; they are taken by the Reserve Bank. In terms of what we are doing, what we are doing is getting on with investing in our economy—for example, making sure that more than $40 billion worth of capital expenditure will be going out the door; whereas the previous Government only had about $30 billion planned.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: With regard to the Governor of the Reserve Bank's comments about Government spending, "Our challenge is that spending actually gets done because there are lags and delays and challenges around infrastructure spend.", has he encouraged his transport Minister to revisit his decision to cancel or delay dozens of road projects that were ready to go and replace them with a bunch of projects that are not ready to go?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I back the transport Minister's decision to have a transport strategy that works for all New Zealand, across all modes of transport, and I particularly back the fact that he is coming forward with transport projects that are actually funded, not ghost roads that Mr Bridges put forward.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Can the Minister of Finance confirm that a number of the roading projects promised at the end of the tenure of the last Government had not been planned, consented, or funded under their Government?
SPEAKER: No, no, no. The member might've got it right if he went a couple of days later.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How is he confident that the increased investment that the Reserve Bank expects from lower interest rates will actually occur, given the very low levels of business confidence in this country right now?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I back what the Reserve Bank Governor said. This is a great time to invest in New Zealand. This is a country that has an enormous amount of potential, and it is just really sad to see the relentless negativity of the Opposition when, actually, there is so much to celebrate about what's happening in the New Zealand economy.
• Question No.
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): On Monday, the BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Services Index showed New Zealand's services sector expanded in July at its fastest rate this year, with a reading of 54.7 above the historical average. This did follow a mixed Performance of Manufacturing Index survey released on the Friday, which indicated some softness in the indicators, although production in the manufacturing industry remained expansionary. In his commentary on Monday, BNZ economist Doug Steel said that following the manufacturing survey, they were awaiting the services numbers with some trepidation. But he said, and I quote, "It turns out we shouldn't have [been] worried.", written beneath the headline "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
Dr Duncan Webb: What reports has he seen on how the New Zealand economy is being affected by global economic headwinds?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: ASB economists on Monday released their latest quarterly economic forecasts, which show that they expect the New Zealand economy to keep growing at about 2.5 percent over the next year, and for the unemployment rate to remain near 4 percent. In their commentary, the ASB said there are growing global headwinds, noting the US-China trade war and Brexit as key uncertainties. They added that slowing global growth, in part due to escalating trade tensions, is likely to impact New Zealand's export performance over the coming year. We are aware that the volatile international situation is feeding through to the New Zealand economy, which is why this Government's plans include supporting businesses to become more productive to keep the economy growing, which means higher wages for New Zealanders.
Dr Duncan Webb: What measures is the Government taking to make sure the economy is resilient in the face of these global headwinds?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: At Budget 2019, the Government announced increased investment to build more classrooms, hospitals, and other infrastructure such as rail. This builds on our record investment plan for transport infrastructure, support for low- and medium-income families in Budget 2018, and our moves to raise the minimum wage. We've also announced a number of policies to help businesses become more productive and grow, including the R & D tax credit to boost investment in new research and science, and investment in new technologies to take advantage of the opportunities created by a shift to a lower-carbon economy. We are making these investments to support activity in the economy, particularly in the face of global headwinds that are affecting many advanced economies around the world in a far more dramatic way than in New Zealand.
• Question No. 4—Economic
4. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he consider manufacturing to be crucial to boosting jobs and growing our exports; if so, is he concerned that under this Government, the manufacturing sector fell into contraction for the first time since 2012?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, this Government is focused on supporting New Zealand manufacturers. The latest Performance of Manufacturing Index was a mixed bag with some components expanding as the manufacturing sector continued to produce more, and some components contracting. The Government is concerned that international headwinds and labour market capacity constraints continue to have an impact on manufacturing. Given that manufacturing accounts for more than half our total exports, the change in the index for new orders shows the effect that international uncertainty is having. This is similar to what we're seeing in the UK, the eurozone, China, and Japan. Similarly, manufacturers are being held back by skills shortages, with a reduction of 2,000 people a year enrolling in manufacturing and related training programmes since 2009. That's why Minister Chris Hipkins is reforming vocational education.
Hon Todd McClay: How does he explain export prices being at record levels whilst business confidence is falling and manufacturing is in contraction; and isn't it actually his Government's policies that are responsible, not international markets or headwinds?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, it's true that by international standards our manufacturing sector is particularly trade-exposed, because manufacturing accounts for half of our exports. The global uncertainty that you can see with Singapore, India, Indonesia, and South Korea—all seeing significant falls in exports. China's economy grew at its slowest pace in almost three decades in the second quarter as the trade war with the US took its toll. That uncertainty is, without question, flowing through into investment decisions being made by New Zealand manufacturers.
Hon Todd McClay: Which of his Government's policies does he believe are most responsible for the first contraction in manufacturing in 81 months?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Only those policies that we inherited from the former Government that we haven't yet had the time to change or upgrade.
Hon Todd McClay: Who does he agree with, the Deputy Prime Minister who said the problems in the manufacturing sector are contrived doom and gloom, or New Zealand manufacturers who believe that the Government's economic policies are responsible for this contraction?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the Government is concerned by the headwinds that are being experienced by New Zealand manufacturers. We are moving as fast as we can to reorient the economy away from a heavy reliance on population growth and housing speculation. We can't turn that situation around in 18 months, but we are laying a very strong platform for New Zealand manufacturers, for growth. We've got industry transformation plans under way, including food and beverage manufacturing and wood processing as two of the first four of those industry transformation plans. We've got a massive project under way to reform vocational and industry skills. There's a specific skills shift project that we've negotiated and worked out with the manufacturing industry. R & D tax credits, Reserve Bank reform—this is a very busy Government.
Hon Todd McClay: Does he agree with Martin Simpson of Fraser Engineering, who said: "I have absolutely no doubt that the costs imposed upon all businesses throughout the country are going through the roof"; and, if so, which Government policy is most to blame for this increased cost on manufacturers?
Fletcher Tabuteau: It'd be health and safety [Interruption]
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, it's not so much the cost of the Government policy but, actually, as so many commentators and so much data shows—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, you've, by my count, taken five questions off our supplementary questions for interjecting during question time. I appreciate that's your rules and that's life. Mr Tabuteau just yelled across the Chamber and he should have the same treatment.
SPEAKER: But I think the difference was he yelled while the answer was being made. There is a difference. Now, I'm going to ask Mr Tabuteau: did he interject while a question was being asked?
Fletcher Tabuteau: I waited for the speaker to answer.
SPEAKER: I take the member's word and I will remind the Leader of the Opposition that they have gained, as well as lost, questions today. Back to the start of the reply.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Actually, the biggest cost that manufacturers report to us—and it's supported by the data—is actually skills shortages, based on the skills shortages that we inherited after nine years of a failure to invest in the manufacturing workforce. The former Government left us with a situation where quarterly employment in manufacturing was falling in the year prior to our Government taking office. We are determined to turn that around, but it will take a little bit of time.
• Question No. 5—Housing
5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing: Does she agree with Treasury advice that "subsidies - whether to financiers, developers or homebuyers - are becoming a part of the actual or expected KiwiBuild toolkit", and "this is in practice inevitable until reforms to regulatory settings and more-efficient construction take hold"?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): Yes, in the broader context it was made. However, KiwiBuild is not a direct subsidy in the same way that, for example, a HomeStart grant is. KiwiBuild houses are homes sold at cost. This Government is simply providing the development capital to get affordable homes built. But as the quotes in the member's question highlights, Treasury see any assistance in the housing market as a subsidy. On this side of the House, we make no apology for active Government involvement in housing. The advice the member refers to also states "Our housing is amongst the least affordable in the OECD." and the "Increases in housing costs have reduced home ownership, increased hardship, reduced economic growth, lowered wellbeing and increased inequality." Of course, as I've told the member on numerous occasions, I'm currently resetting the KiwiBuild policy and will be taking a Cabinet paper to that effect by the end of August. This is, of course, in addition to the work on regulatory settings by my colleague the Hon David Parker.
Hon Judith Collins: Will reforms to the regulatory settings in the resource management system be made during this term of Parliament?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: That is not something I have ministerial responsibility for. As I've told the member before, if she wants to ask about Resource Management Act (RMA) reform, she should put a question down to the Hon David Parker.
Hon Judith Collins: Has she discussed them with him?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: We have had David Parker give updates at our joint ministerial team meetings, but I have no ministerial responsibility for them. I suggest she put a question down to the Hon David Parker.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with Treasury advice that without a housing market structural fix, Government programmes like KiwiBuild cannot "make homeownership possible for more than a limited number of middle-income households"?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: It is precisely why our Government is getting on with the business of RMA reform, and why David Parker has begun that work stream. As I've noted, that question is coming from a member who was a member of a Government for nine years that failed to get it across the line—
SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat, because that's not accurate.
Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Who does she agree with: Treasury, which says that subsidies have become part of the KiwiBuild tool kit; or the Prime Minister, who said, "It's not about subsidising housing."?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think I answered that in my answer, in the broader context. Treasury do see subsidies in any form of assistance. I do point that member to the advice that Treasury gave to the National Government in 2015, which said the first home subsidy through HomeStart was poor value and all that would happen was it was likely to bring forward purchases that would otherwise happen anyway. It also warned against increasing demand in the supply-constrained environment which would raise prices, undoing much of the benefit of the subsidy.
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I don't believe that was even an attempt at addressing the question. The question was really clear: which one does she agree with.
SPEAKER: No, no. Order! I think right at the beginning, she did. I probably let her run on too long afterwards.
• Question No.
6. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: What announcements has he made regarding capability for the New Zealand Army?
Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): On Saturday, I announced that the coalition Government has approved tranche two of the Network Enabled Army programme. A capital investment of $106 million will be rolled out over the next four years to give our men and women in uniform the tools they need to function in today's environment. This announcement reinforces the coalition Government's continuing commitment to the men and women of the defence force and our delivery of the Defence Capability Plan 2019.
Darroch Ball: What will the Network Enabled Army programme mean for soldiers in the field?
Hon RON MARK: The programme equips the army with a wide range of hardware and software—this includes radios; satellite terminals through modern, secure digital capabilities; command posts; and power generators. This will allow for better command and control on operations, getting real-time information to soldiers and commanders, maximising our resources in order to achieve more at home in the Pacific and further afield when engaged; be that in resource protection, civil defence, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, or combat. These technologies will help our people to respond to events quickly, with the right assets and to maximum effect, whilst reducing the risks of losses and casualties.
Darroch Ball: What will tranche two of the programme deliver?
Hon RON MARK: Tranche two will extend the network enabled army communications technologies across a light task group of around 250 personnel, including logistics, medical, and engineering, and other support elements. It will also expand network enabled army capabilities to include intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance sensor systems, and will help commanders and personnel see beyond their immediate vicinity, and feed that information back into a common picture, so providing, among other things, enhanced, real-time, situational awareness. The work to deliver this set-up and capability will commence this year.
Hon Mark Mitchell: How much of this equipment and technology is being made in New Zealand?
Hon RON MARK: Oh, I couldn't give a blow-by-blow, but I can tell the member—former Minister—that, as he knows from tranche one, very similar as was introduced in terms of the ratio of home-grown technology and technology which has to be imported, to ensure that we have compatibility and interoperability—something that that member was a strong champion of.
• Question No. 7—Local Government
7. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Local Government: Does she agree with the Prime Minister's statement, "I am sure the Minister of Local Government would be willing to help coordinate a process" to enable pubs and clubs to stay open for the Rugby World Cup?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Local Government: Yes, I am always willing to facilitate a process. However, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, bar owners need to go directly to councils and, indeed, to district licensing committees for advice about licensing issues.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Did she have any conversations with the Prime Minister prior to post-Cabinet yesterday about her new role as being responsible for coordinating some of the work around pubs and clubs being open for Rugby World Cup?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: On behalf of the Minister, I cannot comment specifically about conversations with the Prime Minister on it, but it is pretty clear that in the last 24 hours there has been some publicity about this issue. Some club patrons and, indeed, RSA club managers, and, indeed, one or two politicians, have brought to the public's attention, quite properly, that there seems to be a gap opening up in the provision of appropriate hospitality and bar services—in some cases, late at night—for some Rugby World Cup games, at least in the 2020 version. So it is appropriate that a responsible Government, looking to the best interests of all New Zealanders, ensures that the licensing laws are working as intended, and that we ensure that those who wish to avail themselves of the hospitality of premises such as clubs and RSAs, and other humble abodes, get to avail themselves of such occasions.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Can she confirm, as Minister of Local Government, she has no legal powers to change licensing arrangements so that all pubs and clubs in New Zealand are able to stay open for New Zealand Rugby World Cup games?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: On behalf of the Minister, I think this is an interesting grey area, where district licensing committees are part of their local government matrix of governance in our communities but they also must administer a law that falls under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister of Justice. But nevertheless, this is a Government that works totally collegially across portfolios and across Ministers, and we all take this issue very seriously. It is very important that the issues that members in this House have raised, and that members of the community raise, about the ability to be duly hosted and enjoy convivial environments for very important sporting events of national significance—are able to enjoy themselves in the company of others and suitable premises.
SPEAKER: Order! Before the member takes the next call, I hesitate to give Ministers advice, but I would remind the Minister about the indivisibility of the Crown.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Will she commit to having a conversation with her colleague the Hon Andrew Little about supporting David Seymour's member's bill to resolve these issues so that pubs and clubs can have access to Rugby World Cup games?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: On behalf of the Minister, of course I am happy to admit all sorts of wonderful occasions that have happened in my working day, including talking to the Minister of Justice, who, it turns out, has provided most astute advice on this matter and many other matters in this most indivisible of Governments. And, on this particular issue, there have been discussions, and we take the issue very seriously.
• Question No.
8. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Statistics: Does he agree with the Census 2018 Independent Reviewers' conclusion that two of the four investment objectives were not met and the third is likely to be "very challenging", and what responsibility, if any, will he take for the shortcomings of Census 2018?
Hon JAMES SHAW (Minister of Statistics): In answer to the first part of the question, yes. I note that the first investment objective is to undertake a census of population and dwellings in 2018 that meets statutory requirements, and that the report finds that the census data is likely to meet all statutory requirements. In answer to the second part of the question, I did specifically ask the independent reviewers to look into the role that I and other Ministers had in the census. The report found that there was "a level of optimism in the reporting to Ministers that was not always consistent with the level of issues being managed by the programme." This finding was recently corroborated in the media by the Hon Scott Simpson, one of the previous Ministers of Statistics. I also agree with the reviewers that "… it would be easy to conclude that the 2018 Census was not successful. However, there are important aspects of the programme that surpassed expectations and can be used as building blocks for the future." [Interruption]
Hon JAMES SHAW: Stats NZ have advised that the data will be of sufficient quality to meet the most important uses of the census. This includes—
Brett Hudson: Rubbish!
Hon JAMES SHAW: I guess the member doesn't believe the independent reviewer after all. This includes electoral boundaries, population projections, and district health board funding. The report of the independent panel upholds that advice. I therefore disagree with the member's assertion that the census was a failure. To characterise it as such is irresponsible and contrary to the truth.
Dr Jian Yang: Can he claim to have been fully engaged in the successful transition to a digital first census when the only press release issued before Census 2018 was to express his disappointment that Census 2018 did not include gender and sexual identity questions?
Hon JAMES SHAW: If he believes that the success of a census came down to ministerial press releases, that might explain why the previous Government got it so wrong when it came to housing—if the number of press releases had something to do with the actual outcome.
Dr Jian Yang: Would he still advise the Northern Age editor, Peter Jackson, to "stop believing everything that he sees on Twitter" when Mr Jackson said, "This census shows all the hallmarks of being a shambles"?
Hon JAMES SHAW: Actually, yes, because of the number of untruths that have been spoken about the census, in particular by members of the Opposition, where they have actually given lie to their own decisions in the lead-up to the census, I would suggest that people should be wary of what they read in the media and on Twitter, particularly those things that come from Opposition MPs when it comes to the census.
Dr Jian Yang: Did he forward my report entitled Census 2018 – A multi-fold debacle to the Census 2018 independent reviewers, and what other contribution, if any, did he make to the independent review's report?
Hon JAMES SHAW: As soon as I was able to get a copy of the member's self-authored report, I did forward it on to the independent review team and to the chief executive of Stats NZ for their edification; so they had the member's report for the entire time that they were developing their own independent report. In terms of other interactions that I had with the independent review team, like I said, right at the very start I specifically asked them to look into the role that I or any of the five previous Ministers of Statistics had to do with the 2018 census to see if there were failures of oversight and governance on behalf of Ministers. In addition, I think I had perhaps three interviews with the census, including a follow-up interview for clarification around some of the answers that were given. So I believe that all of the information that I was asked to provide by the independent review was provided to them.
• Question No.
9. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has the Government made on homelessness, about providing extra support for individuals and families?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): On Sunday, Minister Faafoi and I announced additional measures to prevent and reduce homelessness—$54 million in Government funding will be put into initiatives that will provide additional wraparound services for at-risk individuals and families in emergency housing, and extra support for families to stay in their existing tenancies. We will be investing in intensive case managers and navigators and in more social services to support people with complex needs and unstable circumstances, including homeless families with children and people with mental health needs. Minister Faafoi is also expanding the Sustaining Tenancies programme to ensure that tenants who may be at risk of losing their tenancy receive practical support to help them get back on track.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What support will the intensive case managers and navigators provide?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As part of the announcement, we are investing $31 million over the next four years for 67 intensive case managers and navigators. The intensive case managers and navigators will be a single consistent point of contact for each family or individual. The case managers will be a Ministry of Social Development (MSD) staff member and will take a whole-of-person approach to people's needs but, where more support is needed, navigators will coordinate services and provide ongoing support for people with housing needs. Navigators will be from a local community organisation contracted by MSD. They will work with the community, health professionals, Government agencies, and NGOs to ensure that people get the help they need.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Why is it important to work with social services and community partners?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The Government is working to ensure we have more people on the ground to support people with complex needs in unstable circumstances. We are committed to tackling the long-term challenges facing New Zealand, and homelessness is one of these. That's why, on top of the extra support through navigators and case managers, we are putting a further $16 million towards social services to support people staying in emergency housing, including services for mental health needs, family violence, and addiction, as needed. As a Government, we know that people face a range of complex issues that can be a barrier to finding and keeping a home of their own. That's why we're taking a balanced and holistic approach to support them and ensure they are able to access the support they need.
• Question No.
10. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Is the Government considering changing the principles of the Social Security Act 2018 in response to the Welfare Expert Advisory Group, including the principle that "work in paid employment offers the best opportunity for people to achieve social and economic well-being"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): As I've said previously in the House, and as outlined in the publicly available Cabinet paper, the welfare overhaul work programme will include a review of the principles and purpose of the Social Security Act in response to the recommendations in the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report. This is currently under way, and I am unable to provide more details on the potential for changing the principles at this stage. In saying that, this Government believes that for those who are able, finding a job that is sustainable and meaningful is important for long-term wellbeing. That is why this Government has invested an additional $76 million in employment-focused case managers, $26 million to support people with disabilities or health conditions into employment, and nearly $50 million into Mana in Mahi. This reflects how seriously we take our responsibility to support people into employment.
Hon Louise Upston: Does the Minister believe that paid work best supports people to achieve social and economic wellbeing; and, if not, why not?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I think that where people are able, paid work does have an absolute role in supporting their social and economic wellbeing. What we do know, though, is that over 50 percent of those that are in the welfare system on main benefits have a health condition or disability of some sort or are caring for someone with a health condition or disability of some sort. Therefore, it is much more complicated than just doing what the previous Government did, which was saying that everyone must get off benefit and into a job. We absolutely support everyone who is able to be earning, learning, volunteering, or caring, and all of the policies that have been announced by this side of the House in the last two years reflect that commitment.
Hon Louise Upston: Does the Minister agree with the Minister of Finance, who said, and I quote, that "everyone who wants to work should be able to."?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I often—and more often than not—agree with the Minister of Finance. Can I also say that, actually, for even those that have barriers to employment—and let me refer again to those that have disabilities—we've seen the evidence to show that they do want to work. Something like 74 percent of those with a disability on a main benefit expressed the fact that they wanted to work. But there are barriers in their way to sometimes accessing that employment. So rather than stigmatise those on benefit, this side of the House is committed to breaking down those barriers and making that investment so that those opportunities are opened up to all New Zealanders where they are able to work.
Hon Louise Upston: Is it now her Government's approach for those on jobseeker benefit to choose if they want to work or not?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: That member consistently underestimates the people that are in the welfare system. The vast majority of people who enter into the welfare system actually want to work, and that is the starting point for us on this side of the House. Can I just say, we are committed to helping and supporting those that are able to get into meaningful and sustainable employment. We see the role of the welfare system to support with income support where that's required but, equally, to provide people with opportunities to employment. And I think, actually, this side of the House is doing a much better job than what the previous Government did.
• Question No. 11—Commerce
and Consumer Affairs
11. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs: How much relief in cents per litre will New Zealand motorists see, if any, as a result of the draft market study into the retail fuel sector, and how does that compare to the increase in petrol taxes since the Government entered office?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): As the member pointed out in his question, the study released this morning by the Commerce Commission is a draft study. It has made draft recommendations, and the Commerce Commission will come back to us in December with its final report and its recommendations. The Government will wait for that before we make any policy decisions. Because of that, I am unable to address the member to the precision I think he would like, and therefore I cannot answer the second question in terms of a comparison. But what I can say is that the Government will act on this report, because it is quite clear that New Zealanders are paying too much at the petrol pump.
Brett Hudson: Did the report look at the impact of new and higher fuel taxes on consumers?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: It noted fuel taxes, but, if the Opposition is still interested in facts, I would suggest that they look at pages 80 and 81 and look at the effect that fuel taxes have had over time. They have remained a relatively constant component of fuel prices, but what it did show, and it has highlighted, is that margins for companies who sell fuel at petrol pumps have grown, and grown considerably, under the previous Government. We will not let that happen, because that, in English, means that New Zealanders are paying too much for petrol every time they fill up their car.
Brett Hudson: OK. Over the last 18 months, how much have fuel taxes increased in Auckland compared to the retailer margin?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: I don't have that with me at this stage, but what I do know is that in terms of competition—that was highlighted by the Commerce Commission in this morning's report—there isn't enough of it, and, because of that, New Zealanders are paying too much at the petrol bowser. This was left to continue in an upward trend by the previous Government, who did nothing for nine years. We have managed to get to this point, where we have evidence that New Zealanders are getting fleeced, and we will do something about it.
Hon Dr Megan Woods: Does the draft report identify a year when those margins started rising?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: I believe it may have been roughly—coincidental, I think, perhaps—when the previous Government took office, and then it went north while they were in office.
Brett Hudson: What has more impact on consumers: a petrol company margin that has increased by 0.1 of 1c since the Government came into office or legislation for an additional 24c per litre of taxes?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: What I find interesting is that on the day that the Commerce Commission has found that there are competition issues and that petrol companies are charging too high a margin to New Zealanders, the Opposition is taking their side and thinks that New Zealanders paying too much at the petrol bowser is a good thing.
Brett Hudson: Does he agree with the Commerce Commission that there is no guarantee that a competitive market will develop rapidly if the barriers they identified are removed?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: What I would say to that is this Government is going to do something about the competition issues addressed by the Commerce Commission, because we believe that customers are getting ripped off at the petrol bowser. That is more than the previous Government did in nine years.
No. 12—Commerce and Consumer Affairs
12. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs: What reports has he seen about the New Zealand fuel market?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Notably, I have received the Commerce Commission's draft report that outlines the findings of their market study into the prices New Zealanders pay for their petrol and their diesel. The Commerce Commission has found that the retail fuel market is not as competitive as it could be, due to the lack of an active wholesale market in New Zealand and a lack of retail competition.
Dr Deborah Russell: What conclusions does this draft report present?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: It backs up the Government's concerns that New Zealanders are getting fleeced at the pump and that the market is broken. The draft report outlines that due to a lack of an active wholesale market in New Zealand not enough retail competition is happening and New Zealanders are not getting a fair deal at the petrol pumps. The draft report also found that the high profitability of the major fuel suppliers in New Zealand is out of step with international comparisons and not consistent with a healthy market place. The report shows that big fuel companies' margins have been climbing since 2008 during a period where the National Government did nothing and New Zealanders steadily paid more at the petrol pumps. During that lack of leadership, National—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Order! Two reasons for ruling it out: one, it's a shot at the Opposition off a patsy, and the second is it's getting repetitious.
Dr Deborah Russell: What will the next steps be?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Well, as I mentioned earlier to the House, this is a draft report. We shall wait until December when the Commerce Commission comes back. What we can assure New Zealanders is we won't sit around on our hands doing nothing for nine years while New Zealanders get ripped off at the petrol pumps. We will do something to make sure New Zealanders get a fairer deal.
Dr Deborah Russell: What will be the Government's response?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: As I said, this is a draft report. The Commerce Commission has proposed some options for recommendations and is looking for feedback on these issues. I encourage interested parties to take part in that consultation process—perhaps even the Opposition. The Government will respond to the Commerce Commission's recommendations following the report in December.