Parliament: Questions and Answers - August 27
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?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly the New Zealand investment fund, the legislation for which will have its first reading in the House today. This will see $300 million invested in supporting start-up businesses to get to the next level. It is yet another example of the Government ensuring we have an economy that is growing and working for all of us.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she say that because she's defensive about the National Party's outstanding economic discussion document?
Hon Member: That's in order.
SPEAKER: No it's not in order. It's asking the Prime Minister to take responsibility for something which she doesn't have responsibility for.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is she aware that the New Zealand Government collects the fourth-highest share of tax from businesses in the OECD; and does she support tax relief for New Zealand businesses?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have no policy to change the corporate tax rate in New Zealand. The member may have seen that we explored a range of options in the Tax Working Group. We even looked at comparisons with what Australia has done with their differentiated rate for small businesses. They came back with a rationale that suggested that wasn't the best way to go. So we have no proposals in this area. However, we do have a plan that is about supporting innovation, skills and trade training; diversifying our trade; supporting our exporters—things that will support our businesses, particularly some of the issues that they have raised proactively with us. The thing that gets raised most significantly with us from business is things like getting the skilled people they need. Those are the things that we're focused on as a Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with Jacinda Ardern MP, who said in 2012 that "if this Government was genuinely interested in the issue of sustainability, it would look first at superannuation … Politics can't just be about making decisions that anger the least number of people … it has to be about doing the right thing."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If that member and the last Government were focused on sustainability and doing the right thing, they would have kept up their contributions to the super fund. They did not. When we came into office, we restarted those contributions. In the next five years, that will cumulatively grow to $9 billion. That is what a Government focused on the sustainability of superannuation would have done, and it's what we're doing.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is superannuation still, as Jacinda Ardern MP said in 2012, the "Zimmer frame in the room"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I wouldn't mind going back and checking the context in which I came up with that nifty little statement. It was with some frustration, of course, that we had to deal with a Government who would not continue to secure the future of his own generation by continuing to invest in the super fund. By turning off that tap, I think they were saying that they weren't interested in ensuring that that generation can retire at 65. On this side, we are.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Crown had any discussions regarding a loan to the Kīngitanga or Tainui so either can purchase land at Ihumātao?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm not going to undermine the discussions that are currently taking place between Kīngitanga and mana whenua. They are seeking a by-Māori, for-Māori solution, and I'm going to respect that process and allow that to occur.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Crown discussed a loan with anyone in the Kīngitanga or Tainui?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, unlike that member, I actually want to see a solution for Ihumātao. I care what happens to that land. I care what happens to the many young people who have convened to try and find a solution for that land, and I care about getting an outcome for mana whenua that they can support. I'm not going to undermine the conversations that are happening between Kīngitanga and mana whenua. I respect that process, and I'm going to allow that conversation to finish.
David Seymour: How would it undermine negotiations between mana whenua and the Kīngitanga if the Prime Minister stood up in this House and said that the Government hasn't discussed a loan with either of them?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am not going to discuss, in this House, negotiations that are occurring between the parties at the table in any form. That member may not be interested in seeing a solution; this side of the House is. I respect the process that is happening between them, and I'm going to allow it to conclude between them.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't the reality that the Crown is in discussions about an interest-free loan from the Crown to Kīngitanga?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has her Government received any advice on the effect of a loan to the Kīngitanga or Tainui on New Zealand's full and final Treaty settlement process?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I'm not going to get into a speculative conversation in this House. I've ruled out the statement that the member last stated, but I am going to allow this negotiation between mana whenua—this conversation, this discussion, this seeking of a resolution is between mana whenua and Kīngitanga, and I am not going to disrupt that process. It's one of the reasons why I've been so cautious about the timing of my visit, and I am certainly not going to destabilise that conversation in this House with speculation.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it, in fact, a discussion between the Crown and Tainui, not Kīngitanga?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is completely disrespecting what Kīngitanga is trying to do, and I will not do that.
David Seymour: Why doesn't the Prime Minister put an end to any speculation by simply stating that the Government will not loan or give any money to any third party with the intention of that third party purchasing the land at Ihumātao off Fletcher's
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the Crown is not a party in the primary discussion that is occurring at the table between mana whenua and Kīngitanga. I want to see them conclude their talks. It is a matter for them, and then beyond that I'm not going to enter into speculation.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that if Ihumātao is unpicked with any sort of financial arrangement involving the Crown, then all Treaty claims will be up for renegotiation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Crown, of course, is aware of its obligations as a Treaty partner.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern correct in 2017 when she said that light rail down Dominion Road would be delivered within four years, "But actually we hope to deliver the entire project earlier than that".
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Pick an issue, any issue, just an issue.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Traversing, broadly, now on to Auckland light rail—the member, of course, I know hasn't got an actual position on whether or not he supports light rail to the airport. We have been consistent that we absolutely do. What has changed, of course, since the period prior to the election is we have had a second party interested in delivering that project. It is in the form of NZ Infra. It is significantly different. That means we need to allow the differences, both in terms of how it would be financed and how it would be delivered, to be properly explored, and that is what we're doing.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister about four years; she didn't come close to addressing that.
SPEAKER: She certainly did address the question. The member asked quite a general question in that area based on a statement that the member had made as an Opposition member. That gives her a lot of flexibility in her answer, especially given the primary question.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Has the Prime Minister seen statements that route protection for light rail in Auckland was a significant step for Auckland and would secure better transport options for both Aucklanders and visitors to the city; and if so, which former Minister of Transport does she think made those statements?
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That's simply not correct. I've never referred to light rail; I've talked about a transport corridor.
SPEAKER: Well, first of all, I'm going to indicate that the member should not interject while questions are being asked. A second point I'll make is that—the Minister of State Services might want to remind me, but I don't think he named Mr Bridges.
Hon Members: No.
SPEAKER: Well, in that case denying that he said it is hardly a reason for ruling it out. Does it need to be asked again?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. Mr Speaker, yes, my understanding is that a past Minister of Transport in the last Government—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Which one?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —and I believe it was Simon Bridges—advocated as well for a staged, integrated transition to light rail along the preferred Auckland to city route.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will the project be delivered by 2021, as Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said, and how does that reconcile with transport Minister Phil Twyford who said, just last week, "We won't have spades in the ground in 2020."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've just explained to the member—at the time, of course, that we were talking about this, some two years ago, we did not have NZ Infra coming forward with a substantially different proposal that would be delivered differently, that would be financed differently, that, actually, in very tangible ways, is a very different proposition. That doesn't mean that work won't be ongoing. Negotiations, consenting, design, and property acquisition is, of course, likely to start this term.
Hon Simon Bridges: When will construction start on the light rail?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Once the consideration of those different proposals has concluded.
Hon Simon Bridges: Has she got any idea on when construction will start on light rail?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I've already said that negotiations, consenting, design, and acquisition are likely to start this term. But in terms of spades in the ground, we've already said that it wouldn't be before 2021.
• Question No. 2—Finance
2. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What measures has the Government announced to improve New Zealand's productivity?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Government has introduced a range of measures to improve productivity, including the R & D tax credit and other significant investments in innovation, boosting skills training, and more new infrastructure investment. But I want to reinforce the Prime Minister's earlier answer about the importance of the bill that Parliament will debate tonight to establish the $300 million venture capital fund, which will help fill the capital gap and keep more of our innovative companies in New Zealand. The issue for many of our companies is that once they access seed funding to get off the ground, they struggle to get the further support they need and often have to look offshore for that. This contribution puts skin in the game from the Government, and I'd like to thank Minister David Parker for his hard work on this initiative.
Tamati Coffey: What other measures has the Government announced to boost productivity?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In addition to the measures that I highlighted in my primary answer, we have made significant investments in areas which people may not traditionally associate with productivity. In the May Budget, the Government announced a $1.9 billion mental health package. We heard repeatedly during the last election campaign that New Zealanders wanted us to fix up the mental health system, because it is such an important social issue for New Zealand. But beyond its importance as a social issue, it was estimated that in 2014, the economic cost of serious mental illness alone was $12 billion—or, at the time, 5 percent of GDP. For every dollar that we spend on treating depression, $2.50 is gained in productivity and $1 of physical healthcare cost is saved. This Government is taking action to address mental health challenges in New Zealand, which are serious for social reasons but also have an impact on productivity.
Tamati Coffey: Has he seen any other reports about productivity?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, I have. Advice from Treasury shows that the long-term average output per hour worked in New Zealand has risen 1.1 percent since 1996. I do note that under Labour Governments, that figure is 1.3 percent; and under National, 0.9 percent. In fact, in the final year of the last Government, the figure was minus 2 percent. This Government has new programmes to lift productivity. The document that I saw yesterday is exactly the same strategy that left productivity in decline.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Is it still the Government's forecast to collect $20 billion more tax in the 2022 year than they did in 2018?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Government has not changed Treasury's revenue forecasts since they were published in the Budget in 2019, but I do thank the member for reminding the House that the economy is forecast to keep growing solidly over the next five years.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: After accounting for growth and inflation, how much is he planning to increase tax revenues by 2022?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don't have that calculation with me, but what I do know is that the forecast increase across the five-year period from 2018 to 2022 is about 24.8 percent, which contrasts with the five years from 2014 to 2018, under the previous Government, when that revenue went up by 30 percent.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he have any plans to provide tax relief to individual New Zealanders this term?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That is not in the intention of the Government. We made very clear at the last election what we weren't going to do around tax rates. What we have done is ensure that the revenue we're getting is going into fixing up the messes that we inherited in health and in education. The question for the member has to be: how does he make it add up? You can't keep reducing revenue and promising more, Mr Goldsmith.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm just going to ask the Minister of Finance to straighten his tie, which appears to be in his pocket. Thank you.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he believe more tax provides a solution to every problem?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What we need in New Zealand is to lift productivity—there's no doubt about that. That's a challenge that the last Government utterly failed on for nine years. We now have programmes like the R & D tax credit, like the big lift in infrastructure spending, like the big lift in skills training, which actually will help our country develop. Taxation is what we collectively pull together to pay for the public services like our health system, like our education system, that the last Government let decline.
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the member confirm that this Government, when we came into office, did focus on targeted tax relief to those who needed it most—through, for instance, the Families Package?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, that's absolutely right. We reversed the unfocused tax cuts of the previous Government that would have delivered over $1,000 a year to members of Parliament here, and put that into the pockets of low and middle income families.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What big lift in infrastructure spending was he referring to just then, given the fact that his Government has cancelled a whole lot of projects that were ready to go and replaced them with projects that are not ready to go?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I'm referring to is the fact that before the election, the previous Government was forecasting infrastructure spend of around $30 billion over five years. That's lifted to over $40 billion under this Government, let alone the $17.7 billion that's going into transport as well. This is a Government that's actually got a focus on increasing infrastructure spending over the long term, rather than what happened under the previous Government, when it declined and went into peaks and troughs that mean that we don't have the capacity in the economy that we should.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he believe it's right that by 2022, someone on the average wage will be on the top tax bracket?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member is referring to the issue of bracket creep. It is an issue that all Governments have to take a look at. But what I know is that every dollar we're getting in is going towards addressing the social issues that the last Government refused to face up to. We're not prepared to put up with sewage in the walls of hospitals or children going hungry. On this side of the House, we're using the tax money we get to fix the mess we were left with.
• Question No. 4—Arts, Culture, and Heritage
4. Hon NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: Does she stand by all her policies, statements, and actions around cybersecurity and the Tuia 250 data breach?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): Yes, including my statement that what has occurred here is, quote, "very disappointing", and my endorsement of the work that the ministry is doing to establish how this occurred via the Tuia website.
Hon Nicky Wagner: Did she seek assurances that private information held by the ministry would be kept safe?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Forgive me for a moment if I speak to the different delegations that do exist here. The website in question for Tuia was commissioned, I believe, in February of 2019. So as the member will probably already know, it was not developed by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage; it was contracted to be delivered by a private provider. That was done in February. Some months later, the additional requirement for them to be part of the process of recruiting individuals to be part of the flotilla around the country was added thereafter. The ministry is now looking at whether or not—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Unbelievable.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member doesn't want detail on this, then don't ask a question. The ministry is now looking at whether or not the contract was adequate around these issues. What I do want to point out is that I don't have the specific delegation for Tuia, but I am responsible for the ministry as a whole, but not to that level of detail.
Hon Nicky Wagner: Did she seek assurances about the ministry's data security in general, in light of the early release of the Budget information in May?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. Again, however, I point out that this was not relevant to the ministry's own website and functions. It was a site contracted by a private provider that was specific for Tuia 250. It is not a Ministry for Culture and Heritage website.
Dr Shane Reti: Were children's private cellphone numbers also part of the Tuia 250 data breach?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can't speak specifically to the nature of some of the information. I will point out that the majority—of course, we've already made public that it's involved licences, passports, and we consider it to be very, very serious. What I would point out, of course, is that the profile, yes, has affected a portion who are under 18—the majority over 18—but, again, when it comes to the specifics around phone numbers, I would say that would be a question relevant to the ministry itself.
Dr Shane Reti: Did the breached data also include details for an alternative contact person; if so, have all of these people also had their data breached?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can't speak to what individual information was contained on every form. What I do know, of course, is that efforts were made by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to bring in other Government departments over the weekend. They created a call centre to contact every individual involved and managed either to successfully speak personally to those involved or to have done so since, through leaving call centre numbers to liaise directly. Where there has been data via ID, like licences or passports, they're offering support to renew those documents if they wish to have them cancelled. Of course, this is a very serious situation; the ministry is taking it very seriously. It's not something that is being taken lightly at all in the action that's been taken.
Hon Nicky Wagner: How far does her disappointment get us when the personal information of 302 young people is most probably now for sale on the dark web?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Seriously enough that our focus has been on those individuals, and that is why the ministry moved very quickly to remove the website in question, to liaise with Google to try and remove any indexed information, and to contact them all individually and offer support to replace that information. The ministry is, of course—as I am—incredibly disappointed by what has happened here but is doing what it can to remedy the situation as well.
Hon Grant Robertson: Is this the first ever data breach of a Government agency in history?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have to acknowledge that, no, it's not. We all have to lift our game. I'm reminded that in 2012—[Interruption] Again, the members will remember that in 2012 the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) self-service kiosk allowed 7,000 personal files of MSD clients to be accessed. We all have to do better, and I'm sure that side of the House would well remember that.
Hon Paula Bennett: In that 2012 MSD cybersecurity blunder, did the Minister actually front with the chief executive and take responsibility and then know the details and ensure it never happened again?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can't speak to what the member did personally at that time, but I can tell, Mr Speaker, that I would never weaponise people's personal information, either.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is that comment allowed to stand?
SPEAKER: Well, there was a comment that was drowned out by a barrage of noise from my left, which I didn't hear well enough to rule out.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Now, Mr Speaker, the physical contortions of your face would have led me to believe that you did hear it, and it was an unacceptable statement and should be withdrawn.
SPEAKER: Order! The member is going to start by withdrawing and apologising, and then he will re-put his point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. There will be a Hansard record of what has just been said. It will, I think, based on your past rulings, not meet the test of what should be an acceptable answer or comment in this House, and I think it would be appropriate for the Prime Minister to withdraw the comment.
Hon Chris Hipkins: The question from the former Minister asked the Prime Minister specifically to comment on the actions of the former Minister; therefore, that gives the Prime Minister some license to do so.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That would be fine if that was an absolute fact, but it's not.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Speaking to this point of order, the Hon Simon Bridges.
Hon Simon Bridges: I want to ask you, when you go back and watch the replay of today, as you do, to reflect on the Prime Minister's various comments over question time and whether it is in fact—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] No. Order! The member will resume his seat. I'm trying to deal with a specific case here—all right?
Hon Simon Bridges: And I was adding to that.
SPEAKER: Well, no, you weren't; you were talking about a general question.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: As long as it's related to the point of order currently before the House and not a new one.
Hon Simon Bridges: Yes, it is, Mr Speaker, of course. The point of order that has been raised is in relation to the Prime Minister's words, and I am asking you, when you reflect on that after and watch the tape, to go away and look at what she says, and whether or not actually she is getting an easy ride.
SPEAKER: Oh, well, I think I know what the member is trying to do and I'm not going to grant him his wish.
• Question No. 5—Health
5. Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What is the Government doing to address the long-term challenge of unmet need for mental health services in New Zealand?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): This Government is committed to action on improving mental health and addiction services. Budget 2019 included a record $1.9 billion investment in mental health across a range of portfolios. In health, this includes creating a new front-line workforce to deliver free services to all New Zealanders with mild to moderate needs—the people described in the report of the inquiry into mental health and addiction as the "missing middle". Good progress is being made, building on existing services where they have already been piloted and developing wider services, with input at every stage from local communities, iwi, and people with lived experience. I expect to make announcements about several newly contracted services in coming weeks.
Dr Liz Craig: What other mental health initiatives is the Government progressing?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Too many to list them all in one answer, but I will pick a few. In our first year, we rolled out mental health support to primary and intermediate schools in Canterbury and Kaikōura through Mana Ake. We're delivering free mental health support for 18- to 24-year-olds in Wellington and Wairarapa, with the Piki programme, and I thank the Green Party for their support in that area. We're investing $40 million into suicide prevention, including counselling for bereaved families. We're putting $42 million into improved specialist alcohol and drug services. We're expanding digital and telehealth supports so people can easily reach out when they need help, and, finally, we've also put aside $200 million for investment in mental health and addiction facilities over the next two years.
Dr Liz Craig: What work is the Government doing to ensure we have enough trained mental health workers and peer support people?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: It's clear we need to build and upskill our mental health workforce so that we can deliver the services that people need and deserve. It's estimated that we'll need 1,600 fulltime-equivalent staff for our primary mental health initiative alone. This is a long-term challenge. For example, it takes seven years to become a practising clinical psychologist. This is why in Budget 2019 we invested $80 million into developing our mental health workforce. This workforce expansion will include nurses, GPs, peer support workers, health coaches, and other health professionals.
• Question No. 6—Transport
6. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement from last week in relation to Auckland light rail, "We won't have spades in the ground in 2020", and what is the most recent estimated full cost of the City Centre to Māngere light rail project?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: In answer to the first part of the question, yes, in the context it was made. In answer to the second part of the question, around $4 billion, but the business case in the final design will provide more certainty on the final cost.
Chris Bishop: Does he remember saying in relation to light rail to the airport "One of my first actions as minister will be to have officials advise on how quickly we can start, and how soon we can get it built. I would expect Queen St to Mt Roskill within four years as a minimum.", and is he embarrassed he will not meet that commitment?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In answer to the first part of the question, yes. In answer to the second part of the question, no.
Chris Bishop: Has he seen the comments from Matt Lowrie of TransportBlog, "Given light-rail was the Labour Party's flagship transport announcement ahead of the last election … I definitely expected better progress than what has played out over the last 18 months.", and what responsibility does he take for the massive delays to this flagship project?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: On behalf of the Minister, the Government thinks it's important that we get this project right. I note that significant infrastructure projects can often take some time to get off the ground—for example, the Pūhoi to Wellsford State Highway 1 upgrade, which was announced in March 2009 and didn't actually get started until December 2016. The Christchurch motorway projects were promised and announced in March 2009 but didn't actually start until November 2016. It's more important to get the details of these things right.
Chris Bishop: Has he discussed with New Zealand Transport Agency officials reallocating money from the rapid transit activity class to the State highway improvement activity class, in light of the delays to the roll-out of light rail?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I don't have that information to be able to answer on behalf of the Minister. I'm not sure what particular conversations he may have had about that.
Chris Bishop: Will he give a commitment in the House to discussing with the transport agency reallocating money from rapid transit activity to State highway improvements, in light of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council warning that we are at an "infrastructure crisis point"?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm not in a position to be able to give that commitment.
• Question No. 7—Agriculture
7. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Agriculture: Does he stand by all his statements, policies, and actions?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): Yes. We are proud to promote the opportunities and future for sectors of our economy that are essential, that are sustainable, and that are exciting. We believe there are huge opportunities for great careers across agribusiness, and we reject the constant negative portrayal of agriculture by the National Party.
Todd Muller: What did he mean when he said on Q+A last week that the cost to farmers of meeting the Government's proposed new water policy will be 1 to 2 percent—1 to 2 percent of what?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: My estimate was based on my personal experience and talking with farmers. It was a guesstimate. I understand that there will be many farmers that will not have to incur any cost because, in fact, they are way ahead of the National Party and the last Government—they are way ahead of what has to be done—but there will be other farmers that will have to spend more, because they have not received the signals yet that New Zealanders want better-quality water, higher-quality animal welfare standards, and better animal traceability, and that we're trying to help them and encourage them to get up to that higher standard.
Todd Muller: Point of order.
SPEAKER: No, we're not having a point of order. What we're going to do is tell the Minister he addressed a question very well but it wasn't the one that was asked. I think the key word was "what"—1 to 2 percent of what?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The 1 to 2 percent is of gross revenue, in my estimation.
Todd Muller: What did he mean when he said in that same interview that these costs "will need to be absorbed by farming operations"?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: If that member had spent any time farming, he might understand that most of the costs of operation of farming are, in fact, absorbed by the farmers. They are not in a position to simply shift on their costs. That reality is well understood by this Government. Maybe that member should pick up on it too.
Todd Muller: At what farming meeting, then, did you sit, listen, and hear farmers say that they would be able to absorb these costs?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have many, many meetings up and down this country. I get out on the farm quite often. That member has probably spent too much time behind a desk at Fonterra to get out and learn what farmers actually want.
Kieran McAnulty: Does he stand by his statement that a hands-off, "she'll be right" approach to agriculture policy does not serve the best interests of farmers and rural communities?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I consider that that would be about as productive as standing behind a cow in a herringbone cowshed when she wants to relieve herself. It's better that we take a proactive stance than the previous hands-off, laissez-faire, do-nothing approach of the previous National Government.
Todd Muller: Got to watch for the tail twitch. How did these proposed environmental changes and associated costs get through his and the Government's rural-proofing process?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can assure this House and the farmers of New Zealand that all these proposals have been thoroughly discussed by numerous Ministers, by officials from the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry for Primary Industries, by farming leaders' groups, by people up and down this country who support the direction of this Government in trying to improve our waterways, lift animal welfare standards, and ensure that we do commit to climate change agreements that were committed to in 1997 but ignored by the previous Government. We're going to assist the farmers get into a better place where they get more for what they do; not simply ask them to do more, which is what the National Government did while in Government.
Todd Muller: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Did that address the specific question about his rural-proofing process?
SPEAKER: I think mixed amongst it there was an addressing, yes.
Todd Muller: Oh, you've got to look hard—OK, very good.
SPEAKER: One sifts.
• Question No. 8—Justice
8. GOLRIZ GHAHRAMAN (Green) to the Minister of Justice: Does he have confidence in New Zealand's current electoral donation laws?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): The way I would characterise it is I think that our current laws and the story that has appeared in the media today have exposed a vulnerability for New Zealand's political donations regime. That is why I wrote to the Justice Committee in October last year and asked them, as part of their inquiry into the 2017 general election, to specifically consider the issue of foreign influence and foreign interference, and I eagerly await the conclusions by that committee in their report.
Golriz Ghahraman: Does he support strengthening our donations laws, given specifically the story this morning that a former Minister facilitated a $150,000 donation from an overseas person to the National Party?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: One of the issues that particularly concerns me about the story that has appeared today is the fact that a donation that ostensibly has come from overseas has gone through a company registered in New Zealand but whose ownership is not known, whose source of revenue is not known, whose source of capital is not known. If it is correct that the source of revenue for that company is foreign, that the source of capital for that company is foreign, then that would appear to have defeated the objectives of the law that we have. That's why I say that our law appears to contain a vulnerability. That is why I have asked the Justice Committee to look at the issue, and because this is an issue that affects all political parties, it is right that a body such as the select committee should have a look at it, and I eagerly await their recommendations.
Golriz Ghahraman: Will he ban overseas donations to New Zealand politicians and political parties, as provided in my strengthening democracy member's bill?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I haven't taken any view on whether or not foreign donations should be banned to political parties. I do note that the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance says that in their survey of countries, 121 countries outright ban foreign donations to political parties—and those countries include Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. But I eagerly await the conclusions and the recommendations of our Justice Committee before drawing any conclusions myself.
Golriz Ghahraman: Will he consider capping political parties' donations at $35,000 and banning anonymous donations over $1,000, as provided in my strengthening democracy member's bill?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Again, I am aware that those provisions are within that member's member's bill. I have reached no personal conclusions and I have no advice to give the Government at the moment. That is the reason why I am eagerly awaiting—I think it's probably correct to say by now "anxiously awaiting"—the conclusions of the Justice Committee on this issue, because I think what that committee has to say will be very important.
Golriz Ghahraman: Does he think it could be difficult to get cross-party consensus on tightening our donations laws, given today's allegations of a large donation from a foreign-owned company to the National Party?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No. I think every member in this House is concerned about the rising evidence from overseas about foreign interference and influence in political systems. I am reassured by a conversation that I had with the Hon Dr Nick Smith at the end of last year, when the issue about the Justice Committee examining foreign donations and foreign interference in our political system came up, and he said to me that he was very keen to make sure that that committee and this Parliament does the right thing, given the evidence abroad about political interference.
• Question No. 9—Corrections
9. Hon DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he stand by his statement, "We have never had to manage a prisoner like this before", in relation to the alleged Christchurch gunman?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Corrections): Yes.
Hon David Bennett: When the Minister said in written questions "I have asked questions concerning the management of this high-profile prisoner", what specific questions did he ask prior to 14 August?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I asked for assurances around the management of the alleged gunman. I received those assurances from the Department of Corrections that he was being managed in accordance with the Corrections Act and our international obligations.
Hon David Bennett: When in response to written questions he said that corrections held regular meetings and updates on the management of this high-risk prisoner, then in the meetings prior to 14 August, did they update him on correspondence to and from that prisoner?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I was updated on the conditions that the alleged gunman is being held under and I was updated on a number of things to do with the way he is being incarcerated, including his ability to send and receive mail.
Hon David Bennett: So did the Minister know about this correspondence before it became public?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No, I didn't know about the content of the correspondence that had been sent by the alleged gunman.
Hon David Bennett: What were the specific assurances he sought from corrections around correspondence in regard to this high-profile prisoner, and should he have asked for more assurances around correspondence around that prisoner?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Well, I asked for assurances that he is being managed under the Corrections Act and our international obligations. I received assurances that that was, in fact, the case and that he was being looked after in accordance to the way he should be: our international obligations and the Corrections Act.
• Question No. 10—Education
10. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Minister of Education: What immediate steps, if any, has he taken to address teacher shortages in early childhood education, and does he agree with the chief executive of Te Rito Maioha, Kathy Wolfe, reported comments that the Government has not done enough to deliver on its commitments and has instead put early childhood services in a holding pattern?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): In answer to the first part of the question, since becoming Minister of Education, the Government's done a number of things, including introducing higher funding rates for initial teacher education providers, including those delivering early childhood education (ECE) teacher-training; we've implemented a marketing campaign to recruit more people to the teaching profession, including early childhood teachers; the teacher education refresher subsidy, which provides free refresher training for those whose registration has lapsed, has helped more than 400 early childhood educators back into teaching; early childhood education teachers have been added to the long-term skills shortage list; the Government has increased the number of scholarships being awarded to early childhood teacher trainees by 60 percent—among other things. In answer to the second part of the question, I've had some very good discussions with Kathy Wolfe. I don't agree with her on this. For example, the Government has increased funding for early childhood education in both of the Budgets that we have been in Government, including the salary component of funding rates for early childhood education, which compares to the nine years prior, where the salary component of the funding rate was not increased once.
Nicola Willis: Does he accept there is a shortage of early childhood education teachers, and will he act on those shortages by streamlining teacher registration processes—
Nicola Willis: —for teachers returning—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member's already done two parts to a question.
Nicola Willis: Does he—
SPEAKER: No, no, the question's finished. The Minister will answer it.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, I do accept that there is a shortage of early childhood education teachers, and I note that it typically takes a minimum of three years to train an early childhood education teacher and this Government has been in office for less than two.
Nicola Willis: Is he aware that more than 2,000 early childhood educators responded to my survey about teacher shortages, with 85 percent reporting difficulty in finding suitable early childhood teachers—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member's now finished—two legs.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I don't have responsibility for the member's survey.
SPEAKER: No—you do have responsibility for your own awareness.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Well, I've read her press statement.
Jan Tinetti: Does the Minister have authoritative information about teacher supply in early childhood education?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: One of the great frustrations here is that we do not have good information about teacher supply. When I became the Minister of Education, the monitoring tools for teacher supply in schooling were relatively weak, and in early childhood education they were virtually non-existent. That is something that we have asked the Ministry of Education to work on remedying.
Jan Tinetti: What role has trends in initial teacher education for early childhood education teachers played in ECE teacher supply?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The trends in initial teacher education participation have had a significant impact on teacher supply. In 2009, there were 2,990 people training to be early childhood education teachers; by 2017 that had fallen to 1,240—a 59 percent reduction in the number of people training to be early childhood education teachers. It is going to take some time to catch up after that nine years of not enough people training to be early childhood teachers.
• Question No. 11—Finance
11. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Associate Minister of Finance: What effect has the ban on foreign buyers of residential housing had on the number of residential properties purchased by persons who are not citizens or permanent residents?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Associate Minister of Finance): I'm pleased to inform the House that the ban on foreign buyers of residential property has greatly reduced the number of homes being sold to foreign buyers. In the June 2018 quarter, before the ban came into effect, 1,116 homes were sold to persons who weren't permanent residents or citizens of New Zealand. In the most recent quarter, that number has dropped by 84 percent. Some had claimed that clamping down on foreign buyers couldn't be done consistently with our free-trade agreements or that it wouldn't work in practice. They were wrong: this Government did it. It's working, and we're ensuring that the prices of housing in the New Zealand market are set by New Zealanders for New Zealanders.
Paul Eagle: Where has the ban on foreign buyers had the greatest effect?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The foreign buyer ban was always intended to have the greatest effect in housing markets that were the most overheated, and that has been the result. In the first six months of 2018, 546 homes in central Auckland were sold to foreigners. In the first half of this year, this has fallen to under 100. Before the ban, one in 10 homes in the Queenstown Lakes District, which includes both Queenstown and Wānaka, was sold to foreign buyers. This has now declined by more than two-thirds. It's no coincidence that these two areas were amongst the least affordable in New Zealand. This is where the foreign buyer ban has been most effective and where prices have settled. This also frees up construction effort for builders to concentrate on the affordable homes for New Zealanders who actually live there.
Paul Eagle: What effect would repealing the foreign buyer ban have?
Hon DAVID PARKER: There's no doubt that I think the ban has strong support amongst New Zealanders, and this Government's committed to maintaining it. I believe it would be foolhardy for any Government to attempt to repeal the legislation, because it would again allow foreigners to outbid New Zealanders, both undermining the Kiwi Dream and making us tenants in our own land. If any political party does have an agenda to allow foreign buyers back in the housing market, I'd expect that they tell the public about it in straight form before the election rather than after it, and I'd also make the point that foreign donations shouldn't be the rule.
• Question No. 12—Justice
12. JAMI-LEE ROSS (Botany) to the Minister of Justice: Is he satisfied the overseas donation provisions in the Electoral Act 1993 sufficiently protect New Zealand from foreign interference; if not, will he introduce legislation to ban foreign donations in time to ensure a ban is in place prior to the 2020 election?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): It will be apparent from the answer to an earlier question today that I do have some discomfort about the extent to which the current law in the Electoral Act provides protection against the misuse of foreign donations in our political process. To the second part of the question, I am eagerly awaiting the conclusions by the Justice Committee on their examination of this issue as part of the inquiry into the 2017 general election, and before I contemplate any legislation in this regard, given that it is a matter that will be of acute interest to every political party in this Parliament and outside of it, I would rather see their conclusions before looking at legislation.
Jami-Lee Ross: Given he has previously expressed concerns about the Justice Committee's progress on the foreign interference inquiry, why does he not start the legislative process now, to avoid a situation where the committee's report comes too late to have any of the recommended changes implemented prior to the 2020 election?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I think the member makes a very fair point, and there will come a point at which I will need to consider whether the Government acts before the Justice Committee provides its report and its recommendations. It would not be my preference to do so before having the benefit of that committee's collective wisdom, but I will closely watch the progress that the committee makes on its report on the inquiry into the 2017 general election.
Jami-Lee Ross: If the spirit of the law is such that a foreigner should not be able to donate to political parties via a New Zealand company, will the Government commit to tightening the law so that it can no longer happen?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: As I've said, I accept that that member has consistently expressed concern about this issue and I admire him for doing so, and—[Interruption.
SPEAKER: Order! This is an issue which members think is important, and I'd prefer to be able to hear the answer rather than have back and forth.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: And, look, I think this House does need to consider the issue seriously, but because there is some complexity to it—and I do want to hear what members from different political parties have to say about it before the Government would move on it. But the member should be reassured that I regard it as a matter that does require some attention and examination, which is why I referred it to the Justice Committee precisely for that reason.