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Parliament: Questions and Answers - August 28

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Regional Economic Development

1. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What recent announcements has he made regarding the Provincial Growth Fund in the South Island?

FLETCHER TABUTEAU (Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for Regional Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister for Regional Economic Development: On behalf of the Minister—and hopefully in the voice of—just last Friday, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Regional Economic Development visited the fine people at the top of the South Island to announce $4.5 million in Provincial Growth Fund support for high-value food development through The Food Factory, the Nelson Artificial Intelligence Institute, as well as support for the regional economic development capability. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Settle.

FLETCHER TABUTEAU: I myself travelled to the great city of Invercargill to announce $19.5 million in the form of a loan from the Provincial Growth Fund to support the inner city redevelopment—a co-funded project to fund Invercargill's inner city redevelopment and bring the heart back to that city.

Mark Patterson: What did the announcements comprise of?

FLETCHER TABUTEAU: On behalf of the Minister, at the top of the South Island, the Government is putting their support in behind Mr Pic's Food Factory to the tune of $778,000. The Nelson and Marlborough district councils are set to receive $200,000 respectively for economic development project delivery, and the Nelson Artificial Intelligence Institute are to take on a $3.4 million loan. In the deep South, the announcement I made in Invercargill has helped to activate a $165 million project to re-develop an entire block in the Invercargill city centre for retail hospitality, office space, and entertainment.

SPEAKER: Right, I'm going to allow one more supplementary, because both of those answers have been far too long.

Mark Patterson: OK. Right, I will go to the Invercargill announcement—ha, ha! How does the Invercargill announcement boost Southland's regional economic development prospects?

FLETCHER TABUTEAU: Invercargill may be a small city at the bottom of the South Island, but it is one with a big vision. The project has been a true collaboration with regional stakeholders and will be an absolute game-changer. We know that this investment will boost Southland's real GDP by nearly $50 million per year while creating hundreds of jobs in the construction stage, not to mention the retail and the hospitality jobs, once the development is complete. Thank you, sir.

• Question No. 2—Prime Minister

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly the Government's economic strategy, which is supporting innovation through our 15 percent research and development tax credit; improving skills and training through reforming vocational education; expanding amazing schemes like Mana in Mahi; investing in infrastructure—Budget 2019 invested $1.2 billion in schools and $1.7 billion in hospitals—investing in regions through the Provincial Growth Fund; and, of course, diversifying our trade.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that, why, then, is it that business confidence is lower than at the height of the global financial crisis and economic growth's gone from nearly 4 percent to 2 percent under her watch?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, we've had this conversation many times in this House, and my response is not going to change. In fact, I think the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and the report that they've released today is a snapshot of where we currently sit. It states that, "The New Zealand economy has experienced 33 consecutive quarters of growth—the longest stretch since records began in 1947. The unemployment rate is at an 11-year low of 3.9 percent. … Although the number of tourists coming into the country [has] peaked, tourism spending is holding up. All this suggests the New Zealand economy is on a solid footing to weather the global headwinds."

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Crown had any discussions regarding a loan to Kīngitanga or Tainui so either can purchase land at Ihumātao?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I said in the House yesterday, I'm not going to enter into speculation around negotiations between Kīngitanga and mana whenua. They are the parties around the table. We should respect the process that they're involved in. That's what this Government is going to do.

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: As I said in my previous answer, the discussions between the parties include Kīngitanga and mana whenua. That is who is around the table talking with one another around a solution for Ihumātao. I am not going to disrespect that process, which is still ongoing, by entering into discussion or speculation around their talks.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will any public money be used to either directly or indirectly purchase land at Ihumātao?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I refer to the process that is involving Kīngitanga and mana whenua. What I would also just add to that, of course, is that from the Crown's perspective, we are mindful of our obligations as a Treaty partner; we're mindful, of course, of our Treaty obligations; we're mindful of Treaty precedent; and we're, of course, mindful of our commercial obligations to the taxpayer of New Zealand. But we are also allowing the process to occur between mana whenua and Kīngitanga.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will she rule out any public money being used to either directly or indirectly purchase land at Ihumātao?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I just said in my previous answer, of course, the process at the moment is between mana whenua and Kīngitanga. They are the ones that are in conversation, and I want to respect that. If you want to know my position on the Crown, of course, we are not a party to the conversations happening at present, but, from our perspective, we know we have obligations that include around the Treaty and Treaty precedent, and, of course, we take that very seriously.

Hon Simon Bridges: How much will the cheque by taxpayers be?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, again, I—

SPEAKER: Probably out of order.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that there is a public interest in knowing whether the Government—not Kīngitanga or Tainui—is having any discussions regarding taxpayers' money to the Kīngitanga or Tainui for the purposes of purchasing the land at Ihumātao; and, if not, why not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, public interest, I think, lies in there being resolution around Ihumātao and, at present, supporting the partners to find a solution, which we have been doing as a Government—supporting a for Māori, by Māori solution. The conversation therefore is currently being led by Kīngitanga and involves mana whenua, not the Crown. With regard to the Crown's wider position as to the land at Ihumātao, we are very aware that our obligation is, as a Treaty partner, respecting the Treaty and making sure that we don't create precedent with regard to the Treaty.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why won't she tell New Zealand and this House what's happening with taxpayers' money at Ihumātao?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because there is nothing to tell. The conversation right now is between mana whenua and Kīngitanga. I think most New Zealanders understand that this is an incredibly complex situation—an incredibly complex situation. On this side of the House, we're treating it with respect and dignity. We are supporting an outcome that will be beneficial to everyone, but particularly those who are at the heart of this, which is the mana whenua and Kīngitanga.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the Government being open and transparent in relation to taxpayers' money at Ihumātao?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

• Question No. 3—Prime Minister

3. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she support the referendum on legalising recreational cannabis?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said in the House before, I see my role as simply ushering this question through the House, giving the ability of people to access accurate information. My vote is as good as my neighbour's vote, and so, in this case, my job is to make sure that people have adequate information to make their own decision around the pros and cons of the referendum itself.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she think we should legalise recreational cannabis?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will know I've not taken a position on the referendum. We are putting the question to members of the public, and we're allowing democracy to occur. I don't see that as being a particularly contentious proposition. That is what referendums are for.

Hon Paula Bennett: So how much money will go into educating New Zealanders on the pros and cons of legalising recreational cannabis?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There is a focus on providing that information to members of the public. For instance, I have tasked the Chief Science Advisor to be a part of convening a panel that's able to produce information the public can trust to help inform that discussion. My understanding is that, more broadly, it's roughly $3 million that has been put aside as part of that education campaign.

Hon Tim Macindoe: How much? Not even close—not even close.

SPEAKER: Order! Can I just, sort of, counsel members to listen. When someone asks a figure about how much and they're told how much, I don't expect people—and at least three members did—to then say, "How much?" I mean, I can't tell if it was echoing or what, but when the Prime Minister has given a figure, it shouldn't be necessary. Maybe it's the wrong question to say "chill out", but I think people should.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No dollar amount was given.

SPEAKER: Well, if the member had listened, he would've heard it.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with Carmel Sepuloni, who, when asked about drug-free obligations, said the Government is committed to removing sanctions in the welfare system?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will know from our confidence and supply agreement that we have had a policy of looking at where sanctions are appropriately and inappropriately applied. You've seen already evidence of that, where we removed a policy as part of our package this year that we believe unfairly penalised those who didn't name fathers. There are sanctions in our benefit system that we have retained. We expect them, however, to be appropriately used and proportionately used.

Hon Paula Bennett: If cannabis is legalised, does she expect more beneficiaries to fail drug tests and, as such, then be sanctioned?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That's a hypothetical question.

• Question No. 4—Finance

4. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What progress, if any, is the Government making on its fiscal strategy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Budget Responsibility Rules form the basis of the coalition Government's fiscal strategy, and we are indeed continuing to meet those rules. These rules are about keeping debt under control, delivering a surplus, ensuring a fair and balanced taxation system, and taking a prudent approach to expenditure. As at Budget 2019, net debt is 19.9 percent for 2018 and forecast to also be at 19.9 percent in the 2022 target year. I endorse the words of one commentator, who said yesterday that this is "about right".

Kiritapu Allan: What trends have there been in New Zealand's net core Crown debt to GDP ratio?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: While the current levels see us at around 20 percent through until 2022, we have seen debt as high as more than 25 percent in 2014 and just under 25 percent in 2015 and 2016—

Hon Simon Bridges: GFC!

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: You declared the GFC over in 2012. Today, I heard one commentator criticising debt at that level as being "absolutely wrong", which is a bit of a surprise from the former associate finance Minister at the time, Simon Bridges.

Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen on different approaches to fiscal strategy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen views that our debt is too low, too high, and about right. I've seen statements that around 20 percent is "fine", and another person stating that they wanted to be crystal clear that they hadn't put a number on it. All of those statements have been made in the past 24 hours by Simon Bridges and Paul Goldsmith, and I'm sure they'll be getting their ticking off from Steven Joyce.

SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to remind the Minister of Finance—assuming, as is probably inappropriate, that he had something to do with the drafting of the question—that questions designed for answers like that are out of order. As a result of that, there will be some additional supplementary questions given to the Opposition.

• Question No. 5—Finance

5. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of his statements, policies, and actions in relation to the economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context that they were given and undertaken. I particularly stand by the Government's actions that have led to unemployment falling to an 11-year low. I also stand by my statements thanking the member for his endorsement of our debt target, if not his leader's.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Of the $17 billion he said yesterday that his Government would invest in transport in the next five years, how much will be invested in the next two years?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There is a long-standing tradition in this House that when questions as general as the primary one are asked, it is not always possible to be able to have the information available for supplementaries as detailed as that. I suggest that the member put that question down to the Minister of Transport. What I do know is that if one had an economic strategy that said that there would be no regional fuel tax and no further increases to fuel excise duty it wouldn't be possible to fund many highways at all.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree with Infometrics economist Brad Olsen who said that the transport spending, or lack of it, is a "brake on the economy"?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No. What I believe is that having $17 billion worth of funding for transport is actually going to really enhance our economy. What we are focused on is making sure that we've got transport strategies and transport funding that funds roads, rail, and other forms of transport—cycling, walking—and actually getting some balance into making sure the regions of New Zealand benefit, not just big four-lane highways by cities.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Has Treasury's advice about the construction industry saying, "The industry has identified that the biggest challenge currently facing it is the lack of certainty and transparency regarding what infrastructure projects the Government, as its biggest client, is committed to, and/or has under consideration, particularly in the short term."?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen a number of different views from the construction industry. The biggest issue that is raised with me that is holding back business in general, including the construction industry, is access to skilled staff—the legacy left to this Government by the previous Government of failing to support the training of New Zealanders. We're getting on with addressing that through a range of programmes including Mana in Mahi, fees-free, and more.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So does he accept his own Government's responsibility for that? Again, following Treasury's advice that "Skilled people are leaving New Zealand for more certain projects overseas" in the infrastructure space?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On this side of the House, we have established the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission/Te Waihanga to actually give the pipeline the construction industry wanted, which the members opposite failed to do over nine years. We've set up the construction accord with the construction industry to make sure that we actually get on with finding those staff. It is a complete fiction to believe that saying you're going to build a road, claiming, and standing in the middle of the field that you're going to do it, actually is doing that. They were ghost roads, Mr Bridges.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Has the Minister of Finance seen any examples of significant infrastructure projects being announced and then taking more than seven years to actually commence?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, indeed. In fact, I heard that example from the Minister yesterday acting on behalf of another Minister. I've also seen examples where the one road that was actually funded, the East-West Link, was going to be $327 million a kilometre—the most expensive road in the world. That's the only one they could come up with; the rest were ghost roads.

Hon Simon Bridges: How can he say the rest were ghost roads, when projects like Whangarei to Northport, a half-billion-dollar road, and when the Tauranga Northern Link, a half-billion-dollar road, were entirely consented, were through the approval process of New Zealand Transport Agency, and were pulled halfway through commercial tenders, and that's why they're not happening?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The evidence I've seen is that these were ghost roads. Now, the member might want to think he did all of that, the member might want to claim he did all of that, but the truth is he didn't do the job.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is he not listening to the contrary evidence?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I do know that the member is contrary, yes.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Has he asked for, or received, any advice on the potential costs to the Government, and through it New Zealanders, of reopening full and final Treaty settlements?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I haven't got that advice in any form whatsoever because it's not happening.

• Question No. 6—Education

6. KIERAN McANULTY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: How will he change the education system to address skills shortages in the primary industries sector?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): As part of the reforms of vocational education, the Government is establishing Centres of Vocational Excellence, and the first of these will be in the primary sector. This is in response to serious skills shortages across the sector and the technological changes that are happening in the primary industries. The Government expects to work with the primary sector's Skills Leaders Working Group and other industry leaders to move quickly to form proposals for the centre. The sector is already working on ideas to get the Centre of Vocational Excellence up and running.

Kieran McAnulty: What are the key functions of the Centres of Vocational Excellence?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The centre will bring together industry experts, educators, and researchers to ensure that all of the courses that are delivered are the most up to date and that the most up-to-date technology is being used that will reduce duplication and resource development, will share best practice amongst all the different providers, and will create much stronger links between skills providers and industry. So we'll be seeking proposals before the end of the year to establish where in the vocational education system throughout the country the first centres could be located, and exactly what areas they will cover.

Kieran McAnulty: Why is it vital for the Government to support agricultural training and the wider primary sector?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I've seen advice that in the dairy industry alone, it's estimated that by 2025 they're going to need an additional 25,000 skilled workers. Roles that have traditionally not required formal qualifications, like farm workers, increasingly need greater qualifications in a rapidly changing technological environment. We want to work with primary sector leaders to ensure a sustainable pipeline of workers will be available with the right skills when they need them. The vocational education reforms are going to give industry the opportunity to be in the driving seat of ensuring what kinds of qualifications need to be delivered to give them the skilled workers that they need.

Mark Patterson: What other actions has he taken to support agricultural training in Otago and Southland?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm very pleased to say that earlier this month, the Government announced an additional $4.7 million to support the delivery of agricultural training to over 500 students on the Telford farm over the next few years. Telford, of course, would not be there were it not for that additional investment. There has been very little incentive to invest in and grow our domestic workforce, but this is now being addressed by the system-wide reforms that are taking place by the primary sector's Centres of Vocational Excellence, investments in providers like Telford, and, of course, encouraging more students into vocational education through thing like the Prime Minister's Vocational Excellence Awards.

• Question No. 7—Economic Development

7. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he consider confidence in the New Zealand economy to be important; if so, is he concerned at reports of falling business and consumer confidence?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Acting Minister for Economic Development): On behalf of the Minister, I am concerned about some people crying "Mr Wolf" about business confidence. Further, I don't consider confidence surveys to be as important as actual facts such as the highest growth in wages in a decade and the lowest unemployment rate in 11 years. Also, confidence surveys are known to have a low correlation to economic growth. For example, the December 2016 ANZ Business Outlook said that "Businesses are wrapped in optimism." and "Businesses are jolly" yet the economic growth rate then fell by nearly 1 percent over the following nine months, which is why this current Government inherited a falling growth rate.

Hon Todd McClay: Well, does he agree therefore with the ANZ who have described falling business confidence under his Government's watch as "grim" and lower consumer confidence as "a warning shot"; and if not, why not?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I don't agree with that. What I do agree with is the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER)'s September 2009 quarterly prediction which was headed "NZIER sees offshore developments weighing on the growth outlook" but then notes that "The … economy has experienced 33 consecutive quarters of growth—the longest stretch since records began in 1947. The unemployment rate is also at an 11-year low of 3.9 percent," and then concludes by saying "All this suggests the New Zealand economy is on a solid footing to weather the global headwinds."

Hon Todd McClay: What Government policies responsible for rising costs to the New Zealand economy will his Government roll back, given the NZIER have today said that business confidence remains weak as businesses struggle to pass on rising costs?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I don't accept the premise of that question. I'm actually not going to accept the Opposition's advice on this, given that they're changing their debt strategy more often than the weather changes.

Hon Todd McClay: Which of his Government's new regulations adopted since the election will the Government repeal to reduce costs and compliance on Kiwi businesses and help restore confidence in the New Zealand economy?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, I'm certainly not going to do what the Opposition recommends, which is to rip up the foreign-buyer ban, which has had the effect, particularly in our most overheated markets, of vastly reducing foreign-buyer purchases in central Auckland, Queenstown, and Wānaka, which is where the highest price pressures were.

Hon Todd McClay: Has he asked the trade Minister, David Parker, why he says exports are at a record high with exporters receiving near record returns whilst the Government tries to blame its own poor economic performance on overseas markets?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Indeed I have. In fact, I understand that the Minister for Trade and Export Growth has been working tirelessly to pursue trade opportunities around the world rather than taking time out of ministerial businesses to procure donations from foreign entities. [Interruption]

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I waited for a time thinking that you might act, but I think that was a most unreasonable, unsubstantiated, and unacceptable allegation made by a Minister and he should be required to withdraw it.

SPEAKER: Well, the first thing I'm going to do is to indicate I don't know who it was who made the noise over there, but there'll be a consequence for that. I'm not entirely across the facts in this particular case, but my reading of recent media was that there had been an acceptance of the facts as outlined by the Minister in his answer. I think it's fair to say that there were arguments around whether it was right or wrong, whether it was within the law or not within the law, but I hadn't seen any suggestion that the member concerned had not been involved in a discussion while he was a Minister with regard to a donation, even if not in that capacity.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking further to the point of order, it would be possible, I think, for any of us to find photographs of current Ministers in circumstances that would be quite appropriate but where the other persons or parties in that photograph would have given donations to the Labour Party, for example, or to New Zealand First. I want to refer you to Speaker's ruling 167/3. I think it's pretty clear that the statement by Hon David Parker transgresses that ruling.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Speaking to the point—

SPEAKER: No, I don't need any help with that at all. There was no suggestion made by David Parker that Todd McClay was corrupt. That was absolutely not made, and I want to say to Gerry Brownlee that to use that Speaker's ruling, which suggests that Todd McClay was corrupt or had committed some misconduct, is entirely inappropriate. That is not what David Parker said.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Further to the point of order: for people who will not have read this but are expected to listen to your interpretation, it says, "make implications or imputations in questions that go to matters that could be interpreted as misconduct or corruption." There would be no reason other than trying to do that for David Parker to have made the statements he did, and that is an offence against the good conduct of the House.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Mr Speaker—

SPEAKER: No, I'm sorry. I've just about had enough of this. I mean, the suggestion that having a photograph taken with someone who is a donor to a party is in itself an inference of misconduct or corruption is just wrong. I mean, I've had photographs taken with Grant Robertson, and I've certainly given money to a political party. So I think the member is just going too far and, in my opinion, this process, and especially the reference to the suggestion that there was an imputation made by David Parker that involved misconduct or corruption, is incorrect. In fact, really, the only person who has made that suggestion in that form to the House, by drawing attention to this Speaker's ruling, is the member himself.

• Question No. 8—Social Development

8. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Is the Government considering changing the principles of the Social Security Act 2018, which include the principle that "the priority for people of working age should be to find and retain work"?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): As I told the member last week in the House, 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 Government does believe that, for those who are able, finding a job that is sustainable and meaningful is important for long-term wellbeing. So we do celebrate the fact that unemployment is at an 11-year low of 3.9 percent. There have been 92,000 jobs created since we came into Government, and the NEET rate has dropped by 19,000, to 69,000. This Government has an economic plan that will deliver jobs for New Zealanders, and we are investing more in breaking down barriers and supporting people into employment.

Hon Louise Upston: Is the Government planning to make it easier for beneficiaries to choose not to work by removing the drug-test sanction?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This has been traversed over the last two weeks in the media. We have made no changes to this particular sanction. Under the previous Government, there were very few people who were actually diagnosed with having drugs in their system, and it remains the same for us. In the last year, there were 38,000 drug tests undertaken, and, of the 38,000, 72 resulted in sanctions. That goes a long way to dispelling the myth that that side has always tried to perpetuate that beneficiaries are on drugs. In fact, they are not.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she agree with the Prime Minister, who said—and I quote—"Drug tests are a blunt instrument. They fail to differentiate between recreational substance use and problematic substance use."?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I do believe that they are a blunt instrument, and I do believe that that side of the House overinflated the drug problem that beneficiaries have in this country. On this side of the House, we are absolutely focused on the fact that the vast majority of people who are in the welfare system are actually wanting to work, and we're here to support them to do that. I do want to focus on the fact that one of the shortcomings of the previous Government was actually their lack of investment in upskilling and training, which was pointed at very clearly by the former Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly, who stated very clearly that a large number of people coming into the welfare system were failed previously by the education system, an education system that was overseen by that side of the House.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she have an expectation that those employed in her office do not come to work under the influence of drugs, and, if yes, what's the difference between that and the expectations on those receiving a taxpayer-funded benefit?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I absolutely have that expectation. I will say that I also do understand that I think the welfare system has a role to play with interacting productively with the public health system, because we do recognise that there are some New Zealanders that face addiction problems. So we do want to make sure that we are also putting measures into place that aren't just punitive, to ensure that we help them address the addiction problems so that they are able to contribute meaningfully as New Zealanders.

Hon Louise Upston: Isn't the real reason why her Government has allowed the drug-test sanction to remain, as she answered in the question before, because she knows the sanction actually works?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Can I just say, reflecting on that sanction and reflecting on her time in Government, that that side of the House made out that they would have to put millions and millions of dollars towards drug testing, made out that they were coming down hard on beneficiaries who were under the influence of drugs, put a stigma out there that New Zealanders in the welfare system are all on drugs. The reality is that in the last year, 38,000 undertook the drug testing, and 72 had sanctions imposed. That dispels the myths that that side of the House like to perpetuate.

• Question No. 9—Social Development

9. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made about increasing training opportunities in the construction industry?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Recently, alongside my colleague the Hon Willie Jackson, we announced a new partnership with Joy Business Academy and construction industry partners to pilot using virtue reality technology to prepare people for jobs in the industry. Using a virtual reality headset, a person can test their skills driving a dump truck or operating a digger or managing traffic on a worksite. The experience of doing a particular activity in virtual reality is an effective way of practising safely some crucial skills required for the job, and in a cost-effective way. This is an example of the innovative approach this Government is taking to support upskilling and training, particularly where there are job shortages like in the construction industry.

Marja Lubeck: Why is this industry important?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This industry partnership is important because the growth in construction jobs has gone from 27,339 ten years ago to 38,850 expected in 2021 and 40,149 in 2026. The development of this training technology was designed in partnership with key stakeholders in the construction industry. This is particularly important so that potential employees are able to understand what employers' expectations are and employers are able to have well-trained applicants who understand the nature of work they're entering. According to James Coddington, CEO and founder of Joy Business Academy, we are "the first in the world to develop a cooperative assessment tool", with a multi-player virtual reality experience where the users can be anywhere in the world. The use of virtual technology is a game-changer. It will allow us to prepare more people for roles in the industry anytime, anywhere, and will save us time and money.

Marja Lubeck: Supplementary—

SPEAKER: No. Question No. 10—the Hon Scott Simpson. The answer was far, far too long and answered a whole pile of questions which weren't asked.

• Question No. 10—Climate Change

10. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Climate Change: What was the total sum of money paid to the Crown by Emissions Trading Scheme participants using the fixed price option for the year ending 30 June 2019, and has additional revenue, if any, been offset with any tax reductions?

Hon JAMES SHAW (Minister for Climate Change): In answer to the first part of the question, in the year ending 30 June 2019 the Crown received $421 million from participants who chose to use the use the fixed price option instead of surrendering New Zealand Units under the emissions trading scheme. In answer to the second part of the question, no, there has been no offset because the fixed price option does not represent any additional cost to those businesses. Those businesses have chosen to pay $25 to the Government instead of surrendering a unit purchased from the market because they consider this to be the lowest cost option available to them.

Hon Scott Simpson: What will happen to the $421 million collected from fuel users, industry, and electricity users?

Hon JAMES SHAW: The simplest analogy that I can think of is that it's like having someone pay $25 into your cheque account when you still owe money on your mortgage. You might have money in your cheque account but, if your liabilities still outweigh your assets, you could spend that $25 on something else other than your mortgage, but you'd still need to generate revenue to pay your mortgage.

Hon Members: What?

SPEAKER: Yeah, I am going to ask the member to ask the question again, because I think it was pretty specific and I'm not sure that the Minister got that close to it.

Hon Scott Simpson: The question was: what will happen to the $421 million collected from fuel users, industry, and electricity users?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, it's an asset held against the liabilities of the Crown.

Hon Scott Simpson: Does the Minister agree with James Shaw MP, who said, "Every single Kiwi over 18 will also get a $250 dividend bonus at the end of the year based on the carbon tax revenue."; and, if so, is he planning to return this $421 million to New Zealanders in the form of a carbon tax dividend?

Hon JAMES SHAW: The fixed price option under the emissions trading scheme is not a carbon tax.

Hon Scott Simpson: Does he agree with James Shaw MP, who has said, "We say, tax pollution more, and tax people's incomes less."; and, if so, will he therefore now be arguing for a $421 million tax cut to be legislated?

Hon JAMES SHAW: In answer to the first part of the question, yes; in answer to the second part of the question, no. There have been no decisions made on the recycling of revenue in relation to the emissions trading scheme. But I want to point out that cash that comes in as a result of the fixed price option does not count as revenue, because it is held against the liability of units that are still in circulation under the emissions trading scheme (ETS). The member might know that, because it was the National Party that put the fixed price option in place in 2009.

Hon Scott Simpson: Will the Government amend the ETS to remove the price cap option and will this increase the price of petrol by around 18c a litre if the emissions price rises up to around $100?

Hon JAMES SHAW: The Government has already announced that we will be replacing the fixed price option with a cost containment reserve, and that is in amendments to the emissions trading scheme legislation that will be entering into the House shortly.

• Question No. 11—Health

11. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What is the Government doing to ensure digital health infrastructure is fit to meet current and future needs of the core health services New Zealanders rely on?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): More good news. The Government is working hard across the sector to make sure our health infrastructure is brought up to the standard required to continue delivering high-quality care now and into the future. To this end, I'm pleased that Cabinet has now signed off on a detailed business case to implement the new health finance, procurement, and information system, or FPIM. This new system has now been endorsed by all 20 district health boards.

Angie Warren-Clark: How will this new system help deliver high-quality healthcare to New Zealanders?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: FPIM has two primary objectives. The first is to ensure DHBs' operations are not put at risk of disruption from IT systems that have reached the end of their life and should have been replaced during the last nine years. Secondly, FPIM will allow DHBs to realise the procurement benefits of Pharmac—national contracts for medical devices, as well as savings through other national procurement initiatives. The money saved here will be directed into high-quality front-line health services for New Zealanders.

Angie Warren-Clark: Why is the Government implementing the health finance, procurement, and information system now?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The last Government spent more than $100 million over seven years developing what it called the National Oracle Solution, or NOS, IT system for DHBs. This system has been much delayed and has failed to deliver the anticipated benefits. It's time to salvage what we can from this mess, draw a line under it, and move on to something that will work. That is exactly what we're doing with the health finance, procurement, and information system. Unfortunately, DHBs will have to write off the costs associated with the National Oracle Solution. They have to do this at the same time as writing off large sums associated with Holidays Act liabilities, which the previous Government failed to address. Both of these will weigh heavily on DHBs' end-of-year financial results. This is National's legacy in health.

• Question No. 12—Immigration

12. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Immigration: Does Immigration New Zealand queue-jump applications for visas based on criteria that are not publicly available?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Thank you, Mr Speaker. The majority of residence visa applications are processed in the order received; however, there is a smaller proportion of applications that may be allocated to a priority queue. Temporary visa applications which are decision-ready or low-risk are prioritised ahead of those applications which require more information or additional verification. This is enabled and permitted by the Immigration Act. The chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) sets broad prioritisation criteria that are publicly available. More detailed criteria are not proactively published, but are available on request.

Stuart Smith: Does he agree with immigration adviser Erin Goodhue, who said, "I don't believe [Immigration New Zealand] are operating in a fair [and] transparent manner by continuing with this practice." of using an internally set criteria that is not public to prioritise applications for those seeking employment in a Government department?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No, and I believe I'm speaking about the same immigration adviser that the member is. When they asked for that information, they were given it.

Stuart Smith: Does the Minister agree that jobs with Government departments meet the criteria for urgent allocation for employment-related visas—that criteria being either compelling personal circumstances, humanitarian factors, and/or matters of national interest?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No, and whilst this is an operational matter for Immigration New Zealand, I'm advised that that criteria is no longer used.

Stuart Smith: When Immigration New Zealand's assistant general manager Peter Elms said, "… because we've got a queue of applications, we do prioritise on the basis of those highly skilled and high demand jobs.", do requests to Immigration New Zealand for workers in the horticulture and fruit-picking industries not qualify as important enough to be prioritised, despite the large number of job vacancies—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! The member's had a question.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Has he?

SPEAKER: Yes.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The prioritisation criteria that are issued by the chief executive of MBIE are a matter for MBIE and Immigration New Zealand. I recommend the member ask that question of the organisation.

SPEAKER: No. There was a very specific question there around the fruit-picking industry and whether that was prioritised or not.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I'm not aware that any specific industry is a prioritisation criteria.

Stuart Smith: Can he confirm New Zealanders will face extortionate prices for fruit this summer as a result of Immigration New Zealand prioritising bureaucrats over fruit pickers?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: No. That sounds like the stupid, ridiculous kind of fearmongering that we hear from the National Party.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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