Parliament: Questions and Answers - Sept 24
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by the Prime Minister's reported statement in relation to the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Act 2019 that "Initially, we said we were going to deal with the guns that we thought just weren't necessary. That was done within 12 days"?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
David Seymour: How can the Prime Minister continue to confidently stand by that statement when only 21,894 firearms have been bought back and the buy-back period is more than half gone already?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because the other half of the buy-back period hasn't expired yet.
David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister agree with the statement by police Minister Stuart Nash that the Government has "no idea how many more firearms are out there" to be collected in that second half?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That is a seriously sane, rational, and responsible comment by the Minister of Police, for the first time owning up to the fact that this Parliament, over decades, has neglected its duty, but that neglect will stop right now with this Government.
David Seymour: How can the Prime Minister say that neglect is going to stop right now when, mathematically, there is no way anything like the number of firearms known to be out there will be collected by this buy-back?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The fact of the matter is we didn't enter this exercise to do it in an inadequate way. Fifty-one people lost their lives, and scores of people were horribly damaged for the rest of their life and will be a charge against the New Zealand taxpayer for the rest of their lives. Our responsible duty was to ensure we put together the right reaction, and this compulsory registry and the buy-back is part of it. When the period is over, they having been warned of what the consequences will be, we'll then come for those people, using every device we have to ensure that they get to understand that we, in this case, as a country, are deadly serious.
David Seymour: Has the Prime Minister considered that perhaps the buy-back is failing and the compliance rates are so low because licenced firearm owners feel betrayed and, frankly, scapegoated by the Government in response to our nation's greatest peacetime tragedy?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: There's a new piece of legislation in the House on that matter where there is going to be a widespread consultation going into the committee of the whole House. Even that member, if he's got a sane, rational suggestion that might help, is entitled to be part of that process. We're saying to every gun owner out there that we will hear you, we'll listen to everything that is sound with respect to that, but to use that famous verse in the Bible: "Any man who sets his hand to the plough and looks backwards is not fit for the kingdom of heaven." This is not about heaven, but we do not intend to fail.
Hon Stuart Nash: Has he read a report where, at the first event in Christchurch, a recreational hunter handed in his Ruger because he said, "it's the right thing to do … we all need to play a part in making society a little bit safer. We give up something [because] we make each other safer."?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Could I say to the Minister of Police that is precisely the sentiment of so many responsible gun owners right around this country, from Invercargill to Kaitāia. For the benefit of Mr Seymour, look, if you can't shoot a goat after 20 shots, maybe you're not in the right sport.
• Question No. 2—Internal
2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Does she have confidence in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): Personally, I have already expressed my disappointment and dismay at the information that I found out today. However, the member is asking me as the Minister of Internal Affairs, and, as a lawyer, he should know that the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions is independent of the Government, and I have no role in its operational matters. The appointment of the survivor panel and the attendance at its meetings—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the member resume her seat. This is an area, again, which some people regard as being very serious, and I want to hear the response, and I'm having trouble hearing it as a result of the noise from my left.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The appointment of the survivor panel and the attendance at its meetings are very much operational matters. As Minister, the issue of confidence, as set out in law, relates only to the conduct of the commissioners. I would say today that confidence has been shaken.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why was a convicted child sex offender allowed to attend meetings with survivors of sexual assault and be alone with one of them without her knowing of his previous offending?
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think, as the Minister has just outlined in her primary answer, she doesn't actually have ministerial responsibility for that. A royal commission is independent by nature. There is a very, very narrow range of ministerial responsibility for a royal commission.
SPEAKER: No, no, I don't need any assistance to deal with this. This Minister is responsible to this House for that royal commission, and, in my opinion, it is no different from a State-owned enterprise. While she has no operational responsibility for it, she is the only person who can answer in Parliament for matters to do with the royal commission.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: As I mentioned, the independent royal commission of inquiry is separate from the Government specifically so that there is no political influence. This was specifically requested by the survivors—that there could be no political interference in the royal commission, and operational matters particularly. And that goes both ways. You can't just apply the law and the independence of a royal commission of inquiry when it suits one. I do want to point out, however, to the House that to say in a tweet—and I quote—"To have a paedophile on this inquiry is an abhorrent breach of trust by the Government." misrepresents the commissioners who are on the royal commission. None of the commissioners on the royal commission of inquiry are convicted paedophiles, and that tweet should not have been put out into the public domain, because that does rock the confidence of the survivor community.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why was there no police vetting of applications for those associated with the survivor advocacy group, and why did it take three months to do anything in respect of the convicted child sex offender when they knew he had a conviction—
SPEAKER: Three questions.
Hon Simon Bridges: —and had to notify police of his whereabouts three days in advance?
SPEAKER: Answer one of the four.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Again, I'm surprised at this line of questioning from a lawyer who should understand what an independent royal commission of inquiry means. With regard to operational matters and my ability to be involved, which is literally nil—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Take some responsibility.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Mr Smith, if you wish for political people to now be involved in independent royal commissions of inquiry, then I suggest you move to change the law. These are operational matters, and I would suggest that the member—and he quite rightly can ask those questions—should ask them of the independent royal commission of inquiry.
Hon Member: Phoney lawyer!
Hon Simon Bridges: When—
SPEAKER: Order! No, don't look behind yourself, Mr Jones. It's not helped by the group in that quarter.
Hon Simon Bridges: When was she or her office made aware that a convicted child sex offender was supporting a member of the royal commission survivor advocacy group, and what actions did she or her office take?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: At 5 past 8 this morning, I was made aware of statements by the Hon Simon Bridges. That is the first I knew of the situation that has arisen. And that is completely appropriate with the independence of a royal commission of inquiry; they have no requirement to report to me except in the pre-stated report periods inside the terms of reference. They are not required to inform me under any no-surprises policy, because of the independence of the royal commission inquiry, demanded by the law, demanded by the survivors, and, I would suggest, if I was interfering in a way that the Opposition did not like, demanded by the Opposition.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the Minister's inquiries, with respect to the information received by Mr Bridges, did he go to the commission with it or did he go public with it?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: At this time, I do not know if Mr Bridges ever contacted the royal commission of inquiry, which would have been the most legal, the most appropriate, way to ask the questions that he wants answers to. They are questions that are valid. They are questions that should be asked. But he is asking the wrong person.
Hon Simon Bridges: Why is it that others, including the National Party, have more oversight and knowledge of the royal commission and what is happening than she does?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I could make a couple of suggestions, but none of them would probably be allowed in the House. I follow the law, Mr Bridges. I make sure that I do not interfere in any way, shape, or form, with independent royal commissions of inquiry. I follow process; that is what I have been asked to do and charged to do. So how the Opposition gets their information, I'm not quite sure. But if he would like to go to the press and say that he got it officially from the royal commission of inquiry, I would look forward to that release.
Hon Simon Bridges: Where in the law does it say that Ministers should be wilfully blind of what happens on royal commissions? [Speaker stands and signals to the Hon Tracey Martin to sit down].
Hon Simon Bridges: After a variety of issues with the royal commission, shouldn't there have been processes in place so she knew about matters such as the child sex offender's conviction and the lack of action in relation to it?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: What Mr Bridges is now asking me to do is to work outside the law—is to work outside the parameters of a royal commission of inquiry. He's asking me to breach the independence of an inquiry, to put pressure on commissioners, and to go down there and influence an inquiry when I was specifically asked not to. I would like to put on the record the only way for commissioners to be removed from office: first of all, "The Governor-General may, by Order in Council, remove any member of a public inquiry from office."—because only the Governor-General can for an independent royal commission of inquiry. "The appointing Minister may, by notice in the Gazette, remove any member of a government inquiry from office." This is not a Government inquiry; this is a royal commission of inquiry. "A member of an inquiry may be removed under subsection (1) or (2), as the case may be, but only—(a) due to the misconduct of the member; or (b) if the member is unable to perform the functions of office; or (c) if the member has neglected his or her duty." Those are the only ways that any Minister can take any action in an independent royal commission of inquiry.
Hon Simon Bridges: Shouldn't she have been told about the processes and failures, and known?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I would very much have liked to have been informed prior to an inaccurate tweet put out by that member, but this is an independent royal commission of inquiry. I do not know what happened under that Government that that member belonged to and whether people interfered with royal commissions of inquiry or other inquiries, but that is not how this side of the House works. We follow the law. We follow the process. It is an independent royal commission of inquiry.
Hon Simon Bridges: What responsibility does she take in all of this?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I have tried again and again and again to explain to that member the law. That member, I believe, is a lawyer. I carry the responsibility as outlined in the statutes that I read, and those are the responsibilities I will carry out.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will she apologise to the survivors who met with the convicted child sex offender?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I have already in the media said I am incredibly dismayed and feel strongly for those survivors. I had no knowledge prior to 5 minutes past 8 this morning. I would ask that member: will he apologise to the commissioners for erroneously suggesting that one of them is a paedophile?
SPEAKER: No, no—I'm just warning the Minister now to take a little bit of care here. I mean, I know that commissioners are not judges but we do need to treat them with the appropriate respect, and repeating things like that does not help.
Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to survivors who are looking to pull out of the inquiry as they're losing trust in the process, with one saying she signed up to be heard by the inquiry but is reconsidering because she no longer feels the inquiry is a safe place to disclose what happened to her as a child?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I would encourage her to make sure that she communicates that to the inquiry. The survivors asked for this inquiry to be independent of all political influence. I will respect their wishes. But I ask survivors to make sure that they articulate their concerns directly to the inquiry. They have the right to demand better, and I ask them to go and do that.
Hon Simon Bridges: Give her "severe concerns" about the royal commission's decision-making abilities, will someone be held accountable?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I cannot hold anybody accountable for an independent royal commission of inquiry. Under the three criteria that are there, I could, if there was evidence provided, and I am yet to receive advice on one of the three reasons why a member of an inquiry could be removed. I would then have to take my recommendation to Cabinet, Cabinet would have to pass that paper, and that recommendation would have to go to the Governor-General. The Governor-General is the only person who can remove a commissioner from the royal commission of inquiry.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You reminded the House earlier that this was an important matter. You also affirmed, I think, two previous Speakers' rulings that can be found on page 160—both 1 and 3 on that page. I wonder if you might, in your review of question time, consider whether or not the Minister has acted as the Speakers' rulings would require, because it seems to me, quite clear, that repeatedly saying "I am not responsible" does not absolve the Minister from being answerable to the House.
SPEAKER: The member is absolutely right, and I think that is consistent with the ruling I gave earlier. There is a requirement on the Minister to answer and take responsibility in the House. That does not mean that she has responsibility for what happens as part of the administration of an independent royal commission. It's very similar, I think, to the Minister for Courts and his responsibility to the House, so I don't think there's any need for a review.
• Question No. 3—Prime
3. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his Government's policies and actions?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, and, once again, it's a real pleasure to be held to account in this House.
Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's trip to the United States?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I thank the member for a very, very good question. The reality is, the Prime Minister had a stellar meeting with not only the President of the United States but the Vice-President of the United States, Mike Pence; the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo; and the National Security Adviser, Robert O'Brien—altogether, in the same room. The most impressive meeting that there's ever been with the United States where this country is concerned, and, dare I say it, since a request was made way back in 1939—and I wasn't there—by Walter Nash, the then - Minister of Finance, for the United States to have a free-trade agreement with New Zealand. The United States is listening, and the President's comments were absolutely and totally positive.
Kiritapu Allan: How have these trips benefited New Zealand's relations with its international partners?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That's a superb question as well. The reality is that the Prime Minister on this trip has been, as you know, first to Japan—the third-biggest economy in the world—then the United States—the biggest economy in the world—
Hon Members : China!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I beg your pardon? No, Simon went to China. The most sycophantic—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —palm-licking trip I've ever seen—
Hon Simon Bridges: Point of order.
SPEAKER: Order! Prime Minister, when there's a point of order one sits down.
Hon Simon Bridges: Questions from one's own side shouldn't be used to attack the Opposition.
SPEAKER: Well, I think it's fair to say that the attack came as a result of an interjection from behind the member.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He didn't use my full name.
SPEAKER: I apologise, does the member want me to ask him—
Hon Simon Bridges: No, no, him.
SPEAKER: I understand that; I apologise for not picking it up. Would the member like me to ask him to repeat it with the full name, or just to go on?
Hon Simon Bridges: Oh, it's up to you.
SPEAKER: Well, I'll ask the Prime Minister to repeat his answer.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I was going to talk—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! On the basis that someone wants to hear it.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I was endeavouring to talk about the Prime Minister's most successful trip to Japan, the third-biggest economy—
Hon Simon Bridges: Was it?
Hon Members : China!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, the person who keeps getting China wrong is Mr Simon Bridges, who has been described by the Mood of the Boardroom in today's paper as the second least popular member of the National Party caucus—the second least—and has he got some competition to get there. But he made it all the way to the second least popular. The Prime Minister has had a mega Monday with the power structure of the United States in New York, and with the President of the United States turning to his staff and saying, on the question of a free-trade agreement, "Why don't we get on with it?". It is the most positive news this country's heard for a long, long time. It will enable us to face so much more—our infrastructure and social welfare policy going into the future. In short, there is one Government that knows where the future lies, and you're looking at it.
Kiritapu Allan: Supplementary to that very informative answer, what reports has he seen on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's trip to Japan?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Wonderful question. Again, a stunningly successful story of a Prime Minister going over there who's got respect, because her country has a new arrangement with Japan, where we work so closely in the Pacific and elsewhere, where we are more aligned than we've ever been, for decades, and the Prime Minister, I have to say, went, of course, there—and, of course, the All Blacks were there at the same time—so on every count it was a most successful trip, to be followed up shortly by the Minister of Finance and, dare I say it, somebody else later on. Thank you very much.
Hon Grant Robertson: Further to my question to the Prime Minister last Thursday, how many questions has he answered from the Leader of the Opposition since he took over as Acting Prime Minister last Tuesday, and what reason might he have for that number?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That is a superb question, and, alas, I have to tell the people watching from around New Zealand that we're being boycotted here. When it comes question time, they won't ask me a question, and the reason for that is nobody likes to get beaten up in the first round.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That might be an enormous amount of fun for the Rt Hon Winston Peters, to have a question asked of himself about why he's not being asked questions. What he really should ask is: why is he seen to be so irrelevant that he gets no questions?
David Seymour: I seek leave to be able to ask the Prime Minister an additional primary question and 10 supplementaries.
SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that course of action? I think it's fair to say that the coalition was divided on that matter.
• Question No.
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of his statements, policies, and actions?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were given and undertaken, and I'm particularly pleased about the actions of this Government with regard to infrastructure and, in particular, today's announcement of the funding of the replacement highway for the Manawatū Gorge, a project that the National Party talked about and never funded the construction of.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What does it say about the Government's policies that the New Zealand Herald's Mood of the Boardroom assessment today gave it 1.7 out of 5 for its policy execution?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There are a wide variety of views in the business community of New Zealand. Those were some of them. I imagine it's a similar question that the Leader of the Opposition is asking for why 47 percent of respondents in that survey said he wasn't hitting his stride.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What message does he take from the score of 1.6 out of 5 for transforming the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The lesson there is again that there is a wide variety of views, and, on this side of the House, the Government will continue to work hard to be able to move forward on those numbers. I presume it's a similar message that Judith Collins is taking from being the top ranked National MP in that survey.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he—
SPEAKER: Order! The member addresses me or the Minister, not the member on his left.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he blame international headwinds entirely for the fact that 83 percent of the respondents in the Mood of the Boardroom were either slightly or much less optimistic about the New Zealand economy than a year ago?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I note that the top seven concerns of those who filled out the survey were all internationally related concerns, so, clearly, that is a significant matter for those in the Mood of the Boardroom survey. However, I'm really concerned about the rating given to the Leader of the Opposition, given that the following National members are in front of him: Judith Collins, Nikki Kaye, Paul Goldsmith, Paula Bennett, Todd McClay, Mark Mitchell, Gerry Brownlee, Michael Woodhouse—then Simon Bridges; and the only person underneath that is Louise Upston.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that there's a clear link between business confidence and investment, which is what we need to create better, higher-paying jobs for New Zealanders?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We welcome good quality foreign direct investment into New Zealand. We welcome the investment that New Zealand businesses are making. I note that the survey shows that the majority of businesses continue to believe that they'll make profits, continue to believe that they'll add more staff, and continue to believe that they'll invest in capital expenditure. This survey is a little like the member's glass there—you could see it as glass half full rather than glass half empty.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the finance Minister got any information as to why, in the Mood of the Boardroom survey, Steven Joyce did not appear there, seeing as the Sunday Star-Times regards him as the economic spokesperson for the National Party?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Indeed; I note that Mr Joyce is being given a column in the Sunday Star-Times. I also note that in it, his eyes are firmly fixed in the rear-vision mirror, driving himself backwards—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I gave the member some time to address the part of the question which was in order, and he didn't.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What were the transport projects at Ōpōnoni and Waipapa that he listed last week as some of the Government's major transport projects?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member well knows that in this House, if he puts down a very general question as the primary one, it will be difficult to give him a specific answer about that. All I can say is the advice I have had from the Minister of Transport's office includes the following projects that are under construction, under the general policy statement: the Awakino tunnel bypass, Dome Valley, the Kaeō bridge, Loop Road, Ōpōnoni, Papakura to Bombay, Waipapa through the Provincial Growth Fund project, State Highway 10, Tākaka Hill, and more.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura): Thank you, Mr Speaker. To the Minister of—
Kieran McAnulty: Welcome back.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: —Housing, what challenges—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: A very good idea, Mr Jones. I'm just checking—was that Mr Jones who made the interjection?
Hon Members: No.
SPEAKER: Who was it?
Kieran McAnulty: Someone far wittier.
SPEAKER: Sorry? The person who made the interjection—stand up.
Kiritapu Allan: I withdraw and apologise.
Kieran McAnulty: I also withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: Well, if the Government keeps that up, it'll be whip-less.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: As opposed to witless!
SPEAKER: The member knows—[Interruption] All right, OK, that was my invitation to the Hon Judith Collins to make the interjection, so I'm not going to punish her for it, but I think people shouldn't continue with it. We'll start again.
5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing: What challenges and risks, if any, have been identified for the KiwiBuild programme?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): As part of the reset of the KiwiBuild programme, a number of risks and challenges were identified and addressed. For example, the programme had been building some houses in locations that did not match KiwiBuild buyer demand. The three-year residency requirement on studio and one-bedroom apartments was dissuading some eligible buyers. First-home buyers were having difficulty gathering a deposit. The cohort of eligible buyers was too narrow. Early underwrites put in place for the developers didn't create the right incentives, in some cases. Reference was also made to the price of building materials and difficulties with land supply. Then, of course, there are the risks identified in the departmental risk register, the project management tool used in the KiwiBuild unit to list high-level issues that could happen without adequate systems in place to mitigate them. I don't propose to read out that whole list that was released to the member under the Official Information Act last Friday. Of course, challenges to building affordable houses are not new. I remind that member, once again, that the previous Government promised 39,000 houses under the special housing areas—3,100 were delivered, 100 of which were affordable.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: That's not true.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! We'll just not have that interjection, thank you.
Hon Judith Collins: Is the KiwiBuild risk register correct to state that KiwiBuild does not have appropriate systems in place to manage conflicts of interest, and has a lack of separation between stakeholders and decision makers?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: No. As the member well knows, what the departmental risk register does is list possible risks and ways in which they could be mitigated. Of course, the risk register does also show how that risk is being mitigated.
Hon Judith Collins: So if there is just a possible situation here, then why does it show under the heading "Further improvements we've committed to"—as opposed to have done—the words "function to provide oversight and advice on all KiwiBuild transactions"?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: If the member also reads the column next to the "Further improvements" columns that she is reading out, she'll see it has a yellow arrow going in both directions, which means there has been no change since the last report. What the risk register does, as the member will well know, is it puts out very clearly what risks there could be and what needs to be done internally to manage those. What this report shows is it is being managed.
Hon Judith Collins: Were any of the developers who received KiwiBuild underwrites also members of the ministry stakeholder groups?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The member will have to put that question in writing to me. I don't have that information at hand.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree with her ministry that KiwiBuild may have opened itself up to potential legal ramifications due to any unfair processes?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Like any public entity that is spending public money, it needs to have a clearly spelt out risk register that shows what all the possibilities are and how it is that they are mitigated. This is no different than any other departmental risk register. So, no, I do not agree with her.
Hon Judith Collins: Then why are 12 categories on the risk register still showing as high risk?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Because there is still work to be done to make sure they are mitigated, and this Government is committed to putting that oversight in place and making sure we are tracking it and spending public money very wisely.
Hon Judith Collins: Is that acceptable to the Minister, when the KiwiBuild programme has been operational for two years and has had a major reset, that we still have 12 major categories listed as high risk?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I remember, as an Opposition spokesperson, getting many risk register reports that showed many things in "high risk" categories. The function of a Minister is to make sure that is being monitored and it is being well mitigated. That is exactly what I'm doing.
6. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): On Friday, the IMF released its latest annual review for New Zealand, highlighting that economic growth picked up early in 2019, reflecting a rebound in private business investment growth. Looking forward, it expects a pick-up in growth in mid-2019 through to 2020, supported by accommodative monetary policy and the near-term fiscal impulse from the Government's increased investment levels. The IMF report underlines New Zealand's strong underlying economic fundamentals. Unemployment is at an 11-year low and the economy is growing faster than the likes of Australia, the UK, and the EU.
Dr Deborah Russell: What did the IMF report say about New Zealand's fiscal position?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The IMF said that New Zealand's sound fiscal framework has been strengthened further by the Government. The IMF said the Wellbeing Budget struck the right balance between fiscal prudence and the Government's priorities of mental health, child poverty, Māori and Pasifika aspirations, productivity, and digital transformation. In addition, the Government's shift to a target range for net debt of 15 to 25 percent after 2022 is "prudent and maintains the fiscal buffer needed … [should any] … large-scale fiscal policy response … be required." It's refreshing to see the international view of the New Zealand economy and finances are positive. Despite some who will take a half-glass empty approach, under this Government's solid economic management we're doing well against a backdrop of global uncertainty.
Dr Deborah Russell: What did the IMF report say about the Government's policies to improve productivity growth?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The IMF highlighted that within the Government's greater focus on wellbeing, we have "a roster of policies to foster productivity growth", including introducing an R & D tax incentive; increased education spending, including reform of the vocational education sector; the creation of the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission to enhance procurement and delivery and to set up an infrastructure pipeline; using wage increases to further more inclusive growth, including minimum wage increases and sector-wide collective bargaining; and fostering regional development through the Provincial Growth Fund and regional skills shortage lists.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister of Finance confirm that the IMF is no longer talking about the New Zealand currency being massively overvalued and damaging exporters, but now at US64c or thereabouts, that is enormously helpful to our export base in this country?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There's absolutely no doubt that the dollar at that level is indeed helpful to the export base, and I believe that may have contributed, in part, to the fact that exports are around 28.3 percent of GDP at the moment. That's heading in the right direction, unlike the previous Government, who set a goal of 30 percent and promptly put the car into reverse.
• Question No.
7. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does she stand by all her statements, policies, and actions regarding vaccination and the measles outbreak?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Health): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes, in the context they were given.
Dr Shane Reti: How long are the 52,000 vaccines she has spoken about projected to last before they have all been used up for vaccinations?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: That depends on the number of vaccines that are given each week, but, as the member knows, there will be 100,000 additional measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines arriving in the coming weeks.
Dr Shane Reti: When will the additional 100,000 vaccines she spoke about last week actually be distributed to health professionals?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: They will be distributed as soon as they are available.
Dr Shane Reti: Under the Minister's actions, is the current measles outbreak getting better, worse, or staying the same?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: It is clinicians and experts who are guiding the Government's response to the measles outbreak, and I trust them.
Dr Shane Reti: When she said, "vaccination is the only way to prevent measles", is she confident that enough is being done to prevent measles, in light of reports yesterday that students were sent home from Wellington High School and Rangitoto College due to measles?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: To date this year, over 180,000 vaccines have been delivered. That's nearly twice the amount that were delivered in the same period the previous year and the year before that. I am confident that the clinicians who are delivering the vaccines are doing the absolute best they can, particularly to prioritise the most vulnerable, who are children under the age of five.
• Question No. 8—Climate
8. Hon SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for Climate Change: Does he stand by his statement in regard to reducing the methane cap, "I'm open to a solution to that conundrum … but it's got to meet the science"?
Hon JAMES SHAW (Minister for Climate Change): Yes, I do, in the context in which it was given. I was asked about how to achieve bipartisan support for the zero carbon bill and I said that I was open to solutions to that conundrum, as long as they meet the scientific criteria of living within 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels. On that, I will not compromise. The bill is before the Environment Committee, and so I'm open to whatever the committee may recommend to improve the bill, but, of course, any significant changes to the bill will need to go through the normal Cabinet process. I note that in today's Mood of the Boardroom survey this morning that a chief executive said of the Opposition, "Walking away from supporting the climate change legislation is wrong. We need to—"
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I don't think that—well, I think the member's already answered the question.
Hon Scott Simpson: In what ways does he believe that a target for methane of 24 to 47 percent reduction meets the science?
Hon JAMES SHAW: Because it came from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the world's leading authority on the science of climate change.
Hon Scott Simpson: In that case, is he concerned that the range of 24 to 47 percent reduction for methane is heavily influenced by scenarios that assume global population will be lower in the future than it is today, something that is beyond the control of New Zealand farmers?
Hon JAMES SHAW: The IPCC ranges were actually based on dozens, and dozens of different scenarios, including scientific factors, technological factors, economic factors, and so on.
Hon Scott Simpson: Has the Minister seen the recent IPCC report, entitled Climate Change and Land, which separates out scenarios by background assumptions and shows, for a forecast where population doesn't fall, agricultural methane is only forecast to decline 12 percent globally by 2050?
Hon JAMES SHAW: I'm aware of the report. I haven't read it yet.
Hon Scott Simpson: Does he agree with the report, then—I guess not, because he hasn't read it—
SPEAKER: Right, well, start the question again.
Hon Scott Simpson: Yes. Would the Minister agree with a report from the IPCC that a 12 percent reduction in agricultural methane is consistent with a 1.5 degree temperature limit in a scenario where global population is 9.2 billion by 2050?
Hon JAMES SHAW: Well, it's hard for me to comment on an IPCC scenario. What I'm aware of—I mean, I'm happy to take a look at it, obviously, but I would like to say that that member is actually a member of the select committee that's examining the bill, and if he has proposals, then he should take them to his select committee and put them to the select committee. I have to say that that report, of course, was tabled after we tabled the bill in the House. I would like to say that there was a range of conflicting advice from both Government agencies and scientists last year when we were drafting the bill. That's how we ended up referring to the IPCC range originally. I am aware, and said when we launched the bill, that having a 20-point range is suboptimal, which is why we've written into the legislation that the new Climate Change Commission has to review the range and come up with something more definitive in time for the next emissions budgeting period. The whole idea is to kick that to the commission so that we can have something that says that it is grounded in the science, so that we can put all those disputes that the various scientists and agencies had last year to bed, and in the meantime, our agricultural sector has got the assurance of knowing that they can crack on with a 10 percent reduction by 2030.
• Question No.
9. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Revenue: What recent announcements has he made about making it easier for businesses to innovate and grow?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Revenue): Good news. Yesterday, the Minister of Finance and I announced that we were removing two tax barriers to business innovation, expansion, and growth. The first change will allow businesses to claim tax deductions for money spent exploring investment opportunities that don't proceed—also known as feasibility expenditure. The second change—
Hon David Parker: Black hole.
Hon STUART NASH: —yes, black hole—will be to work with tax and business experts to design a solution to allow losses to be carried over when there is a change to the ownership of the business—known as lost continuity. When I meet with business taxpayers, these two measures consistently rate in their top three list of things that they want the Government to do. We have listened and are acting accordingly. The coalition Government is backing Kiwi companies to innovate and grow by making it easier to invest in new assets and business models and by giving start-ups a better shot at success.
Tamati Coffey: How will these tax changes help small businesses?
Hon STUART NASH: The changes to the lost continuity rules will make it easier for start-ups to attract investment and get off the ground. A lot of start-up companies accrue losses in their early years. We want to work with tax and business experts to allow these losses to be carried forward, while protecting the integrity of the tax system. The ability to deduct feasibility expenditure will also benefit small to medium sized businesses, as qualifying expenditure of less than $10,000 will be deductible immediately. Ultimately, these changes will benefit businesses across the board, and it also means that companies won't have tax as a reason to not do something.
Tamati Coffey: What reports has he seen from the business community about these announcements?
Hon STUART NASH: So many positive reports, I've actually lost track, but here are quotes from a couple. The changes are "quite long overdue"—Deloitte. It will "help optimise business investment."—Business New Zealand. It "could be a game changer for the sector."—Mind Your Own Business country manager Ingrid Cronin-Knight. She also said—and I quote—"this kind of forward-thinking policy is exactly what the sector needs." I believe this report, that quotes Brendan Brown, tax partner at Russell McVeagh, captures the overall sentiment: the "existing [loss] rules had been a barrier to business taking risks and the proposed reform would make a positive difference."—and I quote—"It should help increase productivity by removing an impediment to businesses bringing in new investors to help them grow and become more productive. It will also help businesses that need more capital to remain resilient as we look out to potentially more uncertain economic times ahead." We are looking 30 years ahead, not just three.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister of Finance, how will these two policies affect me if I decide I want to be—
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Minister of Revenue.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Now, I'm going to ask the Prime Minister to start again, and I'm going to ask the corrector on my left just to keep his mouth shut.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, and with respect to these two policies, if as a desire I have to start a business I decided to get an illegal share in a five-week casino, how will these policies, from a feasibility cost structure, affect me?
Hon STUART NASH: That's a good question, Prime Minister. What this will allow companies to do—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Gerry wants to know.
Hon STUART NASH: Oh, well, Mr Brownlee, if you'd like to know, what these proposals allow companies to do is look at a feasibility study for an asset or a project, not knowing if it'll go ahead or not. This allows businesses to invest with confidence. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! If members want to continue the taxation advice, I suggest they do it in the lobbies.
• Question No.
10. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with concerns about the Referendums Frameworks Bill, such as from the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee, "that 'free and fair elections' are a fundamental constitutional principle. One component of free and fair elections is that they are administered neutrally and impartially. This tells against giving the Executive a broad power to procure referendums and to frame the wording for such referendums."?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): Ni hao, Mr Speaker. In relation to that particular submission of the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee, there are some things in that submission I agree with; there are other things in it that I disagree with. What I do agree with is their statement that the power that the member is referring to is broadly similar to section 6 of the Referenda (Postal Voting) Act 2000, which was a piece of legislation introduced by a National Government that that member was a part of.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister, as the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee, see a key difference in referendums that are held at the time of a general election in which the Government has got a vested interested to screw the scrum to try and win election unfairly?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: If I just take the straight bits of that question and answer it in these terms: the only difference that the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee saw with the Referendums Framework Bill is that the Referenda (Postal Voting) Act provides for referendums that are conducted by post as opposed to in conjunction with a general election. It was, with all due respect to the Legislation Design and Advisory Committee, an absurd statement to make.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he agree with the concerns from the Hon Peter Dunne, who describes his bill as Putin-like, saying—and I quote—it's "much more reminiscent of the plebiscite approach adopted in countries where" there is the thinnest veil of democracy?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he agree with the Regulations Review Committee, including his own Labour colleagues, that the bill gives Cabinet inappropriate, Henry VIII - type powers?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The Regulations Review Committee has made no submission on the bill.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the letter received from the Regulations Review Committee describing the bill as having Henry VIII - type powers.
SPEAKER: The letter received by whom?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The letter was sent from the Regulations Review Committee to the Justice Committee.
SPEAKER: I'm advised that the document has not yet been released. It is within the power of the House to seek leave for that. That does not mean that it will be made generally available. Is there any objection to that document being tabled?
Hon Members: Yes.
SPEAKER: Further supplementaries?
• Question No. 11—Rural
11. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister for Rural Communities: What has he done to encourage rural communities' resilience to challenges, and to support mental wellness?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister for Rural Communities): I am regularly talking with rural support trusts, with farmers, organisations like Beef and Lamb and DairyNZ, the banks, my colleague the Minister of Health, and others about rural communities. When my colleague announced the $1.9 billion funding for mental health, I was the first on his door ensuring that he had a pathway to support rural communities. We've invested $20 million in telehealth to boost phone and online services, to ensure that those who live in the most isolated communities can get help when they need it. This Government has boosted, by almost double, the amount of money for rural support trusts, who are doing great work on the ground to get out there and help rural communities in times of need. Mr Speaker, there are many, many more, but you'd probably sit me down before I got through half of them.
Matt Doocey: In response to the open letter from BakerAg highlighting its concern on the current state of rural mental wellness, was a tweet by the Minister stating that "If farm advisors and rural media weren't so keen to repeat negative political rhetoric farmers might feel appreciated" an appropriate response to a letter outlining serious rural wellbeing concerns?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I appreciate that some people are very sensitive to the truth. I have subsequently spoken with many people in the rural media to explain my position, and they indeed accept that's the truth. I'm also meeting representatives from BakerAg this afternoon so that we can better explain our positions. I stand by the fact that if we were to highlight the positive potential opportunities across agriculture at a time when we have record levels of income in almost all the sectors, I'm sure people in the rural community would feel more positive—unlike the bleating that comes from the National Party every single day.
Matt Doocey: What does the Minister say in response to the comments made by Ruawai dairy farmer Mark Cameron, the organiser of the farmers' protest in Northland on the weekend, who stated, "I believe the suicide statistics of rural NZ are now reaching epidemic proportions. On average there is a rural or farmer suicide once per fortnight. I would say between the media narrative and the Government tone, the emotional and physical well-being will suffer terribly as a result of this."?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I acknowledge that, actually, for a long, long time, the rural suicide rates have been far too high. It's a challenge that we as a Government have taken on—$1.9 billion for mental health services is a great way to start, after nine years of total neglect for rural mental health services. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Both sides.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is a terrible tragedy that we have anyone committing suicide in this country. The reality is that across almost every demographic, across both urban and rural, we have too many people who don't see a way forward. If every one of us was to be more positive about the huge opportunities for us as a food-producing nation—the opportunities in rural New Zealand are immense, and if we highlighted those, then I'm sure everyone in rural New Zealand would feel a lot more positive. I ask the Opposition to do just that.
Matt Doocey: What representations, if any, did the Minister make for the inclusion of a rural suicide prevention approach within the recently published Government suicide prevention strategy Every Life Matters?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Can I say the one thing about this Government is that every single New Zealander, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, regardless of whether they are white or brown, regardless of whether they live in rural or urban New Zealand; every one of them has the right to have proper levels of protection and assistance when they need it. That's why we're rolling out $1.9 billion in mental health services, because the previous Government completely ignored the support systems that have been needed across all of New Zealand.
Matt Doocey: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister what representations, if any, did the Minister make for the inclusion of a rural suicide strategy approach.
SPEAKER: I'll ask the member to make it clearer for the member. I thought he had addressed the question, but I will ask him to make it absolutely clear.
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can say that on every single issue across Government and across Cabinet, I'm a staunch advocate for rural implementation. We have put in place—and, indeed, in the previous Labour Government, I did rural proofing, which ensured that every Government agency had to consider the implementation of policies not just in the cities like Auckland but across new rural New Zealand. That policy has now been re-implemented—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I think the member probably answered the question in the first sentence.
Matt Doocey: In light of that answer, is he disappointed that a rural suicide prevention approach is not mentioned in any of the key outcomes or the key actions of the Government's suicide prevention strategy?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Can I say that this Government thinks New Zealanders, regardless of where they live, are all entitled to the same level of protection, consideration, and help. It is simply the policy of this Government that we're not to differentiate. The attempt by the Opposition to separate out and divide out rural and urban New Zealand is completely unproductive, and as the latest UMR survey said, there's not the division between rural and urban that the National Party want to keep bleating on about.
• Question No. 12—Climate
12. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Climate Change: Does he agree with Greta Thunberg that when it comes to the climate crisis, "The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not"?
Hon JAMES SHAW (Minister for Climate Change): Yes, and change is coming in New Zealand after decades of passing the buck on climate change. Change takes time, but our Government is very aware that that time is running out. We have been putting in place the frameworks to drive down emissions like the zero carbon bill and reforms to the emissions trading scheme (ETS), but we know that we need to do more and we need to move faster to ensure a safe and stable climate for future generations.
Marama Davidson: What kinds of changes might New Zealanders see as part of the just transition to a low emissions economy?
Hon JAMES SHAW: People will see more electric cars on the roads, they'll see more public transport, they'll see major coal users switch to clean alternatives like burning wood waste, they'll see better buses and trains in our cities, and they'll see changes to make it safer for their kids to cycle to school. People will see more trees planted in the right places.
Marama Davidson: Can he assure coastal communities and local government that the Government is working to help them prepare for the effects of climate change?
Hon JAMES SHAW: Yes I can. Our Government understands that we are all in this together, and that's why, last week, we published the first ever framework for a nationwide climate change risk assessment. This will help communities and local councils to plan and prepare for the effects of climate change, like rising sees, more extreme weather, and droughts.
Marama Davidson: As Minister for Climate Change, what is his view on the student strikers who plan to march for the climate on Friday 27 September?
Hon JAMES SHAW: I talk to many students and New Zealanders of all ages who feel that we are in an unstoppable descent into a climate change disaster. Some feel helpless, like there's nothing that we can do—that is a heavy sense of inevitability. As someone who grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation in the 1980s, I can relate to their anxiety, but I also say to them that it is not inevitable, things can change, and I ask them to continue to hold us and all of Parliament to account. Keep demanding more of us. They might not have been old enough to vote in this Government, but it is our duty to be their representatives.
Marama Davidson: Is it just young people who are calling for stronger Government policies on climate change?
Hon JAMES SHAW: Actually, no. I was pleased to see the submission on the zero carbon bill from Grey Power, who asked the Government to focus especially on reducing transport and agricultural emissions because, in their opinion, "Current generations have a moral obligation to act decisively to both prevent any [future] increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and to mitigate the inevitable effects of current levels."
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it true—reports we've seen today—that the Government cannot agree on what to do with agriculture into the ETS?
Hon JAMES SHAW: No.