Parliament: Questions and Answers - Oct 22
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The latest BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Services Index was released late last week. It showed that the New Zealand services sector continued to expand in September, with a reading of 54.4—higher than Australia, Japan, the US, the UK, China, and the eurozone. New Zealand's reading was boosted by a strong new reading of new orders and new business at 59.3, its highest level since January. With the New Zealand services sector making up about two-thirds of the economy, this result shows services businesses remain strong and highlights the solid fundamentals of the New Zealand economy.
Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on the outlook for the dairy sector of the economy?
SPEAKER: Before the member answers, I'm going to ask Dr Woods to shift her offending red—[Hon Megan Woods removes file box]. Thank you.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Today, Fonterra announced it has increased its 2019-20 forecast farm-gate milk price range by 30c, from the $6.25 to $7.25 range per kilo to the $6.55 to $7.55 per kilo range. Fonterra said that this is due to firm demand for whole-milk powder, while global production is down year to date and is expected to decrease through the remainder of the year. CEO Miles Hurrell said that while there are positive signals for milk prices, there are a number of factors to keep an eye on, including global trade tensions and political instability.
Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on New Zealand exports?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, more good news. The 2019 Export New Zealand DHL export barometer released yesterday showed that 50 percent of Kiwi exporters experienced an increase in export orders over the year. Although this is down on the 52 percent and 55 percent increases in 2018 and 2017, expectations remain positive, with 61 percent expecting an increase in 2020. This remains a solid result for our exporters, despite the challenging global context that they are operating and it demonstrates that the New Zealand economy remains in good shape.
• 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 policies and statements?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly our Government's efforts to encourage more young New Zealanders to take up a trade to help close the skills gap. Just yesterday, we announced that from next year there'll be 2,000 more trades academy places and up to 2,000 more places for Gateway. This follows on from the Government establishing the Prime Minister's Vocational Excellence Awards, which will be rolling out at school assemblies and prize-givings coming very, very shortly, on top of work on micro-credentially reforming vocational education. This is about supporting young people into decent work.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will construction of light rail down Dominion Road be completed by 2021, as she has previously said?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: One thing I can tell you: it'll be a lot faster than under that last Government, who didn't believe in expediting light rail to the airport. In 2017, we had one proposal; now we have two. They are substantively different. NZ Infra is a proposal that would mean that every journey would be contributing to New Zealand's superannuation. It deserves to be properly looked at, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Hon Simon Bridges: When will construction of her light rail project start?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We will have details of the proposals back before Cabinet in February. That'll be the point at which further decisions then will be able to be made. I do note, though, that the member asking the question was once a transport Minister, and the member asking the question once, too, agreed that light rail to the airport should be progressed. He just happened to be of the view that it should take a very, very long time. The majority of Aucklanders disagree. This project has the potential to take 11,000 commuters off our roads within every hour of peak traffic. That is why we are committed to progressing the project.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know when construction will start?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, as I've said, once we've finished the analysis of the proposals. This is a significant project. The member may like to trivialise this, but this has the ability to dramatically change the congestion issues that Aucklanders are facing. Now, if the member wants to continue with his old proposals, which were building ghost roads or roads that, predominantly, most New Zealanders did not use, that is that member's prerogative. This Government wants to make sure that Auckland is a world-class city and deal with congestion.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister, on the matter of transport, as to whether she's going ahead with the Silicon Valley company described as "MZ will be transformative in its application to transport, logistics, online advertising markets, health (patient care), energy, retail, and a range of other markets."—this is in October 2016 when Mr Bridges, then Minister of Transport, said that and it turned out to be a giant con?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have seen those reports, just as I've seen reports that the member asking questions about light rail used to support it. I don't know what has changed other than purely his role as leader. It's disappointing, to say the least.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will she consider it a broken promise by the Government if construction hasn't started by the next election on light rail?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've set out many, many times, the choice sat before us to simply ignore the fact that the New Zealand Superannuation Fund was putting before the Government a public-public partnership unlike anything that we've seen before, in partnership with operators with good experience in Montreal and a design that was substantively different than what the New Zealand Transport Agency had proposed. I think we owed it to taxpayers and to Aucklanders to properly consider both proposals, particularly putting emphasis on reducing the time it takes for those in the central business district to move to South Auckland. We have to make sure that we are reducing congestion—
Hon Paula Bennett: You're the one that made the promise.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —in the city.
Hon Paula Bennett: What?
SPEAKER: Well, the member knows what.
Hon Simon Bridges: How much will the light rail project cost?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, the tender process is under way, and once that's complete we'll be able to talk about those details.
Hon Simon Bridges: What proportion of the NZ Infra bid she's talked about is proposed to be owned by the Canadian pension fund?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I'm not going to give away what is commercially sensitive information during a process, and I'm sorry, but the idea of calling it a secret agenda—either the member knows what a tender process involves or he doesn't. Of course we're not going to reveal information at this stage that needs to be properly considered by our agencies.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with the Rt Hon Winston Peters, who has said "It made no sense to sell a monopoly and highly sound business to a group of foreign investors.", and why, then, is she considering selling light rail to the Canadian pension fund?
SPEAKER: Order! I want an assurance that that was made by the Deputy Prime Minister.
Hon Simon Bridges: It was made by the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
SPEAKER: Was it made by the Deputy Prime Minister?
Hon Simon Bridges: It doesn't need to be.
SPEAKER: I beg your pardon! I'm trying to work out whether there's ministerial responsibility for the question. Was it made in the current term of Parliament or in a previous period when the member was a Minister?
Hon Simon Bridges: Point of order.
SPEAKER: No, I'm asking the member a question. Can he tell me the answer to my question.
Hon Simon Bridges: He was Deputy Prime Minister, but under a different Government.
SPEAKER: That's alright. The member may answer the question.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Well, obviously, I'm going to reference quotes that are made by the Deputy Prime Minister in his role in this Government rather than hypotheticals. The member is also misrepresenting this. This is a public-public partnership.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As a matter of sound business practice, does one determine what the fiscals might be after the tender process or before?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously after.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is she concerned that NZ First Minister Shane Jones says he's horrified by projections of costings for light rail?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I've already said, we have no final costings. We're still in the middle of a process. All I think, though, that people in Auckland will be hearing is that the National Party has no new ideas on how to reduce congestion and get up to 11,000 commuters off our roads. This is a Government that's getting on with those solutions while that member continues to be negative with no new solutions or ideas.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is she concerned that Winston Peters, as Minister responsible for KiwiRail, said last night, "Obviously, the connection to the airport will be heavy rail."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is heavy rail, or what some call the Puhinui option, a possibility for the Government rather than the light rail project?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said, we've already got a process under way, and we'll be making decisions in future. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Is the member finished? Yes. Question No. 3, the Hon Paul Goldsmith. [Interruption] Question No. 4, Jan Tinetti. [Interruption] No—well, I called question No. 3 and no one took a call.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: The member would like to go back?
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Yes.
SPEAKER: The Hon Paul Goldsmith.
• Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of his statements and actions?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context they were given and taken.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Regarding his statement in the Budget 2018 speech, "We cannot continue to rely on merely increasing our population", is it not the case that after two years of his Government, our economy is deeply reliant on population growth?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No. Our economy is reliant on people working hard right across New Zealand to lift their productivity, to employ more people—the 92,000 extra jobs that have been created under this Government—and to be lifting their spending on R & D. They're the things that the economy is reliant upon. I have said from the very beginning that it'll take a long time to deal with nine years of neglect, but we're getting on with the job.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that over the past year, three-quarters of total economic growth was because of population growth?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I would need to check the member's statistics on that matter. What I do know is that we have an economic plan to transition this country to being more productive, more sustainable, and more inclusive. Looking firmly in the rear-view mirror with a glass-half-empty mentality, as that member does, is not going to turn around the New Zealand economy.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he think Grant Robertson's 2017 description of an "economy … built on a sandcastle of population growth" is more applicable now than ever?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, I do not. What I think is that this is a Government that is getting on with shifting the economy to a more productive, more sustainable basis. Every single initiative that we've done there—with the R & D tax incentive, with lifting our skills and training performance, with developing new venture capital markets—all of those things are things that the National Party opposes. They're against everything. On this side of the House we're focused on a positive agenda for the economy.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What does it mean for the average New Zealand family when their economy is delivering 0.5 percent per person growth?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What the average New Zealand family is looking at is a Government that came into office and said, "Our priority is to lift the incomes of low and middle incomes families"—that's what we did. We turned around the tax cuts of that Government and delivered $5.5 billion into the pockets of those low and middle income families. On this side of the House, our focus is on making sure our growth is more productive, we are more sustainable, and we are more inclusive.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is he content with 0.5 percent per person growth?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I will always be looking to see those growth rates increase. I do note that on a per capita basis, we inherited a position, I think, of about 30th in the OECD, and we've increased that to 23rd.
• Question No. 4—Education
4. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: How is the Government investing to give more young New Zealanders the opportunity to take up a trade?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yesterday, the Prime Minister and I announced 2,000 more trades academy places. Trades academies allow secondary school students to take on full-time study that combines school, tertiary, and/or work-based learning. They've been effective in increasing the number of young people who attain NCEA level 2 or the equivalent, and this is the latest step in the Government's comprehensive plan to boost trades training and tackle skill shortages. It sits alongside the Prime Minister's Vocational Excellence Awards, the introduction of micro-credentials, and the Government's wider work to reform vocational education and training. Our Government sees real value in vocational education and training, and we're committed to raising the profile of vocational education in schools and in communities around New Zealand.
Jan Tinetti: What other investments, if any, is the Government making to give more senior secondary students exposure to trades occupations?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: More good news: we'll also be funding up to 2,000 more places for the Gateway programme, the first increase in Gateway programmes since Labour and New Zealand First were last in Government. An evaluation of Gateway—which is a programme that links students into work experience—shows that employers really enjoy it: 70 percent of employers reported several benefits from their involvement with Gateway, and 81 percent of students reported that their involvement with Gateways helps with their future plans. These types of programmes—Gateway and trades academies—have contributed to young people getting higher qualifications and more students getting jobs when they leave school.
Jan Tinetti: Why did he consider it important to make these investments?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: One of the things we hear as a Government on a near daily basis from the business community and from employers is that skills shortages are holding them and the country back. They regularly raise this issue with us, and they want to see the Government doing more to ensure that we are training our own to fill the skill shortages that we have. We want to see people in careers like building, plumbing, agriculture, and we want to see them reviewing those jobs as an attractive first option when they leave school so that we can close the persistent skills gaps that we've been facing as a country.
Jan Tinetti: How do initiatives like Gateway and trades academies link with the Government's wider work to reform the delivery of vocational education and training?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: One of the things that the wider reform of vocational education and training is designed to do is break down the barriers between off-the-job training delivered by institutions like polytechs and private training establishments and the on-the-job training that is primarily delivered by employers. In an environment where we have a very strong labour market, where the pull into work is very strong for young New Zealanders who are leaving school, we need to ensure that we're doing more to provide them with earning and learning opportunities so that they can train while they are on the job. Gateway and trades academies open the door to more of that, and the reform of vocational education and training is designed to ensure that it's better supported.
• Question No. 5—Transport
5. JAMI-LEE ROSS (MP—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: What planning work has been undertaken to provide for park-and-ride facilities in Botany to service the AMETI Eastern Busway and airport to Botany rapid transit projects?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): It's great to see a member from across the aisle wanting to get things done for his electorate. I'm advised that Auckland Transport, as the lead agency, is currently investigating park-and-ride facilities as one of the options to complement a future interchange at Botany. This will be determined as part of the airport to Botany detailed business case, which Auckland Transport aims to complete in early 2020.
Jami-Lee Ross: What benefits will public transport users in Botany see from the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) eastern busway and the Botany to airport project once completed, and will a park-and-ride facility in Botany improve those benefits?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, as the member well knows, I think, the south-east of Auckland is one of the poorest-served areas in the Auckland region for public transport. The AMETI busway and the proposed rapid transit connection between the airport and Botany, up to AMETI, will significantly improve public transport services, it will increase the frequency of bus services, and it will ease congestion.
Jami-Lee Ross: Given he still believes that east Auckland is one of the worst-served parts of Auckland for public transport, would a park-and-ride facility at Botany station encourage greater uptake of these new public transport services?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I believe it would encourage greater public transport use. Park-and-ride is one of a number of options currently being considered for enabling better transport choices in Botany. Auckland Transport is developing the business case for facilities in Botany as part of the wider work on the AMETI busway, which is now under construction.
• Question No. 6—Housing
6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing: How many houses has the Government purchased under the KiwiBuild programme?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): The Government has purchased 100 houses since the beginning of the KiwiBuild programme. Fifty-two of those houses have subsequently been sold and settled; a further seven have unconditional sales contracts. Of the 100 houses, 22 were purchased via the underwrite for a value of $9.9 million, and 78 were purchased by outright purchase agreements for a value of $35 million.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she believe it is an effective use of taxpayer money if $43 million has been spent purchasing houses for KiwiBuild when only a third of those houses have been onsold?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Of the homes purchased—as I said, 100 have been purchased—52 have been sold. $45,202,229 has been spent, and returned, recycled, to the Crown—as the KiwiBuild programme was always designed to work—has been $24,163,758.
Hon Judith Collins: What are the overheads that have been incurred in order to bring about that recycling?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The holding costs of those properties is $162,000. I can break that down for the member: $130,000 in body corporates and rates, $25,000 in marketing, and $7,000, including electricity, in utilities.
Hon Judith Collins: Is she confident that the 859 more KiwiBuild homes that are underwritten but not yet announced will sell to KiwiBuild buyers within the underwrite period?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Of those that we have contracted, we are currently going through them looking at where we believe there is high first-buyer demand. We clearly laid out mechanisms in the KiwiBuild reset for what would happen if that wasn't the case. But what I will also remind that member is we're not prepared to sit around doing nothing, as that Government did for nine long years.
Hon Judith Collins: Why has the Government signed taxpayers up to $43 million of outright purchases and underwrites when they've only been able to sell around 100 KiwiBuild settled sales?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think the member is confused; in terms of the homes sold to eligible KiwiBuild buyers, 271 have been sold. I do remind that member, that's a further 132 since we did the KiwiBuild reset. Maybe she needs to put in some more written parliamentary questions and bring herself up to date.
Hon Judith Collins: Now, what date will she be releasing the monthly KiwiBuild programme housing dashboard that she announced in September this year?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Imminently.
• Question No. 7—Social Development
7. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she agree with the Child Poverty Action Group that "We need to increase the benefit levels for a start and if another crisis occurs for a family, Work and Income should have the capacity to forgive impossible debt."?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): This Government is committed to making sure we have a welfare system that is fair and accessible for all New Zealanders. This is reflected in our 2018, $5.5 billion Families Package investment and our 2019 Budget announcements to index main benefit rates to increases in average wages, remove a harmful sanction that penalises sole parents, and increase abatement thresholds in line with minimum wage increases. On top of that, we've already started to address concerns around debt through the changes to the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act to better provide protection for families from irresponsible lending and harmful mobile trading practices. The Ministry for Social Development (MSD) is also ensuring that people are paying debt back at lower rates, which is the fair and just thing to do, while still upholding the integrity of the welfare system. Is there more to do to address income adequacy in the welfare system and the impact of debt? Yes.
Marama Davidson: Is she satisfied that hardship grants are the best tool to meet people's immediate needs when there has been a significant increase in hardship grants in the last quarter, especially for food?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: It's never satisfying to see people who need to come to MSD for hardship grants, especially for food. I am heartened, though, that people know that when they need the support of MSD, they are able to access that. It is important to note that hardship grants are up in areas where there are housing pressures—we cannot ignore that part of the picture—and I'm relieved that with this Government's actions, we've seen a significant increase in public housing and that our target is on track. It's important to understand that hardship grants are not the only tool we use to support people in hardship. MSD also funds building financial capability providers to work in the community with people in hardship. We also now have the building financial capability champions in Work and Income sites, available for clients who might need their assistance. We also have increased proactive messaging in client letters, and have enhanced information on the MSD website. And MSD also have improved the information exchange between Inland Revenue, MSD, and the Ministry of Justice to support better management of debt, including helping to prevent unnecessary overpayments and providing visibility of common debtors.
Marama Davidson: Does she agree with the Welfare Expert Advisory Group that "This cycle of inadequate payments, requiring one-off assistance top-ups and resulting in debt, further limits the ability of benefit recipients to sustain themselves and increases stress"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We know that changes across the whole system are required to ensure people in hardship are better off. It is important to note that food grants are a non-recoverable needs grant that can be accessed through MSD, and so does not add to the additional hardship or debt incurred by MSD clients. We are unapologetic about making the system more responsive to those that need support from MSD. And alongside stabilising people's financial situations and addressing the hardship that they are experiencing, we have also put a significant amount of investment into work focus in supporting people, where able, to be earning, learning, volunteering, or caring.
Marama Davidson: What is MSD doing to ensure people's needs are the primary consideration when deciding whether to provide a grant that must be repaid or a grant that does not need to be repaid?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Accessing any type of grant, whether recoverable or non-recoverable, requires MSD to have a good understanding of a client's situation. MSD's approach has always been to prevent debt wherever possible. That means dong things like looking at whether the client can be supported through other means—for instance, the low- or no-interest loans through Good Shepherd—in ensuring that a client is, in the first instance, receiving their full and correct entitlement. Where assistance is recoverable, MSD will look at the ability of the person to repay debt and ensure repayments are manageable. MSD accepts and I accept there is more to do in this space, but I think that we are heading in the right direction.
Marama Davidson: Is she open to reconsidering MSD's powers and policies in relation to debt to ensure these are consistent with Government wellbeing priorities?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I will continue to consider advice received that ensures we have a welfare system that is fair and accessible for all New Zealanders. I have signalled in my April Cabinet paper on the welfare overhaul that MSD is already focusing on ways to minimise debt creation and ensure debt repayments are sustainable, as outlined in the recommendations. We've also initiated cross-Government work to address managing debt to Government agencies.
Hon Louise Upston: Can the Minister confirm her answer to written question No. 34006 that "the Ministry of Social Development expects to recover all debts owed by current or former clients"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Can she repeat that question, sorry?
Hon Louise Upston: Can the Minister confirm her answer to written parliamentary question—
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Oh, a supplementary—sorry.
Hon Louise Upston: Do you want me to repeat it again?
SPEAKER: Right, let's start again. I called a supplementary question.
Hon Louise Upston: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the Minister confirm her answer to written question No. 34006 that "the Ministry of Social Development expects to recover all debts owed by current or former clients"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The legislation in the Social Security Act is very clear that where MSD is at fault for a debt being incurred, then MSD is able to write off that debt. But where the debt has been incurred by the client through no fault of MSD, then the expectation is that the debt will be recovered.
• Question No. 8—Social Development
8. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Is she satisfied with the increase in hardship assistance as published in the September 2019 MSD fact sheets?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): We said, coming into Government, that we would provide assistance to those who need it, and this increase partially demonstrates that. We also cannot ignore the correlation between hardship assistance and housing pressures. So I am relieved to be part of a Government that is responding to a housing crisis that was ignored for nine years previously and to see that we have already seen an increase in public housing of around 2,400 and we are well on track to meet our target of 6,400. The need that we see through the welfare system with regard to hardship grants was there when we came into Government, but, under us, people are willing to come forward because they know that they won't be turned away. I have been clear with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) that people should be able to access their full and legal entitlements, and that's what you're seeing here. Qualification and criteria for hardship grants have not changed under us. People who are receiving hardship grants are eligible to receive them.
Hon Louise Upston: Can the Minister confirm that the number of people receiving hardship grants for food this last quarter is almost twice as many as this time last year?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I can confirm that, actually, there was already an increase occurring under the previous Government in access to hardship grants, and that trajectory has continued.
Hon Louise Upston: Does she agree with the Prime Minister, who yesterday said that the numbers accessing food grants represented those able to access support and not those who are in need coming forward?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I don't know the context of what the Prime Minister has said or whether those were the exact words, but I don't see those two things as mutually exclusive. We need to keep in context here that hardship grants are up where there are housing pressures. I think I said in the House previously that, actually, if the previous Government had built public housing at the same rate that we are currently doing, they would've had 14,500 public houses and we wouldn't have anyone on the housing register at all.
Hon Louise Upston: Given that she believes the increase in hardship grants is a positive thing, would she like to see the numbers go up even further with the next set of statistics?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I reject the premise of that question. What I do think is a positive thing is that when there are New Zealanders experiencing hardship, they have a Government and Government agencies that respond to that need. We are not only responding to the hardship needs of New Zealanders, but we're investing in areas that were under-invested in under the previous Government, including that focus on work and work-focused support through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). We saw that with things like the additional 263 work-focused case managers that were funded or budgeted for in the 2019 Budget. We're not going to apologise for helping New Zealanders in hardship, but I will say on record that we are doing both and the Government prior to us was doing neither.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister saying that this Government does believe in helping people facing serious hardship and not the Darwinian principle of dog-eat-dog?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Absolutely, and we also understand the importance of supporting people with regards to stabilising their financial situations before we can actually support them into meaningful and sustainable work. So when New Zealanders are in need, the MSD agency, the welfare system, is there to support them, and at the same time we're going to continue to invest in upskilling and training and getting New Zealanders into meaningful and sustainable work.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Supplementary.
SPEAKER: Question No. 9, Chris Bishop. Sorry, I apologise. I did see the member earlier. Priyanca Radhakrishnan, a supplementary question.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Thank you, Mr Speaker. So what is the Government doing to reduce hardship for New Zealanders?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We've implemented a number of changes to improve financial support for people in the welfare system. These changes are estimated to have a positive impact on 339,000 people accessing our welfare system. For the first time in New Zealand's history, we've indexed main benefits to average wage increases, to ensure rates of main benefits do not fall further behind average wages. We've increased the abatement threshold for main benefits to help low-income families keep more of what they earn. We passed legislation to repeal the harmful sanction that penalised sole parents and their children. On top of that, this Government has raised the minimum wage to $17.70 and will continue to increase this to $20 by 2021. We have increased the number of public housing placements by 2,380 since we came in—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Sometimes the member makes me sort of regret my soft heart.
• Question No. 9—Transport
9. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his statements and policies?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, in the context they were made or given.
Chris Bishop: Who is right about the cost projections for light rail, he, who said yesterday to Newshub that there is no cost blowout, or Winston Peters, who said that "The costings seem to have changed … in a way that is demanding serious investigation as to whether those forward projections are factual or not."?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I repeat what I said yesterday: there is no cost blowout, because the twin track procurement process includes fundamental design and engineering decisions, so a final cost has not been settled on for either option yet.
Chris Bishop: What was the New Zealand Transport Agency's (NZTA) assessment of NZ Infra's light rail proposal using standard Treasury methodology?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The NZ transport agency didn't complete an assessment of it, and that's why Cabinet mandated Treasury and the Ministry of Transport to run a new assessment process that includes a consideration of the public-public proposal (PPP) being put forward by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and their Canadian partners, alongside the NZTA-led option, which would include a PPP option or a design and build.
Chris Bishop: Is it correct that the relationship between the New Zealand Transport Agency and NZ Infra is so broken that NZ Infra had to use the Official Information Act to get information from the New Zealand Transport Agency, causing months of delays to the light rail project?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I reject the assertion in the first part of the member's question, but I would note that Sir Brian Roche, the new chair of the board of the transport agency, said on radio this morning that NZTA had dropped the ball, and that's why Cabinet mandated Treasury and the Ministry of Transport to undertake a new assessment process of both options. The Government's doing that because we believe that it's extremely important that we invest in a 21st century transit system for our country's biggest city, which is grinding to a halt because of the failure of the last Government to invest in rapid transit and public transport.
Chris Bishop: Does he stand by his statement that no one on the New Zealand Transport Agency board asked to stay on?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, I do.
• Question No. 10—Health
10. JAMIE STRANGE (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What recent announcements has he made about mental health facilities in Waikato?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Improving and maintaining New Zealanders' mental health and wellbeing is one of the long-term challenges that this Government is taking seriously. Having the right facilities to support people's treatment and recovery is a key part of our plan. That's why I was pleased to have joined the Prime Minister in Hamilton last week to announce that the Government has approved $100 million in funding for a new acute mental health facility which will provide better care and support to people with mental health and addiction issues. This announcement gives Waikato DHB the certainty to push ahead with the required planning and development to ensure this facility is constructed and completed in a timely fashion.
Jamie Strange: Why do the New Zealanders cared for by Waikato DHB need this new facility?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The current Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre is no longer fit for purpose. It's outdated and does not provide the right environment to support a focus on recovery and mental wellbeing for patients, despite hard work by dedicated staff. A new purpose-built facility will provide a modern environment with patient- and whānau-centred spaces. In addition, over the last nine years, there's been a 72 percent increase in people seen by Waikato DHB's mental health and addiction services. Each month, there are nearly 100 admissions to the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre, which has 53 beds. The new facility is expected to have a capacity for an extra 10 to 20 more beds, and that will make a real difference.
Jamie Strange: How does this announcement fit with the Government's plan for fixing up our health infrastructure?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This Government is committed to strengthening our public health services and rebuilding our hospitals. Since Budget 2018, funding has been confirmed for projects up and down New Zealand, including the redevelopment of Taranaki Base Hospital, including a new east wing to house a range of critical and acute services; a new elective surgery unit at North Shore Hospital; $80 million for four projects at Counties Manukau, including recladding of the Kidz First building; a new in-patient mental health and addiction unit at Hauora Tairāwhiti Gisborne Hospital; new specialist mental health facilities at Canterbury DHB's Hillmorton campus; $275 million for Auckland DHB to address significant infrastructure challenges; $45 million for the new Wellington Children's Hospital; $30 million for a new integrated stroke unit at Auckland DHB; $24 million for new endoscopy and cardiac care capacity at Northland DHB's Whangarei Hospital; and a new Buller Hospital integrated family unit. In addition, I'm delighted to report the good progress that's been made on the Dunedin Hospital rebuild project, and Budget 2019 included a ring-fenced contingency to fund the work. We've set aside $2.45 billion in our first two Budgets for investments in hospitals—twice as much as the previous Government invested in nine long years.
• Question No. 11—Police
11. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Police: Does he stand by his statement, "we're on track to deliver 1,800 new police next month", and, if so, by how much will the headcount of sworn officers have increased since he took office to meet that target?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): Yes, and around 10 percent.
Brett Hudson: Does he stand by his answer to parliamentary written question No. 29951 where he said that the headcount of sworn officers on 1 November 2017 was 9,016?
Hon STUART NASH: It was a long time ago. One thing I will say is that we're delivering nearly 1,000 more police than would have been delivered under that Government, and I suspect that that member is the only constituent in Ōhāriu that's complaining.
Brett Hudson: Was the Prime Minister correct last week when she said that there are now 9,723 sworn officers?
Hon STUART NASH: The Prime Minister was correct—of course she was correct—but she was also correct in saying we're going to meet our obligation in just over two years.
Brett Hudson: Can he confirm that the difference between those two numbers is 707, meaning that there are only 707 additional sworn police officers in New Zealand today?
Hon STUART NASH: No, what I can tell you is as of today, there are 1,685 new recruits, which is a headcount of 893. If you ask me this question on Thursday afternoon, there'd be 1,744 new police, which would equal 952—yet another graduation this Thursday.
Brett Hudson: Is 707 or even, perhaps, 850, greater or less than 1,800?
Hon STUART NASH: I can tell you what 893 is; it's more than 880. We've delivered that in under two years and that Government promised that in four years.
• Question No. 12—Health
12. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Associate Minister of Health: Does she stand by all her statements around vaccination and the spread of measles?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Health): Yes, in the context they were given.
Dr Shane Reti: When she said yesterday that tax cuts come at the expense of measles vaccines, does she think it's satisfactory that some taxpayers right now are unable to be vaccinated due to a vaccine shortage?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I didn't say that.
Dr Shane Reti: Further to written questions, is she concerned that 20 DHB staff have contracted measles this year, given expectations that public health sector staff will be vaccinated?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Of course we're concerned, and we are doing everything we can to respond to the measles outbreak. And I'd like to thank all of the hard-working clinicians who've been focused on responding to this outbreak on the ground, and now we're seeing declining numbers of measles.
Dr Shane Reti: When she says it is important we do everything we can to ensure the measles outbreak doesn't spread further, what actions did she take in March when the national measles laboratory reported that measles was being spread in Canterbury hospitals?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I was not responsible for immunisation in March, but I can say that during that period, in the first half of this year, more than 50 percent more vaccines were distributed compared to previous years. And in this year alone, we have administered more measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccines than any year when National was in Government.
Dr Shane Reti: Did she say yesterday that anyone campaigning on tax cuts is basically promising that we'll run down public services in the future?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes, and I stand by that statement.
Dr Shane Reti: Was it a missed red flag for the spread of measles when nosocomial infection was occurring in Canterbury hospitals back in March?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: What I will say is that all during the response to this outbreak, we have been guided by the expert advisory group and expert clinicians. I don't think it's up to politicians to make decisions on this. It's up to politicians to support our public health system and listen to the advice of experts, which is what we have done.
Dr Shane Reti: I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request from the measles and rubella laboratory, confirming the transmission of nosocomial infection in Canterbury hospitals.
SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There appears to be none.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I seek leave to table the last 10 years of MMR events that have been extracted from the national immunisation record, which show that significantly—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to ask the member to put it again without an interjection from Michael Woodhouse.
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I seek leave to table the last 10 years of MMR events or vaccines that have been delivered that has been extracted from the national immunisation record, and it shows a significant increase in MMR immunisations in the last two years. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Was that Mr Bennett this time? Who was the person who made the noise? Was it Mr Bennett?
Hon David Bennett: No, I was gesturing. I was saying, "Why should they not?"
SPEAKER: OK. Who was the member who was interjecting? Can I seek an assurance from the member that the information available in that document is not otherwise publicly available?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: It is my understanding that it is not.
SPEAKER: I'll put the leave for that. Is there any objection? There appears to be none.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.