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Parliament: Questions and Answers - Nov 5

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 9 to Minister, 22 October—Amended Answer

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): I rise to correct my answer to a supplementary question in question No. 9 on 22 October.

SPEAKER: The Minister seeks leave to make a correction. Is there any objection? There is no objection. The Minister may proceed.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I was asked whether I stand by my statement that no one on the New Zealand Transport Agency board asked to stay on. At the time, I recalled that I had asked Mark Darrow to stay on the board until February 2020 in the interests of continuity; so I answered "yes". Since then, I have reviewed my correspondence, and in May, in response to my request that he stay on the board for a short time, Mark Darrow said he would be interested in staying on for a second term.

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Finance

1. GREG O'CONNOR (Labour—Ōhāriu) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?

SPEAKER: I just remind people of the rules while supplementary questions are being asked, so that they will understand what's about to happen.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): More good news: Friday's ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence report showed consumer confidence rose four points in October to 118, with confidence rising in every region of the country. Consumer confidence in both current and future conditions lifted by two and six points respectively. [Interruption] There was particularly good news, Mr McClay, in consumers' perceptions of their current financial situation, which rose to its highest level since 2007. I'm pleased to see New Zealand consumers are feeling more upbeat on the back of lower unemployment, more jobs, and higher wages under this Government. Kiwis are now finally starting to see a fair share of economic growth in this country.

Greg O'Connor: What reports has he seen on businesses' confidence in the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Auckland chamber of commerce released its business confidence survey on Friday, showing business confidence in the top half of the North Island has "bounced back significantly" from the last quarter, up 24 points. The biggest concerns identified by those businesses were global uncertainty, compliance costs, and the ability to find skilled staff. It's great to see businesses are joining consumers in feeling more upbeat about the economic outlook. If only members opposite could do the same.

Greg O'Connor: What reports has he seen on employment in the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen a range of reports from bank economists previewing September quarter labour market statistics due to be released tomorrow. While bank economists' expectations vary, the consensus is for a small uptick in the unemployment rate, remaining around its maximum sustainable level. BNZ economists said, "Even if the unemployment rate edges up to 4.1 percent from 3.9 percent, it would still be a strong reading, suggesting conditions underfoot remain relatively tight. We think this and recent tightness will keep upward pressure on wage inflation." We are committed to targeting unemployment of 4 percent in this term, bearing in mind that we inherited unemployment of 4.7 percent from the so-called rock stars opposite.

• 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 actions and policies?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, in particular her recent announcement that we have concluded negotiations to upgrade our free-trade agreement with China. This ensures our upgraded free-trade agreement will remain the best that China has with any country.

Hon Simon Bridges: How many more Māori are on jobseeker benefits since her Government took office?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I don't know the answer to that question, but what I can say is that the Māori unemployment rate is well down and it is the lowest it has been for a number of years. It was considerably higher under the previous Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are there fewer or more—that is, Māori on a jobseeker benefit—than when National was in Government

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: There are more people—more Māori in New Zealand. I don't know the answer around the particular question he's asked, but the Māori unemployment rate—thanks to the great work that the Hon Willie Jackson has done—is considerably lower than when we became the Government.

Hon Simon Bridges: Sorry—are there fewer or more Māori on the jobseeker benefit than when National was in Government.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I refer the member to my previous answer.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why is it that since her Government took office, there have been more Māori on jobseeker benefit than Pākehā, every single quarter?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I'd have to check the veracity of the member's claims, but I have to say that unemployment in New Zealand is at 3.9 percent. It is the lowest it has been in 11 years. We're doing more in terms of getting people into employment than that previous Government ever did in their nine years of neglect.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of that answer to that supplementary, then why are there more Māori on the jobseeker benefit now than at the height of the global financial crisis?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Probably because a greater proportion of people are Māori—population growth.

Hon Simon Bridges: So was the reason there are more Māori on the job seekers benefit because there are more Māori?

Hon Aupito William Sio: Get out of the gutter.

SPEAKER: Order! Who interjected? The member will leave the House until the end of question time.

Hon Aupito William Sio withdrew from the Chamber.

SPEAKER: Right. Ask the question again.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that at the height of the global financial crisis, Māori made up 31 percent of those on the job seeker benefit; and does she further accept that that percentage is now 40 percent and climbing?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I'd really have to check the veracity of the member's claims.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why, as a percentage of the population, are there more Māori on the job seeker benefit now than at the height of the GFC?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I refer the member to my previous answer. I'd really have to check the veracity of his claims, because we know on this side of the House that they say a heck of a lot of things; when we check them up, they're not actually all that accurate.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she aware that the Ministry of Social Development's annual report makes clear that "only 20 percent of engagement with clients in June 2019 had an employment-focused focus", the lowest proportion since 2014?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Again, the unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent. It is the lowest it has been in over 11 years. That side of the House, when they were in Government, basically gave up on trying to get people into jobs. Within one year, the Hon Willie Jackson has worked miracles that that party over there had no idea of how to resolve.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Government given up on getting New Zealanders—and, on the numbers, especially Māori—into work?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Kāo.

David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister stand by her Government's policy of prohibiting semi-automatic firearms, since only 32,000 have been bought back over the last four months?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Yes, that's a very good result.

SPEAKER: Order! Just before the member asks his next question, I'm just going to ask him to tidy himself up slightly. Thank you.

David Seymour: Thank you, Mr Speaker—very helpful. When will the Government release its response to the Tomorrow's Schools independent working group?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Within the next few weeks?

• Question No. 3—Regional Economic Development

3. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What recent Provincial Growth Fund announcements have been made?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): Dunedin is now coming out of the cold. After an awful episode of rejection, neglect, it fell to me and my colleagues to make an announcement of $19.9 million towards Dunedin's waterfront development project, and, in addition to that, a sum of $20 million dedicated to create a more vigorous hub for KiwiRail and to restore the fortunes of those people that unfortunately were sold out over the past nine years.

Mark Patterson: What other projects received support?

Hon SHANE JONES: I stand to announce and to remind the House that a sum of $10 million has been allocated to establish the Centre of Digital Excellence. On the question of excellence, not only does Dunedin already have endowments of intellectual pursuits, engineering traditions; this opens new vistas for the gaming industry, and in addition to that a sum of $8 million in support for Scott Technology, leading the way to improve the ability of technology to lessen the reliance in many of our agribusiness sectors on labour.

Mark Patterson: What has been the response to these investments?

Hon SHANE JONES: The university, in the form of the deputy vice-chancellor and professor—a highly respected academic, someone I have met—said over the period of time that the university welcomed the exciting opportunity for the Centre of Digital Excellence. Scott Technology managing director—a highly successful business leader, in charge of an entity that earns nigh on quarter of a billion dollars, the majority of it from export dollars; clear evidence that these two significant entities back not only the policy but the travails of the champion.

• Question No. 4—Finance

4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements and policies?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context they were made and implemented.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How can he stand by his economic policies when, according to his own Government's wellbeing metrics released this morning, the number of people who say they have enough or more than enough money is falling under his watch, after six years of substantial increases under National?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There are a range of indicators that show how well this Government is doing, including unemployment being at 3.9 percent and wages increasing by 4.4 percent. It will—and we have said this many times in this House—take time to turn around nine years of neglect, but we're making a good start.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does it concern him that the progress made under National, whereby the number of Kiwis saying that they had enough money went from 51 percent to 65 percent of the population, has now been reversed under his Government?

SPEAKER: I'll let the member answer the question, but I'm going to advise the member that next time he asks an out of order question, I won't.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I'm particularly interested by is the conversion of the member to the wellbeing indicators, which, previously, we've seen some cynicism about from the other side of the House. So, on that score, I welcome the member's interest.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, isn't it true that the previous Government improved wellbeing and his Government has not?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely not, no, because, on this side of the House, we want to see unemployment going down under 4 percent, we want to see wages increasing, we want to see children lifted out of poverty. That's what's happening, that's what wellbeing is, and that's what this Government's delivering.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Regardless of what he wants, why does he think fewer Kiwis feel that they have enough money under this Government?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There are, as I said before, a range of measures. When New Zealanders see wages increasing, as they are under this Government, they will feel and see the benefits of that, but we have said from day one of being in this Government: when you have nine years of neglect, and when we have entrenched social problems left to us by the previous Government, it takes time to turn those around, but we're making a good start.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So does he accept that the cancelled tax cuts, the increased fuel taxes, and regulatory changes driving higher rents will have contributed to the slide in financial wellbeing shown to date?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No, and, once again, we have the member believing that the way to increase New Zealanders' incomes is to cut their taxes. It's not; we should increase wages. That's how we increase people's incomes sustainably, and that's what's happening at the moment.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: In this, the year of delivery, is he proud that so many New Zealanders now have to turn to electricity and gas hardship grants under his Government?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Mr Speaker, can the member repeat the question?

SPEAKER: Yes, and in order this time.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: In this year of delivery, is the Minister—is the Speaker saying I'm being ironic?

SPEAKER: It's totally unnecessary. Ask the question properly.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he proud that two-thirds more New Zealanders are having to turn to electricity and gas hardship grants under this Government than when they started?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I'm proud of is a Government that does not turn people away, that actually says: if you're entitled to support to pay the bills or to make sure that you can put food on the table, you've got a Government that cares and actually does that instead of sending those people away like his Government did.

• Question No. 5—Health

5. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Does he believe that timely updates of the Ministry of Health's New Zealand Health statistics webpage are important?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Yes, provided the data is accurate and presented in its appropriate context. But I think what's more important to New Zealanders is delivering doctors visits cheaper to 600,000 people—including many that are $20 to $30 cheaper—employing 1,500 more new nurses, 600 more doctors, and over 500 more allied health workers; improved cancer care; and a new frontline mental health service. This Government is focused on what is important to New Zealanders in the area of health.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the reason the web page entitled Services received: Acute and elective patient discharge volumes has not been updated because the number of elective surgeries has declined and is an embarrassment to the Government?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Elective surgeries are not the only measure of success, of course, in our public health service—

Hon Amy Adams: Answer the question.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: —but what New Zealanders want, and what I want—

SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. Amy Adams will stop criticising me. Start again.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: What New Zealanders want, and what I want, is that people get the appropriate care where they need it, when they need it. Overall, we've seen an increase in planned care, which covers electives as well as minor operations, including many eye procedures, some gynaecological procedures, and skin lesion removals. In 2018-19, there were almost 5,000 more planned care interventions than the previous year. We're treating more people in the right clinical setting, which is more appropriate and more efficient.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he confirm that if the website had been updated, it would show that 5,775 fewer elective surgeries were performed in 2018-19 than in the previous year?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: What I can confirm is that, overall, we're seeing an increase in planned care, which covers electives as well as minor operations, including many eye procedures, some gynaecological procedures, and skin lesion removals. There were almost 5,000 more planned care procedures over the most recent year. We are a Government that's not interested in pumping up particular statistics by performing surgeries in more expensive settings, like the previous Government did with Avastin injections and skin lesion removals. We're interested in making sure more New Zealanders get more care and that the health dollar is spent wisely.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was about elective surgery, not planned care, and was not addressed.

SPEAKER: I think it was addressed. I think it was addressed in the middle of a far-too-long answer.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he confirm that if the website had been updated, it would show that 18 of 20 DHBs performed fewer elective surgeries in that period than in the previous year?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I can confirm what I said in my original answer, which is that it is important that data is accurate, up to date, and provided in the appropriate context.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Why, despite finally releasing elective surgery data to me, does he refuse to allow the reports to be published on the Ministry of Health website?

SPEAKER: Order! There's an assertion in that question which I think is unproven. I think the member can ask it again but without an assertion of a fact which has not been established.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I'll reword the question to bring it under the Standing Orders. Does he stand by his answer to written question No. 33445 that publication of acute and elective surgery data sets has been discontinued with effect from 1 July?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I don't have that detail in front of me, but what I can confirm is that the member has used the data in the written parliamentary questions, and, I think—I'm advised; if I'm correctly advised on the particular dataset he's referring to—represented it in a way that is not the best way of using that data. In fact, it's a data set that the previous Government didn't use themselves.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Why is he treating the public with such contempt over information that is such an important indicator of health sector performance?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I reject the assertion in that, and what I would say is that after nine long years of neglect, this Government is finally investing in our health services. We're investing in better-quality cancer care. We're investing in making sure more New Zealanders get more surgeries in the appropriate context, because we actually care about New Zealanders. We're rebuilding our public health system. If you want to talk about contempt, I think you need to look in a mirror.

• Question No. 6—Health

6. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What progress is being made in improving access to new cancer medicines?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Good news. Cancer in New Zealand is our leading cause of death, and improving our cancer care and control is an ongoing challenge. Yesterday, Pharmac announced its decision to fund a new leukaemia treatment, Venetoclax, and just last month, Pharmac confirmed that Alectinib will be funded for ALK positive advanced non - small-cell lung cancer, and Kadcyla for HER2 positive metastatic breast cancer. That means three new cancer drugs have been funded this year alone, and Pharmac is expected to make decisions on another two cancer medicines in coming weeks.

Angie Warren-Clark: What are the benefits of Venetoclax?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Venetoclax is used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, which is the most common form of leukaemia in New Zealand. I'm advised that it's proven to give people more time without their leukaemia getting worse—what is referred to as progression-free survival. It also has improved overall survival rates compared with currently funded treatments. This medicine will make a real difference to the quality of life of around 150 New Zealanders and their families in the next year and around 230 the following year.

Angie Warren-Clark: How does improving access to cancer medicines fit into the Government's wider plan for cancer care and control?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Medicines are critical, but they're not the only part of cancer care and control. Our Cancer Action Plan is comprehensive, covering everything from prevention and screening to radiation treatment, surgery, medical oncology, and palliative care. We want to ensure New Zealanders living with cancer have access to high-quality care no matter who they are or where they live. It is why we funded 12 new linear accelerators and are putting them for the first time into Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, and Northland, and we're also making progress on strong central leadership through the interim Cancer Control Agency board, who met for the first time late last month. Modernising our approach to cancer care and control will take time, but we are making progress.

• Question No. 7—Social Development

7. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her policies and actions?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS (Associate Minister for Social Development): on behalf of the Minister for Social Development: Yes.

Hon Louise Upston: Why has the number of people stuck on the dole for over 12 months increased by over 15 percent since your Government took office?

SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to invite the member to ask a supplementary which relates to the primary question.

Hon Louise Upston: Why has the number of people stuck on the dole for over 12 months increased by over 15 percent under that Minister's policies and actions?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister, we know that the increase is mainly driven by population growth and a softer economic growth outlook in the short term, but we want to ensure that everybody who is able to is earning, learning, caring, or volunteering, and our welfare system has a key role to play in that. On this side of the House we're here to help everyone who is entitled to this support.

Hon Louise Upston: Why has your department seen reduced performance—

SPEAKER: Order! Try again.

Hon Louise Upston: Why has Minister seen reduced performance by the Ministry of Social Development for all three of her own key performance measures relating to improving employment outcomes?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister, I know that the work that we are doing in this area is exemplary. This Government doesn't want to see vulnerable people getting further into hardship. We're working hard to ensure that—

Hon Scott Simpson: Wrong answer.

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: I apologise. I assure the member it will be worthwhile listening to it when I find the answer. On behalf of the Minister, we're working hard to ensure that people who are entitled to our support receive it. On this side of the House, we want to ensure that people are supported to be learning, earning, caring, or volunteering, and this Government is working hard to do so.

Hon Louise Upston: Why has the proportion of people who go back on to benefit after 16 weeks increased every year under her watch, when it was falling under National's?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister, I absolutely reject the premise of that question. In fact, what I can say is that under this Government, we are increasing the ability for people to come off the benefit. Under that Government, I know that people were coming off the benefit and then going straight back on in 18 months' time. So I completely reject the premise of that question.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she agree with her department that, and I quote, "Because case managers spend more time responding to increased hardship need, they spend less time exploring employment outcomes with clients"; and, if so, is she happy that her department is spending more time dishing out cash than supporting people into employment so they can earn their own?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister, this Government doesn't want to see vulnerable people getting further into hardship, so they are accessing the recoverable assistance that they require through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). People need this type of support to ensure that they can access the recoverable assistance that they're eligible for through the Ministry of Social Development. People who are seeking employment also need to be supported through all stages of that, and that may mean that they have to access support through the Ministry of Social Development. I know from the work that I see done on the ground that our MSD employment support is absolutely extraordinary. It's getting more people into work. We've increased the numbers of jobs by 92,000 jobs in New Zealand, and people who need the support are getting it, as they should do.

• Question No. 8—Trade and Export Growth

8. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: What progress has New Zealand made on trade agreements to help our primary sector and other vital exporters?

Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police) on behalf of the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: We are making excellent progress. This Government is working hard to make trade easier for our exporters and to strengthen our economy. Just yesterday, the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern announced that we have secured a free-trade agreement (FTA) upgrade with China—with China. The FTA upgrade ensures that our trade agreement will remain one of the best that any country has with China. This is great news for our exporters, including those in the agricultural sector, who are getting top prices for their food and fibre products into China. More good news—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon STUART NASH: Leaders of—

SPEAKER: No. Order! I've just had enough of inane interjections from the Leader of the Opposition.

Hon STUART NASH: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Leaders of 16 countries negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have completed negotiations on the text, as well as reaching agreement on virtually all market access issues between 15 countries. This is a significant milestone and is strategically and commercially important for New Zealand.

Dr Deborah Russell: How will these successes, including the upgraded agreement and new trade agreement, specifically benefit exporters?

Hon STUART NASH: China is New Zealand's largest trading partner, with two-way trade recently exceeding $32 billion. Our farmers are getting record prices for their meat and other products into China. The Government's latest trade deal will help underpin our exporters' work and support a strong, robust economy. The China FTA upgrade will reduce compliance costs, saving New Zealand exporters millions of dollars each year; include strong commitments to promote environmental protections; and ensure that, by 2024, New Zealand will have the best access to China for dairy products of any country. The upgrade will also mean that 99 percent of New Zealand's $3 billion wood and paper trade to China will have preferential access over a 10-year implementation period.

Dr Deborah Russell: What reaction has he seen to the recent trade announcements?

Hon STUART NASH: The trade announcements have been received warmly both here and by our trading partners. Independent observers say—and I quote—"It's a big win for the PM"—Richard Harman. And another quote: "a political win for the PM"—Audrey Young. And another quote: "The PM is a rock star."—US national security adviser Robert O'Brien. And another quote: "historical 24 hours for New Zealand trade"—Employers and Manufacturers Association.

SPEAKER: Order! I think that's gone beyond the point of ministerial responsibility.

Hon Todd McClay: Can the Minister confirm that his office phoned New Zealand agricultural exporters and their associations asking them to put out supportive statements in as far as the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday?

Hon STUART NASH: What I can confirm is that the first free-trade agreement was signed in 2008, the second upgrade was signed in 2019—I have absolutely no idea what happened in the nine years in between.

Hon Todd McClay: Well, that's evident; you were in Opposition. Will the Minister commit to holding out for the same agricultural access under the European Union FTA or with India under RCEP, particularly in dairy, as New Zealand exporters received under the China FTA?

Hon STUART NASH: Well, what I can say is that the reason I'm answering this question is because the Hon Damien O'Connor and the Hon David Parker are overseas at the moment talking to our trade partners about securing free-trade agreements—extremely hard-working trade Ministers.

Hon Todd McClay: Well, can the Minister confirm that the agricultural market access offer made by the European Union was so disappointing that New Zealand officials now don't know what to do; and, if not, will the Minister table the EU market access offer in the spirit of openness and transparency?

Hon STUART NASH: I'm surprised that that Minister is being so negative. In fact, I suspect he should take advice from Audrey Young—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think it's unnecessary to continue in that line. The member is getting pretty close to being misleading.

• Question No. 9—Transport

9. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Is it correct that he said "there were a couple of reckless things said during the election" at the 2018 Informa New Zealand Rail conference; if so, what were those reckless things?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, at the June 2018 Informa New Zealand Rail conference. An example is former transport Minister Simon Bridges when he said that National's 10 second-generation four-lane roads of national significance were expected to cost around $10.5 billion, despite many of them having had no costings done by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and some of them not even being NZTA projects. A further example was when Simon Bridges said that NZTA was contracting a new route for the Manawatū Gorge replacement and that a decision would be made by the end of that year. After no such action under the last Government, we're getting on with it, and construction is expected to start early next year.

Chris Bishop: Does he accept that when he said "there were a couple of reckless things said during the election", he was referring to the promise to roll out light rail to Mount Roskill by 2021?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, it was a light-hearted quip at the expense of politicians during election campaigns, such as the "ghost roads" that the National Party promised during the last election but had absolutely no way of funding.

Chris Bishop: Why was the Auckland light rail ministerial oversight group asked only in July 2019—nearly two years after the Government took office—to confirm the Government's desired outcomes from the light rail project?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! There's no link, other than a passing one, to the original question or the answers from the Minister.

Chris Bishop: Are there any other promises in the transport portfolio that he would now like to describe as reckless; and, if so, what are they?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, not under this Government, but there is a long list under the former Government, and I'm happy to provide that to the member.

Chris Bishop: When will light rail begin to Mount Roskill?

SPEAKER: Well, the member can keep on wasting his supplementaries, but that's no more in order than the previous one I ruled out.

Hon Simon Bridges: Too hard.

SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Simon Bridges: I stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Why was that question ruled out? It seemed quite a reasonable question.

SPEAKER: Because there's a very simple requirement for supplementaries, and that is that they relate to the question or the answer, and two of the supplementaries didn't.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, if I may—

SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I can probably explain it a bit more carefully. If the question had been more specific and had related to promises made in the election campaign by the Government, then I might have ruled them in order. But, as the member knows, it was a non-specific question and it received an answer which did not relate to policy announcements or comments made during the election campaign by any of the parties that make up or support the Government. As a result of that, the member did not have a hook on which to hang the supplementary. So, if he wanted to ask those supplementaries, he should have asked a primary question which was a direct question and not one of that sort. Can I make a suggestion? There are—well, only one of them is in the House at the moment—a couple of members on the National Party front bench who have quite a lot of experience in asking questions from Opposition, and can I suggest that they provide a tutorial to other members. [Interruption] Order!

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. So, then, are you saying that the last two supplementaries—just for everyone's understanding—were both out of order?

DEPUTY SPEAKER: Not the last two; it was the last one and the third to last one.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: The immediate supplementary prior to the last one asked the Minister whether any of his policies were, as he has recently described, "reckless"—or however that might be. He answered to that "No" and then offered a suggestion that there were numerous examples of the previous Government's policies that he could have used. The last question you ruled out was: "When will the light rail to New Lynn commence?" Now, if he said that nothing he has previously said about his own policies was reckless or inappropriate, why couldn't he answer that question?

SPEAKER: Because I felt that the more general question about whether his policies came within the general ambit of the primary question was fair but that, having had a "No", then at that point there's not a hook there. Grant Robertson will stand, withdraw and apologise for the interjection that was made during Mr Brownlee—or if it was another member. I think it was Mr Robertson who interjected. Well, who was it?

Hon Chris Hipkins: It might have been me.

SPEAKER: Was it Mr Hipkins? He will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Chris Hipkins: I withdraw and apologise.

SPEAKER: Thank you. We don't interject during points of order. Are there any further supplementaries from Mr Bishop? No.

• Question No. 10—Energy and Resources

10. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Is the Government investigating geothermal resources for electricity generation on the West Coast of the South Island?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): Investment in any particular electricity generation site is the purview of private electricity generation developers. However, I do note the Government is supporting research in science into geothermal resources across the country through a range of funding mechanisms—including, for example, through the Endeavour Fund and GNS Science's $10 million programme on geothermal research. Alongside this investment, we've also allocated $20 million into an advanced energy technology platform and $27 million into the National New Energy Development Centre based in New Plymouth. Both these investments have the potential to explore opportunities associated with New Zealand's geothermal potential. And, of course, any commercial business exploring geothermal resources can claim any R & D component through the 15 percent research and development tax incentive.

Jonathan Young: So if there are proven fields on the West Coast of the South Island, what confidence can New Zealanders and West Coasters have that a geothermal power station would be approved when a small hydro scheme on the West Coast was recently declined?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The member will have to be more specific as to what he means by "approved". Is it a question about a resource consent? If it is, I suggest he put the question to the Minister for the Environment.

Jonathan Young: Does she accept the argument that wind turbines or geothermal power stations have a greater visual and environmental impact than the recently declined Waitaha hydro scheme?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I would have to see some more detail of what the member is asking, but I think what we do see is that across New Zealand we have a range of investment—in fact, over $650 million worth of investment this year—that has gone into renewable energy projects. They are across a range of different sources, geothermal and wind, and I welcome them all.

Jonathan Young: Well, what does the Minister say to the West Coast community, who want to develop electricity generation in their region in order to reduce what are some of the highest electricity prices in the country?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Any community can put together a community electricity generation plan and go through relevant consenting processes.

• Question No. 11—Building and Construction

11. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister for Building and Construction: What recent reports has she seen about changing trends in New Zealand housing?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister for Building and Construction): Last week, Stats New Zealand released its monthly building consents information, showing a 45-year high for building consents for new dwellings and a 22 percent increase in the number of consents for high-density housing. This includes apartments, town houses, flats, and retirement village units. This is excellent news, and it shows the Government is delivering the right environment for Kiwis to build more homes and to build up.

Paul Eagle: How does this level of building consents compare to previous years?

Hon JENNY SALESA: The demand for high-density housing has contributed to this 45-year high for the total number of new homes consented. The figure of 36,446 new dwelling consents is up 12 percent from the previous year, showing real progress on delivering the homes we need. Each one of these consents represents a young couple or individual moving into their first home or apartment, a family getting off the waiting list, or an older person downsizing into something more affordable in their community.

Paul Eagle: How's the Government delivering the right environment for the industry to build more and to build up?

Hon JENNY SALESA: We're tackling the longstanding issues that are challenging the building and construction sector, which include some of the following: amending the Building Act to allow more innovative and efficient building, amending the eight sections in the building code—the HD eight—to improve support for high-density housing, getting thousands more young people into the construction sector through apprenticeships, and ensuring a pipeline of work which provides more certainty in the building and construction sector.

• Question No. 12—Transport

12. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Why was it only after an intervention from the Ombudsman that she released information in the public interest about her 26 March letter to the Minister of Transport, and does she stand by her view stated in that letter that work on rapid transit should be prioritised ahead of a second Mount Victoria tunnel?

SPEAKER: With the one amendment—I think the member knows.

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): With respect to the first part of the question, I note that I did release information in the public interest regarding the letter prior to the Chief Ombudsman's opinion. That took the form of responses to oral questions in the House and answers to written parliamentary questions. The information released in the subsequent statement was entirely consistent with earlier information, and the Ombudsman's decision states that. I absolutely stand by Cabinet's decision to prioritise the roll-out of new bus lanes, rapid transit, and safe walking and cycling because that will deliver more reliable buses. It will make the city easier to get around, and it was what Wellingtonians clearly stated that they wanted to be the priority in the Let's Get Wellington Moving consultation.

Nicola Willis: Well, does she agree with the Ombudsman that statements she made in the House about the letter have "generated significant public and parliamentary debate, as well as confusion, public disquiet and speculation.", and will she apologise for her lack of openness and transparency?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: In response to the first part of the question, I agree with the Ombudsman that I could have been clearer, but I would note that members of the Opposition, and particularly that member, were directly responsible for false speculation and whipping up a lot of concern and confusion about the issue.

Nicola Willis: Does she stand by her statement on Facebook on 31 October that "National is lying and spinning" in relation to her letter; and, if so, what were the lies she was referring to?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: In so far as I have ministerial responsibility, I do believe that National has had a habit of misleading, and that is true with respect to the decision of the Ombudsman, because the Ombudsman said, and I quote, "my opinion is that the Ministers were entitled to withhold a copy of the letter in order to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank expression of opinions between Ministers,". That was the decision of the Ombudsman, and I stand by it.

Nicola Willis: Would she support a resequencing of the Let's Get Wellington Moving projects to get the second Mount Victoria tunnel under way sooner, as recommended by officials; and if not, why not?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: That's a hypothetical question, but I would say that the reason why the Government is prioritising rapid transit is because it will move eight times more people than two additional lanes through the Mount Vic tunnel. What the public have said—and I think that the member hasn't actually read the feedback from the public on Let's Get Wellington Moving. There is overwhelming support for public transport, overwhelming support for mass transit, and overwhelming support for reducing congestion by reducing the number of the cars in the city, by reducing dependency of people on their vehicles, and by providing cost-effective alternatives like mass transit. I know that the National Party has a long history of opposing public transport like the Northern Busway, electrification of the Auckland rail network—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will not allow any such direct comment about another party made in a question; why is it acceptable in an answer?

Hon Grant Robertson: Mr Speaker, obviously it's your power to rule on that matter. I would note that the Minister was subject to a continuous barrage of interjections, which related to anything from party political matters to other matters, and I think in that context it was fair enough.

SPEAKER: Yes, and I think she was being asked to differentiate between policy approaches as part of the question. She was being asked to change her view towards a position that's been enunciated by another party. I think the Minister was getting pretty close to a finish, though.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That does not give the Minister, or any other Minister answering a question, the right to make a blanket statement about their own personal views on this party's policy. Her comment was, "I know for a long time." That does not relate, surely, to the last two years that this particular issue of the Wellington roading network or transport network has been subject to questioning in this House.

SPEAKER: No, and I think it's a longstanding process in this House that Ministers take responsibility for their answers. It's not my job to comment on their accuracy. If something is clearly not a fact, and can be proven as such, there are ways of bringing it up with me, but I have seen a series of Speakers' rulings in the past, including those from my immediate predecessor, which indicate that, basically, if members disagree with answers to supplementary questions, there's not very far that they can go.

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