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Parliament: Questions and Answers - Nov 6

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes. In particular, I acknowledge today information that the unemployment rate sits at 4.2 percent, the third lowest in a decade and below, I note, the 4.7 percent we inherited. That shows employment growth at 6,000 in the last quarter. It also, of course, captures that the underutilisation rate is at 10.4 percent, down from 11 percent, and the lowest since June 2008. This is a Government focused on making sure that everyone who wants and is able to be is earning, learning, caring, and volunteering, and making sure we're making the most of everyone's potential.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that Government policy should include a time limit on the dole for those under the age of 25?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: You'll find, under this Government, that we're focusing on getting every young person into training, education, and work. In fact, you can see that in what we've been doing with Mana in Mahi: 2,000 places made available to incentivise employers to take on young people and get them into apprenticeships. We've got to make sure that those opportunities are available—that we remove the barriers to training and education through policies like fees-free. These are all things that make a difference to young people getting into work and training. The member, on the other hand, is using tired old policies that haven't worked in the past.

SPEAKER: Before the member asks, I have received quite a lot of criticism for the volume of interjection in the House, particularly from the Opposition, but I do want to say to Government Ministers, including especially the finance Minister, that he should not encourage the Opposition by assisting the Prime Minister with his comments.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does her Government have a target for getting people off a benefit; and, if so, what is it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This Government doesn't want anyone who is able to be working to be on a benefit. That has to be everyone's goal to get them into meaningful employment. Of course, we have to recognise two factors with any country that has a safety net, and that is that some people will not be able to find available work that they can do and others just won't be able to work through reasons of mental health issues or physical disability, but this Government has a goal of getting everyone who is able to into work. That is why we have employed an extra 263 front-line staff to ensure that we are case-managing and working alongside those on benefits. That last Government decreased and did not increase the number of people working alongside those on benefits.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Does she believe that encouraging young people into vocational education and training is going to give them better prospects—[Interruption]—for the future than labelling them "pretty damn hopeless", as the last Government did?

SPEAKER: No, no. Before the Prime Minister goes, which member interjected then? Thank you. Right, carry, on, Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely, and that is why we've not only done things like remove barriers to training and education; we have also added those incentives so that employers have the extra support, both financial and pastoral, to take on people as apprentices, because, of course, we have a skills gap. We need those young people to be training. We need them to be earning and learning.

Hon Simon Bridges: Are her Government's social welfare policies working?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why then are there 22,000 more on unemployment benefits today than when she started as Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That member well knows that in the areas where we have seen impacts in terms of downturn—our manufacturing sector in particular has felt the effects of what is a global downturn—they are the areas where traditionally you will see those who are on Government support moving on and off. So that's an area where we will see the effects of global headwinds.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it acceptable to her that the number and proportion of Māori on the unemployment benefit continues to go up so that there are now more Māori on the benefit than at the height of the global financial crisis?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: One thing you'll find with this Government is that rather than labelling people, we are actually doing something about it. Everyone who finds themselves in need of Government support also deserves opportunities, support, and assistance to get into work. That not only means creating jobs—and, of course, we've had 81,000 created since we took office—it also means having work brokers there to help train and support people. Twenty-five thousand people on benefits last year were upskilled and trained by this Government. That's something that we're proud of, and we've invested $26 million to support into employment people with disabilities or health conditions. Rather than label people, we actually get on with supporting people.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why is unemployment today up?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I note that while it's at 4.2 percent, we actually inherited a rate of 4.7 percent. So if that member wants to claim that that's high, he might want to—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Stop whining.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —reflect on his own record.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it Government policy that if a New Zealander can work, they should work?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We want everyone who is able to be working to be working. You need to acknowledge it is social security. It's a net that exists also for people who are unable to work—those with physical disabilities; increasingly we do see people with mental health issues through our support systems. All of them should be supported to meet their full potential.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why then, in light of her earlier answer about the many more staff at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), has MSD recently reported it's spending much more time on hardship grants today than on getting people on unemployment benefits into work?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The audacity. That Government stripped back the number of people who are able to be working on case managing people who are unemployed. They reduced front-line support. Secondly, we are a Government who pledged to get people out of cars, to stop children having to read by torchlight because they didn't have housing, and to make sure that families got the support they needed. That is what Work and Income is for. So yes, we will have case managers helping people who are in financial distress, because that's what the system is there for.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she proud that she has overseen 22,000 more on the unemployment benefit, including many thousands more Māori, and that today unemployment is up and job growth is significantly down?

SPEAKER: Any one of the four.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Unemployment is lower than what we inherited it under that Government, and I'm proud of the fact that we are actively working to get people into work and 81,000 jobs have been created.

Question No. 2—Finance

2. 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 in which they were made and implemented.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How can he stand by his economic policies when today's labour market statistics show the job growth boom his Government inherited has slowed dramatically, along with the economy generally?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can certainly say that when I look at the statistics today they show that unemployment is down 12,000 since we came into office, and on every category—overall unemployment, unemployment for men, unemployment for women, unemployment for Māori, and unemployment for young people—all are down since we came into office.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is it true that during his two years in Government new jobs have been created at well less than half the rate they were created under the last two years of the National Government?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I do know is true is that there are 81,000 more jobs since we got into Government, 6,000 in the last quarter, and the underutilisation rate is down. The member is just so negative. He can see the negative in everything and not the positive signs that are going on in the economy.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why does he think there are an additional 22,000 people on jobseeker benefits after two years of his Government?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: This has been covered a number of times in the House. To start with, there are more people. We are in a different part of the economic cycle. But the bottom line is that the unemployment rate that we see in New Zealand today is the third lowest in a decade. The other two lowest were also under this Government.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he surprised that the number of Kiwi young people not in education, employment, and training has gone up, despite the tens of millions of dollars that Willie Jackson has spent on programmes?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, interestingly, when you look at the rates of NEETs—of people not in employment, education, or training—the area that Mr Jackson's targeting, 15- to 19-year-olds, that's gone down.

Hon Iain Lees-Galloway: Can the Minister confirm that underutilisation is at an 11-year low and that wage growth is at a 10-year high, which means that people are not only getting into work; they're getting into full-time work and getting paid well for it?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Indeed I can. That is an excellent summary of the underutilisation rate sitting at 10.4 percent down from 11 percent—the lowest since June 2008. And on wage growth, absolutely—up 4.2 percent; that means about $83 a week extra in earnings in the pockets of New Zealanders since the Government took office.

Question No. 3—Finance

3. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Today, Stats New Zealand released labour market statistics showing that unemployment continues near historic lows and that employment and wages continue to grow. The unemployment rate of 4.2 percent is the third lowest in the last decade—slightly up from the 11-year low of 3.9 percent last quarter but below the 4.7 percent unemployment rate that we inherited from the previous Government. Today's data showed 81,000 more people are employed under this Government and the number of unemployed people has dropped by 12,000 since we came into office. This is a good result showing the New Zealand economy remaining strong amid the global headwinds.

Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen on wage growth in the economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Good news worth repeating. The average ordinary time hourly earnings continued to grow above 4 percent over the past year, with growth of 4.2 percent. By another measure, the labour cost index, Stats New Zealand said wages were rising at their fastest rate in a decade. The data today shows average ordinary time earnings up by $83 a week since the coalition Government took office. This means that working New Zealanders are getting more money in their back pockets and employers are investing in their workers under the coalition Government's economic plan.

Kiritapu Allan: What reactions has he seen to the unemployment figures?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Reactions from economists noted that the 4.2 percent unemployment rate indicated near-to-full employment in the economy and acknowledged that the rate will move around quarter to quarter. Westpac economist Michael Gordon said today's low unemployment rate would be a modestly positive surprise for the Reserve Bank, which had forecast 4.4 percent. He said that the unemployment rate remained low and that over the last year it had flattened off instead of rising, as some had expected. I am proud to be part of a Government that is keeping our unemployment rate near historic lows at a time when the global headwinds are getting stronger and uncertainty is increasing due to the US-China trade war and Brexit. The New Zealand economy is in good shape.

Question No. 4—Social Development

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

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Yes, particularly this Government's policies to provide more support for low and middle income families through our $5.5 billion Families Package, invest nearly $50 million into Mana in Mahi to support our young people into sustainable work, index main benefit rates to increases in average wages, remove a harmful sanction that penalises sole parents and their children, increase benefit abatement thresholds, and deliver a programme of culture change that ensures people are treated with dignity and respect and are able to access their full and correct entitlements.

Hon Louise Upston: Why has the number of young people stuck on benefit for more than 12 months increased by 25 percent as a result of her policies?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This Government has been working very proactively to ensure that we are effectively working with young people that come into contact with the benefit system, with the welfare system. What we have seen is a trend downwards with respect to the youth payment and the young parent payment. Where there are increases overall in the welfare system with respect to benefit numbers then we of course see that come into effect for that particular age group as well. Keeping the numbers in perspective, as we've heard today, the unemployment rate is at 4.2 percent. I think that that's something that this Government can be proud of.

Hon Louise Upston: Why have a smaller proportion of people stayed off benefit for six months compared to last year?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I do think that the member might be referring to the annual report and impact indicators, and if the member is, then on pages 30 and 31 of that particular annual report where the impact indicators are discussed, there's also a footnote that says that the result reported against each year refers to the calculation relating to two years previously, i.e. the 2018-19 result refers to spending in 2016 and 2017. So we do need to be cautious that there is a lag time with respect to the actual positive results that we can see from some of the policies that we might be implementing. And some of the negative results that that member is referring to could, in fact, be because of the previous Government's decisions and policies.

Hon Louise Upston: Why has the proportion of people who stay off benefit having completed an intervention fallen every year even though it was increasing under National?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As I said, the impact indicators that the member is talking about—there is a footnote on that particular page that says that there can be a lag effect and that we do need to take into consideration the policies of two years previously. What I'm really proud of is that if we look at the overall picture with regards to what's happening with unemployment in this country, what we are seeing is that, actually, the unemployment rate is the third lowest that it's been in over a decade, and all of the three lows that have been hit have been hit by this side of the House, not the previous Government.

Hon Louise Upston: Of the 22,000 extra people on the jobseeker benefit, why are there fewer getting into work and on the path to independence under her watch?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This Government is really focused on upskilling and training. When you look at the low unemployment rate that we are facing as a country, the reality is that what we do have are employers who are looking for more skilled workers. So with respect to filling those workforce demands, in terms of meeting the employers expectations, we as a Government need to be focused on upskilling and training to ensure that our people are well-equipped to go into the jobs that exist. So I'm really proud of the work that this side of the House has been doing with respect to our focus on education and training; not just through the Ministry of Social Development, but, of course, through our education system. It's important that we continue that work, and I think that we're on the right path.

Question No. 5—Climate Change

5. CHLÖE SWARBRICK (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change: How has the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill been amended since its introduction?

Hon JAMES SHAW (Minister for Climate Change): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Thanks to the Environment Committee and around 10,000 people and organisations who submitted on the bill, the zero carbon bill has a number of improvements. These include stronger consultation requirements so that all New Zealanders can be involved in decisions as we transition to a low emissions economy, more consideration of the costs and benefits of technological change, and a stronger focus on reducing our impact on the climate in New Zealand rather than relying on overseas carbon credits.

Marama Davidson: How will the bill reflect Te Tiriti o Waitangi and strengthen Crown-Māori relationships?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Not only does the bill specifically require the Crown to invite nominations for the Climate Change Commission from iwi Māori and to appoint people to the commission who have experience and expertise relating to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it now also requires the commission itself to consider the Crown-Māori relationship, Te Ao Māori, and specific effects on iwi and Māori when performing its duties and functions. The tools already exist to help us to avoid a climate crisis, and many of these tools have roots in kaitiakitanga. Tangata whenua have been leaders in climate change response, and it is time that the Crown meets the wero and sets to work.

Gareth Hughes: How has the bill changed to reflect the concerns of people who don't want to see forestry offsets used as an excuse to not actually reduce emissions?

Hon JAMES SHAW: The select committee and the Government have heard these concerns and we're acting on them, and they may be of particular interest to the Hon Nathan Guy. The commission will be able to recommend limits on the amounts that trees can be used to offset emissions. These will help to ensure that the transport and energy sectors are actually reducing emissions, not just offsetting them. At the same time, we will support our rural communities to transition to lower-emissions food production, and ensure that forestry contributes to a productive, sustainable, and inclusive rural economy.

Jan Logie: How would the bill help ensure a just transition for working people in rural communities?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Emissions reductions plans prepared under the bill will need to include strategies to mitigate the impacts that reducing emissions and increasing forestry removals could have on employees and employers, regions, iwi and Māori, and wider communities. I am pleased that the bill now also includes a specific requirement for the commission to consider impacts of the low emissions transition on rural communities. Our Government is committed to a just transition, working alongside New Zealanders in our cities and in our regions. We are all in this together, and our approach to a just transition extends beyond the zero carbon bill to things like the new clean energy research centre that we're setting up in Taranaki to boost jobs in clean energy.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Does he support the recommendation from the select committee for increased parliamentary scrutiny through cross-party consultation and debate on the emissions budgets?

Hon JAMES SHAW: The bill requires cross-party consultation before emissions budgets are set, and I very much support that. I welcome the select committee's recommendation about parliamentary debate, but I understand the select committee also said that this is not the kind of thing that would necessarily be provided for in the legislation itself. I look forward to the outcome of any Standing Orders Committee discussions on potential parliamentary debates on emissions budgets. As a principle, I agree that it's important that all political parties and, indeed, all New Zealanders are involved in planning and achieving our transition to a low-emissions economy.

Golriz Ghahraman: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does the bill allow decision makers to opt out from considering emission reduction targets and emission budgets when making decisions?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Members may recall that on introduction, the bill contained a clause stating that a failure to take the targets or emissions budgets into account when exercising or performing a public duty or function or power conferred upon them by law could not invalidate that decision. Well, that clause is gone. Members of the public who believe that emissions reductions targets and emissions budgets have not been adequately taken into account will be able to test this in the courts.

Hon Julie Anne Genter: How has the bill changed regarding the importance of adapting to climate change that is already happening?

Hon JAMES SHAW: Our actions have already changed the climate, and so the bill requires Governments to produce national climate change risk assessments and adaptation plans. So it's only fitting that the bill's purpose statement now includes allowing New Zealand to prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change, in addition to the purpose of reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. For example, we know it's irresponsible to be building new houses in areas that will become prone to flooding or subsidence. To create a climate-safe future, we must plan for both emissions reductions and climate adaptation.

Question No. 6—Forestry

6. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Forestry: Does he share the concerns of his officials outlined in paragraph 17 of the 1 April 2019 paper titled "One Billion Trees Fund and the risk of 'whole farm' conversion", and how does he intend to manage these issues going forward?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister of Forestry): I thank the member for his question. Of course, the paragraph he's quoting from has been characteristically distorted, and I do agree that whole-farm conversions are not the objective of the billion trees fund.

Todd Muller: The Government has a strategy of right tree, right place, right purpose; so, as forestry Minister assessing the land-use change to forestry occurring around the country at the moment, is he seeing any examples of wrong tree, wrong place, wrong purpose?

Hon SHANE JONES: I would remind the member that land-use decisions are the province of local government, and one of the great virtues of owning land in New Zealand is having the flexibility to change the purpose for which that land might be used. The point, also, I would add is that, yes, there is some concern about the amount of capital being dedicated towards forestry, but those concerns are vastly exaggerated and worsened by misinformation from the Opposition members in the House.

Todd Muller: In the same 1 April paper it was noted by officials that the high carbon price is a key driver for whole-farm conversions; if that's the case now at $25 a tonne, does the Minister have any concern over land-use change to forestry when the price substantially lifts?

Hon SHANE JONES: Well, obviously, the current position is that $25 is our cap, but thank you very much for voting for Mr Shaw's bill.

Todd Muller: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very straight, clear question, and I believe that—

SPEAKER: Yeah, I will get the member to repeat the question.

Todd Muller: Thank you. In the same 1 April paper, it was noted by officials that the high carbon price is a key driver of whole-farm conversions; if that's the case now at $25 a tonne, does the Minister have any concern over land-use change to forestry when the price substantially lifts?

Hon SHANE JONES: I shall elaborate. The apparatus governing the price of carbon relates to legislation currently in the House that you've reflected great enthusiasm for voting for. Secondly, there is no ambition at the moment to change the cap. The cap reflects settled Government policy, just as there is no settled policy to import dodgy Ukrainian credits, which blighted the emissions trading scheme (ETS) under the regime of the John Key - Mr English Government. And once again, sir, thank you very much for voting for Mr Shaw's bill.

Todd Muller: Supplementary to the Minister—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What a plonker.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Who said that?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I did.

SPEAKER: The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

SPEAKER: And he's lucky.

Todd Muller: Is he aware that the legislation that we're about to debate, the zero carbon bill, precisely assumes that the cap comes off?

Hon SHANE JONES: What the legislation allows for is for a future Government to address how many units, what level of carbon price, should persist, but the bill that the member is voting for, a Government bill, will bring, hopefully, unanimity and we'll see an end to the other side of the House trying to denigrate and destroy the ETS.

Todd Muller: Extraordinary—

SPEAKER: There was an answer in there, right in the middle.

Todd Muller: Sorry?

SPEAKER: Yeah, sorry, I thought the member was going to take a point of order.

Todd Muller: Oh, well, I was, on that encouragement!

SPEAKER: No, no, I'm discouraging the member. I think very deep in it was an attempt to address the question.

Todd Muller: Is the Minister concerned with the increasing over-reliance on forestry offsetting in the Government's current climate change policies?

Hon SHANE JONES: Obviously, there are some challenges as we go through a reset of how land is being used in New Zealand. I'd be the first to admit that there have been anxieties in Wairoa. But I say to the people of Wairoa: only a mere 8,300 hectares, as a consequence of the primrose path in the overseas investment regime, have been converted to forestry. I am advised that that's less than 1,000th of the sheep and beef land in New Zealand, and I look forward, in the event that there is a smattering of protestors arriving on 14 November, to bringing them into the world of factual information, not misinformation from the other side of the House.

Todd Muller: Will the Minister support our Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) to the zero carbon bill that asks specifically of the Commerce Commission to reflect on the ongoing use of forestry offsets and advise future Parliaments if changes are needed?

Hon SHANE JONES: In looking at any SOPs, I will place great accent on the fulsome support given by the Farming Leaders Group of New Zealand for the Prime Minister and not indulging these whimsical attempts by the Opposition to undermine farming leadership yet again.

Question No. 7—Health

7. Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What steps, if any, have been taken to recognise and maintain the high professional standards of key front-line health workers?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): More good news. Yesterday I visited Wellington Free Ambulance's headquarters to announce the Government's decision to regulate paramedics under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003. Paramedic leaders have been pushing for this formal recognition of their status for years. I supported them as a Labour Opposition MP, so I'm particularly pleased to now deliver on our pledge to make this happen. Paramedics are usually the first on the scene when we suffer a medical emergency, and they do great work saving thousands of lives every year. By placing them under the same regulatory framework as doctors and nurses, we are recognising the importance of their work. These long overdue changes will ensure the high professional standards to which they currently work will be maintained and enhanced into the future.

Dr Liz Craig: So who will pay for this, and will there be any additional cost for paramedics, such as registration?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I expect registration of paramedics to start occurring later next year. Regulating paramedics under the Act will cost about $1.4 million in the first year, decreasing to $1.2 million in subsequent years. In the first year, this cost is being met within baselines by the Ministry of Health, ACC, and service providers, meaning the costs of annual practising certificates will not be carried by the workforce. This Government invests $203 million every year in road ambulance services, including communications, and that investment aligns with a four-year funding track agreed by the previous Government and welcomed by St John Ambulance. However, the Government has chosen to make additional investment in these important services beyond that agreed funding track. In this year's Budget, for example, we committed $25 million over two years to relieve immediate pressures on St John Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance. We believe this was necessary to support these services while they work with the Ministry of Health and ACC on their long-term sustainability. This is on top of an extra $17.2 million over four years in increased operational funding as part of Budget 2019.

Dr Liz Craig: So how does this step forward for our paramedic workforce fit with the Government's plan to ensure New Zealanders in need receive high quality emergency medical care?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Our recognition of paramedics' role as front-line health professionals in the codifying of their responsibilities is important as we move toward double-crewing ambulances. Just over 1,000 paramedics currently work for the two emergency ambulance providers: St John Ambulance and Wellington Free Ambulance. That workforce is expected to grow to 1,400 by 2021 as double crewing is standardised around the country. I have no doubt that double crewing will mean better care in emergency situations. The move to strengthen our paramedic workforce comes not long after we acted to modernise our air ambulance fleet with an investment in twin-engine helicopters to ensure that people are safe and safely treated on their way back to hospital. That was another investment from this Government in Budget 2018 of $83 million. We are reinvesting in our health workforce and in our assets to ensure that we have a modern, fit for purpose health service that will mean New Zealanders get the care they expect and deserve.

Question No. 8—Health

8. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Associate Minister of Health: What communications, if any, were there from the World Health Organization to the Government this year regarding the emergence of measles in New Zealand?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Health): I am advised that there have been two letters received from the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as two receipts—acknowledgments—of communications from our Ministry of Health about the measles outbreaks in New Zealand. For the benefit of the member, I will table these letters forthwith. I seek leave to table correspondence from the World Health Organization to the Government received on 9 April 2019 and 2 May 2019.

SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that? There appears to be none. They will be tabled.

Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Dr Shane Reti: Does she stand by her answer to written questions that she will not release the contents of the letter from the WHO in April warning of measles because it is not in the public interest?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Well, I just tabled the contents of those letters here in the House today, but I do stand by the answer, which said it was not in the public interest due to the administrative work required to answer the over 400 written parliamentary questions that I've received from that member in just the last few months.

Dr Shane Reti: Do contents of the letter from the WHO that were not in the public interest contain any recommendations to counter measles outbreaks that were not taken up by the Government at the time?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: No.

Dr Shane Reti: Did the WHO letter recommend preparing for extra measles vaccines?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The member will be able to read the letter because I've just tabled it, and the details of it are nine recommendations from the World Health Organization that the ministry absolutely responded to—in fact, it was already in the midst of carrying out before the letter was received.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it would be a bit odd if the House was to accept that a Minister can answer a question by tabling a letter minutes—or seconds, in this case—before the answer and saying that that provides the answer. Surely, the question should stand as it has been considered for the last three hours?

SPEAKER: OK, OK. The Minister is, of course, able to do that; we take into account the disadvantage that it places Dr Shane Reti in as a result of that in allowing some flexibility in his questions. While he is disadvantaged, he is generally pretty nimble, and I'm certain that he will adjust his question line from now on in order to take into account the fact that the letter's been tabled—in fact, I think that after the first supplementary, he did.

Dr Shane Reti: What part of the letter did she think was not in the public interest to release?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: As I said earlier, given the over 400 written parliamentary questions that I've received in the last few months from the member, I did not consider it in the public interest, and it's not standard practice to release the contents of letters through questions for written answers. That's why I've tabled the letters in full, here in the House, so members can see them.

Question No. 9—Transport

9. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Associate Minister of Transport: How many used cars mentioned on page 44 of the Government's discussion document titled "Moving the light vehicle fleet to low-emissions: discussion paper on a Clean Car Standard and Clean Car Discount" have one- and two-star used-car safety ratings?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): The vehicles on page 44 of this document are only an illustrative snapshot of used vehicles available in 2019. The table was intended to illustrate the range of vehicles available today—their average cost and emissions profile. So it says right here that they're not indicative of the vehicles that will receive the Clean Car Discount, if and when that policy is implemented. I'm also advised that the vehicle safety ratings differ depending on the model variant, and, therefore, it is actually not possible to identify a safety rating based on model alone.

SPEAKER: Order!

Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: No, no—you don't need one. It was actually a very simple question. I did hear what the member said at the end, but I would be very surprised if, with a relatively small number of cars, and all of the resources that are available to the Minister, someone couldn't count.

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Mr Speaker, the advice I've received from the Ministry of Transport is that one cannot determine the star rating based on just the model alone, even though there is a range of vehicles—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Sorry, sorry. That was Mr Woodhouse, who, of all people, should know better.

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I did ask the ministry, and this is the answer that they gave me.

Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We're in difficult territory here. The Government has a website called the Rightcar website—it's a Government website. It has a whole list of used-car types rated by star rating. All I've asked the Minister to do is tell us how many, on page 44 of the Government's Clean Car Discount document, of these cars—there's about 30 there—are rated one-star or two stars. It would take anyone 20 minutes to figure it out.

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Speaking to the point of order, the issue is that if we look up one of these models, there can be several star ratings depending on other factors related to the car. You cannot give a one-star rating.

SPEAKER: Right. OK. Well, I think, you know, as unsatisfactory as the member might think it is, we have to accept the Minister's answer because that's the advice that she's been given.

Chris Bishop: Has the New Zealand Transport Agency raised with her the desire to not apply the "feebate" for electric cars to one- and two-star rated cars; if so, why is the Government proposing to do so?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Like that member, I have a great passion for safety. The Government has quite a wide-ranging work programme related to ensuring that the cars coming into the country are safe. At the same time, we're working on a policy to ensure that it's easier for people to access low-emissions cars. What I can assure the member of is that all throughout the work on the Clean Car Discount, we've also been certain that we're progressing the work on safety standards. So, for example, there are some new used-vehicle safety standards that will be in force from March 2020, which means, should this policy be implemented, that every single car that's imported will have to meet that standard.

Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That did not answer the question. I asked: has the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) raised with her the desire to not apply the "feebate" for electric cars to one- and two-star rated cars. We got a long list of things that she's interested in—

SPEAKER: I would have thought it was pretty clear—if you can't import it, it's not going to be applied.

Chris Bishop: No, no—the question was about the Transport Agency raising with her their desire to not apply the "feebate." There was literally no—

SPEAKER: OK. Was that raised with the Minister?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: No.

Chris Bishop: Why does the New Zealand Transport Agency's 23 August board minutes say that they raised that matter with the Minister?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The specific matter that has been raised is whether or not there is a conflict between applying safety standards to cars and promoting low-emissions vehicles, and what the Government has determined is that the star rating is not the appropriate regulation for safety standards. We have the electronic stability control coming in in early 2020, and that will apply to all vehicles that are imported, all used cars that are imported, from 2020.

Chris Bishop: Is she saying that the 23 August NZTA board minutes, which note that they have raised with Ministers the desire to not apply the "feebate" for electric cars to one- and two-star rated cars, are wrong?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: What I would say to that member is that the issues around ensuring we have safe and low-emissions vehicles have been considered by NZTA and the Ministry of Transport. We're working very hard on delivering both, and, to reassure that member, it is entirely possible to have safe low-emissions vehicles.

Chris Bishop: Did the New Zealand Transport Agency raise with her as Minister the desire to not apply the "feebate" for electric cars to one- and two-star rated cars?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: That was not—if that issue was raised with me, and I can't confirm that it was, the issue of how we regulate the safety of vehicles and ensure that they are low-emissions vehicles was raised, and we are absolutely addressing that.

Chris Bishop: Did the New Zealand Transport Agency raise with her the desire to not apply the "feebate" for electric cars to one- and two-star safety rated cars?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Just as I said, if that did occur—and I can't say that it did—the answer is that we are applying safety standards to all vehicles that are imported, and therefore low-emissions vehicles that will benefit from the clean-car discount will also be safe.

Question No. 10—Employment

10. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister of Employment: What initiatives, if any, is the Government undertaking to improve employment outcomes for New Zealanders?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): As part of the employment strategy launched in August, we announced a series of initiatives that will support this Government's focus on ensuring the labour market is productive, sustainable, and inclusive. Part of our overall strategy is ensuring that we are investing in upskilling Kiwis, particularly those who historically have poor outcomes. Programmes such as Mana in Mahi, Pae Aronui, and He Poutama Rangatahi are making a real difference in creating pathways for our young people into employment.

Marja Lubeck: What difference is the employment initiative He Poutama Rangatahi making?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I'm happy to share with the House that He Poutama Rangatahi is making a difference in regions ignored by previous Governments—

Hon Simon Bridges: But things are getting worse.

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: —areas like Te Tai Tokerau, Tairāwhiti, Eastern Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay. In fact, 2,132 rangatahi—that's young people, Mr Bridges—who are classified as not earning or learning are now engaged in employment or training pathways. What I'm particularly proud of in this initiative is the fact that 38 percent of all participants had previously been expelled from school. This programme has given those rangatahi a chance at a very different future.

Marja Lubeck: What difference is the employment initiative Mana in Mahi making?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Mana in Mahi is an employment initiative that is creating real employment opportunities for many of our young people. Forty two percent of all participants had already been on a benefit for 12 months or more. By working with our employers, not only have we placed 363 young people into work but we're also ensuring they are earning workplace qualifications that set them up for a lifetime of sustainable employment. Also, percentage-wise, Māori are doing much better under this Government in terms of not going on benefits compared to the previous Government. In September 2009, 29.7 percent of Māori were on benefits. In 2010, 30.7 percent of Māori were on benefits. Right now, 26.7 percent of Māori are on benefits—doing much better than the previous Government.

Marja Lubeck: Has the Minister seen any reports that indicate that these initiatives are improving employment outcomes?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Yes. The household labour force survey today—again, very good results for Māori—indicates that the employment market remains stable and strong, and I'm pleased to say that there are 6,000—6,000—more Māori in employment, more than this time last year. Mana in Mahi, Pae Aronui, He Poutama Rangatahi—kaupapa Māori initiatives all around the country are ensuring that Māori are doing well. More Māori are employed, and more Māori are off benefits than the previous Government could have ever dreamed of.

SPEAKER: Question No. 11, Nicola Willis. Oh, sorry—Stuart Smith. [Interruption] All right, well, I'm getting pretty confused, but when members call I tend to, sort of, believe them. Nicola Willis.

Question No. 11—Transport

NICOLA WILLIS (National): My question is to the Associate Minister of Transport. When she wrote to the Minister of Transport stating her view that work on rapid transit should be prioritised ahead of a second Mount Victoria tunnel, had she sought any analysis or advice from transport officials about the impact that would have on access to the east for Wellingtonians; if so, on what date did she receive that advice?

SPEAKER: Now, I am going to ask the member to read the question again.

11. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Associate Minister of Transport: When she wrote to the Minister of Transport stating her view that work on rapid transit should be prioritised ahead of a second Mount Victoria tunnel, had she sought any advice from transport officials about the impact that would have on congestion, travel times, and bus services for Wellingtonians; if so, on what date did she receive that advice?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): To answer the first part of this question, yes, I'm advised that Minister Twyford and I received advice applicable to the sequencing of the projects from the Ministry of Transport on 26 March 2019 and on 5 April 2019. I'm advised we also received nine briefings from the New Zealand Transport Agency relating to this matter between 21 February 2018 and 23 September 2019. I'm confident that both my position and the Government's final position on Let's Get Wellington Moving is well supported by the available evidence.

Nicola Willis: Well, does she agree with the advice that she's just quoted, provided to Minister Twyford from the Ministry of Transport, that delaying the second Mount Victoria tunnel would increase congestion and result in unreliable general traffic times for Wellingtonians travelling to the east?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I also agree that if we don't have good public transport and rapid transit, there would be subsequent congestion from the construction of a Mount Vic tunnel. But the advice also says, from a mode-shift perspective, it is important for rapid transit, other public transport, walking, and cycling investments to be built ahead of extra road capacity.

Nicola Willis: So is it the case that she received no written advice prior to sending her letter that supported delay and construction of the Mount Victoria tunnel?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I received a number of briefings from the New Zealand Transport Agency on this matter, on all the relative costs and benefits of different projects and the sequencing of the projects. For example, in this briefing from 3 October 2018, we received information that the benefit-cost ratios (BCRs) are likely to be highest for the early improvements—walking and cycling; public transport improvements north and central; mass transit, especially the section from the station to Newtown—and all of those BCRs are higher than the highway projects.

Nicola Willis: Does she agree with advice provided to Minister Twyford from the Ministry of Transport that delaying the second Mount Vic tunnel would increase congestion and result in unreliable general traffic times, or does she think her opinion is more important than that of the advice from her officials?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: My opinion is based on advice from officials, and the officials provided a range of assessments of benefits and costs of different sequencing and different projects. We have agreed to the sequencing that is going to deliver the greatest benefits to Wellingtonians in terms of improving the ability of people to get around through walking, cycling, and public transport, and that will deliver the greatest benefits to motorists.

Question No. 12—Immigration

STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura): Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Minister of Immigration. Can he confirm that the majority of applications for 13 out of 14 of the most common visa categories listed on the Immigration New Zealand website are currently being processed—

SPEAKER: Order! I'm going to get the member to start again and read the question.

12. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Immigration: Can he confirm that the majority of the applications for 13 out of 14 of the visa categories listed on the Immigration New Zealand website are currently being processed slower than they were as at 1 November 2017, and does he expect delays to get worse in the near future?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. In answer to the first part of the member's question: yes, visa processing times have consistently been getting worse, year after year, since 2014. Unlike the previous Government, who let that happen unchecked, I am taking this matter seriously. I raised it formally with the chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the head of Immigration New Zealand back in May. They have been reporting to me every week on what Immigration New Zealand is doing to turn it around and what progress they are making on visa processing times. My expectations are clear: that Immigration New Zealand should be fully focused on bringing processing times down, and I'm pleased to say they're making good progress. In answer to the second part of the member's question, timeliness in the future will, of course, be affected by volumes, and right now more people are applying to come to New Zealand than ever before, because of our strong economy and our welcoming community. Nevertheless, I expect Immigration New Zealand to be fully focused on making timely decisions.

Stuart Smith: When there was an $11.7 million funding boost to Immigration New Zealand for the sole purpose of improving visa processing times, why is there still such a significant delay in visa processing times?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: To put it shortly, I inherited a mess, and that is why this Government has invested so heavily in turning around the declining visa processing times that were occurring under the previous Government. So we've reversed some of the decisions that were made under National: the Henderson branch is staying open, the Manila branch is staying open, 177 additional staff have been employed, and as the member rightly points out, more money is going into Immigration New Zealand, and I'm pleased to report that they are making good progress.

Stuart Smith: Why did his office not respond to a request from me questioning inaccuracies in the data he provided me on visa processing times, and then waited until it was in the media before correcting the information?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Unfortunately, Immigration New Zealand did provide me with inaccurate information and they have apologised—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! This is quite a serious matter when a Minister has been provided with bad information, and I think it ill behoves members to shout him down when he is trying to indicate what he did about it.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: So Immigration New Zealand did, unfortunately, provide me with inaccurate information and they have apologised to me for doing so. I became aware that the information was inaccurate on Saturday afternoon. The information was corrected. Immigration staff rallied, got themselves into the office on a Saturday, and sorted out the mistake. However, it being on the weekend and the fact that the question would not be able to be corrected in a formal sense until a working day, I didn't see much point in getting parliamentary staff into work as well.

Kieran McAnulty: What recent feedback has he received from business on visa processing?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, I have to say that if I'd been getting these questions 12 months or even six months ago, I would have had to say the feedback was pretty negative. But, actually, as I've been going around the country I can report that the mood is improving. Just this morning—[Interruption]—members opposite will want to hear this. Just this morning, Kirk Hope from Business New Zealand told me that efficient visa processing and access to skilled overseas workers is important to New Zealand businesses. While there is always room for improvement, Business New Zealand is pleased with the reduction in essential skills visa processing and acknowledges Immigration New Zealand's engagement with our member organisations.

Point of Order—Responses to Questions on Notice

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam): I know that you have an ongoing quest to try and make question time better. When we ask questions from the Opposition, particularly on notice, there are constraints around what may be put in that question. I just ask that you have a look at, particularly today, several questions that were answered by Ministers that were highly inflammatory in much of the content of those answers, including the last one, quite frankly, and Julie Anne Genter's earlier in the afternoon. I think it's reasonable that once we get into a supplementary question and answer, there might be a greater traversing into those sorts of general political flicks, but surely not in a response to a question that is on notice. I just ask that you have a look at that—

SPEAKER: I will have a look at that, although I will warn the member that, you know, he can't totally take the politics out of Parliament; especially, I think we need to take a little bit of care when we have, sometimes, some pretty political supplementaries. I think when that occurs, then there's likely to be a political response. But I do agree with the member that those political responses to straight primary questions are not desirable, and I will watch out for that.

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