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Parliament: Questions and Answers May 27 2020

 

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. TODD MULLER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: When she said yesterday that the Government was "using the tax system to get cashflow to small business", what did she mean by that?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. I thank the member for his question and the opportunity to talk about our support for small business. I stand by my full statement from yesterday which was, "I notice other members of his party have been quite dismissive during this question time of using the tax system to get cash flow to small business, so perhaps not everyone is of one voice. But again, the tax loss carry-back scheme, $3.1 billion; tax loss continuity support, $60 million; tax deductions for assets, again a massive part of our first tax package through Minister Nash. We raised the provisional tax threshold. We allowed depreciation on buildings and we also have allowed loans for R & D". The overriding point here is that I agree with the member that small businesses need to be supported at this time. This is what we've been focused on, whether it's through reduction of tax liability, whether it's through refunds, whether or not it's through the wage subsidy, or whether or not it's through loan schemes, we've actually delivered all of them.

Todd Muller: How does the tax loss carry-back scheme help a car painter in Christchurch with one employee who last year earned $100,000 but drew this as a salary, and therefore did not declare a profit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We've never assumed that any single one of our initiatives will solve problems for every small business, which is why we have introduced a range of products. We've included, obviously, what I've announced today is a very well-used interest-free loan scheme. The wage subsidy scheme would allow that business owner to claim not only for themselves but for their employee as well. So one thing is not the solution, but many products have been.

Todd Muller: Could I repeat, how does the tax loss carry-back scheme help a car painter in Christchurch with one employee who last year earned $100,000 but drew this as a salary, and therefore did not declare a profit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I just responded to the member, one single product is not necessarily going to help that small business owner, but in the same way that the GST claim system that that member has had as his policy wouldn't necessarily help every business. For example, a business with under $60,000 in turnover wouldn't register for GST and would be excluded. So again, I say to the member that it takes a range of responses, and that is what we have produced as a Government.

SPEAKER: Before the member carries on, I'd like to ask members just to settle down a little bit, and I'm looking, at the moment, at my colleague from the West Coast, who seemed to sort of outperform all others with regard to volume, but as he did so, he seemed to stimulate a response, which was not helpful.

Todd Muller: What advice has the Prime Minister received on the likely uptake of the tax loss carry-back scheme from small businesses?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I can report on is what's happening in real time. It has so far released funds worth $71 million. Again, that won't necessarily be entirely for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and we've been very open about that. That is why we've had a range of products to answer the differing positions of businesses at any given time. So it is running for a year. That won't be a full indication of the uptake, but it is one package that I know is making a difference, and was recommended, as I understand, by BusinessNZ as a useful package.

Todd Muller: Of the $71 million she just quoted, how much has gone to small businesses?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Whilst I don't have a breakdown, 1,484 customers have opted in so far into the loss carry-back scheme. I think, though, that if we get to the nub of the issue, the member and I actually agree that we need to be supporting small business. I'm not entirely clear on whether the member supports the wage subsidy scheme, which I think has been incredibly valuable, and I have a range of quotes from correspondence from SMEs saying why. But even with a GST rebate system, even that has people who will not benefit from it. We need a range of responses. I'm happy to consider ideas from the member if he has extra ones.

Todd Muller: Why will the tax loss carry-back scheme benefit small businesses, given that very few small businesses report a taxable profit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: And some small businesses won't even have an income of $60,000 which requires them to register for GST, so therefore his scheme may not help them either. Again, as we've continually argued, the loss carry-back scheme is one part of a range of packages. We've also changed the provisional tax threshold, which means that there are, from memory, 95,000 taxpayers who won't have a tax liability for provisional tax. Of course we have the lone scheme and the wage subsidy scheme; we've also increased the low-value asset write-off threshold, which, again, reduces the tax liability for a number of small businesses. There is not one answer; there are many answers.

Todd Muller: How quickly will the tax loss carry-back scheme actually get the money back to businesses?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've already said—keeping in mind we'll probably see another flush through to August, as well—$71 million has already been paid out.

Todd Muller: Of that $71 million, can she please confirm to the House how much of that has gone to small businesses of New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I already told the member that I do not have a breakdown, but there's been a payout of 1,484 customers. I can give a breakdown, though, of the Small Business Cashflow Loan Scheme: the largest number of applications, about 45 percent of the total, are from individuals and sole traders where there is just one employee; organisations with two to five employees is the next most frequent group of applications. The member also knows from my answers yesterday that when it comes to the wage subsidy, by far and away the largest number of benefactors have been small business and sole traders. It has made a significant difference and I have a large amount of correspondence to back that up.

Todd Muller: What is her philosophical objection to actually taking up the National Party idea of a GST cash-back scheme that delivers cash now for businesses who are broken and crying out for help?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The point that I would make here is that, actually, to even reach the top end of what the member has proposed we'd be able to access as a rebate, a business would have to have a spend of over $767,000. Again, I've also, in asking IRD—[Interruption] Mr Speaker, I'm trying to give the member a considered approach—about this as an option, their response has been that it would be relatively hard to administer and may not be as quick as some of the options that we have put out, and not nearly as easy to calculate, and also, because of the thresholds, it wouldn't necessarily cover some smaller operators. For me, there shouldn't be politics in us considering these ideas. We have considered a range of options; we just haven't fallen on this one.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question.

SPEAKER: No, before we have any of that I will remind members who are interjecting from the gallery, they have an absolute right to do that, because the gallery is currently regarded as being part of the House—but, Mr King, they have to be in order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister as to whether she's received any reports of the likelihood of some future Government hitherto in the enthral of big business looking after small business?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do find it interesting that there's an argument against some of the proposals that we've put forward, including, it seems, the wage subsidy scheme, which has from even, for instance, the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce, 68 percent of businesses surveyed reported that they were able to retain 100 percent of their staff and they considered it the most helpful initiative to local businesses.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Does the Prime Minister believe that the 86 percent of New Zealanders who support the Government's economic response to COVID-19, including the tax changes that she's outlined, must be suffering from Stockholm syndrome, as diagnosed by the Opposition health spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse?

SPEAKER: Order! Before you can answer that—oh, I think it's been turned off now, but my predecessor, Mr Carter, please do not shine your torch in my eye. Thank you.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously I disagree with the statements made by Mr Woodhouse, but it is fair to say that we have been listening to New Zealanders and to small businesses. If you take the example of tourism and the number of meetings that the Minister has held, the tourism sector asked us to extend the wage subsidy, so that is exactly what we did.

Hon Stuart Nash: Has the Prime Minister seen reports of this Government's changes to black hole expenditure rules and revision of loss continuity tax rules that this Government is undertaking that the tax community's been crying out for for years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, they have been asked for and we have responded. In fact, not only are we implementing them now when it comes to loss carry-back, we are also going to looking at allowing that in the future, and we'll be undertaking consultation to make that a permanent part of our tax regime.

Question No. 2—Finance

KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour): How will Budget 2020 support employment—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm going to get the member to start again. I'm going to ask the Prime Minister and the shadow Leader of the House to stop interjecting during the question. I'll regard it as one all. I think people are aware—or some people are aware—that I ignored an earlier one as well.

2. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: How will Budget 2020 support employment in New Zealand?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Talofa lava. Budget 2020 established the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to cushion the blow to Kiwi firms and workers and lay the groundwork for our economic recovery by creating jobs across New Zealand. The fund will deliver major investments in jobs by making critical trades training and apprenticeships free, enabling the delivery of 8,000 new public houses, cleaning up our waterways, controlling pests, and extending the food in schools programme to up to 200,000 children, creating jobs up and down the country. These significant investments form an important part of the coalition Government's clear plan to help New Zealand respond, recover, and rebuild from COVID-19.

Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen on the impact of Budget 2020 investments on jobs and employment in New Zealand?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We've been clear with New Zealanders that the path ahead will be challenging and that we will not be able to save every job, but Treasury's Budget forecasts show that the Government's COVID-19 response could see as many as 138,000 jobs saved in the current period and see employment rise by 234,000 jobs over the next two years. Unemployment can be reduced from its peak of around 9.8 percent to even the current level of 4.2 percent, on the more optimistic scenario, within two years. The Government is committed to creating jobs so that New Zealanders can recover and rebuild better on the other side.

Kiritapu Allan: How does Budget 2020 build on the Government's record on jobs and employment?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen numerous reports that show New Zealand was in a strong position going into this global pandemic thanks to the work of the coalition Government. Since coming into office, the Government had reduced unemployment from 4.7 percent to 4 percent and increased wage growth to a decade high of just under 4 percent. We accomplished this while also delivering over $12 billion of surplus and reducing net debt to below 20 percent of GDP. The Government has a proven track record of delivering more jobs and higher wages while managing the books responsibly. New Zealanders will continue to see us build on this record through the unprecedented investments we are making in Budget 2020 to help New Zealand recover and rebuild from COVID-19.

Question No. 3—Finance

3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: How did the Government arrive at the figure of $50 billion that was allocated for the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund in Budget 2020, and is the Treasury being required to use the CBAx tool when assessing bids for the fund?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Ngā mihi ki a koe. There were a number of factors the Government took into consideration when establishing the level of funding to set aside for the Response and Recovery Fund. This included advice from Treasury on the likely impact of COVID-19 on businesses, public services, and the level of fiscal stimulus to get the economy back up and running as quickly as possible. As I said in my Budget speech, the $50 billion is an envelope that can be spent as necessary and required and is not a target per se. To answer the second part of the member's question, I would encourage him to speak to his senior colleague, the Hon Amy Adams, who would tell him that the CBAx—which was developed under the previous Government—is not used by Treasury to assess Budget bids. Rather, it is a tool departments may choose to use when requesting funding.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why is his Government hardly using such an important tool to assess the quality and effectiveness of new spending right at the moment when it has never spent so much?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We've followed on from the decision made in 2017 that the CBAx tool was not a requirement. It could be used by agencies and departments to put forward bids. What we have done is taken an assessment of every single bid that has come forward for its value for money and its ability to support New Zealand to recover and rebuild from COVID-19.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So when the Government developed its $1.1 billion programme for possum trapping and other environmental projects with the expectation of 11,000 jobs, what cost-benefit analysis was applied to the decision?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Treasury undertook an analysis of each of the proposals that came forward to establish how they aligned with our plan to respond, recover, and rebuild; their investment readiness and timing implications; the clarity of their outcomes and costings; their alignment with overall Government objectives; an options analysis of what other options could achieve similar outcomes; whether or not money could be reprioritised from baselines, and how cross-agency work would support this. All of those factors were taken into account.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: To the nearest $10 million, how much new spending has he announced every day on average since the Budget?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member won't be surprised that I don't have that figure with me but I would encourage him to listen to the words of his new leader when he said on Monday night we shouldn't quibble about how much money's been spent.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is so much money being announced that he's lost track of it?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Far from it—far from it. Every single day the Government works to support New Zealanders to recover and rebuild, and, as I say, the new Leader of the Opposition has been very clear: we shouldn't be quibbling about whether it's more or less expenditure; we should be focused on creating jobs and supporting New Zealand households, which we are.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is he satisfied with the results of the business finance guarantee scheme announced in March to act quickly to get $6.25 billion of new lending out to business, when to date just $60 million has been lent?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've made very, very clear in comments in the media, and indeed in this House, that I would like to see that scheme work as well as it possibly can, and it may well do that in the future. But the Government, as we have done throughout our response, has made sure that we've acted in response to what we've seen. That led us to bring in the small business loan guarantee scheme, which today ticked over a billion dollars' worth of lending to support small businesses.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Would he describe the business finance guarantee scheme as more or less successful than KiwiBuild?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I would say is it's much more successful than that member has been.

Hon James Shaw: Has he seen any recent reports on how New Zealanders rate the Government's response to the economic impact in the coronavirus outbreak; and putting aside his legendary modesty, could he explain why it might be?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, far be it for the kūmara to speak of how sweet it may be, but I think what we saw in the survey that the member is referencing is the fact that New Zealanders understand that this Government is focused on creating jobs and rebuilding New Zealand rather than focused on ourselves.

Question No. 4—Housing

4. ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister of Housing: What action has the Government taken to ensure vulnerable New Zealanders in need of housing were supported through the COVID-19 crisis?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. People living rough or in accommodation where physical distancing was not possible were identified as being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. We recognise that they would need additional support, and so, as New Zealand moved into alert level 4, we moved swiftly to help them into a suitable accommodation. Government agencies, community, iwi, and Māori housing providers have to date made 1,193 places available and 1,090 places are now tenanted. We've invested $107.6 million for accommodation and wraparound services, which will give certainty to the people we have housed and the providers who are housing them. While this represents an important step to solving homelessness in New Zealand, we recognise that there is still more work to be done, and that's why this Government is prioritising the implementation of the Homelessness Action Plan announced in February.

Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What reaction has she seen to the Government's action to support vulnerable New Zealanders in response to COVID-19?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The reaction to the Government's swift action has been overwhelmingly positive. Wellington city missioner, Murray Eldridge, says that in Wellington almost the entire street living community is now housed. Auckland city missioner, Chris Farrelly, says this is the closest we've come in a generation to getting everyone off the street. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those that we worked with in achieving this significant feat. These providers supported people in motels by linking them with food, checking in on their wellbeing on a regular basis, and connecting them with other essential services, such as healthcare. This has been a true team effort with tangible outcomes for our most vulnerable.

ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI: What is the long-term plan for getting these vulnerable New Zealanders into permanent housing?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The Government's temporary support will see 1,200 places funded until April 2021. This is in addition to the 1,000 transitional housing places announced as part of the Homelessness Action Plan in February and this month's Budget announcement of yet another 2,000 transitional houses as part of the COVID Response and Recovery Fund. I must stress that housing people in motels is not a permanent solution. Our responsibility and challenge as a Government is to make sure that we don't return to how things were before. This is a Government that is getting on with the job of fixing the housing crisis we inherited, and, while this will take time, we are moving at pace to meet the urgent need.

Question No. 5—Economic Development

5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement of 1 April 2020, "That's why we are now developing a pipeline of infrastructure projects from across the country that would be ready to begin as soon as we are able to move around freely and go back to work."; if so, when will he announce the projects?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, and that's why we've continued to work on the projects that were announced as part of the $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme. We've released, in this time, the new Draft Government Policy Statement on land transport: a 10-year transport investment plan. We allocated a billion dollars for rail in the Budget, including the new Interislander ferries. Minister Woods has announced an additional 8,000 public and transitional homes. The Minister for Infrastructure and I commissioned the infrastructure reference group to identify ready-to-go infrastructure projects. That group received a total of 1,924 submissions across approximately 40 sectors, with a combined value of $136 billion. The Hon Chris Hipkins is ensuring we have the skills to work on these projects through the $1.6 billion trades and apprenticeships training package, and the Government has also announced a further $3 billion for infrastructure projects through the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. The Minister of Finance will consider this through the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund processes.

Hon Judith Collins: Why have these projects not started now that the construction industry is back at work?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, a great deal of construction projects have started since the lockdown was lifted, and I can give the member a list. the Northern Corridor Improvements project in Auckland, State Highway 20B improvements, the Manawatū Tararua Highway, the State Highway 1 Hamilton west expressway, Bayfair to Baypark in the Pay of Plenty, Mackays to Peka Peka and Peka Peka to Ōtaki in the central North Island, the Christchurch Northern Corridor, the Christchurch Southern Motorway stage two, the Safe Network Programme—they are all projects that are under way. They have been recommenced since the lockdown was lifted, and the member might like to know also that more than $3 billion of projects that were announced earlier this year as part of the New Zealand Upgrade Programme are progressing: so State Highway 58—the New Zealand Transport Agency is in negotiations with builders there on stage two, and that's expected to be up and running in August. They're opening registrations of interest for the Tauranga Northern Link, Penlink, and the State Highway 1 Papakura to Drury South. They're working with two shortlisted parties on who will deliver the shared pathway across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and the member will be pleased to know that geotechnical testing is under way for Ōkati to north of Levin to assist the design process. So as the member can see, there is a lot of infrastructure work going on.

Hon Judith Collins: So how many of those projects that he's just listed had not already been started before he announced he was going to announce some on 1 April?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: So what I announced on 1 April was that the Hon Shane Jones and I were tasked with working with Crown Infrastructure Partners through the infrastructure reference group to solicit projects from local government and the wider industry to assist the COVID response and recovery programme. That is one strand of a massive infrastructure development programme that is under way, including many projects that have recommenced and progress being made since the lockdown was lifted.

SPEAKER: I sense a point of order from the Hon Judith Collins. I think she'd better express it.

Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked about how many of those projects that the Minister had listed had not already been started before his press statement of 1 April.

SPEAKER: That's right, and the member will address that question.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Four of the projects that I listed had not been started at that time.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Does the Minister expect new projects to start with no tendering and no planning and consenting work having been done on them?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the member is probably aware that the former Government was in the habit of putting shovels in the ground in front of the television cameras or driving a bulldozer round in circles on a construction site months or years before those construction projects ever started. That's not a practice that this Government intends to adopt.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, of the projects that he's been told today he inherited, how many dollars was set aside for the north of Tauranga to Katikati four-lane highway, or the one between Warkworth and Whangarei also promised, or the Whangarei to Marsden Point—of those three projects, much beloved by mention in this House, how many dollars was set aside by the previous administration?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, we don't need to be very good at maths to know the answer to that is zero. No money was put aside, even though those projects were promised over and over by members on that side of the House.

Hon Judith Collins: When the Minister announced on 1 April that there was a developing pipeline of infrastructure projects that would be ready to begin as soon as we are able to move around freely and go back to work, were some of those projects not fully consented or funded?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: There is a large pipeline of projects that I have described to the member in the last few answers that we have been putting together. Some of those projects—well, no work had begun prior to the lockdown. They are now under way, and there is a great deal more work as a result of the infrastructure reference group and their projects that will follow in the months to come.

Michael Wood: Does he expect the significant housing infrastructure project on Endeavour Avenue in Hamilton, being led by Kāinga Ora, to proceed, in spite of the petition against it by the Hon David Bennett?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I don't have responsibility for that. But I do think, and I will say to the member, that when the members on the other side of the House call for infrastructure projects to be delivered and then run petitions in their local communities against housing being built in places like Whangarei and Hamilton, they should have a good look in the mirror at themselves.

Hon Judith Collins: Is he now telling the House that when he announced on 1 April 2020 that these projects would be ready to go as soon as we are able to move around freely and go back to work, he did not have either all consents or all funding in place when he made that announcement?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, I completely reject the connection that the member is making in her question. We announced that we were putting together a pipeline of projects. I've outlined for the member a massive pipeline of projects that are under way. The infrastructure reference group is adding to that pipeline, and my colleague the Hon David Parker has legislation before this Parliament that will streamline the Resource Management Act processing in a way that that member and that side of the House never did in nine years.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Has the Minister been advised that schools up and down the country—thousands of schools up and down the country—have been going to market over recent months for up to $400 million worth of school improvement projects?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, indeed, that is one of the strands of this massive infrastructure programme that the Government has under way—$400 million—that's generating jobs for tradies in every community from one end of this country to the other. That's the kind of infrastructure programme this Government believes in.

Question No. 6—Transport

6. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Have officials recommended a process for Auckland light rail that would have allowed all market participants the opportunity to bid for the delivery of the project, and what is the most up-to-date estimate of the cost of the project he has received?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): My officials have not, and both the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and NZ Infra provided indicative costs in their proposals. That information is commercially sensitive within the current process.

Chris Bishop: What was the approach recommended by officials when he was considering what became what he calls the "twin track process"?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The twin track process was set up at the request of Cabinet so that the Government could decide on a delivery partner and a delivery model. The advice from Treasury and from the Ministry of Transport to Cabinet was that it was an unsolicited proposal and it should be dealt with in line with the Government procurement rules, and that is exactly what is happening.

Chris Bishop: Was the twin track process the only option put forward by officials for Cabinet to consider?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Look, when officials present advice to Cabinet on things like that, they almost invariably present different solutions. I don't have the Cabinet paper in front of me. If the Member wants to ask a specific question, I'm happy to get that information for him, but the recommended course of action that went to Cabinet from the Ministry of Transport in the paper that I took was the process that we have since undertaken.

Chris Bishop: I'll ask again: was the twin track process the only option put forward by officials?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I've answered the question.

Chris Bishop: Why, once it became clear that there was international interest in the Auckland light rail project, did he not go back out to market and seek expressions of interest, or at least test the wider market, rather than simply put the NZTA proposal up against the unsolicited bid from NZ Infra?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Precisely because the advice from Treasury and the Ministry of Transport was that treating an unsolicited bid should be done in accordance with the Government procurement rules. That's what we've done. The member seems to be of the view that the opportunities to deliver the light rail project should be going out to the wider market, but he seems to overlook the fact that, once a delivery model and delivery partner has been selected, there will be ample opportunity for New Zealand and overseas firms to bid for the design, the construction, and the delivery of the project. There will be plenty of opportunity for the private sector to bid for that work.

Chris Bishop: Does he share the views of the leader of the New Zealand First Party, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, that the Auckland light rail project didn't make sense?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I shouldn't have to point out that Mr Twyford is not responsible for the views of the New Zealand First Party, full stop.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: He didn't ask him that—

SPEAKER: No, I'm prepared to rule on that. I think, within his areas of responsibility, he can indicate whether he agrees with a view that has been expressed.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I don't have responsibility for the views of the Deputy Prime Minister when he's speaking as a spokesperson for New Zealand First, but I'll say this: there's a Cabinet process under way, there are different views between parties and within parties on this and any other issue, and they will be worked through through the Cabinet process.

Chris Bishop: Does he share the views of the leader of New Zealand First, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, that the Auckland light rail project has—quote—"had a blow out in terms of costs and we all know that"?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I have no responsibility for those comments.

SPEAKER: No, saying the member has no responsibility—

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is absolutely correct that the Minister doesn't have responsibility for the comments of the leader of New Zealand First. He can be asked to comment on them, but he does not have a responsibility to do so.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaking to the point of order, well, I think the relevant point here is that Mr Peters clearly would not have made those statements without doing his homework—as he's famed for—so he would know what he's saying—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yeah, far more than you, sunshine!

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I beg your pardon, sorry?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Far more than you, sunshine.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: That must have been three questions.

SPEAKER: That works on the assumption, Mr Brownlee, that your point of order is a valid one, and you'd better get to it pretty quickly.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, it's always a helpful one, and—

SPEAKER: You're not from the Government; you're not here to help at the moment.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No one disputes that Mr Twyford has no responsibility for a New Zealand First position. However, he was asked, "Does he share the view that the cost of the project has blown out?"

SPEAKER: And I'll make it clear to Mr Twyford that in the Speakers' Rulings—and if one goes to 155/3, one can see it very clearly—he can be asked whether he agrees with a statement as long as that statement relates to something which is in his portfolio, and that area, whether or not it's helpful, certainly does.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'm not going to venture a view, because the matter is subject to a Cabinet process.

Question No. 7—Housing (Māori Housing)

7. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Associate Minister of Housing (Māori Housing): What is the Government doing to create a partnership with Māori to get more whānau into warm, dry, and secure housing?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Associate Minister of Housing (Māori Housing)): Talofa lava. As part of the recent Budget, the Government's investing $40 million to support housing partnership opportunities. We've established the Māori and Iwi Housing Innovation (MAIHI), a framework for action, which applies an implementation focus to improve Māori housing outcomes across the spectrum of need and aspiration from homelessness to homeownership. MAIHI also drives the Government's ambition to provide tailored housing solutions, create training and employment opportunities in regional areas, and drive our economic recovery. In addition too, this framework recognises the multiple benefits of building financial capability of whānau, their governance capability, if they want to return to their whenua to build. By adopting a partnership approach towards achieving better housing outcomes for Māori, the Government is able to work constructively with iwi and Māori organisations towards common goals and aspirations in our recovery plans post-COVID.

Paul Eagle: Kia ora. How has the Government partnered with others to support those facing insecure accommodation and homelessness?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: A fantastic question, because we've acted with urgency. For many whānau sleeping rough—

Chris Bishop: The member wrote it for him. Of course it was fantastic.

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The Opposition may not want to hear—

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat and Mr Bishop will ensure his interjections are in order. I give him an absolute assurance I would never draft a question like that.

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: On the issues of homelessness, we have acted with urgency. For many whānau sleeping rough in overcrowded accommodation settings or living in insecure housing situations, which has been a reality for too long, we have been serious about tackling this challenge. That's why the Prime Minister has released the Homelessness Action Plan, which ensured that we could get on the road quickly during the lockdown period to work with partner agencies, community and Māori housing providers, to find accommodation and support those who need it most.

Paul Eagle: Has the COVID approach to homelessness been a one-size-fits-all approach?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: No, it has not. The Government has worked alongside communities to respond to need and what is available within the context of their communities. So that means we have to take a different approach. Take, for example, in Northland. As an immediate response, we worked closely with the community and the providers there, in particular the Māori collective Te Kahu o Taonui, to find solutions to house and support homeless whānau and those affected by overcrowding. This led to the deployment of 60 campervans in the Far North as a transitional temporary measure so that whānau were able to have warm, safe places, social distancing, and be supported by providers around the next critical steps to secure accommodation.

Question No. 8—Health

8. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Did Budget 2020 provide funding to progressively increase the age for free breast-screening to 74; if not, why not?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Mr Speaker, talofa lava. This Government remains committed to progressively extending the age of eligibility for free breast-screening to 74; however, due to the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this could not be progressed in Budget 2020. Our priority in health for this year's Budget was strengthening our public health service with a record investment in our DHBs of $3.92 billion. Extending the age for breast screening will be revisited as conditions allow.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he read the impact analysis on extending breast screening to include women aged 70 to 74 years; and, if so, does he agree with its findings of benefit for women of that age?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I, of course, don't have the lead responsibility in this area. If the member wants to put down specific questions about a specific impact analysis, he should put that to the Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter, who has responsibility for women's health, which includes breast screening.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: No, I'm going to deal with that. The member had the opportunity to transfer the question to the Associate Minister if he felt it was outside his area of responsibility, and, therefore, I think he's got to give a substantive answer to the question that was asked. I'll ask Mr Woodhouse to repeat it.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Thank you. Has he read the impact analysis on extending breast screening to include women aged 70 to 74 years; and, if so, does he agree with its findings of benefit for women of that age?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am aware that the impact analysis suggests that the benefit for women of that age is not as great as for the current cohort.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he think that the failure to deliver on what is a coalition promise harms the Government's stated intention to reduce health inequalities given Māori and Pacific women have significantly higher incidence and mortality rates of breast cancer?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: In terms of the equity question the member asks, there are many, many initiatives which would greatly improve equity, and that starts with properly funding our DHBs and our health system. After nine years of neglect, this Government is absolutely committed to funding public healthcare adequately for the first time in ages, and it is making a difference, because we are now able to fund the nurses and doctors and allied health workers that are required to deliver healthcare for all New Zealanders—1,700 more nurses, 900 more doctors, 600 more allied health workers. We are rebuilding a system that was neglected for nine long years.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: In relation to his answer to the primary question, does he accept that the evidence from the ministry means his failure to deliver on this coalition promise will cost more lives than COVID-19 has?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I return to the original answer, which is that we have the job of prioritising in healthcare. We have been making record investments, and so we are focused on making sure we roll out the programmes that will make sure more New Zealanders get more care, and that's indeed what we're seeing under this Government.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: So what does he say to the more than 1,000 Kiwi women aged 70 to 74 who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year alone and whose lives could've been improved or saved had this Government kept its promise?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: There is much investment going into health across the board, and more people are getting more care. I'd ask that member to look in the mirror and look at his time in a Cabinet that failed to fund health adequately if he's going to ask questions about people missing out. We are committed to growing the provision of healthcare, and, as conditions allow, we will continue to invest in healthcare. This is a Government that is absolutely committed to making sure more New Zealanders get more healthcare.

Question No. 9—Energy and Resources

9. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: How many more homes will be insulated with funding from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. The COVID response recovery funding is expected to result in an additional 9,000 retrofits to be delivered in the next two years, with all the associated health, energy, and employment benefits. This brings the total retrofits expected to be delivered under the Warmer Kiwi Homes programme to 71,000. This shows the Government is committed to ensuring the programme reaches as many households as possible.

Marama Davidson: How has the Government increased the support people can get to make their homes warm and dry?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The Government will now fund 90 percent of the costs of an insulation and/or heating retrofit for low-income households. Previously, the Government has been paying 67 percent of the costs, and third-party providers in the community, such as energy trusts, sometimes paid the balance. Moving to 90 percent funding means that warmer, drier homes will be in reach of more people. It also means the funding from third-party providers will go further.

Marama Davidson: Will more home insulation help reduce respiratory illnesses such as childhood rheumatic fever, which have increased in the Wellington region this year?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Yes. We know that cold, damp, overcrowded houses can increase the risk of respiratory illness and other preventable health conditions such as rheumatic fever. There is strong evidence of improved health outcomes resulting from warmer, drier homes. This is why the Healthy Homes Initiative delivered by the Ministry of Health works closely with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) referring families who would benefit from a heating or insulation grant. A 2012 Motu report found that the insulation programmes like this have a cost-benefit ratio of 3.9, meaning that for every $1 invested, we see almost $4 in health benefits and avoided costs. The ratio goes even higher where we target at the most vulnerable low-income households.

Marama Davidson: Is the Government also helping people upgrade to new energy-efficient appliances and lighting?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Yes. EECA has a range of programmes which support greater energy efficiency in households and businesses. For example, EECA works with the Australian Government under the Equipment Energy Efficiency (E3) Programme to set energy performance and labelling requirements for appliances. Since 2002, this programme has saved over 50 petajoules of electricity, equating to $1.23 billion of national benefit. It's also avoided 1.98 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. EECA is currently delivering a range of pilots around the country to explore the best ways to give away energy-efficient LED lighting into households, including giveaways. The outcomes of these pilots will inform future EECA activity in this space. And the Gen Less campaign funded by EECA in 2019 encourages households and businesses to get more out of less energy and provides information to help make energy-efficient purchases.

SPEAKER: Before the member asks, I'm going to let the member ask the question, but my records do show that the Greens have used their allocation for the week. If I've got it wrong—I'll let the member ask. If I do have it wrong, the Green Party will lose it from next week.

Marama Davidson: I'll take my chances; thank you, Mr Speaker. Does she have information about how many jobs could be created if the Government funded insulation for even more homes, given there are around 600,000 homes that are still too cold and damp?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: We've already heard from several Warmer Kiwi Homes providers that the additional funding announced through Budget 2020 has given them the confidence to start planning to take on more staff. While we can't be definitive at this stage, what we are hearing from the Budget announcement is it will support at least 60 new jobs up and down the country. It logically follows that funding insulation for even more homes would support more jobs, both directly for service providers and manufacturers, but also indirectly as the need for support staff and other roles increases.

Question No. 10—Social Development

10. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Will the COVID-19 income relief payment create a model for long-term changes to the welfare system; if so, how?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Mr Speaker, talofa lava. The COVID-19 income relief payment is temporary financial assistance for New Zealanders impacted by job losses due to COVID-19 that may not be eligible for support in our current welfare system and/or find themselves unemployed at a time where the labour market is going to be much more difficult to navigate. The payment is a short-term, one-off initiative in response to unprecedented circumstances, similar to the response following the Canterbury earthquakes. It is also just one of a range of financial assistance initiatives that the Government can provide New Zealanders at this time. As we have already mentioned, there is also further work under way to explore unemployment insurance schemes following a request from Business New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions. This Government is exploring how to best support displaced workers, and unemployment insurance is a key tool many countries in the OECD use for that purpose. Alongside this, we remain committed to overhauling the welfare system and have already implemented systematic, long-term changes like increasing main benefit rates and indexing main benefits to wages for the first time in New Zealand's history.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she believe that her party and confidence and supply partner support the two-tier welfare system created by the COVID-19 income relief payment becoming a permanent feature of the welfare system?

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has no responsibility for her belief on the views of other parties in the Parliament.

SPEAKER: Well, the initial response to that is that, if she doesn't, who does?

Hon Chris Hipkins: Well, they do.

SPEAKER: No—her beliefs. I mean, the question was: what are her views; what are her beliefs? As long as the general area is within her area of responsibility, I think it is appropriate to answer.

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A Minister answers as a Minister, not as a spokesperson for a party. So she can answer in terms of the Government's view on things, but it's not her responsibility to answer about the views of other parties.

SPEAKER: Well, I think, in this particular case, I'm—the question mightn't have been the most clearly enunciated question, but I think what the Hon Louise Upston was actually asking about was the views of both the major party and its coalition partner, and what I might do is ask Louise Upston to restate her question in order to make that clear and to bring it without any doubt within the areas of responsibility.

Hon Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was also the matter of an assertion in that question, which I'm sure you will listen to the second time around.

SPEAKER: I'll listen to it here, but there's been one or two assertions this afternoon, mainly from this side, but a couple from this side as well. If you want me to get really strict, I will, but some people tell me I interfere too much already.

Hon Louise Upston: Thank you. Does she believe that her party and confidence and supply partner support the two-tier welfare system created by the COVID-19 income relief payment becoming a feature of the welfare system?

SPEAKER: Well, at that point, having restated it, even in the first few words, it became out of order.

Hon Louise Upston: Is she aware that, according to the Ministry of Social Development's own publication, those eligible for this new payment are more likely to be New Zealand European than the other job seekers; and, if so, is she concerned that making a two-tier welfare system permanent will increase racial inequality in the welfare system?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: There's a lot in that question, and I'll try and respond to all of it. In terms of the most recent demographic information of those that have come on welfare, I think around 46 percent were New Zealand European. That is more than last year, but that still shows that there are a large number from across a number of ethnicities that are coming on to the benefit system because of job losses. So, certainly for me and this side of the House, we're all about diversity, and we're all about making sure that all New Zealanders are looked after. Can I also say that I do not support the assertion that this is a two-tier benefit system. If the Opposition was to actually look at the Welfare Expert Advisory Group's report on welfare, you would see at recommendation 37 that there's a recommendation that says that we should "Strengthen the Ministry of Social Development's redundancy support policies to better support displaced workers." Now, the fact is that the temporary relief income that we're putting in place is temporary—that is why it's called "temporary"—and it is similar to what was put in place after the Canterbury earthquakes. We are exploring whether this is the type of thing that we might want to keep as part of our offering through the welfare system, but that is an exploration; we haven't finished that work. And, on our confidence and supply agreement partner, the Green Party, they are very clear: they want us to move as quickly as possible with respect to the overhaul. I respect them for that absolutely, but they did support this particular initiative to deal with the unprecedented event that we're faced with.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to whether she's seen any recent reports on how a two-tier system where Māori and European are concerned can cause enormous angst and controversy within the political system?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I have, with regard to political representation and ensuring that all New Zealanders are catered for with respect to policy development and voices in terms of decision making. I think it's very fair to say that, on this side of the House, we've got that right. The other side would be better off questioning themselves.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We didn't interrupt the Minister answering that question—we appreciate it was a bit of a flick from the Rt Hon Winston Peters, which most of the House is used to—but it does raise the question, if you consider the answer to the last question from Louise Upston to Carmel Sepuloni: there was no reference or requirement in that question for her to start talking about the coalition partner. There would have been if the last question that you disallowed was allowed to be asked. So the question is: how is it that a question about a Minister's capacity to garner votes across a coalition is unacceptable to the House but it's acceptable, in an answer, for the Minister to explain that, despite public statements from many prominent Green members, they're actually going to support this two-tiered system?

SPEAKER: It's relatively easy to answer that. I think the first point is that the Rt Hon Winston Peters' question was absolutely in order because it related to a previous question allowed from the Hon Louise Upston—it was a direct flow-on from that question. As far as moving along from the original question into the question of—[Interruption] Order!—confidence and supply partners' views, that is a Government relationship, whereas the question that was ruled out on the part of Louise Upston went straight to a party view, and that is something which is different.

Hon Louise Upston: Has she spoken to the employment Minister, Willie Jackson, since he stated to the media "We've got some criticism with regard to it"; and, if so, what was his criticism?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Absolutely. In fact, the Minister Willie Jackson rang me as soon as that was reported in the media. Funnily enough, I was standing behind him when he was interviewed. He actually said that there had been some criticism; he did not say that he had any criticism. So can I say that, on top of us and the confidence and supply agreement partner being OK, me and the Minister for Employment are OK too.

Hon Louise Upston: Why does she think it's fair for someone with a $100,000 household income from a partner, a redundancy payment of $29,000, who lost their job on 1 March, to get twice as much benefit as a solo mum who lost her job in February?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This is an unprecedented event, and this is a temporary measure. We are consistently looking at ways to make the welfare system fairer. As I said yesterday in the House, I do find that it's quite ironic that we're standing here having to defend fairness in the welfare system when that side of the House was so strongly opposed to one of the most discriminatory sanctions that was in the welfare system that this side of the House decided to repeal on 1 April.

Question No. 11—Building and Construction

11. KIERAN McANULTY (Labour) to the Minister for Building and Construction: What recent announcements has she made on cutting red tape to get people building?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister for Building and Construction): Malo le soifua, Mr Speaker. This Government knows that homeowners, builders, and DIYers want to get on with low-risk projects around their homes and farms. That's why we've delivered a package of building works that will be exempt from requiring a building consent from council. By removing the need for consent, more sleepouts, sheds, porches, greenhouses, carports, awnings, water storage bladders for irrigation, hay sheds, outdoor fireplaces, ovens, and ground mounted solar panels can be built without delays. Homeowners, farmers, and DIYers will save up to $18 million a year in consenting fees.

Kieran McAnulty: How will these changes ensure building standards are continued?

Hon JENNY SALESA: These exemptions allow for some low-risk building work to be done without a consent. However, the need for compliance with the building code remains and many of these exemptions require the work to be undertaken or supervised by a licensed building practitioner, or to be designed by a chartered professional engineer. These changes will remove the burden of consent for low-risk work while ensuring that building quality remains. This Government has a plan for the construction sector and we're getting on with cutting red tape from our building system, while others in the House are lining up the Colliery Railways Vesting Act 1893 for their regulation bonfire. I know which is more important.

Kieran McAnulty: What feedback has she received following this announcement?

Hon JENNY SALESA: We've seen overwhelming support for these changes from across the country. Over the weekend, I saw New Zealand's favourite builder, Peter Wolfkamp from The Block, say—and I quote—"I think it's great if you want to build a shed for a hobby or an office. It does give us a little more freedom." I also received an email from Ross from Taranaki saying "I'm building a cabinet present and the council permit fees were nearly as much as the building cost. It was crazy for a small building. I can now use the savings to pay someone to help build." We're making the system better and we're helping to create jobs. It will not require a bill; it will be by Order in Council and it will be enacted soon. Fa'afetai tele lava, Mr Speaker.

Hon Tracey Martin: Can the Minister confirm that her coalition partner the Hon Shane Jones has worked with her and officials for over 18 months to make sure that this bill comes into the House?

Hon JENNY SALESA: I'd like to acknowledge and thank our coalition partner New Zealand First for their advocacy on this issue. It also would be fair to say I received a lot of advice from my colleagues, but I do want to especially thank the Hon Shane Jones for working with me on these exemptions.

Tim van de Molen: Does she appreciate that her announcement caused thousands of projects across the country to be placed on hold until this promise is delivered, which places further strain on builders and suppliers of these projects, whose businesses are desperately trying to recover from COVID-19?

Hon JENNY SALESA: I do not accept that this announcement actually puts a hold on work. What it does is it allows people to get on without delay, without a consent. They can actually have licensed building practitioners help them build these projects and they also can reach out for professional engineers to design the work. This actually helps our rebuild after COVID-19.

Hon Chris Hipkins: Has she seen anyone other than a National Party member of Parliament opposing the changes that she's just announced?

Hon JENNY SALESA: I've had overwhelming support for this work from the public and from members of Parliament and from right around Aotearoa New Zealand. That is the first negative comment I've heard about this particular exemption.

Hon Member: Supplementary.

SPEAKER: No, I think the Labour Party's used its quota of supplementary questions.

Question No. 12—Employment

12. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Employment: Which employment programmes have been the most effective, and what is the average return on investment across all the programmes?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): Talofa lava. Can I first of all congratulate that member on his new seat. It's good to see the promotion happening in the National Party, and, hopefully, he keeps it. That's a very good question—a very good question, and a very important one.

SPEAKER: OK. Sorry, I was temporarily diverted. The member will resume his seat. The member will now start his answer again without the gratuitous flicks.

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. I thank the member for the question, and it's an important one. I want to be clear: I don't have ministerial responsibility for all employment programmes across the breadth of the Government. It's a team on this side of the House, who are invested in employment right across the spectrum. In terms of the first part of the question, though, for the programmes I am responsible for—both Mana in Mahi and He Poutama Rangatahi (HPR)—they are equally effective, as they are designed to improve employment pathways for groups of New Zealanders who have generally faced poor employment outcomes, and they are succeeding. In terms of the second part of the question, Mana in Mahi is still a new programme, and many participants are still completing their first year. I am aware, however, that work is under way to measure the return in terms of investments. For He Poutama Rangatahi, though, we do not only measure success by dollars spent versus dollars saved. Our estimate of the cost benefit for HPR is for every one dollar spent, the saving is $2.60. This is because the programmes worked to expand the local work-ready force, increase local income, and reduce young people's reliance on Government support. Sadly, the members opposite see investment in our people and communities as a transactional dollar figure, while on this side of the House, the investment is all about communities and the people at all times.

Dr Shane Reti: Which of his employment programmes will best transition redundant Air New Zealand crew into manual work?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: As I said earlier in my answer, I don't have responsibilities for some of those programmes; that's an area that I am not working on at the moment.

Dr Shane Reti: What percentage of women who have lost jobs in women-dominant industries such as hairdressing will use his $100 million forestry programme to transition into forestry?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: The $100 million programme is not my programme.

Dr Shane Reti: Has he only taken one new employment programme to Cabinet during the four weeks of level 4 because, in his words, "I think this lockdown for four weeks has been brilliant. Another week's not going to hurt or destroy anyone,"?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: As that member well knows, I retracted those words during that shambolic pandemic committee that was chaired by the previous, Māori leader of the National Party.

Dr Shane Reti: When he described his employment programmes in those terms to the Epidemic Response Committee by saying that most Kiwis are able to participate in the employment market organically, what are the criteria for organic participation?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: As that member well knows, when I came into this job, the economy was in a reasonable state but vulnerable groups were missing out: Māori, who that member should be standing up for instead of putting National Party questions forward, ethnic communities, Pasifika, and the disability groups were all missing out, and I'll stand up for those groups at all times. Those are the people who this side of the House cares about. Those are the people who we will continue to fight for, and shame on that member for not standing up for his people.

Dr Shane Reti: When he said yesterday that he would get back with the number of workers redeployed in his $100 million forestry programme, what is that number?

Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I should have said yesterday that I'm not responsible for that programme—my mistake. As I said earlier, it's a programme that the Hon Phil Twyford is responsible for, and I'm sure he'll come back. But I remind the Opposition: it's not about dollars all the time; it's about the people, the people, the people.

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