Parliament: Questions and Answers June 2 2020
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. TODD MULLER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Will she accept my offer to work with the Government to implement National's JobStart policy as soon as possible?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I understand the member wrote to the Minister of Finance to request this, and I will leave it, ultimately, to the Minister of Finance to respond to his correspondence. We do, however, welcome constructive ideas for getting people into work. Ideas such as the one the member has already proposed have been in the mix or already exist in some form as part of the Government's programme. I do want to add, however, that the focus at the moment is on making sure we're helping businesses to hold on to as many workers as they can, through things like the wage subsidy and other direct support like changes in our tax regime, and the small business loan scheme, which has already lent over a billion dollars. While we still have workers being laid off, we do need to make sure we do everything we can to keep them in work.
Todd Muller: I repeat the question: will she accept my offer to work with the Government to implement National's JobStart policy as soon as possible?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: And I repeat my answer: I will leave it to the Minister of Finance to respond to his request, but I will refer the member to the programme called Mana in Mahi, which is also a subsidy to employers that totals $9,580 in subsidy. A major difference between this scheme and what the member is proposing is that there is a requirement to keep an employee in training, to try and stop the potential churn that some commentators have raised might be an issue with the scheme the member has proposed.
Todd Muller: Why, then, did her finance Minister say in relation to JobStart on Friday—and I quote—"It's certainly an idea that we're prepared to consider … We welcome constructive ideas that are about getting people into work."? Or does she not consider that JobStart delivers on that?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I actually just said we welcome constructive ideas for getting people into work, and ideas such as this are already in the mix. I have not dismissed it, because, if I were to dismiss it, I would be dismissing the entire premise of Mana in Mahi, which is also a subsidy scheme for employers to take on employees. A big difference, though, is that that programme has overcome the issue of people potentially being hired and then potentially being fired in order to access a subsidy, which I'm sure the member would wish to avoid as well.
Todd Muller: Does she agree that businesses in New Zealand would find a $10,000 cash grant for each new hire beneficial as they try to grow following the staggering impact of COVID-19?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mana in Mahi provides that opportunity for employers. Again I highlight: it provides a $9,580 wage support element to it that goes to the employer. But it does more than that. It provides pastoral support so the employer doesn't have to worry about whether or not a trainee shows up for work every day. It includes an extra $2,000 for education support. If an employer is taking someone on with the intention of training them, that is also often a barrier. So it is a much more comprehensive programme. We have considered whether or not we could scale it up and/or broaden the criteria for it, and that's why I say ideas like this are in the mix.
Todd Muller: Does she support $10,000 per new employee for every New Zealand business who is prepared to take someone on at a moment of economic crisis?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I support the programme that is providing $9,580 in wage support already. So, when it comes to programmes that provide wage support, I do support that concept; in fact, I worked alongside the Minister of Employment in the development around the programme. I've been a long-time advocate of it. But what the member is advocating doesn't account for issues around churn, and it doesn't account for the fact that right now businesses need us to help them keep the staff they have.
Todd Muller: Has she received positive feedback on JobStart, as I have, from the business community since it was announced on Friday?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've seen a mix of responses, but, again, I won't take the fact that some people have been negative about it as a reason not to pursue the idea of wage support.
Todd Muller: Yes—that was just Grant. Does she agree with Business New Zealand's Kirk Hope—and I quote—"No one has a monopoly on good ideas right now, and anything that will make jobs for Kiwis should be welcomed."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can see the member isn't used to receiving praise. I have already said that we welcome constructive ideas. We have not dismissed the idea of wage subsidies. In fact, I've already acknowledged that we've used them in the past. So I again repeat to the member: I'm not dismissing his policy; I am pointing out that there are issues that need to be worked through, and we're considering them as part of our work programme.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister whether it's a fact that she welcomes any idea, even those that include throwing cash at the problem when it doesn't include their mates?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the member is perhaps referring to the fact that we have done a lot of rigorous work around the way we've used Mana in Mahi. I point to the fact that the member's last Government, the National Government, through the global financial crisis, used Community Max. It stumbled across problems. We want to learn from those, and that's exactly what we are doing in the development of our policy.
Hon Grant Robertson: Has the Prime Minister seen the feedback on the policy from economist Tony Alexander, who said, "This is an incentive for businesses to lay off 10 employees then go to the Government two weeks later and say 'I now need to hire 10 employees, can I have my money please?' "—
Hon Amy Adams: Read the detail.
SPEAKER: That's all right.
Hon Grant Robertson: —and he went on to say, "In reality, this is not what the economy needs at the moment."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, and I have read the, I think, three or four pages that the National Party provided in detail around this policy. I'm not letting the fact that there was a lack of detail get in the way, though, of supporting constructive ideas. I am, however, pointing out that there are issues we would need to account for, and that's the kind of thing Mana in Mahi does.
Todd Muller: So the Prime Minister's confirming to the House that half a million businesses in this country do not see value in a $10,000 grant to assist them to take on an extra person?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I say again: there is very little difference between the concept of a wage subsidy and the concept of Mana in Mahi, except for the fact we have accounted for the fact that—oh, sorry, forgive me, Mr Speaker; it was actually two pages—the detail of the member's plan does not deal with the fact that we might see churn, we might see people who are employed and then within, my recollection is, six months be sacked, and they're expecting IRD to monitor all of that.
Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister think it's her responsibility to finish Todd Muller's homework?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member knew that was out of order. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Grant Robertson: I withdraw and apologise.
Todd Muller: I ask again: half a million New Zealand businesses are seeking clarification—do you support $10,000 on the table to assist them to employ one more person to get out of this COVID recovery nightmare?
Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Again, I will just highlight again that, actually, that is not what I have frequently had correspondence from businesses on. It is about keeping their existing staff, and that is why we have focused on a more than $10 billion wage subsidy programme: because businesses don't want to lose the people they have. There will be a period in the recovery, and we are gearing up with that around apprenticeships and keeping them in their roles, around things like using Mana in Mahi, but I don't apologise for the fact that we have focused on job retention and then job creation.
Question No. 2—Environment
2. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: How will new standards for freshwater, announced last Thursday, help create healthy waterways and swimmable rivers within a generation?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment): Yes. The Government is delivering on its commitment to clean up our waterways with reforms that will deliver environmental gains, jobs, and benefits for the economy while supporting farmers with $700 million in funding to assist with things like riparian planting and the installation and fencing of many wetlands to trap sediment. The standards apply equally to rural and urban waterways and include specific controls on covering urban streams. We're also setting higher standards for health at swimming spots, putting controls on higher risk farm practice such as winter grazing and feed lots, setting stricter controls on nitrogen pollution and new bottom lines on other attributes of waterway health. We're ensuring faster council planning, requiring mandatory and enforceable farm environment plans, and I've said these actions are supported with funding for on-the-ground works.
Marama Davidson: How will embedding mātauranga Māori principles for water management in our regulations recognise iwi and hapū kaitiakitanga and improve water health?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Consultation showed widespread support from all sectors of society for using te mana o te wai as the guiding principle to prioritise first the health of the waterway, then the needs of people, and then commercial needs. A mahinga kai attribute will assist in ensuring eco-system health so that all New Zealanders can enjoy and benefit from healthy rivers and clean water for the decades to come. And, lastly, in respect of the plan-making process that's being legislated under the Resource Management Act, there will be an iwi representative on panels.
Marama Davidson: What new obligations will be applied to regional councils to reduce E. coli and promote swimmable rivers and lakes?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I think we've got to the point that virtually all New Zealanders now agree that New Zealanders should be able to pop down to their local river in summer and put their head under without the risk of getting crook. This package includes an additional E. coli attribute that will apply to primary contact sites during the swimming season and will require councils to reduce those risks substantially.
Marama Davidson: What is the time frame for introducing a dissolved inorganic nitrogen standard to complement other tools for managing nitrogen runoff introduced in this package of reforms?
Hon DAVID PARKER: That will be a decision for the next Government, after the election. In the meantime, there is a new input control which puts a limit of 190 kilograms of synthetic nitrogen to be applied per hectare per annum. This is estimated to require a change in practice from an estimated 20 percent of dairy farms—80 percent of dairy farmers already meet this standard. The package also strengthens the existing nitrogen toxicity attribute in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management by requiring protection of 95 percent of vulnerable species from the toxic effects of nitrate levels up from 80 percent in the current national policy statement.
Question No. 3—Prime Minister
3. TODD MULLER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What new information, if any, was provided to Cabinet today to inform the discussion for a move to level 1?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Today, Cabinet considered the time line for future papers on the move to alert level 1. As I indicated this morning, a paper will be brought on 8 June on the basis of our ongoing success in managing COVID-19 and the fact our team of five million has exceeded expectations.
Todd Muller: Was there substantive discussion at Cabinet today over moving to level 1 today?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've indicated, the substantive discussion related to the bringing of a paper on 8 June. The member will recall that in my post-Cabinet press conference—I believe it was a week ago—I indicated that was a time line that we would be working to. I broadened out, though, the original suggestion that 8 June was just around the level 2 settings to now include a review of whether or not we are ready to move to level 1.
Todd Muller: What was the specific advice, if any, Cabinet received today on whether to move to level 1?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I will refer the member to the criteria that we will consider on 8 June, as we have considered every time. Those criteria are the number of cases, which the member will have been able to see as well as I have: that we have had zero cases for 11 days now; we also have seen a reduction in active cases. So on that basis, we started discussing last week with the Ministry of Health whether or not we should bring forward our consideration of alert level 1. We also consider things like economic ramifications, the readiness of the public health system, contact tracing, and compliance issues. These are all in the public domain.
Todd Muller: Will she release the advice received over the pathway to level 1 because of the high public interest in this issue?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The criteria that we use for consideration of alert level movements are already in the public domain. When it comes to the specific decision, we proactively release Cabinet papers after they've been considered, and that will happen on 8 June.
Todd Muller: Why won't she release the information discussed today as to why we are not in level 1 today?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Cabinet has not considered the move to level 1. Once we have considered the move, then we release the decision and the information. What I signalled today is we have brought forward that decision making. We've always said that based on the evidence that we have, we are willing to bring forward our consideration. The member can see as well as I can that we have had ongoing zero case days. That gives us confidence to reconsider the time frames. I will say again, though: moving earlier than that, there is still ongoing concern amongst the scientific community around asymptomatic transmission. It is worse for business if we move backwards rather than continually moving forwards. So we will continually balance our decision making.
Todd Muller: What is her response to the Deputy Prime Minister, who was reported this morning saying that alert level 2 restrictions have to be discussed: "It would be very difficult if it's not a matter of discussion because of what happened a day before Cabinet."
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The events around vigils and gatherings have absolutely nothing to do with the evidence base we have used for our decision making all the way through the management of COVID-19. The second point I will make is we currently have some of the most liberal settings in the world right now because of the effectiveness of our strategy to date. And for that, I thank New Zealanders.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister as to whether it's her view that caucus—or, for that matter, having Cabinet as well—leaking like a sieve is not very good for party unity and Government unity.
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What's wrong with that?
SPEAKER: Very clearly there are some areas that are the Prime Minister's responsibility, and leaking from caucuses is not one of them.
Hon Chris Hipkins: What would be the risk of moving with urgency to reopen the border to countries such as China, as proposed last week by the Leader of the Opposition?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The basis of us moving to level 1 is contingent on us maintaining strict border controls. That continues to be one of our biggest risks. Maintaining those border controls actually gives New Zealanders freedom of movement and means we don't have to live with restrictions. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, I'm just going to remind the Hon Louise Upston, yet again, that when she interjects, her voice comes through her leader's mics. If she can't remember, I'm going to ask the whips to find a place for her which is not directly behind the leader, so we're not all subjected to her interjections at that volume.
Todd Muller: How does she expect New Zealanders to follow social distancing rules when her Deputy Prime Minister has publicly stated we should be in level 1 now?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The fact that we have different opinions on this issue has not meant that anyone in the Cabinet has deviated away from upholding the rules that are in place, or the expectation around the rules. What I will say is unlike, perhaps, some are modelling on the other side of the House, we are very aware of each other's opinions and we talk openly about them before we talk publicly about them.
Todd Muller: What part of the Deputy Prime Minister's recent comments on COVID-19 doesn't equal deviation from your view?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to answer the member's question, he implied that the member was breaking the rules.
Todd Muller: Does she agree with her Deputy Prime Minister that in respect of COVID-19, we have, and I quote, "been too cautious for far too long now?"
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member runs the risk of me bringing up all of the differing opinions that sit within his one party. You happen to be asking questions about two different parties.
Question No. 4—Finance
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National): How much new spending in response to the COVID-19 crisis—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! I'm just going to ask the member to start again and I'm going to ask the interjector to cease.
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: How much new spending in response to the COVID-19 crisis has the Government announced so far, and how much has been spent to date?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The Government has set aside $62 billion for investments to support the economy through this one-in-100-year pandemic. This includes the $50 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund announced in the Budget and the initial $12 billion economic package announced on 17 March. To date, about $43 billion has been announced and allocated over the forecast period, including for schemes to protect jobs and support businesses like the wage subsidy scheme, the Small Business Cashflow (Loan) Scheme, and changes to the tax system. At the same time, the Government has committed significant new investment for essential public services like health and education. In answer to the second part of the question, the Crown accounts for April and May have not yet been finalised, but Treasury forecasts that more than $26 billion will be spent in the current year to 30 June to support the economy through this one-in-100-year event.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How much additional spending has he so far planned to announce before the general election in September?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: At this stage, as the member knows, we have $20 billion remaining in the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to spend as necessary on response and recovery from COVID-19. As the member knows, the Government has been very flexible all the way through our response to ensure we meet need as it arises, but I don't have any specific plans in that regard.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Would he have to spend less if the economy was opened up sooner, as suggested by the Deputy Prime Minister?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, as I think I said in the House last week, the big difference in terms of the operation of the economy is between level 3 and level 2, where there's about a 10 percentage point improvement in output, versus the move from level 2 to level 1, which would be about half of that, at 5 percentage points. Like all New Zealanders, I want to see our society and our economy opened up as quickly as possible and in the safest possible manner.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Will he be explicit before the election about any tax increases being considered by a Labour Government, if it were to be re-elected, to pay for his additional spending?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As the Minister of Finance in the coalition Government, I've been very clear that we are not doing anything to the tax system in this period of Government that remains. It will be up to each individual party running into the election to be clear about their tax policy. That applies to all parties in Parliament.
Hon James Shaw: Has he seen any information about the increased cost of National's JobStart package if that was layered on top of the existing $11 billion that's gone into the wage subsidy, and what that would do for tax rates in the future?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen a range of ideas being brought up from political parties, including spending about another $9 billion of the $20 billion that's remaining. I don't think all of the parties in Parliament have added up all of the promises that they're making, but I'm sure someone will do that for them.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Will he rule out the re-imposition of death duties?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That is definitely not on the coalition Government's agenda.
Question No. 5—Finance
5. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Last week, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) released its latest quarterly predictions for the June quarter. While the NZIER acknowledged the difficulty in forecasting under the current uncertain circumstances, its forecasts do see a decline in activity concentrated in the June 2020 quarter, largely reflecting the conditions of alert level 4 that occurred during that quarter. However, NZIER did forecast unemployment to peak at 8.1 percent—below Treasury forecasts and far better than a number of other countries. It also said, "Given the relatively short amount of time spent in lockdown reflecting our success in eliminating COVID-19, the New Zealand economy looks increasingly likely to be at the optimistic end of the scenarios that had initially been considered … With New Zealand moving down the alert levels, more businesses are reopening and offering a [wide] range of goods and services." As we move through level 2, we can expect to see further gains from our early success in getting COVID-19 under control.
Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on recent activity in the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We are already seeing a significant lift in economic activity from moving from alert levels 3 and 2. A report out on Friday citing analysis by AirDNA showed a 565 percent increase in short-term rental bookings in New Zealand, which is higher than almost any other country in the world. Friday's weekly economic update from Treasury also shows improvements in economic activity. Heavy traffic movement is now only 5 percent below its normal levels, while electricity demand is now above pre-COVID levels, and electronic card spending during level 2 has been nearly equal to pre-COVID levels. This lift in activity is thanks to all New Zealanders supporting the Government's strategy of going hard and going early. Cabinet is fortunate to be in a position to now be considering a move to alert level 1 on 8 June.
Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on the economic impact of moving through the alert level framework?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Reserve Bank forecast that GDP would go from being 19 percent below normal under level 3 to 8.8 percent below normal under level 2—an improvement of 10 percentage points. In comparison, a move to level 1 adds 5 percentage points, so half the value of a move from level 3 to level 2. While a move to level 1 would further free up activity, this research from the Reserve Bank shows just how significant the move from level 3 to level 2 was in terms of opening up the economy. The good news is that the vast bulk of the economy is now able to be back up and running at level 2, and a further step down to level 1 is primarily focused on increasing gathering size and reducing social distance requirements, which will add additional economic capacity.
Question No. 6—Economic Development
6. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister for Economic Development: What special powers, if any, did Cabinet grant him that enabled him to allow 56 film workers from Los Angeles into New Zealand?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister for Economic Development): Cabinet agreed to border restrictions on 19 March preventing all entry into New Zealand, with some specific exemptions. Those exemptions included essential workers as agreed on a case-by-case basis by the COVID Cabinet Committee. Then, as an interim measure, on 21 April, Ministers with power to act on COVID-19 matters delegated further decision-making for agreeing workers as essential workers for the purpose of exemptions to border restrictions to the Minister for Economic Development and the relevant portfolio Minister for each specific application.
Hon Judith Collins: How many times has he exercised his powers to grant border exemptions on economic grounds?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I have now signed off 28 applications, representing 201 other essential workers.
Hon Judith Collins: When he is granting border exemptions to allow people to come into New Zealand, what isolation and physical distancing is he requiring to be in place?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: All of the people who come into the country through the exemptions policy are required to undergo a two-week supervised isolation or quarantine. I should say that 2,354 border exemptions have been granted to date; 1,906 of these have been for families or on humanitarian grounds—so the ones that are coming in as essential workers are less than 10 percent of that total.
Hon Judith Collins: What does he say, then, to the worried guests of the QT Museum Hotel who were, reportedly, exposed to a group of Avatar workers in the hotel reception who were not practising physical or social distancing despite having just arrived from the country with the world's highest number of active COVID-19 cases?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I guess the first point to make is that people coming into the country through the border exemptions regime are not screened on the basis of what country they're coming from, but all of them are required to undergo two weeks of enforced quarantine supervised by officials from the Ministry of Health. Everybody coming into the country is informed and instructed that they have to comply with all of the public health guidelines, including physical distancing. Ministry of Health personnel are responsible for overseeing the quarantine arrangements when people come into the country under these exemptions, and I would expect that they would be informing those people that they are required to comply.
Hon Judith Collins: Then how can this supervision have been undertaken if there was a group of Avatar workers in the hotel reception at the QT Museum Hotel who were not practising social distancing but were actually mingling around guests?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: If the member has got a specific case that she wants to take up, I would suggest that she takes it up with the Minister of Health, who is responsible for quarantine arrangements for anybody entering New Zealand.
Question No. 7—Customs
7. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Customs: Does she stand by all her Government's customs policies and actions?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister of Customs): Yes. I especially stand by Customs' policies and actions that have led to a decisive response to COVID-19 at our border, including the handling of passengers entering New Zealand while enabling the movement of freight in and out of New Zealand. I also stand by the policies and actions that continue to protect New Zealanders from other forms of harm, including a record bust of three tonnes of drugs in 2019, and the additional funds that have been invested in the Customs Service to tackle illegal drugs and objectionable material coming across the border. I especially stand by the brave men and women of our New Zealand Customs Service who've worked tirelessly to keep our country safe.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why is Customs refusing entry to New Zealand for vessels coming here for marine engineering work, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars of work and a loss of significant jobs, when the COVID-19 risks from crew are negligible and easily managed?
Hon JENNY SALESA: The decision about which kinds of craft are allowed in, whether they're marine or whether they're cruise ships, is, basically, focused on our actions to deal with COVID-19. And so one of the reasons why our Government actually had alert level 4, and the fact that we closed our border, is, basically, because our first and foremost is to protect New Zealand people's lives. We take that advice from the Director-General of Health and from the Ministry of Health, and, basically, this is a decision, in terms of lifting or changing that particular policy—it'll be a decision by Cabinet.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she stand by Customs' decision to refuse entry of the large fishing vessel the Capt. Vincent Gann for urgent engineering work in Nelson, when it has come from American Samoa—where there have been zero cases, and they closed their border prior to us—when the crew have been at sea for weeks, and when the crew can be tested and quarantine when they arrive in New Zealand?
Hon JENNY SALESA: I stand by our Government's record: the fact that we only have one current active case of COVID-19; the fact that we almost have eliminated COVID-19. Cabinet makes these decisions based on the Director-General of Health and the Ministry of Health. I stand by our Government's record on COVID-19.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she agree with the advice given by her officials to New Zealand marine engineering companies that these fishing vessels in the Pacific that are normally maintained in Nelson should go to Hawaii or other ports for repairs?
Hon JENNY SALESA: I reiterate my response. I stand by our Government's decision to ensure that our borders are safe, and until the Director-General of Health and the Ministry of Health gives us other advice in Cabinet, I stand by our Government's advice on this.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why is the Government making an exemption to the closed borders for foreign film workers but not for blue collar workers in the marine engineering industry?
Hon JENNY SALESA: In terms of exemptions, the member might want to reflect on who that particular question should go to. Those exemptions are given by the Minister for Economic Development.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she accept responsibility for the unnecessary loss of jobs in the marine industry in places like Nelson, given the Government's refusal to provide exemptions for that important New Zealand industry?
Hon JENNY SALESA: Again, I reiterate my response. I stand by our Government's response to COVID-19. We have been really successful at addressing COVID-19, and in terms of opening up the border, that will be a decision that will be made by Cabinet, not by me as Minister of Customs on my own.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the relevant correspondence over the last three weeks to try and get access for these vessels to New Zealand that has resulted in significant job losses in my Nelson electorate.
SPEAKER: Is there any objection to those documents being tabled? There appears to be none.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Question No. 8—Housing
8. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing: What is the Government doing to boost the delivery of new public and transitional homes, and why is this important as New Zealand emerges from the COVID-19 crisis?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): In Budget 2020, the Government announced funding for 8,000 new public and transitional homes. This is a significant boost to the Government's existing public housing build programme of 6,400 homes announced in Budget 2018. Kāinga Ora will finance its proportion of the additional 8,000 homes by increasing its borrowing by approximately $5 billion. This major investment is an important signal to the residential construction sector that the Government is ramping up its commitment to public housing, and the economic impact of the $5 billion investment in the residential construction market will be significant. Not only does this mean that 8,000 more families will have warm, dry homes to live in but it also means we'll be supporting thousands of jobs in the trades and wider construction sector to deliver these houses. With these latest announcements, that brings the number of homes to 18,350 either delivered by our Government or in the Government's public housing build pipeline—the most we've seen in decades.
Paul Eagle: What progress is the Government making on its commitment to build 6,400 public homes announced in Budget 2018?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As at the end of March 2020, 3,749 public housing places, or 59 percent, have been delivered against the target of 6,400 new public housing places by June 2022. In addition to funding for the latest 8,000 houses, Budget 2020 also included $100 million of funding to deliver 1,650 extra places that have been delivered ahead of schedule over the last 2½ years. This is great news, and demonstrates our Government's absolute commitment to building more public houses. I'm proud of our record to date and our plan for the future, after a decade of the previous Government doing little more than selling off State houses.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just to confirm, Minister: does that mean that flogging off State houses everywhere and running down the Housing New Zealand stock has well and truly been stopped?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Yes, it does, but, unfortunately, we are left with a legacy of a waiting list of around 15,000 people. But we are a Government with a plan to address that shortfall.
Paul Eagle: What is the delivery time line for the additional 8,000 new houses, and where will they be located?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The 8,000 houses will be delivered over the next four to five years. Approximately 6,000 of these will be delivered in the two years following the completion of the existing 6,400 houses in the delivery pipeline. The other 2,000 houses will be delivered as transitional housing places over the next two years to enable the Government to reduce reliance on the use of motels as an emergency measure. In terms of where these houses will be located, that will be determined as part of the public housing plan. I have asked officials to bring this work forward as a matter of priority, and I expect it will be available in the coming months.
Question No. 9—Tourism
9. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Tourism: What advice has he received on the number of Australians who visited New Zealand for the purposes of a holiday or visiting family during the Australian winter school holidays in 2019?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Tourism): During the Australian winter school holidays in 2019, 55,538 Australians came to New Zealand for a holiday; while 38,345 came at the same time to visit friends and family.
Hon Todd McClay: What was the total amount spent by Australian visitors to New Zealand in the 2019 Australian winter school holidays?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I don't have those figures at hand.
Hon Todd McClay: How many jobs were dependent on the amount spent by Australian visitors to New Zealand during the Australian winter school holidays in 2019?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We know that some 400,000 New Zealanders are either directly or indirectly employed in tourism-related work.
Hon Todd McClay: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I didn't ask how many were employed in tourism.
SPEAKER: No, the member asked a question which was marginal as to its flow from the previous question. I allowed the question and it was addressed.
Hon Todd McClay: Has he received any advice at all on the economic importance of the Australian winter school holidays to the New Zealand tourism industry and the families and communities who rely on it?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We know that any holidays are important to the tourism industry, including the Australian school holidays. But, of course, I have no say over what the Australians do in their school holidays.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Can he confirm that while New Zealand is currently in a reasonably long stretch of having no new COVID cases, Australia still continues to report up to double-digit new COVID-19 cases each day?
SPEAKER: Order! The member could have phrased it so that the member could have answered it—but he didn't.
Hon Todd McClay: What will be the economic consequence, and how many jobs will be lost, if the trans-Tasman border remains closed during the Australian winter school holiday season this year?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: A couple of things. First of all, a trans-Tasman bubble is something we would all like to see, but it depends on both countries deciding that it is safe to open the borders. In terms of addressing the question around—I think it was how many jobs we lost—
Hon Todd McClay: The consequences on jobs, yeah.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: On the consequences on jobs, we know that this is a global situation. COVID-19 has affected every country. There is no international tourism whatsoever, so the effects on the industry have been devastating. We would like to see—
Hon Grant Robertson: How would you do it, Todd? Would you just open all the borders up—just open them up, bring them in from anywhere, Todd?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: —the trans-Tasman bubble open up as quickly as possible, but we must make sure that both countries are sure that it's safe to do so.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Supplementary question.
SPEAKER: Yeah—no, but before we do that, I'm just going to ask the Minister of Finance: no matter how provocative the interjections that come from the other side, when he interjects—when he replies that loudly while the Minister is speaking, he interferes with the ability of the Minister to be—well, my ability to hear the Minister. I'd like him to stop it. So don't be provoked.
Hon Chris Hipkins: I'll have another go, Mr Speaker. What would be the economic consequences to the New Zealand tourism industry of COVID-19 coming across the trans-Tasman border and spreading in New Zealand?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We have seen the devastation that COVID-19 has caused to the New Zealand economy as we've gone up into level 4. The last thing that this country needs is for us to go from level 2 back into level 3 and back into level 4. What we need to do is maintain the course that we're on, making sure that it is safe on both sides of the Tasman before the trans-Tasman bubble is opened up.
Question No. 10—Immigration
10. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Immigration: Have he or his officials received correspondence regarding visa exemptions for foreign teams in the America's Cup; if so, when?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): I am not aware of any correspondence relating to visa exemptions regarding any of the foreign teams in the America's Cup. None of the syndicates have indicated that they want to be exempted from our usual immigration requirements. However, to be helpful to the member, I can inform the House that I have had regular correspondence with Dean Barker as the head of the American Magic syndicate on the subject of travel to New Zealand for the America's Cup since he contacted my office on 23 March 2020; this has included a video conference on 25 March 2020 and further correspondence since.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It's an exemption from the closed border.
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Immigration New Zealand officials have also been in regular discussions—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Some of us think this is quite an important question, Dr Smith, and it's not helped by your loud interjections, which appear to be coming through your colleague's mike behind you.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: No. I want to hear the end of the answer. If there's a point of order then, I'll take it.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Some members get points of order and some don't?
SPEAKER: I think the member is lucky that his colleague's mike was turned off.
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'll pick up where I left off, which was to say that Immigration New Zealand officials have also been in regular discussions with the America's Cup syndicate since July of 2019, and the member will appreciate that the context for those discussions has changed significantly since that time.
Stuart Smith: Why have some visas for America's Cup teams not been approved, given Immigration New Zealand provided specific instructions to staff on 18 August 2018 on issuing visas to America's Cup teams in a timely manner?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because we have established a process for exemptions from the restrictions that are in place.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, there are now exemptions? So there are exemptions now?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Exemptions from the restrictions that are in place, Dr Smith—listen carefully. And I understand that applications for exemption have been lodged with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and are being processed for consideration by the Minister for Economic Development.
Stuart Smith: Does he expect America's Cup teams to apply for visa exemptions under the "significant economic value" category; and, if so, how can they do this given the criteria is unpublished?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As I've already explained to the member, there is no way to apply for a visa exemption.
Stuart Smith: Why, then, has he not communicated that to the America's Cup teams?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The America's Cup teams are well aware of the process for seeking an exemption to the border restrictions, and I understand that applications have been lodged and are being processed by MBIE.
Stuart Smith: Is he confident that visas will be granted in time for the first America's Cup team members to arrive by 15 June in order to adequately prepare for the event?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I am confident that the process that has been put in place and has been discussed with the syndicates will be applied appropriately.
Question No. 11—Education
11. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What action has the Government taken to ensure that New Zealand's most vulnerable children will receive a healthy school lunch?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): The Wellbeing Budget of 2020 funds the expansion of the free and healthy school lunch programme to 200,000 New Zealand children. This means that once it's fully rolled out, one in four schoolchildren in New Zealand will receive a free, healthy school lunch every day. We know that kids with full tummies tend to concentrate better, they're normally better behaved, and, of course, they learn more. The Government's model gives flexibility to schools to decide whether or not to deliver the lunches themselves or to outsource to an external supplier. We know that the schools and communities are best placed to understand what their children need.
Jan Tinetti: How will the expansion of the free and healthy school lunch programme to one in four New Zealand school students create jobs?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Based on what we already know from the way the programme is working in the schools that have been taking part so far—either making the lunches themselves or outsourcing to an external supplier—it's estimated that around 2,000 additional jobs in local communities could be created through the expansion of this programme. Several schools have employed whānau to help make and distribute lunches on school sites. In other areas, locals have been employed by locally based suppliers providing lunches. For example, 65 people have been employed in the Bay of Plenty region across 21 schools currently in the programme. As an example, at Murupara Area School, that began serving lunches in late January this year, the school lunches are provided by Manawa Munchies, a business set up specifically for this purpose, and it employs three local people.
Jan Tinetti: What are the next steps for the expansion of the free and healthy school lunch programme to one in four New Zealand school students?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Detailed planning is under way to support the scaling up of the programme. It continues to be rolled out, and the next group in the South Island will be announced shortly. The phased expansion of the lunches will begin during term 4 this year, reaching a further 50,000 students, and increasing to up to 200,000 students by term 3 in 2021.
Jan Tinetti: What reports has he seen about the free and healthy school lunch programme for the nearly 8,000 children who currently receive it?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The principal of Kimi Ora Community School in Flaxmere said that the programme had had a huge impact on kids' learning and also on kids' mental wellbeing. Because all students at the primary school receive a lunch, it removed the stigma of poverty; it's also reduced truancy at their school because families of children used to be embarrassed to send their children to school if they could not provide them with a lunch. Principals from Sunset Primary School and Kaitao Intermediate School in Rotorua have said that they're seeing higher attendance and better behaviour with their free school lunches. Sunset Primary School is also providing free stationery as a result of the Government's school donations scheme.
Hon Grant Robertson: Excellent.
SPEAKER: Yes, and, as was indicated to me, it's not always a question of poverty, the question of whether people have lunch, but it does impact on their behaviour. The Minister of Finance didn't have his lunch—that's the point that I'm making—and it's been clear to everyone in the House.
Question No. 12—Housing
12. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Minister of Housing: Will she do anything for KiwiBuild buyers caught up in the delayed Monark development, including the couple who wrote to her on Friday stating, "We want the Government, whose involvement induced us into entering this contract, to own up and enable KiwiBuild purchasers to exit their agreements with no further financial bloodshed"?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): Yes.
Nicola Willis: What will she do for those buyers and will she ensure they can get their full deposits back, or does she think it's fair they face a $5,000 penalty?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That member's been here long enough. You can't ask three supplementary questions.
SPEAKER: Can't ask what?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You can't ask three supplementary questions all at once.
SPEAKER: Well, I'm going to get the member to start again, and I'll focus.
Nicola Willis: What will the Minister do for those buyers, and will she ensure they can get their full deposits back?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Addressing the first part of that question, I understand the developer will be communicating with KiwiBuild Monark purchasers to inform them that they are offering to return the full deposit payable on all KiwiBuild contracts cancelled, and no costs will be recovered. This offer will be open for 10 working days from today. The developer and the Government remain committed to this development, and we are confident there will continue to be demand for these homes. I am also currently working with officials on the steps required to align the occupancy requirements on the Monark two- and three-bedroom homes, with the one-year requirement on studio and one-bedroom homes.
Nicola Willis: Why did the Government market homes in the Monark development before a construction contract had been confirmed, and will she apologise to KiwiBuild buyers caught up in the resulting delays?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I explained to that member last week, this is a type of contract that is no longer entered into by KiwiBuild. It has not been a type of contract that is entered into since December of last year. Selling off the plans is a normal part of property development, but we recognise that doing so prior to there being a contracting agreement does not sit well with Kiwi buyers. I think what that member does need to understand, however, is that selling off the plans is going to be an incredibly important part as we get through the post-COVID recovery in construction, and I look forward to hearing some constructive plans from that member on what she's going to do.
Nicola Willis: Will she apologise to distressed KiwiBuild buyers caught up in the Monark development?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I've not only offered my sympathy and apologies but we changed the policy in December and I've fixed the situation for these people that want to get out of it.