Parliament: Questions and Answers June 3 2020
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): In its latest weekly commentary, released yesterday, Westpac said that "There was a definite bounce in the economy after the Alert Level 4 lockdown was lifted,". It said recent card-spending data points to an encouraging degree of resilience in households' spending appetites, while key indicators such as electricity demand, heavy and light traffic movements, and a slower pace of job losses recently, were also pointing to a faster recovery than we had expected. Westpac said that although there had been a large lift in the number of people on the jobseeker benefit, it was a more modest increase than expected, largely due to the Government's wage subsidy scheme. Accordingly, it expects unemployment may not reach its own forecast peak of 9.5 percent. I am pleased to see that this commentary recognises the impact of New Zealanders efforts in getting the virus under control, coupled with the Government's unprecedented level of economic support so that we have the best chance of our economy recovering well.
Dr Duncan Webb: What reports has he seen on the scale of the Government's support for the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government's unprecedented $62.1 billion in available economic support includes the wage subsidy scheme, the Small Business Cashflow (Loan) Scheme, $2.8 billion in business tax changes, an estimated $3.1 billion tax loss carry-back scheme, $3 billion for new infrastructure projects, $1.6 billion for the trades and apprenticeship training package, the billion-dollar environmental jobs package, $216 million for the international business sector, and, as of today's announcement, $150 million for research and development loans. According to analysis from Treasury, this package represents nearly 20 percent of GDP, which puts it as one of the largest fiscal support packages in the world, well above Australia, Japan, Singapore, Canada, the US, and the UK. From the outset of this pandemic, our Government has committed to going hard and going early, cushioning the blow for households and businesses, and kick-starting the recovery on the other side. The scale of our fiscal support represents the scale of our commitment to New Zealanders to help see them through the crisis.
Dr Duncan Webb: What reports has he seen on the international context for the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen a range of reports that indicate that many other countries may be facing greater economic impacts from COVID-19 and a slower recovery from it. The Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Treasury are both forecasting unemployment to rise to 10 percent in Australia. According to the International Monetary Fund, Ireland's unemployment rate is forecast to rise to 12 percent this year. The unemployment rate for April in the US was officially 14.7 percent, but a report from Goldman Sachs estimates it could be as high as 21.5 percent in May.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: A thousand a day.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That's not true, Mr Brownlee. We have always been upfront that the road ahead will be difficult. We will not be able to save every job or every business, but these forecasts show that, thanks to our collective success in fighting the virus and our efforts at cushioning the economic blow, we face less damaging immediate impacts, and the opportunity for a stronger recovery.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. TODD MULLER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Why isn't New Zealand already in alert level 1?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): While ongoing zero-case days have given us confidence to move forward consideration of a move to alert level 1 to 8 June, earlier than that would not have given sufficient confidence that transmission was not occurring that has not yet been detected. The incubation period of the virus is up to 14 days; it's only been 13 days since bars reopened and five days since gathering sizes were lifted to 100. We also have to bear in mind that it is worse for our economy if we move backwards and forwards between alert levels rather than making the right decision the first time. It is also important to note that we began our staggered approach to alert level 2 less than three weeks ago, and New Zealand already has some of the most liberal restrictions in the world because of the effectiveness of our strategy to date. We need to ensure that as a team of 5 million we do not lose the gains we've made to date and go backwards.
Todd Muller: Why is she so reticent to move to alert level 1, when Dr Ashley Bloomfield has said there is—and I quote—"no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm acting on the advice of director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He is the one giving us the guidance to remain where we are. He has expressed comfort with us making that consideration on 8 June, but that is not an accurate reflection of his views.
Todd Muller: Is it correct that—and I quote—"from a public health perspective alert level 1 means there has been a period of more than 28 days with no new cases of COVID-19 caused by community transmission and there is an extremely low public health risk from the virus", as is says in the paper I have here in her name titled COVID-19 Alert Level 1 Controls, which I understand was discussed at Cabinet yesterday?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member knows that we have made fully and widely available the settings of alert level 1, 2, 3, and 4, and in the criteria for decision making it does say, "trends in the transmission of the virus, with the threshold varying by alert level, including the director-general's confidence in the data." So, yes, we've included a period where we haven't had cases—keeping in mind we're only up to 12 days presently—but also the number of days where we haven't had a case from community transmission, which was roughly about a month ago now. But that is not the only criteria. The director-general has to be confident in the data. We know there is asymptomatic transmission. We know there is a long tail. I would rather move once, do it right, and not continue to risk our economy.
Todd Muller: When was New Zealand's last case of community transmission?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I just said, it was at the beginning of May. However, that was not the last case that we had, which was, from memory, 12 days ago. I have to say I am alarmed at the suggestion from the member that, even with some of the loosest restrictions in the world, the member would still be willing to act against the advice of the Director-General of Health, open up before he has advised that we do so, and put at risk the huge effort and sacrifice of New Zealanders. I would rather do it once and do it right.
Todd Muller: Why did you say that it was—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! "She", thank you.
Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister: how can you match that answer with the fact that on 20 May you said—and I quote—"the last case of community transmission where the source was unknown was early April."? That means we've had now three full cycles of transmission with no community transmission cases in New Zealand—60 days since—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order!
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We had a case that was linked to overseas travel but the overseas travel was outside the period of infection. So the view was that it could either have been community transmission or overseas travel. Again, the member forgets that that is but one of many criteria that we take into consideration, and we must listen to the advice not only of the scientists and epidemiologists but also the Director-General of Health. If the member thinks he knows more than all of them combined, I congratulate him, but I would rather listen to the advice, get it right, and not risk our economy.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Has the Prime Minister been advised that as recently as yesterday Australian states were reporting new cases of community transmission, and will the Government take that into consideration when considering the Opposition's urging to reopen the border with Australia with urgency?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. We of course are mindful of the impacts of every restriction on our economy, on our businesses, but I equally will not jeopardise the gains and sacrifices made by those businesses by either opening us before we're ready or moving alert levels before we're ready. I reflect on the comments made by a small-business owner that they would rather live with the restrictions now than risk going back later on.
Todd Muller: Prime Minister, isn't it time for a captain's call on level 1 so that a team of 5 million New Zealanders can get back to rebuilding this country and recovering their jobs?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have proudly made captain's calls all the way through and it is one of the reasons that, alongside our team of 5 million, we are the envy of the world in terms of our position right now. I stand by every call I've made and that's why we are waiting until 8 June.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: I can't tell if it's a point of order or a question, because of the yelling that is going on. I can't quite work out the reason for it today, but there seems to have been something in the water at lunchtime on my left, and I would like the volume to be turned down, and I would like the provocation to be turned off by the people who are not called to answer questions.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Will she accept the urging from the Leader of the Opposition to make a captain's call to reopen the border with China with urgency?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. And I do reflect on the fact that yesterday the member did say that he didn't have all of the information in front of him to make a decision around moving to alert level 1, and I would just reflect on that. I actually support the position the member took at that time. There are a number of things that have to be considered. Cabinet makes those decisions alongside the advice of the director-general and the best scientific advice we have. It has to be about moving as quickly as we can but as safely as we can.
Todd Muller: Why is it that your vice-captain doesn't actually have—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, look, I warned the member once and he sort of half corrected it, he did it again, and he's done it wrong again. My vice-captain is over there. Ask the question again.
Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Sir, to you!
SPEAKER: Oh, for goodness' sake! I heard a very wise kaumātua on the radio this morning, talking about breaches of rules and the consequences of them. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise.
Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister, why wait till midnight Wednesday, when the whole country needs us to be in level 1 today?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the whole country needs us to not go backwards. The whole country needs us to move once and to do it right, and the whole country wants to move with confidence. The member does a disservice when he explains that the decision-making process is as simplistic as he describes—it is not. We factor in a range of issues, including economic impact, including compliance, including transmission, and our unknowns. And I stand by every decision we have made to date.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well done, captain!
SPEAKER: Mr Brownlee, I think people will describe people correctly in the House from now on. We're not going to have a big argument about it now.
Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What is the Treasury's best estimate of job losses from being at level 2 as opposed to level 1?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I'm advised that that would depend on the time spent at each level and other factors such as the global economic environment and the level of domestic activity under the different alert levels. Treasury's central Budget forecasts assume that the country would be at level 4 for a month, level 3 for a month, and then either levels 2 or 1 for the remainder of the year to March 2021. Treasury assumed growth in employment—i.e., a net increase in jobs—from the start of the September quarter, beginning 1 July. This is a period in which Treasury assumes the country is either at level 2 or level 1. Therefore, employment growth is expected under both levels 2 and level 1.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Can he understand the anger of small-business people seeing their businesses taken closer to the edge every day they remain under restriction, when the general public, including the Prime Minister and her selfies, seem to have moved on?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I don't know about the end of that question, but I share the view of most New Zealanders that we should do this job once and do it right.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Can he understand the frustrations of AJ, owner of Novelty restaurant in Botany, who normally operates with 100 patrons but under level 2 can only operate with 30 to 40 patrons, and who said today, "Every day we stay at level 2, it really threatens the very survivability of the business"?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I understand the frustration of many New Zealanders that COVID-19 has arrived and had such a massive impact on our society and our economy. But I also believe—and I think I've seen survey work to back this up—that New Zealanders back the idea of doing this job once and doing it right. I invite the member to look around the world at other countries who have not had the success New Zealanders have, who face many, many months of restrictions. We've done well. We've just got to finish the job.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Rather than continually congratulating himself and his Government, would he not do better to acknowledge that as one of the most isolated countries in the world, with a small, sparsely spread, and relatively young population, New Zealand should have led the world in getting on top of the virus, and we have?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, there are certain geographical advantages in New Zealand, but I think the member does a disservice to the 5 million New Zealanders who sacrificed a great deal to get us to the position we're in. We should be proud of New Zealanders' efforts, not belittling of them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the finance Minister that if this is, as was just posed, a relatively young country, why would they be wanting to put the retirement age up?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! It's just too tangential.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why can businesses not return to normal operations without current restrictions, when the Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, has said there is "no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand"?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: This matter has just been covered by the Prime Minister in answering the Leader of the Opposition, so I invite the member to share their questions with each other in the future. But it would be fair to say that that is not an accurate representation of the views of the director-general.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why were 4,000 people able to gather to protest without any social distancing on Monday, yet businesses are being forced to abide by strict social distancing rules and gathering restrictions which are pushing many of them to the brink?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It's a fairly basic rule of life that one person breaking the rules doesn't justify it for everybody else.
Question No. 4—Education
4. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What decisions has the Government taken on investing in training and education for people who have lost their jobs or who want to move into a different sector?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): The Government's trades and apprenticeships training package will pay the cost of learners of all ages to undertake vocational education and training over the next 2½ years. The initial set of targeted areas that will qualify for this support, starting on 1 July this year and for the rest of 2020, include primary industries, building and construction, community support, manufacturing, mechanical engineering and technology, electrical engineering, and road transport. Further details are available on the Tertiary Education Commission website. Circumstances dictated that we needed to move fast, so for the beginning of 2021 we'll be refining these initial targeted areas to reflect the work that's under way across Government to better understand how industry workforce needs are being affected by COVID-19 and what skills will be needed to support the country's economic recovery.
Marja Lubeck: Will apprentices have the same eligibility as people in other forms of training?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. All apprenticeships, including those outside of the targeted areas, will be eligible for the fees support. This is aimed at industries that are expected to be particularly hard hit by COVID-19, including hospitality, tourism, and food, where we want employers to keep their apprentices on, and we'll be supporting them to do so.
Marja Lubeck: What response has he seen to the trades and apprenticeships training package?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: A very, very warm response—heaps. Master Builders' representatives have said it's going to ease the burden of young guys wanting to get into the trade, because it's a cost they won't have to bear.
David Seymour: Just guys?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Otago—well, yes, that's right; there'll be some women wanting to get into the trades as well. The Otago Secondary Principals' Association have said the initiative would open doors to employment for school-leavers at a time when many were closing. Representatives of the viticulturists' industry have said that it's really exciting for them. And the Southern Institute of Technology chief executive, Penny Simmonds, has said, "We believe the minister's release of initial programmes for supported training to aid Covid-19 recovery will stimulate demand for a number of … programmes SIT has expertise in. … This may mean SIT will need to run additional intakes, but we are well prepared … [and] able to do that."
Marja Lubeck: Are the industries suffering the most economic harm, such as hospitality, tourism, and retail, missing out on this fund?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. We want to provide training options, particularly where people are enrolled in pre-employment programmes that will lead them to strong job prospects. It doesn't make sense to encourage people to train in areas if the jobs aren't currently there. On the other hand, those who are already in training and on job training, we want them to complete their qualifications, which is why we're supporting existing apprentices in those areas to complete their apprenticeships. That means that we're supporting those whose employment could otherwise be adversely affected by COVID-19.
Question No. 5—Environment
5. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he believe it is appropriate to impose new regulations on the rural sector, given it is likely that New Zealand is about to enter a recession?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment): I believe that allowing pollution to get worse is both wrong environmentally and economically, because if continues to get worse, it would cost more to clean up, not less. The new national environmental standards, in effect, hold the line. The changes under the national policy statement do not take effect for several years, by which time New Zealand is expected to have recovered from the economic impact of COVID-19. I note that the overall time frame to clean up all of our waterways to a healthy state is a generation, and that will span a number of economic cycles.
David Seymour: Is he concerned about the job losses and mental health pressures that the Ministry for the Environment's own analysis says will result from the regulations he's putting in place?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The cost-benefit analysis, which is very, very thorough and has been peer-reviewed, says that while many important benefits can't be quantified, those that were quantified have an aggregate annual value of $359 million per annum up to 2050—primarily from improved swimmability reducing health risks, ecosystem services, water storage as a consequence of wetland protection, and the like. The estimated costs are approximately $166 million per annum, which means that, overall, the net benefit is $193 million per annum over 30 years, excluding brand benefits, which can't be quantified but are positive.
David Seymour: Why is the Government focusing on putting new costs on the rural sector instead of resourcing local government in urban settings to clean up waterways, such as Remuera's Hobson Bay, where E. coli readings are 700 times safe levels?
Hon DAVID PARKER: We're not. And to use the language that the ACT Party used to relate to, what we're doing is internalising externalities to avoid the tragedy of the commons. In respect of urban issues, we are applying the same standards to urban areas. I think it is noteworthy that the Auckland Council is bringing forward more than a billion dollars of expenditure to separate sewage from storm water to avoid the very issues that the member complains of, which I agree do need to be addressed.
Question No. 6—Health
6. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Has he received any advice regarding the number of health procedures unrelated to COVID-19 that did not take place as planned due to COVID-19; if so, what is his best estimate of the number of these procedures?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): As I explained to the member previously, Budget 2020 included a one-off investment of $282.5 million to fund a planned care catch-up campaign following disruption caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Preliminary data suggests that approximately 8,500 elective and acute in-patient surgeries, 11,200 minor surgeries, 11,800 scans, and 3,200 endoscopy procedures were deferred. I'm advised that the Budget 2020 funding will more than cover that level of deferred care.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen the report of the Cancer Control Agency that concludes there were more than a thousand fewer cancer registrations in April 2020 compared with the same period last year, and a third fewer curative cancer surgeries?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have seen that report. I've also seen it's about 500 overall behind this year, because of that month in April setting back the number of diagnostics. It's true that there has been a global pandemic, and that the Government is prioritising catch-up. It's also good that cancer diagnostics were running ahead of previous years before the lockdown this year.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: What is the Government's acceptable number of lives lost or shortened because of non-COVID health conditions during the lockdown?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I'm advised that, in fact, clinicians are doing a very good job of prioritising the care needed. Of course, if people needed urgent care during the lockdown, they were able to get it.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: So is it his position that non - COVID-related morbidity and death was unaffected by the lockdown?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I'm advised that clinicians have been prioritising care appropriately. It is impossible, actually, to make that judgment at this stage, but I guess we have the international comparison, where countries that did not go hard and go early, that did not have a team of five million, have far worse outcomes, still have restrictions on access to hospital care, and are likely to do so for many months to come. I want to thank the hard-working clinicians that have made our response so successful by international comparison, and the New Zealanders who have worked so hard and made sacrifices to make that happen too.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: What firm plans, if any, have district health boards (DHBs) made to clear the publicly funded backlog of elective surgery?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The DHBs are making detailed plans to ensure that they are delivering more care for more people; indeed, year-on-year they have been doing that every year under this Government, and I'm sure that the $3.92 billion record investment that this Government has put in in this Budget into DHBs will also make a significant difference. This Government has followed on from another Government that neglected the health system for nine years, that underfunded it, and, as a consequence, as we've put more money in, we've seen 1,500 more nurses than when we took office, we've seen 900 more doctors, we've seen 600 more allied health workers, and we're seeing more care for more people. I thank the member for the opportunity to outline the progress that is being made.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, if a detailed plan for clearing elective surgeries does exist, will he make it public?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The DHBs, of course, have an annual planning process under way that will provide extraordinary detail on what they will be doing in the year ahead, and that will be, of course, public, as it is every year.
Question No. 7—Māori Development
7. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister for Māori Development: What announcements has she made to support Māori tourism operators?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister for Māori Development): We've acted to safeguard one of Aotearoa New Zealand's icons of Māori tourism, Te Puia and the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (MAKI), by investing $7.6 million over the next two years to safeguard the future of Toi Māori. The legacy contribution of MAKI has seen the teaching of carvers, weavers, waka exponents, and arts and crafts experts hone their skills and contribute to cultural revival over the last 100 years. This investment will continue their contribution as a training institute.
Tamati Coffey: What additional support has the Government provided to Māori tourism?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: First, I want to acknowledge New Zealand Māori Tourism, who have a specific mandate to support the Māori tourism sector and the work that we do. In addition to the economic recovery packages the Government have announced for businesses such as two rounds of wage subsidies and small-business loans, we've allocated $10 million contingency of funding to New Zealand Māori Tourism to support the Māori tourism sector to pivot in the new environment. We've supported the stand up of a business support service led by New Zealand Māori Tourism and supported by Poutama Trust and the Māori Women's Development Inc. to help Māori small and medium sized enterprises' position during this challenging time. In addition to this, New Zealand Māori Tourism provides further specialist support for Māori tourism operators. We anticipate those businesses will be a key feature of local and regional tourism networks now and moving on into the future.
Tamati Coffey: How will the recovery of Māori tourism support an integrated network of tourism operators and an increased focus on regional destinations and experiences?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Fantastic question. The Māori tourism sector employs about 14,000 people across the country and includes some of the country's most iconic and globally renowned tourism attractions. Māori tourism's contribution to New Zealand is more than just financial. The network of Māori tourism businesses contribute to New Zealand's overall image, brand, and reputation. There is a unique point of difference on the world stage—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm going to interrupt the member, partly because of the way she started and partly because of the very poor use of the word "iconic" and the fact that the answer is far too long, as the others were.
Tamati Coffey: What is the biggest challenge for Māori tourism operators as they pivot towards attracting a domestic tourism market while borders remain closed?
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Undervaluing and underpricing our experiences and tourism product experiences because of the view that it's in our backyard. By getting behind our local businesses and tourist destinations, we can support the sector to rebuild its way towards a recovery that retains a strong and unique point of difference to any other country in the world. As the saying goes, "Let's back our backyard". Value our language, culture, and local stories—that way, we'll all benefit.
Question No. 8—Foreign Affairs
8. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Has work by his officials on a trans-Tasman bubble progressed to a point where he can put a date on its start?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): We considered the issue of a trans-Tasman bubble even before New Zealand went into lockdown. Our responsibility was to try and anticipate every outcome and ensure that we make the right decisions when faced with tough choices. On 23 March 2020, before the lockdown began, I met with the chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and started our plan to develop a trans-Tasman bubble that day. We committed to talking to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Australia and begin communications on this project. The House should note that, at the same time, many, many countries weren't even thinking about the effects of COVID-19.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Have the parameters for a trans-Tasman bubble been discussed by Cabinet?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It is true to say that Cabinet colleagues are well aware of the work that's been going on with respect to this. But, despite all the work that's gone on, this is not a decision that we can make just by ourselves. It has to be made with a country called Australia, which, unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—constitutionally has a federal system. And so it's also to be made there state by state, as you see. So if, for example, Australia is not travelling interstate, it's very difficult for us to go inter-country. But we're working as hard as we can on it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: So have the parameters for a trans-Tasman bubble been discussed by Cabinet?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: If the member means by "parameters" the restrictions, the answer is no, because, again—because we do believe in consultation on this side of the House—we're in full consultation with my counterpart in Australia, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne. The Prime Minister has been in discussion with Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister. And so, with respect to the parameters, that will be an agreement between both of our countries on all aspects of the trans-Tasman bubble as to when it gets started.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does he appreciate that, without a publicly available timeline, tourism business planning is very difficult and will lead to even more job losses?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I think the answer and evidence for that is that on 23 March, before we went into the lockdown, my department started work with DFAT Australia to ensure that when the time came for us to be able to inter-country travel, we'd be ready. Yes, we do appreciate that. That's why we didn't waste one day of our time.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Then would he be prepared to speculate for the House about what a timeline might look like? In the absence of an official timeline, at least some hope for those businesses might be able to be given to the House by the Minister today.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Can I say that if one wanted to cross one's bridges before you got to them, you might talk about speculating, but that would be irresponsible in the extreme, because we're talking with other countries and other states apart from Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales, and, dare I say it, in time, Victoria. And to say you're going to get up and speculate about something like that, when the province of decision making lies in their hands as well, would be utterly wrong. That's why we're in foreign affairs. We do things with tact and diplomacy.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Then is it reasonable for New Zealanders following this question to assume that there's been no point where a trans-Tasman bubble can be identified as likely to occur?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It would be entirely wrong to be misled by such a forecast or proscription as the one we've just heard. The truth is, as I've said, on 23 March we started working on this. It requires us to go interstate as well. I know, for example, the Premier of Tasmania has said he wants to open up now. We know that New South Wales has a similar view. There's a tremendous number of people in the tourism industry in Queensland who also want the same, but the state is not ready yet, by their public pronouncements. We have got a system of Government unlike theirs. They have a federal system; the decision has to be made not just by Canberra but by every state capital. It makes it very complex, but it doesn't mean that we have not, with fervour and unction and urgency, got on with the job.
Hon Stuart Nash: Has the Minister seen any politicians advocating for a bubble with China, and what is his view on that?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can say yes, I have seen that—
SPEAKER: No. I'm going to interrupt. The question was one relating to the trans-Tasman, and the Tasman Sea doesn't go that far.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You might say that, excepting that when that was propositioned in this House, there was a suggestion that it did go that far and that we add it to the trans-Tasman bubble. That's why I think it's apposite and relevant. Can I answer it please, because I'm certainly prepared to?
SPEAKER: If the question had been phrased in that way, then the member would have been allowed to answer it.
Hon Stuart Nash: With regard to a trans-Tasman bubble or any other bubbles opening up, has the Minister of Foreign Affairs heard suggestions that there should be any other countries that we should form a bubble with?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer is: most certainly—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I can understand why the Minister wants to answer that question. It might save a little bit of grace for him, given the answers—
SPEAKER: Order! Have we got a point of order?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I have.
SPEAKER: Well, get to it, because the member is not starting that way.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Surely, simply by referring to the trans-Tasman bubble and then asking for "any other" is not strictly in line with the primary question that's been carefully put on the Order Paper today.
SPEAKER: The member's absolutely right.
Question No. 9—Transport
9. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Did officials recommend in the Cabinet paper released in June 2019 titled "Progressing our plans to deliver light rail in Auckland" a process for Auckland light rail that would have allowed all market participants the opportunity to bid for the delivery of the project; and when, if ever, does he expect to take light rail to Cabinet next?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): One of the options presented to Cabinet would have allowed a full market process, but there were a range of options, and Cabinet was advised on the pros and cons and the trade-offs between them. It's not in the public interest to reveal the officials' recommended option, as this matter is still being considered as part of both the commercial process and Cabinet decision-making. I expect to take a paper to Cabinet about light rail in the coming weeks.
Chris Bishop: Was it the preferred approach of officials that there be a process for Auckland light rail that would've allowed all market participants the opportunity to bid for the delivery of the project?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Light rail is an important part of our Government's solution to Auckland's growth and congestion problems. Cabinet first gave the New Zealand Transport Agency leadership of this project, then we received an unsolicited bid from NZ Infra, and I thought that bid was worth serious consideration. I took to Cabinet a recommendation that we look at both of those options as part of a twin track process, and this was following advice from officials that there were a number of options that could be taken at that time. We're now in the middle of that process. It's a commercial-in-confidence process. This Government believes in behaving ethically in business and in good-faith negotiations. We're not able to reveal the details until this process is complete, as we must retain the integrity of both the commercial process and Cabinet decision-making.
Chris Bishop: How does it affect the integrity of the commercial decision-making process to reveal that his officials' preferred approach was contrary to the one that Cabinet undertook?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because we're in the middle of a process that was agreed by Cabinet, the matters are subject to commercial probity, and the Cabinet decision-making process is under way. We should let that process run its course. It's not in the public interest to reveal those matters at this time.
Chris Bishop: Why will he not tell the public that Treasury and officials advised him to open up the process for Auckland light rail to wider market participants than just the Transport Agency and NZ Infra?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I've already explained that Treasury and the Ministry of Transport had input into the paper that set out a number of options, including going out to the full market, that the paper, the advice that went to Cabinet, included consideration of the pros and cons of those options and the trade-offs between them. Cabinet considered all the options and Cabinet took the decision to run the twin track process.
Chris Bishop: Will Cabinet consider Auckland light rail after 19 June 2020 when the pre-election period commences?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As the member probably knows well, it would be unwise in a Cabinet process to put a precise date on that, but, as I've already said, I intend to take the light rail paper to Cabinet in the coming weeks.
Chris Bishop: Has he been advised of any risk that NZ Infra may choose to walk away, given that he hasn't announced a delivery partner for Auckland light rail, and, as he's just said, it has to be decided before Cabinet by 19 June?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'm not prepared to divulge the detail of a mountain of advice that was received on this matter, but I think that if the member looks at reports that have been in the media in recent days quoting NZ Infra, he'll see that his assertion doesn't hold weight.
Question No. 10—Forestry
10. Hon TRACEY MARTIN (NZ First) to the Minister of Forestry: What recent announcements has he made?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister of Forestry): Along with my colleague the Hon Damien O'Connor, from the one billion tree fund, the Government, through my good self and my colleague, have announced $10 million to aid planting wetlands and waterways, create jobs in communities, and improve the environment. In addition to this, it will boost the local nurseries but, most importantly, provide sorely needed jobs in the rural community in the primary produce sector. [Hon Shane Jones knocks over water glass]
Hon Tracey Martin: How will this build on other initiatives which protect our wetlands and waterways?
SPEAKER: Speaking of wetlands!
Hon SHANE JONES: I do have a reputation as being a Minister who's hot to trot, and I've now been cooled down. I accept that. Last year, in a neglected part of Aotearoa, the Waiapū catchment, we allocated a sum of $5 million, and, in fairness to my colleagues from the other side of the House, it was picking up an obligation that they took on board in the settlement of the Ngati Porou claim. We worked out that in areas such as that, catchment improvements are not possible until we get the nephs off the couch and teach them, actually, how to start fencing again. We bring forward people that have been dislocated from the job market, and we hope to continue doing that with the $80 million recently announced for waterways, riparian planting, and stock reticulation. There is so much to talk about, and more will be stated as we move closer to a certain date towards the end of the year.
Hon Tracey Martin: What other announcements has he made recently?
Hon SHANE JONES: It's important that we bear in mind that it's not only about growing trees and environmental resilience but it's also investing in the next generation. Ngā Karahipi Uru Rākau, forestry scholarships, have recently been announced. This is to encourage young women, those who have already left school, Māori school-leavers, and, indeed, anyone who wants to invest time, money, and effort in gaining a qualification so that we can turn the forestry sector from a low commodity game and increase both the skill, the talent, and the transparency, in particular, amongst those who play a role in advisory services and our log mongers—and need a great deal of training and education to ensure that our future industry is on the strongest footing possible.
Question No. 11—Customs
11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Customs: Does she agree with the statement by Steve Sullivan from Nelson's marine engineering company AIMEX that "The Government's policy to refuse entry of vessels for engineering and maintenance work is costing jobs and millions of dollars in work", and does she stand by her department's decision to refuse entry to the fishing vessel the Captain Vincent Gann?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister of Customs): I do stand by Customs' decision to give effect to immigration rules. This Government's position has continued to be that the best economic response is a strong public health response. While I appreciate this is an incredibly difficult time for many businesses in New Zealand, our Government has made unprecedented support available for businesses like AIMEX. I encourage them to take up any and all support that they are eligible for from the Government during this unprecedented time.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister saying it's better for New Zealand for companies like AIMEX to take a wage subsidy rather than actually letting them do the work that earns the company and the country income.
Hon JENNY SALESA: The question is mainly about whether or not we allow a fishing vessel like this to come through. The decision made by the Government has not been to open up our border. We are 12 days into having zero COVID-19 cases, with only one active case. In terms of foreign ships, on 26 May a foreign fishing boat emerged as one of the points of transmission where a foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed vessel with 29 members of its crew being COVID-19 positive was heading towards the Pacific. A vaccine is not yet available for COVID-19, so the fact is that we are focused on saving lives and focused on public health. We are now looking at the recovery of our economy, but I stand by our Government and our response.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Why did she state yesterday in this House that the Customs refusal to allow entry of the Capt. Vincent Gann from American Samoa to New Zealand was based on advice of the ministry and Director-General of Health, when her department has admitted it never sought any advice from the Ministry of Health or the director-general on that vessel from American Samoa.
SPEAKER: Before the member answers, I heard at least three members from this side make comments as to a member's pronunciation. I think that we all know that we have a variety of skills in this area, and it ill behoves members, unless they think they're absolutely perfect, to criticise in that way. It will stop.
Hon JENNY SALESA: The question that the honourable member asked me yesterday was whether I stand by Customs' policies and actions—a very general question. Then he followed up with the question about this particular vessel. Had he put down a specific question like that, I would have been able to answer in specific ways.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she accept that the COVID-19 risks for the fishing crew from American Samoa are far less than from the film crew that's been allowed in by the Government from California, when American Samoa has had zero cases and zero deaths, and California has had 115,000 cases and 4,200 deaths?
Hon JENNY SALESA: I reiterate that this particular ship was a foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed ship. They were not all Americans or American Samoans on that particular ship. Customs enforces the rules and laws that Parliament and Cabinet set. The exemptions for visas are by the Minister of Immigration and the exemptions for jobs are by the Minister for Economic Development. The honourable member who has been a member for many, many decades—more than me—should know if he was to put down this kind of question who the right Minister is to ask about these sorts of issues.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I looked at the question, I looked at the responsibility, and I thought it has been put to the wrong Minister, but it is the Government's responsibility to transfer it, and the Government should have transferred it, if the member really thinks that the answers to this should be given by other Ministers. It's no good coming to the House and saying it was put down the wrong Minister. If the member thought that, it was her ability to transfer it.
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue with this particular question that's been put down is it covers a number of Ministers' areas of responsibility and the Government cannot anticipate what supplementary questions the member putting the question down may choose to ask. He could well have asked a series of supplementary questions directly related to this primary question that related to the responsibility of the Minister of Customs. The Minister of Customs could not transfer this question to another Minister on the basis that she thought he might ask a range of questions that weren't related to her portfolio.
SPEAKER: No, I'm going to deal with that one first, and if there are further questions, I'll deal with them later. I looked very carefully at this question when it came in. I read yesterday's Hansards on it. It became clear to me at that stage that her department was giving effect to a decision that was made by another department, and, in fact, it was not her department's decision to refuse entry to the fishing vessel; that decision had, effectively, been taken or was the responsibility of other departments. Therefore, in my opinion, it would have been better if the question had been redirected to those people, but it was not at the point where I was prepared to strike the question out.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: No, we're not speaking to the point of order. I've dealt with the point of order. There is no point of order there at the moment, so unless there's a new one.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a point of order in the House that the question itself was about the Minister's own statements in this House—supplementary question, I should say.
SPEAKER: No, it wasn't. The member should read the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the email from the Customs department to the company concerned saying the vessel could not enter New Zealand.
SPEAKER: I have seen the email, and I've also heard and listened to the background to it. I'm quite happy for that to be put. I think it's already part of the system because it was part of the authentication to the question. Is there any objection to its being tabled? There is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she stand by the advice of her Customs officials, dated 21 May, that the Capt. Vincent Gann, that has previously had $6.5 million of work in Nelson, should, and I quote, "undertake the repair work in Hawaii."?
Hon JENNY SALESA: I do stand by Customs' decision to give effect to the immigration rules. I am informed that the ship was not advised to head to Hawaii by New Zealand officials; rather, it was asked why it was not heading to Hawaii because it was requiring repairs immediately. I understand that Hawaii was the nearest port at that time for this foreign-flagged, foreign-crewed ship.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will she or any of her ministerial colleagues visit the Port Nelson marine engineering base and directly explain, to the workers that will be losing their jobs in the next weeks, Government policy?
Hon JENNY SALESA: I will take advisement from Customs officials on that.
Question No. 12—Employment
12. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Employment: How do the performance and policies of Mana in Mahi compare with all his employment programmes?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): As the member will be aware, Mana in Mahi is primarily an apprenticeship-type programme. However, it differs from other programmes in that it also recognises employment and qualifications that are industry led and includes pre-employment training, incentivised payments that keep participants connected and energised in their placements, and provides pastoral care, which is why of the 729 participants who have come on to the programme, 81 percent have exited benefit dependency and have not returned. These outcomes compare favourably to other similar employment programmes, despite Mana in Mahi supporting those most disadvantaged in the labour market. Mana in Mahi is very distinct from other employment programmes I have responsibility for and comparing Mana in Mahi to programmes, for example, such as He Poutama Rangatahi does a disservice to both.
Dr Shane Reti: When he said last week that he has oversight for five critical employment programmes, what are those five programmes?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I have oversight for Mana in Mahi, He Poutama Rangatahi, cadetships through Te Puni Kōkiri, the Māori apprenticeship fund, skills and jobs hub, and regional skills leadership groups. I was one short; it was actually six, but thank you for the question. As well as that, I have oversight in terms of the New Zealand Employment Strategy, which concentrates on vulnerable groups: Māori, Pasifika, disability sector, ethnic groups—all the groups that the National Party forgot.
Dr Shane Reti: Does Mana in Mahi have an age cut-off at 24 years of age, and, if, so, what proportion of people currently needing employment are automatically ineligible?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: We primarily concentrate in terms of the 18- to 24-year-olds. We are looking to expand the criteria in terms of Mana in Mahi. In terms of the member's question, I'll come back to him on that if he wants to put it in writing.
Dr Shane Reti: How does Mana in Mahi's projected capacity of 2,000 participants compare with National's JobStart, which would employ 50,000 people?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I think National's JobStart is just a dream, like their silly promotion of $5,000, or $10,000, I think, to the employer. Mana in Mahi is a much better programme. As our Prime Minister explained very eloquently yesterday, we are looking after the employer, we're looking after the worker, and, in fact, we're looking after the community—a community that that member should remember he represents, and he appears to have forgotten over the last couple of weeks.
Dr Shane Reti: What does it say about work ethic as a performance measure when the statement is made that under Mana in Mahi, the employer doesn't have to worry about whether or not a trainee turns up to work every day; and is that statement a fair assessment of Mana in Mahi?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Of course it's not, and I'm not sure who said that. It disappoints me that this member has taken that position, given the 81 percent success rate in terms of Mana in Mahi—an 81 percent success rate. It's a programme that is incredibly successful and continues to be successful, unlike the National Party, that just keeps dropping in the polls.
Dr Shane Reti: Will he then ask the Prime Minister to correct her statement in the House yesterday, given that it was her who said "[Mana in Mahi] provides pastoral support so the employer doesn't have to worry about whether or not a trainee shows up … [to] work every day."?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I think, again, sadly, that's a low-down, dirty, rotten perspective of what our wonderful Prime Minister said yesterday. He knows that and this House knows that. Disgraceful, again, from Mr Reti.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know you take a fairly lenient view on some of these more animated questions, but I think it's inappropriate for any Minister answering a question to refer to a statement made and recorded in Hansard as low-down and dirty.
SPEAKER: I'm relatively prim and proper myself, but I think—[Interruption] All right, maybe I shouldn't do irony in rulings. I think low-down and dirty is not quite as low-down and dirty as many things that have been said here.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many reports has he received from excited members of Parliament up north on the enormous Māori Mana in Mahi programmes, for example, with KiwiRail and the hundreds of jobs coming there and all sorts of Provincial Growth Fund developments around the north, and how many of the Northland MPs have congratulated him on that?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Well, without doubt, the New Zealand First MPs have made a huge contribution. Though it's interesting, people like Matt King turn up and congratulate us all the time. Northern National MPs, they hide—they actually ask us not to reveal their names when they come to Shane Jones' launches. It's been a huge success in the Tai Tokerau, and New Zealand First and Labour and the Greens have been working brilliantly in conjunction in terms of getting the nephs off the couch.
Marja Lubeck: How does Mana in Mahi compare with other employment initiatives that he has seen?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Kia ora. As the member will be aware, Mana in Mahi has been brilliant and I've heard that in terms of the initiative, it compares so well with JobStart, which has a 5K start-up payment and another 5K to be paid in 90 days. Mana in Mahi, on the other hand, when you compare Mana in Mahi with that National Party programme, is made up of a $9,580 wage subsidy but goes further and covers payment for any pre-employment training that is required, incentivised training payment—a total of $25,000. So we don't need to create new programmes for the sake of creating them. Mana in Mahi is doing the business at the moment and it's actually embarrassing the National Party so much that they just keep asking questions about it, which is fantastic.
Dr Shane Reti: What is the average truancy rate for Mana in Mahi over any time frame he chooses, given the Prime Minister said yesterday that with Mana in Mahi the employer doesn't have to worry about whether or not a trainee turns up to work every day?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Again, I take offence at the member twisting our Prime Minister's words. I'll say again—I'll say again: Mana in Mahi has an 81 percent success rate. It had an 84 percent success rate, but it dropped a bit over a couple of weeks by 3 percent to 81 percent. But that indicates to me that Mana in Mahi is still incredibly resilient when over the same period that it dropped I saw the National Party support had dropped by 17 percent.
Michael Wood: Does he stand by the performance of Mana in Mahi or would he prefer to write off young people as "pretty damn hopeless"?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Yes, sadly, I've heard that statement from members from the other side. And you could never write off something that has been so crucial in terms of uplifting young people. You know, we renamed that. In fact, I renamed the Mana in Mahi programme. It used to be called "working for the dole", which is what the National Party wanted it to be called. So this is a programme that is changing society and changing this country. And I welcome Shane Reti to come to some of our programmes, because despite everything I've said about him, he is a respected member in the north.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister really think that the Government's entire re-employment programme should be based on Mana in Mahi, which over its time so far has only placed about 650 people in permanent employment?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Seven hundred and twenty-nine, actually, Mr Brownlee—729 and—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Oh, look, this is a warning.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes. I'm happy to have your warning.
SPEAKER: Right, the member's on a warning.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, the member's just stood up and said that there are 729 permanent jobs. Previously, he said there were 729 placements with an 81 percent success rate. So my number is correct; his is wrong.
SPEAKER: Order! How long has the member been here? Certainly long enough to know that he doesn't dispute an answer, especially partway through it, but at all, by way of a point of order. Today feels like it's a Thursday afternoon just going into a recess. Again, I say I don't know what's in the water on both sides of the House, but I will ask people to settle down. And as I've reminded the author of the words earlier, further breaches will result in consequences.
Marja Lubeck: Thank you, Mr Speaker—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No answer.
Marja Lubeck: Has the performance—
SPEAKER: No. Make it very clear. The answer was interrupted by the member and I've decided at that point that because he improperly interrupted he didn't want to hear any more.
Marja Lubeck: Has the performance of Mana in Mahi been impacted by COVID-19?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Yes, it has. Not hugely—not hugely.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: What about work from home?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: As I said, Mr Brownlee, when I appeared before the Epidemic Response Committee, Mana in Mahi had a success rate of 84 percent. So over four weeks, later on, it dropped by 3 percent. So, yes, it has been affected, but only slightly. But it just indicates to me that Mana in Mahi is incredibly resilient, unlike the National Party, that dropped 17 percent over the last three weeks.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, is the Mana in Mahi flexibility programme able to, for example, accommodate an ageing politician from the South Island in 3½ months' time?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: We'll take everyone on. We don't discriminate. We don't care what political parties they're affiliated to. And even if Mr Brownlee wants to apply, we'll put a good word in for him.