Parliament: Oral Questions — Questions To Ministers
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy and our response to COVID-19?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): In its weekly commentary released yesterday, Kiwibank economists said that "The worst-case scenarios were now off the table, as we have wound back social distancing measures much sooner than most economic forecasts and downside scenarios." Not everyone is quite as optimistic as that. The ASB economists noted the New Zealand economy was faring a little better than most expected. The ASB senior economist Jane Turner told the New Zealand Herald that New Zealand's hard and early approach meant a stronger economy over the second half of the year than ASB and other forecasters had initially expected. Our swift and decisive response to COVID-19 has put us in a good position compared to the rest of the world. However, the impact on New Zealand from COVID-19 economically will still be significant as the rest of the world struggles with lockdowns and low confidence.
Tamati Coffey: What reports has he seen on the international context for the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The BNZ economists yesterday described the global outlook as "a gale-force headwind." New Zealand is an outward-facing exporting nation, so we will always be affected by any global downturn. The BNZ said given that exports account for almost a third of our GDP, the prevalence of COVID-19 across the globe will continue to be a limiting factor on our economic expansion. The Government will continue to cushion the blow for our businesses and workers while we rebuild the economy.
Tamati Coffey: What reports has he seen on unemployment as a result of COVID-19?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Many economists have revised down their predictions for unemployment on the back of economic activity being better than expected due to our move to level 1. Westpac said on Friday that it expects unemployment to peak at 8 percent, not 9.5 percent as originally predicted, and the OECD has also picked an unemployment peak of just under 8 percent in its new forecast this week. If we look across the Tasman, in Australia, the Reserve Bank Governor there has revised his previous 10 percent unemployment forecast down to an 8 percent peak. So we are expected to track along the same lines as Australia when it comes to unemployment. This Government is keeping New Zealand moving through our investments in education and training, particularly in trades training and apprenticeships, but we must recognise there will be tough times ahead, and the Government will continue to support people through that.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. TODD MULLER (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Is she confident her Government has the systems in place and the competence required to increase the number of people in jobs and grow the economy through infrastructure investment?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes. As a Government, we are focused on creating jobs and growing the economy through a number of avenues, not just infrastructure. We're making law changes to speed up planning processes; investing in apprenticeships; opening up international markets through trade; supporting the agricultural sector to create clean, green food to sell to the rest of the world; and investing in research and development—amongst many other initiatives.
Todd Muller: Why, almost six months since her finance Minister announced a $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade infrastructure programme to—and I quote—"increase the size of the economy", do recent answers to written questions show only $11 million has been spent on transport projects?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm happy to give an update on the transport projects again, which were only announced in, if my recollection is correct, February. They include State Highway 58, where the New Zealand Transport Agency is in negotiations with builders there on stage 2. That's expected to be up and running in August. They're opening registrations of interest for the Tauranga Northern Link, Penlink, and the State Highway 1 Papakura to Drury South. They're working with two short-listed parties on who will deliver the shared pathway across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and geotechnical testing is already under way for Ōtaki to north of Levin to assist with the design process. If the member wants to ask about projects beyond transport, I'm happy also to give him an update on our investment in the regions, the clean-powered Public Service, and school infrastructure investment, which is all under way as well.
Todd Muller: How many of the 11 shovel-ready projects that she announced yesterday will have spades in the ground by the election?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think the important point here is that we are reducing down the time—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister is a very small distance away from me, and I can't hear her.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have reduced down the potential delays in those projects—which sometimes could delay completion by up to one to two years—to something in the order of, potentially, 70 days. I would have thought that the member would support the fact that those 11 projects will be expedited. They still do need to go through a process, so whilst I won't give a start date, they will be considerably reduced than what they otherwise might be.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Is she confident that those projects she just mentioned will start faster than the Pūhoi to Wellsford roading project, which took seven years between announcement and work actually getting under way?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, it wasn't just the Pūhoi to Wellsford; under the last Government, the Auckland western ring route took four years from the time it was announced till the time it started. The Wellington Northern Corridor—again, four years from announcement to the start; Christchurch motorway projects, seven years from the time they were announced to the time they started. I'm proud not only of the significant investment we have made but also the fact that we are cracking on with infrastructure projects—not just roads, but health and education—that will make a difference to New Zealanders' jobs and lives.
Todd Muller: So is the Prime Minister saying that, despite being announced yesterday as shovel-ready, there will be no projects with spades in the ground come the election?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. I did not say that. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! I'm not sure which member it was but just keep me out of it.
Todd Muller: I repeat to the Prime Minister: how many of the 11 shovel-ready projects that she announced yesterday will have spades in the ground by the election?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For some of those projects—for instance, those that are dealing with significant water shortages—it will enable earthworks to start in a matter of months if it passes through the process. Again, I would point out to the member that this is on top of the New Zealand Upgrade investment. It is on top of the most significant investment in infrastructure—$45 billion over a forecast period. This is on top of the $3 billion that we have said we'll put in through the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, and it is on top of what the last Government failed to do, which was invest in infrastructure.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Do any of these transport projects include the following three in an advertisement up north this week: moving the Auckland port to Northport, a floating dock at Marsden Point, and moving the New Zealand Navy to Marsden Point—all claimed by Shane Reti in an advertisement this week in Northland?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, if the member wishes to float ideas amongst his team, he is welcome to do that.
Todd Muller: So when Phil Twyford announced "Unitec deal marks major KiwiBuild milestone", 813 days ago, on 25 March 2018, should the public have expected the development to have started by now rather than be added to her reheated list of 11 shovel-ready projects yesterday?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member well knows that any housing project would usually go through a significant Resource Management Act process. What the Government has announced is a shortening of that considerably, and while we're on housing, I'm happy, of course, to again announce, in this opportunity, that we are now up to 4,670 public housing places under this Government—and that is under usual processes—and it is well over our expectation, then, of delivering 6,403, and, again, we've announced another 8,000 houses as part of our COVID recovery and response, which will generate up to 4,000 jobs.
Todd Muller: Why should New Zealanders believe in her Government's ability to deliver jobs and grow the economy through infrastructure, when, despite promising to finish the Auckland light rail in 2021, the project has no plan, delivery partner, business case, costing, consents, or route?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because under this Government, we got unemployment to the lowest in a decade; because under this Government, we have started work on Penlink, State Highway 1 Papakura to Drury South, Northern Pathway, Tauranga Northern Link, and State Highway 58; and because under this Government, we have started work on 200 full or partial school rebuilds. We have already initiated 1,283 approved projects under the New Zealand Upgrade Programme for schools, which was only announced in February. They'll know that, because we are already undertaking the projects we announced and getting things cracking to generate jobs for New Zealanders.
Todd Muller: If her Government is competent to get people into jobs and grow the economy, why has it only built 395 of the 10,000 KiwiBuild homes it promised to deliver by 2021?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I welcome the chance to point out that we have built more houses than any Government, including that member's—including that member's—since the 1970s: 4,670 public housing places; another 8,000 funded by this Government. That will generate 4,000 jobs and homes for Kiwis. We inherited a housing crisis; we are getting on with fixing it.
Hon Dr Megan Woods: Is the Prime Minister aware that our 395 KiwiBuild houses built over this term, in addition to the 700-odd that are under construction, far outstrips what the previous Government achieved in terms of 104 affordable houses over nine years in Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: A hundred—roughly—houses is exactly why we inherited a housing crisis. We have built more houses as a Government than any Government since the 1970s, and we stand proudly on that record.
Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister—
Hon Shane Jones: Lazy Opposition.
Todd Muller: —when she said—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, it's no good looking behind. The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise—blatant and stupid.
Hon Shane Jones: I withdraw and apologise.
Todd Muller: To the Prime Minister, when she said, 559 days ago, that the Government's $100 million Green Investment Fund would bring "cash and know-how to the table to partner with business to develop a clean, green future for everyone.", would she have expected the fund to have made an investment by now?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Oh, stay tuned.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister, with respect to the four-lane highway from Warkworth all the way to Whangarei, did she inherit a situation where the National Party had already committed to doing that—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, not a legitimate question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, how would you know? How would you know, eh?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The least-qualified guy in this Parliament—
SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. Mr Brownlee, you know that there's only one person who makes that decision and it's not you, and you certainly don't do it from there and you certainly don't do it when the question's being asked. I'm going to ask Mr Peters to start his question again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, with respect to the four-lane highway between Warkworth and Whangarei, did she and her Government inherit a committed plan from the previous Government to do that, or a plan that says that they're now committed to it, as was in the advertisement this week from one Shane Reti?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For the most part on these projects, we inherited press releases.
Todd Muller: Is it not a fact that when it comes to growing the economy, the hallmark of her Government has been a complete failure to deliver, and her team simply doesn't have the acumen to plan, build, and drive this country forward?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
Question No. 3—Environment
3. GINNY ANDERSEN (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment: How does he propose that fast-track consenting will help the COVID-19 recovery?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment): Mr Speaker—Mr Speaker?
SPEAKER: The Hon David Parker.
Hon DAVID PARKER: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Sorry, I was just looking for the member—he's got more distant.
Hon DAVID PARKER: Oh, thank you. I still look the same. The Government's number one economic priority as we recover from the COVID-19 global pandemic is to create and retain jobs for New Zealanders. Over 45,000 New Zealanders have lost their jobs as a consequence of the COVID crisis, and it is of critical importance that as many New Zealanders as possible can return to the workforce as quickly as possible. The Government plans to introduce special legislation today to support New Zealand's recovery by fast-tracking resource consenting and designations so that job-rich projects can gain approval as soon as possible—faster than through the standard Resource Management Act (RMA) process. This will bring forward the construction projects, often by months and sometimes by years. This bill helps provide New Zealanders with jobs and incomes and supports the economy to recover from the effects of COVID-19.
Ginny Andersen: How will the fast-track legislation work?
Hon DAVID PARKER: There are, essentially, three parts to the fast-track process to speed up projects and bring forward jobs. Firstly, there are 11 named projects that are referred directly to an expert consenting panel by Parliament. The panel will set appropriate conditions for the projects before they can proceed. The second track applies to applications for other private or public projects. Applicants must provide information to the Minister for the Environment on how the project meets the criteria specified in the bill—in particular, employment. Selected projects will then be referred by Order in Council to panels for consideration. The third aspect is the ability for the New Zealand Transport Agency and KiwiRail to undertake repair maintenance and minor upgrade works on existing infrastructure and road and rail corridors as permitted activities, subject to certain conditions.
Ginny Andersen: How will the fast-track legislation ensure that environmental protections are maintained and Treaty of Waitangi commitments are honoured?
Hon DAVID PARKER: While extraordinary times such as this require extraordinary measures, environmental outcomes ought not to be sacrificed. While these projects are being advanced in time, environmental safeguards remain. Part 2 of the RMA, including the recognition of matters of national importance, will continue to apply. RMA Treaty principles and Treaty settlements will be upheld. Finally, the fast-track law is a short-term intervention that will repeal in two years. It's not part of the wider review of the RMA—that comprehensive review, led by retired Court of Appeal Judge Tony Randerson QC, is expected to report back soon, and I expect to release that in the next few weeks.
Question No. 4—Finance
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What steps has he taken, if any, to ensure Government spending has clear outcomes and delivers good results?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): As a Government, we are constantly assessing the outcomes and results from our investments, this includes the regular monitoring of core investments, by Cabinet committees, and oversight from the Cabinet Priorities Committee. In terms of my own responsibilities, all Budget proposals are assessed by Treasury before being approved, and agency monitoring arrangements are regularly undertaken by Treasury and assessed by the Auditor-General. One example of this is the programme of baseline reviews, which has assessed agencies such as the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Defence, and is currently looking at Justice and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. A further example is a specific team that is working on supporting the delivery of commitments made under the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, in light of the large investments involved and the need for rapid implementation.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What follow-up actions has he taken to ensure the $12 billion spent on the wage subsidy went to those who genuinely needed it, since his ministerial colleague—Carmel Sepuloni's office—said that they were not interested in the wage subsidy fraud figures?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In respect of the second part of that question, that's not an accurate reflection of Minister Sepuloni's view. What the Government has done has put in place a team of 104 investigators who have currently undertaken 6,749 audits. Of those, 491 have been referred to MSD for investigation, and thus far the amount paid back to the fund as a result of all of this, and voluntary refunds, amounts to $158.2 million.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Has he heard of some businesses delaying invoices, so that they met his wage subsidy extension threshold; and if so, what steps has he taken to ensure the integrity of that nearly $4 billion programme?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The audit process that's under way for the first phase of the wage subsidy scheme will be continued in the extension phase. The vast bulk of New Zealand businesses have done the right thing: made sure the wage subsidy has been passed on to their employees. Where that hasn't happened we have said that we will follow it up and chase those people down.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What outcomes did the education Minister tell him were expected by spending $87 million to send internet modems to high-decile schools for kids who didn't need them, to arrive after they've got back to school?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Again, the member seems to think that the idea that we might actually facilitate all New Zealand children to keep learning through a global pandemic is somehow a bad thing. Clearly, the member doesn't seem to think it's important that our young people are actually able to learn. The programme supported a large number of young New Zealanders to be able to continue their learning and it's an important programme. And the idea that we shouldn't try and somehow or other actually improve digital access for young people—it just surprises me the member would want to go there.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What does he say to the parents at my local school in Epsom who worry about how we're going to pay for all the Government spending and debt his Government's taking on and then see 88 modems turn up after the lockdown when the school thought they might have needed two, two months ago?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I have been advised by the Minister of Education is that the Ministry of Education relied on advice that came from schools as to where there needed to be the delivery of technology. But the member does need to be a little careful about how he might explain to Mr Seymour's constituents in Epsom what's going on in spending when he and his party continue to say that they would spend and spend more. He could answer the same question himself.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How can New Zealanders have confidence that the $3.2 billion he's announced for rail since coming into office will yield better results than the $9 million spent on the Napier to Wairoa line, which has had a grand total of six trains in six months?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I think it's relatively rich to hear that side of the House talk about rail. What we inherited was a rail system with 50- and 60-year-old engines and wagons, tracks all over New Zealand that couldn't be used, and I'm extremely proud on behalf of all three parties that make up this Government that we're actually investing in rail, and to quote the Deputy Prime Minister, "It's back on track."
Question No. 5—Economic Development
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura): Thank you, Mr Speaker. To the Minister for Economic Development—with your indulgence, Mr Speaker, congratulations to the Minister on his promotion. Does he stand by—
SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I asked for indulgence.
SPEAKER: I am very tempted to cancel the member's question. I'll think about the punishment as we go on.
5. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he stand by his 1 April statement, "That's why we are now developing a pipeline of infrastructure projects from across the country that would be ready to begin as soon as we are able to move around freely and go back to work"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister for Economic Development): Yes—and that's why the Government has already announced some of this pipeline, including the Minister of Housing's public housing construction programme, the additional $1 billion for rail announced in the Budget by the Minister for State Owned Enterprises, schools up and down the country with school improvement projects under way, and the Minister of Transport informs me that there are more than 40 State highway projects under construction across New Zealand right now. A number of Ministers—including the Ministers of transport, health, and education—are continuing work on the projects that were announced in the New Zealand Upgrade Programme. Overall, I'm advised that Budget 2020 forecasts around $14 billion in net capital expenditure in the year ended 30 June 2021.
Hon Judith Collins: How many, if any, of the 1,924 projects put forward by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group are shovel-ready right now?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The member would have to ask the Minister of Finance that question, because he's leading the assessment and decision-making process around those projects.
Hon Judith Collins: Then, how many new projects have begun now that we are back at work and able to "move around freely"?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As I said to the member earlier, there is a long, long list of projects in the Government pipeline of infrastructure projects, including housing and roads and schools and health and rail—far too many to take up all the time of the House recounting.
Hon Judith Collins: Then, will he table the list?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I'd have to see how long it took to compile it—because the list is so long, it might not be a good use of the House's time.
Hon Judith Collins: Do any of the 1,924 projects put forward by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group need the fast-tracking consent in order to proceed, and was he thinking of those when he put out his press release on 1 April?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, I don't believe any of them need the Resource Management Act fast tracking to proceed, but many of them will probably benefit from it.
Question No. 6—Regional Economic Development
6. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What recent milestones has the Provincial Growth Fund achieved?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): This answer might be a tad longer given the extent of the popularity of the growth fund. The Nelson Food Factory opened its doors last week and announced it was partly related to the $778,000 Provincial Growth Fund investment. It provides a collaborative and supportive environment and it will house businesses of particular relevance to the sitting member, known such as the Mad Melon, processing and bottling watermelon juice; Little Beauties; and Fresh2U. To show that we are working on areas that are neglected, such as the Tai Poutini and other such far-flung areas, we are rolling out and creating jobs to the level of 30 local people on the Kawatiri Coastal Trail. And the final thing I would say is, at the end of April 2020, $2.8 billion of the fund has been committed to specific sectors or projects; $1.4 billion has been contracted; $544 million has been paid to recipients; and 557 projects have been contracted.
SPEAKER: Before the supplementary's asked, I'm going to ask the member whether he reflected on the local member in that answer.
Hon SHANE JONES: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: It's a straight question. It's a yes or a no.
Hon SHANE JONES: No, I'm taking a point of order.
SPEAKER: Actually, I was first and therefore you will respond. The member will respond to my very simple question.
Hon SHANE JONES: Sir, I agree with you. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I agree with you, sir, that I have to be judicious in my language, but that member is pretty rough and pretty wide and pretty ripe and colourful with his language, and if he dishes it out, he has to be prepared to accept it.
SPEAKER: Yes, and one does not reflect on members in the way that that member did then. It is totally inappropriate, he knows it's inappropriate, and as a result of that we're going to move on to question No. 7.
Question No. 7—Health
7. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Will he accept all the recommendations of the Health and Disability System Review; if not, which recommendations will he be rejecting?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The Health and Disability System Review is a thorough and thoughtful piece of work, and I want to take this opportunity to put on record my deep and sincere thanks to the panel and the Māori Expert Advisory Group for their mahi and insight. Cabinet has accepted the case for reform and the direction of travel outlined in the review, specifically changes that will reduce fragmentation, strengthen leadership and accountability, and improve equity and access and outcomes for all New Zealanders. That means we are committing to an ongoing programme of reform to build a stronger health and disability system. As the member will understand, change of this scale will require legislation, which will be subject to the usual processes. Decisions on individual recommendations will be taken to Cabinet over coming months and into the next term of Parliament.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he believe the public has a right to know prior to 19 September which of the substantive recommendations the Government would implement if it was in a position to do so after that date?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Cabinet has accepted the direction of travel in the report, and therefore the recommendations contained in the report will be worked on and worked up for legislation, but it will be the privilege of the next Government to put into place the recommendations that it agrees with, and the member knows how that process works.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Would it have been in a position to do so—to put those recommendations to the public—had the Minister not refused to accept the report in March because his "singular focus was on the health response to COVID-19"?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I think it was appropriate that the Government was focused on COVID-19 during the period, and the results of that singular focus have meant that we have been very successful in our response to COVID to date. However, now that we are at alert level 1, I have received the report and turned it around in a little over three weeks, which, for a report of this size and substance, is a very quick turnaround for Cabinet to agree to the direction of it. Now the public can access this report, read it for themselves—so can the political parties, and if the member wishes to have a briefing from the lead author, I can arrange that for him.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does that singular focus indicate that he is incapable of doing more than one thing at a time?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I won't reflect on whether that is the case for the member himself that leads to that question. Obviously, we have priorities, and as a Government we have prioritised responding to the COVID situation. The results there speak for themselves. Now that we're at alert level 1, we have agreed that it's a good time to receive this substantial report, which indeed does indicate years of neglect have had a deleterious effect on our health system—nine long years of neglect by that Government. Now we have a report that maps out a way forward, and it's up to every party in this Parliament to take a view on it. And if that member objects to some of the findings in here about greater accountability, better outcomes for New Zealanders, then he's free to say so.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Will he commit to no increase in health bureaucracy as a consequence of any changes?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This report is focused on producing better outcomes for New Zealanders. As a Government, we have grown the health sector. We have now 1,700 more nurses in the sector than when we took office, and 900 more doctors in the sector. We have 600 more allied health workers. We want to make sure that it's a system that delivers for New Zealanders. We will have fewer DHBs as a result of this report, which recommends that we move to that situation where we plan for our regions and then, over time, work out how we have fewer of those structures in place.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is his comment in the previous answer, "We will have fewer DHBs", an indication that the Government has already committed to that recommendation in the Simpson report?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The Government has—as I've outlined previously—agreed to the direction in the report. If the former Minister believes that we should have more DHBs, I believe he'd be on his own with that one.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As a matter of precedent, how many DHBs were to be reduced under the previous policy that he inherited from his predecessor in his portfolio?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Well, when I inherited the DHB sector from the former Government, it was very much a status quo situation. There seemed to be no indication that they wanted to reform it. All they wanted to do was starve it of funding and reduce the services available to New Zealanders. We had an independent report done that showed that New Zealanders had higher barriers to care because of the underfunding of that previous Government.
Question No. 8—Tourism
8. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Tourism: What advice, if any, has he received on the number of jobs that will be saved by the Tourism Recovery Fund, and how many jobs have been saved so far?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Tourism): Over the last two weeks, we have announced $1.5 million of funding for Whale Watch Kaikoura, which helped save 40 jobs. We announced $4 million of funding for Discover Waitomo, which helped save another 40 jobs. Those businesses keep their communities alive; protecting them means protecting the many jobs and businesses that rely on their survival. This funding is the start, and I look forward to making more announcements, helping more businesses, and protecting more jobs and more communities in the weeks to come.
Hon Todd McClay: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question asked what advice he'd received and then how many had been saved. He answered the second part, not the first.
SPEAKER: The member can say something about whether he's received advice or not.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The advice I've received is that the Government's whole package has provided billions of dollars in support not just to tourism but to all businesses and has saved thousands and thousands of jobs.
Hon Todd McClay: Was any modelling done on the number of jobs to be saved by the Tourism Recovery Fund prior to its announcement, and if not, why not?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I'll repeat what I just said then: that the work that the Government has done, in its totality, as well as for the tourism industry, will save thousands of jobs.
Hon Todd McClay: Why hasn't he considered tourism-specific direct financial support for tourism businesses to save jobs, like National's tourism accelerator programme, that will help hundreds and hundreds of businesses who are struggling?
SPEAKER: Order! No, I'm going to ask the member to repeat the question without the assertions.
Hon Todd McClay: Why hasn't he considered tourism-specific direct financial support for tourism businesses to save jobs, like National's tourism accelerator programme, that will help hundreds and hundreds of tourism businesses?
SPEAKER: No. That's not a question; there's an assertion sitting in there, which obviates the question. The member has had two goes.
Jamie Strange: What recent announcements has he made on the allocation of funding from the tourism recovery package?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Is it to do with this question?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It's just a point of order.
SPEAKER: OK. But unless it's raised immediately, I couldn't see anything wrong with that question, which was a bit of a difference from the two before it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, I am referring to the two before it. I've thought very carefully about the way you ruled there, and it would seem to me that if you're going to say that the assertion that was used in the question by the Hon Todd McClay is out of order, then surely the answers, which are supposed to, according to the Standing Orders, have a mirror effect from the Hon Kelvin Davis, would also have been out of order. He spoke about saving thousands of jobs, without any reference to it at all.
SPEAKER: I'm somewhat at a loss. The Hon Kelvin Davis didn't answer the questions, because I didn't let him. So the member is totally irrelevant. We'll go back.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Oh, Mr Brownlee—[Interruption] The member will resume his seat. The other point that I will make is to remind the member—and I accept that he's said he was thinking slowly—that he has a requirement to take a point of order immediately. And he didn't; he—[Interruption] The Deputy Prime Minister will withdraw and apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that you're taking a comment from Mr Brownlee, and like you put your finger on it, he was just too slow, so he should have been ruled out.
SPEAKER: Yes, and the member is going to withdraw and apologise again. I don't need that sort of support. That was the point that I was making, and he shouldn't support me in that way, either when I'm on my feet or when I'm sitting down.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise, Mr Speaker.
Jamie Strange: What recent announcements has he made on the allocation of funding from the tourism recovery package?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Over the past two weeks, we have announced $4 million to Discover Waitomo; $20.2 million for New Zealand's 31 regional tourism organisations; $1.5 million for Whale Watch Kaikoura. We've helped 557 businesses through the tourism transitions programme and announced that Mayor Steve Chadwick and Grant Webster will chair the Tourism Futures Taskforce. And there will be much, much more to come.
Jamie Strange: What reports has he seen that suggest alternative funding plans to support the recovery of the tourism sector?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I've seen reports that suggest funding one-off projects over four years, but this does nothing for those looking to pivot their businesses to the domestic market. It won't project our strategic assets, and it won't save jobs—
SPEAKER: Order! I think I know where this is going, and it is out of order. And I just say to members that they should know that as well.
Hon Todd McClay: What advice, if any, has he received on the number of tourism businesses that will benefit from the strategic assets protection programme?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We anticipate there will be about 60 businesses that would be considered strategic tourism assets that would need to receive some form of support.
Hon Todd McClay: Why is he happy to only support 60 businesses through that programme and not the thousands of other tourism businesses who are struggling and not being supported?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: That goes back to the broad support that the Government has put in place since COVID-19 hit these shores. The Minister of Finance announced some $12 billion in support initially, through the wage subsidy support, through various tax measures, through the small business cash-flow scheme. Tourism businesses, along with many businesses across New Zealand, have received much support from this Government throughout the COVID response.
Hon Todd McClay: Well, is he aware that his Government's programme is four times the cost of National's tourism accelerator programme, to help ten times as many tourism businesses, and shouldn't he be doing more to help these struggling tourism operators and their staff right now?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I've just outlined that we have helped many, many tourism operators. The difference between our two packages—and I'm very glad that he raised it—is that we're getting $400 million out the door within the next couple of weeks, whereas the Opposition's proposal was for $100 million; so $25 million a year for four years, and nobody knows exactly what it's going to achieve, and no media have even picked it up. I don't even think anyone in the country is aware that an announcement—
SPEAKER: Order! I know it was an Opposition question, but—[Interruption] Yes, and I think people should take care about asking questions for which this Minister has no responsibility, or they're likely to get that back again.
Hon Todd McClay: It's not clear what he has responsibility for. Why—
SPEAKER: Order! Question No. 9.
Question No. 9—Revenue
9. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Revenue: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. What action has the Government taken to help ease the impact of COVID-19 on taxpayers' end-of-year assessments?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Revenue): The Government has taken decisive and considered action to support taxpayers through the COVID-19 pandemic. To ease financial stress for taxpayers, we are changing the rules around write-offs for tax debt. Inland Revenue Department's (IRD) end-of-year, automatic, income tax calculation process for individuals is currently under way and expected to run until early July. It is the annual wash-up which results in people either having tax to pay or receiving a refund. For the 2019/20 income tax year, this Government made a decision that tax payable up to $200 will be written off. The usual threshold for writing off tax is $50.
Dr Deborah Russell: How many taxpayers will be affected by the increase in the write-off threshold?
Hon STUART NASH: Increasing the write-off threshold from $50 to $200 will reduce tax bills for approximately 149,000 taxpayers. Writing off those amounts of tax may not seem huge to everyone, but it can be significant for someone experiencing financial stress. In the 2018/19 year, for example, around half of those who had a tax bill up to $200 were earning less than $60,000 a year. We're doing everything we can to help households as we move into the economic recovery phase post-COVID-19.
Dr Deborah Russell: What other relief will be of assistance to taxpayers for the end-of-year tax process?
Hon STUART NASH: The changes to the IRD systems under the Business Transformation process in 2019 allowed for most individual taxpayers to have their end-of-year tax assessment calculated automatically. The auto-calc process has meant that people have already started receiving their tax refunds. As at 10 June, there have been 2.3 million assessments carried out—that's 1.3 million more customers than at the same time last year. To date, the IRD has paid out over $610 million in tax refunds and over $30 million has been written off. Once the process is complete, Inland Revenue expects to issue refunds in excess of $650 million as part of the individual income tax assessment process.
Question No. 10—Transport
10. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Has he read the text of the 29 February 2020 email from the office of Rt Hon Winston Peters to him on Auckland light rail; if not, why not?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes.
Chris Bishop: Why did he not read it to prepare for question time on 11 June 2020, when I asked him about the email?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That's not the question that the member asked me in the last question time exchange.
Chris Bishop: Why did I not—
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
SPEAKER: Order! I think that's even.
Chris Bishop: Why did he not read the email before question time on 11 June 2020, when I asked him to read out the text of the email?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because it's not in the public interest to release the content of communications that are necessary to maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the free and frank exchange of opinions during the cross-party consultation process.
Chris Bishop: How did he know it wasn't in the public interest to disclose the contents of the email on 11 June, when he hadn't read the email before 11 June?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I had read the attachment to the email, but not the email.
SPEAKER: Question No. 11—
Chris Bishop: No, supplementary?
SPEAKER: Oh, sorry.
Chris Bishop: Sorry, Mr Speaker, I was reclining in my chair. Does the attachment to the email contain a statement of position from the New Zealand First Party on the Auckland light rail project?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes.
Chris Bishop: Does the attachment to the email that contains a statement of position from New Zealand First indicate that the New Zealand First Party does not support the project being considered by Cabinet?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, as I've said to the member about five times now, it's not in the public interest to reveal the content of that message.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if the Minister would be kind enough to explain to the House how you cannot open an email but still read its attachment?
SPEAKER: Well, I'm sure what we can do is arrange for the member to be briefed on that. I know every now and again both of us have issues with our computers, but I'm sure we can get an explanation for him as to how sometimes other people print things off and give them to people, things like that.
Question No. 11—Employment
11. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Employment: What groups do his employment programmes target, and against what outcomes will he measure their performance?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON (Minister of Employment): The employment programmes that I'm responsible for primarily focus on young people who are not engaged in education, employment, or training, alongside members of our communities who have had historically poor employment outcomes. To answer the second part of the question, last year I launched the Government's employment strategy where we measure the outcomes of our programmes through the objectives of this strategy, which include building a skilled workforce, supporting thriving industries and sustainable provinces, supporting an inclusive labour market, preparing for a changing nature of work, and building modern workplaces for a modern workforce. For example, through the lens of an inclusive labour market, I'm looking to see if there are improvements for those who have had historically poor outcomes. Over the past 2½ years we've seen the lowest unemployment rates for Māori in over a decade, a clear indication we're measuring outcomes against the strategy and that our programmes are making a difference.
Dr Shane Reti: Which of his six employment programmes target non-Māori over age of 24 who live in the regions?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Our programmes cover all people—Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika. All the programmes are targeted towards special groups, but they're open to everyone, apart from, obviously, our new Māori Trade Training that has come in.
Dr Shane Reti: What is his best estimate of the number of people who are ineligible for his employment programmes?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: I can't give you that estimate at this time, but if you want to put the question in writing, we'll come back to you from my office.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, as to his employment programmes targeting various areas, do any of them—for example, targeting moving the navy from Auckland up to Marsden Point; moving the floating dock to Whangarei or Marsden Point; or, for that matter, moving the Port of Auckland to Marsden Point, as Mr Reti claims in an advertisement in a newspaper in Whangarei this week, that he is engaged in?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: Yes, I think some of our programmes cover that area.
Dr Shane Reti: How many years will it take for Mana in Mahi to place the 35,000 people the Prime Minister said had applied for the unemployment benefit, given the current placement rate of 350 per year? How many years?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: We don't have that number at this stage, but what we do have is we have a very successful Mana in Mahi programme—as that member knows—with an 80 percent success rate, and this is a programme that everyone should be proud of, particularly that member across the House.
Dr Shane Reti: Supplementary?
SPEAKER: No, there's no more National supplementaries—Marja Lubeck.
Marja Lubeck: How are his employment programmes contributing to positive outcomes for New Zealanders?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: In August of last year, I launched the Government's employment strategy, which is to deliver a productive, sustainable, and inclusive New Zealand. So in my time as employment Minister, we have had the lowest unemployment rate in over a decade, the lowest Māori unemployment rate in over a decade, the highest employment rate for Māori since records began, and the lowest underutilisation rate in over a decade. And through those employment programmes, I have oversight of over 4,000 New Zealanders who've been engaged and connected to qualifications—
Hon Shane Jones: He Poutama Rangatahi.
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: —and employment. Yes, He Poutama Rangatahi, that Minister Jones supports. But it's not just about these individuals; it's about the positive impact on families and communities that that member should be proud of but, sadly, doesn't seem to be because he comes up with these ridiculous questions every week.
Marja Lubeck: What do the outcomes from He Poutama Rangatahi mean for regional communities?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: They mean a huge amount to regional communities, and we must continue to focus our attention on improving outcomes for our rangatahi, particularly in our provincial and rural communities. For example, I'd like to share with the House the difference that the Mangatoa Station Forestry and Ecological Restoration Project has made for the community in Kaikohe. We have 27 rangatahi who were not engaged in education, employment, or training who began that programme and, upon completion, all 27 are in continuous employment. When you consider that more than a third of people who participate in it have been expelled from school, 10 percent have criminal convictions, these programmes are clearly making a positive difference for not only our young people but for the whānau and the community that Mr Reti represents.
SPEAKER: Just before we go on, I did indicate to the National Party that they had none left. That was my count, and it was supported on my right, but if people do think that I am wrong, I'm happy to have another one, and it'll come off tomorrow if I'm correct.
Dr Shane Reti: When you stated in this House that 81 percent of people in Mana in Mahi do not return to a benefit, over what time frame is that?
Hon WILLIE JACKSON: In terms of that time frame, we find that, over the next six months, they're not going back, and we're monitoring them very closely. It's been incredibly successful, this Mana in Mahi, but we monitor these people all the time, and, at the moment, in terms of Mana in Mahi, over the following six months there's been no return to benefits.
Question No. 12—Health
12. Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour) to the Minister of Health: How is the Government responding to the Health and Disability System Review?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Today I released the Health and Disability System Review, which is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the long-term challenges our health and disability system is facing. The review confirms what I think the COVID-19 global pandemic has shown us all: we have a very good health and disability system. But it also found that our health and disability workforces are under considerable stress and that our system is complex and fragmented. This review sets out a path towards a better, more sustainable health system with clear lines of accountability, one that is more responsive to the needs of local communities. Cabinet has accepted the case for reform and the direction of travel outlined in the review, specifically changes that will reduce fragmentation, strengthen leadership and accountability, and improve equity of access and outcomes for all New Zealanders.
Dr Liz Craig: So what are the key findings and recommendations of the review?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The review has made a series of far-reaching recommendations. They include shifting to a greater focus on population health; creating a new Crown entity provisionally called "Health New Zealand", focused on the operational delivery of health and disabilities services and financial performance; reducing the number of DHBs from the current 20 down to eight to 12 within five years; creating a Māori health authority to advise on all aspects of Māori health policy and to monitor and report on the performance of the system; and greater integration between primary and community care and hospital specialist services. Local planning must drive decisions. Our health and disability system needs to better understand the real needs of the community and when and where services should be available.
Dr Liz Craig: So what are the next steps for implementing the recommendations of the review?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Reforming our health and disability system is a massive undertaking and it will not happen overnight. Meaningful change and improvement will take concerted effort over many years. Decisions on individual recommendations will be taken to Cabinet over coming months and into the term of the next Parliament. Cabinet has agreed that a small group of Ministers should drive these reforms. That will be led by the Prime Minister and will include the finance Minister, myself as health Minister, and associate health Minister Peeni Henare. I will also be appointing a ministerial committee to provide ongoing expert advice on implementation and improving system performance and equity of outcomes, and an implementation team will also be set up to lead the detailed policy and design work. It will be administered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.