Parliament: Questions and Answers June 18
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Today, Statistics New Zealand released GDP data for the March quarter, showing the initial impacts of COVID-19 on the economy as we moved early to close our borders and put public health measures in place to protect New Zealanders. The data showed GDP fell 1.6 percent in the March quarter from December, within the range of economists' expectations. Annual average GDP was up 1.5 percent from a year ago. We have always acknowledged that GDP in the March and June quarters in particular will show the impacts of the public health measures to protect New Zealand from the global COVID-19 pandemic. It is these measures which have allowed us to open up the economy more quickly than planned and given us a head start on our recovery compared to many other countries in the world.
Kiritapu Allan: How did the global COVID-19 pandemic and public health measures affect different industries in the economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Our measures to protect New Zealand from the global pandemic started on 3 February when all foreign nationals travelling from or transiting through China were refused entry through our borders. Moves to close our borders on 19 March, the move to level 3 on 24 March, and to level 4 on 26 March all had an impact on GDP. Activity in the accommodation, restaurant, and bar industries declined 7.8 percent during the quarter, while exports in terms of travel services declined 8.5 percent as fewer tourists entered New Zealand. We also saw the impact of the glut of European logs going into China, which led to activity in the forestry and logging industry declining 5.2 percent, while we also have to bear in mind that the drought at the start of the year was also having an impact in the agriculture sector, which fell 0.3 percent.
Kiritapu Allan: What is the outlook for the economy from here?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We know that the current June quarter will see the biggest impact on GDP of COVID-19, reflecting the alert level for measures through April as well as alert level 3. This backwards-looking data will be released in September. The Secretary to the Treasury yesterday advised the Finance and Expenditure Committee that its outlook has changed since the Budget forecast. Treasury said the move to alert level 1 sooner than expected has meant increased economic activity and said that early indications are that activity had held up better than expected in the June quarter, but they warned about the global outlook deteriorating. Today, Kiwibank indicated that beyond the September quarter, there is a growing sense, albeit small, that the outlook is looking brighter. New Zealand got on top of COVID-19 much sooner than most had expected, allowing the rapid reopening of the economy. Kiwibank have said they've been buoyed by the strength in the rebound of spending amongst their own customers and that New Zealand would avoid the worst-case scenarios.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon NIKKI KAYE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in her Minister of Health's management of the COVID-19 response, given the implications it has on the health and finances of New Zealanders?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes. This Government is adamantly focused on addressing failures in the system and removing risk, unlike those who are calling for international students to flow through our borders without adequate preparation, and who have made all sorts of comments about the Government failing to make steps and protocols of safety available to 5 million New Zealanders. Their error was an unacceptable failure, and for that reason we have appointed Air Commodore Darryn Webb to lead the quarantine efforts and we have halted compassionate leave for isolation until we can be certain that proper procedures will be followed in each and every case.
Hon Nikki Kaye: If she has confidence in her Minister of Health, why did she take the unprecedented step to send in the Defence Force instead of letting her own Minister manage the COVID-19 response?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Because, for those who know the real world, if you're looking for people to handle logistical matters, then the Defence Force would be the most trained in this country.
Hon Nikki Kaye: What about our own Minister?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, as I say again, Minister Kaye—the Hon Kaye—if you've asked the question, do you want an answer or not, or are we going to have you chipping away telling us what you don't know?
Hon Member: Answer it.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: My answer—well, I'll answer the question. If anybody over there wants an answer, keep quiet. [Interruption] Well, you clearly don't, then.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Can she personally guarantee that David Clark has managed the COVID-19 response competently, and, therefore, will she guarantee that we will see no further serious errors relating to quarantine management?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health has laid out, with his colleagues and the all-of-Government response, the protocols to be followed. We said at the beginning there would be human error and mistakes. That's what life is like. But it surely is not the responsibility of a Minister who lays out the protocol for people in their thousands to follow when some person fails to follow that protocol. We want 5 million New Zealanders to be part of the front line in our defence, and we're saying again it's an unacceptable failure and we're going to make sure that we eliminate that as much as possible. But remember, at the very beginning, as we were moving 130,000-plus people in and out of this country, we did say there would be some mistakes.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Is it her expectation that the Minister of Health will personally supervise the admission to and exit from quarantine, as seems to be suggested by the Opposition?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, that's a very, very good question, because it just demonstrates—[Interruption] No, not being pedantic—it demonstrates a perverse mind that doesn't understand a thing called fairness or reasonableness. That's what it displays, and that member from the Hamilton area that no one knows can keep on shouting at the back. That's why he's there—because he's not worth promoting. The reality is the Minister of Health cannot, surely, be responsible, any more than the director-general, for a human failure down the bottom. But our job is, as I say, to enlist the help of 5 million New Zealanders and ensure that the law and the protocols are followed. Can I just say, I'm hearing members shouting out here, like Judith Collins, who said that it was appalling that the Government declined compassionate leave, there is something very wrong in that decision making, and we need to have it sorted. That's Judith Collins. I've got countless quotes from these people over here shouting for the very thing to happen that we have sought not to happen.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Who will take responsibility for the quarantine management failures in this situation?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The reality is that there is a full-scale investigation as to how it happened, and those people will take responsibility. Can I just say, this is alongside a member of Parliament who got information, knowing full well that the plea was to tell the authorities as soon as you get the information because every minute, every hour, counts, and what did he do? Rather than tell the authorities, he thought he'd wait till question time in Parliament, and all those valuable hours were lost. Can I just quote another person who's now critical and shouting out as well. He said the absolute priority must be to get those students back for the second semester, and yet we're fluffing around and not making much progress on that. Who said that?
Hon Member: Test, test, test—accountability.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Oh, it's accountability, is it? I said: who said it? That's how much they talk to each other. Mr Goldsmith said that.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Have there been instances where members of Parliament, including Opposition members of Parliament, have made personal representations urging for people to be released from quarantine early?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, I think this quote comes from somebody who fits that description, and he said, "I think the symbolism of not being able to attend friends', relatives', and very, very close loved ones' funerals is a big problem. I think it's heartless, it's cold, and it is nowhere near kind." Guess who said that? Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Why is she happy to front the world and receive the credit for New Zealand's—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! I'm going to allow the member to rephrase her question in a way that she knows is in order, rather than as she knows is out of order.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Why is she happy to take the credit—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Prime Minister's happiness is not a matter for responsibility to the House. Goodness' sake!
Hon Nikki Kaye: Why does she take the credit for the COVID-19 response and the accolades from the rest of the world, but when things go wrong, she is nowhere to be seen?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, like the previous Prime Ministers in this country, I'm not usually here on a Thursday. However, I've got full confidence in my colleagues who are here, because it'll be like taking candy off a baby. Now, can I just say this here: this is coming from a member of Parliament whose leader said this—that the Government should bring in people from China as a matter of urgency—and now is trying to claim he wants a stronger border. Make up their collective minds.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Was her confidence in the Minister reduced the most when he personally broke New Zealand's lockdown three times or when he presided over the catalogue of failures around New Zealand's quarantine management?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health has given an apology—and a very effusive one at that—and that has been accepted. As Prime Minister, I do understand that human error sometimes happens, and, as long as it's a sincere error and can be corrected, then that should be accepted as well. But here's the real point: we moved as a country and as a Government 130,000-plus around the world, 80,000 back to New Zealand—against medical advice—and 60,000-plus out of New Zealand, to keep our international connections going, and we minimised the risk as much as possible. But we did say there would be examples of failure. Now, to stand up today and say there'll be no more failure is to be ridiculous. Our job is to, as much as we can, possibly and probably get the protocols properly put into place and ensure that we minimise the chance of failure.
Hon Nikki Kaye: How many cases, if any, has she been briefed on where the Government's quarantine or testing processes have not been followed?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, all the cases that I was briefed on, I was briefed on.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What a non-answer. How many?
Hon Nikki Kaye: How many cases—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There's somebody out there shouting out "How many?". Well, if you say all the cases I was briefed on, I was briefed on, it means 100 percent.
SPEAKER: I know, but there's no responsibility on the part of the Prime Minister to respond to inane interjections.
Hon Nikki Kaye: How many cases, if any, has she been briefed on where the Government's quarantine or testing procedures have not been followed?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I had no idea I would come down in the House today and be asked that question. If that was of concern, some notice—an hour's notice or two hours' notice—and we'd be down here with the precise number. But to expect the Prime Minister to come down here and to answer inane questions like that—"How many?"—when it could be hundreds—
Hon Member: It's not inane.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —it could be—well, given that there were 1,500 cases, the answer to that is more than 1,500.
Hon Nikki Kaye: At what time yesterday did David Clark inform her that a statement that the two COVID-19 cases had not come into contact with anyone since leaving managed isolation other than their parent, as per their release plan, was incorrect?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer, on behalf of the Prime Minister: when he discovered that the information was incorrect.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister's answer there did not address the question. It didn't ask for the conditions; it asked for the time. If the Prime Minister isn't able to answer the question that's fine, but that is not an answer to the question.
SPEAKER: I think it was. Yeah.
Hon Nikki Kaye: What would it take for her to lose confidence in David Clark and sack him, given he's overseen failures around Avatar crew, failures in testing, people absconding from quarantine, and the return of COVID-19 to New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, it is very, very sad that we are witnessing, in the case of this nation's safety and health, by way of analogy, the behaviour of an African veld. When a lion comes out of the field and attacks one animal, they are all running flat tack, but the moment one gets taken, they all stop and start eating and grazing again. We expect a higher standard of behaviour when our nation's health is of concern. To turn this round on a personal attack for some flimsy, paltry, political advantage is very, very sad.
Hon Nikki Kaye: Who will take responsibility for the serious errors in quarantine management and testing in New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, the director-general already has. In the end, though, we will find—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Blame the official.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Beg your pardon?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Blame the official.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Ha, ha! Well, there'll be nobody who takes responsibility or blame for him. Can I just say, Mr Smith, that the fact is that we're going to find those people at the coalface who didn't follow the protocols. The only way we can eliminate this sort of irresponsible behaviour or failure to fulfil the protocol requirements is to identify those people and make sure it doesn't, as much as possible, happen again.
Hon Grant Robertson: Can the Prime Minister confirm reports that the Leader of the Opposition, when asked whether or not he would sack a Minister of Health—if he ever became the Prime Minister—because of an official's mistake, said no?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: On behalf of the Prime Minister, yes. I heard that. And given what his colleagues are screaming out for today, there's a word for that. It starts with "h" and ends with "y", but I can't say it.
Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: What is the most recent advice he has received from the Treasury on the likely impact of COVID-19 on the New Zealand economy over the period to 30 June 2021, and what impact does he think this will have on New Zealand households?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The latest advice I've received from the Treasury is reflected in the statement made by the Secretary to the Treasury to the Finance and Expenditure Committee yesterday. In that advice, the Treasury says its outlook has changed since the Budget because of three developments: firstly, that we've moved to level 1 sooner than expected, increasing economic activity with people getting back to work; secondly, June quarter activity looks to have held up better than expected; and, thirdly, in less positive news, the global outlook is weaker. On balance, Treasury suggests that this indicates near-term improvement on their Budget forecast and a longer, slower recovery in the long term due to the global outlook. In answer to the second part of the question, the impact on specific households will be different for each, but the measures the Government has put in place will cushion the blow of the impact of this one-in-100-year global pandemic.
Hon Amy Adams: How many New Zealanders does the Minister think will struggle to pay their bills as a result of the level of economic decline outlined by Treasury, the Reserve Bank, and a range of others when today's GDP fall already represents an average drop of $13,000 for every household?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Far fewer than would be struggling if it weren't for the measures that the Government took in terms of the wage subsidy scheme, the support for small businesses, and the support for sectors like tourism.
Hon Amy Adams: Does the Minister think that the people now queuing up for food parcels—the number has increased by 400 percent—really believe that this Government's actions are supporting them through this crisis?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I know that many of those people will be grateful for is the fact that the Government on 17 March increased main benefits by $25 per week, doubled the winter energy payment, made sure that there were services available through the civil defence and emergency management arrangements to ensure people did get food parcels and did get what they needed, funded Whānau Ora for over $100 million to make sure that people actually got what they needed—a range of measures which the National Opposition in large part opposed.
Hon Amy Adams: How many more New Zealanders are out of work today compared to at the start of the year, when you include those who don't qualify for job seeker support?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In terms of the numbers around job seeker support, it's approximately 45,000 since the period of COVID, anyway, coming into being. And in addition to that, I'd need to get back to the member on the exact information on those who've got the COVID income relief payment, which will include those who weren't eligible.
Hon Amy Adams: Well, how many jobs could have been saved if the construction sector, who were the biggest contributor to today's GDP decline, hadn't been fully shut down by the Minister?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member is incorrect in terms of the impact on different sectors that is noted in today's GDP. What I can say to the member is that—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I accept that there's a certain amount of provocation in the question, but I want to hear the answer, and colleagues, right from the usual suspects down to the normally quieter ones, are making too much noise.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I was saying, the construction sector—yes, it did see a drop. There were other sectors affected by things such as border closures that suffered a larger drop, so in that respect the member's question is incorrect. In terms of where we are today, New Zealand's economy is operating at a higher level than most other countries in the world because we went hard and early and because we said we would do this once and do it right. That allows us now to have an economy that is operating ahead of most other countries.
Hon Amy Adams: How can New Zealand have any confidence in this Government's economic management of the biggest economic crisis in a generation when the Minister can't answer straight questions about job losses so far and in the first three months of this crisis New Zealand has already experienced five times more economic damage than Australia?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member's question, I actually think, does a disservice to the 5 million New Zealanders who actually endorsed the Government's strategy—up to about 90 percent, I think—to go hard, to go early, to do this once, and to do it right. Yes, there is an impact in the March quarter data. Yes, there will be an impact in the June quarter data. But New Zealanders have backed this Government because we have a plan to deal with COVID-19.
Kieran McAnulty: Has he seen reports of any groups calling for, at the same time, more spending, less debt, open borders, closed borders, and open industry?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, I have. I've seen one particular group of people in an utter state of confusion about those matters, and in the case of some members on the other side, they've managed to do—
Question No. 4—State Owned Enterprises
4. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he stand by all of his actions relating to investment in KiwiRail?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes, I humbly do, particularly those concerning projects which promise to revitalise New Zealand regions. Last week we visited the Whangarei freight terminal with my colleague Shane Jones. We had the pleasure of meeting many of the people who work on a critical part of New Zealand's infrastructure which has been neglected and run down for far too long. It included seeing the welding of new heavy rail lines of 75 metres in length, the cartage of them down to the railway lines all the way to the tunnels, and also the plans to lower the tunnels between Whangarei and Auckland. That represents huge investment and a harbinger of enormous economic recovery for Northland when these things are running properly.
Darroch Ball: How much in total has this Government invested in New Zealand's railways?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: $4.6 billion, which includes $350 million for improvements to the Wiri to Quay Park corridor; $371 million to extend the electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe; $211 million for improvements to the Wellington, Wairarapa, and Palmerston North networks—but hang on, there's more—$400 million for the Interislander ferry replacement; $247 million for the Drury and associated railway stations; and $6.2 million for the Napier to Wairoa railway. There's no doubt that railways has got a new sense of action and unction. Thank you.
Darroch Ball: How will these investments in rail help create jobs for New Zealanders?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Thank you very much for that question, because the Government's recovery plan is based on business and business and jobs, jobs, jobs, and as part of the recent Provincial Growth Fund reset, again spearheaded by my colleague Shane Jones, $60 million of projects were announced specifically on worker redeployment. That includes $26 million for rail projects which will focus on maintaining existing lines which lay neglected and overgrown under the purview of the previous Government. That investment will create shovel-ready jobs for hundreds and hundreds of people. This Government is jobs-focused, and that's why we're making sure that employment is a core factor of our decision making, where we make our investments in New Zealand railways. The great news is that these investments will be around from 50 to 100 years' time.
Question No. 5—Health
5. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Did he intend for the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 to provide for the mandatory testing of certain individuals; if so, was the Director-General of Health referring to mandatory testing when he said on 9 June, "from today, everyone in managed isolation … will be tested twice during that period, whether they have symptoms or not, around day three and around day 12"?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020 provides that orders can be made under the Act to require persons to "report for medical examination or testing"—section 11(1)(a)(viii). That Act maintains the 9 April 2020 section 70 order under the Health Act 1956 by the Director-General of Health, which includes requirements for mandatory testing.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: So if testing is mandatory, or can be mandatory, rather, why were people in managed isolation given information advising them of their right to refuse a test?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That is something I have requested answers for, because I find it unacceptable.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: So are all individuals in managed isolation being tested for COVID-19 in the manner described by Dr Bloomfield on 9 June, and, if not, how many individuals have not had the two tests the public were told would take place?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The expectations of Ministers and of myself are very clear that people will have those two tests in mandatory self-isolation. The second part of the member's question was how many people may not have had those tests to date. As he will know, that data has been requested. I have not yet received that data because I want it to be absolutely correct.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: How many other cases, if any, are there where individuals have been released from managed isolation before a COVID-19 test result is known where the individual subsequently tests positive for COVID?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am not aware of that having happened other than in cases that have been raised publicly.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given his previous answers, will people who refuse to be tested for COVID-19 now be allowed to leave managed isolation after 14 days, notwithstanding that?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The expectations are really clear, but I will say there's no evidence to date of any person coming out of managed isolation who has gone on to spread the virus into the community. The 14-day rule is done so, because it is effective. The rationale for it is based on the incubation period of the disease. It's the time from exposure to development of symptoms, considered to be in the range of one to 14 days, but most commonly three to seven days, and, as such, that—
Alastair Scott: Answer the question.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: —internationally agreed protocol is the thing that has been shown to work. The member's question—if there's some aspect I haven't answered, I'm happy for it to be repeated.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Which—
SPEAKER: Sorry, I'm just going to deal with an interjection. Who made that loud interjection? The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Alastair Scott: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: I just remind members—and the member is not a long-term member—that that interjection is a reflection on me, because it is my responsibility to ensure that that happens.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Were the two women who tested positive for COVID-19 this week released from quarantine following personal representations advocating their early release from quarantine by National MP Chris Bishop?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I am aware of that. Obviously, there have been representations made for compassionate leave from members of Parliament. I think people need to be very careful because these are sensitive matters, necessarily—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Sorry, I'm going to hear the rest of this answer in silence. It's a very serious allegation that's been made here, and I want to hear the answer.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Yes, I am aware of that, and I just would ask members to be careful around these situations. On the one hand, people have been requiring or requesting that people be let go early out of these situations. On the other hand, we've seen the risks that that presents to New Zealanders and the team of 5 million and their efforts so far.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'd like you to reflect on your commentary about the question from the Hon Chris Hipkins as being a "serious allegation". It kind of injects the Speaker into the question time in a way that a value judgment of that question might not stand scrutiny. Mr Bishop's advocacy for those people did not infer that an unsafe process should be followed, and the fact that you have, effectively, commented on the fact that it's a "serious allegation" is probably unhelpful—it's certainly unhelpful.
SPEAKER: Well, if—sorry, I should have said it's a serious matter and not a serious allegation, and I'm not absolutely certain that the member's point of order has diminished it. But I will reflect on that.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Thank you. Does he agree with the Ministry of Health's statement around the COVID-diagnosed sisters, who were not tested, that they have had no contact with anyone since their arrival in Wellington?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The most recent statement from the Ministry of Health is, I believe, the best information that we have to date.
Question No. 6—Health
6. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Was his management of PPE supplies during the coronavirus outbreak "textbook", and how does that align with the report released by the Auditor-General regarding management of personal protective equipment?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): New Zealand's health response to the global pandemic has been world leading. The ministry welcomed the Auditor-General's review of personal protective equipment (PPE), which found, "The Ministry moved quickly to set up a new centralised system for procuring, prioritising, and distributing PPE stock." and this appeared to work well. The ministry has confirmed it will implement the report's 10 recommendations with work on seven of them already under way.
Dr Shane Reti: Given the report's observations, was Ashley Bloomfield's comment accurate and correct when he said to Radio New Zealand at the time the outbreak was near its peak that PPE supplies are plentiful and steady and distribution is being made "rock solid".
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I haven't seen the detail of that quote but obviously the system in the early stages had challenges. Anyone who reads that report will see that, but the ministry did respond to those challenges and there is, of course, then that praise in the report for the ministry's response.
Dr Shane Reti: How does he justify his statement on 7 May when he said that Ashley Bloomfield's stocktake report did identify some initial teething issues that have now been resolved when yesterday the Office of the Auditor-General identified ongoing problems?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I think the statements speak for themselves. There are challenges in that supply. There is a globally competitive environment for PPE because COVID-19 is spreading at the fastest rate it has spread, currently, around the world. There is a global pandemic happening which is affecting supply chains around the world. Our response has been impressive in light of that global pandemic but, of course, there are always things we could do better and we are working hard to make sure that risks are minimised and New Zealand's safety is put first.
Dr Shane Reti: Were the PPE issues not resolved, then, when on 7 May he said they were?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Issues can be resolved before new issues arise. That's logical. And certainly the global situation continues to be challenging for securing PPE and other stocks necessary to combat a global pandemic.
Dr Shane Reti: Does he agree with the findings of the Auditor-General that a degree of confusion appears to have arisen in relation to PPE; and if so, does he believe his decision to produce 36 separate PPE guidance documents contributed to this?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I believe that the report is right in saying that the ministry responded appropriately by setting up a new centralised system for prioritising, allocating, and distributing PPE stock, and also that the ministry needed to act quickly to set up a centralised approach to managing national reserve stock levels, ordering, freight, and distribution.
Dr Shane Reti: If his management of PPE is part of the "textbook" response that he has stated in this House many times, can he tell New Zealanders exactly which textbook he is referring to?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I would say, firstly, that management of the day-to-day operations is actually the responsibility of the Ministry of Health, not as the member characterises, and, secondly, I would say just how wrong he is. His references to "textbook" are all, as far as I can find through the Hansard in response to his questions framing the response as "textbook". I don't know if he sees the irony in that. But I'll repeat to him a previous answer from the House: "If you can read any textbook it's liable to have a few challenges in it." and we've heard recently anecdotes of PPE in the early stages not getting to where they needed to go. That's why I'm seeking reassurance since we've stepped in to make sure that the system is working as it should.
Question No. 7—Education
7. JO LUXTON (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What responses has he seen to Apprenticeship Boost?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I'm advised that the Apprenticeship Boost package which provides employers with $1,000 per month for a first-year apprentice and $500 per month for a second-year apprentice has been received extremely positively by businesses and industry groups. The CEO of the industry training organisation Competenz, Fiona Kingsford, said she was delighted. The Motor Industry Training Organisation's Janet Lane said she wholeheartedly applauded the unprecedented announcement, even going so far as to say the Government is showing leadership and significant goodwill to businesses taking on apprentices. While the Motor Trade Association's chief executive Craig Pomare said that it was "A great outcome for everyone."
Jo Luxton: What responses has he seen from businesses?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I am informed that LT McGuinness's construction manager Sean McGuinness said on Newstalk ZB that this'll help an industry facing trade shortages in recent years. He said it's going to incentivise a lot of employers to take on new trainees and futureproof tradespeople in New Zealand for the next decade. Agricultural machinery supplier Landpower's John McDonald said that the "Apprenticeship Boost, along with the removal of training fees, is a significant helping hand." He said, "It gives [them] confidence to keep [their] current apprentices and provides [them] with a [much] greater appetite to bring on more".
Jo Luxton: What reaction has he seen from farmers?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Chris Lewis from Federated Farmers acknowledged that one of the key problems facing farmers is the cost associated with taking on and training new staff, particularly those who are new to the sector. He said that the apprenticeship support programme will make the transition and retention of new workers a lot easier, benefiting farmers, workers, and the economy as we rebound from the effects of COVID-19.
Question No. 8—Transport
8. JAMI-LEE ROSS (MP—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: What projects, if any, in addition to those already listed in Schedule 2 of the COVID-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill, did he propose as fast-track projects to improve transport in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): The Minister for the Environment has announced 11 initial infrastructure projects that will be fast tracked, under a new law to help rebuild the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This represents the best balance of rail and road and housing projects. The bill also opens the way for other projects to be fast tracked, to help deliver faster economic growth and more jobs as soon as possible. I'm advised by the Minister for the Environment that the initial plan was to include four to six projects so as not to slow down the implementation of the bill. In the end, Cabinet agreed on 11 projects, including the Britomart East upgrade, the Papakura to Pukekohe electrification, the Northern Pathway, and the Papakura to Drury State Highway 1 roading upgrade. I'm advised that other projects proposed included Mill Road. KiwiRail also put forward the Wiri to Quay Park segment of the third main, the Rail Network Growth Impact Management project, and City Rail Link works at Newmarket.
Jami-Lee Ross: Are the projects listed in Schedule 2 the highest priority transport projects in his portfolio; if not, why did he not ensure other projects from the Auckland Transport Alignment Project or from his New Zealand Upgrade Programme were included for fast tracking?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That matter is one for the Minister for the Environment, who's responsible for the bill. I'm sure the member will understand that a range of criteria were used to determine the selection of projects. But I want to reassure the member that our expectation is that the Resource Management Act fast-tracking legislation will be available to a much broader variety and a longer list of projects, and if the member has suggestions about additional projects, I'm sure the Minister for the Environment would welcome them.
Jami-Lee Ross: If his Government is open to further projects being fast tracked, will he recommend to the Minister for the Environment that amendments to Schedule 2 be supported, such as including the Eastern Busway or the Botany to airport project to also be fast tracked?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the Eastern Busway is a fantastic project that will give people in Botany a congestion-free 40-minute ride between Botany and Britomart. While the first stage of the Eastern Busway is already under way, as the member knows, stages 2, 3, and 4 are now beginning—the procurement process is under way—and I'm very happy to have discussions, and will, with the Minister for the Environment about the potential for additional transport projects to benefit from the fast-tracking bill.
Michael Wood: Is it possible that rail projects in Northland could be considered for fast tracking under the bill, and, if so, would the consideration of those projects be impacted by the negative comments about the value of rail in Northland by the local member at Estimates hearings this morning?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The value of rail projects to actually futureproof our transport system and boost jobs and economies in our regions is far too important for us to be put off by the petty nit-picking of some members.
Question No. 9—Defence
9. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Defence: On what date, and at what time, was the decision made to give the Assistant Chief of Defence authority over all quarantine and managed isolation facilities, including the processes around the exit of those who had been in the facilities?
Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): Firstly, can I thank the member for asking me a primary question. It's the first one since 13 March last year.
SPEAKER: Order! That's not necessary.
Hon RON MARK: I'm sorry, Mr Speaker; my apologies. I have been advised that the decision, which I fully support and welcome, was made by the Prime Minister on the evening of 16 June. There was an unacceptable failure of the system, as the Prime Minister stated. Military precision, discipline, rigour, and operational expertise was clearly needed, something that I have been consistently in support of throughout the entire COVID-19 response—
SPEAKER: Order! The question has been answered.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So why was a New Zealand Defence Force officer appointed to take over managed isolation facilities weeks before that date?
Hon RON MARK: Could you say that again, please?
SPEAKER: A bit louder, I think.
Hon RON MARK: A bit louder, please.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So why was a New Zealand Defence Force officer appointed to take over managed isolation facilities well before that date?
Hon RON MARK: Oh, Air Commodore Digby Webb had been working in the operational command centre (OCC) under the command of former Police Commissioner Mike Bush since about 31 March. He was seconded there in a role by the Chief of Defence Force. This recent elevation into a more senior position and a higher level of authority is a decision that's been made by the Prime Minister and, from what I understand, also from Mike Bush, who leads the OCC.
Hon Mark Mitchell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just seek your guidance? The Minister didn't answer my question at all. I asked him about a New Zealand Defence Force officer being appointed to take over the management of the managed isolation facilities. He hasn't responded to that question at all.
SPEAKER: I think he did. I mean, it mightn't satisfy the member and it might leave some further supplementaries that he wants to ask, but as far as I'm aware the gentleman concerned is a senior officer.
Hon Mark Mitchell: What is the name of the officer that was appointed prior to the 17th to take over the managed isolation facilities?
SPEAKER: Well, there is an assertion in the question; I'll let it run. And the other point that I'll make to the member is that he has a very narrow primary question, which probably doesn't include that matter at all. But because there's clearly some interest from the Opposition in whether or not someone else was appointed to that job before Digby—what? I'm sorry. Air Commodore—
Hon RON MARK: Air Commodore.
SPEAKER: Yep, then—
Hon RON MARK: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am struggling a little to understand precisely what the question is, but I might be able to shed some light and address the member's question in this way. Air Commodore Digby Webb has been in the operational control centre.
SPEAKER: No, no—[Interruption] No, no. The member will resume his seat. It was a pretty specific question about someone other than that particular individual—[Interruption] Order! I'm on my feet. I'm not going to let the Minister go on about the qualifications of someone who was in the primary question and therefore he should be prepared for, but that's not who the question was asked about. If the Minister is not aware or disputes the assertion that's made, he should say that, but he doesn't need to go on about the qualifications of a person who the question is not about.
Hon RON MARK: Well, I reject the premise of that question, Mr Speaker.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Does he think it's good for New Zealand that because of Government failures, our defence forces have been asked to police our civilian population?
Hon RON MARK: Once again, I reject the premise of that question. The defence forces have not been asked to police the civilian population by the Prime Minister. An officer who was assisting with a particular role has simply been—for want of a better term—promoted in the field because he's done an outstanding job. Now, the situation is, instead of him assisting health officials, he is now leading in that particular role.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So can he clarify for the House then that the only thing that has changed is that they have appointed someone new to lead the response?
Hon RON MARK: If the member's question is: "Has the officer concerned been promoted?", the answer is yes. If the member's question is: "Has the Prime Minister identified some qualities and, indeed, has Mike Bush seen some qualities in this person who had a slightly less senior role—maybe as a senior officer—into taking total responsibility now for the entire network of isolation facilities throughout New Zealand?", yeah, he has taken total responsibility now, at the direction of the Prime Minister, and congratulated for that.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So what has changed at our border, in terms of managing our managed isolation and quarantine processes, where we've seen multiple breaches—what has changed other than one person being put in charge of the response?
Hon RON MARK: Well, I think the member's a little confused. Air Commodore Digby Webb has not been put in control of the borders, actually. He has got a specific job around the quarantine facilities and the management of the personnel within that.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Will the Minister now take responsibility for any further breaches now that he has one of his senior New Zealand Defence Force personnel in that role?
Hon RON MARK: I've been waiting since March to get asked some sensible questions—I'm still waiting.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Will the Minister now take responsibility for any further breaches now that he has one of his senior New Zealand Defence Force personnel in that role?
Hon RON MARK: I'll take responsibility for the defence of anything that the Defence Force is engaged in that is my responsibility. Right now that senior officer, highly competent, very professional, who has been seconded into that role since 31 March, whose skill and expertise have been recognised by the Prime Minister, who has expressed such confidence in him in the Defence Force and he has been promoted—yeah, if I want to take responsibility for that, I'll do so. But I would say to that member, I have confidence in the New Zealand Defence Force, and so too does this Government, as has been indicated by the record levels of expenditure on defence platforms, on defence capability. That officer in particular is the Assistant Chief of Defence capability—capability. He has been at the core of some very substantial projects that have been run in the last 2½ years. I have total confidence in him, and I'll take responsibility for anything that comes out of that, including the credit.
Question No. 10—Trade and Export Growth
10. JAMIE STRANGE (Labour) to the Minister for Trade and Export Growth: What actions has the Government taken to increase trade with the United Kingdom and other countries?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for Trade and Export Growth): New Zealand and the United Kingdom share a particularly close bond. We share a queen, we've both got a red, white, and blue flag, and soon we'll have closer trade links. Yesterday, New Zealand became one of the first countries to begin negotiations for a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the United Kingdom following Brexit. A high-quality, comprehensive, and inclusive free-trade agreement with the UK will also send a vital message about the importance of free and open trade rules more broadly with other countries.
Jamie Strange: What outcomes does the Government want to achieve from a trade agreement with the United Kingdom and others?
Hon DAVID PARKER: What we're doing is creating opportunities for our exporters to earn more money, to employ more New Zealanders, and to pay higher wages. We do this by improving the diversity of the export markets that they have lower tariff access to. We also want to make it easier for companies to trade through digital channels—this is particularly important in a post-COVID environment. We want to level the playing field between New Zealand exporters and exporters from other countries, some of whom have advantage compared with New Zealand—for example, kiwifruit from some other countries have lower tariff rates into the European Union, including the UK at the moment, and we think, overall, this will be good. Through this agreement, we'll also address environmental challenges like climate change.
Jamie Strange: How will a high-quality trade agreement with the United Kingdom benefit New Zealanders?
Hon DAVID PARKER: One in four New Zealanders' jobs depends on exports, and we know from statistics that exporting firms lift productivity at a faster rate, they employ more staff as a consequence of their export journey, and they pay better wages. So it's clear that trade can help drive our post - COVID-19 economic recovery through creating jobs, boosting productivity, and generating growth, and this New Zealand - UK FTA, like the New Zealand - EU FTA, will add to that journey.
Question No. 11—Police
11. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Police: What police resources, if any, have been deployed to respond to incidents of people leaving COVID-19 quarantine or managed isolation facilities on compassionate grounds or prior to a COVID-19 test being returned?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): Police are one of a number of enforcement agencies that may be required to respond across Government to incidents in relation to persons leaving a managed isolation facility on compassionate grounds prior to a COVID-19 test being returned. In this narrow example, I am advised that it is the Ministry of Health that will instruct police to assist them. Police will then make a decision about what steps they need to take to locate the person and facilitate their return. Decisions about police deployment are the responsibility of the Commissioner of Police, delegated to district commanders, but, typically, police resources include managed isolation facility reassurance officers, district general duty front-line officers, iwi liaison and family liaison officers, police intelligence-gathering staff, and inter-district operations to coordinate regional responses when required.
Brett Hudson: Did police respond to an incident where a person had been released from a Corrections facility and tested positive to COVID-19, and, if so, how much time passed between police being notified and the person being located?
Hon STUART NASH: Well, that is a very specific question. If the member had put that down in the primary, I might have come with that information. One thing I would say is it probably comes as no surprise that I do not receive nor seek a briefing on every police call-out, of which there are approximately 3,250 per day.
Brett Hudson: Does he think there were adequate conditions in place for the reported cases of people leaving isolation to attend a Mongrel Mob tangi in Hamilton who subsequently needed to be tracked down by police?
SPEAKER: No, he's not responsible.
Brett Hudson: OK. How many incidents that police have responded to at the behest of the Ministry of Health regarding locating close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases have police successfully located?
Hon STUART NASH: They've successfully located all of them.
Question No. 12—Corrections
12. SIMEON BROWN (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Corrections: What reports, if any, has he seen of individuals transferred from COVID-19 managed isolation to a corrections facility who subsequently tested positive for COVID-19?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Corrections): During the various alert levels, I received daily updates from Corrections regarding their management and response to COVID-19. I was also kept up to date with the progress of one individual who was transferred from COVID-19 managed isolation into Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility at 6.38 p.m. on 29 April 2020.
Simeon Brown: Did the positive test for COVID-19 for that individual come back before or after the individual was released from the Corrections facility?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: It may be helpful if I run through the time line of what happened to this particular woman. So she returned to New Zealand from the United States on 25 April 2020 and refused to comply with lockdown at her accommodation in Auckland. She had refused to cooperate with staff, including submitting to a COVID-19 test. She was not presenting as symptomatic. She was remanded—in other words, a judge made the decision—on two active charges of obstructing and hindering a medical officer of health. The prisoner was received into Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility at 6.38 p.m. on 29 April. A decision was made to quarantine rather than separate the prisoner, based on the health risk she presented. On 5 May, the prisoner was escorted to an audio-visual link (AVL) booth for a court appearance where she was remanded for a bail application on 6 May. On 6 May, the prisoner was escorted again to the AVL booth for a court appearance where she refused to listen to the judge and her counsel. On 8 May, at 2.40 p.m., the prisoner was escorted to the AVL booth for a court hearing and agreed to consent to the examination—in other words, the COVID test. At 4.38 p.m. she was escorted to the receiving office and released on bail—another decision made by the judge—with the condition that she was to go with the Geneva Healthcare team to the Sebel Hotel in Manukau and then be transported by her mother to a bail address in Palmerston North. It's important to understand that the judge made the decision for her to be bailed, and Corrections must comply with what the judge says.
Hon David Bennett: That's because you tell them to.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Now, Mr Speaker, I take offence at the member across the way, David Bennett, saying that I direct judges to do anything. I do not have that capacity, that capability, to direct judges to make decisions. [Interruption] What he is saying—and he has repeated it in this House—is an outright fabrication.
Matt Doocey: The Minister doesn't direct anyone. Answer the question.
SPEAKER: Before the member does, the whip will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Matt Doocey: I withdraw and apologise.
Simeon Brown: Did Corrections staff notify the court that the individual had not yet received the results of their COVID-19 test before the individual was released?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Corrections did what the judge required them to do.
Simeon Brown: Is the Minister confident that there have been no additional cases of COVID-19 inside the Corrections facility due to this positive case?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I am extremely confident in the processes that Corrections took. The processes they put in place to manage COVID were exemplary. There were no cases, other than this woman, that came into Corrections. All staff were required to wear personal protective equipment. All people entering prison were kept separate. The fact that, unlike jurisdictions overseas, we have not had a case arise other than this one, that was imported from the United States, goes down to the great work that Corrections did to prevent the spread of COVID in our prisons.
Ginny Andersen: What report, if any, has the Minister received on the way Corrections managed its response for COVID-19?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Corrections officers were part of our country's essential services during our response to COVID-19 and did a spectacular job. The Chief Ombudsman wrote to the chief executive of Corrections this week, following organised visits, and thanked them for keeping the inspectors safe. He shared that "I have been very impressed by the cohesive and well-resourced response put in place to manage the impacts of COVID-19 in prisons. You and your staff are to be commended." As the Minister, I commend them as well.