Parliament: Questions and Answers June 24 2020
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. TODD MULLER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she agree with Auckland University School of Medicine Professor Des Gorman that not all of the 2,159 people who left managed isolation between June 9 and 16 will probably be tracked down, and "we have to make the assumption these people have re-seeded the infection in the community"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): I understand Professor Gorman is an expert in occupational health at Auckland University rather than an epidemiologist. However, of course, I acknowledge the role that he has played in the medical community. I note, though, that Auckland University infectious disease specialist Dr Siouxsie Wiles says the chances of—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! I'd like to hear the answer to this, and I will say to people who are barracking from my left that this question was corrected to make it accurate by me.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I note Auckland University infectious disease specialist Dr Siouxsie Wiles said the chances of someone leading to community infection after leaving an isolation facility are "very low" and "If people had gone on to develop symptoms, the testing and the isolation of those around them would have kicked in as well. So we're very unlikely to see anything happen from those, and if we do it'll be very, very minor."
Todd Muller: How can she say that when in the absence of testing she can't know that none of those people had COVID-19 when they left managed isolation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because, as most countries around the world have implemented, the 14-day isolation period is the most important thing that any country can do to manage cases coming in at the border. That is why, when you pan around the world, most countries are opting for isolation and quarantine as opposed to a simple testing regime. The reason for that being, of course, because of the different time periods at which COVID can manifest, the early stage is the most likely stage when you shed infection, and the high rate of false negatives that can be produced. As Dr Siouxsie Wiles says, "That two-week isolation is the really important bit, not really the testing—the isolation."
Todd Muller: If she is so confident Professor Gorman is incorrect, why did her Minister of Health announce a ramped-up testing regime yesterday?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I would dispute that I would consider that ramped-up. We did that on 9 June—9 June was when we absolutely had a very clear expectation, at the time of moving into level 1, that the foundation principles continued to be quarantine, but that we wanted the added reassurance of testing. I say again in this House: we were the ones that set that expectation, wanted it to be met, were assured that it had, and moved decisively when it wasn't. But I would note in this House, we are one of the few, if not the only country in the world, that has both quarantine and isolation and mandatory testing.
Todd Muller: Is Otago University Professor Michael Baker correct that National's criticism of her Government's health response is justified because this is, and I quote, "a matter of life [and] death."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This is an issue we, of course, take very seriously. This is why we moved to bring in the Defence Force to ensure that our expectation of testing twice during quarantine was being met. And, of course, that is the reason we have some of the most stringent border controls in the world. Only Australia, that I can see, practises the same method of using Government-approved facilities, but we are the ones that are mandating testing as well.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Does the Prime Minister believe that adherence to the testing regime would be more or less reliable if management of quarantine and isolation facilities was devolved to tertiary education providers who don't believe the border should've been closed in the first place, as proposed by the Opposition?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member does make a good point. Our regime demonstrates our view that this has to be very tightly controlled and managed. I have seen proposals suggesting that we, essentially, contract out quarantine and isolation to providers who wish to operate international education opportunities and manage their own isolation. We are concerned that such suggestions at this point would be irresponsible, and I make that point to the member, who seemed to support that.
David Seymour: If such a suggestion would be irresponsible, did the Prime Minister ever ask Ashley Bloomfield, "Those people being released early from quarantine—you're testing them, right?"
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That was the stated policy.
David Seymour: Does the Prime Minister think it acceptable that one of my constituents, advised by Healthline to be tested, had to wait four hours at the St Lukes community-based assessment centre in her electorate of Mt Albert?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, but I would point out that yesterday we had a record more than 9,000 individuals tested—9,000, and the positives, of course, that we had were at the border. So that does demonstrate that at that raft of testing, we may have some congestion. I don't consider that to be an acceptable wait. I am happy to follow up on the member's concern, but it does demonstrate the suggestion from the member that we have an issue with community transmission to date, and our testing is not bearing that out.
Todd Muller: Why do we repeatedly see examples of what she says is happening in the border response on the ground actually not happening?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I refute the broad premise of that question.
Todd Muller: Why does the Ministry of Health still not know how many of the 2,159 people who left managed isolation—whether they have received a test?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The director-general did share data that he had available today in his 1.30 press conference.
Todd Muller: How many people have left managed isolation without a test?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The director-general would've talked today about the fact that 2,159 left from 9 June to 16 June. They were all in quarantine or managed isolation for 14 days. They all had a medical check. None of them had symptoms at departure. The majority—1,249—had been tested.
Todd Muller: When she said of New Zealand's contact tracing capability on 28 April, and I quote, "You'll remember, of course, the Director-General pointed to his view that we have reached a gold standard.", have the events of the past week proved that this was probably nonsense?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I wouldn't say that that would be the case. Again, we're actually talking about individuals who have completed—and the member would do well to reflect on this. Every single person that that member is talking about has spent 14 days in quarantine or managed isolation. As one of the few countries in the world who mandates it at our border, and now one of the only countries in the world I can find that requires every single person coming into the country not only to isolate but to have a test, that makes us the strictest.
Hon Grant Robertson: Can the Prime Minister confirm that over the last 14 days there have been more than 50,000 tests undertaken in New Zealand, and that there have been no reports of community transmission?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. In fact, Professor Michael Baker actually points out his view that the reporting of our results should differentiate between those cases that are at our border, because that is very, very different than what the member across the aisle is trying to imply is happening in New Zealand.
Todd Muller: Can the Prime Minister confirm for the House was it her expectation that those 2,159 people who left managed isolation would have had a test before they left?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely, which is why I brought in the Defence Force.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. TODD MULLER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is it correct that on 20 May, daily COVID-19 situation reports, including the New Zealand border response, sent to Ministers, ended; if so, why?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No.
Todd Muller: After 20 May, did she ask to regularly receive the sort of detailed information about the border, quarantine, and managed isolation which she had been receiving prior to that date?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: To the best of my knowledge, the daily reporting the member is referring to is the Ministry of Health daily situation report, which was circulated to a wide range of recipients. To assume that that was the only information received by the Government and Ministers is wrong. We received daily isolation reports that included information around individuals in quarantine and isolation. The COVID daily case reports—so, obviously, the cases that we had in New Zealand and testing numbers—I note for the member that that is also made publicly available each day. And, of course, Cabinet received weekly COVID dashboards reporting on things like lab capacity, testing results, PPE, and cases in New Zealand, and the number of people in managed isolation and quarantine.
Todd Muller: Did her regular reporting include how many tests were being carried out and how many tests needed to be carried out to ensure full coverage of those in quarantine and managed isolation facilities?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There was daily reporting on testing numbers. At one point, we did directly query the fact that our testing numbers were declining. You'll recall yesterday in this House, for the member's edification, I talked about our office seeking information of testing at at-risk places. That prompted the Ministry of Health to reconfirm to my office on 5 June that daily testing was occurring for day 3 and day 12 of those at the border, including everyone at facilities, starting from 8 June.
Todd Muller: Did her regular reporting include confirmation of people who are leaving managed isolation with testing as per her requirements of 8 June?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have said, we queried directly from the Ministry of Health what was being undertaken at the border. I note for the member that we did that before the protocol was even meant to be in place. They reconfirmed that it was occurring. If the member is trying to suggest that somehow we knew something was not happening, that is patently and factually incorrect.
Todd Muller: Was it a fact of the information being provided by her officials to her request for information that was incorrect?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I say, we were advised that the testing was happening twice during the period of quarantine—that anyone that came in after or before 8 June would be tested before leaving the facility. And, of course, the director-general confirmed that in public statements made, from my recollection, on 9 June as well.
Todd Muller: Is she saying she has been misled by her officials—essentially, they reported to her things that were happening that simply weren't happening on the ground?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This is not a revelation or new information. We've consistently identified that there was a failure to act in practice on what was an expectation of Cabinet. But our responsibility is to fix that problem, which we have.
Todd Muller: Is she, essentially, saying that, from her perspective, the Government's instructions were clear: officials had a job to do and they were left to do it without Ministers asking any regular questions or receiving regular reports?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I again reject the premise of the question. As he will have heard me say in the House yesterday, we directly—again—queried with the Ministry of Health the testing regime to be in place, and that, of course, included the border, and received a response confirming the testing we had an expectation would be happening starting from 8 June. I think this is an opportunity for me to mention to the House, though, that since that time, we've had over 5,000 tests happening across our quarantines and managed isolation.
Todd Muller: Does she accept that this comes down to two scenarios: either her officials misled her, or she and her Ministers haven't been doing their job and haven't been asking the right questions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This comes down to a scenario of the fact that we still have—still have—some of the most stringent requirements in the world. We still have cases contained at the border. And in a world where we have record COVID cases being reported daily—record cases—we are still in a position where New Zealanders should feel rightly proud of the work they did to get us here.
Question No. 3—Finance
3. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on Government initiatives to support businesses through COVID-19?
SPEAKER: I'll just say that just because one member makes an unfortunate noise, it doesn't have to be repeated from the other side.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I've seen a huge number of reports from affected business owners who have contacted the Government to emphasise the difference the support measures have made to their businesses over these difficult past few months. One woman wrote to say, "The wage subsidy has been a huge help to us. My husband is a self-employed builder and we would have been in serious trouble financially without it and the mortgage holiday which we had to access as we have not long taken on a mortgage for our new house. It would have been a very worrying time for us without this help. My work has also accessed the fund and hopes to make it through, and so far there have been no job losses for us." Just one other example: a business owner said, "Twelve weeks ago today we received the wage subsidy to help us maintain our staffing during the tough times. I have to admit I had a lump in my throat when I explained the prospects to our staff at the end of March. You all know how the last 12 weeks have played out, so I thought it prudent to offer my sincere thanks. We are now back on our feet, and have even taken on a staff member laid off from a related business."
Dr Deborah Russell: What other reports has he seen on the impact of Government initiatives to support businesses through COVID-19?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: One Canterbury business owner wrote to the Government saying, "I just wanted to say a heartfelt thankyou for not only offering New Zealand businesses the wage subsidy package but also for the ease of applying and prompt payment. As a small business, without these financial assistance packages I doubt we would have survived, and up to 17 people may have lost their jobs." A Waikato business owner said, "Without the Government support provided, the business would not have survived the lockdown, and 36 staff would have lost their jobs. We're not out of the woods yet, and with a tough May we will be relying on the wage subsidy extension to pull us through, but we are hopeful and optimistic that the company will survive. The remainder of the year will be tough, but we believe we can do it, but only thanks to the Government support we received."
Dr Deborah Russell: As of today, how significant has the Government's investment to support COVID-affected businesses been?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We continue to provide a wide range of support initiatives for businesses dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. The original wage subsidy scheme provided over $11 billion to support 1.7 million jobs. As of yesterday, the extended wage subsidy has provided just over $1 billion to 80,591 businesses, supporting 251,000 employees. In addition, the Government has lent nearly $1.4 billion to 83,392 businesses under the Small Business Cashflow (Loan) Scheme. We have always been clear that the road ahead will not be easy, but that is why we are continuing to provide the support for businesses across New Zealand, as they work hard to recover and rebuild over the coming months.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Has the Minister seen Hamish Rutherford's report that New Zealand First have pulled their support for the COVID commercial rent legislation regime, and two months after he announced that help was going to be on the way soon for small businesses struggling with rental costs, nothing has arrived?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, I have read that report.
Question No. 4—Finance
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What advice has he received, if any, on the number of jobs that could be lost over the next three months or 12 months if New Zealand fails to create "the world's most intelligent border" that he spoke about on 4 June?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The member is referring to a hypothetical scenario that includes a number of assumptions that could lead to a range of outcomes. The advice I have received through the main forecast in Budget 2020 assumes border restrictions are not fully lifted until April 2021. Of course, the Government is continuing to work to be able to safely and progressively lift border restrictions as and when it is safe to do so. In terms of the impact on the number of jobs, as I said yesterday advice on job losses and creation is continuing to evolve. The advice I have received in Treasury's main Budget forecast is for the number of people in employment to, in fact, rise by 14,000 over the next three months—that being between the second and third quarters of 2020.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Has Treasury advised him that failing to test people before being released from quarantine does not in any way, shape, or form represent the world's most intelligent border?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In terms of specific advice, no.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that opening up our borders safely to get Kiwis trading again and to import skilled migrants, tourists, and international students is critical to saving jobs?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I believe that ensuring that our border works well and that our border restrictions are put in place are incredibly important and I invite the member to remind his leader of that as he makes promises to various sectors to open the border up.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So how will Kiwis working in the tourism, hospitality, and international education sector keep their jobs if their fellow Kiwis aren't confident that this Government can be trusted to open the border safely?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I believe that actually the New Zealand public have a lot of confidence in the way this Government has managed and handled COVID-19, and I remind the member that on this side of the House we've taken these decisions seriously and carefully. We haven't undertaken knee-jerk reactions and we haven't done things that would have seen us in a situation that we see across the Tasman where we see infections rising again and actual community transmission—not the imagination of the Leader of the Opposition.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Has anyone advised him that while his Government's ambition is for the world's most intelligent border, the reality, sadly, resembles much more KiwiBuild and the light rail down Dominion Road?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No. The advice that I continue to receive is that New Zealand compared to most countries in the world finds itself in an incredibly privileged position where our economy is largely back operating, where we're able to move freely around, where we do not have community transmission—those are the actual facts of the situation.
Question No. 5—Housing
5. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Housing: What examples, if any, is she aware of where people in managed isolation have mixed with other guests at the facility during their 14-day stay?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Housing: Like that member, I've seen media reports of returnees mixing with other returnees. Returnees are given clear guidance about the rules for keeping 2 metres distance from other guests, and prominent signage reaffirms this throughout facilities. There is an element of personal responsibility expected from returnees to adhere to those rules. We've introduced an additional layer of assurance, with day three and day 12 testing, as well as lockdown procedures when a case is confirmed, which includes reviewing CCTV footage.
It's important to remember that during alert level 4, when COVID-19 was in the community, many of us continued to go grocery shopping, where we came near other people, so it's important that we don't fearmonger regarding this. Putting that aside, what we've seen hasn't been good enough, and that's why we have brought in the New Zealand Defence Force to manage these operations. I take any concerns about mixing in these facilities seriously, and I'll continue to relay my clear expectations that there is strict adherence to the rules. If any member has credible information about mixing, they should supply it and it will be followed up.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given that answer, why is it that when a COVID-positive test occurs in a managed isolation facility, the whole facility goes into lockdown?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are a number of things that need to happen, including cleaning, for example. Very, very strict protocols have been put in place to ensure that where there is a positive test, the appropriate steps are taken to ensure that it doesn't spread to anybody else.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has she been made aware of a birthday party that took place in a managed isolation facility, bringing multiple people together who should have been isolating separately?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I did see that report on the media. I can confirm that there were no homeless people at that event.
Hon Grant Robertson: In light of that question and answer, can the Minister provide any examples—or, in fact, has he been provided with any evidence—of homeless people mingling with others in managed isolation?
SPEAKER: She—but other than that, yes.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have seen allegations that a homeless person was housed in quarantine for two weeks. That report has been rigorously followed up, devoting a significant amount of officials' time, and it's thus far proven to be nothing more than an urban myth.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: In respect of that answer, if it was such an urban myth, why did the Government spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" investigating it?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Because, on this side of the House, we believe members of Parliament should be taken at their word.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has she been made aware that the Chief Ombudsman had to cancel a prison inspection because the staff doing it found out they were mixing with people supposed to be in managed isolation?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I think the Chief Ombudsman's comments on this are of public record. Those comments were made at least a week ago.
Hon Grant Robertson: Has she received a response to the letter that she wrote to the Hon Michael Woodhouse asking him for evidence of his claim of a homeless man joining a managed isolation group?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: On behalf of the Minister, I'm advised that no such evidence has been forthcoming.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the reason that testing is now so important because she has no confidence that people are isolating effectively within the isolation facilities?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No. Testing is important because it gives everybody confidence that people leaving managed isolation will not have COVID-19.
Question No. 6—Health
6. ANGIE WARREN-CLARK (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent announcements has she made regarding funding for our health and disability system?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Associate Minister of Health): This coalition Government is lifting the support available to New Zealanders with disabilities with the largest funding boost for disability support services ever. As part of Budget 2020, the Government is investing an additional $833 million over five years to ensure people with disabilities are part of an inclusive recovery for our team of 5 million. This Government is committed to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders, and this follows on from the funding increase for disability support services in Budget 2018 of $211 million, and an increase of $348 million in 2019. I'm proud to be part of a Government that puts people at the heart of its decisions.
Angie Warren-Clark: What support will the additional funding provide to disabled New Zealanders?
Hon JENNY SALESA: This funding will ensure we keep up with the rightful expectations of the disabled community to live good lives as other New Zealanders do. Disability support services provide access to much-needed support for personal care. This increased funding is to ensure better access to support for showering and hands-on care, and it includes accommodation for disabled people with high needs, equipment for mobility and access, and respite for whānau carers, as well as rehabilitation for people following a serious illness. We've also invested an additional $12 million towards transforming the disability support system so that disabled people and families have greater choice and better control over the services that they access.
Angie Warren-Clark: What feedback has the Government received on this boost in funding?
Hon JENNY SALESA: This funding boost has been well received by the community, who agree that it is well overdue. Dr Garth Bennie, Chief Executive of the Disability Support Network said, and I quote, "The Budget has lifted support for the disability community to record levels. This will make a real difference in people's lives after years of funding falling behind the cost of delivering disability support services." We know there are many outstanding issues in the disability sector to address; however, this is a monumental step forward in the right direction in terms of the services and support for disabled New Zealanders.
Question No. 7—Economic Development
7. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement yesterday in the House, "construction projects are an important part of the Government's response to the recession caused by COVID-19"; if so, when will projects identified by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group that he announced with the Minister of Infrastructure, be announced?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister for Economic Development): To the first part of the question, yes, and, as the member identified in her question, the announcement she referred to was made with the Minister for Infrastructure, who, along with the Minister of Finance, are the Ministers responsible. These Ministers will make announcements in due course.
Hon Judith Collins: Does he agree with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff when he said, "We want and expect the Government to decide as soon as possible the projects that will be included in the 'shovel-ready' programme."; if so, when will the Government announce them?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I don't think it's a matter of agreeing with the Mayor of Auckland on that statement that he made; he made the statement. It's up to him to stand by it.
Hon Judith Collins: Then how does he rationalise publicly urging Waikato councils to invest in infrastructure alongside the Government in order to develop the economy, when he has yet to publicly commit to any of the projects identified by the Infrastructure Industry Reference Group?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, as I've explained to the member now multiple times, it's not for me to agree with projects that were identified by the industry reference group; that's a matter for the Minister of Finance and the Minister for Infrastructure.
Hon Judith Collins: Then why did the Minister have his name on their press release?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because I and the Minister for Infrastructure were tasked with commissioning the industry reference group to solicit those projects. That's why the press statement was released.
Hon Judith Collins: Is he saying that despite announcing as Minister for Economic Development the process to select infrastructure projects, he now has no say in those decisions?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As I've said repeatedly, the decisions on those projects are being made by the Minister of Finance and the Minister for Infrastructure.
Question No. 8—Agriculture
8. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture: What action has the Government taken to support jobs in the dairy sector?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): This Government recognises how important our dairy sector is to our economic wellbeing, and we're backing it for the long term. We want to connect people with a rewarding life in the dairy sector and, more broadly, the primary industries. Today, we've announced that we've joined with DairyNZ to give a $3.5 million boost to their GoDairy initiative. This is a programme that has successfully recruited and supported people into careers for the past 15 years. We are happy to support DairyNZ and this initiative.
Kiritapu Allan: How does this work fit in with the wider Government employment strategy?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: This complements the work being done to place 10,000 New Zealanders into primary sector jobs by rapid retraining and absorbing workers displaced from other sectors. We've committed $19.3 million as part of the $1.6 billion Trades and Apprenticeships Training Package. We've also got, as part of our $1.1 billion commitment to create 11,000 jobs in the regions—that will help many of the farmers across dairy and other sectors. We've got a $100 million worker redeployment package that will create other opportunities. The primary sector is a wonderful place to have a career, and we're helping New Zealanders move into that space.
Kiritapu Allan: How has the Government worked with the sector to inform this support?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: We have regularly engaged with industry groups at both agency and ministerial level. I know that many good MPs on this side of the House have been out talking to farmers to get feedback. Part of the process has been to reassess how we currently approach attracting people into the sector and ensuring that our training programmes are fit for purpose in the current environment. It has included a collaborative consultation process. We have made some adjustments to ensure that, firstly, we have focused marketing to get to the right people, effective training to lift their skills, and rewarding career opportunities.
Question No. 9—Transport
9. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement, "one of my first actions as Minister will be to have officials advised on how quickly we can start, and how soon we can get it built. I would expect Queen Street to Mount Roskill within four years as a minimum. If we can do it faster, we will", and when does he expect construction to begin on Auckland light rail?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Yes, in the context it was made. I expect a time line for the start of construction will be outlined by the Government after the election, after it considers options developed by Treasury and the Ministry of Transport.
Chris Bishop: What are the reasons for Auckland light rail not progressing until, allegedly, after the election?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Because the three parties in Government were unable to agree on the way forward.
Chris Bishop: Has he seen the statement from the Green Party this morning, "Green Party welcomes new approach to delivery of light rail", and does he agree with it?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, I have seen the statement, and I agree that Cabinet's move to delegate the progress of the project to the Ministry of Transport and Treasury will allow a public sector – led approach. It will allow more engagement and collaboration with stakeholders like Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.
SPEAKER: Order! Before the member comes up, I know that Nicola Willis has recently moved closer to my hearing, but I do want to warn her that she's not allowed to make noises while her colleague is asking questions.
Chris Bishop: What were the estimated costs of the NZ Infra and New Zealand Transport Agency proposals for Auckland light rail?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Those costs are still subject to commercial probity, so I'm unable to release that information at this time.
Hon Julie Anne Genter: Can he confirm that Auckland light rail, City Centre to Māngere, is a priority confirmed by all parties in this Government, in both the Government policy statement on transport funding and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, and that work will now be continued by the Public Service, including the local authorities in Auckland?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, I can confirm all parts of that question.
Chris Bishop: Has he received advice about whether the Crown will have to pay compensation to NZ Infra as a result of today's announcement on light rail?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes, I have.
Chris Bishop: What does that advice say?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We do not.
Question No. 10—Health
10. Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What recent action has the Government taken to strengthen our COVID-19 testing and protect New Zealanders from the virus?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): This week, on behalf of the Government, I announced a renewed COVID-19 testing strategy. Under this Government's leadership, the Ministry of Health, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, DHBs, front-line health staff, scientists, and lab workers stood up a COVID-19 testing programme in short order, that has served us well to date. It was a key tool in eliminating community transmission of the virus, and with over 350,000 tests done to date, we have the highest rate of tests per confirmed COVID-19 case in the world. But the COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse elsewhere in the world. Clearly, the greatest risk for us now is the thousands of New Zealanders coming home from global hotspots. So our new testing strategy will focus on our border, while maintaining surveillance of our communities for any sign of the virus.
Dr Liz Craig: How will this new strategy keep New Zealanders safe?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Most of the international travellers arriving on our shores right now are New Zealanders returning home. The vast majority of them will be COVID-19 - free. Nevertheless, we need to be able to welcome them back confident they won't inadvertently reintroduce the virus into our communities. That's why we'll continue to test new arrivals on around days three and 12 of their stay in managed isolation and quarantine, and a negative result is required from the day 12 test before people are allowed to leave. We also need to minimise the risk that those who come into contact with them during their travel, their arrival, and during their managed isolation or quarantine do not contract the virus; and if they do, that we quickly detect the infection and take appropriate action. Our new testing strategy features regular health checks and asymptomatic testing of all border-facing workers, and regular testing of quarantine-exempt people such as New Zealand - based aircrew.
Dr Liz Craig: So does the focus on our border mean we're scaling back testing in the wider community?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Absolutely not. Today, a record 9,174 tests were carried out. Across the wider community we will continue to test all close contacts of confirmed or probable cases. Testing will continue to be available for anyone presenting to primary or secondary care with any type of COVID-19 symptom. To ensure our surveillance testing is appropriate and equitable for New Zealanders, no matter who they are or where they live, DHBs are now required to regularly review and take action to increase testing in population groups if there is significant variation to the national average in their region. This Government is prioritising the safety of New Zealanders with our testing approach. We are adapting this testing strategy where required, and we are making sure it has the resources to do the job, with an additional $89 million in funding for the next six months.
Question No. 11—Defence
11. JENNY MARCROFT (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: What recent announcements has he made regarding the replacement of the C-130 Hercules fleet?
Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): On 5 June, I was proud to announce that the coalition Government had approved the long-overdue purchase of five new Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. Generations of New Zealanders have grown up and, in my case, grown old with the 1960s-era Hercules. They know these aircraft have always been an essential first line of response at home and in the Pacific during natural disasters, times of crisis, and in support of our—
Hon Grant Robertson: Thanks to the Minister of Finance.
Hon RON MARK: —military operations around the world. The new aircraft will fly further, faster, with a greater payload, I say to the Minister of Finance, than the current Hercs. The $1.5 billion project will also deliver a flight simulator and supporting infrastructure.
Jenny Marcroft: How do our new Super Hercules compare to others in service around the world?
Hon RON MARK: They compare very well, actually. Each aircraft will be fitted with additional specialist capabilities outside of their standard build, including wide bandwidth, high-speed satellite communication systems, and electro-optical infrared cameras. This equipment will make our new Super Hercs amongst the most capable in the world. The satellite communication systems will allow imagery, video, and data to be streamed in real time, and the camera allows for the conduct of aerial surveillance operations at the same time that the aircraft is undertaking transport missions, which will be particularly useful in Humanitarian Aid Disaster Assessment and Relief and search and rescue operations.
Jenny Marcroft: How does this decision complement other air force capability decisions made by the coalition Government this term?
Hon RON MARK: Some people in the Defence Force are now describing this period as the golden years for Defence procurement, stating that in one short term we have, effectively, revamped the major capabilities of the entire New Zealand Air Force. In addition to the Super Hercs, this Government has procured four new P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft; purchased a new simulator for the NH90 helicopter—it's being installed right now—signed a contract for the lease of four new King Air 350-Bs—about $150 million—with two fitted specifically for maritime surveillance—
SPEAKER: All right. Order! Order!
Hon RON MARK: There's a lot more, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Well, none of which is a recent announcement. Even 5 June hardly qualified.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister: what possible excuse has he got that we've had to wait all these years to modernise essential military and humanitarian equipment?
SPEAKER: It's not his responsibility. [Interruption]
Hon Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to correct an answer that I have given to question No 10 today.
SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that? There appears to be none.
Hon Dr David Clark: A colleague has drawn attention to the fact that I said in my answer that today a record 9,174 tests had been carried out. In fact, that was yesterday that a record was set. Today we do not have the results in yet.
SPEAKER: Going back to the point of order, because I cut him off.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that Mr Mark could have explained that it's taken him 2½ years to get to the point where he wanted to get to, or he could just plainly say that his useless predecessors didn't do their job, but either way—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member is the most experienced member of the House, and he knows that donkey drops to bash the Opposition with are not allowed by way of supplementary question.
Question No. 12—Customs
12. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Customs: What steps has she taken, if any, to ensure Customs staff are prepared for the increase of New Zealanders returning home?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister of Customs): That's a really good question from the member, and I can confirm that I have worked constantly with customs to ensure they have adequate resources in place, which enables them to facilitate any increasing numbers of international passengers arriving at the border while continuing to perform their important border protection functions. I've also sought assurance that customs is continuing with its best-practice health and safety measures to ensure New Zealand customs staff are protected while working at the border. I believe the results speak for themselves. Since 3 February, when the first border restriction measures were implemented, 521,381 people have returned from overseas to New Zealand. To date, there has not been one single confirmed case of COVID-19 with any of our customs staff. However, if any issues are brought to light, they will be investigated and addressed immediately.
Simon O'Connor: How can she share all of that with confidence, when, little under five days ago, an Official Information Act (OIA) response obtained from her office has revealed that staff in customs have undertaken absolutely no new training to prepare for these changes?
Hon JENNY SALESA: What I can say is that from the very beginning, we've had public health officials actually walk through and ensure that our customs staff know how to actually wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Customs maintains physical distancing, and the use of masks and gloves is something that customs do. As I say, the result speaks for itself. None of the customs staff have been tested as COVID-19 positive—they have been tested, though. There's also been high participation of customs officers for volunteering for testing. One of the things that customs has done is it's redeployed a lot of its staff to ensure that they also help out with contact tracing. As I say the results of customs not having any COVID-19 cases is one thing that we can look to in terms of their adherence with PPE and with health and safety measures.
Simon O'Connor: Does the Minister not appreciate that training of customs staff is not simply for their health and safety but for the health and safety of the thousands coming through our border and the 5 million New Zealanders here already?
Hon JENNY SALESA: I absolutely appreciate that for customs staff, one of their first and foremost tasks is to ensure that the borders are secure. They actually have done that. In terms of how they—customs staff—work at the moment, as soon as international passengers get off the international planes, they are escorted by customs staff and police right through, now to eight places where there are health officials. Now, health officials ask all of these detailed questions for all of the symptoms, and, if there are any folks, as they come through, that exhibit symptoms, they are then referred to public health nurses. There is actually a really rigorous process at the international airport. Then, what happens is there are two places. So for those that actually have any symptoms, they go through one place where they do not mix with other passengers, and then they go out a different door, straight to a shuttle and straight to quarantine. [Interruption] I say this because I myself, as the Minister of Customs visited—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm getting cries of "Enough" from my left, so I think we'll leave it there.