Parliament: Questions and Answers July 21 2020
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The latest BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index (PMI) released on Friday showed the manufacturing sector bounced back in June, after a tough period since March due to the lockdown restrictions. The sector expanded with a reading of 56.3, up 16.5 points from May. This was boosted by strong readings for production and new orders both at 58.6. While employment in the sector remains in contraction, with a reading of 47.8, the significant lift since May means that lay-offs are slowing. Compared to our international counterparts, New Zealand's overall PMI reading was significantly higher than in Australia, China, the UK, the US, the eurozone, and Japan. While there are, indeed, tough times for many firms, this is a pleasing sign that the manufacturing sector is now beginning to experience the benefits of our collective efforts to go hard and early, squash the curve, and reopen our economy as one of the least restricted in the world.
Dr Deborah Russell: What recent reports has he seen on the performance of the services sector of the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The June BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Services Index (PSI) was released yesterday, showing the services sector also bounced back strongly in June. The sector expanded with a PSI reading of 54.1, up 16.6 points since May. There are also encouraging signs in the activity and sales measures, jumping up to 58.7, and new orders up to 59.6. As in the PMI, the employment indicator lifted but remains at 45.1. Compared with international counterparts, New Zealand's PSI was better than that of Australia, the UK, the US, the eurozone, and Japan, who all saw contractionary readings for June. This is a further signal that our decision to go hard and early with our health response was also the best thing to do from an economic perspective. Because we have a more open economy, our industries are expanding faster than the rest of the world.
Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on confidence in the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Last week, Mind Your Own Business (MYOB) released a snapshot report on small to medium sized enterprise (SME) business confidence across New Zealand. The report showed confidence amongst SMEs is cautiously improving, and more businesses are expecting to see growth in the next 12 months following from March, when the economy was heading into lockdown. In addition, MYOB ran a comparison of their New Zealand and Australian SME surveys this month. This showed that more SMEs in New Zealand expect improvement in the economy over the next year than in Australia, slightly fewer New Zealand SMEs expect business to get worse over the year compared to Australian SMEs, and it also showed that more New Zealand SMEs thought revenue would increase over the year than those in Australia. This is yet another example of how the Government's work, along with the team of 5 million, to keep the virus under control has meant that Kiwi firms can now operate in a more open and certain environment, while other countries continue to vary their level of restrictions and struggle to contain the virus.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is she satisfied with her Government's record of delivery for new transport projects across the country?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Can I begin by taking the opportunity to congratulate the member opposite on her role as Leader of the Opposition. Coming back to her question, yes, I am pleased with what the Government has achieved this term to deliver new transport projects right across New Zealand, including the fact that we've either funded, started, or completed over 50 projects worth $10 million or more. We've already improved 2,500 kilometres of State highways with safety upgrades like rumble strips and safety barriers this term. In Auckland, we have of course plugged the $6 billion fiscal hole that was left by the last Government for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which has allowed the ongoing construction around the Eastern Busway, State Highway 20B, the Puhinui interchange, the Old Māngere Bridge replacement project, and of course the ongoing work on the City Rail Link, the K Road Cycleway, and Constellation Bus Station, to name a few. And we're building a number of projects the member has signalled support for, including starting enabling works on the third main rail line and electrification to Pukekohe next month, and building has started on stage one of the Eastern Busway to Botany.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she believe that she has upheld her commitment in the Speech from the Throne for "more emphasis placed on public transport and light rail."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. I know the member is probably going to reference light rail to the airport. I would say to the member that as she will well know, sometimes it takes a little longer than you would like to get what you want, and light rail would be an example of that for me and the Labour Party. [Interruption]
Hon Judith Collins: It's sort of lost if I can't hear it, but that's OK. What are the current estimates of—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I will remind the member that she asks questions, not gives a commentary.
Hon Judith Collins: What are the current estimates of when construction of light rail in Auckland will begin?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member knows, Cabinet gave this project full consideration. Two versions of the project were considered—two commercial options. Neither of those were agreed by Cabinet. That project has now gone back to the Ministry of Transport to then be presented to those parties who have the privilege of forming Government.
Hon Judith Collins: What are the estimated costs of the light rail proposals discussed by Cabinet for the next 10 years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If we're talking specifically around the light rail project to the airport, the member will be aware that $1.8 billion was put aside for seed funding. The full cost of that project, of course, to the Crown would very much depend on the commercial arrangements for it, and, obviously, that was not something that this Government was able to settle. If the member wishes to reflect on any other projects, of course, there have been a number of rapid transit projects and public transport projects that this Government has contributed to. In Christchurch, we have contributed, roughly, $168 million to public transport through the years 2018-21 and, obviously, there's the contribution to Let's Get Wellington Moving, but if light rail in Auckland is what the member refers to, then those costs would very much depend on the commercial arrangement.
Hon Judith Collins: Has her Government upheld its commitment that "work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland"?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Certainly, it was the view of the Labour Party, and I think I can speak for the Greens—there was a view around the benefits of light rail to the airport. That was not a project that we were able to form consensus around. However, I am still incredibly proud of the number of projects this Government has delivered, and I see that the member, of course, has now delivered her own strategy for transport. I would point out the difference for this Government and, of course, the National Party is that we have fully funded our projects. On the other side, the National Party Opposition are planning to raid the COVID recovery and response fund to the tune of $7 billion, they are planning to raid over $3 billion from the multi-capital allowance determined for hospitals and schools, they are planning to borrow an extra $10 billion through the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), and they want to cancel the regional fuel tax, leaving further cancellation of projects. On this side of the House, we fund what we plan.
David Seymour: Did the Government intend to have two completely different proposals for the same light rail project?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, the member is right to point out that when we first proposed this project, it was more of a streetcar-style project that was proposed. Over time, there was an unsolicited proposal brought through a public-public partnership proposal, and also NZTA significantly changed their proposal as well. So it is fair to say that what was campaigned on was not the eventual project considered by Cabinet.
David Seymour: Who's actually in charge of this project?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Currently, it sits with the Ministry of Transport.
Hon Judith Collins: Has she seen the reported comments of the Rt Hon Winston Peters regarding light rail, "If Aucklanders knew the cost and disruption of light rail, they'd be shocked with collective alarm.", and, if so, what is her response to those claims?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: These comments are no surprise to me. You'll hear me reference in the first answer to the question that this was not a project that we could find consensus around the Cabinet table. What we have formed consensus around are the more than 50 projects that we have either started, funded, or completed since we've been in Government, the large lengths of the country that we have put safety improvements around, and the fact that we have funded the considerable hole left by the last Government in Auckland. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm going to ask two—now—more senior members and one very senior member just to keep their mouths zipped while that's going on.
Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. So if she can't get consensus in her Government, then why did she speak from the throne these words: "more emphasis placed on public transport and light rail."?
Hon Chris Hipkins: Point of order, Mr Speaker—
SPEAKER: Yeah, no—well, I don't think we need to. The member can have another go at the question. She knows it's out of order.
Hon Judith Collins: If, as the Prime Minister has said, she could not find a consensus in her Government for the light rail project, then why has she committed publicly to the light rail project as the Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, as I've already pointed out, the project that the member is talking about that came before Cabinet was vastly different to the one that I campaigned on as Labour Party leader. Secondly, of course, as you've pointed out, in the statements made in the Speech from the Throne, reference was made to, of course, increasing multimodal transport options for New Zealanders. We did not believe in putting 40 percent of the transport budget into seven roads of national significance, which is what the last Government did. I would also note that in their first term they started two of them. We have produced 200 kilometres of stand-alone shared paths and cycleways since we entered office; started or funded or completed over 50 transport projects. We have made significant inroads on transport. The member happens to be referring to just one where we couldn't agree.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister agree with the East West Link at $327 million a metre proposed by the National Party?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That, again, is an example of projects where, when we've come in, we have made a full reassessment. We have also chosen, of those projects that we have funded—we've made sure that they are fully funded, that they are delivered faster, and that they deliver better transport options—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Fake figures.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —for New Zealanders.
SPEAKER: Order! The deputy leader of the National Party will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: And I think the Deputy Prime Minister might like to have a look at his Hansard as to the authentication. I think the member might have said "metre" when he meant "kilometre".
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I'm sorry; it's horrifying whichever way you look at it, but it was $327,000 a metre, or $327 million a kilometre.
Chris Bishop: It's neither of those things—it's neither!
Hon Judith Collins: To the Prime Minister—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! No, well, the member has corrected it; it's all right.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: What did I apologise for then?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member apologised for breaching Speakers' rulings over many, many occasions. You know that there is a big difference between getting something wrong and making something up. There's the questions of mens rea. The member should think about it.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she then agree with the statement made about the light rail project by Jacinda Ardern in August 2017 that "I am committed to starting straight away."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I've never denied that is a project that was a real priority for the Labour Party. We formed a Government later on in that year that was made up of three parties, not just one. That is the explanation for what happened with that project. I don't know what that member's explanation is for the fact that her Government announced projects that they didn't even start, and they didn't have a three-way coalition as an excuse.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she stand by her statement made in July last year, when asked whether light rail was definitely going ahead, "Oh, yes, yes, yes. Absolutely."?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, we remained committed to that project and, in good faith, continued to assess the benefits of that project to Aucklanders. The fact that we could not find agreement on that does not remove the commitment we have to rapid transit in Auckland. I would point out that the member's own proposals that she put out over the weekend include versions that try to create rapid transit to the airport as well. The major difference between us and the National Party is that we have funded our projects. We are not raiding schools and education for it, we are not increasing the debt on the New Zealand Transport Agency, and we are not ripping $7 billion out of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund for projects that won't be delivered in 30 years' time.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Is the Prime Minister aware of any major transport infrastructure projects that have taken over seven years from the date of announcement to when they actually started construction?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. That would include a large number of the roads of national significance. In fact, in the first term in office, the National Party only started two of their seven projects, and some of them took seven years to complete.
Hon Judith Collins: Is it true that only one person has been killed on the roads of national significance since they have been completed?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As a Government that has invested significant funding in 2,500 kilometres' worth of safety improvements, we are a Government that is invested in safety improvements. As for the member's claim, I cannot verify either way. But we are a Government committed to safety, not just investing in roads of national significance.
Hon Julie Anne Genter: Can she confirm that this Government has significantly increased funding in this three-year National Land Transport Programme to road safety, to road maintenance on State highways and local roads, to new local roads, to public transport services—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member's allowed to ask a question with two legs. I think the member got to about a centipede, or she was heading that way. No, the Prime Minister can answer some of them.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The simple answer is yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister, on the basis of the Pūhoi to Warkworth progress to date, which is 14 years now before it will be completed, is it not a fact that the Whangārei connection will therefore be another 74 years, and is anybody around who will be alive at the time? [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Hang on. Those of us who are mid-career.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I wouldn't want to make any judgments either way on that front. I would point out, though, that there are a number of projects in the past that have been announced by the National Party that have taken a number of years to either fund or even start. Again, from the announcement that we saw over the weekend, two of the major policies around the Brynderwyn and Kaimai tunnels weren't even costed.
Hon Julie Anne Genter: Can she confirm that road safety improvements have already been carried out on nearly 3,000 kilometres of our State highways, an area 10 times greater than the entire roads of national significance that were improved, that aren't even finished being completed yet?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is correct. I don't think it's fair to say that the singular focus of the roads of national significance was solely safety improvements for the vast majority of motorists, because, of course, they did take a large chunk of our transport spending and did not cater for our regional and rural roads.
Question No. 3—Finance
3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What advice, if any, has he received from the Treasury on potential job losses in New Zealand for the rest of this year?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Treasury's most recent forecasts in the Budget show employment bottoming out in the June quarter 2020 at 2.463 million. The forecasts show employment is then expected to grow by 60,000 over the rest of the calendar 2020 year to 2.523 million in the December 2020 quarter. Treasury's next set of forecasts will be released in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update on 20 August.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: What are his expectations of job losses following the end of the wage subsidy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, that is a difficult calculation to make. Not all businesses who are in receipt of the wage subsidy scheme necessarily at the end of it would let staff go. Some of them will carry on; some of them have seen significant improvements in their turnover in recent times. So that's not a figure that's able to be calculated.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he concerned that three of the country's largest industrial employers have now either announced their closure, as in the case of Tīwai, or are currently under strategic review, in the case of New Zealand Steel and Marsden Point?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, in respect of the latter two companies, it's no surprise that large companies in the current uncertain environment are reviewing their operations. The Government is ready, willing, and able to be talking to those companies. I was down in Invercargill last week meeting representatives of Tīwai, of the workforce, and of the wider Southland community. The member will be well aware that Rio Tinto have long been seeking either increased subsidies or threatening to leave. What the people of Southland want is certainty and support, and the Government is working with them on both of those things.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the de-industrialisation of New Zealand something this Government accepts as inevitable?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, at a time when we're losing jobs every day, why is his Government piling extra pressure on key industrial employers, with the emissions trading scheme changes, increased waste levies, and fuel excise taxes coming on top of the impact of the oil and gas decisions made earlier?
SPEAKER: The member may address any two legs of that one.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: With respect to the last part of that question, we're not. With respect to the first part of that question, it may have escaped the member but there is a global pandemic, and I stood in this House as far back as 17 March and said that we would not be able to save every job but we would do everything we could to support New Zealand businesses and households, and we are doing that.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree that private sector investment is a key driver of job creation, and if so, isn't it lower taxes, regulatory restraint, policy certainty, and access to international investment that helps more than anything?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I absolutely believe that it's important that the private sector in New Zealand continues to create jobs. This Government is committed to being a partner with them in doing that.
Question No. 4—Health
4. Dr LIZ CRAIG (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What recent announcements has he made about New Zealand's health response to the COVID-19 global pandemic?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): The world is going to be living with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic for some time. Today, I announced a range of investments in our health services designed to build our capacity to respond to the virus. That includes an extra $150 million for Pharmac over the next two years to secure New Zealand's supply of medicines and medical devices in the face of global supply challenges. For example, recent orders for a number of commonly used drugs cost approximately 70 percent more than they would have prior to the COVID pandemic. The funding boost will ensure that New Zealanders continue to get access to the medicines that they need.
Dr Liz Craig: Is the Government making further investments in contact tracing?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, contact tracing is one of the key pillars of our defence against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Today's announcement included a $30 million investment in the National Close Contact Service, including for surge capacity and information technology. A related information technology project will see the development of a new national immunisation solution to replace the immunisation register, meaning that we're ready to roll out a mass vaccination campaign when a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Dr Liz Craig: What other areas of the health response have Government prioritised in today's announcement?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: The Government's previously announced funding for more ventilators in our hospitals. Today, I announced funding for oxygen supply infrastructure, needed to support those additional ventilators. We're also investing in our telehealth services, with an additional $14.6 million going into them to reflect the ongoing high level of demand they're experiencing, and we've put an extra $50 million aside for the purchase of more personal protective equipment. All of these investments are designed to further build our ability to respond to the global pandemic.
Question No. 5—Health
5. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Is he confident that his Government's COVID-19 isolation policies are appropriate and effective?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): Yes, and the results speak for themselves. With over 30,000 New Zealanders coming home and going through these facilities, none have brought COVID-19 into the community and there is no evidence of community transmission in New Zealand
Dr Shane Reti: Have any medical examinations been undertaken in coronavirus isolation facilities beyond the scope of the coronavirus legislation, given it only allows medical examinations of symptoms, temperature, auscultation, and swabs?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Of course, people are able to consent to any procedures whilst they're in managed isolation or quarantine. I've been and visited these facilities. People coming off the plane get a health check as they come through the border, which identifies whether they're going to quarantine or managed isolation. As they enter a managed isolation or a quarantine facility, a further health check takes place, which includes things like checking their heart rate and various other things as well, and there is the ability for people to consent to other tests whilst they're in those facilities.
Dr Shane Reti: If, given what he's said, people can consent to other procedures, why does he state in written question 13249 that consent has only occurred for coronavirus swabs?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Mr Speaker, can I get the member to repeat the question?
Dr Shane Reti: Given he has said that arrivals can consent to any medical procedures, why does he state in answer to written question 13249 that consent documentation only occurs for coronavirus swabs?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'd have to go back and check what the question was that the member asked, before I could verify whether the claim the member is making is a true reflection of what I put in the answer.
Dr Shane Reti: Are the 164 mental health examinations carried out on people in coronavirus isolation, which he identifies in answer to written question 13253, within the scope of the coronavirus legislation?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Of course, on this side of the House, we do believe that if people have mental health issues they should be identified and they should get the appropriate support that they need.
Dr Shane Reti: Have blood tests been taken on people in coronavirus isolation?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Yes, if they've consented to it.
Question No. 6—Conservation
6. Hon JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Conservation: Is she committed to her department upholding the High Court ruling, which requires it to consult with the hunting community over the Tahr Control Plan?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE (Minister of Conservation): Yes, and the department has started that consultation process. Last week, it met with the Game Animal Council and sent stakeholders, including the New Zealand Tahr Foundation, details of its plan.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Why are there helicopters in the sky shooting tahr?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: There are helicopters shooting tahr because the hunting community has failed to get tahr numbers down. The surveys that the Department of Conservation (DOC) have done have shown a population. [Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I realise the question wasn't quite what the member meant—I presume it wasn't what the member meant. But I think the Minister got the gist of it and can answer it.
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The department is employing professional hunters by air to shoot tahr to implement a statutory plan—the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan. It is disappointing that that member has turned her back on national parks as a safe haven for indigenous plants and wildlife and has turned her back on the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan, which was approved by a former National Minister of Conservation, the Hon Denis Marshall, which sets a maximum of 10,000 tahr in the tahr range. The department is implementing control to implement its requirements under law.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Does she believe, or does she think, that as tahr do not reproduce until at least November, it would be reasonable to wait to begin the cull while undertaking consultation on the more controversial aspects of the plan?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The department has undertaken considerable consultation on the previous operational plan. There have been six meetings of the Himalayan Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group since July 2018. It is known that tahr numbers are too high. That is having a major impact on our distinctive and threatened native plants.
Hon Jacqui Dean: Does she consider that since the tahr jam protest at Mount Cook / Aoraki at the weekend attracted over 1,000 people, she should be consulting with them as a group or as individuals?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The Tahr Foundation, which organised the tahr jam, is a member of the Himalayan Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group. It has been consulted at least six times since July 2018, and it will be consulted as part of the additional consultation that DOC is doing.
Hon Jacqui Dean: If that group were so well consulted, why then did they have to mount a protest against the Tahr Control Plan?
SPEAKER: Order! Not something the Minister has responsibility for.
Hon Jacqui Dean: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I rephrase that question substantially?
SPEAKER: The member can, but it counts.
Hon Jacqui Dean: OK. Thank you.
Question No. 7—ACC
7. ANAHILA KANONGATA'A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: What recent announcements has the Government made about ACC charges?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for ACC): Earlier this month, the Government agreed to hold ACC levies at their current levels until 2022. Levies will stay the same until 31 March 2022 for work and earners levies and 30 June 2022 for the motor vehicle levies.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: Why has the Government decided to hold ACC levies at their current level?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, New Zealanders and businesses are facing unprecedented financial pressures as a result of COVID-19, and this Government is taking practical steps to strike a balance between supporting levy payers throughout these difficult times and ensuring scheme stability. The economic outlook for the next two years is uncertain, so holding levy rates is a prudent decision, provides some certainty to businesses and other levy payers, and gives ACC more time to reliably assess the impact of COVID-19 on its finances. During the global financial crisis, the Government of the day increased levies only to find that they were too high in the following years. We are taking a cautious approach and ensuring we do not add unnecessary pressures on businesses and New Zealanders.
Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki: What other recent decisions has the Government made regarding levied accounts?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The Government has lowered the funding targets for the levied accounts to ensure levies reflect the true cost of accidents and minimise long-term impacts on levy payers. ACC's previous funding target of 105 percent solvency for the levied accounts was more suited to a private insurance company. We are lowering this target to 100 percent solvency, which is appropriate given ACC's unique position as a mandatory sole provider and Government-supported social insurance scheme. Budget 2020 improved ACC's long-term sustainability with an extra $285 million contribution in the taxpayer-funded non-earners account, which covers injury costs for those who are not earning and paying levies, including children, students, and retirees. Cost pressures in the non-earners account have not been addressed under previous Governments since 2014. Together, these changes mean the amount Kiwis contribute to ACC will be fair and sustainable now and into the future.
Question No. 8—Education
8. NICOLA WILLIS (National) to the Associate Minister of Education: Does she agree with the Prime Minister, who said in May 2018 that the average wait-time for a child seeking an early intervention appointment was 74 days, "and in the life of a little 3- or 4-year-old child who's hungry to learn, that's 74 days too long"; if so, what is the average waiting-time for a child seeking early intervention support today?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Associate Minister of Education): To answer the first part of the question, yes. In answer to the second part of the question, it depends on which region you reside in. For example, in Tai Tokerau, the wait time is 34.35 days, down from 61.16; in Auckland, it is 108.96 days, up from 101.02; in the Waikato, it is 82.25 days, down from 100.88; in the Bay of Plenty and Waiariki, it is 128.18 days, up from 123.04; in the Hawke's Bay and Tai Rāwhiti, it is 95.4 days, down from 97.79; in Taranaki, Whanganui, Manawatū, it is 144.33 days, up from 130.18 days; in Wellington, it is 118.1 days, down from 170.7 days; in Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast, it is 86.3 days, up from 55.53 days; in Canterbury, it is 87.31 days, down from 88.41 days; and in Otago, Southland, it is 88.84 days, compared to 83.6. That's between 30 June 2020 and what were the numbers on 30 June 2019. This variation predominantly reflects the access to specialists and number of children requiring attention.
Nicola Willis: What is the national average waiting time for early intervention support today?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: Across the country, when you average out the national average across the country with those increases and decreases, we have 104.21 days.
Nicola Willis: Can she confirm that at the end of this term, waiting times for early intervention will be longer than they were when the Prime Minister promised to reduce them?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I can't confirm that, actually, depending on where you live inside New Zealand
Chris Bishop: You can!
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: And of course, we haven't finished yet—that's the other thing. I would say to the member, though, that part of the reason why there are some long wait times—sometimes, it is because of certain circumstances of family. An example would be where a request for support was received from the child's paediatrician in October 2018, a lead worker was allocated within four weeks, however repeated attempts to contact the whānau via phone, text, and letter elicited no response. The lead worker sent a letter to the whānau advising that the request for support would be closed and inviting the whānau to make contact if they still required support. In October 2019, successful contact was made with the whānau and an interim assessment of the child's need was made via phone discussion. A visit was scheduled for late November 2019, but was cancelled by the family. The field worker and family agreed to touch base at the beginning of January 2020 to reschedule the visit. You cannot do things to people's children without them allowing you to do so, but we don't take those children off the books, which therefore creates a waiting time.
Nicola Willis: Why did the proportion of children waiting more than 60 days for early intervention support increase between Budget 2018 and Budget 2019?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I don't have the exact figures for Budget 2018 to Budget 2019, but what I can tell the member is that in the last financial year, the numbers of actual children that have been waiting on the waiting list has gone down. In the Bay of Plenty, for example, the number of children waiting over 150 days has decreased from 110 children to eight children. So while we certainly have some more children waiting for attention from specialists, because the National Government never did any workforce training which means that we don't have the specialists that we require—even though we have hired more specialists—the actual numbers of children waiting are reducing.
Nicola Willis: Why has she been unable to translate $47.5 million in additional funding into any improvement in waiting times for children needing early intervention support?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I reject the premise of the member's question from the perspective that I outlined where, in certain regions, there was an incredible decrease in the wait times for some children. Agreeably, because of the lack of specialists that had been planned for by the previous Government, there is a delay in us being able to put specialists on to the ground. We have hired 42 more specialists, and that started in October last year. We have 29 current vacancies, and 16 new graduate speech learning therapists were employed. However, when they are a new graduate, you cannot give them a full workload, and they must be managed by—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: So why'd you promise it?
SPEAKER: Order! The member will withdraw and apologise.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: And I'm warning the member, if he does that in a facetious manner once more, he'll be gone.
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: So, to finish, inexperienced or new graduates cannot take on a full workload. They must be mentored by more experienced—but I have to say that the regional offices are doing an amazing job and people shouldn't think that while children are waiting for a specialist, nothing is happening for them. Teachers, resource teachers: learning and behaviour, special educational needs coordinators, and learning support coordinators are all still working with that child, with their families, to assist them.
Nicola Willis: Why, on her watch, did one child have to wait 544 days for early intervention support, and is that good enough in the life of a child who's hungry to learn?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I just outlined a circumstance, and I don't know which area the child that the member is referring to has come from, but I just outlined a situation from a particular area where it was around about 3 years between when a paediatrician actually highlighted that child for attention of a specialist, and when the family finally agreed to allow for an intervention. You cannot do things to other people's children without their permission.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister: how long does it take to train an intervention support specialist in this case?
Hon TRACEY MARTIN: It can take between three and seven years to train a specialist in this area.
Question No. 9—Civil Defence
9. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What help is the Government giving to the communities of the upper North Island who are affected by flooding?
Hon PEENI HENARE (Minister of Civil Defence): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. First, can I offer our thanks to the leadership of the local civil defence and emergency management group, local government, central agencies, and, most of all, local community leaders, like Matua Mike Butler. Severe weather affected Northland and Tai Rāwhiti over Friday and Saturday, with widespread flooding, road closures, slips, and damage to property. Minister Davis and I visited Whangarei and Moerewa on Sunday, and we met with mayors and community leaders and saw firsthand the impact of the floods. Yesterday, Cabinet agreed to make an initial contribution of $30,000 to the Northland Regional Council's mayoral relief fund to support people affected by the floods. Damage assessments are still under way, so it is too early to know the full cost; however, this money will help communities get back on their feet quicker.
Willow-Jean Prime: How will this money be used?
Hon PEENI HENARE: The council are developing criteria on how to disperse the funding. However, our intention is that this will be used to provide immediate relief for whānau who, for example, may need to replace whiteware damaged by flooding—as I witnessed, myself, on Sunday. The Government is staying in close contact with local councils to see what further assistance they may need. While flood waters have mostly receded, the clean-up will still take some time.
Willow-Jean Prime: Where else can people impacted by the upper North Island flooding seek support?
Hon PEENI HENARE: People can contact their local councils and local Ministry of Social Development officers through their normal phone numbers. Farmers or livestock owners who are struggling can get help and advice through their local rural support trust or sector group such as Beef and Lamb, Federated Farmers, and Dairy New Zealand, who are already involved. The Earthquake Commission and the Insurance Council of New Zealand are also urging people to contact their insurer so that their claims can be processed as efficiently as possible.
Question No. 10—Regional Economic Development
10. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What recent Provincial Growth Fund announcements has he made?
FLETCHER TABUTEAU (Deputy Leader—NZ First) on behalf of the Minister for Regional Economic Development: On behalf of the Minister, can I firstly acknowledge Minister Henare and the people of Northland in these trying times. Today, we announced $14.5 million to upgrade priority economic routes in Northland to be suitable for high-productivity motor vehicles and heavy commercial vehicles. This investment is about improving roads because they are vital for creating operating efficiencies, improving route security, and it also means it provides safer access to the reopened railhead and container hub at Ōtīria. That means improved efficiencies and better productivity, with improved transport options allowing the export of more goods from Northland to the rest of New Zealand and the world.
Mark Patterson: How else will this Provincial Growth Funding (PGF) announcement benefit the people of Northland?
FLETCHER TABUTEAU: On behalf of the Minister, I must point out that for years the people of Northland have been driving on substandard roads. As Minister Henare has just pointed out to the House, this week's weather events have been catastrophic. With this in mind, more than ever the people of Northland have a mandate to upgrade their roads to a high, acceptable standard. It may not sound like much to the rest of the country, but the people of Northland and their cars have been suffering for too long. But to put it in perspective, we know that this will mean more and more use of roads and rail for the likes of horticultural projects. There are 16,000 hectares of forests to be felled in the next five years, beef production and dairy farm production to be exported to the rest of the country and the world, and we all know that tourism will come back, and Northland will need those roads to support them.
Mark Patterson: What other PGF announcements have been recently made?
FLETCHER TABUTEAU: On behalf of the Minister, it is with great pride to note my esteemed colleague under-secretary Tabuteau travelled again to the good people of the West Coast recently and announced, for example, $13 million for KiwiRail to resolve the Omoto slip site and $1.24 million for a long-term awaited extension of the Hokitika airport terminal. These investments are about making sure the train can get there every day and deliver to Greymouth a vital stream of domestic tourists, for example, and give the people flying into the stunning West Coast an airport terminal that is not only up to standard but sets a high standard on behalf of the West Coast.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask my esteemed colleague why, oh why, oh why will the railway line between Kauri and Ōtīria have to be reopened?
FLETCHER TABUTEAU: Insightful question—basically, because the National Party closed it.
Question No. 11—Police
11. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Police: Has he seen reports that the number of people on the National Gang List had reached 7,166 as of April 2020, and that this represents a 34 percent increase since he took office?
Hon STUART NASH (Minister of Police): No.
Brett Hudson: Is it a priority for him to reduce the number of gang members in New Zealand?
Hon STUART NASH: Yes.
Brett Hudson: Is he concerned that over the same time period that gang membership has risen by 34 percent, front-line police numbers have only increased by 12 percent?
Hon STUART NASH: Really? That's a little bit rich. Let me tell you: Australian gangs arrived here in 2011—got a strong foothold. The next year, police numbers fell by about 150. Let me tell you one figure that is easy to quantify: since we became Government—thank you very much, New Zealand First—2,255 new officers have joined the front line. That's in three years. In the previous three years of the last Government, police numbers fell.
Brett Hudson: What estimates has he received on how many gang members will be active in New Zealand by the end of this parliamentary term?
Hon STUART NASH: Let me tell you about the Bay of Plenty: 91 extra police; $6.4 million in assets seized; under Operation Silk we pretty much cut the head off the Mongols.
SPEAKER: Order! This might be an interesting response to a question that wasn't asked. The member will address the question that was asked.
Hon STUART NASH: What I can tell you is the advice I've received from police is that gang membership is fluid and difficult to identify, and that the list is likely to be inexact. What I can tell the member is that about 60 officers per month are graduating on to the front line into our communities to fight organised crime and gang harm.
Brett Hudson: What concerns does he have with the establishment of a chapter of the Mongrel Mob Fatherland motorcycle club in his backyard of Hawke's Bay?
Hon STUART NASH: One of the concerns I do have is that the National Party's police policy will go back to where it was, which means a defunding of police, when we are in fact increasing police numbers throughout the country.
SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will address the question.
Hon STUART NASH: There was a recent operation in Hawke's Bay, where the newly constituted organised crime group actually took out a chapter of the Mongrel Mob. I'm very proud of the work they do in Hawke's Bay.
Brett Hudson: With gang numbers increasing, will he now consider supporting my firearms prohibition orders member's bill to curb violent gun crime?
Hon STUART NASH: That member has been told by a number of people, including his former colleagues, that that's a rubbish piece of legislation. We're doing a lot around this space. We've gone out for public consultation and we're going to introduce something that has integrity and will actually work.
Question No. 12—Public Housing
12. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Associate Minister of Housing (Public Housing): How many social houses, if any, has the Government sold since it took office, and at what total value?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI (Associate Minister of Housing (Public Housing)): Since November 2017, of the over 65,000 State houses provided by Kāinga Ora, they advised me that they have sold 169 houses. Half of these sales were to tenants as part of the tenant homeownership scheme. As clearly stated in December 2017, State homes from time to time would be sold if they were no longer fit for purpose. However, the proceeds from these sales are always reinvested in providing new supply and quality homes. Since taking office, this Government has added 4,925 warm and dry homes to the public housing stock. Housing Minister Megan Woods is ensuring the momentum is continued. On this side of the House, we have made it a priority to increase the supply of warm, dry—
SPEAKER: Order! I think the member has answered the question.
Simon O'Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope it's not actually challenging your ruling. I don't think he addressed the last part, which was the total value. I apologise if he did, and would like the number again.
SPEAKER: Well, if the member did and people didn't hear it it's because his own colleagues were yelling him down.
Simon O'Connor: Oh, OK. Thank you. How does the Minister reconcile the Government selling I'm assuming around $30 million worth of State housing, with the statement late in 2017 that "The Labour-led Government today cancelled the sell-off of State houses, fulfilling another of its first 100 day promises,"?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Well, just to answer the part of the primary question, the amount that has been gained from the sale of those 169 houses is estimated to be around $55 million. I would reiterate that that money is not returned to the centre; it is reinvested back into making sure we increase the quality and quantum of quality public housing stock in New Zealand. Now, when the announcement was made, back in December 2017, we said that there would be an end of the large-scale State house selloff. We have sold 169 in three years, where the previous Government washed its hands of over 6,000 in its nine years in Government.
Simon O'Connor: When considering those not sold to tenants, what is the criteria that the Labour-led Government is using to determine which social houses will be sold?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I suspect you realise what I'm going to say. We've been here for almost three years, and he predicates that statement on a false constitutional position which was made very clear when this Government was formed, and I ask for him to correct the lexicon or the narrative these three years later.
SPEAKER: Yes, and, if we had the degree of exactitude that the Deputy Prime Minister is asking for, I think it's fair to say that just about every question and most answers—and I especially think of one of his colleagues—would be ruled out. Ask the question again.
Simon O'Connor: As best as I can remember: when the Minister considers those houses not sold to tenants, what is the Government using to determine which of those State houses should be sold?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: When Kāinga Ora go through and assess, other than those that are being sold directly to tenants, they look at whether the property is too old and too expensive to maintain, the property no longer meets tenants' needs, or is not in the right place to meet demand. I'd also add that sales are done in low demand areas.
Simon O'Connor: When the Government has repeatedly promised that it will not sell State houses, was the insertion of the word "not" a mistake?
SPEAKER: Oh, no. Order! Order!
Hon Dr Megan Woods: Does the member consider it a success that of the 169 State houses that have been sold either for tenants or because they were not the right house in the right place compared to 4,925 built—as something we can be proud of—whereas the previous Government sale of 1,398 over three years and only adding 1,537—
Hon Dr Megan Woods: Can I just finish?
SPEAKER: No. There's enough of a question there.
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Yes.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You cannot for one minute consider that that supplementary question was in any way terse, as it should be required to be. For us to point that out and then lose questions is completely unreasonable.
SPEAKER: Well, the member should talk to some of his own colleagues. I'm applying a pretty even standard. Some of his own colleagues have been asking some very unreasonably long questions.
Simon O'Connor: I'm assuming that's the end of it.
SPEAKER: One more.
Simon O'Connor: Oh, splendid. Thank you. Can the Minister explain to the House how selling State houses is a case of fulfilling a promise to not sell State houses?
Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Well, we said at the time, when we announced this policy back in 2017, that the large-scale selloff of State houses was coming to an end. That was on the eve of the proposed sale by the previous Government of over 2,000 Christchurch State homes, which we stopped. I will reiterate: in the last three years we have sold 169, half of those to those tenants already in those houses, as opposed to the previous Government, who sold 6,000 in nine years.