Parliament: Oral Questions — Questions To Ministers
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Finance
1. KIRITAPU ALLAN (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the New Zealand economy in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Today, Statistics New Zealand released its latest data on employment indicators for the June 2020 quarter. The data showed that the economy continued to add jobs in June, following a strong rebound in May when most lockdown restrictions had begun to ease. The number of filled jobs rose by 2,053 in June, building on the 14,399 rise in May. Although this only partly reverses the drop seen during the lockdown in April, filled jobs remain above where they were at the same time last year. We all know that the road ahead for many will be tough, but this is an encouraging sign of the economy bouncing back from lockdown, with Kiwi businesses and workers now seeing the benefits of our decision to go hard and early to control COVID-19.
Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen on the performance of New Zealand's exports?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On Friday, Statistics New Zealand released overseas merchandise trade statistics for June 2020. These showed total exports were up from the same time last year. Goods exports in June were worth $5.1 billion—up $107 million from June 2019. The rise was led by dairy; with milk powder, butter, and cheese up $90 million, or 7.9 percent. The value of log exports was also up by 7 percent since June 2019. This strong performance from our exporters contributed to a monthly trade surplus of $426 million in June. The trade deficit for the year ending June was $1.2 billion—the smallest annual trade deficit since December 2014. All of this effort by our exporters demonstrates the continued strength of that part of our economy, despite the difficult prevailing conditions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kiritapu Allan: What reports has he seen on the place of the housing market in New Zealand's economic recovery from COVID-19?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've seen Reserve Bank figures released on Friday which show that first-home buyers took a bigger share of new mortgages than property investors in June for the first time since 2013 when this series began. First-home buyers committed to $1.1 billion in home loans last month, taking on 20 percent of all new mortgages, while loans to investors dropped to $1 billion, or 19.4 percent of new mortgages. This Government continues to be focused on ensuring more affordable housing is available. While growth in the housing market cannot be at the centre of any economic plan, after years of struggling to get a look in, it's good to see first-home buyers finally getting a fair go.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement in the House on 22 July, "On 1 April, we created the Infrastructure Reference Group. On 17 May, we received over 1,900 potential projects; that was then provided to Ministers. We worked through a shortlist of 800. On 29 June, very quickly, they were signed off, and on 1 July they started to be rolled out"; if so, why hasn't her Government released the full list of projects?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, I note my very next sentence after the quote the member used provides the answer to the second part of her question: "We've already had hundreds of millions of dollars' worth announced. Some we continue with due diligence, but we are moving as swiftly as we can."
Hon Judith Collins: If these projects have been signed off, why has the construction sector not been informed of the full list of projects?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have just said, where there are projects that we have not yet announced publicly that is because we are still in some cases undertaking due diligence. In some cases, that will mean that applicants have been advised of the outcome but I'm not willing to compromise the Crown's negotiating position as we work through some of those projects and, equally, I'm not willing, just to satisfy the member, to pre-emptively announce projects when we owe it to, of course, taxpayers to go through a process properly. I think on this we've got the balance right.
Hon Judith Collins: If, as the Prime Minister says, she's protecting the Crown's negotiating position and there is still due diligence being made, then why did she announce that they were signed off?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because, of course, we wouldn't want officials going into a process negotiating a project that we haven't had Ministers agree to.
Hon Judith Collins: How was the Government able to issue a press release detailing how much funding was allocated for projects by region and an estimate of jobs if the Government had not confirmed the details of these shovel-ready projects?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because in-principle decisions were made and then that gave the mandate to officials to go into the negotiating position or to finalise details of those individual projects. Again, though, despite that, the speed at which we have been moving on this area I think means that we should be congratulating Crown infrastructure partners, the Provincial Development Unit (PDU)—those who have predominantly been involved in moving very, very quickly to strike that balance between investing in infrastructure in our local communities but also doing it in a very managed way. We would not be making this more than $2 billion investment in these projects were it not for COVID-19, but the fact that they have enabled us to respond so quickly and communities have benefited from that I think deserves congratulations to them.
Hon Judith Collins: How is it possible to issue a press release detailing exactly how much funding was allocated for projects by region if, as the Prime Minister has said, those projects and the prices of them still need to be negotiated?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For the same reason that of a $3 billion contingency, we put aside $2.6 billion into infrastructure projects but allowed a $400 million contingency. We have been able to create brackets of funding to demonstrate where that likely investment is going to go, but we still have needed to complete due diligence. I remind the member that actually last week in the House when she asked me the same question, at that point we had announced funding of roughly $750 million and at that time I believe it was 50 projects that had been announced. Now we're over halfway there with announcements and spending of over $1 billion. So if the member wishes to ask me again, I'm sure I'll have another update for her in the House next week again.
Hon Judith Collins: Why is the Government drip-feeding projects via ministerial visit and press release instead of releasing the full list of projects and delivering certainty for the construction sector as her Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed last week in the Wellington Chamber of Commerce?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I would not characterise the process and the due diligence we are going through in the cynical way that the member has. I would also remind the member—[Interruption] I would remind the member we would not making these announcements were it not for COVID-19 and that it's my expectation that the vast majority of projects will likely be announced by the time this House rises or shared directly with applicants by the time this House rises. I would be very surprised if that member's list of the $80 billion worth of cuts she intends to make will be announced by then.
Hon Judith Collins: Well then, if the Prime Minister is going to accuse me of being cynical on this, was her Deputy Prime Minister also cynical last week when he said that the list of shovel-ready projects should be released?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I have worked through the timing of what we are doing and the process of what we are doing. I remind the member that the point I was making is that these projects exist because of COVID—no other reason.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: So could I ask the Prime Minister: is the process that Ministers look at the projects, the PDU does the serious hard work, they put together the fiscals, and then it goes to tender, and if there's a successful one we're off and running—and that's what the Deputy Prime Minister was saying?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, the Deputy Prime Minister will be well placed to give the context of that statement, but I stand by the process that we as a Government are going through with these projects and the speed at which we are moving, which, given the scale of what we are trying to do but also the impact on communities, I think we are to commend the Public Service for the work that's been done.
Hon Judith Collins: Were the projects she announced in Taranaki on Thursday signed off by Cabinet on 29 June; and if so, why did it take a month for them to be announced?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have mentioned a number of times, once the in-principle decision has been made by Ministers, there is still additional detail to go through. The reception that I received and heard from those on the ground in Taranaki demonstrated to me that they were very pleased with the process that they had gone through, that they felt engaged in the process, and that the community would benefit from the outcome.
Hon Judith Collins: Did that process also include when the Prime Minister would be in Taranaki to make those announcements?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I reiterate these projects only exist because of COVID. Now, the member and her party either supports infrastructure investment or will continue to claim that this is political when it is not.
3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the opinion of Marama Davidson that "tax is love"?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): That's not a phrase I am using. For me, tax is what we all pay to ensure a fair society where we look after each other, or, in the words of Gerry Brownlee, "tax is something that people contribute in order to have the sort of society that they live in."
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Always go for the wise words.
SPEAKER: We'll ignore that and we'll start again.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is tax not love?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I've already said, for me tax is what we all pay to make sure that there is a fair society where we look after each other.
Hon Member: What is love?
Hon Paul Goldsmith: And why does it do it to me? I don't know. [Interruption] Does he think that Kiwis would feel the love if the Government continues to take more money from their pockets?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I think what New Zealanders feel is that this is a Government that's looking after them; in fact, to coin a phrase, "Love is all around."
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he anticipate that some New Zealanders will have to pay tax at higher rates or new taxes in the next three years if he remains Minister of Finance?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I am responsible as the Minister of Finance for this Government's policy, and we've been very clear that we aren't increasing tax rates. In fact, over the last three or four months, we've done a number of things that have used the tax system to help put money back into the pockets of New Zealanders.
David Seymour: Does the Minister believe that the next generation of taxpayers will love paying back the $140 billion of borrowing forecast at Budget time?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I think all New Zealanders would recognise that when you're faced with a one-in-100-year shock to the New Zealand economy, it's important that the hard work done by a number of Governments to put us in a position to be able to borrow money and to be able to use that to protect the lives and livelihoods of New Zealanders is the best thing to do.
David Seymour: When does he forecast the Government will get back into surplus and start lovingly repaying the debt that he has borrowed?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Budget that we released in May indicated it would take us around about eight years to do that.
Hon David Bennett: 80 years, you mean.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Treasury will—eight years.
Hon Scott Simpson: 80 years.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Eight years. Treasury will no doubt update their forecasts in the pre-election fiscal update.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Would New Zealanders have to pay significantly higher taxes or experience significant cuts to public services in order to meet alternative debt reduction targets that are being proposed by some?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, absolutely. I mean, the bottom line here is whatever we do, whether it is spent money or whether we try to reduce debt, that actually has to be paid for. I've seen a proposal to see us try to get back down to 30 percent net debt within a decade. That would require $80 billion worth of cuts. People who propose that need to explain where that's coming from.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: So is it his view that it's always a simple choice between public sector cuts and higher taxes?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely not. And in fact, as this Government has shown, we've managed to keep tax rates relatively stable after we got rid of the unfair tax cuts that the National Party had proposed and we'd managed to spend more money on public services. We can walk and chew gum, Mr Goldsmith.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Will he rule out introducing newer, higher thresholds for income tax in the next three years if he remains Minister of Finance?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I thank the member for his confidence in the re-election of this side of the House into Government. I am responsible for the tax policy of this Government.
Question No. 4—Housing
4. Hon JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Housing: What recent announcements has she made about the Government's Progressive Home Ownership scheme?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): On Friday, I announced the first phase of the Government's $400 million Progressive Home Ownership Fund, which will enable up to 4,000 families who could not otherwise afford home ownership to get into their own homes. This Government inherited a housing crisis, with an increasing number of New Zealanders locked out of home ownership, and we're committed to turning things around. One provider in Auckland and another in Queenstown are the first two partners selected due to the severe affordability issues in those cities, and more providers will follow. The Progressive Home Ownership Fund is yet another step forward in this Government's plan to address housing affordability.
Hon James Shaw: How will Māori benefit from this programme?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The progressive home ownership programme has a dedicated iwi and Māori pathway, with a specific focus on providing more secure, healthy housing for Māori. We know that the gap that's been created between house prices and what is affordable disproportionately affects Māori. This programme will help these families by sharing the cost of a mortgage and addressing the deposit barrier to getting their own home. The fund will also scale up funding for organisations already providing progressive home ownership schemes, with wraparound support services, such as budgeting advice.
Hon James Shaw: How many families will be supported into home ownership and how quickly?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The first tranche of funding will support a hundred families into home ownership, and I expect the first of these families to have their own home by November this year. Phase one is providing us with a good opportunity to learn what is required to deliver a fully effective fund so we can streamline the systems and the processes as needed and ensure we target the priority groups the fund intends to assist. Ultimately, this investment will help up to 4,000 New Zealand families buy their own homes.
Hon James Shaw: How does progressive home ownership fit in with the rest of the Government's housing programme?
Hon Dr Megan Woods: This Government is proud of its investment and commitment to building affordable housing for New Zealanders, and this is yet another milestone in the Government's broader housing programme. In addition to getting families in homes they may otherwise be unable to afford, this will also provide confidence to the construction sector and create jobs for Kiwis. This is a Government that has ramped up its public house builds to levels not seen in decades. We have also committed to providing warmer, healthier, and high-quality homes for New Zealanders to live in. I stand by our record of getting to work and addressing the crisis we inherited three years ago.
Question No. 5—Housing
5. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Housing: Does she plan to introduce and pass legislation before the House rises on 6 August to allow for people returning from overseas to be charged part of the costs of undertaking managed isolation?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): As the member is aware, the Government has been considering this for a number of weeks now, and extensive work has been ongoing. As I have stated publicly, this is a complex area, and we have to carefully and methodically work through all the implications. The work is almost complete, and I'm happy to inform the member that we'll be making an announcement very, very shortly.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: What is the policy detail that the Prime Minister said yesterday was being finalised ahead of an announcement?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The member will need to wait and see.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, does she hope to announce the detail of the charging regime ahead of the election?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I informed the member in my primary answer, the announcement is very, very soon.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does she accept that there is some urgency around implementing a charging regime, given that managed isolation is currently costing taxpayers around $10 million a week?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This is a Government that is well aware of all the different factors that go into managed isolation, one of those being what an important line of defence the proper operation of our managed isolation and quarantine facilities have been in our fight against COVID. I know that member is a member of a party that is playing fast and loose with the border, but we are a party committed to maintaining a strong line of defence.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a completely unreasonable thing for the Minister to say in an answer—after all, we're not the Government. We're not—
SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Order! The member can't get up and say he doesn't like an answer.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, I said it was dishonest.
SPEAKER: The member—if the member said that, which I missed, he will withdraw and apologise.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I said it was unreasonable for a Minister to make an accusation like that in an answer, and I think it is. We don't control the border; they do.
SPEAKER: Does the member have a further supplementary?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I do. Is the real problem of not getting a charging regime in place prior to the election that she's been unable to convince all partners in the Government coalition to agree to it, and if that is the case, will she reach across the aisle, where there is a clear understanding of what needs to be done?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: In answer to the first part of the question, no, and in answer to the second part of the question, we always welcome the Opposition supporting the wonderful legislation that this Government may put up.
Question No. 6—Energy and Resources
6. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What recent announcements has she made about the Government's target of 100 percent renewable electricity?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): Thank you. On Sunday I announced the Government has taken another step forward on our pathway to 100 percent renewable electricity. We've set aside $30 million to commence work on what could be the largest single infrastructure project since the 1980s. The initial phase of this project will be a detailed development of a business case focused primarily on pumped hydro storage, a key recommendation of the Interim Climate Change Committee. If the business case stacks up, a pumped hydro scheme could deliver significant benefits for New Zealand, including the widespread electrification of transport and industry, thousands of jobs, and more affordable power for New Zealanders in the long run. If the project proceeds, it will see us become one of the few countries in the world with 100 percent renewable electricity and enable the widespread decarbonisation of our economy.
Dr Duncan Webb: How could this project deliver cheaper power in the long run for New Zealanders?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What we know is that renewable sources of generation are a lower cost than generation by fossil fuels, but they don't provide reliable round-the-clock supply, and therefore our system is currently reliant on expensive fossil fuels when the wind isn't blowing or the hydro lakes are low. A pumped hydro scheme works like a battery, where renewable energy is stored in an upper reservoir and is released back down into a hydro power station to generate electricity when demand is high. It is then pumped back up to the reservoir when demand is low and prices are low. This would drive down prices for consumers by removing the reliance on fossil fuels in the system and support more renewable energy generation.
Dr Duncan Webb: What response has she seen to the Government's announcement?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: OK. Well, it's hard to keep this one short, Mr Speaker, but I'll try. The response to the announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie welcomed the announcement, saying pumped hydro would provide a smooth and reliable transition to a 100 percent renewable system as fossil fuel generation plants are retired. Greenpeace chief executive Russel Norman has also welcomed the news, suggesting pumped hydro would have massive climate benefits for New Zealand.
Question No. 7—Health
7. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Which public hospitals have staff that are also employed in isolation facilities, and what is the impact of staff moonlighting?
SPEAKER: Oh, there is another business.
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): District health boards that have managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities in their region include Canterbury, Lakes, Auckland metro—including Waitematā, Counties Manukau, and Auckland—Waikato, and Capital and Coast. They manage medical staff across hospitals and other facilities as is required. These services are currently provided in MIQ facilities by contractors. From Saturday, district health boards will take over the delivery of health services in managed isolation and quarantine facilities. I expect DHBs to employ dedicated workforces for those facilities, even if they rotate in and out for periods of time. At my request, independent experts are currently auditing managed isolation and quarantine facilities' infection prevention and control against nationally developed standards. After that work has been completed, ongoing monitoring will be undertaken by HealthCERT. I'm advised by the Ministry of Health that they are not aware of any circumstances in which medical procedures have been cancelled or delayed due to hospital staff also working in secondary employment.
Dr Shane Reti: How many staff in DHBs are also currently employed in isolation facilities?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I do not have those numbers. As I've been very clear, they are a contracted workforce.
Dr Shane Reti: Has he read the incident review report on COVID-19 staff infections at Waitakere Hospital, and have staff at Waitakere Hospital also been employed in isolation facilities?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: In answer to the first part of the question, I haven't read the report myself, but I have been advised that the findings from that report have been used as the basis for tightening up the infection prevention and control that is done across the board with regard to responding to COVID-19 cases.
Dr Shane Reti: How can he state, as reported, that it is safe for DHB staff to also work in isolation facilities, when his office wrote last week that personal protective equipment (PPE) is not a requirement for staff in managed isolation at all times?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'd have to check the second part of the member's question. But with regard to the first part of the member's question, I do trust the staff who are working, in all aspects of the response to COVID-19, to follow the professional standards that they would normally adhere to. So I do have faith that nurses who are trained in both the use of PPE but also in infection prevention and control will be following best practice.
Dr Shane Reti: Has there been any impact on DHB services due to staff also working in isolation facilities?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I'm aware that there has been an impact on Capital and Coast because staff at Capital and Coast spent some time in the last 24 hours investigating whether or not the claim that significant proportions of their theatre workforce had been on sick leave because of their moonlighting was correct, and they found that that claim was not correct. So the biggest impact on their workforce was following up false claims being made by the National Party once again.
Question No. 8—Social Development
8. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: What proportion of the working age population is receiving the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy, COVID-19 Income Relief Payment, or Jobseeker Support?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): An estimated 6.3 percent of the New Zealand working-age population were receiving jobseeker support, and an estimated 0.3 percent were receiving the COVID-19 income relief payment as at the end of June 2020. Can I just say with regard to the COVID-19 income relief payment, it is not only those who are deemed of working-age population that can access it, like with benefit; it does extend beyond the 18 to 64 category. So it does take a little bit longer to pull together that information, hence why I've used the end of June 2020 information. The wage subsidy is paid to the employer, and the Ministry of Social Development reports on the number of jobs associated with the subsidy. I can advise that the wage subsidy has supported 1.7 million jobs. These initiatives are examples of how the Government is responding to the needs of people, families, and communities in supporting the long-term economic recovery forNew Zealand.
Hon Louise Upston: What is the total number of people that are currently being supported by the COVID-19 wage subsidy, the COVID-19 income relief payment, or jobseeker support?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: So the figures that I used earlier for end of June were because we had to work out the working-age population, and, as I said, with COVID, the COVID job loss cover, they can access that from 16 to over 65, actually, if they'd been working. So the most recent numbers for the COVID job loss cover at the end of last week was about 18,500. Those on a main benefit currently is at about 352,000, and as I said, the number of jobs that have been supported through the wage subsidy is currently at around 1.7 million.
Hon Louise Upston: Is she confident that the 436,922 Kiwis who are currently receiving the wage subsidy will continue to have a job when the subsidy ends; and, if yes, why?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We put the wage subsidy in place to provide some support for businesses, so that we could provide some certainty for those that do currently have jobs. We're hoping that as many of those businesses are able to survive this unprecedented event as possible, but we certainly can't put a number on that. And we do know, and we've always said, that, unfortunately, the reality for us as a country and the reality globally is that there will be job losses. We just want to see as few of those as possible, and I think it is heartening that the New Zealand economy is continuing to perform better than expected by most economists.
Hon Louise Upston: Is the current number of people on temporary income support, which is 455,514, showing that Treasury's forecast of 300,000 people who will be unemployed too high, too low, or about right?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Unemployment is actually, at this point, expected to peak slightly lower than previous forecasts. However, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update will include the next official Government figures. We are in uncertain times, and this Government has put every measure into place that we can to mitigate the risk of job losses, and we continue to invest in not just the creation of jobs but opportunities for upskilling and training to ensure that we are looking after New Zealanders during this really difficult period.
Hon Louise Upston: Is she aware that the number of Kiwis currently receiving the wage subsidy and income relief payment is almost equal to the amount of people living in the Waikato region; and, if so, what is the plan to get Kiwis back to work?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We're not going to apologise for providing New Zealanders with financial support during this very difficult time. We put the wage subsidy in place for that purpose. We put the job loss cover in place for that purpose. We bolstered the support that we can offer through the Ministry of Social Development, not just with respect to income but also with respect to supporting people to get into work. What is heartening, can I say, is that, actually, in June we had more exits off benefit into work this year than what we did last year. I think it was around 7,500 exits off benefit into work, as opposed to 5,200 the same time last year. So I think this Government has shown itself to be very proactive and focused on what is most important, and that is New Zealanders during this time.
Question No. 9—Education
9. JAN TINETTI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What response has he seen to the Government's initiative to encourage vocational training and apprenticeship during New Zealand's recovery from the impact of COVID-19?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): I've seen a report on the Government's Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund, which abolishes fees for those in areas of training that will give them better employment prospects. The report estimates that as a result of the policy, about 5,000 Kiwis are now studying qualifications in more than 130 subjects, providing what the report calls, "A huge boost for the tertiary sector." This includes just over 2,000 extra enrolments at The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, 730 at the Wellington Institute of Technology, nearly 500 at the Manukau Institute of Technology, over 300 at the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki and the Universal College of Learning, and about 100 at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.
Jan Tinetti: What response to the Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund has he seen in relation to Otago Polytechnic?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Vocational enrolments at Otago Polytechnic are reportedly up by more than 400 compared to the same time last year. As the chief executive has said, this equates to them being almost 7 percent above budgeted numbers of domestic equivalent full-time students for 2020, and that is largely as a result of the Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund.
Jan Tinetti: What response to the Targeted Training and Apprenticeships Fund has he seen in relationship to Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There's reportedly been a substantial increase in carpentry and construction courses at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology, with a spokeswoman commenting, "In the past, we've had little interest and some years this course doesn't run. This year we had 34 applicants for 16 available spaces." This is good for the trainees, good for the sector, and it's very good for our country's economic recovery.
Question No. 10—Transport
10. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Does she stand by all her statements and policies on road safety?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Transport): Yes. In particular, I stand by this Government's record investment in road safety, which in just the past two years has already seen $470 million invested in targeted safety improvements to over 2,500 kilometres of State highways. This is already twice what the last Government invested over a similar time frame, and I'm happy to report that the New Zealand Transport Agency is on track to have invested close to $1 billion in safety upgrades by the middle of next year.
Chris Bishop: Why, as of 1 June 2020, have only 18 of the promised 198 kilometres of median barriers on State highways been completed?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I think all of us would like to see many more median barriers rolled out, certainly no one more than I. The New Zealand Transport Agency's progress on median barriers reflects that this safety programme is a step change compared to what they were doing under the last Government, and that significant community consultation is required before installing median barriers. But I can reassure the members on the other side of the House that to speed up the delivery, the New Zealand Transport Agency has simplified and standardised the planning process for median barriers, which will shave nine to 12 months off their delivery.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why has she failed to deliver on her press release last December that—and I quote—"A bill to introduce random roadside drug testing will be introduced early in 2020 and prior to the referendum on recreational cannabis use."?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I reject the premise of that question, and I can assure the member that this Government will be making an announcement very soon.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she stand by her press statement dated 18 December—and I quote—"I … [will] introduce a bill to … Parliament early next year to enable oral fluid drug testing to begin in 2021."?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I'm not sure if that member noticed, but there was an entire shutdown for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite this, the Government will be making an announcement on the introduction of that bill very soon.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can she blame COVID for the delays in introducing legislation for random roadside drug testing when officials presented her with detailed proposals in November 2017?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I understand that it might be hard for the member to understand this, but for several months the entire Government was responding to a COVID-19 pandemic. We had the options, we worked through, and I'm sure he's going to be very happy to see the bill introduced to the House very soon.
Michael Wood: Does she stand by her road safety policies, which have led to a reduction in the road toll every year during which time she has been Minister, following on from four consecutive years of increases before she was Minister?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: I can confirm that those numbers are correct. The number of deaths and serious injuries increased year on year from 2013 to 2017 under the last Government. They have reduced since then, but I do think that the true benefits of our Road to Zero safety strategy and action plan, which was supported by people right across the sector—local government, police, the Automobile Association, and the Road Transport Association—will lead to a sustained reduction in deaths and serious injuries over the next 10 years. That's how long it takes to achieve that kind of outcome.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does she stand by her statements on Radio New Zealand in February 2018 that random roadside saliva testing is "too intrusive" and "extremely expensive" when she rejected officials' proposals, and is that the real reason why she has failed to introduce legislation as promised?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: No.
Chris Bishop: Is it still Government policy to make 7,500 kilometres of speed changes by 2021 when the Government has delivered just 56 kilometres, or 0.74 percent, of that target?
Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: If the member is suddenly expressing his support for huge, sweeping changes to speeds on our network, I would certainly support that. But what this Government has done, and what we always said we would do, is take a targeted approach to speed reductions. We have already consulted on 26 speed reviews, and there will be more coming, and I look forward to the member's support for that.
Question No. 11—Corrections
11. SIMEON BROWN (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he stand by his statement regarding community sentences, "we expect offenders to complete their hours"?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Corrections): Yes, 80 percent of community sentences are completed, so there is still room for improvement. I also expect my officials to balance attendance against individual's employment and family responsibilities, as well as other potential barriers such as health concerns or, for example, a global pandemic.
Simeon Brown: How many offenders sentenced to community service had hours remitted under COVID-19 alert level 1, and how many hours were remitted?
SPEAKER: Hang on, I'm just going to review that question and contemplate whether, in fact, it flows from the original question. I'll let the member answer it, but I do want to warn members that there has to be a relationship either between the question and/or the answer and the supplementary, and jumping from a very general statement to a very specific one is not absolutely allowed.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Well, we did have a lockdown that kept people safe from COVID, and Corrections did its part. Now, this member has a very unhealthy fixation on a very few number of people who have traffic offences and the non-payment of fines.
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can I just say to the member, I think suggesting that members have unhealthy fixations in current times is not a good thing to do.
Simeon Brown: Why, when businesses were allowed to open and workers go back to work, was Corrections still remitting hours for offenders sentenced to community service during level 1 according to parliamentary written question 14424?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Well, again, if the member had listened to the answer to the primary, I also expect my officials to balance attendance against individuals' employment and family responsibilities—
Hon David Bennett: They broke the law.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: —as well as other potential barriers such as health concerns or, for example, the pandemic. And I hear someone over there saying, "Oh, they broke the law." We're talking about the lowest level of offenders who had traffic offences and the non-payment of fines on the very day that his leader jokes about 29 people escaping from prison under her watch. It goes to show that the National Party has got their priorities wrong, and it's certainly not the party of Key and English any more.
Greg O'Connor: What other reports has he received on adherence by offenders to sentences imposed on them?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Well, I've seen one report that claims that between 2008 and 2011, and in the year 2016, there were no escapes from prison. I understand that the member in question said her eyebrows were raised, indicating she was joking. So let me be clear: my eyebrows are level. This is just not true: 29 people escaped Corrections' custody under that member's watch. The new leader and her false claims are just proving again that the team opposite just ain't what it used to be.
Simeon Brown: How does the Minister stand by his statement "we expect offenders to complete their hours", when over 138,000 hours have been remitted from the sentences of more than 5,500 offenders, with hours continued to be remitted even under level 1 when New Zealanders were going back to work?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Well, again, Corrections deals with 40,000 offenders on any given day; three quarters of them are dealt with by community corrections. So what this member is talking about, over a long period of time, is a very small percentage of offenders—those who have traffic offences and the non-payment of fines, compared to the Leader of the Opposition, who jokes about 29 serious offenders escaping from prison under her watch. She thinks it's a joke. That is not the party of Key and English any more. They have got their priorities very mixed up.
Simeon Brown: So is the Minister telling the House that people serving community service sentences shouldn't have to complete their sentences?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: No.
Question No. 12—Social Development
12. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made about supporting New Zealanders towards financial security?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Today, Minister Faafoi and I announced the strengthening of debt solution advice and services across New Zealand to combat debt in the wake of COVID-19. This Government is putting an additional $4.3 million over two years towards two key initiatives. Firstly, we're investing in existing specialist debt solution services. These have qualified experts that our budgeting services can access free of charge to support their clients with more specialised advice on debt restructuring and repayment agreements between debtors and creditors. Secondly is the expansion of debt consolidation loans for clients who would be able to repay their debts if these were restructured into low-cost or interest-free loans. This Government knows that the COVID response and recovery is about responding to people's immediate needs while also planning for the future. That's why we will also be working with stakeholders and communities to develop a comprehensive national debt solution for all New Zealanders.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What difference will this make for families in debt?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This funding is about sheltering indebted individuals and whānau from the financial, health, and social impacts of overwhelming debt. For many families, a reason they don't have enough money is that their income is drained by high interest rates, repayments, and penalty fees. Well-supported low- or no- interest debt consolidation loans are a way to help them out of this trap. We estimate that around 2,000 people will get access to specialist debt support and 1,400 people could get access to, and benefit from, debt consolidation microfinance loans or help with variations to high-cost loans. Through these initiatives, families will not only be able to have support to address their immediate needs but will help develop the skillset to enable them to move forward from situations of problem debt and build more prosperous futures.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: How does this align with other Government work to address problem debt?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Today's announcement builds on the $35 million of extra funding for core building financial capability services that I announced recently to address cost pressures for our budgeting services and enable them to increase their capacity as part of the COVID response. In December last year, the Government passed the Credit Contracts Legislation Amendment Bill, which required significant improvements to lending practices. Due to COVID, we brought forward the cap on the total amount of repayments, so, from 1 May this year, anyone who takes out a high-cost loan never has to repay more than twice what they have borrowed. We have also put in place regulations for all mobile traders and truck shops, including ensuring they assess affordability before agreeing to sell goods on credit. This Government is investing in the wellbeing of our people and communities in the wake of COVID-19 and putting in place our plan for a strong and stable future for New Zealand.