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Parliament: Oral Questions — Questions To Ministers

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader—National): Does she support a policy which would allow New Zealanders to access up to $20,000 from their KiwiSaver to start a new business?

SPEAKER: I'm going to ask the member to ask the question as per the Order Paper.

1. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she support a policy which would allow New Zealanders to access up to $20,000 from their KiwiSaver to start a new business?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): This Government supports increasing support for our small businesses, and that is why we have made consultancy services available to small businesses to the tune of $5,000. It's why we have increased the small asset depreciation threshold from $500 to $5,000. It's why we've introduced a small business cash flow loan scheme, which has paid out nearly $1.5 billion. It's why we increased the provisional tax threshold, encouraged prompt invoice payment, supported business through the wage subsidy scheme, and, of course, have introduced e-commerce initiatives. I do have concerns, however, around the proposal that the member has mentioned, which will undermine New Zealanders' retirement savings, and I also have to say I have concerns that the policy the member has put forward is as yet uncosted.

SPEAKER: Before I call the member, I wish to apologise to her. I, unfortunately, had a sheet with a slightly different question on it.

Hon Judith Collins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Is there anything wrong with a builder who has lost his job because of COVID-19 being able to use up to $20,000 of his own KiwiSaver to put towards a van and some new tools so he can start his own building business?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My advice would be, to anyone who finds themselves currently unemployed and wishes to start their own business, don't for a moment think that you need to gamble with your retirement savings when instead, through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD)—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Including Mr Tabuteau.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —someone can access the flexi-wage subsidy to start their own business and to support themselves as a self-employed person. They can also access through MSD a business start-up fund that can give them up to $10,000 to start up their own business. When, unfortunately, roughly two-thirds of small businesses that start up in a two-year period will be unsuccessful, I do not want to see those people currently unemployed who may wish to start their own business risk their KiwiSaver when they don't have to.

Hon Judith Collins: Is she saying she would rather have someone on the jobseeker benefit than let them use their own money to start their own business?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I'm saying that KiwiSaver is for people's retirement. We should not be depleting that important resource for them. As some KiwiSaver providers themselves have pointed out, actually, what the member is proposing, from someone at the age of, say, 40, through to their retirement, actually represents more than a $60,000 loss. What I am saying is there are already forms of Government support that help people with start-ups—the cost of starting up, the cost of paying themselves and surviving while they start up, and the cost of advisory services. The member obviously hasn't looked at some of those packages that already exist.

Hon Judith Collins: Why is it OK for someone to access their KiwiSaver to buy a new house but not to start a new business?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There are three reasons at the moment that someone can access KiwiSaver outside of their retirement: firstly, sadly, if they have a terminal illness; if they have hardship needs that are identified as being genuine hardship; and if they are purchasing a house. I think on both sides of the House we agree that a house is an asset that carries far less risk than a start-up, which—based on normal circumstances, two-thirds of our business start-ups in New Zealand in a two-year period will not succeed. In this current environment it's likely to be even more difficult. Again, I conclude by saying there are alternatives already there which don't have to draw on someone's retirement savings. I know that member's party has a tradition of tinkering with KiwiSaver. We do not agree with that.

Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister agree with the proposition that KiwiSaver is "money put aside for a rainy day", or does she believe that it is money for security in retirement?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: KiwiSaver is not for the purposes of being able to draw down at any time. We must support New Zealanders to have a good standard of living in their retirement. That means supporting them to hang on to their KiwiSaver for their retirement, and we see it as our role to provide other ways, through other mechanisms, like the flexi-wage, like business start-up support, and that already exists.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister: in the construction of the Government's policy on KiwiSaver, has she received any reports from any conservative party anywhere in the world arguing against the wisdom of savings?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There is certainly a consistency around the need for consumers to save for their retirement. The last thing we want to see is a repeat of what we saw under the last National Government, which was constant changes and uncertainty to KiwiSaver settings.

Hon Judith Collins: Does the Prime Minister consider that losing one's job or being made redundant is hardship?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, which is why we have the income support payment, which is why we have provided $5,000 worth of advisory services through the business partnership network, which is why MSD has the flexi-wage scheme, which is why we have the $10,000 in support of people who wish to create a start-up. Yes, unemployment is hardship, but we do not want to create double hardship by having someone potentially lose their KiwiSaver.

Hon Judith Collins: Why does the Prime Minister have so little faith in entrepreneurial and hard-working New Zealanders who have experience, in many cases, of running businesses—that they can't actually—

SPEAKER: Order! The member is making a series of insertions. She will ask a question.

Hon Judith Collins: Does the Prime Minister have any confidence in entrepreneurial New Zealanders who have experience in running businesses who can verify that they understand how to run one?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely, which is why we have a scheme already in place to back those businesses, through the Ministry of Social Development. I'd like to think that that is an endorsement of the fact that that entrepreneurialism exists in New Zealand and is supported by us. Other examples, of course, include the fact that we have established a venture capital fund to support those start-ups as well.

Question No. 2—Regional Economic Development

2. JENNY MARCROFT (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: How is the Provincial Growth Fund helping tackle long-term issues in our regional communities?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): Over the last three years, the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has addressed the long-term deficits in both infrastructure and social investment, to the tune of $1.1 billion to infrastructure projects up and down the country; $100 million to skills. On top of that we've seen 11,000 people enrol in PGF-funded skills and training initiatives, and we have addressed the degradation of rail, the state of the roads in Tai Rāwhiti, and boosted digital connectivity up and down our regional communities.

Jenny Marcroft: What recent announcements have been made relating to addressing long-term social issues in our regions?

Hon SHANE JONES: I'm sure all members of the House have had the awful experience of encountering the social negative consequences of the P drug. The Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, and I announced an investment of up to $20 million in regional programmes to help reduce the damage that P causes to whānau and businesses. This particular initiative was driven by identities associated with business associations, employers who are at their wits' end in our small provincial areas. We are working with the police and the health department to identify additional providers who have a proven track record, and we are keen to scale-up their programmes to enable more Kiwis to move on from this demon drug and take jobs in enterprises.

Jenny Marcroft: Was this investment part of the recent reprioritisation of the Provincial Growth Fund; and, if so, why?

Hon SHANE JONES: Yes, it was. Our Cabinet agreed to allocate up to $20 million to meth prevention in the regions. This is reflective of the fact that we do want Kiwis taking jobs in enterprises near their place of residence. We cannot rely, as historically we have, on unfettered access to pools of migrant labour. Small communities are under considerable stress in the post-COVID lockdown, and there is the threat of economic uncertainty. For those reasons, we believe this is an overdue investment in employee health and employer resilience.

Jenny Marcroft: Which regions will benefit from this funding allocation?

Hon SHANE JONES: For meth prevention, we've identified nine community-based providers: Otago, Tai Rāwhiti, Hawke's Bay, Bay of Plenty, and—strangely enough—Northland.

Hon Members: Oh!

Hon SHANE JONES: A number of the programmes will target gangs, but—there may be a bit of raucousness in the House—sadly, the projects will need to give support to children, whānau, and grandparents dealing with the reality of raising mokopuna, or grandchildren, because of the blighted lives of their parents as a consequence of excessive addiction to meth.

Question No. 3—Finance

3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What are the latest projections he has received on the number of job losses this calendar year and the increase in Government debt over the same period?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Treasury have forecast the net change in employment. In its latest Budget forecasts, they have forecast employment of 2.642 million people in the first quarter of the year and employment of 2.523 million in the fourth quarter, a difference of 119,000 in net employment, due to the impact of the one-in-100-year economic shock created by the global COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth comparing this to Treasury's earlier scenarios, released in April, which did not incorporate the extra investment announced by the Government at Budget 2020. Scenario 1 of these showed employment dropping by 177,000 over the year and by as much as 260,000 during the year, indicating the difference made by the investments announced in the Budget. In answer to the second part of the member's question, net core Crown debt was 21 percent of GDP at the start of the year, and I'm advised by Treasury that they expect this to be around 39 percent of GDP at the end of the year. Obviously, the pre-election fiscal update will finalise these forecasts.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree that it's the tens of thousands of business owners, large and small, deciding to invest that will create most of the sustainable new jobs that we'll need to re-employ those New Zealanders that have lost their jobs?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We in New Zealand are blessed with a range of entrepreneurial business who do indeed create many jobs. What they're appreciating from this Government is that they have a partner in the Government who will back them.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree that allowing New Zealanders who have lost their job to use up to $20,000 from their own KiwiSaver fund to start a new business will help some of them get back on their feet?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As we've discussed with the Prime Minister just recently, no. I would also point to a number of comments that have come in response to this proposal, including describing it as scary and dangerous.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he accept that we have a jobs emergency now and we need to try different things?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We have a crisis that is a one-in-100-year shock to the New Zealand economy. That is why on this side of the House we have committed such significant resources to supporting growth in jobs right across the economy.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he agree with the Prime Minister just now that starting a business is gambling?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That's not what the Prime Minister said. That's not what the Prime Minister said at all. What the Prime Minister said was that we do not endorse the view that somehow or other KiwiSaver is some kind of rainy day fund. It's not. It's a fund for people to have security in retirement. What I've seen from the member opposite is a constant undermining of that security. Not only do we have today's policy but we also have his view that there will be no contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund. The New Zealand super fund suffered enough from that in the last nine years before this Government came in.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he trust New Zealanders to assess for themselves their appetite for risk, acknowledging that starting a business is riskier than leaving funds in a conservative KiwiSaver fund?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: It is quite clear that the member on the other side of the House doesn't want New Zealanders to have security in their retirement. He's undermining the New Zealand super fund. Now he wants to undermine KiwiSaver. It's a fund for security in retirement.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister of Finance as to whether or not the questioner has shared with him his extensive business experience?

SPEAKER: Order! That doesn't quite relate to the question.

Question No. 4—Finance

4. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) 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): In a report released on Monday, Kiwibank economists released a 90-day performance review report looking at how the New Zealand economy has performed since lockdown restrictions lifted. Kiwibank said, "The high frequency data we're monitoring has been encouraging. Transactional spending data shows households are still swiping their cards, and manufacturing data shows the sector is back in expansion. Our economic recovery is well and truly under way. Compared to the rest of the world, we look good." Similarly, ASB economists said in their economic weekly report that "the quick recovery from extreme depths of pessimism is a ray of light amid the doom and gloom and clear challenges that the [New Zealand] economy faces in rebuilding and reshaping itself." We have always been clear that the path ahead will be difficult for many New Zealanders, but it is pleasing to see that the economy is performing better than expected since lockdown, giving us a strong platform from which to navigate the challenges ahead.

Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on challenges to New Zealand's economic recovery?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: ASB said in its report, "there are still many challenges ahead given [New Zealand's] borders are likely to be heavily restricted for some time and [that] the rest of the world is having a tougher time than [New Zealand] in dealing with the pandemic." The problems other countries are having in keeping COVID-19 under control and the associated economic costs of reinstating restrictions there underscore the importance of the Government's decision to go hard and early against the virus. They also inevitably will have an impact on the New Zealand economy as an open trading nation.

Dr Deborah Russell: What actions has the Government taken to ensure it is able to respond if any of these risks intensify?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Last week, I announced that the remaining $14 billion of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund is being set aside to make sure New Zealand is in a strong position to fight whatever COVID-19 throws at the economy. This is a move that Westpac economists described this week as "a sensible move". It is the responsible thing to do at a time when global infections are increasing dramatically and many countries reinstitute restrictions. Kiwi firms and workers can have confidence that we'll continue to act swiftly and decisively in our ongoing fight against this virus in these uncertain times.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why does he think that the only solution can be more Government spending and more debt, rather than allowing Kiwis who have lost their jobs to access their KiwiSaver funds to start their own business and create their own jobs and opportunities?

SPEAKER: No, no—that didn't start with a question.

Question No. 5—Housing

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): My question is to the Minister of Housing and asks: does she stand by her statement on 19 July—

SPEAKER: Now, sorry—can we just check. I think it's the Minister of Housing.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yeah.

SPEAKER: All right, OK.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That's what I said.

SPEAKER: OK, I'm sorry. I misheard the member—not having a good day.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It might be the tide or the moon. Can I start again?

SPEAKER: Well, I'm pretty tempted to say no.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yeah, but you wouldn't do that.

SPEAKER: No, I'm being very generous to the member. The member will start again.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: OK, thank you. I do appreciate that, Mr Speaker.

5. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Housing: Does she stand by her statement on 19 July, "people returning to New Zealand should assist with the considerable expense of accommodating them in managed isolation facilities"; if so, how much of the $479 million budgeted for managed isolation does the Government expect to recoup from people returning to this country?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): Yes, and I have been clear from the outset that the implementation of a cost recovery system is complex. We have carefully considered how to design a system that is fair and not a barrier for returning New Zealanders. Indicative modelling shows that the scheme would generate between $2.2 million and $8.8 million a year at a cost of recouping that of $600,000. The Government's proposal has struck an appropriate balance to ensure taxpayers aren't forking out for people who want to come or go for holidays or business, while returning New Zealanders who want to come home to live are able to do so without an unreasonable limitation. There have been calls to apply a charge to all returning New Zealanders. The most realistic scenario for such a blanket approach with the legally required fee waivers and exemptions would see $126 million generated at a cost of $33 million to recoup it. We need to put the counterfactual in context. The managed isolation and quarantine system is going to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars regardless.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister telling the House that the charging regime brought in today may bring in something less than $10 million, but the taxpayer is still going to be left with $469 million worth of costs for managed isolation?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: That is what I said in the answer to the primary question, but what I also said in the answer to the primary question is that the counterfactual of doing universal charging with all the required legal waivers and exemptions for those charges would only bring in net $93 million. So regardless of the regime, the taxpayer is going to be left with a bill of several hundred million dollars to provide this strong line of defence at our borders.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister accept that the counterfactual, as she put it to the House today, is simply a contrivance to try and cover up an appalling joke-based system for charging people coming into New Zealand?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This Government takes very seriously the presence of managed isolation and quarantine facilities and would never describe them as a joke. We think they are an important line of defence and we also think that it is important that we work through the policy around these facilities in a measured and methodical way. What we have worked through is what the legal risks and challengeability in the courts would be around different kinds of charging regimes that could be stood up. What we as a Government accept is that we need to put the appropriate appropriations in place, long-term hotel contracts need to be entered into, and we are not putting the system at risk with a legally challengeable regime.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What is legally challenging about saying to New Zealanders who are coming back to this country, having been away for quite some time, that the costs of their managed isolation, the cost of their re-joining the team of 5 million, is a charge that they need to meet?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This is a complex legal area and, I know, an easy political sound bite, but the advice that we have worked through in a lot of detail with Crown Law is about whether any charge to enter a public health managed isolation facility, a requirement of entry to your own country, that is placed on all New Zealanders, constitutes a barrier of entry to your country. There are some mitigations that can be put in place to reduce that. Some of that is around making sure you have financial hardship schemes in place. By the time you put all of those mitigations in place that means this simply will not be overturned by the courts, you're only looking at a net contribution for returnees of around $93 million.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Why has the Government not come to Parliament to introduce a law that would make legal the charges that she apparently says cannot be applied, so that the taxpayers of New Zealand can be relieved of some of this extraordinary burden for people who want to come back and join the team of 5 million?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Because this Government has come to this Parliament with a law that is not going to be legally overturned by the courts. What it does is it puts in place a regime that does not trample on the bill of rights and the rights of New Zealanders to return to their country. The member may like to look at the legislation that has been tabled this afternoon.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Where does the Minister think a law passed by the Parliament of New Zealand would be overturned by the courts?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: A thing called the bill of rights.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: So does her policy mean that a business person travelling offshore to gain new markets for New Zealand will pay for their managed quarantine when they come back but someone who had chosen to make a life offshore, perhaps for many years, will come back into this country to join the team of 5 million paying nothing?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The regime that we have outlined today would see anyone that was leaving for a holiday or for business pay for their isolation and factor that into the cost of their trip overseas. What we are saying is if a New Zealander is seeking to return to their home, to make their life here, to work here, to pay tax here, to send their children to school here, they will not be required to pay. But if I choose to go on holiday, I am quite happy to factor in the cost of my own managed isolation and not expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: So does that mean that someone who is travelling offshore to expand markets, to expand the New Zealand economy, who's paid tax in this country perhaps for years will pay for their managed isolation after their business trip but someone just coming into the country having been away for years, not paid tax in this country, gets in free?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Anyone who is returning to live home permanently will not pay those. If someone is returning for a period of less than 90 days, then, yes, they will be required to pay. But if someone is leaving the country in order to expand their markets and there is a commercial element to it, I think that, on the fair and balanced approach, New Zealand taxpayers should expect some of the cost of that to be borne.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: So, one more time, if I may, does that mean that someone who is trying to expand their markets out of New Zealand, presumably to retain and keep jobs in New Zealand, pays for their quarantine but someone who just comes in having lived away for perhaps years, paid tax in other jurisdictions—

SPEAKER: Order! Question.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: —comes in free?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I've already answered this question twice, but if that member requires something to be repeated three times in order to understand it, then there's the answer: a New Zealander who is seeking refuge in their own country, who wants to return to make their life here, will not be paying, but, yes, again, for the third time, if someone is going overseas on business, just as someone is going overseas on a holiday, we are asking them to make a contribution.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Why is it unfair to charge New Zealanders who are returning—no question about their ability to come back into the country, but why is it unfair to charge them for quarantine when those people who stay here but might leave for a business purpose have to pay for their quarantine?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think what the member needs to do is look at what is actually a very fair and balanced system. What we have here is a system where those who are choosing to be holidaymakers or go away on business are going to be asked to contribute to the cost of their quarantine. Those who are seeking to come back and make their life in this country and are going to contribute to this country are not being asked to pay.

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister confirm that in drawing together this policy, the Government has created a distinction between those who are currently in their legal place of residence, New Zealand, and who have a choice around travel contributing to their quarantine versus those who are offshore, may not have long-term stability of residence, may not have long-term stability around income, who are caught in a one-in-100-year event through no fault of their own, having the ability to return home to their place of residence?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Yes, that was certainly a critical part of our decision making. So was the very practical evidence that even if you were to look at standing up the kind of universal regime that the Opposition is talking about, you'd only be talking about a net contribution of $93 million. We take the managed isolation facilities incredibly seriously, and having the stability funding sorted out and the ability for long-term contracting is absolutely critical to having safe and managed isolation facilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Why has the Government not been able to accept that people can come into New Zealand if they have a right to but still should pay for the quarantine that falls as a burden currently, and for the foreseeable future, on the general taxpayer?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As I have outlined several times to that member, regardless of the regime that is stood up, the taxpayers of New Zealand are going to be left with a bill of several hundred million dollars to provide this public health strong line of defence against COVID coming back into our communities. I think New Zealanders will be somewhat alarmed to see the attitude that the Opposition has around their commitment to providing this strong line of defence. We see it as a responsibility of our Government and exactly why we are in the unique position we are in in the world. The taste of what would come from the Opposition is on clear display.

Question No. 6—Social Development

6. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by all her statements and actions?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development: Yes.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she stand by her statement that "New Zealanders need to be supported, where able, into work and that employment needs to be a focus for us."?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister, yes.

Hon Louise Upston: What does she say to the owner of SteamCleanz in Blenheim, who has, since February, been trying to fill three vacancies for cleaners, and that last week the Ministry of Social Development have said to them, despite 874 job seekers, that they don't have anyone who can fill these jobs?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister, while I can't confirm or verify what that member claims, what I can confirm is that we are continuing to perform better than economists predicted. For example, the exits from benefits into work for June was around 7,500, compared to 5,200 the same time last year. We're helping people get into jobs. The recent infrastructure announcement helped kick-start the post-COVID rebuild, creating more than 20,000 jobs and unlocking more than $5 billion worth of projects up and down New Zealand.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she agree that, with 210,000 New Zealanders currently receiving unemployment benefits, a job is better than no job, and, if not, why not?

Hon Grant Robertson: It's factually incorrect.

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister—

Hon Grant Robertson: Factually incorrect. Making it up.

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: —what I can confirm is that this Government does have a plan. We are lucky enough to have a Minister of Employment who's developed a strategy that—

Hon Grant Robertson: 210,000 on unemployment benefits? Making it up.

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: —outlines what we plan on doing—

SPEAKER: Order! The Minister of Finance will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Grant Robertson: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: Thank you. As I was saying, we have a Minister of Employment that has developed a strategy that outlines what we plan on doing over the next four years—for example, building a strong workforce that meets business needs and engages lifelong learning and supports provincial New Zealand and industries to be successful. We are a Government that is acting now to prepare for the future.

Hon Louise Upston: Does she stand by her statement that—and I quote—"employers are looking for a level of skill that our Ministry of Social Development clients aren't always equipped with. That is why this Government is focused on upskilling and training, so that people can get into meaningful and sustainable employment,"; if so, is she now saying that cleaners, who during the COVID lockdown were deemed essential workers, are not engaged in meaningful employment?

Hon POTO WILLIAMS: On behalf of the Minister, to answer the first part of that question, yes.

Question No. 7—Workplace Relations and Safety

7. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: What recent announcements has the Government made regarding protecting migrant workers from exploitation?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Earlier this week, along with the Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, and the Minister of Immigration, Kris Faafoi, I announced changes that would better protect temporary migrant workers by preventing exploitation and improving enforcement of the law. The package we announced will help migrant workers to better understand their rights and responsibilities when working in New Zealand and it will also provide a clear avenue for help should they find themselves in an exploitative situation. The Government is investing $50 million over four years to support the implementation of these changes. As set out in the coalition agreement, protecting migrant workers from exploitation is a priority for the Government, and I'd like to acknowledge the New Zealand First Party for their support and work on this important issue.

Marja Lubeck: How will the changes be implemented?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: To make it easier for migrant workers to report and leave exploitative employment, we'll be setting up a new, dedicated freephone number, online reporting, and triaging functions. Exploited migrants whose visas are tied to exploitative employers will be able to be granted another temporary visa which enables them to find alternative employment. We're also investing in additional labour inspectors and immigration investigators to ensure that robust action is taken against exploitative employers, and to develop information and education so that migrant workers better understand their rights and how to report exploitation.

Marja Lubeck: Why is this important in light of COVID-19?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Due to the effects of COVID-19, many migrants who are on temporary visas and unable to return home may currently find that they are in a more vulnerable position than before the pandemic arrived in New Zealand. Exploitation is an issue which affects all of us. It causes financial and mental harm to workers. It also harms legitimate businesses, who are undercut by these practices, and it damages New Zealand's reputation as a fair place to work, live, and do business.

Question No. 8—Finance

8. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Prime Minister's statement yesterday regarding the announcement of the 150 shovel-ready projects, "where there are projects that we have not yet announced publicly, that is because we are still in some cases undertaking due diligence"; if so, how many projects have completed due diligence but are unannounced?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, I always agree with the Prime Minister. On 1 July, we announced that there were more than 150 projects to be funded under the Infrastructure Reference Group (IRG). Of these, we have announced 79 projects, representing more than $1 billion of Crown investment and more than $2 billion of total project value. These announcements have happened because officials have provided assurances of the projects' overall viability, including, but not limited to, due diligence. We have made it very clear that all approvals are in principle, subject to further due diligence and contract negotiations.

Chris Bishop: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker This is a question on notice, and the second part of the primary question about how many projects have completed due diligence but are unannounced I don't believe was actually addressed by the Minister.

SPEAKER: I think it was addressed. It wasn't answered, but it was addressed.

Chris Bishop: How many projects of the 150-plus shovel-ready projects the Minister has just mentioned have completed due diligence but have not yet been announced?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The reasons that projects have not yet been announced are varied. Some of those are due to due diligence, some of those are due to contract negotiations, and some of those are to do with other verification of the projects, including the financing by partners.

Chris Bishop: How many projects have yet to be announced that have completed due diligence?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: There are a variety of reasons it's not possible to separate out.

Chris Bishop: For the third time: how many?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I've said it's not possible to divide out the different reasons for why projects have not been announced.

Michael Wood: Has he seen a statement from the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) about the announced shovel-ready projects which says "Some of these projects have been on the books in Auckland and elsewhere for a number of years; so finally getting them consented and fast-tracked is a welcome development. This is a Government using its powers in a way that clears regulatory hurdles and gets stuff done—just what we need at the moment."? And does he intend to continue working with organisations like the EMA as more projects are confirmed and announced?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, I welcome those comments and indeed I welcome the reaction to the IRG projects right around New Zealand, which has been one of welcoming the fact that, in many cases, these are projects that communities have wanted for years and they now have a Government that's backing them.

Chris Bishop: Is it correct that tomorrow the Government will announce funding for the rebuild of the Naenae pool in Lower Hutt; and, if so, when was due diligence completed on that project?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member will just have to wait. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: I'm not allowed to make a comment on that, am I.

Question No. 9—Health

9. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Associate Minister of Health: What are the policies around the flu vaccine this year, and how has supply been managed?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER (Associate Minister of Health): We started this year's influenza campaign like our COVID-19 response. We wanted to go hard and early, focusing on getting vaccines out earlier than normal, with a particular focus on those eligible to receive a funded vaccine because they're more at risk of hospitalisation, and healthcare workers. This has been a record year for flu vaccines, with more than 1.75 million vaccines already distributed to general practices, pharmacists, and other providers. That's 400,000 more than ever before in a single year, and we still have around 400,000 doses in stock. So to put that in context, in New Zealand we have 800,000 more vaccines in the country than in any previous record year. That's a 60 percent increase. Supply has been managed in the same way as in previous years. Pharmac contracts the supplier to provide funded vaccinations for the New Zealand public. Orders for flu vaccines were placed in October last year, well before there was a global pandemic. If a provider is unable to obtain flu vaccine stock, they should contact their DHB immunisation coordinator.

Dr Shane Reti: Is it correct that after issues with supply, Pharmac ordered unused flu vaccine from the Northern Hemisphere, a vaccine which only matches half of the four recommended flu strains in New Zealand this year?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: Yes.

Dr Shane Reti: How many of the Northern Hemisphere flu vaccines have been given to date, and are New Zealanders getting the rejects from the Northern Hemisphere?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: These aren't rejects. They've been approved by Medsafe. They protect people against the flu. I didn't mention earlier, but we have record low cases of flu, in addition to our record numbers of people who have been vaccinated. If he wants to put down a specific question to me in writing about numbers of flu vaccine, as he often does, I will be happy to answer it.

Dr Shane Reti: When New Zealanders are given the Northern Hemisphere vaccine, are they told that half of the vaccine does not match the recommended best-practice flu strains for this year?

Hon JULIE ANNE GENTER: The Northern Hemisphere flu vaccine protects against some strains of flu, and we have a record number of flu vaccines in the country, both for the Southern Hemisphere and the Northern Hemisphere. What I would say is that there was record demand because of the COVID-19 global pandemic—and that's great, because we have achieved record numbers of vaccination—and because of that, and the fact that it takes six months to order the vaccines, Pharmac was able to purchase 400,000 additional vaccines to help ensure that everybody was able to receive a flu vaccine who wanted one.

Question No. 10—Food Safety

10. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister for Food Safety: What steps has the Government taken to increase awareness of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister for Food Safety): This Government wants to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child, and that starts in the womb. That's why we'll be moving to mandatory pregnancy warning labels on alcohol products. This was agreed on 17 July at a meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. We share a food standard system with Australia, so any decisions like this are made jointly. This label will provide a standard message that is clear and consistent on the importance of not drinking while pregnant. The label will help protect the public health of New Zealanders, and it will bring us in line with other countries that require mandatory pregnancy warning labels, such as the USA and France. It also complements educational and behavioural campaigns that are delivered by the Health Promotion Agency that seek to inform and reduce the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Willow-Jean Prime: How does this label balance effectiveness with industry concerns?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The alcohol industry has been voluntarily including warnings on some products since 2011, but there has been no consistency in type, colour, size, and design, which all play a part in reducing effectiveness. Food Standards Australia New Zealand undertook a robust process to develop an effective label that included a full consultation process and cost-benefit analysis. We now have a standard message that is clear and consistent—here it is—on the importance of not drinking while pregnant. I have just signed the food notice to bring this into New Zealand law from this week, from 31 July, with a three-year transitional period. Mandatory labels will be required by 31 July 2023.

Willow-Jean Prime: Why do we need pregnancy warning labels on alcohol products?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The formative months of pregnancy are the foundations for a long, healthy, and happy life. Science has not yet been able to determine a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The best advice we have is to refrain. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which results in a range of problems, such as intellectual and behavioural deficits, as well as irreversible damage to the brain and body. It is a life-long issue which significantly impacts on individuals, families, and the wider community. The Ministry of Health estimates that 1,800 to 3,000 children are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder each year in this country alone. This Government has taken vital action to reduce that harm.

Question No. 11—Regional Economic Development

11. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: What is the total value of projects announced as part of the Provincial Growth Fund, and what is the best estimate of the number of jobs those projects will create?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): I'm advised that the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has approved 796 projects, and contracts are in place for 658 of them. About $2.7 billion has been committed and, roughly, $2.4 billion announced. On the question of the number of jobs, my frustration has been well documented. The Provincial Growth Fund, over the COVID period and after the COVID period are undertaking a stocktake of job numbers. Early in the life of the Provincial Growth Fund, a statement of 10,000 as an estimate over the life of the fund was identified. I look forward to being able to provide that information once additional verification has been undertaken.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given that the very purpose of the Provincial Growth Fund is to "create sustainable jobs", does he not think it would be more appropriate to actually know how many jobs are created before those projects are committed to?

Hon Shane Jones: As have said, the number of jobs will be declared at a point in time where the weather is propitious. In addition to that, I would tell the member over 11,000 people have been enrolled in skills and training initiatives, and, obviously, there are many vagaries with the ebb and flow of provincial economies. But, if the member just waits at a point where a propitious wind strikes, he will have the information.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he believe a cost of nearly $300,000 per job created represents a good investment by the taxpayer?

Hon SHANE JONES: As I said, the member is plucking figures without full information. That may be his stock-in-trade, but I would say to the House: just await the verification process, and, at an auspicious period of time over the next few weeks, a suitable announcement will flow.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has there been any improvement on the level of actual payments made since October 2019, when, for every dollar committed then, just 12.9c had actually been paid out?

Hon SHANE JONES: As I said, the COVID episode enabled the Provincial Growth Fund to drill deeper into the treacle-riddled process. Sadly, that has, unfortunately, slowed down the flow of the cash, and on this I have complained publicly on numerous occasions. But, on one hand, we have the Auditor-General's office looking at the stewardship of the fund; on the other hand, we have members of Parliament demanding that the money go out. A sensible and healthy balance has to be struck.

SPEAKER: Before I go on, I just want to comment to the member around the tone of one of his answers, where he suggested a member was plucking figures from the wind. Actually, all the member did was quote the member's own figures back to him, and, therefore, he should not be greeted with such a pejorative comment—figures that the member gave in his primary answer.

Question No. 12—Agriculture

12. Hon DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Agriculture: What proportion of the $44 billion increase in primary sector export earnings over the next 10 years detailed in the Government's Fit for a Better World roadmap would be generated from the dairy sector?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Minister of Agriculture): Over the next 10 years, the dairy sector is expected to generate $4 billion of the total $444 billion targeted by the Government's Fit for a Better World. The $44 billion is a target, indeed, not a limit.

Hon David Bennett: Will the Fit for a Better World economic road map's requirement of a 24 to 47 percent reduction in biogenic methane emissions over the next 10 years have a negative impact on the proportion of export earnings the dairy industry could provide?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: No, not necessarily at all. We project that there are huge opportunities to grow the value. As I say, the $44 billion is a target, not a limit, and I believe that we'll actually surpass that quite easily. I think the value we'll get in the market place from being committed to reduce our emissions from agriculture will give us the kind of lift that we see through market research at the moment, where we see huge premiums for products that are, firstly, organic and then, secondly, that have been labelled at this point regenerative—it's a term that New Zealand has yet to define, but that is connecting with the commitment to better animal welfare, to reduced emissions, and to better systems of production that consumers are prepared to pay for.

Hon David Bennett: If it is "No", then how can the Minister say the effect will be "No" when Dairy New Zealand estimates that the 24 to 47 percent reduction in emissions will have a cost to the dairy industry of between $5 billion to $12 billion?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I respect the work that Dairy New Zealand do, and they have estimated that. I refer back to, I guess, the 1980s, when, in fact, we had 70 million sheep. We now have half that number, but we produce the same amount of sheep meat. The ability and the potential for New Zealand farmers in agribusiness to innovate and to achieve the targets and the ambitions is unlimited, in my view, and this target that we're setting, or that the Climate Change Commission will set, will take on board all the realities of the effect on local communities and the effect on the industries to achieve all the ambitions that we have of a low-emissions economy but a higher-returning agribusiness sector.

Kiritapu Allan: How is the Government supporting innovation in the dairy sector, whether that be to achieve climate change targets or otherwise, and across the broader food and fibre sector to achieve the forecasted $44 billion increase in export earnings, as set out in the Fit for a Better World road map?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The three documents that we have produced—that is, the plan making up Fit for a Better World—have a number of core advisory areas. Research and education for our purposes is one, our precious water—ensuring that—and, of course, seeking market game-changers. We have now a Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund that we've committed another $84 million to, which is available to anyone in the agribusiness sector with an innovative idea to add value to the production from this country.

Hon David Bennett: When the Minister talked about organics and regenerative agriculture as leading to that increase in the dairy industry, what evidence has he used to quantify those amounts?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Those are just a couple of the opportunities. Through innovation, through better pastures species, and through better productivity rates, there are a whole range of things that are happening. Last week, with my colleague the Hon Phil Twyford, we launched the agritechs strategy. The opportunities there are huge, and I think that that member over there shouldn't discredit his own sector that he represents by lowering the ambitions. I think we have incredible potential, and those two things I mentioned are just a couple of the opportunities available to us.

Kieran McAnulty: What role will agricultural training play in meeting the Government's goal of a $44 billion increase in primary sector export earnings?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: As I mentioned briefly before, research and education are a core part of achieving the goals. We have been faced with a sector that has not had the proper training facilities in place. Through the good work and the support of that member in particular, we have now got Taratahi back up and running, we have Telford back up and running, and we have some decent training opportunities now in the agribusiness sector. I thank the members on this side of the House for that support. I seek leave to table a couple of documents.

SPEAKER: Well, what are they?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Three of them are documents: Fit for a Better World, Te Taiao

SPEAKER: No.

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: —and one other that that member may not have had.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Are they publicly available?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: They are.

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