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Parliament: Oral Questions — Questions To Ministers

 

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's policies and commitments?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Kia orana, Mr Speaker, and yes. While I know time will not allow me to list all of them, I'd like to highlight just a few, including the most significant investment we have seen in recent times into mental health, rebuilding hospitals, setting up our Cancer Control Agency; changes to make schooling more affordable and make school buildings more modern; cleaning up our rivers, introducing the Zero Carbon Act; support provided to New Zealanders through the Families Package—which has contributed to child poverty improvements against seven of the nine indicators—building more public houses, banning offshore speculators, lifting the standards of rental homes; and, of course, our economic management, which gave us low unemployment and low Government debt as a springboard to go hard, to go early, and to rebuild after COVID-19.

Hon Judith Collins: Is it correct that her Government built just 101 houses, compared to the 1,000 houses originally promised by her and her then Minister of Housing, the Hon Phil Twyford, for the first year of the flagship KiwiBuild programme?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The most recent figures I have for Kiwibuild is that we have had 589 sold and 1,051 currently under construction. I would say that is 589 more affordable homes that families are living in than that last Government created, and a thousand more under construction than that last Government created. I would also add to that record that this Government is currently building more houses than any Government since the 1970s. Public housing places have increased by 5,103 and we currently have 3,000 public houses under construction. We stand proudly on our housing record.

Hon Judith Collins: Well, then, is it correct that her Government built just 294 houses compared to the 5,000 houses originally promised by her and her then Minister of Housing, the Hon Phil Twyford, for the second year of the flagship KiwiBuild programme?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have already given the figures for KiwiBuild and the figures for the Government's building programme, and both of those combined, as much as the member may wish to critique our record, stand far in advance of anything that the last Government did. These are numbers which reflect real houses, not the mythical 30,000 that, apparently, National built, which would be closer to reflecting the number that was sold by the last Government.

Hon Judith Collins: When her Government promised to build 16,000 KiwiBuild homes in the first three years of the KiwiBuild programme, then delivered only 452 houses, as at 30 June 2020, was that a failure to deliver?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member may frame it like that, but that is still more than that Government did in nine years—in nine years. So what that member is criticising us for still far outstrips anything that her Government did. In fact, roughly 6,000 houses sold, stock reduced, left us with a crisis in housing that we are still fixing.

Hon Judith Collins: Well, then, why, under her Government, has the number of people waiting to go into a State house more than trebled from 5,944 in September 2017 to a whopping 17,982 as at May 2020.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Under this Government, we reflect and take on board all need rather than changing the lists and cutting entire sections of the waiting list in order to engineer the numbers. And had that last Government, under National, built houses at the pace that we are currently, we would not have a waiting list for housing.

Hon Judith Collins: Is it correct that her Government's $400 million progressive homeownership scheme has helped not one single person buy a home to date?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We only recently announced the progressive homeownership scheme—again, something that we have created and stand proudly on. Again, I would point out to the member that she's choosing to critique a record that stands far in advance of anything that the last Government did. The largest Government building programme since the 1970s, half a billion dollars into retrofitting State houses to make them healthy homes, a support programme to sustain tenancy, increases in the Housing First policy. Every single part of our programme far outstrips and seeks to remedy a crisis we inherited.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister as to whether her Government has sold social housing or built them?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I've said, the fact that we hold the status of having built more than any Government since the 1970s, and the member is right to reflect that the last Government shed stock—up to 6,000 worth of homes were gotten rid of under that last Government—whereas we have built the housing stock we so desperately need.

Hon Judith Collins: Is it a failure to deliver for her to promise to build a strong economy when economic growth under her Government and before COVID-19 had already halved.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am happy to reflect on that record, because pre-COVID, our GDP growth averaged 2.3 percent, where it was 2.1 percent under National. Unemployment was 4 percent, whereas it was 4.7 when we took office, and we've had the highest private sector wage growth in a decade. I stand proudly on this Government's economic record, including paying down our debt to put us into a position to weather the storm of COVID relative to what we inherited.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Does the Prime Minister think it is a success story that we will have the first family moving into a home purchased under the progressive homeownership scheme in November of this year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, because, as I said—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —it sits alongside sustaining tenants—

SPEAKER: No, Prime Minister, sit down. I know it's the last week, and it's sometimes a bit like school in the last week, and there's a tendency for discipline to get slack. But we're not having members shouted down when they're attempting to answer questions.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, and that policy sits alongside Housing First, sustaining tenancies, our increase in transitional housing, and, of course, our significant Government building programme where we added another 8,000 public houses just recently as part of our COVID response, recovery, and rebuild.

Hon Judith Collins: Is it correct that, of the $455 million allocated for mental health in Budget 2019, her Government spent only around half of what was allocated for year one, and that the number of front-line mental health sites is behind her Government's target?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member actually read the announcements at the time, she'd recognise that we have to rebuild our mental health workforce. At the time we announced it, we anticipated, for the 2019 and 2020 year, an early $40 million worth of investment. I can report that, at this point, $120 million has been distributed. We are having to train a workforce and build front-line mental health services as we go, but we've always known that.

Hon Judith Collins: Why is her Government's billion trees programme only planting trees at half the rate it should to reach its own target?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We consider ourselves to be on track with the billion trees programme. My memory, if it serves, is roughly 149 million trees. And, of course, we expect it to continue to scale up. I would point out to the House that all of these initiatives, all of the progress and environmental challenges on climate change, on mental health, and on housing, are more than that Government ever even thought about putting out or even delivering a press statement on, because they did nothing in any of those areas.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she stand by her commitment to provide university students with free fees when the total number of equivalent full-time domestic students in public tertiary education and training dropped by over 2,000 in 2018?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: When you have a tight labour market and jobs aplenty, that is what happens. Again, we've delivered the first year free, and we've also made sure that those who'll be seeking apprenticeships or vocational training in high-need areas are supported to complete that for free as well. We stand by our investment in skills.

Hon Judith Collins: Why did her Government not proceed with light rail in Auckland when it promised to?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the coalition Government could not agree on a policy there. But, again, there have been plenty of other transport initiatives, including plugging the $6 billion gap that Simon Bridges left for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project.

Hon Judith Collins: Is she satisfied that rapid transit solutions in Auckland have stalled over the last three years while her Government struggled to agree on a light rail project?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. Interesting the member would characterise it in that way when that's not something that her Government at that time, or her party, has supported. But we have, of course, seen progress on the Eastern Busway, State Highway 20B, the Old Māngere Bridge replacement project, ongoing work on the City Rail Link, the Karangahape Road cycleway, and the Constellation bus station, to name a few in Auckland alone.

Hon Judith Collins: Is promising to build light rail from Auckland CBD to Mount Roskill, and then not even starting it, a failure to deliver?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It's actually called democracy. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! If the members want their leader to have another question, they will be quiet.

Hon Judith Collins: When will light rail from the Auckland CBD to Mount Roskill be completed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I'm intrigued the member's taken an interest, given she apparently doesn't support it. But thank you for joining and agreeing with us that rapid transit and public transport in Auckland are necessary. We have sent it back to the Ministry of Transport, and we expect that whoever has the privilege of forming the next Government will be reporting directly to them with further proposals for rapid transit from the city centre to the airport.

Question No. 2—Finance

2. 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): Mr Speaker, kia orana. On Thursday, Xero released small-business employment and revenue data for June, showing many Kiwi small businesses are recovering from the impacts of COVID-19. The data showed that compared to Australia and the United Kingdom, New Zealand has seen the strongest early rebuilding phase so far, despite having the largest drop in small-business revenue when lockdowns were introduced. June 2020 small-business revenue is on par with revenue in June 2019, recovering from significant drops in May and April. In Australia, revenue remains down 8 percent on June last year, and in the UK, it's down 18 percent. At the end of June, the New Zealand small-business sector had 3.6 percent fewer jobs than pre-crisis levels. This compares to 6.8 percent fewer jobs in the Australian small-business sector and 8.5 percent in the UK. While we know that many small businesses are doing it tough right now, this data underscores the benefit of the less restrictive business environment that Kiwi small and medium sized enterprises are now operating in, thanks to the hard work of the team of 5 million.

Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen on consumer confidence in the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: On Friday, the ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence survey for July was released, showing consumer confidence remained steady in July after resurgence through May and June. The overall consumer confidence index for July was 104.3 percent, up from a low of 84.8 percent in April. It's encouraging to see a net 31 percent of consumers expect to be better off financially this time next year. While households' views of the next year's economic outlook lifted another four points, it does remain very low. The proportion of households who think it's a good time to buy a major household item did fall as well. We can see that our decision to go hard and early in both our health and economic response to COVID-19 has given Kiwi households confidence coming out of the lockdown, but it's also clear that with the virus raging overseas and many areas reimposing restrictions, there is less certainty in the consumer environment. That's why we're committed to supporting New Zealand firms and workers to adapt to this one-in-100-year shock, and we have made significant investments to back this up.

Dr Deborah Russell: What actions has the Government taken to help the economy adapt to the impacts of COVID-19?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Mr Speaker, in light of your admonishments to me, I'll try to keep this short. In the face of a one-in-100-year shock to the global economy, we have always acknowledged that we would not be able to save every job or every business, and we have not hidden the fact that this is a global economic crisis that is still going, but the Government is investing to cushion the blow on households and businesses to make sure that we're in the best position to respond, recover, and rebuild. Our decision to extend the wage subsidy scheme was designed to help businesses keep their employees attached while they adapt to this unprecedented economic shock. Likewise, the COVID income relief payment recognises additional assistance is needed to cushion the blow for people who are looking for work or taking time to retrain. As we look ahead, there are a number of areas where the Government's support will continue, including investing in our people through policies to close the skills gap, creating jobs, preparing for the future, supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, and positioning New Zealand globally to continue to trade with the world.

Question No. 3—Housing

3. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Housing: Is she confident in the systems at the border and in quarantine and managed isolation?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): Yes, I am confident. Our managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system is working well. This is demonstrated by the fact that 34,768 people have been through managed isolation since 26 March 2020. Since New Zealand returned to level 1, all positive COVID-19 cases have been picked up in our managed isolation and quarantine facilities, and there has been no community transmission of the virus in New Zealand for more than 90 days. We're one of the few countries in the world that is successfully keeping COVID-19 out of our community. While I am confident in the systems, this doesn't mean that human error won't occur from time to time, and we've seen that play out in a handful of isolated incidents—all of which have resulted in improvements to the overall MIQ systems. Finally, while I do not have direct responsibility for systems at the border, I am working closely with my colleagues to ensure all systems are working well to keep New Zealanders safe.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: How does staffing of New Zealand managed isolation facilities differ from those that caused community outbreaks of COVID-19 in Victoria?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Since the middle of June, since Air Commodore Webb and I assumed responsibility for the managed isolation systems, we've been going through a programme of change. What we have is an operational lead at all 32 of our managed isolation facilities from the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). There are four to six members of NZDF on site at each of our facilities; there is one permanent member of the New Zealand Police force. We also have Aviation Security Service on site, and they are subcontracting private security firms. We also then have staffing of hotel workers that are there, and this is, of course, in addition to the health workforce that is on site at each of the 32 managed isolation facilities. In regard to the staffing levels, we have been carrying out a site security assessment on all of the facilities over the last fortnight, and that is due to report back to us this week. In that report we will be looking at a variety of factors, such as resourcing, the level of services, accreditation of security firms that are providing services, as well as technology that can be deployed in the facilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is there an over-reliance on private security in New Zealand and at managed isolation facilities?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: No. Of the nine managed isolation facilities that I have visited now, we have anywhere between four and seven private security staff operating in those facilities. That is matched by between four and six NZDF personnel, as well as police personnel that are there full time 24/7.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What steps do private security guards working in managed isolation take to ensure that they don't put their families and the wider community at risk from COVID-19?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: This is an issue that we have been working through for several weeks with those workers and with their representative organisations, that we have rigorous steps in place at our managed isolation facilities to protect all workers, not just our security staff; that is the systems that are in place around the physical distancing that is required within our facilities; the safe operation from a health perspective around disease control within our facilities; and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment when it is required to protect those staff. I think the fact that we have had 34,000 people through our managed isolation facilities and we have not had community outbreak shows New Zealanders that they can feel safe, they can feel secure, that our managed isolation facilities are offering a strong line of defence in keeping them and the gains they fought for safe.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Has she heard of any instances where people who should not have been permitted to enter a managed isolation facility—such as to make a delivery to a guest—achieved entry because security guards failed to undertake appropriate vetting?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: There are a couple of instances of people trying to get into facilities as well. The reports that I have had and the briefings I have had is that the systems have worked. These people have not got past the common areas, they have not made contact, and this is a sign of the systems working. What I would like to reassure New Zealanders, and not create fear for New Zealanders, is that we have a robust system in place that ensures New Zealanders can be kept safe by the fact that we have a strong line of defence in our managed isolation facilities and that our systems are working in there and stopping people either entering or leaving when they should be.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: What services, including food and beverage services, are provided to guests in managed isolation facilities?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: There are three meals a day, the member might be pleased to know—three meals a day—that are provided, as well as morning and afternoon snacks, from my understanding. These are provided on site at the facilities, and each facility operates—

Hon Grant Robertson: Release the menu!

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: —its own alcohol—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Both those comments are inappropriate, and both members should know better.

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think I've said enough.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister as to how she would be able to cope, with all the assistance that's needed, if there was, en masse, people coming from China as advocated by the National Party?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: What we are—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, how can you allow a question that's based on a speculative comment from the Deputy Prime Minister with absolutely no evidence to that effect whatsoever?

SPEAKER: Well, I think I was here in the House when—well, I certainly have a recollection of one of the former leaders of the National Party suggesting that a bubble be formed with Australia and, shortly after that, with China.

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: On this side of the House, this Government is committed to making sure that we are operating our borders in a managed way that protects New Zealanders from COVID but, importantly, also protects the gains that we collectively made as a team of 5 million. We will do this in a methodical, planned, and managed way to ensure we are not putting all of that at risk.

Question No. 4—Finance

4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: How many of the 452,425 people receiving the wage subsidy extension does he expect will become unemployed when the wage subsidy expires, and what is the Government's plan if the majority of those New Zealanders lose their jobs?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): In Budget 2020 the wage subsidy was extended to give businesses certainty and time to make decisions and plan for the future as the economic recovery got under way. Decisions about the 470,391 jobs currently covered by the wage subsidy extension, when the scheme expires, are for each individual business to make, not the Government. Treasury forecasts net employment and unemployment levels across the economy, not individual projections for various schemes. At the Budget, Treasury forecast employment to be 2.463 million in the June quarter, 2.477 million in the September quarter, and 2.523 million in the December quarter. For the number of people classified as unemployed, Treasury forecast 222,000 people in the June quarter, 268,000 people in the September quarter, and 246,000 people in the December quarter.

In response to the second part of the question, I reject the premise of it, but, regardless, our post-COVID economic plan focuses on five key priorities: investing in our people; creating jobs and improving productivity; preparing for the future through digital transformation, decarbonisation, and research and development; supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs; and positioning New Zealand globally as a place to trade with and invest in, and, hopefully, eventually visit again. If the member likes the sound of all of that, he has the opportunity to back our recovery and rebuild by voting for that plan when the Budget 2020 legislation is debated in Parliament this evening.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I'm just not quite sure how a Minister can reject the premise of a question when the question is "if the majority"—there's no premise if you're saying "if the majority of those people lose their jobs".

SPEAKER: Well, he's rejecting the possibility of that occurring. He can do it quite easily.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How was he so sure when he told Q+A on Sunday that the vast bulk of those Kiwis on the wage subsidy would be keeping employed?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Well, as I've just answered, I gave Treasury's projections for what they expect to happen. The member will be able to work out how many people are out of work at the moment based on the statistics that are released every week. If you take that away from the number that Treasury projected, you'll see that the vast bulk of people who are currently on the scheme are expected to be able to stay in work.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he saying that he's not receiving weekly advice from Treasury as to exactly what's happening on the ground right now in terms of an extraordinary situation where hundreds of thousands of Kiwis—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Come to a question, please.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Well, thank you, Mr Speaker. I've heard some very long questions from other members of the House that you haven't stopped.

SPEAKER: All right. The member will resume his seat.

Question No. 5—Regional Economic Development

MARK PATTERSON (NZ First): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. To the Minister—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How is that decision to terminate Mr Goldsmith's questioning even slightly reasonable, given that we've sat here and listened to exceptionally long answers today from Government Ministers, presumably positioning ahead of an event later next month? It seems unreasonable when there's only more one day of questions—

SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I indicated to the member that he should stop. His question wasn't terminated because his question was too long; it was because he argued with me afterwards on his feet without even taking a point of order. I mean, he knows that he's not allowed to do that.

5. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Is the Provincial Growth Fund on track to meet the target of creating 10,000 jobs?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): We have outstripped the target. The Provincial Development Unit has undertaken a robust and comprehensive stocktake: 13,000 people have worked on Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) projects up and down the country; an additional 11,000 have enrolled also on skills and employment programmes—many of them have gone on to additional training, and a host gone on to work.

Mark Patterson: How else can the success of the PGF be evaluated?

Hon SHANE JONES: The actual applicants to the Provincial Growth Fund have reported they expect a further 15,000 people to work on projects. That gets us to 28,000 people in total. I would also say a key tenet of the PGF was to address low productivity outcomes and also bring the Māori community and the ongoing problems of training, land, and other resources—and a New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report evaluated that the Provincial Growth Fund's investment has led to an increase of GDP by $250 million per year, and the creation of 1,257 jobs just in those isolated provincial Māori communities.

Mark Patterson: What are some of the highlights of the PGF since it was launched in early 2018?

Hon SHANE JONES: Our Government believes in water storage. We know that in this post-COVID time it's important that the productivity and the potential of land is expanded and enhanced so we can cope with droughts, floods. We've continued to invest in marine and coastal assets. Some, I must say, were projects initiated in terms of the last regime but funded by this Government. We've actually gone into the very difficult areas of the employee community and delivered meth addiction responses at the request of employers in our provinces. For fear of protracting the answer, it's all on the website.

Question No. 6—Social Development

6. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made about supporting communities in the COVID-19 recovery?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): On Friday just gone, Minister Williams and I announced that applications were opening for our new Community Capability and Resilience Fund. This is a $36 million community fund available from 1 August for community groups seeking funding for initiatives that support the rebuild and recovery from COVID-19 over the next two years. Our community groups have done a great job at supporting New Zealanders and keeping communities safe and resilient over time as we respond and recover from COVID-19. The Community Capability and Resilience Fund will enable groups to build on this work and implement locally led solutions in their communities.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan: What impact have community grants had so far in the COVID-19 response?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The Community Capability and Resilience Fund builds on the success of the Community Awareness and Preparedness Grant fund, which was established by this Government to provide immediate support to communities during the COVID-19 lockdown. This fund was exhausted with over 900 groups supported. Communities were able to apply and receive funding quickly for innovative solutions and ideas that made an immediate positive impact for communities. We want to continue to encourage this through this new fund. Through the Community Awareness and Preparedness Fund, we supported community groups to share information, help people overcome the digital and technology challenges, provide essential goods, and check in to make sure that those isolated and living alone were supported.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Why is the Community Capability and Resilience Fund important?

Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The Community Capability and Resilience Fund is for community groups who are often different to traditional providers. They are made up of a cross-section of the local community and public or population-based interest groups. The fund will have a focus on community-led initiatives such as building and improving the provision of services, developing and implementing locally determined COVID-19 recovery plans. This Government is committed to supporting the wellbeing of our people, our whānau and communities, and this fund can help us achieve this in new and innovative ways, with initiatives led by our people, for our people.

Question No. 7—Health

7. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: How does he explain recent outbound air travellers who tested positive when they arrived in Australia, and how does this relate to community surveillance testing numbers over the past three months?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Health): I'm advised that, of the three recent cases that tested positive on arrival in Australia, two had been in transit through Auckland Airport and never entered the community here in New Zealand. The other positive test is believed to relate to a far earlier infection during the lockdown period, and that individual is not thought to be currently infectious. As a precaution, however, contact tracing and testing is being conducted for these cases. So far, all related tests have come back negative. In answer to the second part of the question, testing numbers have fluctuated but I have been clear that I want to see more testing. I was encouraged to see an increase in community testing numbers over the last week, and higher numbers over the weekend compared to previous weekends. I'm also pleased to report that a pop-up testing site set up today in Queenstown had so far collected 600 samples by 2 p.m., after only a few hours of operation.

Dr Shane Reti: How many contact traces have been undertaken on these recent cases?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I don't have the numbers for those specific cases with regard to the exact number, but with regard to the first two cases I mentioned, where they had transited through Auckland, CCTV footage so far has revealed that they had no close contacts while in New Zealand. They were literally here for a matter of hours and did not come into close contact with anybody. With regard to the case who tested positive after leaving New Zealand, my understanding is that the immediate household has been tested, and all have come back negative. There were a handful of other close contacts that have been tested and have come back negative, but that contact tracing, of course, will not be closed until all of those contacts have been contacted.

Dr Shane Reti: How does he explain the following statement from ministry officials regarding the person who flew from Auckland to Sydney on 6 July and then tested positive, "It appears the person may have been a previously unconfirmed case from March and this is responsible for the positive test result,", and was that person then positive in New Zealand from March to July?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: No, what it's a sign of is that people can test positive for COVID-19 long after they have recovered from the virus. That's a well-established fact within the scientific and health community. There will be people in New Zealand who did not get tested during the lockdown who did have COVID-19 during that time, and who recovered. In some cases, people did not seek a test. They did exactly what we suggested, which was they stayed home and they got better. In other cases they may have sought a test and not had one, because—in some cases—I'm aware of people who went to get a test but were put off by the fact that there were long queues outside the testing stations. So there will be people who were positive for COVID-19 previously, who have had the virus, who have subsequently recovered, but who would still test positive if tested today.

Dr Shane Reti: What is the average time frame for people who have tested positive to test negative?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I don't think that there's a specific—I don't have that information around the overall time frame. Some people have previously tested positive and then some months later have tested negative. Others have tested positive and then some months later, after they have well and truly recovered, have still tested positive, even though they had well and truly recovered. So I don't know. I can find out if there is an average time, but I'm not sure that that would necessarily tell us much.

Dr Shane Reti: Is it correct that the first that New Zealand Health authorities knew about the positive 26 July Australian test was when she called the New Zealand health hotline from Australia, and what is the average time between a positive border test from a New Zealand flight arriving in Australia and notification to New Zealand authorities?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: It would depend on the notification regime of the country that the person arrives in. Some countries are faster than others at notifying New Zealand about a positive test result. In some cases, people have contacted Healthline from overseas and it's turned out to be that the information that they supplied to Healthline hasn't been correct. There are reports—fairly regularly—of some of these cases that require investigation which are based on hearsay. So they're based on New Zealanders thinking that they know of someone who's tested positive overseas when, after it's subsequently been chased down, that has proven to not be the case.

Question No. 8—Housing

8. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Associate Minister of Housing: What recent announcements has he made about improving the quality of State housing?

Hon KRIS FAAFOI (Associate Minister of Housing): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. Last week, at Sinclair Grove in Naenae, the Government announced a $500 million boost to our State house retrofit programme. This will see around 1,500 older State homes in 30 towns and cities across New Zealand upgraded and renewed over the next 2½ years. This shows our Government following through on our commitment to not only add thousands of homes to the public housing stock but also improve the quality of public housing available to New Zealanders and their whānau.

Paul Eagle: What will the retrofit programme mean for tenants?

Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Tenants will be living in warmer, drier, and healthier homes. Their homes will be improved by the installation of wall, ceiling, and floor insulation, double-glazing of windows, improvements to ventilation and air tightness, new heating, and making these homes more accessible. I'm advised that tenants who live in homes that were part of a pilot are already enjoying the health benefits of homes that have already been retrofitted. For example, we've heard from one tenant in the Hutt Valley, whose son had a respiratory condition which has improved since moving back into the retrofitted home, and this means fewer visits to their doctor and more days at school.

Paul Eagle: How will the retrofit programme support regional economies?

Hon KRIS FAAFOI: As well as being a significant investment in the health of New Zealand's public housing supply, this $500 million is also a major investment in the regional economies where this retrofitting work will happen. Kāinga Ora will look to use contractors of all sizes to carry out this work, creating more opportunities for a range of companies in the regions. Many of these companies will be experiencing the economic effects of COVID-19, and the Government recognises how important programmes like this are to give local contractors certainty over their project pipeline.

Question No. 9—Tourism

9. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Tourism: Why was AJ Hackett given a $5.1 million grant by the Government but outbound tourism operators such as travel agents were given no support in the recently announced $311 million COVID aid package?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Tourism): AJ Hackett and over 120 other tourism businesses all met the strategic asset criteria, they applied, and were approved to receive financial support. No outbound operators, like travel agents, applied to the strategic asset fund—that is why no support was given.

Hon Todd McClay: Is he aware that travel agents continue to assist clients with refunds, without remuneration, and, if so, does he think the Government should support them as they have AJ Hackett?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Well, first of all, they received the wage subsidy scheme, but I've heard varying levels of support that the outbound-tourism operators want. First of all, it was a billion dollars that they wanted support from the Government, then it was $180 million, then it was $30 million. Look, if they need support from the Government, then they need to come to us with a coherent package of the support that they need, not just plucking figures out of the air.

Hon Todd McClay: Has he requested any information on the number of jobs that would be lost in the outbound-tourism sector when the wage subsidy ends, compared to the 20 jobs saved at AJ Hackett by his Government's $5.1 million grant?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Specifically to that question, no, I haven't asked about job losses in the outbound-tourism sector, but I know that the $400 million package that we've announced—16 times bigger than the $25 million package a year that the Opposition are offering the tourism industry—will save 3,000 jobs directly, 7,000 jobs if all of those businesses post-COVID are able to ramp up, and then the positive spillover effects into businesses around them will mean thousands more jobs will be saved because of the wonderful $400 million package that this Government has put together for the tourism industry.

Rino Tirikatene: What reports has he seen in response to the support given to AJ Hackett?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said the money would benefit the whole of Queenstown—"It is one of those businesses that is Queenstown and if somebody out of town was conjuring up a vision of Queenstown, AJ Hackett Bungy would certainly be there alongside other businesses." He said restaurants, bars, hotels, and other operators all gain from bungy surviving.

Rino Tirikatene: What further announcements has he made regarding the tourism recovery package?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The tourism recovery package that I announced on Saturday includes over $230 million in grants and loans for 126 strategic tourism businesses that could help protect the jobs of around 3,000 people directly employed in the industry, $50 million for a regional events fund, $20 million for the inbound tour operator loan scheme, and $10 million to lift digital capability in the sector.

Barbara Kuriger: What similarities does the criteria use for assessing the AJ Hackett grant have to the criteria used to grant funding to Tourism Holdings Ltd in Waitomo sooner than small-tourism operators, such as Waitomo Adventures, Footwhistle Glowworm Cave, and local travel agents?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We moved quickly to support strategic tourism businesses that needed urgent help. At the time these decisions were made, the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (STAPP) was going to follow a similar path and process. However, the economic conditions and reality have changed, and we had to adapt the support we're providing other businesses. This was the only way we were able to support a broad range of tourism businesses in a sustainable way that made sense. The Tourism Recovery Ministers Group has a mandate that it can decide on urgent investments which are outside the application round, and it has done so on these occasions.

Hon Todd McClay: Is the Minister aware that the outbound-tourism operators support thousands and thousands of jobs around the country, which are now at risk without direct Government support, and why has he prioritised businesses like AJ Hackett and those 20 workers over travel agents?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: I'm not sure that the member understands that outbound-tourism operators are trying to lure New Zealanders out of New Zealand into overseas markets, when our job is to lure overseas people into New Zealand to support our tourism industry. The fact of the matter, though, is that the borders are closed and there is no inbound or outbound tourism happening at the moment.

Hon Stuart Nash: Has the Minister heard reports that the $500,000 granted to Napier's Art Deco Trust over two years will save their iconic festival, which was probably going to have to be cancelled without this announcement, will save lots of jobs, and contribute greatly to Napier's economic recovery?

SPEAKER: Right. Order! The member may answer any two of those four questions.

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: We've heard reports from all around the country, from the tourism industry, about what wonderful support STAPP has been. As we've said, 7,000 jobs, and 3,000 jobs directly, will be saved if those businesses can amp up, as well as the positive spillover effects into other businesses around, because of the STAPP and the whole tourism package. I have to remind everybody: our $400 million we've invested this year is 16 times bigger than the package that the Opposition are offering to the tourism industry.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of tourism ventures, in the criteria is there the judgment which runs something like this: "It's not likely to create an envy factor when looked at in the big picture."?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Our criteria were well-thought-out, and, as I said, the tourism operators, the 126 that got it, met the criteria, unlike the outbound-tourism operators who didn't even apply. So they couldn't meet the criteria, with no application.

Hon Todd McClay: Does the Minister think it's good enough that he's saying to the thousands and thousands of people that work for tourism businesses, to travel agents around the country who are about to lose their jobs, that it's their fault that nobody applied, and he hasn't even bothered to ask how many would lose their job, or sought to meet with them?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The other questions the member asked had some relevance to the responsibilities of the Minister of Tourism; the Minister of Tourism is not responsible for outbound operators.

Question No. 10—Regional Economic Development

10. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement that the Provincial Growth Fund will "create sustainable jobs in the regions", and how many new permanent roles have been created that did not exist prior to Provincial Growth Fund funding being allocated to those projects?

Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): Yes, and I would point out to the House that we've always included part-time, full-time, and contractors in our jobs data collection because it reflects the number of people who have come into the labour work, especially in those sectors that rely on contractors. A job is a job. However, on the question of the number of permanent new roles, until such time as the full impact and rollout of the fund is completed, it's not possible to answer that question.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, how, therefore, can his press release this morning say that the number of jobs created by the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) outstripped the 10,000 target, when the questions asked by the Provincial Development Unit (PDU) didn't actually include a question on how many jobs were created?

Hon SHANE JONES: The member is slightly incorrect there. The compilation of the data was carried out by officials who got in contact by both phone call and email in terms of how many people had been employed at various points in the journey on different projects. The difficulty with the full accounting of jobs lies in the fact that a number of the projects have yet to kick off, such as the breakwaters at the mouth of the Whanganui River or, indeed, the iconic port, wharf, and harbour development at Ōpōtiki.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given that answer and the answer to his primary question, how could he so boldly say that 13,217 jobs had been created by the PGF?

Hon SHANE JONES: That is a well-proportioned figure. It reflects an exercise undertaken, and COVID has had such an impact on the operations of this area of Government. As a consequence of the officials being asked to go back and re-engage, it's actually given me the confidence to say that the figure will actually be 28,000 as the projects roll out. I need to repeat again: a sum of $700 million has actually been handed out in the form of pūtea—cash—into the accounts, into the pockets, of the employees, and I would invite the member to divide 13,000 into $700 million.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he think "sustainable growth" has been achieved when 6,648 of the 13,000 jobs no longer exist after just 2½ years?

Hon SHANE JONES: Therein lies a problem in the member's logic. This fund has invested in infrastructure. As infrastructure is completed, tertiary and secondary investors with their own money follow up, whether it's an improvement to rail, whether it's an improvement in maritime infrastructure, whether it's improvement in water storage. Many jobs will flow, but you don't employ people permanently after an infrastructure project has been completed. Then you allow the genius of the market to come to play.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is he aware of a putative Provincial Growth Fund project at the University of Waikato marine centre in Tauranga that the Minister of Conservation has just declined despite its clear purpose of environmental research, and does he know why?

Hon SHANE JONES: A matter of that detail requires a very serious answer, and I invite the member to put that in writing. I am not aware that the outcomes that are contained in our coalition agreement to do with aquaculture are being frustrated at all.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is the reason he didn't announce the result of the question by the PDU on how many jobs were saved when they otherwise might've been lost because the answer was not many, if any?

Hon SHANE JONES: I shall endeavour to address that riddle. I repeat again: the allocation of $700 million has given us a figure of 13,000 workers being engaged in the delivery of projects to date. Now, the jobs will most certainly flow when the initiatives are fully rolled out, and that's why we take a great deal of diligence as we move forward in the allocation of the remainder of the fund.

Question No. 11—Health (Māori Health)

11. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health (Māori Health): How is the Government supporting Māori health and wellbeing?

Hon PEENI HENARE (Associate Minister of Health (Māori Health)): Last week, I was pleased to announce Whakamaua, the Government's Māori Health Action Plan. This plan sets out the pathway towards achieving greater health equity for Māori over the next five years and demonstrates the Government's commitment to improving Māori health and wellbeing.

Willow-Jean Prime: What specific outcomes are Whakamaua seeking to achieve?

Hon PEENI HENARE: Whakamaua has four high-level outcomes: firstly, that iwi, hapū, whānau, and Māori communities are exercising their authority to improve their health and wellbeing; second, ensuring the health and disability system is fair and sustainable and delivers more equitable outcomes for Māori; thirdly, it seeks to address racism and discrimination in all its forms within our health system; and, lastly, the plan protects mātauranga Māori throughout the health and disability system.

Willow-Jean Prime: Why do we need a Māori health action plan?

Hon PEENI HENARE: We know the health and disability system is failing Māori and, as a result, there are significant inequities between Māori and tauiwi. Whakamaua provides clear direction on how we can fix that. Many of the actions listed within the plan will help counter the influence of implicit bias and systemic racism in the system. I'm pleased to say that some of these actions have already begun, including streamlining patient pathways for whānau Māori, providing virtual consults, and a more inclusive approach to telehealth.

Question No. 12—Prime Minister

12. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Prime Minister: What are some of her Government's policy achievements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Thank you for the use of the word "some"; I wouldn't want to wish to keep the House longer than I am able. We've rolled out Mana Ake, a mental health support programme for kids in schools in Canterbury and Kaikōura; extended school-based health services; reduced the cost of going to the doctor for more than half-a-million New Zealanders; set up our Cancer Control Agency and the suicide prevention office; boosted funding for Pharmac; and replaced 12 radiation machines to take the pressure off DHBs. We're rebuilding our health workforce, with 1,400 more nurses, 580 more doctors, 530 more allied health workers. We're addressing major infrastructure issues at Auckland City Hospital, Greenlane, Middlemore, obviously Dunedin, just to name a few. I have a long list. I've just started on health; I'm not sure if you'll oblige me to allow to continue with housing, education, and a range of others. Perhaps I'll leave it to the member's supplementary. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! All right, I'm going to remind people in the galleries that they are not allowed to get involved in this question period. As someone who knows the consequences of becoming involved from the galleries, I strongly recommend that people in the galleries don't.

David Seymour: Why did the Prime Minister perhaps forget to mention KiwiBuild, the public house waiting list, Auckland light rail—

SPEAKER: Order! The member has asked two supplementaries.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because the primary didn't allow me to get past the first part of health, let alone get into transport, housing, and a number of other areas where I am very proud of our record.

David Seymour: Why didn't the Prime Minister mention that after her intervention at Ihumātao there are more houses cancelled that would have been built there than KiwiBuild managed to build in three years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I actually reject the premise of that question. If the member would like to give me another platform to talk about this Government's record of building more houses than any other Government since the 1970s, of retrofitting our State houses to give them another 50 years of life through $50 billion—

David Seymour: Point of order.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Please sit down, I'm not finished.

SPEAKER: Order! I'm anticipating a point of order, and I think that the Prime Minister has gone beyond what was asked of her.

David Seymour: Why did the Prime Minister perhaps forget to mention that her Government inherited a $6 billion surplus for 2020 and turned it into a billion-dollar deficit even before the COVID crisis hit?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You're surely very close to the end of this session—will realise that there is a rule where you cannot ask the Government member a patsy question and have that member attack the Opposition.

SPEAKER: I think the member has a history of not being helpful with his points of order. The one point that I'll give him is this: consistency through this Parliament. David Seymour, ask it again.

David Seymour: Thank you, Mr Speaker. To the Prime Minister, why did she perhaps forget to mention that her Government inherited a forecast $6 billion surplus for 2020, but by the end of last year, Treasury forecast a $1 billion deficit for this year, even before COVID hit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because I only got to health. Let's do the economy. I'm happy, of course, to stand on our record of delivering GDP growth close to an average of 2.3 percent, which was higher than the 2.1 of the last Government. We delivered $13 billion worth of surpluses and got our net debt relative to GDP under 20 percent. Were it not for that positioning, we would be in a much worse position going into COVID-19. As it stands, relative to many other OECD nations, our debt will be lower—even after our spending on things like the wage subsidy—because of the preliminary work we did and the position we put us in.

Hon Stuart Nash: Why did the Prime Minister forget to mention that over 2,250 more police have graduated out into our communities when we became the Government?

SPEAKER: No, no, no. I've had enough of those patsies.

David Seymour: Why did the Prime Minister perhaps forget to mention her Government's total failure to make any tangible progress on the highly confused Dominion Road light rail project, which runs right along the border of her electorate?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because I didn't get to transport, where I'm happy, of course, to report that over 2,000 kilometres of safety improvements have been made, and the $6 billion needed for the Auckland Transport Alignment Project to make sure that we're delivering a range of modes for Aucklanders and reduce congestion. When it comes to the issue of light rail, which I don't believe either that member or that member supported, but who seems very interested in it now, yes, we didn't get agreement across parties, but that has not stopped other progress in the area of transport. [Seymour stands]

SPEAKER: No—no.

David Seymour: Why is it—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member has had four supplementaries already.

David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just clarify—are you counting my repeat of a question—

SPEAKER: Well, in that case, I apologise to the member. It just feels like a lot.

David Seymour: Well, people might have to get used to it. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! All members will settle down. I think all of us know that in the next three months there is going to be a bit of a turnover, and we won't be focusing too much on it.

David Seymour: Why is it so difficult just to answer a question and accept that some of the things the Prime Minister—

SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. He knows that's not a question.

Hon David Parker: Can the Prime Minister confirm the recent endorsement by David Seymour of the proposed repeal and replacement of the Resource Management Act, including Mr Seymour's kind acceptance that this is more than the prior Government achieved over the prior nine years?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I expect that that was the supplementary the member was going to ask, given that he's given me so many opportunities this question time.

David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to ask an additional supplementary question at the expense of the Labour Party.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I hear some objection. I will put it to the House, but I think it's fair to say that not long after the member completed it, I got an indication from his sparring partner that he wouldn't get permission. Is there any objection? There appears to be objection.

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