QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Hon Simon Bridges: When was the last time hardship grant requests rose 71 percent in less than two years?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member wishes to put questions around historical data on notice, I'd be happy to answer them.
SPEAKER: Order! There are a series of Speakers' rulings in this area. From memory, they're around Speakers' rulings 174 or 175—I'm looking for help as to the exact numbers, but I can remember my immediate predecessor being very specific in this area.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the case that demand for hardship grants has never risen as fast as it has under her Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, if the member wishes to seek historical data by putting the question on notice, I'd be more than happy to answer. But what is also unprecedented in this country would be the amount of investment that's gone into low-income and middle-income families, as this Government has done. To run over just a couple of initiatives: the increase in the family tax credit, which, of course, also goes to people on benefits; the winter energy payment, which goes to people on benefits as well; the Best Start payment, which is a universal child payment, but also, from zero to three years, it increases the incomes for those families with young children and limited ability to go into work; and include in that as well the changes we made in the last Budget, which will index main benefit increases to wages to stop that growth that we've seen under successive Governments—but particularly that one—all of which is lifting between 50,000 and 74,000 children out of poverty. We are increasing the incomes of those who need it the most because we recognise the need that exists, and that includes supporting them when they walk through Work and Income's doors.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light of the fact that Andrew Little called for Prime Minister Bill English's resignation when hardship grants went up 14 percent, what's her excuse?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That last Government saw an escalation with no plan, with nothing that invested in those families, nothing that increased their incomes, and, add to that, no plan to increase public housing supply. This Government has increased public housing places. It has quadrupled the number of State houses that are being built. It has rolled out Housing First and an additional 1,000 places for those in chronic homelessness. Where we see need, we not only support those in need; we have a plan to deal with the systemic issues driving it. We have always said that the need will grow in the intervening period, and that is exactly what we're seeing, but we have a plan to address it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Prime Minister saying that it's going to take a little time to turn an inherited, wallowing ship of State around?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely am, and whilst we as a Government came in and made the first most important step of stopping the sale of State houses, which was contributing to the problem, we also, of course, have to get on with increasing supply. That takes time, which is why in the intervening period we've said to those who are in need to come to Work and Income. We have support there ready to be provided and we will meet the need, and we won't change the criteria of waiting lists to hide the problem.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under her watch, rents have risen $50 a week, higher petrol taxes have increased the cost of filling up the family car, and the average Kiwi is now paying—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I'm going to refer the member to Speaker's ruling 175/4, and ask him to rephrase his question.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept rents, petrol prices, and, indeed, taxes have all gone up under her watch, making it harder and contributing to that hardship grant going up 71 percent under her watch?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. I refer to my earlier questions, where the cumulative effect of things like the Families Package means hundreds of thousands of families will be $75 a week better off. When it comes to the issue of rent, I will remind the member that while National was in office, rents went up, on average, roughly $100 per week over that period of time. Rents do increase. What we want to see—
Hon Simon Bridges: Point of order.
SPEAKER: A point of order—
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, if I could finish my answer.
SPEAKER: No, no. The member has a right to ask for a point of order now.
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You referred me to the Standing Orders, and I deeply appreciate that. There's also multiple Standing Orders that make it clear that speakers, when answering questions, shouldn't refer back to a previous Government's record without good reason.
SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. When the member asks such a general first question—
Hon Simon Bridges: Oh, this is all fine!
SPEAKER: The member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.
Hon Simon Bridges: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: The Prime Minister can start her answer again.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was going to leave this until the end of the question, but we are now interrupted. The point of order I wish to raise with you is the validity of the question that was asked by the Deputy Prime Minister. If you look at that later, I'm sure you'll find that it will not meet the standard of the Standing Order that you are currently applying today.
SPEAKER: Well, I think it meets it about as much as most of the other supplementary questions we've had today.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, if I could continue with that final reference, then, to at least the last decade, where, of course, we did see rent increases over that period, the goal of this Government is to address the primary issue which drives rent increases, which is lack of supply, which explains, of course, why in areas like Clutha we've seen a decrease in rents over that period. In Christchurch, it's gone up by about $4, and in Auckland by about $12. I will note, however, that in Auckland, rents over the last year have risen by about 2 percent, which is the lowest annual rise since 2011.
Hon Simon Bridges: Can she name a single time in the history of New Zealand when rents have gone up 52 bucks a week in 20 months?
SPEAKER: Order! Order! That is an area where the Prime Minister certainly doesn't have responsibility, according to the tight rules as requested by Mr Brownlee.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that her Government's policies have led to a 230 percent increase in the cost of emergency housing grants in the last year alone?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. I accept that the last Government's policies have meant that we are picking up the pieces of complete under-investment and neglect, particularly of those on low incomes.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Can the Prime Minister confirm that there would be less need for emergency housing grants if the previous Government had built enough houses to ensure that there would be housing for people who needed them?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely, if Mr Bridges can't ask a question of the Prime Minister about a time in New Zealand, then we can't have a question from Mr Hipkins along those lines, either.
SPEAKER: Well, I think asking a general question which goes back over all periods of time is clearly out. But I will refer the member to Speaker's ruling 159/2, which says, "In respect of the activities of the previous Government, which the Minister has had to confront as the Minister in this Government, I believe it is legitimate for the Minister to make comment on those, although the Minister can be tested on the accuracy of what he or she says." I think that's certainly the essence of this question. Again, this is a ruling from my predecessor bar one, Dr Lockwood Smith.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That's correct, sir, and you point to a very interesting Speaker's ruling. But it does require that there is something specific about it; it doesn't require that the Prime Minister answers to an assertion. It does actually require that there was something in the past that is now being confronted by the Prime Minister. To simply say "Can she assume" is not a reasonable way to ask the question.
SPEAKER: I'm going to ask Chris Hipkins to repeat his question, because I thought it actually fitted right into the Standing Orders. If he can remember it, he gets to ask it again.
Hon Chris Hipkins: I'll give it a go. Can she confirm that there would be less need for homelessness grants, or support for people who are homeless, if the previous Government had built enough houses to provide housing for all those who need it?
SPEAKER: My ruling is that that fits absolutely under Speaker's ruling 159/2.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. In fact, whether it's issues of rent, emergency housing grants, or homelessness, it all comes back to the core issue of a lack of supply. Not only did we have a previous Government who did not address that issue but they, in fact, started to sell State houses, and did not do enough to address the significant housing need. In fact, we are still having to use motels to house people in emergency situations whilst we try and rapidly build and create transitional housing.
Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the case that under National, the number of emergency housing grants declined due to the 3,200 State houses that the Government built, which was over 1,000 more than the previous Labour Government ever built?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, I can't confirm that. I know—
Hon Members: Oh!
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I simply cannot. I also know that some of the criteria—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! That's enough. I wouldn't mind actually hearing the answer, although I'm now regretting allowing the question to go on, because it was out of order.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Actually, what I can say is that I do know that some of the criteria—at least for those who were seeking housing—were changed to mean that large numbers of people were simply moved off housing lists. That is exactly what happened under the last Government, so I don't believe—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Rubbish—just not true.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —that, necessarily, the numbers were a clear reflection of the need that existed at that time.
SPEAKER: The member has been warned about making that statement in the past. Dr Smith will stand, withdraw, and apologise. If he repeats the statement, he will leave the House.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Simon Bridges: Isn't the fact of the matter that every single metric that matters to New Zealanders doing it tough is getting worse under her watch in only 20 short months?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Absolutely not. Not only are wages going up, not only have we quadrupled the number of State houses, and not only have we increased the family tax credit for those in the worst of circumstances but we have increased the minimum wage and benefits—and that Opposition voted against that. I absolutely push back against any suggestion that we have our eye on anything other than supporting those New Zealanders who need it most.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does talk of kindness ring hollow when benefits are up, when hardship grants are up, when emergency housing grants are up, when rents are up, when petrol prices are up, and when those at the bottom are doing it tougher than they have in quite a long time?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Those numbers that the member referred to in the beginning are a reflection of a Government that doesn't turn people away.
Hon Simon Bridges: So, question No. 2, Mr Speaker?
Hon Simon Bridges: Thank you.
Question No. 2—Prime Minister
2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Hon Simon Bridges: What transport projects has her Government started?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, we had a lengthy discussion about that yesterday. In fact, we talked a little bit about the projects that he long hailed but actually put no designational funding into, and I'd be happy to spend a bit of time on that. But, instead, let's talk about the $49 million that went into the Manukau Bus Station in Auckland; State Highway 20A, the shared walking and cycle path in June 2018; the Ian McKinnon Drive walking and cycling shared path; the $45 million in the Maungatapu underpass on State Highway 29: the Paengaroa to Rotoiti cycle trail; the State Highway 2 Woodlands to Ōpōtiki shared path; the $112 million into the Russley Road upgrade, including Memorial Avenue Gateway Bridge; the State Highway 1 Barters Road and Pound Road improvements—and that's in Christchurch—the safety barriers that went in around Queen Elizabeth II Drive; State Highway 74 from Marshland to Burwood in Christchurch—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I hesitate to interrupt the Prime Minister because it was a pretty open question, but I think the House has had enough.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I actually only managed to get to Wellington. I still had Otago, Manawatū, Hawke's Bay, Queenstown, Taranaki, and the top of the South Island, which I wanted to cover.
SPEAKER: The Prime Minister might want to table—[Interruption] [Speaker indicates that the Opposition has lost two supplementary questions]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the issue of transport, can she confirm that that great and essential but deliberately run down asset called railways is being now revived under her Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, and not only are we providing commuter rail services, for instance, between Auckland and Hamilton but we're also working to ensure we get freight off our roads, which does contribute to safety issues as well as wear and tear, and it is something that regional New Zealand has long wanted. A billion dollars has gone into rail in the last Budget, and that's for very good reason: it will make a big difference for transport.
Question No. 3—Tourism
3. WILLOW-JEAN PRIME (Labour) to the Minister of Tourism: What recent announcements has he made about helping local communities improve their tourism infrastructure?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister of Tourism): Last week, I announced $1.1 million in co-funding to restore the mauri of Matapōuri. Earlier this year, local hapū Te Whānau ā Rangiwhakaahu placed a rāhui over Te Wai o Te Taniwha—the Mermaid Pools—in response to the real environmental challenges they were facing from increasing visitor numbers and a lack of infrastructure. The funding will go towards new public toilets, changing rooms, car-park upgrades, waste-water quality treatment, and rubbish and recycling facilities. The benefits of this funding to the visitor experience, as well as in restoring and protecting this great area, will be felt for years to come.
Willow-Jean Prime: What further initiatives has he implemented to help local communities manage the challenges and opportunities of tourism visitor growth?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Strong visitor growth has increased the opportunities and benefits of tourism, but it has also highlighted the challenges that come with it, and this Government is responding to these challenges in a number of ways: implementing the New Zealand - Aotearoa Government Tourism Strategy, which sets out our plan to take a more active role in tourism so that tourism growth is productive, sustainable, and inclusive; setting up the responsible camping working group, with a $16.5 million investment over two summers for infrastructure, education, and enforcement projects; and the international visitor conservation and tourism levy, which is expected to raise $450 million over five years for sustainable tourism infrastructure and to protect our natural environment. Our plan is to make sure the benefits of tourism are realised for our country and our people while managing the impacts.
Question No. 4—Finance
4. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Is he sure New Zealanders are getting good results from the Government's extra spending?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): If the member is asking whether I am sure that lifting tens of thousands of children out of poverty is a good result, then, yes, I am. If the member is asking whether I'm sure that fixing our leaky, mouldy hospitals is a good result, then, yes, I am. If the member is asking whether I'm sure lifting the incomes of more than 300,000 families is a good result, then, yes, I am. If the member is asking whether or not investing in New Zealand to address our long-term challenges is a good result, and one we're making really good progress on, then, yeah, I am.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How much of the $2 billion allocated to KiwiBuild has been spent so far, and how many new houses have been delivered?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As the member knows, those are questions that should be directed, more accurately, to the Minister of Housing. As we know, at the moment 238 homes have been completed, 449 KiwiBuild homes are under construction, and there is a pipeline of 10,356 contracted and committed KiwiBuild homes. You know what? What's really important to New Zealanders is that the Government's actually giving affordable housing a go, unlike members opposite who spent nine years denying there was a housing crisis.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: How many more students are in tertiary education following his Government's decision to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on free fees and extra student support?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I can tell the member is that around $194.2 million has been saved by students who would have been charged those fees and that we have around 50,000 students who are able to make use of the fees-free scheme. On this side of the House, we're actually proud of helping people get educational opportunities.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not answer the question. "How many more students", I asked, not all the other stuff he was saying.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Referring back to the conversation we had about the Prime Minister's question, if you look at the primary question that was set down by Mr Goldsmith, he can't expect the Minister of Finance to be providing detailed answers to topics that are outside of his immediate portfolio.
SPEAKER: That's right.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he saying, as finance Minister, he shouldn't know the detail of what the Government is spending?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely not—I have a very good handle on that. What I do know is that tens of thousands of students have benefited from the fact that on this side of the House, we actually want people to take up educational opportunities.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he think it's good practice that the only evaluation on the effectiveness of the spending currently planned for the $3 billion being put into the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) is for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to do a study after the full $3 billion has been spent to decide whether we got value for money or not?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Many of the projects approved under the Provincial Growth Fund have very specific milestones and indicators. The real judge of the success of this is in the regions of New Zealand, where, all around the country, people say the Provincial Growth Fund is the best thing to happen to the regions in decades, because finally there is a Government that cares about the regions and invests in regional development.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister of Finance as to who he's going to listen to: those National Party members who are breaking down the door to get the Provincial Growth Fund announcements, or the one from Epsom?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I know it's a great tragedy to the people of the regions that the National Party has removed the member for Epsom from his role as spokesperson for regional development. On this side of the House, we are listening to the range of National MPs who are keen on regional development. I'm very much enjoying Matt King's endorsement of what's been going on in Northland, right across the backbench of the National Party. They're crying out for the PGF.
Hon Chris Hipkins: Has he seen examples of members of Parliament—for example, the member for Hamilton East—
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We had a very clear approach to the Standing Orders taken today by you—quite rightfully so, of course—but that's not within the Standing Orders.
SPEAKER: Which Standing Order is it outside?
Hon Simon Bridges: It's clearly a partisan, political point being made by Chris Hipkins in the guise of a question, from no provocation from the Opposition.
SPEAKER: Well, I would have thought that asking if he had support from a member of this Parliament for a particular policy is not necessarily—the question's not partisan. I'll be listening to the response pretty carefully.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I always listen carefully to the wise words of David Bennett, the member for Hamilton East, and he, along with Matt King and others across the House, are crying out for the Provincial Growth Fund. I know that Shane Jones is a magnanimous person and he actually listens to members opposite, and he will be delivering in all of their regions.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is the reason the Government is spending 75 times more on the Provincial Growth Fund than it's put into Pharmac for lifesaving cancer drugs because he thinks he will get better value for money out of Shane Jones than from new cancer drugs?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No.
Question No. 5—Prime Minister
5. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government's statements, policies, and actions?
Hon Paula Bennett: Can serious offenders, such as murderers, have a licence to manufacture cannabis under this Government's medicinal cannabis scheme?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I haven't brought the details with me into the House around some of the criteria around the production of medicinal cannabis.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The Prime Minister passed the law.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If the member wishes to bring specific details in a question on notice, either to me or to the Minister in charge of this area, we would be more than happy to answer the question.
SPEAKER: I'm just going to ask Mr Brownlee to be a little quieter with his interjections, especially when they are a reflection on this House.
Hon Paula Bennett: Under proposals put forward by this Government, so long as other licence holder criteria are met, can active gang members have a licence to grow cannabis under the proposed medicinal cannabis scheme?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I really question why the member would feel uncomfortable putting on notice this question, because I would be more than happy to discuss with the member the regulatory criteria set down for the production of medicinal cannabis. But the member will appreciate that I haven't brought the detail with me; I would be loath to give her misinformation, and I would rather make sure that I was speaking to fact rather than my recall on this matter.
Hon Paula Bennett: Can convicted serious offenders who meet all other licence holder criteria apply for and hold a licence to manufacture cannabis while they are in jail doing their time?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I'm not going to get into a speculative discussion here on principle. This is a serious matter, on which, actually, most members in this House support the production of medicinal cannabis. This is not a particularly political issue. This is a matter of substance. I would rather ensure that I gave the member the correct information around the regulatory framework. I'm much better placed to do that if I have the documentation in front of me.
Hon Dr David Clark: Would the Prime Minister be surprised to learn that the proposals for consultation rule out people with criminal convictions being the licence holder for growing operations but that the proposals do allow for people who have had troubled pasts to participate as employees to make a meaningful contribution to society through the contribution of their skills?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, I wouldn't be, by that detail, but I equally know that members on that side of the House are attempting to make a political point on a matter of substance that, actually, I would have thought that both sides of this House wanted a medicinal cannabis regime that works. If the member has identified an issue within the law that they believe undermines a robust medicinal cannabis regulatory framework, that is something I'm sure we would be very willing to engage with the member on.
Hon Paula Bennett: Is the Prime Minister aware that in the Government's consultation document around the medicinal cannabis scheme that they are proposing, there are only two areas where they would be unable to be licensed, which is if they have not had a previous licence issued under the Misuse of Drugs Act revoked or if they have the capacity to comply with the conditions of the licence for an offence against the misuse and a crime involving dishonesty, but they could be murderers, they could be currently in jail—
SPEAKER: Order! That question is ruled out—Speaker's ruling 175/4.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps you could help us by saying what aspect of that question caused it to be ruled out.
SPEAKER: Well, has the member read Speaker's ruling 175/4?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I have.
SPEAKER: Does he want to read it to the House and show he understands it?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I will, if you would like me to.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: OK. What are we looking—tell me what you're referring to.
SPEAKER: Speaker's ruling 175/4.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Speaker's ruling 175/4—just a moment. It takes me a wee while to count that far.
SPEAKER: Get the member's shoes off; he'll get there quicker.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Thank you for that comment in this friendly Parliament, Mr Speaker. Speaker's ruling 175/4—and we're reading here—says, "does not allow another member to answer a question on behalf of a member of whom the question is asked." So how does that fit—Speaker's ruling 175/4?
SPEAKER: Speaker's ruling 175/4.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I've got page—oh, I've got page 176. There you go. Well, I'll tell you what: one of the great Labour leaders always used to say "One a day and you learn something". Speaker's ruling 174/4: "I have not actually ruled out [supplementary questions containing irony]"—
SPEAKER: Speaker's ruling 175/4.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh, it's Speaker's ruling 175/5 now? It was Speaker's ruling 174/4 before.
SPEAKER: It'll always be Speaker's ruling 175/4.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, Hansard will check us on that. "It is irregular to preface a supplementary question with the words 'Is the Minister aware' "—well, in that case, why did you accept the questions from David Clark and from Winston Peters and from Chris Hipkins?
SPEAKER: Order! Those are not the words that David Clark used.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Then, what were the words that were—are they just the words? So you can go and ask the question of a Prime Minister or another Minister about something that may be assumed—because that, of course, was what Winston Peters did.
SPEAKER: Right. Now, if the member is not capable of finishing and making clear why that question was ruled out, then—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, I'm asking you.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I was asking you why that was ruled out.
SPEAKER: Why the question was ruled out? It was ruled out because it was a clear breach of Speaker's ruling 175/4, as the member became aware as soon as he started reading it.
Question No. 6—Environment
6. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he agree with Sir Geoffrey Palmer, that "mitigation of global warming under the Resource Management Act is important and the law as it stands is clearly deficient"?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment): Yes, which is why Cabinet has agreed to climate change resilience, both mitigation and adaptation, being considered as part of the overhaul of the resource management system. There are doubts that the Resource Management Act (RMA) as it currently stands can respond effectively to future challenges such as climate change.
Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister support removing section 70A and section 104E this term so local authorities consider greenhouse gases in air discharge consents while we wait for the much needed longer-term reform of the Resource Management Act?
Hon DAVID PARKER: No. The overhaul panel will ensure that the RMA aligns with the purpose and processes set out in the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act, once passed, and consider interaction with climate change recommendations and other institutions responding to climate change.
Gareth Hughes: If sections 70A and 104E stay in place, is it correct that under the current law, new coal-fired power station or open-cast coalmine consents could be applied, but decision makers would be specifically excluded from considering the adverse effects of those greenhouse gases?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, that is correct, but it's also notable that because of the price on coal emissions and various other changes that have been made through the years, no new coal-fired electricity has been built in this country for over a decade, and I'm not aware of any being planned—and, in fact, Huntly progressively closes down.
Gareth Hughes: Is it then also the case that for an application for an open-cast coalmine or oil well, the consent decision-makers could consider the traffic effects of transporting the coal or even the dust from the trucks building the facility but not the global warming impacts of burning the fossil fuels itself?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, it is, but I would note that there are pro-renewables biases in the RMA already that make it easier to get a renewables consent.
Gareth Hughes: Well, would the Minister then recognise the climate mitigation and adaptation values of urban trees by repealing sections 76(4A) and 76(4D) this term and restoring the ability of local authorities to protect tree cover?
Hon DAVID PARKER: That will be considered in the wider review. We do need to take a bit of care here. Yes, we need due protection of trees in urban areas, but one of the reasons why the last Government—the National Government—changed that was that some of the over-regulation prevented people pruning a tree without getting a resource consent, and that was a step too far.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did a former Labour Government of which this member was a Minister remove climate change from the RMA?
SPEAKER: Can the member just have a go—he's been around here for a while—at getting it in order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain why Labour has reversed the policy setting that it previously set back in 2005 to exclude climate change as a consideration in the Resource Management Act? What's caused the flip-flop in Labour policy?
Hon DAVID PARKER: We haven't, but it is an issue that will be considered.
Gareth Hughes: Can we really afford to wait for a major reform of the Resource Management Act, which is unlikely to pass this term, when right now our major environmental law actively disregards our generation's most important environmental issue when granting discharge consents?
SPEAKER: I don't know if you can actively disregard, but we'll just keep going.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I can, sir.
Question No. 7—Housing
7. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing: As of 1 July 2019, how many KiwiBuild homes had received a code compliance certificate, and how many KiwiBuild homes were contracted for delivery?
Hon Judith Collins: Then why did the KiwiBuild website state that KiwiBuild had "220 homes completed" if, in fact, they didn't?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The reason is that 87 had received their code compliance certificate as of 1 July, and 230 were counted as completed, using the industry's standard definition of "practically completed"—that is, the builder has told the developer that the property is complete. This is the industry's standard practice.
Hon Judith Collins: Why has the Government continuously said that the programme has contracted 10,000 houses, including the Prime Minister, as recently as Monday night on Q+A, saying that KiwiBuild had "10,000 contracted"?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think the member is confused with the numbers. Let me go through them with her: 87 homes have received their code of compliance, 230 houses are counted as completed under the definition I have just given her, there have been 1,950 houses contracted, and there have been a further 8,406 houses committed and contracted. That sums to 10,356. The numbers are pretty simple.
Hon Judith Collins: Is it correct that by 1 July this year, actually only 70 KiwiBuild houses had code compliance certificates that "confirms the satisfactory completion" of a house, and that only 1,978 of the so-called 10,000 KiwiBuild houses had an actual contract for delivery?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: As per my answer to the primary, the number of houses that had received their code of compliance certificate as of 1 July was 87. There was a written parliamentary question that was released to the member on 18 July, where the number 70 was given to her. This is because as of 18 July, that is the number of code of compliance certificates pertaining to the period she asked about as being received. In the days between 18 July and today, some further code of compliance certificates that were issued by territorial local authorities to developers have been forwarded to the KiwiBuild unit, bringing the number to 87, as I stated in my primary answer.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she stand by her answers to written questions that 42—only 42—of the so-called completed houses were already under construction before KiwiBuild started, meaning that there are only about another 42 that were started and finished by KiwiBuild compared to the target of 1,000?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I think the member is confusing the code of compliance and completed figures. I am happy to confirm in writing the number that were started before KiwiBuild, but as I explained to the member yesterday, the Buying off the Plans and the deals that have been done have actually freed up an amount of capital that means that, actually, we have a number of properties coming to market in this way. But I do note in the 27 days since I have been the Minister of Housing, the housing spokesperson for the Opposition has put several hundred questions to me. If she wants to put that one in writing, I'll happily answer that one too.
Hon Judith Collins: Does she stand by answers to written questions that the thousands of KiwiBuild houses claimed as committed in Mount Roskill, Northcote, and Māngere all had business cases signed off while the Hon Amy Adams was the Minister for housing?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: No.
Question No. 8—Economic Development
8. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he consider manufacturing to be "crucial to boosting jobs and growing our exports"; if so, is he concerned that under this Government, manufacturing confidence has fallen to its lowest level since December 2008?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, the two drivers the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research cited when releasing that survey were the deterioration in global outlook and labour market capacity. However, the member should note that despite these global headwinds, New Zealand's manufacturing sector expanded faster in June than in May: the June performance of manufacturing index reading of 51.3 was up from 50.4 in May. This compares favourably to Australia, the UK, Japan, China, and the eurozone, which all contracted in May.
Hon Todd McClay: Well, then, how does he explain this fall in manufacturing confidence to a net negative of 57 when manufacturers are now as pessimistic as they were during the global financial crisis?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the study that the member quotes is somewhat subjective—it's based on self-reporting by manufacturers—but there's no question that the deterioration in global outlook and the labour market capacity that that report cited are behind the fall in sentiment. The work to deliver the manufacturing workforce over the last decade simply wasn't done, and now businesses are paying the price for that. That is why my colleague Chris Hipkins is working on reforms to vocational education, to ensure that businesses get the skilled workers that they require. Since 2009, there's been a reduction of about 2,000 people enrolling in manufacturing and related programmes in both provider-based and work-based programmes.
Hon Todd McClay: When will his Government have an actual plan to support New Zealand businesses, given that manufacturing confidence has fallen a whopping 73 points since his Government took office?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, we have inherited a failure to invest in the workforce. We are working with industry to improve productivity and reorient the economy away from a heavy reliance on population growth and high levels of property speculation. Now, no one can turn that situation around in only 18 months, but in spite of a very challenging global environment, actual manufacturing output has increased under this Government, and we are putting in place the building blocks that manufacturers need. We've got industry transformation—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! Far too much.
Hon Todd McClay: Well, isn't it actually Government policies like industrial relations reform, increasing powers for unions, higher taxes, and increasing costs that are responsible for these plummeting levels of business confidence, especially in the manufacturing sector?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No. I reject the premise of the member's question—
SPEAKER: That's it. Thank you.
Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that when a member asks a long question with a whole lot of assertion in it, you do actually need to allow the Minister a chance to respond to the assertions that were contained in the question.
SPEAKER: Yeah, and I think in the previous answer I let it run for far too long, and if you take the two answers together, the Minister is still quite a long way ahead.
Hon Todd McClay: Does he agree with the former Labour Party finance spokesman Grant Robertson, who said in 2015 on business confidence "If Labour was in government our KiwiBuild programme would be under way and we would make sure the economy stopped drifting any further.", and, if so, as the newly appointed economic development Minister, will KiwiBuild be part of his plan to rescue the economy?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We are putting in place the programmes that New Zealand manufacturers need to give them a strong platform for growth. We've got industry transformation plans, including in wood processing and food and beverage. We are reforming the skills and vocational education sector to give manufacturers the skilled workers they need. We've ramped up research and development spending though the tax credits. There is Reserve Bank reform. We have extended the brightline test and shut down the loopholes for property speculation. This Government is putting in place the framework for a productive economy.
SPEAKER: OK. Thank you.
Question No. 9—Finance
9. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Crown accounts?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I have received the financial statements of the Government for the 11 months to the end of May. The statements show that PAYE income came in above forecasts, suggesting wage and employment growth has been stronger than expected in the May Budget. Corporate tax was also above forecast, suggesting higher corporate profits, and higher GST returns indicted stronger than expected investment. The surplus at 31 May was $2.49 billion higher than forecast in the Budget, meaning a lower net debt reading of 19.3 percent of GDP.
Dr Deborah Russell: What reports has he seen from ratings agencies in light of these accounts?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I have seen a number of positive reports from rating agencies. In its latest report, Standard & Poor's revised its ratings outlook for New Zealand to positive from stable as a result of the Government's fiscal management and resilience to macroeconomic and financial sector risks. Fitch ratings agency said that the Government's commitment to its medium-term fiscal objectives provides a sound policy anchor, and, likewise, Moody's highlighted the Government's commitment to fiscal discipline as demonstrated by projections for continued Budget surpluses and debt reductions. They said, "The stable outlook is anchored by [an] expectation that, even in face of shocks, New Zealand's credible institutions with highly effective policymaking and ample policy space will maintain economic and financial stability".
Dr Deborah Russell: What does the Government's strong financial position mean for New Zealand's economic resilience?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government's careful balance between making much-needed investments while managing the books responsibly allows us to have options, which is particularly important in the current uncertain global economic context. Just last night, the IMF further downgraded its global growth forecasts for 2019 and 2020 after two significant downgrades in the past year. The IMF said the global economy is being weighed down by trade uncertainty and a higher chance of a no-deal Brexit. They suggest that fiscal policy should balance growth, equity, and sustainability concerns, and that is exactly what this Government is doing.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that's the case, Minister of Finance, can my department have some more money?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Minister of Finance listens carefully to colleagues and notes that in Budget 2018, New Zealand invested significantly in the important area of foreign affairs and Official Development Assistance and continues to do so, and I will always listen to reasoned arguments from reasoned people.
Hon Paul Goldsmith: If he is conscious of international uncertainty, does he also acknowledge the domestic uncertainty that's been caused by his Government with the more than 200 working groups, and uncertainty created by decisions such as the oil and gas with no proper process?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What I acknowledge on this side of the House is that we've inherited many significant challenges that we are taking time to address, but we will get those challenges right. But what the member will discover when he goes out and talks to the business community is that they are looking at this Government and saying that we are managing the books responsibly and we are investing in the areas that need to be invested in. I invite him to get out and listen to those people.
Question No. 10—Social Development
10. Hon LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by all her statements and actions?
Hon Louise Upston: Why did she say yesterday in the House, in answer to oral question No. 9 about job seeker numbers, that—and I quote—"The recent increase is primarily driven by population growth", when the percentage of working-age population on main benefit has increased in the last year?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I'd need to check the Hansard, but I think that she may have cut my quote off. I said it was primarily driven by population growth and also the need for upskilling and training, given the types of jobs that are being promoted and also softening in some sectors. If we look at the working-age population that is currently on benefits, it's 9.7 percent. When we first took office in 2017, in December 2017, it was 9.8 percent.
Hon Louise Upston: What is the Minister's definition of the word "primarily"?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: If you put the word "primarily" into the context of the sentence that I gave the other day, which said primarily population growth and—A-N-D—the need for more upskilling and training and the softening in some sectors, and then I gave three reasons. There were primarily three reasons that I gave yesterday in the House, remember?
Hon Louise Upston: Why did she quote the example of Mana in Mahi helping young people into employment when there's been a dropout rate of 32 percent?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We have met our targets with regard to Mana in Mahi. I'd like to acknowledge our Minister of Employment, the Hon Willie Jackson, for the wonderful job that he is doing with respect to that programme. We set an initial target of 150. There were 240, I think—off the top of my head—or 30 that were actually placed in positions. There were a few that didn't stay in those particular placements, and I gave a range of reasons for that today in Estimates. I want to put on record that there are a range of reasons. It's not always the fault of the young person; in fact, employers had business problems where they had to lay people off. The main thing is that the Ministry of Social Development is there to pick the young people up and to guide them towards other opportunities—
SPEAKER: Order! Order! That's enough.
Hon Louise Upston: In light of her answer to question No. 9 yesterday, when she said there is no link between work obligations and job seeker numbers, how can someone get a job if they don't turn up for an interview?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: I think what we're hearing from that member is that negative stigma that often we see about people in the benefit system. More often than not, people on benefit and in the welfare system do want to work. This Government is committed to supporting them to work, rather than judging them or labelling them or stigmatising them, as she continues to do.
Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a clear question around turning up for interviews.
SPEAKER: Yes, and it related to a previous question. If the member had put it down—as I've said to a number of members—as part of a specific question rather than a general one, the member could ask for a more specific answer. She didn't, so she can't.
Question No. 11—Environment
11. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for the Environment: What announcements has the Government made regarding the resource management system?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister for the Environment): The Government today launched a comprehensive overhaul of the resource management system to cut complexity and costs, and to better enable urban development while also improving protection of the environment. Close to 30 years after the Resource Management Act (RMA) was passed, it's not working as was intended. It takes too long, it costs too much, and it hasn't protected the environment. This cornerstone law, underperforming in New Zealand, in a country where we value our environment and want to properly house people, needs to be fixed. Further ad hoc patch-ups and workarounds are not the answer; a thorough overhaul of the law is needed.
Dr Duncan Webb: How will the Government fix the resource management system?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The overhaul will be led by a resource management review panel. I'm pleased to advise the House that the recently retired Court of Appeal judge the Hon Tony Randerson QC, who brings extensive resource management and legal expertise, has agreed to lead the panel. The overhaul needs to address urban development, environmental bottom lines, and effective but not overly complex participation, including by Māori. It will focus on the RMA but also include its interactions with the Local Government Act, the Land Transport Act, and the Climate Change Response Act. The public will have the opportunity to have a say on the proposals before any legislative changes are made.
Dr Duncan Webb: What other changes to the resource management system is the Government proposing?
Hon DAVID PARKER: While we await the panel's work, which we expect by mid-2020, some interim changes are necessary to remedy and remove some of the unnecessary complexity introduced by the previous Government. A targeted RMA amendment bill will be introduced to reverse some of the changes. It will increase certainty, restore previously excluded public participation, and improve RMA processes. Perhaps most significantly, it'll support the delivery of the freshwater programme by introducing a new planning process for regional plans to protect water. Current plan processes are so unwieldy that many councils will not complete their freshwater plans until 2030, 13 years after National's 2017 freshwater national policy statement.
Hon Judith Collins: When did the Minister first realise that he needed yet another working group?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I realised that to fix a statute that under the last Government grew to 796 pages couldn't be done on the back of an envelope. I was stunned to read the brazen claim by the National Party leader—or at least on this subject—the Hon Judith Collins that National is "the party that gets stuff done." on the RMA. I'm not sure what crypt she was sleeping in in the last nine years in Government.
Hon Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take offence at that offensive comment.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Hang on. Do you want to speak to the point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes I do. It's a well-known convention in this House that if you lead with the chin, you're likely to get a knockout blow.
SPEAKER: Well, I don't know that that was that helpful, but there is an essence of truth in that. I think it's fair to say that the Hon Judith Collins is a relatively robust member, and it was a relatively robust supplementary question. I think it's fair to say that I was getting to the point of cautioning the Hon David Parker, who's not normally known for that sort of approach, that he was well beyond his normal limits, and I think we'll just leave it where it stands. Further supplementary—
Hon Judith Collins: No. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not acceptable for a Minister to refer to me or any other member of this House as sleeping in a crypt. That is a totally offensive comment, and he should have the honour to withdraw and—
SPEAKER: Sorry, I think that is a fair comment. Sorry, I thought it was the South Island word for a bach, not a crypt. The member will withdraw and apologise.
Hon David Parker: I withdraw and apologise.
SPEAKER: Thank you.
Dr Duncan Webb: What reports has he received on the Government's plans to overhaul the resource management system?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Reaction from stakeholders has been overwhelmingly positive. The Employers and Manufacturers Association, the Environmental Defence Society, Infrastructure New Zealand, the Property Council, and Business New Zealand have called the Government's overhaul "a significant step" that is "a nation-building opportunity that should lead to enhanced environmental and social wellbeing outcomes,". I would also note that David Seymour is quoted as having welcomed the overhaul, saying it's more promising than anything National did on reforming the RMA after nine years in Government.
Question No. 12—Conservation
12. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister of Conservation: Will the full findings and any recommendations from the consultation on whitebait management, which she announced last October, be publicly released before the committee stage of the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE (Minister of Conservation): A reported entitled New Zealanders' views on whitebait management: Summary of findings from a public engagement process was released on 16 May this year, is available on the Department of Conversation's website, and has been there for the last two months for the member to read.
Sarah Dowie: Will she, therefore, delay the committee stage of her bill to allow for cross-referencing of submissions between the two processes she has been running, ensuring an appropriate balance between conservation and fishing for whitebait?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The report has been on the Department of Conservation's website for two months, so members of the Environment Committee have had that report available. I look forward to the report back of the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill, and the recommendations of the select committee. That bill will provide an improved tool box for managing our freshwater fish.
Sarah Dowie: Why would she not ensure transparency, and that the fullest and most informed feedback from her consultation about the impact on recreational fishers was inserted into that select committee process, when in front of the select committee is a bill that will give her the power to close that fishery?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The member doesn't appear to have been listening. As a result of the public engagement which the Department of Conservation has done and the publication of that report, I have asked the department to develop a consultation document on improvements to the management of the whitebait fishery. Fewer controls apply to whitebait than to any other commercial, recreational, or sports fishery. There will be public consultation on any changes to the regulations. The overwhelming thrust of the public engagement that was summarised in that report has been a recognition that management needs to improve. That is why this Government is acting to improve it.
Sarah Dowie: Will she guarantee New Zealanders that fishing for whitebait from their family stand or buying a fritter at their local cafe will continue if her bill becomes law?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: The member misconstrues the purpose of the bill. The bill does not ban whitebait fishing. It will provide better tools to enable better regulations to manage the fishery so that it is sustainable—a concern that came through strongly in the public engagement in the report, which the member obviously hasn't read.
Sarah Dowie: Will Edmonds need to remove whitebait fritters from their cookbook under a Eugenie Sage whitebait regime?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: No.