Pacific Scoop

Parliament: Questions and Answers – Dec 14

Press Release – Hansard

1. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does she stand by all her Government’s economic and fiscal policies? Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister : Yes, when those policies …ORAL QUESTIONS


Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s economic and fiscal policies?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, when those policies are fairly represented.
Rt Hon Bill English: Can she confirm that in today’s Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update (HYEFU), the coalition and Government promises that have been included are just the Families Package and the tertiary education changes?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can confirm that those are in the HYEFU, and that the 100-day plan costings are also there.
Rt Hon Bill English: Can she confirm that additional spending promised by the Government in health and education is not factored into the half yearly update?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, that’s correct, because, basically, the document is the end of the last administration and signals the beginning of the new one. And the next Budget will point that out.
Hon Members: We can’t hear him.
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, can I ask the people in charge of the volume to turn it up a bit. Could I also ask the Deputy Prime Minister to use his outside voice. Thank you. That doesn’t apply to any of his colleagues.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: My point—I will say it more loudly, and not in my demure way. The reality is that the HYEFU is really the end of the last administration’s report, and the matters that he’s seeking to find clarity on will be in the next Budget.
Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm that if the half yearly update is, as described, essentially the end of the last administration’s coverage, that it shows forecasts for consistent economic growth around 3 percent and the Government’s books in surplus, with growing surpluses?
Mr SPEAKER: Any one of those four.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, all of them are not a good picture—neither the first two, nor the last two, for that matter. But what it can point to, of course, at the end of their report is that there is a serious decline in trade against GDP in this country and there was a serious growth in debt against the countries—
Hon Steven Joyce: I think you’re mucking this up, actually, Winston.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, no, we haven’t bungled up. I’ll tell you what it is. In 2008, GDP was 5.4 percent when it comes to debt. By 2016, it was 20.0 percent—a fourfold increase—and total Crown borrowings in the same period increased by $67 billion, from $46 million to $113 billion.
Rt Hon Bill English: Has the Prime Minister asked the Deputy Prime Minister whether he believes these forecasts, given his public statements that the economy is headed for a downturn, if not a crash?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, the Prime Minister can confirm that—that it was a cause to be careful about into the future, not to spray money around on consumerism and on giving tax break breaks to your mates, and, in short, not to take from the needy to give to the greedy.
Rt Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm that when she raised these matters with the Deputy Prime Minister, he demonstrated his own political technique with respect to spending of spray and walk away?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: This is seriously important. What the Prime Minister did appreciate—and all her colleagues—was the difference between borrowing for production and long-term infrastructure, some of it lasting a hundred years, as opposed to wasting it on his mates and on tax breaks for the rich.
Clayton Mitchell: What reports has the Prime Minister seen about the previous administration’s economic management?
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! The Prime Minister will—there’s a vital word that’s wrong, and seeing reports is not a matter of responsibility. Are there any further supplementary questions?
Rt Hon Bill English: Why, then, does the Prime Minister support measures in the package that provide to the highest income households in New Zealand either a baby bonus of $3,000 a year, regardless of income, and a one year of free tertiary education to the value of $12,000 to $15,000, regardless of income, if he’s so concerned about targeting those families most in need?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: There’s a substantial difference between means testing and universality, whether you’re talking about student loans or talking about power costs or whether you’re talking about superannuation, and the difference is that we haven’t gone out to lend only to our mates, but rather to lend a help to everybody.
Rt Hon Bill English: So can the Prime Minister just explain why she believes in universality for free tertiary education—that is, assistance regardless of the circumstances of the individual and for young children—but not universality when it comes to reducing taxes for hard-working New Zealanders?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer’s extraordinarily obvious, because all people have costs whether they’re wealthy, whether they’re middle-incomed, or whether they’re poor. If they were on a high income but with a large family, they’d have extraordinary costs, and we understand that. And that’s why the tertiary help is being given, because it goes way beyond the elitist tertiary institutions that they talked about. It includes apprentices and all sorts of people needed in the trade industries of this country.
Clayton Mitchell: What reports has the Prime Minister received about the previous administration’s economic management?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, this sort of report, for example: of the $20 billion Defence Force upgrade in the 2016 white paper, not one dollar was accounted for. It appeared in the last Budget as a fiscal risk. That tells you how irresponsible they were.
Clayton Mitchell: What reports has the Prime Minister received about the previous administration’s levels of debt?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Oh, Mr Speaker—a very good question: widespread discontent across Government departments. With no increases accounting for inflation, something had to give and it did—it ran down capacity and services with countless district health boards being in debt, educationalists being concerned, the police being under-resourced and underfunded. You name it; it was a shortage.
Question No. 2—Finance
2. Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements on economic and fiscal policy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were given.
Hon Steven Joyce: Does he stand by his comments about the importance of fiscal responsibility; and if so, why is his debt track increasing so much from the next few years when the economy is performing well and tax revenues are rising—increasing from a Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update forecast of around $60 billion at the end of last year to $69.4 billion over the next 4 years?
Mr SPEAKER: I’m going to let the Minister answer it, but I’m going to warn the shadow finance Minister to make his questions a lot shorter. There was quite a long bit on the end of it that was not necessary for the sense of the actual question.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As the Government is committed to, net debt as a percentage of GDP will go, in fact, below 20 percent within five years of us taking office. In terms of cash debt, well, we’ve inherited a massive infrastructure deficit from that Government. We’ve got to build some affordable houses, we want to contribute to the Superannuation Fund, and therefore we will take on debt to clean up the mess of the previous Government.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can he confirm, then, that he is happy being the finance Minister that takes the pre-election fiscal update that was reducing debt down to $56 billion and instead taking it up to $70 billion in four years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Here is a member who oversaw the increase in debt by $50 billion while his Government was in office. Trying to lecture—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will now address the question.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: We need, as a country, to invest in our future, and we will do that by taking on additional debt in the short term to make up for the deficit that we have been left with.
Hon Steven Joyce: Why is it that there’s only a couple of coalition policy changes included in the half-year update? Where is, for example, the $1 billion provincial growth fund, where is the funding for health, and where is the funding for early childhood education?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The half-year update includes the costs of the Government’s 100-day plan, including the investment in families that will reduce child poverty by nearly half. The other matters, as is normal, are part of the Budget policy process and there are operating allowances and capital allowances in the forecast, in the Budget Policy Statement where they will be accounted for.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can he confirm that he’s absolutely confident that he can meet the coalition commitments—all 51 of them—in the Budget operating and capital allowances as set out in the Budget Policy Statement and half-year update?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Yes, I am, and I am proud to stand by that document, because it’s a document that actually addresses the underfunding in health, in education, and police that we have been left with.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can the finance Minister confirm that Treasury has added 28 separate new fiscal risks to the half-year update of things that it doesn’t believe are taken into account in these documents?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As is normal, when a new Government takes over, Treasury will, where costings have not been completed, put them in that section. But the member completely misrepresents them. What that shows is we’re an ambitious Government with a lot of plans and that’s why Treasury will cost those into the future.
Question No. 3—Finance
3. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: What are the key priorities outlined in the Government’s Budget Policy Statement?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): The parties that make up this Government are not satisfied with the status quo. The Budget Policy Statement sets out how the Government will lift incomes to reduce child poverty, protect the environment, create more jobs, and build affordable houses while running sustainable surpluses and reducing net debt to GDP. The Government’s Budget Policy Statement clearly sets out how our priorities are different from the previous Government. Not all New Zealanders received the benefits of economic growth in recent years. Our Budgets, led by the Families Package, will ensure that all New Zealanders share in prosperity.
Tamati Coffey: How will the Government’s priorities, as set out in the Budget Policy Statement, affect families?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government’s policy platform has families at its heart. Our Families Package, which reverses the previous Government’s tax cuts and better targets the spending at those who need it most, will lift 88,000 children out of poverty by 2021—39,000 more than the previous Government’s package, which would have seen 20 percent of the benefit go to the top 10 percent of earners. This Government has different priorities. We will target our spending at the time of life and to the people who need it most.
Tamati Coffey: What is the outlook for wage growth and house price growth in the Budget Policy Statement over the next four years?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Good news—wages are forecast to grow, on average, by over 3 percent over the next four years due to this Government’s policies. This is stronger than in the pre-election update, and it is also stronger than the forecast house price growth over the next four years. Our policies to increase wages, stabilise and moderate the housing market, and build affordable houses through KiwiBuild will be in favour of first-home buyers.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can he confirm that it is still one of his priorities to lift the return from work for Kiwi workers; if so, why is he planning to remove $1,060 from average median-wage workers from 1 April next year, which will not be compensated by his 3 percent wage growth?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The fact that that member believes that the way to increase wages is to cut taxes shows just how limited his vision is. We want to lift wages by building productivity, building skills, and having a workforce engaged in high-wage jobs.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can the finance Minister confirm, then, that real money in the hand for Kiwi workers isn’t real money if it’s a reduction in tax and is only real money to them if it’s actually a lift in wages, in which case, is he saying that they are on the wrong planet if money in the hand is important to them?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The tax cuts promised by the previous Government were never real money because they’d never come into force.
Tamati Coffey: What does the Budget Policy Statement show about the Government’s Budget responsibility rules?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government set its Budget responsibility rules to provide certainty to New Zealanders that we will manage the Government books prudently. The Budget Policy Statement shows that we will keep expenditure within its recent historical range, we will run sustainable surpluses, and we will reduce net core Crown debt to 20 percent of GDP within five years of taking office. We can deliver a better and fairer New Zealand at the same time as managing our books responsibly.
Question No. 4—Foreign Affairs
4. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What reports has he received on New Zealand’s relationship with important allies?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): A number of reports on New Zealand’s relationship with important allies have been received. These reports cover successful meetings with leaders and Foreign Ministers at international meetings such as APEC and the East Asia Summit, and, indeed, some of those reports reflect on their delight at an appointment of a new Foreign Minister.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh, I should’ve asked if you’d read the reports. How many Singaporean Government representatives or Ministers raised concerns with him about Singaporeans being banned from purchasing houses in New Zealand, as proposed under the Overseas Investment Act amendment, which would be in breach of New Zealand’s Singapore free-trade agreement?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, we had a very excellent meeting with the Singaporean Foreign Minister and he said at the opening, “I will not be raising this subject with you.”, because he understood that we’re working on it into the future and that there was a possible way of resolving it and resolve it, we will.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Will Singapore, like Australia, be carved out of the proposed amendment to the Overseas Investment Act?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can answer it, though.
Mr SPEAKER: No, sorry, I apologise to the member. I know that he’d like to answer it. This is not a matter of responsibility for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that were the case, then he should not have answered that it’s something he’s working on.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it’s something the Government is working on.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, he—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I—no.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I’m very happy to answer, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister of Foreign Affairs is seeking leave of the House to answer the question. Is there any objection? There appears to be none.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Thank you very much. The reality is that our relationship with Australia is controlled and regulated in a way that he is asking that question by our CER arrangements, and not the deal that was signed in 2001 with Singapore, so they are different.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm, then, that it’s his Government’s intention that there would be no other countries carved out by the Government in this proposed Overseas Investment Act amendment?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The Government’s made it very clear that our commitment that we made with respect to overseas ownership concerned every country, with the exception of Australia because of the CER arrangements that we had. That is a fact and that’s what we’re working on.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm that the proposal for Singapore to conduct air training at Ōhākea is still on track?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I’m delighted to confirm that we’re continuing our talks with respect to the suitability of Ōhākea, and there are other matters to do with costing and long-term budgeting that are being worked on, as we speak. We can’t announce that with finality today but we are on the case, and given that we’re the new Government with a bit of drive and unction, we’ll get it settled much faster than the last one.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Will that drive and “unction” lead to the Singaporean Government being able to purchase land in New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Could I say, Mr Speaker, relating to the previous question, they at no time said that they were wanting to buy the Ōhākea base.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, I should clarify that this is something I’m reasonably familiar with, and the question was not about them buying an air base; it was about them buying land in New Zealand, given that they’re bringing 600 people to live here.
Mr SPEAKER: I think what we’re now getting is evidence of the problems when Ministers are being asked questions outside the areas where they have indicated they have had discussions or had responsibility for. In this case, we’ve had no indication of that from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and I think the member, as a result, is just going to have to take the answers he gets.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This particular project was under the auspices of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the previous Government. Can we perhaps get an indication as to whether or not it’s been taken away from the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and given to some other Minister?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, you know the member can, if he asks a question to that effect. [Interruption] No, no, no. He’s got to ask a question, not do it on a point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is the proposal for Singapore to conduct air training at Ōhākea still something that is in the ambit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Precisely, it’s in the ambit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Government, and, indeed, the Minister of Defence. But I can say, having seen the briefing on that proposal, at no point did the Singaporeans ever raise the issue of buying land in New Zealand.
Question No. 5—Health
5. Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Health: What measurable outcomes, if any, will his policies deliver?
Hon JENNY SALESA (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: Improved health for New Zealanders.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: If the Government’s projected 2018 health allocation of $846 million is, in his words, “pretty much spent” on $300 million for primary care and $550 million for district health board (DHB) pressures, how will he fund his other promises, like the $10 million cancer agency, more palliative care, more mental health services, and operations for everyone?
Hon JENNY SALESA: This Government is committed to ensuring that we fund the health system much more appropriately. Unlike the member who asked the question, we will fund it in the same way as other Governments in the past have. We will fund it through the normal budgetary process.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: If there is only $500 million in the half-yearly financial update for capital expenditure over the next five years for all 20 DHBs, where will the $1.4 billion for Dunedin Hospital come from, considering that he’s committed to building it within that period and he’s ruled out a public-private partnership?
Hon JENNY SALESA: This Labour-led coalition Government, with New Zealand First, is committed to ensuring that we fund health appropriately. The last Government did not adequately fund the health system. One of the reasons why we’re looking at a health system now—most DHBs are telling us that they’re underfunded—is because that member and his previous National Government did not fund the health system appropriately. We will go through the Budget process and we will fund it just like every other Government before has.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’ve asked two questions asking how the money will be funded, and the questions haven’t been addressed adequately.
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s had answers that are far too long, but included that they will be funded through the Budget process. That is a perfectly good answer.
Dr Liz Craig: What action is the Government taking to improve health outcomes in winter months?
Hon JENNY SALESA: Today we announced the Families Package, which includes the winter energy payment. This will go a significant way in reducing respiratory conditions caused by cold, damp homes and will keep New Zealanders out of hospitals with preventable illnesses.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Will older people who go to the Gold Coast and Hawaii each year also be eligible for the winter heating package?
Hon JENNY SALESA: No. Read the details in the Families Package. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If Mr Brownlee would like Dr Coleman to have another supplementary, he’ll be quiet now.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: What does the Minister estimate that Vote Health will be in four years’ time, given that it’s $16.2 billion this year and he has stated repeatedly that he’s increasing Vote Health by $8 billion over four years?
Hon JENNY SALESA: The member knows that the budgetary process is a really robust process. He has been in Government before, for nine long years. We will go through the Budget process very soon, and he’ll just have to be patient and wait for the Budget process.
Question No. 6—Climate Change
6. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change: What is the Government doing to work with local authorities and communities to help plan for the effects of rising sea levels caused by climate change?
Hon JAMES SHAW (Minister for Climate Change): Tomorrow, I will be releasing two reports, the coastal hazards guidance for local government, as well as a draft of the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group’s stocktake of the kinds of risks that New Zealand will be facing in the future. There have been a number of requests from local authorities and from communities for this kind of information, so that they can plan better for the future.
Jan Logie: What plans does the Government have to support communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change?
Hon JAMES SHAW: Our Government intends to support local authorities, communities, and businesses to adapt to the effects of climate change by providing them with the most up-to-date information that we can, as soon as we can. Many people will have seen reports this week by the news service Newsroom that illustrate the kind of poor planning, investment, and development decisions that can arise when this kind of information is unavailable.
Jan Logie: How will the Minister work alongside communities to support them to adapt to the effects of climate change?
Hon JAMES SHAW: In addition to the two reports I’m releasing tomorrow, there will be a further report in March next year from the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group, which lays out the policy options that will be available to central and local authorities, as well as private and community sector organisations. Alongside the work that we’re doing to reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to the effects of climate change is a major priority for this Government.
Todd Muller: What feedback has the Minister received from affected councils, stakeholders, and community groups, who actually requested, and were provided by the Ministry for the Environment, additional consultation on the draft guidance earlier this year?
Hon JAMES SHAW: As I understand it, the final report that we’ll be releasing tomorrow contains a number of changes and additions based on the feedback that was received during the consultation round.
Todd Muller: What is the Government going to do to work with the community of the West Coast to prepare them for the new Powering Past Coal Alliance obligations that the Minister signed up to last month, which will see New Zealand phase out coal from power generation before 2030? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Mr O’Connor—the member may ask a supplementary question if he wants, but we’ll finish this one first.
Hon JAMES SHAW: And I’d be pleased to take it. Contained in the confidence and supply arrangement between the Green Party and the Labour Party is a commitment to providing just transition plans for the energy sector and the agricultural sector before we put in place the targets to move to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2035. So it is our absolute intention to work with communities to help them plan for not just reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not just adapting to the effects of climate change, but also transitioning to a low-carbon future where everybody has good, green jobs and better incomes than they have at the moment.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Can the Minister confirm that over 1,500 jobs were lost to the West Coast when Solid Energy was forced to take on higher levels of debt to pay a dividend to the National Government under the last tenure of their control?
Mr SPEAKER: No—it might be a very important issue to the West Coast, but it’s not directly the responsibility of the current Minister for Climate Change.
Question No. 7—Environment
7. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he agree with his officials from the Ministry for the Environment who stated in their Briefing to the Incoming Minister that “failures in the resource management and planning system have system-wide effects that impact all New Zealanders, such as the ability to deliver sufficient development capacity for housing”; if so, does he intend to overhaul the Resource Management Act 1991 in this term of Parliament?
Hon MEKA WHAITIRI (Minister of Customs) on behalf of the Minister for the Environment: Yes, I agree with the Ministry for the Environment. Cabinet is yet to make any decision about whether to review the Resource Management Act (RMA) in this term of Parliament.
David Seymour: How, then, will this Government build an additional 10,000 houses per year when its own officials say that the regulatory system for land use planning is not fit for purpose?
Hon MEKA WHAITIRI: The housing crisis that developed over the past nine years is of paramount importance to this Government, and we are considering a range of options. I’m working closely with the Minister of Housing and Urban Development, the Hon Phil Twyford, on this issue. [Pause in proceedings]
Hon Dr Megan Woods: What’s going on?
David Seymour: Is the—well, it’s just common courtesy—Minister saying that the officials who wrote that briefing to the incoming Minister are wrong and the problem with building more homes is not a fundamental problem with the Resource Management Act? Is she saying that this Government will get different results with exactly the same policies?
Hon MEKA WHAITIRI: Like I said, we are always willing to consider sensible options to address the housing crisis. If the member has any sensible proposals to address the housing crisis, he is welcome to forward them to the Minister for the Environment’s office.
Hon Scott Simpson: Of the short-term priority options for decision presented to him by his ministry in their briefing to him as incoming Minister, which is his top priority?
Hon MEKA WHAITIRI: Like I said, I am considering all options, including reforming the RMA, which is but one. Once those options are considered, Cabinet will make their decision in due course.
Hon Scott Simpson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very precise question—asking which was the top priority.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I think the member got an answer saying that that will be something that’s considered by Cabinet.
Question No. 8—Forestry
8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Forestry: Does he stand by the policy in the Speech from the Throne, “this Government is committed to a new planting programme, planting 100 million trees a year to reach a billion more trees in 10 years”?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Forestry: Answering this question in segments: is this Government committed to a new planting programme? Yes. Will 100 million trees be planted each year? Yes. Does 100 million years multiplied by 10 years equal 1 billion trees? Yes.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can counting the existing 50 million trees planted each year for restocking meet the commitment of “new planting programme” and a “billion more trees in 10 years”, when it is just replacing existing forests that are harvested each year—or does the Government intend to stop all current logging?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: In case that member wasn’t paying attention when he was a Minister, there was a decline in plantings under the last administration—10,000 plus per year. Now, here’s the real point: at 1,250 workers, each planting 800 trees a day, those workers planting for 100 days a year will reach the target. Is there a new plan, as said by the Prime Minister at the time? Yes, there most definitely is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Government be counting towards its billion more trees in 10 years those seedlings that are planted and thinned out at ages five to nine, amounting to about 40 percent of seedlings, which is current best-practice silviculture?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Could I say that if a seedling is planted and it starts growing into a tree, it is a tree. And I suggest that Minister start taking a positive attitude to our most exciting policy, rather than barking up a tree.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister confirm the intent in the Speech from the Throne that 100 million more trees will be planted by October 2018, another 100 million by November 2019, and a further 100 million by November 2020?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That was not what was said in the Speech from the Throne. I want to commend to that member the need for linguistic exactitude when you’re dealing with this party, because we believe in the facts. If somebody as authoritative as the president of the Forest Owners Association says, “It’s an optimistic but achievable target”, maybe he might know, against that member’s lack of knowledge.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has the Government become so desperate, given that it wants to count trees that are thinned out before they even get to age 10 and that it wants to count those trees that are, simply, planted for restocking, that it’s now—
Hon Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it within the Standing Orders to start what I suppose is going to a question with “Has that Government become so desperate …”?
Mr SPEAKER: The answer to that is probably not, but I have been listening very carefully to her leader when he has been requesting that he answer questions that are out of order, and therefore questions to him I’ve been slightly more liberal on.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Given that the Minister is wanting to count those trees that are simply the restocking that occurs each year, and as well as that he’s wanting to count seedlings that are thinned out before the age of 10 years, can I also take it that he wants to count this year’s Christmas trees in his billion-dollar target?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Don’t go on the road as a comic—that member’s bound to fail. Could I just say it’s very, very clear that if you intend to have planted a billion trees over 10 years, then that is what the plan’s all about and that’s what we’ll do, unlike under his administration, where there was a decline of over 70,000 hectares in tree planting between 2008 and 2015.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the Ministry for Primary Industries’ record of tree planting, which actually shows an increase—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member knows that as well as giving the source, he’s got to give the date, and if he is giving us something that has come from a website, the member knows that that is now regarded as trifling with the Chair.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The specific report is the provisional estimates of tree stocks planted each year over the last 10 years, published and provided by the Ministry for Primary Industries in response to questions from myself.
Mr SPEAKER: Right, leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none—[Interruption] Sorry, it will not be tabled. Are there further questions? Question No. 9.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, no, supplementary—supplementary to the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, the late Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That’s just slightly premature, Mr Speaker. Will the Government be importing any seedlings in order to achieve their target in the next two years?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can say that every step has been taken to ensure we have the plantings ready to fit this plan, and it’s a very important plan because the reality is—and this is why language matters; this is why language matters—there was a decline in hectares of forest of 70,000 hectares in the last five years.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an interesting address to the question, but it went nowhere near the question. It’s a simple one.
Mr SPEAKER: I think if the member had listened carefully, he would have got it in the middle. A number of methods to obtain or a number of ways of obtaining—something like that.
Question No. 9—Energy and Resources
9. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Is she satisfied that all New Zealanders are able to properly meet their heating and energy needs over the winter months; if not, what is the Government doing to support them?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Energy and Resources): No. Too many New Zealanders are facing ever-rising power bills ,and this is forcing some people to avoid heating their homes or unable to cover other expenses to ensure that they and/or their families are kept warm and healthy. This Government doesn’t think that’s good enough. That’s why today the Government has announced a Winter Energy Payment from 1 July 2018, available to those receiving New Zealand superannuation or a veterans pension, as well as people receiving a main benefit. This will help nearly a million New Zealanders afford the heating they need to keep their houses warm and healthy.
Marja Lubeck: How long will the Winter Energy Payment run for each year, and why is this period important?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The Winter Energy Payment will run for 13 weeks from 1 July 2018 next year. In future years, it will start on 1 May and continue for 22 weeks. These months are when we face some of the worst weather conditions in New Zealand, and helping nearly a million people keep their homes warm at these times is vital. And it’s important to note that there 184,000 children living in households who will receive this payment.
Marja Lubeck: How much will recipients receive to help them warm their homes?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: When fully implemented, superannuitants and those on a main benefit will receive a total of $450 if they are single with no dependent children or $700 for couples. This is important, especially for older people on fixed incomes, as this extra money will make a huge difference to their lives and help them keep their homes warm and dry.
Question No. 10—Research, Science and Innovation
10. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation: What progress, if any, has she made lifting research and development expenditure towards the Government’s target of 2 percent of GDP?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Research, Science and Innovation): The Government’s target of lifting R & D to 2 percent of GDP in 10 years is, of course, an economy-wide target—that is, a mix of Government and business expenditure—so I am happy to report that I am making good progress towards that target with the design of an R & D tax credit that will lift New Zealand’s business expenditure to be more in line with OECD countries that have innovation at the heart of their economies. Detail of the expenditure will, of course, be part of the Budget 2018 process. This is an important part of our Government’s plan for a higher productivity and high-wage economy.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How can she increase R & D spending by taking money away from the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) fund that was going to fund research and development but has now been diverted to fund bureaucratic reshuffling in Wellington?
Mr SPEAKER: No. No. The members are going to learn not to use ironic expressions as part of their questions. Does the member want to have another—I’ll let the member have—[Interruption] Well, I’m going to finish ruling first. I will allow the member to rephrase her question without the use of irony, if she wishes.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How can she increase R & D spending by taking money away from the Primary Growth Partnership fund that was going to fund research and development?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Of course, the PGP partnership falls within the primary industries portfolio, but we have an ambition to raise expenditure on R & D in this country by lifting New Zealand’s business expenditure beyond its current 50 percent. We have also signalled, through our coalition agreement, areas where we intend to put through the Budget 2018 process additional areas for funding.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: As the Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, does it not concern her that the first thing her Government has done for R & D is to cut R & D spending when she has such a lofty target of increasing R & D spending to 2 percent of GDP?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: No, this does not concern me, because I know that this is a Government committed to making sure that science research and development lies at the heart of our economic future. We are not content to let New Zealand languish at the bottom of the OECD targets, like the previous Government did.
Virginia Andersen: Why is it important that we introduce an R & D tax credit?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: Because we need more business R & D being done in this country. Under the previous Government, a small number of firms contributed to the bulk of business R & D, with 26 percent of all expenditure being carried out by only six firms in 2016. With the introduction of an R & D tax credit, we want to see a much wider group of businesses undertaking R & D that will help us move towards a higher wage, innovative economy that works for all New Zealanders.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How much new money has been allocated in today’s Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update for her commitment of increasing R & D spending to 2 percent of GDP?
Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The additional funding for R & D expenditure will, of course, like other forms of Government funding, be part of the 2018 Budget process.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question, and if there is no money, the Minister should just say that.
Mr SPEAKER: I think she got an answer that the whole House understood.
Question No. 11—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media
11. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: What are her immediate priorities for the Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media portfolio?
Hon CLARE CURRAN (Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media): There is a great deal of work ahead, and my priorities include enhancing the voice of independent non-commercial public service media, to increase the variety of media platforms people can access public media, to support the people to tell New Zealand stories that reflect and reinforce our unique culture.
Melissa Lee: Does the Minister agree that internet freedom and a strong telecommunications system in New Zealand means the freedom to access lawful content, the freedom to use applications, the freedom to attach personal devices to the network, and the freedom to obtain service plan information—and to achieve this the telecommunications sector needs a light-touch regulatory framework under which a free and open internet can thrive?
Melissa Lee: In light of that answer, what official advice has the Minister received on the issue raised by the Federal Communications Commission work on broadband as a common carrier in United States and its applications in the New Zealand context?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: I haven’t received any advice on that.
Melissa Lee: Why does the Minister consider issues around net neutrality so unimportant for New Zealanders?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: I’m not sure what that member is getting at and how she could draw that conclusion. Of course net neutrality issues are important for New Zealanders. At this point in time net neutrality is not a significant issue, but we are maintaining a watching brief.
Raymond Huo: Is public broadcasting one of her immediate priorities?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Yes. And do you know why? This is not you, Mr Speaker, but the House. This is because thanks to that previous Government, New Zealand public broadcasting has among the lowest level of fundings in the OECD. Nine years of funding freezes by the previous Government have presented major challenges for our public media. This Government believes in the value of public broadcasting, and I look forward to enhancing the voice of independent public service media.
Melissa Lee: What advice has the Minister asked for, considering the fact that the Federal Communications Commission announcement is actually today?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: If that member is so concerned about that issue, she can put it in writing and talk to me about it. [Interruption]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Brett Hudson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very simple and direct—
Mr SPEAKER: No, sorry. I haven’t called any member yet. It’s very clear who has precedence in this matter.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Look, one can be as reasonable as one likes, but we cannot have a House where people are allowed to shout out like that—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Right!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you, Mr Speaker. That is specifically what I am complaining about. We can’t hear a thing over here from the Minister, giving a very sound answer, because she’s being shouted down, and I would advise the National Party to just get over themselves and accept what happened.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, sorry. I’ve got something to deal with first, and that is the member had a very good point of order and he was being very helpful right up to the final phrase, and can I ask him to use his experience in the House to help settle it down, not to wind it up?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, speaking to that point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: No, well, there is no point of order left at the moment.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, in that case, I’ll ask you a new point of order. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Noting that the Deputy Prime Minister just used a point of order to talk about the way in which the House should react in certain circumstances, is it going to be your ruling that when people do give points of order they do not use ironic expressions
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think, actually, Mr Brownlee, I did. I commented on the unhelpfulness of the expression at the end—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, no, that was—
Mr SPEAKER: I certainly did, and—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, it was before that.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, well, if it was another one before that. I’m probably immune to them and missed it.
Brett Hudson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, the member’s supplementary question to the Minister referred to a matter that’s in the public domain—a decision that is anticipated—and it simply asked if the Minister had requested any information. We’d like her to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: And it might have been that the member was interested in the answer. If he was interested in the answer, he would have got his colleagues to be quiet.
Question No. 12—Social Development
12. PRIYANCA RADHAKRISHNAN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: How does the Government propose to make being in work more sustainable for families, and lift them out of poverty?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): This Government recognises that financial support provides much-needed stability to families that struggle to hold down a job while caring for children. Not only will more New Zealanders be eligible for Working for Families but the family tax credit rates are being increased for each child. Around 368,000 families will benefit from these changes. In 2018-19, 26,000 more families will be eligible for Working for Families, building to 39,000 in 2020-21. This package recognises that caring for children is one of the most important things families can do. It helps families remain in work and provide for their children.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Why is it important that the rate for younger and older children is made the same?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Parents of small children currently get less support than families with teens. I’m very proud that this Government will change that. Helping families with small children create a stable home environment will combat the insecurity and continual hardship these families face. This entire package, including the Working for Families changes, will lift 88,000 children out of poverty.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan: Why is the Government raising the Working for Families abatement threshold, and what does this mean for families?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: Currently, if your income is above $36,350 a year, your family tax credits start to reduce. The previous Government wanted to make this threshold even lower. Our Government knows that this bar was far too low already and that more families need help. From 1 July 2018, Working for Families tax credits will begin to reduce only when your income hits $42,700 a year. This Government is committed to ensuring low- to middle-income families are better off in this country.

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