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Parliament: Questions and Answers – September 20

Press Release – Hansard

Question No. 1Housing and Urban Development 1. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-LeaderGreen) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development : Will he commit to ensuring that the 800 tenancies terminated or otherwise affected by Housing New Zealand’s previous …ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Housing and Urban Development

1. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Will he commit to ensuring that the 800 tenancies terminated or otherwise affected by Housing New Zealand’s previous approach to meth testing receive compensation that genuinely reflects the level of harm done, and takes account of both direct costs and emotional distress?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Yes. Housing New Zealand has outlined an assistance package that is flexible and will take account of each tenant’s individual circumstances. It will cover costs incurred, debt that may have been charged, or possessions that may have been lost, but it will not cover emotional distress. Other forms of assistance will focus on activities that Housing New Zealand can offer through its operations, including housing affected tenants who are on the public housing register and formally apologising to tenants.

Marama Davidson: Is the proposed payment of between $2,500 to $3,000 only reimbursement, or is it intended to be compensation for the harm suffered by families forced out of their homes through no fault of their own?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: So the compensation package that will be tailored to the individual circumstance of tenants could end up being several thousand dollars more than the base $2,500 to $3,000. It’s designed to address actual costs and losses incurred. Sometimes that refers to possessions that were lost and costs involved with losing a tenancy and having to find somewhere else to live.

Marama Davidson: Will the Minister urgently prioritise finding homes for the over 90 tenants and their families in unsuitable housing and on the social housing register as a result of inhumane meth-testing policies?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Yes. Housing New Zealand is working on ensuring that every tenant who is eligible for public housing who was on the public housing register is rehoused. The assistance package includes rehousing tenants who used to be Housing New Zealand tenants but moved because of methamphetamine contamination and who are currently on the register.

Hon Judith Collins: Has he seen any report that shows a house can test positive for meth at any level if no one has been smoking or baking a highly dangerous and illegal class A drug in that house?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the meth-testing approaches that have been used over the last few years have a very high level of sensitivity, and there are many cases where contamination or residue from meth consumption in a house has registered in the testing. In fact, it’s sometimes been above the threshold in the guidelines that were earlier provided by the Ministry of Health, but independent scientific experts have pointed out that that level of contamination is equivalent to the contamination of methamphetamine that you might find on a banknote in ready circulation.

SPEAKER: Order! No, I am going to ask the Minister to—it was a very tight question. I can’t insist on a yes or no. He gave a very good answer but not quite to that question.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Would you mind repeating it?

Hon Judith Collins: Has he seen any report that shows a house can test positive for meth at any level if no one has been smoking or baking a highly dangerous and illegal class A drug in that house?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.

Marama Davidson: What is the Minister doing to make sure affected tenants not on the register have somewhere decent to live and get the compensation they are entitled to?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Housing New Zealand has urged any former tenant who was affected by this situation to get in contact by either calling 0800 006 077 or emailing . They will also be partnering with other agencies and groups to find people who have been affected. Over the last few weeks, there’s been an extensive effort to track people down through Government databases, to get in touch with them and ensure that assistance can be provided where appropriate.

Marama Davidson: Does the Minister agree that the report released today demonstrates a series of significant failures by Housing New Zealand over an extended period of time, and what steps is the Minister taking to ensure this never happens again?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The report that Housing New Zealand released today makes it clear that there were significant mistakes made over a number of years, mistakes that included applying a meth contamination standard that the Ministry of Health designed for properties where meth had been manufactured in a home, which was then applied as a threshold for decontamination. Housing New Zealand now acknowledges that, in hindsight, that was wrong. They have acknowledged that they applied a zero-tolerance approach to this issue that caused undue hardship to hundreds of tenants, many of whom were made homeless. They were, in some cases, denied natural justice. They were thrown out on the street not only on the basis of a bogus contamination standard but often without reasonable evidence that the tenant had in fact been responsible for the contamination. The report identifies some failures of governance and overseeing of this policy over a number of years. This is an exercise in Government accountability. Housing New Zealand is stepping up, acknowledging that it got it wrong, and putting things right.

Hon Judith Collins: Is the Minister saying that it is wrong to end a tenancy when someone is using a house to break the law?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We’re saying that it’s wrong to make innocent people homeless on the basis of bogus science and no decent evidence of responsibility or culpability. Hundreds of people were made homeless under this policy, people who, in some cases, were vulnerable—people with addictions who were made homeless. The worst possible thing that you could do to someone who has an addiction is to make them homeless.

Question No. 2—Housing and Urban Development

2. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Is it acceptable for Housing New Zealand tenants to smoke methamphetamine in Housing New Zealand houses?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Methamphetamine is, of course, illegal and is doing immense damage to communities across New Zealand. Our Government does not condone the smoking of methamphetamine anywhere; however, the member needs to understand the counterfactual: it is not acceptable for the Government—for any Government—to throw tenants and their children on to the street and make them homeless. We recognise that making people homeless does not solve a tenant’s problems or help people overcome addiction; it just moves the problem to somewhere else and makes it worse for the person involved, their family, their children, the community, and the taxpayer.

Hon Judith Collins: Where meth testing showed residues exceeding previous standards, can this meth have gotten into Housing New Zealand houses any way other than smoking or baking meth?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, but there was no consistent baseline testing done by Housing New Zealand over those years. There is no way of knowing whether the hundreds of people who were made homeless under this policy had any personal responsibility for the contamination of those houses. Frankly, I’m shocked that the member, who used to be a lawyer, would think that that is OK. Is this the modern, compassionate face of the National Party?

Hon Judith Collins: When he said that “800 tenants suffered by … losing their tenancies,” is he saying that these 800 tenants were all wrongfully evicted from Housing New Zealand houses?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: It depends what you mean by “wrongfully evicted”. Clearly, some of the 800 people—and I believe many of those people—had their tenancies terminated and were evicted without natural justice, without proper evidence of the case, on the basis of a bogus scientific standard. All of those people—all of the people who were evicted, bar some for whom the standard of contamination was more than the 15 micrograms per 100 centimetres that Sir Peter Gluckman recommended as a sensible standard—were convicted on the basis of a scientific standard that the previous Government allowed to persist for years on the basis of no scientific evidence that exposure to third-hand contamination posed any kind of health risk to anybody.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the housing ministry restored the fundamental principle that one is judged to be innocent until proven to be guilty?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I believe, with the report released today, Housing New Zealand has embraced basic concepts of natural justice, of scientific evidence – based policy-making, which is the exact opposite of what that Government allowed to persist for years. In fact, they campaigned to drum up the moral panic, and every day got up in this House and vilified State house tenants.

Kieran McAnulty: What reports has he seen on Housing New Zealand’s meth report?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: There are many contradictory reports swirling around on this issue, but one that I’ve seen that makes a lot of sense is where, and I quote, “people were unfairly removed. If that’s the case, they should be compensated, and Housing New Zealand management should answer for it.” That’s exactly what today’s report does, and that quote is from Judith Collins.

Hon Judith Collins: Will people who smoked meth in Housing New Zealand houses now be given $2,000 to $3,000 compensation?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The point of the compensation is to compensate people who wrongly had their tenancies terminated and their possessions destroyed and who, in some cases, were made homeless. Those are the people who will receive a payment under the assistance programme.

Hon Judith Collins: Will people who sold meth in Housing New Zealand houses now be given $2,000 to $3,000 compensation?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.

Kieran McAnulty: What reports has he seen on alternative approaches to meth contamination in Housing New Zealand properties?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, I’ve seen reports of an approach to meth contamination where Ministers have said, and I quote, “We will not tolerate any meth use in [Housing New Zealand] properties”, and I quote, “[State housing] is a privilege, and abuse of that privilege won’t be tolerated”, and then who gloated over the fact that Housing New Zealand were, “focusing more on meth use as opposed to previously targeting only home-based drug manufacturing”. That approach led to Housing New Zealand wasting the best part of $120 million, and it made hundreds of people homeless. And those statements were made by the Hon Paula Bennett.

Question No. 3—Finance

3. Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all of the statements, actions, and policies of the Government in relation to the New Zealand economy?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Yes, in their context—particularly when they are backed up by solid, broad-based growth data, like the GDP figures out today showing the strongest quarterly and per capita growth since June 2016.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Is he saying he’s pleased that after we’ve had five years under National when New Zealand grew faster per person than Australia, we have now fallen well behind?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member might be interested to know that our quarterly growth in the June quarter, of 1 percent, was higher than Australia’s.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Will he today rule out applying a capital gains tax to the 2.8 million Kiwis with KiwiSaver accounts in New Zealand?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The working group’s report was released today. It is their report; it is an interim report. What we are focused on is making sure that we get a fairer and more balanced tax system than the one we inherited.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Winston Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm—

SPEAKER: Sorry, a point of order, the Hon Paul Goldsmith.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: I asked whether he’d rule out something and he made no reference to that whatsoever.

SPEAKER: The member can ask it again. I think the inference to be taken was pretty clear, but have another go.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Thank you. Will he today rule out applying a capital gains tax to the 2.8 million Kiwis with KiwiSaver accounts in New Zealand?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I repeat: what’s happened today is that the independent working group have produced their report. We will take our time to work through that report and ensure that we get a tax system at the end of it that means that all New Zealanders pay their fair share of tax.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm with today’s truly outstanding growth figures that the ship of State is now strong and not floundering from a leak?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I most certainly can, because what today’s GDP numbers showed was broad-based growth across all but one sector measured, showing that while we have a long way to go to reach a more productive and sustainable economy, the coalition Government and our confidence and supply partner have got us, finally, on the right path.

Hon James Shaw: Can the Minister explain how GDP growth can be as strong as it has been reported today, when the apparent sole determinant of GDP growth, namely the ANZ business confidence survey, is at record lows?

SPEAKER: I am going to allow the question, but I’m going to warn the Minister who asked it that irony is not allowed as part of questions.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I believe that’s probably because the GDP data is based on real data in the real economy, and we will continue to focus on that.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Why will he not rule out putting more tax on Kiwi savings?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Because today there was an interim report from the Tax Working Group. What we want to do is encourage more New Zealanders into saving, and, in fact, on this side of the House we’re particularly proud of the introduction of the KiwiSaver scheme, which has actually meant that millions of New Zealanders now have a nest egg for their retirement. I would back our record on this side of the House, when it comes to saving, over that member’s party.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: How does he think taxing KiwiSaver more with a capital gains tax will help Kiwi’s get ahead?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that on this side of the House we have a proud record of ensuring that millions of New Zealanders actually have a nest egg for the future. We’re determined to continue to grow KiwiSaver and support more New Zealanders to come into it.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Can the Minister confirm that strengthened primary industries, including dairy, forestry, and fisheries, drove the exceptional economic growth we’ve seen in the figures released today?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can confirm that agriculture, forestry, and fishery lead the growth, up 4.1 percent in the quarter, and that this was boosted by strong dairy production. In fact, agriculture had its strongest quarter of growth since September 2014.

Hon Paul Goldsmith: Does he think it would be fair to tax capital gains from, say, a Northland couple’s rental house worth $300,000 but not from John Key’s home in Parnell.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: If the member is suggesting that a capital gains tax should be applied to the family home, that’s a very interesting development indeed.

Question No. 4—Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti

4. RINO TIRIKATENE (Labour—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister for Crown/Māori Relations: Te Arawhiti: What recent announcements has he made on the scope of his new portfolio?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Minister for Crown/Māori Relations: Te Arawhiti): This week, I was proud to announce the new scope and name of the Crown/Māori relations portfolio. We changed the name to “Māori/Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti”. The name reflects feedback from the hui that Māori should appear first in the relationship. Te Arawhiti refers to the transition phase we are in—that is the bridge between Māori and the Crown. I’m proud of the work we as a Government have achieved so far, but as Sir James Hēnare said, “Kua tawhiti kē tō haerenga mai kia kore e haere tonu. He nui rawa ō mahi kia kore e mahi tonu.”—you have come too far not to go further; you have done too much not to do more.

Rino Tirikatene: How did he ensure that a Māori voice was reflected in his final scope and priorities?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Māori wanted the portfolio to have its own agency with its own mana. This week, the Government agreed to establish an agency to oversee the Government’s work with Māori in a post-settlement era. The agency will be called the Office for Māori/Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti and will help facilitate the next step in the Treaty relationship, moving beyond the settlement of Treaty grievances into what it means to work together in partnerships.

Rino Tirikatene: What does the scope of the new portfolio include?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: In addition to finishing Treaty settlements and marine and coastal area applications, the new agency, based on the new scope of the Māori/Crown portfolio will provide strategic leadership across the public sector to ensure the Crown meets its Treaty obligations and develop a new engagement model and guidelines for the Government and public sector. It will co-design partnership principles and frameworks to ensure that agencies generate the best solutions for issues affecting Māori. It will ensure public sector capability is strengthened across the board. That’s just to name a few of the things we’ll be doing.

Hon Christopher Finlayson: Is an important role of Te Arawhiti to ensure that the Treaty of Waitangi is a successful partnership between Crown and Māori?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Yes.

Hon Christopher Finlayson: Can he confirm that he’s fully explained to his Cabinet colleagues all the constitutional implications of some of the new roles of Te Arawhiti?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: In terms of constitutional arrangements, that’s under the portfolio of the Minister of Justice, but we have futureproofed the partnership. The constitutional change is not on our radar, but we have futureproofed the relationship in that if there are any discussions by Governments in the future, we want Māori to be part of those discussions.

Hon Christopher Finlayson: Will Te Arawhiti have any new or additional powers over the public sector; if so, what will they be?

Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Te Arawhiti will be working alongside the public sector to become a better Treaty partner.

Question No. 5—State Services

5. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of State Services: What are the dates and contents of all work-related electronic communications between former Minister Hon Clare Curran and the Prime Minister since the decision in Cabinet last year “that the CTO be appointed by, and accountable to, the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Government Digital Services and Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media”?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): on behalf of the Minister of State Services: The Prime Minister’s office have advised me that there are two email communications that they have identified between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran that relate to the Chief Technology Officer. On 9 February 2018, Clare Curran sent an email to the Prime Minister providing an update on the CTO recruitment process, including the appointment panel’s thoughts on candidates in round one of the recruitment. On 27 May 2018, the Prime Minister forwarded, without comment, to Clare Curran, correspondence that she had received from a member of the public on data rights which also made a passing reference to the CTO role, but not to any candidate. I’m advised by the Prime Minister’s office that they are working through other electronic communications to identify those that are with Clare Curran and are relevant to the CTO role. I will make sure that these are provided to the House when they are available, in accordance with the public interest. I can confirm that the former Minister communicated with the Prime Minister to keep her updated on the process of the CTO selection in a manner that would be expected for a position of this type.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Were there any communications between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran, or their offices, around the time that Derek Handley texted the Prime Minister in April this year, seeking the Government’s Chief Technology Officer role?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said in that answer, I cannot answer that with respect to electronic communications, other than emails. But emails, no—I’ve listed those. That information will be provided to the House when it’s available.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Were there any communications between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran, or their offices around the time that Derek Handley emailed the Prime Minister’s private email address on 7 June this year seeking the Government’s Chief Technology Officer role?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I just simply have to repeat the answer I’ve previously given. With respect to communications other than those of emails, I’m unable to answer that today, but that information will be provided to the House when it is available.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Who was being referred to when Derek Handley tweeted the then Minister Clare Curran, saying that he had been encouraged by “friends” to apply for the Government’s Chief Technology Officer role, and was one of those “friends” the Prime Minister?

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’ve allowed quite a broad approach to this question, as the member is aware, but responsibility for Mr Handley’s tweets is not something that this Minister has.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What was the date that Mr Handley was offered the role of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and what date did he accept that role?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: In terms of the first question, I would want to make sure I get the date exactly right. It was a date in early August. I will come back to the member with the exact date. I cannot answer the other part of the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept that the responsibility for the debacle over the appointment of the Chief Technology Officer rests equally with both appointing Ministers: Clare Curran and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: No.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why, when both Ministers were clearly given responsibility b Cabinet for the appointment, and given the extensive communications, including by the Prime Minister’s own private email, does the Prime Minister not share some responsibility for this debacle?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I’m not the Prime Minister, though.

SPEAKER: No, I think it’s a reasonable question.

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: As I said in my primary answer, the Prime Minister was kept in touch with this process by the former Minister, as would be expected, and only as would be expected.

Question No. 6—Finance

6. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What is his reaction to the Independent Tax Working Group’s interim report released today?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Today, the independent Tax Working Group released its report on the structure, balance, and fairness of New Zealand’s tax system. The report had two main findings: New Zealand continues to have a relatively narrow tax base when compared to our OECD peers, and New Zealand’s tax system reduces income inequality by less than the OECD average. The Government has published its response to the interim report today and asked the working group to undertake further work on the topics that we gave it.

Dr Deborah Russell: What is the Government’s response?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government has reaffirmed the areas that are out of scope for the review, including any income tax rate or the rate of GST increasing, inheritance tax, any other to changes that would apply to the taxation of the family home or the land under it, and the adequacy of the personal tax system and its interaction with the transfer system. We have asked the group to come back to us with their final report in February with a package of proposals to meet their terms of reference and have encouraged them to undertake further work on areas that they have highlighted. This includes proposes that would not increase the total amount of tax collected—in other words, a revenue-neutral package.

Dr Deborah Russell: What are the next steps in this process?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The group is seeking feedback from the public on its interim report over the next six weeks, and I encourage New Zealanders to engage in this process. The group will make its final report in February 2019, and Cabinet will consider the recommendations of that report. I can confirm that no changes from any legislation arising from this will come into force until 1 April 2021, after the next election.

Kieran McAnulty: Does the Minister agree with the recent suggestion from the Hon Paul Goldsmith that a capital gains tax should apply to the family home?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely not, and that was clearly excluded from the terms of reference of the group. I am somewhat surprised to hear the member opposite now make this policy. This will make for a very interesting discussion about the future of tax in New Zealand.

Question No. 7—Education

7. Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Education: How many communications has she received from teachers or principals in the last three days regarding teacher shortages, relief teacher issues, and increases in class sizes, and is she confident there will be no more primary teacher strikes this year?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN (Acting Minister of Education): In the last three days, in the midst of bargaining with NZEI and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association, my office informs me that up until midday today, we have received approximately 100 submissions from teachers and principals across the country. Given that there is a vote taking place right now on the new offer for NZEI, it would be inappropriate to speculate on further strike action.

Hon Jacqui Dean: What does she say to the principal of Waitaki Valley School, who is struggling to get adequate levels of learning support and enough relievers to cover release time and resource teacher of learning and behaviour meetings, and teachers who come to school ill as there is no cover for them?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I would acknowledge the principals, such as the one mentioned there, and their frustration, considering that this topic was raised—for example, as reported in the New Zealand Herald in 2016—with the previous Government, who, if I recall correctly, said, “There is no crisis.” and promptly did nothing. But I also want to give these principals and teachers the assurance that this Government is, unlike the previous one, taking action to rectify this issue as quickly as possible through measures such as the $370 million in this year’s Budget to fund 1,500 more teacher places; a teacher supply package of $9.5 million announced in December 2017, with a further $20 million over the next four years; and a funded more than 1,000 teacher refresher places to remove cost barriers so that teachers can return to teaching faster.

Denise Lee: How does the Minister plan to respond to the emails she received from a teacher at Onehunga Primary School that stated their roll has increased by 50 students in the past year but, because of teacher shortages, they’ve only been able to add one extra teacher?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I will address a personal response to that particular email as soon as I return to my office.

Jan Tinetti: What is the offer on the table for primary teachers and principals?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The current offer is $569 million for primary teachers and principals. For teachers this is a cumulative increase of 9.3 percent over three years. I would note that this offer is more than the three settlements combined under the previous Government.

Jan Tinetti: What other actions has this Government taken to attract New Zealand teachers overseas to return home?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The member may recall the shocking situation in October 2012 where a complete graduating class of primary teaching students were told there were no jobs here in New Zealand and were advised to go overseas. That is why on 17 September this Government announced a targeted campaign to attract New Zealand – trained teachers to return home and overseas-trained teachers looking to move to New Zealand.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Will she consider additional funds to primary school teachers prior to Wednesday’s vote to include reducing class sizes and having special education coordinators in schools to try and prevent the future strikes?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: It would be irresponsible for a member in this House to answer that question considering that the negotiations are going on right now, an offer is on the table, and a vote is taking place.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister, precisely how long does it take to train a teacher; and what was the deficit she inherited?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The exact numbers of teachers that are required in this country whether full-time or part-time I do not have on me right now, but it takes between three or four years depending on the level of mastery that we are seeking, so we cannot snap our fingers after nine years of neglect and just magic up a teaching workforce. However, this Government is doing, on many levels, as much as we can to work with the sector to ensure that we futureproof this workforce.

Hon Nikki Kaye: In light of the 100 principals and teachers that have written to her within 72 hours, will she do something to ensure that there is additional funding for special education coordinators in schools?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: The 100 or so form submissions that have been sent to our offices are being responded to. With regard to this Government’s intention to provide greater support for the diverse learning needs of our students across New Zealand, there will be an announcement tomorrow.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Has her Associate Minister Tracey Martin advocated strongly—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Now, the member’s got to get that question right. Someone can’t be their own Associate Minister.

Hon Nikki Kaye: Well, OK. Has she—

SPEAKER: She is the Minister.

Hon Nikki Kaye: OK. Well, has she advocated strongly throughout the last number of weeks, given the fact we’ve already had one set of strikes for additional funding for special education coordinators in schools?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I have worked collegially with Minister Hipkins and other members of Cabinet to ensure that tomorrow we are able to make an announcement

Hon Nikki Kaye: Will she listen to the number of teachers and principals who are raising issues around relief teachers and additional short-term supply measures to ensure that we try and prevent future strikes in our school system?

Hon TRACEY MARTIN: I can guarantee all teachers, principals, and educators in this country that this Government will listen to them, will work with them, will introduce workforce planning—something they have not had for at least the last decade. And I can also guarantee them that we will not insult them, as they have been for the last nine years.

Question No. 8—Biosecurity

8. Hon NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Minister for Biosecurity: How many inbound passengers arrived at Auckland International Airport yesterday between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., and how many dog detector teams worked on the Green Lane at this time?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Minister for Biosecurity): Five international flights arrived between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. yesterday. Three of these flights were cargo and two were inbound passenger planes. All of those flights were appropriately checked. The two small passenger flights were risk assessed and screened. One flight was from Doha, with 215 passengers, and there was a Melbourne flight with 220 passengers, plus pilots plus crew.

Hon Nathan Guy: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: No. No, I don’t think we need a point of order. I think the Minister will answer the second part of the question. How many drug detection dogs?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: None.

Hon Nathan Guy: For how long has the green lane at Auckland international airport had no detector dogs working between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I’m aware that was the situation last night. I’m not aware of that being a regular situation. Can I say that—look, that member’s idea of a high-tech biosecurity system may be a detector dog. We on this side of the House have a multi-layered, sophisticated biosecurity system. We have $10 million of additional funding into biosecurity to buy X-ray technology. We’re not totally reliant on detector dogs like the previous Government.

Hon Nathan Guy: When did he find out that detector dogs aren’t working on the green lane between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., and what has he done about it?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Can I say I’m very grateful that I’m not rung at 2 a.m. in the morning to be told that there’s not a dog in the green lane at Auckland Airport. These are operational matters. I am confident that the multi-layered system that we have in place for biosecurity is far more robust, more sophisticated, and more effective than the system that he ran.

SPEAKER: Order! The member’s now going to answer the supplementary question. When did he become aware?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I was made aware this morning.

Hon Nathan Guy: Is there a bullying and toxic culture within management running the dog detector teams at Auckland’s international airport?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: I have not been made aware or received a complaint of bullying at all. I’m aware that—a journalist raised that with me on my way into the House. I have to say that we are making some changes to the biosecurity system. I have to say we were left with what was called a dog of a system, run by that previous member. Can I say that we don’t believe our biosecurity system relies on 38 dog detector teams; it is far more sophisticated. There will be change, and I expect change in the biosecurity system. If that results in some personnel issues, I expect the director-general to deal with it.

Hon Nathan Guy: Apart from cutting the ribbon on the new dog-handling facility earlier this year, what else has he done to enhance border security at Auckland’s international airport?

Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR: Firstly, in our first Budget, we added $10 million to the biosecurity system in this. Much of that money—much of it will go into better offshore intelligence, better risk-assessment systems, and if I could say and quote from Horticultural New Zealand, an industry that is entirely dependent upon the security of our biosecurity systems, “The Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister and MPI are doing an excellent job holding the line at the border. All of us in the primary industries need to support them to keep doing their job and become even more vigilant. The loss to New Zealand”—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! That’s enough. It might be a good answer for a Government patsy, but it’s too long.

Question No. 9—Housing and Urban Development

9. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What steps is the Government taking to ensure Housing New Zealand is a compassionate landlord focused on tenant well-being?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Housing New Zealand’s report into methamphetamine contamination has found that Housing New Zealand applied the guidelines wrongly and adopted a punitive, zero-tolerance approach that compromised tenant well-being. In all, 800 tenants lost their tenancies and were not rehoused by Housing New Zealand—many of those people were made homeless. The Prime Minister has asked us to put compassion back into Government, and that’s why Housing New Zealand is now focused on sustaining tenancies, wrapping support around vulnerable families, and allowing them to live their lives with dignity. We know the counterfactual: that making vulnerable families homeless is the worst-case scenario for the families, their neighbours, community, and the country.

Tamati Coffey: How will Housing New Zealand deal with drug addiction in the future?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: We are focused on the health and well-being of our tenants, and we intend to provide increased support to people experiencing addiction and drug-related harm. Housing New Zealand will continue to report tenants who deal drugs or manufacture P to the police, but drug use will be treated, in the first instance, as a health problem. As a compassionate landlord, Housing New Zealand will make sure that tenants get the medical support they need to deal with their addictions.

Tamati Coffey: What other projects does Housing New Zealand have under way to better support its tenants?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Housing New Zealand has been changing its policies and practices to improve outcomes for the people we house both now and in the future. Housing New Zealand is partnering with other agencies and specialist NGOs to address the deep and complex social issues like addiction and drug-related harm. For example, the new Greys Avenue development in Auckland will have supportive housing, combining public housing with services, including 24-hour specialist services to support people with addiction issues. Housing New Zealand wants to be a very different organisation now. We want tenants to live their lives with dignity and respect.

Tamati Coffey: Why does the Government believe sustaining tenancies is so important?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: All of the evidence tells us that secure housing is critical to people’s well-being, especially for children and for people who are vulnerable in other ways—for example, with disabilities or illnesses. Throwing people with addictions out on to the street is the worst possible thing that we can do to them.

Question No. 10—Courts

10. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Courts: Is he confident that the Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal will comply with all requirements of the rule of law?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister for Courts): Yes.

Stuart Smith: On whose advice is he establishing a tribunal which will have the power to override contractual terms in an insurance contract between the insurer and the insured?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The member has confused the rights and powers of the proposed tribunal under the bill. No tribunal or court has the power to override contractual obligations; their job is to interpret and enforce and uphold.

Stuart Smith: Why did he ignore the Ministry of Justice’s advice, which says that “Enabling a tribunal to override contractual terms would retrospectively change the legal basis for determining these disputes, breaching fundamental rule of law principles.”?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The role of the tribunal will not be to create new conditions or do anything other than is provided for in existing policies, as between policyholders and insurance companies. This is about getting on with resolving the nearly 3,000 residual unresolved insurance claims arising out of the Canterbury earthquakes that were not resolved under the previous Government, because it chose to do nothing about them.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: It’s not true. That’s a complete lie—an absolute lie.

Stuart Smith: On whose advice is he establishing—

SPEAKER: No, no. I think the member’s—I’m not going to make him apologise twice, but he must withdraw and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

SPEAKER: I hope it’s not going to be in relation to that, because the member has, basically, lost his rights by his intervention.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh well; I’ll have a go later in the afternoon.

Stuart Smith: On whose advice is he establishing a tribunal which will have the power to override contractual terms in an insurance contract between the insurer and the insured?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Mr Speaker, I think I’ve answered that question. There is no power to override contractual obligations.

Stuart Smith: Did the Minister inform his Cabinet colleagues about including a provision which would impede on fundamental rule-of-law principles; if not, why not?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: If I understand the question, it’s asking whether advice was given that was clearly in breach of the rule of law. No such advice was given to ministerial colleagues, and, look, “why not?”—that is the most absurd tail to a question I’ve ever heard.

Question No. 11—Health

11. SIMEON BROWN (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Health: When did the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs give its advice that synthetic cannabinoids AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB be scheduled as Class A controlled drugs, and what action has he taken on this advice?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs met on 17 April 2018. I was advised of the outcome in the weekly report of 6 to 12 May, which also advised me that the ministry would consult with relevant stakeholders on the recommendation and prepare a health report for consideration. On 13 August, I instructed the ministry to prepare a Cabinet paper to progress this matter. I received that paper on 5 September.

Simeon Brown: In light of the advice from the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, will he commit to scheduling AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB as class A drugs; if not, why not?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That matter is going to be considered in coming weeks. Reclassification has the advantage that it allows the police wider search and seizure powers if it’s then classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and I think that interrupting supply is something New Zealanders could agree with.

Simeon Brown: Will his Government also support my bill which will increase penalties to supply other dangerous synthetic drugs, following his statement on One News last night that “Disrupting supply is a good thing.”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Just increasing penalties alone is not a solution to the synthetic cannabis issue. The advice from the Ministry of Health is clear: there is insufficient evidence that increased penalties will lead to reduced drug-related harm. It also advised that increases in penalties do not necessarily produce a corresponding deterrent effect. I can put it no better than the police, who are on record saying, “We will not enforce our way out of this problem.” Drug abuse is a health issue. This Government will treat it as such.

Chlöe Swarbrick: Does he agree with the recent UN Human Rights Council recommendation that providing support, prevention, and treatment measures instead of increased criminal penalties results in a decrease in drug use and the drug-induced mortality rate?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I agree that there is no convincing evidence that increased penalties will reduce harm. We need to treat drugs as a health issue—so, yes; support, prevention, and treatment are the key. I think the public will also agree that interrupting the supply of drugs which are killing people is also important; so widening the police’s search and seizure powers is also worthwhile.

Simeon Brown: How many deaths have been reported to the coroner caused by the consumption of synthetic drugs, which includes synthetic cannabinoids AMB-FUBINACA or 5F-ADB, since he first received this advice from the expert advisory committee?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I can speak to the fact that the coroner has reported back and has estimated 40 to 45 deaths have happened—

Hon David Bennett: Oh! On your hands!

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: —during the past year. I forget where the year runs to. Obviously, that was mostly before we took office, but we are responding. This Government is taking action. One of the things that we did when we formed the coalition Government was establish the Government inquiry into mental health and addiction, a powerful and broad inquiry that is looking directly at the problem of addiction and access to drugs like synthetic cannabis. The synthetic cannabis issue was also taken to the first Cabinet meeting following the release of the coroner’s findings about related deaths. As a result of that meeting, experts from the Ministry of Health, police, along with the Ministry of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Bureau, and the New Zealand Customs Service were asked to find solutions to this tragic problem. A decision on possible reclassification will be taken in coming weeks.

Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the Minister’s answer to that question, a totally inappropriate interjection was made—more inappropriate because we were talking about people who have died, and I’d ask you, as Speaker, to ask the member responsible to withdraw and apologise.

SPEAKER: I called the member to order when he made the interjection. I don’t propose to take it any further.

Simeon Brown: Given that he has claimed to be taking this issue seriously, how can—sorry, can I start again, Mr Speaker?

SPEAKER: Certainly.

Simeon Brown: How can he claim that the Government is taking this issue seriously given that more than 100 answers to written questions show that he and his ministerial colleagues of the multi-agency working group have taken no action to address this issue for months, the mental health inquiry does not include synthetic drugs in the terms of reference, and how many more deaths from synthetic drugs will it take for him to take this issue seriously?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I reject a number of the assertions made in that statement. This Government takes the issue incredibly seriously. The member may wish to dismiss the work going on between responsible agencies, but that work is how we will find meaningful solutions. What I can tell the member is that we are working closely with the police and the New Zealand Drug Foundation. We are talking to service providers and drug users to identify areas of need and how we can reduce them. We are also focusing on community-based initiatives, such as those operating in Porirua and the Far North, that may be expanded. Locking people up for longer may look like tough action, but we need to take measures that will actually reduce harm.

Question No. 12—Commerce and Consumer Affairs

12. ANAHILA KANONGATA’A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs: What measures has the Government announced to protect the public from unscrupulous wheel-clamping practices?

Hon KRIS FAAFOI (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): Recently, transport Minister Phil Twyford and I announced a new Government measure that will enforce a cap of $100 to be charged for the removal of a wheel-clamp. This move has been done to protect consumers from the behaviour of wheel-clampers, who have gone unchecked for years. We acknowledge there is a legitimate need to protect private property, but the practices of what has become a cowboy clamping industry is causing significant harm to consumers.

Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: Why has the Government implemented these changes?

Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Mr Speaker, the Government was tired of hearing about cowboy clampers using stand-over tactics to squeeze unfair fees out of motorists. Stories of mostly elderly motorists being targeted by clampers within minutes of parking and being charged as much as $700—

Hon Member: How much?

Hon KRIS FAAFOI: —$700—for the removal of wheel-clamps were far too frequent. The charges were excessive and were causing financial loss and emotional distress. The coalition Government is one that cares about protecting consumers, and I thank the New Zealand First Party and the Green Party for their support.

Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: What will the consequences be for cowboy clampers if they don’t comply?

Hon KRIS FAAFOI: Well, as I said, there is a maximum $100 charge for the removal of a wheel-clamp. Infringement fees of $1,000 for an individual and $5,000 for a company can be charged, and a fine of up to $3,000 for an individual and $15,000 for a company can be imposed if the matter goes to court.

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