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Parliament: Questions and Answers – Oct 15

Press Release – Hansard

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does she stand by all her Government’s actions and policies? ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s actions and policies?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly our Government’s $300 million investment in Taranaki Base Hospital announced last week. The Government is investing record amounts into infrastructure, including $1.7 billion set aside in Budget 2019 for upgrading our hospitals and health services, which, of course, after nine years of neglect is much needed.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept her Government’s policies are responsible for almost 1,400 more gang members this term?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: How many more patched gang members are there in New Zealand since her Government took office?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’d like to ask the member how many he takes responsibility for when he was in office. The existence of gangs in New Zealand is not a new problem, and it’s naive of anyone to suggest so—particularly, I would also add, this is a Government that is bringing in more police officers. We will reach the 1,800 goal, a significant proportion of which are dedicated to organised crime.

Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I don’t get many supplementary questions these days, and that one wasn’t answered.

SPEAKER: Yes, it was.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister remember the promise to bulldoze the gang headquarters down the day after the election, and, if so, what happened?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely accept that across the other side of the House, there is often tough talk when it comes close to election year.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she asked for an estimate of how much extra cost to the taxpayer gang members are having in terms of benefit payments?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: A number I have asked for is the number of full-time police that we have, and there are now 9,723—the highest ever number of front-line police officers. If you’re looking for a Government that takes these issues seriously, it is this one, and we are also the Government that increased the penalties for the manufacture of synthetic drugs as well, because we take these issues seriously.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will the Government reach its 1,800 police officers target this term?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think gang members who are on the run from the police should be able to claim benefits?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I note that, actually, the policies that we have now in this regard are exactly the same as when the member was last in office.

Hon Paula Bennett: Supplementary.

Dr Duncan Webb: Oh!

Hon Paula Bennett: Does her Government—

SPEAKER: Order! Who was that? The member will withdraw and apologise.

Dr Duncan Webb: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does her Government have a target for reducing the number of gang members in New Zealand?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No one wants to see an increase in gangs. The suggestion that anyone would want to see that is ridiculous. But rather than setting targets, we’re actually doing something about it with extra front-line police officers, who are targeting organised crime.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she agree with her Minister of Police, who earlier in this term stated that they would not make the 1,800 new police target and instead it was an aspirational target?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The reason, of course, that we’ve been cautious is simply to ensure that we don’t recruit people who aren’t right for the job. But, as I say, we have the highest number of front-line police officers ever under this Government, and we are making very good progress towards the 1,800.

Hon Stuart Nash: Has the Prime Minister seen reports of the fact the previous Government wanted to deliver 880 police over four years and this Government has delivered more than that number in under two?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does she stand by the answer to her question about three questions ago, when she was asked if she would make the 1,800 target of new police this term and she answered our leader, “Yes.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’m reflecting on that question, which was the same question asked by the leader of the National Party. Now, with respect, if we’re allowed to just duplicate the very same question over and over again, this House becomes a nonsense.

SPEAKER: Yes. I appreciate the point that the member’s making, but I think that if that’s the outcome that the Opposition want from their supplementaries, then they have the right to have it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that on 7 November, the Minister of Police will be announcing the next tranche of 60 trainees to graduate, which will take the number past 1,700 under this administration?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member is referring to the significant increase in the number that we have trained, and we absolutely stand by that. Under this Government, we now have the highest ever number of front-line police officers, and that’s something we’re proud of.

Hon Stuart Nash: Has she seen reports that under the last five years of the previous Government, police numbers actually dropped by over 70?

SPEAKER: If she had, it would be something that she has no responsibility for.

Hon Paula Bennett: Can we expect, in the police target of 1,800, an announcement in the next few months the same as KiwiBuild, where we’ll have to see a reset because they simply can’t reach the numbers?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: If that member doesn’t want to see more police officers train for the front line, that’s her issue.

• Question No. 2—Finance

2. Dr DEBORAH RUSSELL (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he seen on the Government’s finances?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Acting Minister of Finance): Last week, the Government released the Crown accounts for the 2018-19 year, showing the books were in surplus and that net debt came in below forecast. The healthy surplus was due to a stronger economy but also a number of one-off factors, including a $2.6 billion revaluation of the country’s rail assets. The accounts show the Crown’s total net worth is $146 billion, a net increase of $10.7 billion. These accounts show the coalition Government has achieved strong financial results while also making significant investments in wellbeing and infrastructure.

Dr Deborah Russell: What do the Crown accounts show about the strength of the economy?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The accounts show the economy is performing well. Revenue was up as a result of higher corporate profits, growth in domestic consumption, more people in work, and higher wages. The results show businesses are investing, employing more workers, and paying higher wages, while at the same time reporting stronger profits. This is a timely reminder not to talk ourselves into a downturn just because it suits some people’s negative narrative. It’s important to remember that the underlying fundamentals of the New Zealand economy are solid.

Dr Deborah Russell: What do the accounts show about the Crown’s level of capital investment?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The accounts show the coalition Government continues to increase investment in areas that were neglected by the previous Government. Capital investment—including in new hospital buildings, classrooms, roads and rail, and the super fund—was up 13.7 percent over the year. In dollar terms, capital investment in the 2019 year was more than $6.7 billion, building on the $5.9 billion we invested in 2018. This compares with just $3.7 billion in 2017, before we came to office. Our high levels of capital spending demonstrate this Government’s commitment to investing in turning around the infrastructure deficit we inherited after nine years of neglect.

• Question No. 3—Finance

3. Hon TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Finance: Are New Zealanders paying more tax now than they were when the Government took office?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Acting Minister of Finance): That would depend on New Zealanders’ individual situations. I can tell the member, though, that nominal core Crown tax revenue has increased over the past two years, due to rising business profits, more people being in employment, and rising wages, which are all signs that the economy is in good shape. This is being invested in areas that were previously neglected, like hospitals, schools, more nurses, teachers, and police—

SPEAKER: Order! The member answered the question some time ago.

Hon Todd McClay: Does he think it’s unfair that as the economy slows, New Zealanders are paying $6 billion more tax over the last year; an extra $3,400 per household?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The member’s presuppositions there are ones that I would question, but what I will say is that it just appears that he is unhappy about the fact that wages are rising, meaning Kiwis are taking home more money in their back pockets. From time to time, of course, Governments look at personal income tax rates, just as they look across the tax system at whether the settings are appropriate, and that’s exactly what we did with the $5.5 billion family package, which gave tax breaks to low and middle income families through the Working for Families tax credit scheme. It’s a matter of values, and that was our priority. I know the member is still sore, of course, that he didn’t get his $1,000 a year tax cut, but we believe that the money was better targeted at the families who needed it.

Hon Todd McClay: Does he think New Zealanders are paying too much tax given that, on average, an extra $3,400 was paid over the last year, per household?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As I said previously, New Zealanders have more money in their pockets because wages are rising. Businesses are paying, of course, better, and they’re hiring more staff. We know that corporate profits are up—that’s why core Crown revenue is up. Average wages are actually rising at the fastest rate in a decade, and so more New Zealanders are going home with bigger pay cheques.

Hon Todd McClay: Does he think New Zealanders are paying too much tax?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Average wages are rising at the fastest rate in a decade. We have, as I said to the member earlier, ensured that those working New Zealanders, through the Working for Families tax credits, do have lower tax to pay. Now, this is the Government that wants to see a strong economy and is investing in making sure that we are also addressing the infrastructure neglect that we inherited—nine years of infrastructure neglect—and we make no apology for investing in our schools, in our hospitals, and in our roads.

Hon Todd McClay: Why has the Government increased petrol taxes three times and introduced a regional fuel tax to collect an extra $1.7 billion whilst it’s also cancelled or delayed a dozen major roading and transport projects?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I reject the premise of the member’s question.

Hon Todd McClay: Well, does he support National’s plan to index tax thresholds to the cost of living so New Zealanders don’t pay more tax each year than they need to?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The member, again, appears to be unhappy about the fact that New Zealanders have more money in their pockets because wages are rising. Of course, as a Government we will make sure that we look at the settings to make sure they are appropriate, and we are making sure that New Zealanders have more money in their pockets through the $5.5 billion families tax package, which gave tax breaks to low and middle income New Zealanders. He might be sour about not getting his $1,000 tax cut with the National plan, but, on this side of the House, we’re determined to make sure that New Zealanders are supported across the country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister saying that more New Zealanders now have much more discretionary spending in 2019 than they had two years ago?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We know that more New Zealanders are better off because of the wage rises that we’re seeing across the country; the business profits being up, investment, and so on. The member is absolutely right.

• Question No. 4—Housing

4. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing: Were any of the 859 houses that have received a KiwiBuild underwrite but have not yet been announced “in places where there was little first-home buyer demand”?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS (Minister of Housing): The 859 houses are spread across multiple developments around New Zealand. These houses are in developments contracted via relationship and option agreements. They remain commercially sensitive because they are still in the early stages of planning and some decisions are yet to be made. Therefore, I do not believe it is in the public interest to provide further details at this time. However, I can tell the Minister that none of the houses are in the three areas identified in the KiwiBuild reset as having little first-home buyer demand.

Hon Judith Collins: Well, when will the Government release the details of these contracts to the public?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: When it is no longer commercially sensitive.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she agree the 470 KiwiBuild houses contracted for in Wānaka, Te Kauwhata, and Canterbury were built in places where there is “little first-home buyer demand”, and why were they built there?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: I certainly agree—I think, in fact, I said it in my press statement at about the time of the KiwiBuild reset, and this is the reason why we have removed them from the KiwiBuild houses and are selling them on the open market. We freely admit we didn’t get it right the first time, and we’re making the changes to put KiwiBuild right. But I am pleased to tell that member that in the less than six weeks since the reset, 132 KiwiBuild houses have been sold, another 126 KiwBuild houses have been contracted, 23 additional houses have been completed, and 27 additional houses are now under construction.

Hon Judith Collins: If she agrees with me that they should not have been built there, why were they?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: We have been through this quite thoroughly. In fact, I think I did a 58-minute press conference spelling out what went wrong with the KiwiBuild reset—that one of the issues that was driving this, actually, was perversely having a target, and was forming us to look at numbers over getting the right house in the right place. We are a Government that is committed to getting affordable houses for New Zealanders. We will not give up on it like the previous Government did. They committed to build over 39,000 houses while they were in Government; they delivered 100 affordable houses over nine years. We have done more than double that.

Hon Judith Collins: Can she confirm that no studio or one-bedroom homes that have received the KiwiBuild underwrite have yet had their sales settled?

Hon Dr MEGAN WOODS: The member will have to put that question in writing to me, and I’ll get her a detailed answer.

Hon Judith Collins: I seek leave to table an attachment for parliamentary written question No. 34124 (2019), which has not yet been officially released; it’s simply available to me at the moment. It’s a table showing—

SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that being tabled? There appears to be none.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

• Question No. 5—Transport

5. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Transport: What announcements has he made about ensuring New Zealanders’ safety on our roads?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): Fakaalofa lahi atu, Mr Speaker. Last week, I announced that the Government is acting swiftly to strengthen the New Zealand Transport Agency’s (NZTA’s) regulatory role to make sure that New Zealanders are as safe as possible on our roads, following a review into the New Zealand Transport Agency. We are enacting all of the recommendations of the review, including creating a statutory director of land transport who’s responsible for carrying out NZTA’s regulatory functions; getting the NZTA board to develop a new regulatory strategy; instructing the Ministry of Transport to update the NZTA’s regulatory objectives, functions, and powers; and injecting up to $45 million into NZTA’s regulatory work.

Paul Eagle: What were the findings of the review into the Transport Agency?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The independent review has found that NZTA failed to properly regulate the transport sector under the previous Government, NZTA was failing in its duty to properly check the companies that certify vehicles as safe for the road and other services, and when problems with these companies were identified there was often no follow-up. This was exacerbated in 2014, when the agency lost staff from its heavy vehicle compliance team and the number of investigations halved. The report found that previous transport Ministers had directed the transport agency to “focus on”—and I quote—”building roads”—

Chris Bishop: That’s not what the report says. Stop making that up!

Hon Gerry Brownlee: That’s not true.

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: —”at the expense of keeping people safe.” Safety is our Government’s top transport priority, and we’re getting the transport agency back on track—

SPEAKER: Order! Who interjected, “That is not true.”?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I did.

Chris Bishop: I did.

SPEAKER: The members will both withdraw and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. Point of order.

Chris Bishop: I withdraw and apologise

SPEAKER: I will deal with Mr Bishop. I will have Mr Bishop withdraw and apologise first.

Chris Bishop: I said it. I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the Minister was quoting from a document, then it would be, I think, appropriate that he tabled it to verify the statement that he’s just made.

SPEAKER: Was the member quoting from a document? [Interruption] Further supplementary—Paul Eagle.

Paul Eagle: What steps has the Transport Agency taken to strengthen its regulatory function?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: NZTA has made good progress in the last year. They have cleared the backlog of 850 regulatory compliance files that had been left open and unattended under the former Government. In April this year, a new role, general manager of regulatory compliance, was created. The Transport Agency is also in the process of recruiting up to 100 new positions across the regulatory services group over the next 18 months. Our Government is fixing the difficult long-term issues and addressing years of neglect of the Transport Agency’s safety role.

• Question No. 6—Immigration

SPEAKER: It’s come to my attention that the person who is the subject of question No. 6 is a protected person under the Immigration Act 2009. Section 151 of that Act requires that confidentiality be maintained in respect of protected persons and may require confidentially to be maintained as to the existence of a claim or case if disclosure of its fact or existence would tend to identify the person concerned or be likely to endanger the safety of the person. It is a criminal offence to breach this confidentiality. Members have absolute privilege in the House and cannot be held liable in relation to statements they make in the House. However, this privilege is not a licence to break the laws of the country: Speaker’s ruling 35/1. I caution members against identifying the person concerned or disclosing information about the case in questions that would identify the person. I will listen carefully to the answers and to the supplementary questions.

6. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his decision to grant residency to a person with six convictions for driving with excess breath alcohol and two convictions for driving without a licence?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Yes, this case involves a protected person. Deportation of this person would be a breach of the convention against torture. They cannot be deported by law.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why did the Minister grant residency to a recidivist drunk driver? [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because the person cannot be deported.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Were there other options available to him other than granting a New Zealand residency to a drunk driver?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes, and I’m aware that previous Ministers in the National Government issued revolving temporary visas to this person. That, essentially, has the same effect. The person is in the country. They are here in the country, but, of course, it does come with the unnecessary bureaucracy of continually having to reissue a visa to someone who cannot be deported.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why did the Minister not grant a temporary work visa and instead grant a New Zealand residency visa that comes with all the privileges associated with it?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because the person has been in the country for the better part of 20 years now and continually reissuing a temporary visa has, essentially, the same effect as issuing a residency visa, except for the fact that it comes with the additional bureaucracy of having to process those applications every three years.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Was public safety a consideration when he granted a recidivist drunk driver a New Zealand residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, I do not condone drunk-driving, and anybody who drinks and drives—whether they were born here in New Zealand, whether they’re here on a temporary visa or they’re here on a residency visa—should be prepared to face the full force of the law if they do, and this person did.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Who was in the Government when he was first allowed to come to this country?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: It goes back some time. As I say, the individual’s been in the country for close to 20 years now.

• Question No. 7—Education

7. JO LUXTON (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What action, if any, is the Government taking to improve the welfare and pastoral care of students living in halls of residence and other tertiary accommodation?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): Yesterday, the Government introduced legislation—well, today, actually, the Government introduced legislation to change the Education Act to create a new mandatory code of practice that will set out the duty of pastoral care that tertiary education providers have for their students. Recent tragic events have highlighted that a lack of minimum standards for domestic students in tertiary accommodation exists. Students and their families pay a premium for a package of accommodation, which includes a legitimate expectation that the provider will include a level of pastoral care and support. Our changes are designed to ensure that they get what they pay for.

Jo Luxton: What did initial investigations by the Government uncover around the pastoral care of students living in halls of residence and other tertiary accommodation?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: A couple of weeks ago, following media publicity around a tragic death, I asked the Tertiary Education Commission to contact all tertiary education providers that operate student accommodation, and I asked that they check on all of their students in halls of residence, and I asked for initial information to be gathered on the processes and systems that they have in place to ensure the welfare of students living in accommodation provided by them or on their behalf. It revealed significant inconsistency in the pastoral care that’s provided across the country, and some concerning gaps in the delivery of pastoral care. I also found that the voluntary code of practice for tertiary accommodation that was developed by providers and stakeholders back in 2004 had, effectively, fallen into abeyance. The Government is prepared to act to ensure that every student is provided with a high quality of pastoral care wherever they are in New Zealand.

Jo Luxton: Why is the Government moving so quickly to put in place a code of practice for tertiary students?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Right now, today, there are thousands of students living in tertiary education provider – provided accommodation throughout the country, and parents and students will be making decisions for next year about where young people will go and where they might stay during that time. The Government wants to ensure that every one of those families, as they make that decision, can be confident that if a student is enrolled in a hall of residence provided by a tertiary education institution, they will receive an adequate standard of pastoral care, and that their safety and welfare will be paramount.

• Question No. 8—State Owned Enterprises

8. MARK PATTERSON (NZ First) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: What actions, if any, is KiwiRail taking to maintain and improve the North Auckland Line?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): The member should be commended for his question because the answer has positive and profound implications for the good people of Northland. As part of the $94.8 million to be invested in that line this week, we saw remediation on tunnel two reach 90 percent completion and it will be completed by the end of this month. The investment in railways is one new source of employment for locals, and KiwiRail has briefed Northland firms to discuss planned work and is aiming towards design contracts in early December, using local people and local resources wherever possible.

Mark Patterson: What economic benefits will these actions have?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: To use a biblical term: the economic benefits will be legion. The maintenance of the line will allow many of the speed restrictions to be lifted. Our railways in Northland will be faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective. It will make freight services more timely and reliable, setting the conditions to make rail more competitive and allow KiwiRail to grow its freight business. Use it they will, if they don’t have interfering nobodies trying to stop the service. And interfering nobodies are no longer representing Northland in that respect. This will enhance Northland’s productivity—

Chris Bishop: Who’s the MP for Northland?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —free up space on the roads. Trucks have congested Northland’s roads and highways because, for decades, the investment in rail has been neglected. And as to who is Northland’s MP, well, he’s the person being threatened by Paula Bennett. You got that? He’s the person that’s being threatened by Paula Bennett.

Mark Patterson: How will KiwiRail’s actions specifically help Northland?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Very good question. Northland stands not only to gain from the improved infrastructure that this investment brings but greater economic benefits that will flow to local people and business.

Hon Paula Bennett: Is he feeling threatened by it?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: KiwiRail has promised that whenever possible—no, I don’t feel threatened; I’ve never felt so good in my life. I mean, if I was in a party that is going to be polling at 47 percent and the best I can do is 9 percent, I’d give up. Whenever possible, KiwiRail will be sourcing materials within Northland, and, consequently, Government investment—[Interruption]. Don’t worry, you’ll be trying to get on my side very shortly. It always happens. Consequently, Government investment will be flowing directly into the region. For too long our regional centres have missed out while investment has been poured into a few big city centres. It’s going to be a long journey back for rail in Northland, but we’ve started that journey and intend to complete it.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt the member while he was speaking, but I couldn’t understand him before and I was wondering if he could repeat it because he was—

SPEAKER: Well, certainly—the member will resume her seat—any point of order that starts off with “I don’t understand” in relation to an answer—

Hon Paula Bennett: I couldn’t hear him is what I said.

SPEAKER: Well, I’m not going to ask the member to repeat it, but I am going to warn Mr King that he should not use in this House the sort of gestures which the All Blacks, when the Wainuiōmata boy Piri Weepu was leading the haka, use, with regard either to myself or the member on his feet.

Mark Patterson: Is Northland the only region to benefit from KiwiRail’s maintenance improvements of its lines?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Happily, Northland is far from the only region to benefit from KiwiRail’s good work getting New Zealand railways back on track. [Interruption] Name one? I’ll name just three for a start: $331 million investment in existing facilities, $375 million towards replacing 50-year-old South Island locomotives and container wagons, and $35 million to progress procurement of two new rail-enabled ferries to improve connection between the North Island and South Island. That’s part of an over $1 billion investment—just to name three.

• Question No. 9—Health

9. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Is it his expectation that district health boards operate within the fiscal appropriation provided to them by the Government?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): My primary expectation is that district health boards will deliver the high-quality health services their local population need and deserve. That’s why this Government is investing a record amount in our DHBs, including an extra $2.8 billion of operating funding in Budget 2019, and it’s why we’ve hired 1,500 more nurses, nearly 600 more doctors, and over 500 more allied health workers since coming to office. I do expect DHBs to demonstrate sound financial management and map out a path to financial sustainability, but after years of underfunding, it’s not realistic to expect all DHBs to run surpluses, particularly when they have one-off historic costs such as compliance with the Holidays Act to address.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is he satisfied with a combined deficit that has ballooned from $90 million to nearly $1.1 billion in just two years?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I don’t accept the member’s characterisation of that, and as the member knows, well over half of the total DHB deficit is a result of one-off costs, including more than half a billion relating to Holidays Act compliance dating back as far as 2010. In fact, one-off costs total $666 million in the deficit—$666 million—all historic legacies of the previous Government. The member, with the number 666 in front of him, should be careful of the questions he asks, because the devil is in the detail.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given that answer, has he seen reports that DHBs repeatedly told the previous Government that they had been “quite diligent about making sure their payroll systems are compliant and can confidently say that all DHBs are compliant with the legislation.”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I accept that the previous Government failed to notice the problem that working people were being underpaid for years and years and years, and I accept that on this side of the House, we have inherited a lot of challenges left to us by the previous Government: neglect of our buildings, neglect of the health system as a whole, and, in this instance, the Holidays Act mess to clean up and fund so that workers get paid a fair amount for the work that they did, even under the previous Government’s watch.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Very interesting answer—that did not address a clear question of “had he seen reports with those quotes in them?”.

SPEAKER: Well, I thought it was implied in the—I at least inferred it from the answer that he had seen reports about it.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: If I may add further, I’ve seen the member’s press release to that effect.

SPEAKER: I wouldn’t really regard that as a report, but the Hon Michael Woodhouse.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he believe he has increased DHB funding in the manner committed to by Dr David Clark in 2017?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: This Government has invested a record amount in DHBs: $2.8 billion in the Wellbeing Budget; $2.3 billion the year before. We’ve said that in our first four years of Government, we wanted to invest $8 billion in the health system over the forecast period, and we’re well on track to do that.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: In that case, why does he continue to blame the previous Government when he believes he has put in sufficient funding to make DHBs viable?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As I’ve said many times before, it will take more than two Budgets to make up for nine long years of neglect. They ran the health system into the ground, and it will take us a wee while to put that right.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: When is he going to take responsibility for the clinical and financial performance of the health sector on his watch rather than blame the previous Government?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I’ll take responsibility when I’ve finished cleaning up that Government’s mess.

• Question No. 10—Transport

10. CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement of 16 May 2019 when announcing the Let’s Get Wellington Moving transport package, “What we have said in terms of the Mt Victoria tunnel, and we considered this very carefully, where we have landed on this is that the work on an additional Mt Victoria tunnel would happen towards the end of the first decade”, and is this still the case following the Wellington City Council election results?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): After years of stagnation, Let’s Get Wellington Moving is a groundbreaking opportunity to give Wellington rapid transit to ease the gridlock and tackle climate change. It was supported unanimously by all the councils in the region. The public feedback on Let’s Get Wellington Moving noted that the majority of people believe that Wellington cannot add to private vehicle infrastructure provision and expect reduced congestion. More roads will result in more cars. Alternative approaches are sought. We are taking a balanced approach and integrating the roads and the motorways with public transport, walking and cycling, and rapid transit, which is the only lasting solution to congestion. So to both parts of the question, yes.

Chris Bishop: Will he discuss re-sequencing the Let’s Get Wellington Moving. transport projects with Mayor elect Andy Foster in light of the defeat of Labour mayor Justin Lester, who he agreed the transport package with in the first place?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, once the Wellington City Council has met and discussed its position on this, once the Greater Wellington Regional Council has met and elected a chair and discussed their position on this, I’ll be more than happy to meet representatives from both councils to discuss a way forward on Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

Chris Bishop: Why is the second Mount Victoria tunnel scheduled to be built after 2029 and after mass transit has been delivered when officials recommended the opposite?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the member will know from the voluminous documents that were proactively released on Let’s Get Wellington Moving that the decision was made to prioritise rapid transit, public transport improvements, and walking and cycling because that’s what’s needed to ensure that this city gets a 21st century transport system that tackles climate change and encourages people out of single-occupant vehicles and into other modes of transport. That’s why we’ve prioritised those things over adding additional roading capacity, but I will remind the member that, actually, sorting out the Basin Reserve intersection and building a second Mount Victoria tunnel are funded components of the plan.

Chris Bishop: Did Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter’s letter to him of 26 March 2019 prompt him to get further advice from officials about the sequencing of the second Mount Vic tunnel and mass transit?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the letter was certainly part of an ongoing discussion about the priorities and the sequencing of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving project, but it shouldn’t surprise anybody in this House that the member Julie Anne Genter argues for public transport, better walking and cycling infrastructure, and modern rapid transit, and on all of those issues she’s correct.

Chris Bishop: When will he release the 26 March letter from Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I’m waiting for the decision of the Ombudsman on this, because the question of whether or not parties under an MMP Government or Ministers should be able to have free and frank exchange of views while they prepare a paper for Cabinet—that is a very important issue.

Chris Bishop: What does he have to say to the 63 percent of respondents living outside Wellington City and the 61 percent of respondents living in Wellington City who supported a second Mt Victoria tunnel during the Let’s Get Wellington Moving feedback process?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I say to those people: thank you for the support that you have given through your elected mayors and councillors, who unanimously supported the project because they understand, actually, that Wellington City’s transport networks are a critically important asset for the entire region, that access to the airport and the hospital are absolutely essential for people who live throughout the region, and that’s why they supported Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

Chris Bishop: If the Greater Wellington Regional Council and the Wellington City Council ask him formally to bring forward the second Mt Victoria tunnel ahead of mass transit, as was recommended by the officials in the first place, will he undertake to consider that request in good faith?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I’ve said that I’m more than happy to sit down with both the regional council and Wellington City Council, when they’ve had time to get their feet under the desk, to elect a new chair of the regional council, and to discuss their position on these matters, and I’ve signalled that I’m very happy to discuss questions about business case processes, and sequencing of projects when we have that conversation.

• Question No. 11—Building and Construction

11. ANAHILA KANONGATA’A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister for Building and Construction: What recent announcements has she made about delivering more warm, dry, safe houses to New Zealanders?

Hon JENNY SALESA (Minister for Building and Construction): Faakalofa atu ki a mutolu oti. Happy Niue Language Week. Last Friday, I announced the first tranche of changes to the Building Act 2004 that will make high-quality large-scale manufacture of warm, dry prefab houses a reality. Offsite manufacturing and modern methods of construction are the future of construction. These modern methods of construction can mean reductions in cost, up to a 60 percent reduction in construction time, and up to a 77 percent reduction in construction waste. By introducing a nationwide end-to-end manufacturer certification for off-site manufacturing, we’re able to cut the red tape on a number of building consent inspections that are required, while continuing to ensure high-quality durable homes are built.

Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: How will the proposed changes speed up building consents?

Hon JENNY SALESA: In addition to the changes for off-site manufacturing, we heard a lot from industry and from the public that one of the main reasons for delays in councils issuing building consents is a lack of information about the building products they are using. We know building consents are placed on hold by an average of up to 21 working days due to councils issuing requests for information on the building products, and it costs around a thousand dollars for each week of delay. That’s why we’re introducing minimum information requirements for manufacturers and suppliers of products. This will speed up consenting by ensuring councils, builders, tradies, and DIYers have the information that they need about the building products that they’re using.

Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: What other announcements will help deliver better homes and buildings?

Hon JENNY SALESA: We’re also making changes to lower the building levy, which will reduce the cost of building consents while allowing the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to maintain a high-performing building regulatory system. We’re also increasing the maximum financial penalties in the Building Act to make sure that builders, engineers, and tradies are complying with the law and helping to drive out the cowboys.

Andrew Bayly: When will the Minister actually deal with the real issue of traditional consenting and make sure that that process is sped up and made more flexible and quicker so we can build a lot more houses?

SPEAKER: Order! That’s not an area of responsibility for this Minister.

Andrew Bayly: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, I thought the building and construction—

SPEAKER: Oh, sorry. I thought the Minister wasn’t the Minister responsible. I thought the local government Minister was. Am I wrong? I am wrong. I’m sorry. The Minister will answer the question.

Hon JENNY SALESA: The amendments to the Building Act 2004 that I announced on Friday are one of the things that we’re doing as Government. We’re bringing through—and I’ll be announcing it soon—the other areas of work. We have a whole lot of work that we’re doing in building and construction. There are a whole lot of issues that were left to us, but in terms of building consent, that is one of the reasons why we have announced that we will go through with off-site manufacturing. It will ensure that consents are much more efficient.

• Question No. 12—Local Government

12. Hon JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Local Government: Does she stand by all her actions and policies?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Minister of Local Government): Fakaalofa lahi atu—Happy Niuean Language Week. Yes.

Hon Jacqui Dean: Is it her expectation that the proposed wellbeing work will be undertaken by councils at the same time as they work on the three waters programme and the planned changes that will be required under the action plan for freshwater?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: Yes, and I’m pleased to say that one of the early representations that I had as Minister for Local Government from the sector was to insert the wellbeings because it sits alongside environmental outcomes, outcomes for better urban planning and urban design, and outcomes for better places to live, and I’m pleased to be able to support the sector by including the wellbeings back into legislation.

Hon Jacqui Dean: How will communities set “specific objective and subjective priorities for intergenerational wellbeing” under the wellbeing framework?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: I’m pleased to say that this is a matter that the sector themselves have led out. The Society of Local Government Managers have actually launched for some time now a live document on wellbeing indicators. They have discussed the matter thoroughly within the sector, to determine the types of indicators that councils can use and apply to achieve a number of outcomes in the environmental area, social wellbeing area, and physical and built environment, and I think we should support them.

Hon Jacqui Dean: How much will all this cost?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: The cost will be determined in accordance to the priorities of those councils, and this is well-established. And, more importantly, this enables councils to engage with their communities to set the types of priorities that look across environmental wellbeings, social wellbeings, the types of cities and communities that people want to live in, and, most importantly, so that their children can thrive and grow in a prosperous region.

Hon Jacqui Dean: How much does she expect rates to rise, in order for councils to fund all of the work she has just described?

Hon NANAIA MAHUTA: That’s a matter that I can’t be entirely responsible for. The setting of rates is a matter for local councils to determine, and they are mindful that, in balancing the impact on ratepayers with the priority that their people have within their communities, they must balance the books based on what the revenue is that they get from rates. But can I say this: when we came into Government, it was very clear that the local government sector had been left to languish for nine years and the issues of affordability on councils had been neglected. That’s why we embarked on a Productivity Commission report that is looking to provide some solutions, and we’re considering that report and will respond in due course to the cost pressures facing councils.

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