Parliament: Questions and Answers – Feb 13

Press Release – Hansard

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No.1—Prime Minister
1. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) on behalf of Rt Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s policies?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Acknowledging that this question is in the name of the Rt Hon Bill English, can I start by acknowledging the extraordinary contribution that he has made to this House over many years, and share this side of the House’s best wishes for him and his family. And to answer the question: yes.
Hon Paula Bennett: Why is the Government going to close charter schools or insist that they must become special character schools?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we’ve long outlined, yes, it is our intention to put through legislation before the House that stops any future charter schools from opening. Currently, we’re working with existing ones to transition them to a model that sits within our current parameters, and that means focusing on having registered teachers teaching within the curriculum, and also under the budgets that our State schools expect as well.
Hon Paula Bennett: How does she reconcile her statements that the Government will act in “good faith” regarding closing charter schools, when her Minister of Education said, “My preferred option is to explore early termination of contracts”, and that if they don’t agree, then he reserves his right to issue a termination notice to existing contracts by the middle of May 2018?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Minister has continually said that his ambition and hope in going into negotiations with the schools is to transition them. That’s exactly what he’s doing.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does the Prime Minister see value in someone teaching at a school that has, perhaps, special Te Reo experience to give to those young people but may not have an education qualification, and does she see the value in them actually being in charter schools and able to teach?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I absolutely see the value of more Te Reo in schools, which is why we’re focused on making sure that we have greater teacher supply in that area, because at the moment we’re significantly under-resourced and we need a lot of investment to make up for the deficit from the last nine years.
Hon Paula Bennett: What does she say to parents of children at charter schools that say, “Sadly, my experience of State schools here in Aotearoa is one where the word ‘inclusive’ does not always apply to children with special needs and that charter schools are literally the only option for them.”?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: One of the points that we have acknowledged is that what this whole process has shown us is that, actually, we do need to make it easier for special character schools to establish themselves. That has been a learning. So we’re focused, as I said, on transitioning those schools but, also, at the same time, making sure in the future, where there are particular needs that we could meet through a school of special character, that they’re able to establish themselves a little more easily.
Hon Paula Bennett: How does she reconcile keeping a school in Wairarapa open that has no children in it at all with closing schools that have over 1,000 children at them for little other reason than it appeases the education union?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Our rationale has been very clear. We have a real focus on quality education, and all children, regardless of whether it’s 1,000 children or 800,000 children, deserve a quality education with registered teachers, with our expansive curriculum, with all the opportunity it provides, and with the same funding that goes to State schools and the majority of children.
Hon Paula Bennett: Where is the manaakitanga in closing He Puna Mārama Trust, which has two highly successful kaupapa Māori kura who “have no desire to return to a mainstream model that has continued to fail a large percentage of our students,”?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: To have a member stand up and make that claim does no justice to that school when the member sitting right next to me has been engaging directly with that school. We are working constructively to make sure that we get continuity for those kids, not putting fear out there, like the Opposition is.
Question No. 2—Foreign Affairs
2. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What actions has the Government taken to assist Tonga and Samoa in the wake of Cyclone Gita?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): New Zealand has already taken action to support both countries in the wake of the devastating Cyclone Gita, and we are standing by to do more if requested. We’ve just approved the deployment of RNZAF C-130 Hercules, after a verbal request from the Tongan Government, to help the 5,700 people seeking shelter in evacuation centres. Furthermore, I’ve approved an initial package of $750,000 to support relief efforts in Tonga. It will enable the Government of Tonga to help meet immediate needs, such as emergency shelter, water, and sanitation. With respect to Samoa, we have already approved $50,000 in emergency funds for the New Zealand High Commission in Apia. The high commission can use this funding to support Samoan efforts, and, as we get a clearer picture of demand, we’ll be ready to answer and respond.
Darroch Ball: What other support might New Zealand provide?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: As the situation on the ground becomes clearer, we’ll support Governments with longer-term recovery and reconstruction. Following previous events, New Zealand has, for example, helped get the power network back up and running, repaired schools and other Government infrastructure, and ensured clean water is available.
Darroch Ball: The Pacific is increasingly vulnerable to severe weather events like this. What will the Government do to help our neighbours to be better able to withstand events of this nature in the future?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The Government is clear that climate change is driving an increase in severe weather events globally. This phenomenon is especially serious in the Pacific, which is increasingly vulnerable to tropical cyclones as well as rain events. This Government will increase its efforts to invest in risk reduction in climate change adaptation in the Pacific to improve the resilience of the region to natural disasters.
Question No. 3—Education (Māori Education)
3. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Associate Minister of Education: How will he ensure that children and young people remain engaged in Māori-medium education throughout their entire learning pathway and succeed as Māori?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS (Associate Minister of Education): Through a number of initiatives, which include strengthening the supply of Māori language teachers, particularly those with higher language proficiency required for Māori-medium education. And, as the Prime Minister has just alluded to, we’re dealing with a large hole left by the previous Government in terms of both teacher supply and, in particular, Māori language teacher supply.
Hon Paula Bennett: How does he reconcile his ministerial responsibility to ensure young people engaged in Māori-medium education succeed as Māori with his failure to stand up for rangatahi at partnership schools like Te Kura Hourua o Whangarei Terenga Parāoa, who are succeeding as Māori?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The member’s wrong in her premise. I am standing up for Māori students, and, in fact, I’ve been on the phone regularly with both the senior manager of Te Kāpehu Whetū and the CEO of He Puna Mārama Trust. We’re very hopeful of an outcome of successfully transitioning from the current status through to whichever of the three options they decide to take up, and we hope to do it sooner than anticipated.
Hon Paula Bennett: So what does the Minister think is wrong with charter schools?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: They didn’t provide a level playing field, and, in fact, the paper that was produced—[Interruption]—taihoa! [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I think it would be good if at least I could hear, and I’m sure that no members of the Opposition would be able to hear. Sorry, before you go, I do want to particularly ask members in the second row of the National Party to be a little bit less regular in their interjections. Thank you.
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: Thank you, Mr Speaker. The paper that the Minister of Education proactively released outlined the differences between the charter schools and State schools. Namely, the issues are around governance, they’re around property, and they’re around teacher registration—nothing at all to do with education, nothing at all to do with student achievement, and nothing at all to do with pedagogy. Those people over there are worried more about the adults in the system than the children in the system.
Hon Paula Bennett: So does his level playing field actually apply to those young people who have been failed in mainstream schools and have found a home and an education that means they can succeed in these charter schools that his Government now wants to close?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: The member obviously didn’t listen to the last answer. This has nothing to do with pedagogy and curriculum. That’s what we’re about. There’s nothing to stop those same schools doing exactly what they’ve done, in terms of teaching and learning, and what they’re doing now. These people on the other side of the House obviously do not know what’s going on.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does he see value in a kuia who may be teaching Te Reo at one of the schools, but does not have an education qualification, yet is able to teach those young people in a way that has real value, and will that be lost if there can no longer be charter schools?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: This gives us an opportunity to highlight our one-year free tertiary education policy. I would recommend that that kuia—and can I just correct her on her pronunciation; it is not “koo-eeya”, it’s “kuia”. The kuia will be able to participate in tertiary education and retrain as a teacher. That will mean that she will actually get higher pay. She can also operate with a limited authority to teach (LAT) at the moment.
Hon Paula Bennett: Does he agree with Willie Jackson, who said, on the subject of mainstream schools, “Why would you want to carry on funding a model which continues to marginalise those tamariki—admittedly, mostly Māori—who don’t fit in?”
Mr SPEAKER: That is now so far away from the original question that it’s not an acceptable supplementary.
Hon Paula Bennett: It’s about Māori education.
Mr SPEAKER: No, it’s not.
Hon Tracey Martin: Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary—Tracey Martin. We’ll give the member a chance to ask it again in a minute, but we’ll have Tracey Martin’s supplementary while she works on it.
Hon Tracey Martin: Can he confirm that under the statutory authority to teach provisions in the Education Act 1989, prior to amendments that opened charter schools, kuia and others with special character skills could already teach inside any public school in New Zealand?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: In my 20 years in education, we regularly had members of the community come in and assist with teaching, be it kapa haka, be it Te Reo Māori classes. It’s obvious that that Opposition over there just aren’t in touch with this subject and don’t really know what’s going on.
Hon Paula Bennett: Will the Minister stand by his previous statement and resign if charter schools are closed?
Hon KELVIN DAVIS: There’ll be absolutely no need for me to resign. In this context, I did speak about the two charter schools up North, and, as I’ve said, I’ve been in close contact with the charter schools up North, and we hope to have an outcome very shortly. The other thing is it’s the model that’s going to close; it’s not the schools that are going to close. But they won’t let the facts get in the way of scaremongering.
Question No. 4—Finance
4. Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his reported quote of 7 February 2018, “New Zealand is a country that always has to be aware of global shocks. It’s why we keep our public debt lower than other countries”?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): I stand by my actual statement, which is just slightly different. It is, “New Zealand is a country that always has to be aware of external shocks. It’s why we keep our public debt lower than a lot of other countries.” That is why the Government is committed to reducing net core Crown debt to 20 percent of GDP by 2022 in line with our Budget responsibility rules.
Hon Steven Joyce: Does the finance Minister agree with these statements, and I quote, “future generations of New Zealanders are again being saddled by a National Government with huge levels of debt”, and, and I quote, “Debt has skyrocketed under National”?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Neither of those are areas of the Minister’s responsibility.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just asked the Minister if he agreed with those particular statements, and he is welcome to agree or disagree with them as the Minister of Finance.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, he might agree or he might not agree and he might even want to answer the question, but he does not have responsibility for it. Responsibility for ballooning net debt levels under National, as the member quoted, is certainly not an area that this Minister of Finance has responsibility for.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a new point of order about the same question, and that is in relation to whether members are accountable once they become Ministers for what they have said in Hansard when they were previously members of Parliament.
Mr SPEAKER: The answer to that is no.
Hon Steven Joyce: Why is he intending to increase our Government debt to $70 billion instead of reducing it to $56 billion, given his statement that the low level of public debt is a really important part of the New Zealand economy?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: What we are doing is measuring debt the same way that the previous Government did, and we’re actually reducing that as a percentage of GDP over the five years we are in office. We have a slower debt repayment track, because we have to address the failures of the previous Government to invest in critical infrastructure and social services.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the finance Minister whether he or his Government have any intention of exploding the debt by 800 percent, as happened the last time the Government changed?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What I’m going to do is I’m going to help the member by deleting the last phrase, which would make it a question within order, and asking the—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I’ll rephrase it.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I think we’re safer going this way.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Absolutely not. This Government is committed to a responsible debt repayment track. What we are not going to do is see debt grow by $50 billion while we ended up, as a country, with the worst homelessness in the OECD.
Hon Steven Joyce: With the introduction by the Deputy Prime Minister of the previous Government’s record, can the member confirm that the statements he made—
Mr SPEAKER: No! Order! I very specifically ruled that out. I think the member heard me.
Hon Steven Joyce: A different supplementary then, Mr Speaker. Does he stand by his statement, “When you look at the fundamentals of global economic growth, and indeed of the New Zealand economy, I am reasonably reassured by that. Essentially, the low level of public debt is a really important part of it.”, and can he reconcile that statement last week with the statements just made by both himself and the Deputy Prime Minister?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I can very easily reconcile that. We have a debt repayment track that is responsible but also allows us to finally get on with building some houses, addressing the housing crisis, and dealing with the liabilities that that Minister left the country.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can he confirm that just a few months ago, he used to think debt was too high, and now he thinks our debt is low and that’s a positive thing, and he’s still going to increase debt anyway; and because of his three changing positions on debt, does he wonder why people are learning not to take him seriously?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I know that member is distracted today by his own ambition, but what I can say to him is that since March last year, I have consistently been talking about reducing debt as a percentage of GDP, the same measure that member used, and, in the meantime, this Government won’t let social services run down, won’t create an infrastructure deficit, and we’ll actually use that debt to build some houses.
Question No. 5—Finance
5. Dr DUNCAN WEBB (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the Government’s financial statements?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Minister of Finance): Today, Treasury released the financial statements for the Government for the six months to 31 December. They showed core Crown tax revenue was $597 million higher than forecast, at $40.4 billion; expenses were $166 million above forecast, at $39.6 billion; and that the operating balance before gains and losses was $779 million above forecast, at $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, core Crown net debt was 23.2 percent of GDP at the end of December, slightly lower than the 23.4 percent forecast in the half-yearly update.
Dr Duncan Webb: What were the drivers for revenue coming in higher than expected?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: Treasury’s analysis indicates that greater than expected employment growth at the end of the year contributed to source deductions coming in at $245 million higher than they expected in their PAYE forecast released in December.
Hon David Parker: What confident businesses!
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: That’s right, Mr Parker. Treasury noted that they expect some of this variance to be permanent, and they will incorporate this positive variance into their Budget 2018 fiscal forecasts.
Dr Duncan Webb: How do the December statements fit with wider economic indicators?
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The trends seen in the financial statements fit with other recent indicators of economic activity. Unemployment fell to its lowest level in nine years in December, and the ANZ Job Ads series for January rose by the most in three years. Meanwhile, the ANZ-Roy Morgan Consumer Confidence index rose in January at the highest rate in three years, and employee confidence measured by the Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence Index is at its highest level in nearly a decade. Business confidence in their own activity, which is most closely related with economic growth, remains positive. It’s early days, but the sun is shining, and Mr Joyce should cheer up.
Hon Steven Joyce: Does this mean that the finance Minister now accepts that he possibly inherited a good economic record—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Let’s start addressing—
Hon Steven Joyce: I just like to address the whole—does the finance Minister now accept that he’s inherited a very good economic performance in New Zealand from the previous Government, and the only statistics he forgot to mention in his recent spiel was about business confidence, which is down, and does he accept he will have to do something about that to maintain that good economic track record?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to let the Minister answer the question, but I am going to counsel the finance spokesman for the National Party to restrict the length of his questions—succinct. One supplementary, succinct—not three or four and long.
Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The member is clearly distracted today, because I did mention business confidence levels in my answer that I just gave just now. The issue that the member needs to concern himself with is confidence levels in the National backbench.
Question No. 6—Foreign Affairs
6. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What are his three greatest priorities for the Foreign Affairs portfolio?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): One, restoring the ministry’s capabilities after nine years of woeful neglect; two, restoring official development assistance capacity from the malignant path of neglect and decline that the Government inherited; and, three, improving the character and quality of the foreign policy engagement of our country, to promote the prosperity and security of all New Zealanders.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: What particular areas of the trans-Tasman relationship did he and the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop discuss in Auckland last week?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Basically, how we could dramatically improve our engagement and relationship as two countries that desperately need each other, more so than ever since 1946. The Foreign Minister of Australia understands that, and that’s the beginning of a new pathway forward.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Did he raise with the Australian Foreign Minister his often stated concerns about the way in which New Zealand citizens have been treated by Australians when they are living in Australia?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can say that, generically, with respect to two aspects of that, the answer is yes, and we formed the basis of a future discussion based on fundamental principles and law, with which she herself was very familiar.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does he expect that as a result of his discussions Australia will stop sending criminals who have committed their crimes in Australia back to New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: We made it very clear that the situation that we inherited from the previous New Zealand Government, which was unattended, despite all of those statements of a marvellous buddy relationship between the two Prime Ministers at the time, was not going to be the destiny that we were going to accept, and we have sought to have a positive, agreed way forward. That begins when the Prime Minister meets Prime Minister Turnbull in Australia next month.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Then what does he expect that will mean with regards to the repatriation of Australian criminals to New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, we’re ambitious for enlightened improvement.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Can I just suggest that the Minister has on a number of occasions counselled people that words matter, so on this occasion, relating to—
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, is this a point of order or a question?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, it’s a question.
Mr SPEAKER: OK. All right. It’s just—[Interruption]
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Eh? Look, you’re very good at analysing everybody else’s questions; stay with me. The—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I do want to make it clear that the member has had some experience in asking them in the distant past, whereas not all of his colleagues have, in that way. So take the advice that I gave to his colleague.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: In this circumstance relating to this issue, what will be the enlightened result he’s looking for?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The enlightened result that we are looking forward to is an improvement in our relations so that some of the events that have caused great anxiety to New Zealanders, both in Australia and back home, do not occur in the future, and they start with the Australian political dichotomy of understanding how critical a country called New Zealand is out here in the Pacific, with all these major challenges we face. And that’s why we’re getting our funding up to do our role.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does that mean that post the Prime Minister’s discussions, the Australians will stop sending their criminals who have New Zealand citizenship back to New Zealand?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: When you have a situation that you inherited, which is one of grave neglect—from the point of view of years of New Zealand neglect—it’s a bit rich to expect us in a matter of days to fix it. But what I am very confident about, because of the way both the Prime Minister, my senior colleagues, and I intend to engage with the Australian political system, is that there’s going to be a serious improvement.
Question No. 7—Housing and Urban Development
7. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Does he agree with all official advice provided to him on the KiwiBuild programme; if not, what advice does he disagree with?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I receive a variety of advice on KiwiBuild, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t agree with. It’s important that there’s a flow of free and frank advice from officials as the Government develops its plans to develop affordable housing for young Kiwi families.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: In that case, does he disagree with the advice provided to him by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) that KiwiBuild, despite his modest projections of 16,000 over the next three years, will at best only deliver 8,000 and Treasury’s advice that half of that would come from the existing pipeline?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I do disagree with that.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Oh, really? Why is the Minister so sure that the development sector will be able to respond to his projections of 16,000 houses in the next three years when Treasury, the Reserve Bank, MBIE, and a number of independent of bank economists can find nothing in Government policies to suggest that that goal is even remotely achievable?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I have been open that initial advice from Treasury and MBIE didn’t tally. I got officials into my office and went through the details of the policy, and, as a result of that, Treasury reported in its half-yearly update a $5.4 billion cumulative investment in residential building over and above the normal investment by the private sector. A programme that is as large and ambitious as KiwiBuild places inevitable pressures on the Public Service and I’m comfortable in allowing them the time necessary to get up to speed with our ambition.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was that the same update wherein Treasury said that the ramp-up of construction of 10,000 houses per annum will be slower than signalled by Government, and the net increase in 2022 will be only 4,500, because 2,700 were already factored in with the Crown building programme and 2,800 will be purchased from existing private sector development?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I disagreed with Treasury’s earlier advice that KiwiBuild would deliver only half the number of houses projected in the early years due to offsetting against the private sector because of industry constraints. I don’t believe that Treasury at that point adequately took into account our policies designed to alleviate those constraints, but by the time of the half-year update, Treasury noted in the update that there were policies designed to alleviate those constraints that would include construction work visas to increase labour supply, infrastructure funding, prefabricated and modular housing designed to increase productivity potentially through the addition of foreign construction firms, and buying off the plan to alleviate finance access issues.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did those discussions with officials include the Minister’s promised 12 to 15 developments the size of Hobsonville that will be simultaneously constructed, and where and when will those developments take place?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: That will take a little longer.
Hon Michael Woodhouse: I seek leave to table two documents—I can do them together or separately. One is an Official Information Act (OIA) response dated 29 January to the National leader’s office from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on KiwiBuild numbers, and an OIA request response to the National leader’s office from Treasury dated 30 January 2018.
Mr SPEAKER: Just before I seek the leave, I want to check with the Minister whether those papers have followed the proactive approach of release that his colleagues are following. No, they haven’t. Is there any objection to them being tabled? There appears to be no objection. They can be tabled.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Question No. 8—Housing and Urban Development
8. PAUL EAGLE (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: What reports has he received on the housing crisis?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): The stocktake of New Zealand’s housing, prepared by three independent experts—Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, Alan Johnson of the Salvation Army, and economist Shamubeel Eaqub—released yesterday makes sobering reading and shows the national housing crisis is deeper and more entrenched than previously thought. Homelessness, transience, and substandard housing are having a lasting and sometimes even deadly effect on our youngest and our oldest. The report is a shocking indictment on the failure of the past Government to deal with the national housing crisis.
Paul Eagle: What does the stocktake report say about homeownership?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the stocktake report warns that New Zealand is quickly becoming a society divided by the ownership of housing and its related wealth. It highlights the increasing number of elderly facing housing-related poverty because fewer and fewer are mortgage free, and some are renting on superannuation alone. Homeownership rates have fallen to the lowest levels in 60 years with Māori homeownership declining to only 28 percent.
Paul Eagle: What is the Government doing to fix the national housing crisis?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Well, the Government has an extensive reform agenda that includes KiwiBuild building 100,000 affordable homes, changes to the tenancy laws to provide security of tenure, urban development to encourage residential developments at scale and pace, the building of thousands of extra State houses, and an end to the past Government’s mass sell-off of State housing. We’re working on reforming the financing of infrastructure for new urban development and reforming the planning system—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: —to allow our cities—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That’s enough.
Question No. 9—Health
9. Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Health: What are his priorities in the Health portfolio?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Better health for New Zealanders.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Which district health boards are having the roll-out of the National Bowel Screening Programme delayed?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have announced today a review of the bowel screening programme, and that is in order to seek assurance that New Zealanders can expect the bowel screening programme to roll out as it has previously been announced.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why did the Taranaki Daily News of 18 January report him as saying that the national bowel—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member can start again and start with an area for which he is responsible. Why a newspaper reports him saying something is not his responsibility.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: OK. Why has he said, as reported in the Taranaki Daily News on 18 January, that there is a delay to the national bowel screening roll-out nationally because “of insufficient funds to run the programme”?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I’m advised that they have printed a retraction because they misquoted me.
Matt Doocey: Why will he not start accessing the $100 million contingency fund for mental health, given that he campaigned on more funding and the results of his mental health inquiry won’t be available until the end of the year?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: As I have previously made clear to this House, in the Budget documents that the previous Government passed shortly before it left office, not a single dollar was appropriated in the health portfolio for mental health initiatives. This Government believes that mental health is a priority. It will not take us nine years to make mental health a priority.
Matt Doocey: In light of that nine years, why after so long in Opposition to prepare a plan for mental health, does he not have initiatives and a plan ready to roll out now?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I will educate the member. We have announced already that we will fund primary healthcare better, so that people can have affordable access to care earlier for mild to moderate mental health conditions. We have announced that we will do nurses in schools to make sure that people have access to mental health support, and we have announced also that we will launch an inquiry into mental health services that will report back with further initiatives. We’re well ahead of where they were after nine long, long years.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: What specific instructions has he given to the district health boards to improve access to elective surgery or to decrease emergency department waiting times or to ensure progress against the national cancer treatment target—what specific instructions?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That sounds more like a leadership speech than a question. But I have been very clear, and I expect to be very clear in the letter in expectations that I write, as to what I expect from district health boards to deliver. I have inherited from the previous Minister a number of documents that went unsigned during his tenure. At least now we have some expectations in place.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A very straightforward question—I asked him what specific instructions had he issued.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think you got an answer, which included none.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I’m happy to clarify that answer.
Mr SPEAKER: No.
Question No. 11—Social Development
11. ANAHILA KANONGATA’A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Will the Families Package support working families; if so, how?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Absolutely. It’s not just families out of work or on a benefit who are struggling. We recognise that there are also a large number of New Zealanders who are trying to balance low-paid work with raising a family, and are finding it hard. Action this Government is taking, under the Families Package, will reduce inequality and put more money in the pockets of thousands of hard-working Kiwi families by boosting Working for Families, family tax credit payments, increasing the accommodation supplement, introducing a Best Start payment that gives families with a baby born or due on or after 1 July 2018 $60 a week until their first birthday and up to age three for lower-income families, and increasing paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2020, which will provide greater financial certainty and confidence for working families. The Families Package enables—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is question time, not speech time.
Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: What reports has the Minister received to indicate that poverty amongst those in work is an issue for New Zealand?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: The Household Incomes in New Zealand report is clear that after housing costs are taken into account, around 40 percent of poor children are from low-income families where there is at least one adult in full-time employment. The figures are very similar for families in material hardship. Around 40 to 50 percent have at least one adult in full-time employment. The working poor is now a common issue facing Governments in most OECD countries. While paid employment is the way out of poverty and hardship for most families, it needs to be sustainable. For many, a small change in income or an unexpected bill can be disastrous. That is why the Families Package is so important. It will increase the incomes of many low-income families with children by meaningful amounts and help these families thrive.
Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: In real terms, what will the Families Package deliver for working families?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As part of the Families Package, the Working for Families abatement threshold is increasing from $36,350 to $42,700. These changes mean that around 26,000 more families are eligible for Working for Families tax credits in 2018-19. As a result of the Best Start tax credit, families will receive $60 per week in the first year of a child’s life. For those on lower incomes, those payments will continue until their child turns three. These changes are expected to benefit around 65,000 children born each year. Due to changes being made to the accommodation supplement, around 135,000 families will gain an average of $35,000 per week. Three hundred and eighty-four thousand New Zealand families are going to be better off with our Families Package.
Hon Louise Upston: How will giving $35,000 to someone earning $160,000 a year—say an MP, for example—through their families and education policy help lift children out of poverty?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: This Families Package is about New Zealand families—low- to middle-income New Zealand families; 384,000 families will benefit from this package, many of them low-income families.
Question No. 12—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media
12. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: Why has she decided to widen the search for New Zealand’s first Chief Technology Officer, and what will that mean in practice?
Hon CLARE CURRAN (Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media): The candidates who applied have an impressive range of skills and backgrounds, but no one person had all the attributes that we want. I will be seeking more input from the sector and perspectives from a new digital advisory group, which is being set up. The Chief Technology Officer is a vital role, and, as a responsible Government, we know we need to get this appointment right.
Brett Hudson: So what steps did she or officials undertake prior to the opening of applications for the Chief Technology Officer role to determine that there were people in New Zealand who were both capable and interested in the role?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: A recruitment process was undertaken. We are in the middle of that recruitment process. We have come to a decision that we need to widen that search. There were terms of reference established. There has been a search undertaken. We have decided to widen that search.
Brett Hudson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was quite specific about actions undertaken before that role was put out to the public. The Minister hasn’t—
Mr SPEAKER: Ask the question again.
Brett Hudson: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What steps did she or officials undertake prior to the opening of applications for the Chief Technology Officer role to determine that there were people in New Zealand who were both capable and interested in the role?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: The position of the Chief Technology Officer has been widely canvassed for a number of years in public discussion, including in the policy of the Labour Party. There has been ongoing determination. As with any high-profile position, one doesn’t know what the outcome is going to be, and it is not predetermined. It was not a predetermined position. We want the right person for the job. This is a responsible Government, and we are undertaking a responsible process. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Brett Hudson: What confidence can the public have that the Government Chief Technology Officer role is anything more than sloganeering policy, given the Minister undertook so little testing on the availability of suitable candidates prior to commencing the establishment of the role?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: A high degree of confidence that this Government is a responsible Government undertaking a responsible process about a position that has been widely canvassed, and we want the right person for the job, as does the rest of New Zealand.
Brett Hudson: What message does it send to the information and communications technology sector about her confidence in its capability, given she has decided that none of the more than 60 applicants are suitable for the Chief Technology Officer role?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: If the member was listening to my answer to his primary question, he would have heard that I am seeking more input from the sector and perspectives from a new digital advisory group, which is being set up as we speak.
Brett Hudson: What does it say about the role she has established that no one who the Minister deemed suitable for the job wants it?
Hon CLARE CURRAN: This Government wants the right person for the job. We are in the middle of a recruitment process for it. We are ambitious for New Zealand. We are ambitious for this position. We are undertaking a responsible process, and I think New Zealand can be reassured about that.

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