Parliament: Questions and Answers – Feb 28

Press Release – Hansard



Question No.1—Prime Minister
1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement, “We have a high standard of expectation for our Ministers”, and does she believe her Government is adhering to these high standards?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, and yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: What probity checks were carried out on all the provincial growth fund projects announced last Friday in order to maintain her Government’s high standards?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I mentioned yesterday in this House, many of those came from regional growth initiatives that were pitched locally and went through a process via officials and then a group of Ministers. I know the member will referring to a very specific project that’s been raised in the media. Minister Jones has made it clear he was not aware of the issue relating to one of the shareholders—as, I have to say, it was clear that Minister Bridges himself would not, at that time, have been aware when he and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) gave money to the exact same project.
Hon Simon Bridges: What specific advice did her Government receive from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) or any other officials prior to confirming the grant from the provincial growth fund for a waste-to-energy plant on the West Coast?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, advice that deemed it ready for a feasibility project on whether it warranted further investment. But, as I have to point out again, as MBIE officials did not unearth the issue with the shareholder—in fact, can I say, no money has come from this Government, but the last Government gave them plenty, even after the allegations and investigation had begun.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Prime Minister saying that Mr Bridges’ DNA and handprints and fingerprints are all over the West Coast project, about which he now presently complains?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: According to advice I’ve received, that very much depends on how well briefed and involved he was within NZTE’s dealings, but, yes, NZTE definitely, as far as I’m advised, provided funding to this group.
Hon Simon Bridges: Will the Prime Minister table that evidence in relation to NZTE?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do have specific figures. I’m sure that I could source the original document for the member if he needs something to jog his memory.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was she aware the recipients of a grant for the proposed $250 million waste-to-energy plant on the West Coast were previously the subject of a public sector conflict of interest investigation and that RNZ was reporting this morning that one is still under serious fraud investigation?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I mentioned, those investigations were under way at the time that NZTE also engaged with this group, so it’s fair to say that, probably, it was unknown. But that would be a question, ultimately, for the Minister and MBIE, who were involved in that process. Look, I think it’s fair to point out that of course this is not a situation this Government wants to see for its provincial growth fund, which is why the Minister has acted to stop the process and make sure it’s fully investigated, and no money has changed hands, unlike what happened under the last Government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, does she believe—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, no. Mr Brownlee, I think, is going to—does he need to be told, or is he going to withdraw and apologise?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was asked of the Prime Minister about whether she would table information to back up the claim she is making that these projects, or part of this particular project was part-funded by a previous Government. I think until that’s done, given that we don’t think it was, don’t believe it was, it’s unreasonable for her to pursue this line of questioning. It’s actually—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, she’s answering, not questioning—[Interruption] Sorry.
Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A previous ruling you gave a few weeks ago was in response to me trying to ascertain about documents and whether or not they were—and you said, actually, I couldn’t do that any further because it hadn’t been ascertained whether or not those documents were real. Well, I would argue that we’re in the same situation now, where we haven’t got evidence that those documents are there—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Simon Bridges.
Hon Paula Bennett: Are you not going to rule on that?
Mr SPEAKER: I don’t need to.
Hon Paula Bennett: Why not?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Because you’re right.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Simon Bridges: In terms of the high standards the Prime Minister sets for her Ministers, does she believe, even if officials didn’t say about this probity issue, that Ministers should make inquiries in relation to projects such as this in regard to probity?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think it’s fair to assume that all Ministers expect, and hope, that there aren’t these kinds of disparities when it comes to the projects they’re discussing, and have an expectation that officials, where it’s known, would raise it with them. The point I’m trying to make here is that this is a situation that, of course, this Government is not happy to be in. It’s working to resolve it. I would expect a previous Minister from the other side of the House, given his past circumstance, would recognise that from to time, very unfortunately, these situations arise.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light of either the officials or the Minister not knowing what’s going on here, could it be that there are probity issues in relation to the other projects announced in relation to this provincial growth fund?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Given that yesterday that member claimed responsibility for all of them, he’d better hope not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister as to whether she has seen a chronological record of Mr Simon Bridges’ involvement since he became the Minister on 19 December 2016, and does it have his DNA all over the prior transactions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I referenced in one of my previous answers, yes, I have been given advice and a time line. But what the member was asking was with primary documentation. If he’d like me to undertake to go away and look further at some of that, I’m happy to do so.
Hon Simon Bridges: In light, on the face of it, of the clear probity issues in relation to this waste-to-energy project, will the cheque on it be cancelled?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I outlined in my previous answer, we’ve put a hold on the funding of what was a feasibility study, I should point out, until we get to the bottom of this issue.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her Minister for Regional Economic Development that the cloud now hanging over her $3 billion flagship policy, “I don’t think it’s a train wreck. If anything, it’s a mild form of road kill.”?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That sounds about right.
Question No. 2—Education
2. ANAHILA KANONGATA’A-SUISUIKI (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What action has the Government taken to preserve tertiary education in the regions?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of Education): This morning, I announced an $8.5 million cash injection for the troubled Tai Poutini Polytechnic (TPP) on the South Island’s West Coast, so that it can continue operating over the coming year. This funding boost is needed to keep the polytechnic running and to improve quality, pending some wider sector changes. The extra funding is a strong demonstration of this Government’s commitment to tertiary education delivery on the West Coast. The Tertiary Education Commission has also agreed to write off $25 million of debt for under-delivery owed by TPP, as it simply will not be able to repay that amount.
Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: Is Tai Poutini unique in facing these sorts of challenges?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Regrettably, no. There are a group of institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITP) that, like TPP, are facing immediate and pressing challenges to their financial viability and sustainability, unable to modernise their teaching and learning to better meet the needs of learners and employers.
Hon Steven Joyce: No, actually. How many of them have actually not been delivering courses, like TPP?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: Mr Joyce pipes up. Of course, this is all his doing. We have inherited from the previous Government a polytechnic and ITP sector that, frankly, is nearing being a basket case.
Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki: Why has the situation for institutes of technology and polytechnics deteriorated to this extent?
Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: There are a variety of causes—one of which, of course, is the funding pressures that they were placed under by the previous Government. We’ve also seen plunging participation in polytechnic-level training under the previous Government, and the running down of regional education provision under the previous Government. This Government is committed to addressing all of those things.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought Mr Joyce—
Hon Steven Joyce: I’ve changed my mind.
Question No. 3—Prime Minister
3. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of her Government’s policies and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Simon Bridges: What specific reversals to the Bail Amendment Act is her Government advocating for, in light of her Minister of Justice’s comments over the weekend?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think it’s fair to say that when you look at the documents that were tabled at the time that the last Government made changes to the Bail Act, they significantly under-projected the impact that it would have, which suggests that it even outstripped their expectations of how it would operate. I think it’s only fair, given what we are facing as a Government, that we would look across the board at some of those initiatives.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, I’ll ask again: what specific reversals to the Bail Amendment Act is her Government advocating for, in light of her Minister of Justice’s comments over the weekend?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, when the last Government implemented their Bail Amendment Act, the implementation has been quite different to the reality that they projected. This is a piece of work that we’re undertaking, because, ultimately, we’ve been left with a prison population that is soaring, and on current projections, because of the last Government, we’ll be building another prison every three to five years. That is not acceptable.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, given the Bail Amendment Act 2013 made it harder for murderers, serious sexual and violent offenders, and users and traffickers of class A drugs to get bail, what exactly does her Government intend to reverse from those changes?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have just pointed out, based on the regulatory impact statement and the projections from that last Government, what’s happening in reality has far outstripped that, which is suggesting it’s doing more than what even they intended it would.
Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that the likes of William Bell, Clayton Weatherston, and Graeme Burton should all serve their entire sentences for the crimes that they commit, and if not, why not?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: At this point, this is going well beyond what the member was asking in his primary question. Does this Government want people to be safe? Yes. Do we want to see the crime rate continuing to decline? Yes. Do we want the imprisonment rate to increase despite a declining crime rate? No. There is more that this Government is committed to doing, because the last Government did not plan properly.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, in light of the discussion of all the advice that’s been received, what is the latest advice she has received regarding the number of people in jail for possession of cannabis, and can she confirm that the number still sits at around 10 people?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I haven’t asked for those figures in recent weeks.
Hon Simon Bridges: Can she confirm that her Government has received advice from justice sector agencies that show police proceedings for offences with six-month penalties have rapidly decreased over the last nine years, and offences with maximum penalties of three to 14 years have rapidly increased over the same period; and does she think that might have an impact on the prison population?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can tell the House that the most recent advice I’ve received from the justice sector is that despite, in some cases, a declining or static crime rate, we have an exponential increase in imprisonment that that Government did nothing about, which means that we now are looking at a bill of a new prison every two to three years, and we’re looking at being a country up with the likes of the United States in terms of our imprisonment rate. He may be proud of it; this Government is not.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, given she’s so worried about the prison population, who of the serious recidivist offenders who commit murder, serious sexual and violent offences, or who traffic or take class A drugs—spending longer in prison—will she let out first?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: A completely irrational question. And I would point out that his own last leader and last Prime Minister pointed out that continually building prisons is both a moral and fiscal failure, and this Government would agree with that sentiment.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, if the advice she is receiving from her officials is that there are more serious recidivist offenders serving more of their sentences, will she ensure her Government’s policy of reducing the prison population by 30 percent will not harm public safety?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course this Government is focused on public safety.
Question No. 4—Justice
VIRGINIA ANDERSEN (Labour): To the Minister of Justice, what announcements has the Government made regarding the Bill of Rights Act 1990?
Mr SPEAKER: Have one more go.
4. VIRGINIA ANDERSEN (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: What announcements has the Government made regarding the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): On Monday, the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, and I announced that Cabinet had approved, in principle, to amend the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to provide a statutory power for the senior courts to make declarations of inconsistency under that Act, as well as a requirement that Parliament respond to those declarations.
Virginia Andersen: What significance does this decision have, in principle, on human rights in New Zealand?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: Cabinet’s decision in principle is an important step in upholding human rights in New Zealand whilst recognising the sovereignty of Parliament. New Zealand is unusual in the Westminster system in that we have a unicameral Parliament, and this will provide an additional check on the actions of Parliament. There is still further work to be done in consultation with other parties, and, indeed, with Parliament’s Privileges Committee, which is yet to be concluded.
Virginia Andersen: Will this allow courts to strike down legislation?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No, absolutely not. We have been quite clear that the purpose of this decision is to put forward a process that requires Parliament to respond to a declaration, because, after all, it is possible for Parliament, in its collective wisdom, to get things wrong on rare occasions. This upholds the sovereignty of Parliament completely—
Hon Judith Collins: Getting the courts to decide—no courage.
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: —despite what Judith Collins might say.
Hon Amy Adams: In light of the Attorney-General having confirmed that the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill limits the right to freedom of expression as set out in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, can the Minister confirm that this is just the sort of legislation that would be challenged by the senior courts and referred back to Parliament for consideration for breaching the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act?
Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill, as it works its way through Parliament, has not had a negative Attorney-General vet under section 7 of the Act. If that member wants to race off to the senior courts to challenge it, she is more than welcome to do so.
Question No. 5—Finance
5. Hon STEVEN JOYCE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What funds has the Government publicly announced in the last week that have been allocated from between-budget contingencies or from pre-commitments against Budget 2018’s operating and capital allowances, broken down by description and amounts?
Mr SPEAKER: I should warn the House that I have been pre-warned that this may be an answer that’s longer than usual.
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Improving mental health services for children in Canterbury and Kaikōura—this is to provide additional mental health support services in earthquake affected schools from the contingency identified for mental health, enabling an announcement of the Government’s mental health response in Canterbury on 22 February 2018. This was for an amount of $28 million. Funding for Tai Poutini Polytechnic, ahead of wide sector change—$8.5 million will go to the troubled Tai Poutini Polytechnic, so it can continue to operate over the coming year. Funding for a four-member ministerial advisory group to investigate the establishment of a public media funding commission—$1.381 million. On Friday, the Minister for Regional Economic Development also made a number of funding announcements. The proportion of new funding allocation versus spending from existing moneys is Budget-sensitive, and the member will have to wait and see—only 77 sleeps to go.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In relation to the last part of the Minister’s answer, the question was very clear about the amounts of money that had been allocated. It’s hard to see how that amount is Budget-sensitive, when it was announced by the Minister for Regional Economic Development last Friday. Perhaps the Minister can revise his answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I think if the member had listened really carefully to the answer, he would have heard that the answer did quite properly indicate that some of it had come from arrangements to which the member referred and others are coming from new money. But he’s not declared which, because that’s Budget-sensitive. And that’s absolutely right.
Hon Steven Joyce: It can’t be Budget-sensitive if it has been announced publicly. I know the Minister’s probably embarrassed about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat.
Hon Steven Joyce: Supplementary, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No. The member has lost his chance
Hon Steven Joyce: I said supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, supplementary. Fair enough.
Hon Steven Joyce: Can the Minister please tell the House how much of the $61.7 million in provincial growth funding announced last Friday was new money under Budget 2018?
Hon Steven Joyce: How can the Minister explain that the Government announced with great fanfare that $61.7 million in new funding would be made available for the first projects from the provincial growth fund, and then the Minister of Finance is too embarrassed to admit how much new funding actually exists in this House a few days later?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: The only one who needs to be embarrassed about provincial growth and the lack of investment is the member opposite, who previously held the portfolio. But I can assure the member that the lion’s share of the projects announced to date are, in fact, new money.
Hon Steven Joyce: Then can the Minister confirm the content of paragraph 75 of the Cabinet paper released last Friday that said, and I quote, “The funds that are to count against the Fund have existing decision making arrangements that reflect the particular nature of [their] funds.”, and can he confirm, therefore, that actually no new money was set aside in the announcement last Friday, because of the comments made in paragraph 75?
Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I can’t confirm that for the member.
Question No. 6—Regional Economic Development
6. Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister for Regional Economic Development: Does his ministry consult with other ministries in preparing recommendations on projects to be funded from his $1 billion provincial growth fund?
Hon SHANE JONES (Minister for Regional Economic Development): To the best of my knowledge, yes.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Did he receive the same advice from officials on the proposed $250 million waste to energy plant on the West Coast as the previous Government did; if not, what was different?
Hon SHANE JONES: Obviously, a review is being held, but I can assure the House that the advice that I have received points out that the last Government, under the Leader of the Opposition, allocated money after an active investigation was initiated against the person we are all talking about.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: If his claim is correct, then why did he need to add $350,000 in funding for the feasibility study announced last week?
Hon SHANE JONES: Results to date show approximately $50,000 has already been allocated under the watch of the current Leader of the Opposition. Money that was approved last week is currently on ice until a review has been held, but unfortunately that taxpayer dough handed over in 2017 has gone.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that, in fact, the money he talks of in 2017 was paid to the local authority—I can’t recall the proper name of the development arrangements out at Westport—and the new money, however, that was to accompany that has hooked itself on to the local authority and has now been funded, when previously they had been rejected (1) because the project doesn’t stack up, and (2) because of the concern over the people who were behind that project?
Hon SHANE JONES: I can confirm that money was definitely handed over, and it was handed over by the last Government after an investigation was initiated against the person in question. The answer to that question lies to the member’s side, in the last Minister, who obviously tried to get away with it or was not in charge of his portfolio.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was asking the Minister to confirm that the money that he speaks of was paid to a West Coast local authority development agency, not to the company that has now been provided with the grant that he announced last Friday. Further, I’d make the point, Mr Speaker, that if he is saying that the investigation is ongoing—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, he may be misleading the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member knows how to take that up.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I realise that, but in the first instance, we bring it up with you.
Mr SPEAKER: No, you don’t.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh, yes, you do. You’re very good at this judicial stuff.
Mr SPEAKER: Because if you do, Mr Brownlee, you can’t bring it up the other way.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, that might be just as well, too.
Mr SPEAKER: Yeah, I think so.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: So can I say, simply—simply say—that if the investigation was concluded, why is the Serious Fraud Office still investigating?
Mr SPEAKER: OK. The essence of the member’s question, I think, was whether the question that he asked was addressed, and I’m ruling that it was.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister as to whether, with his extensive political and ministerial experience, or that of his colleagues, he has ever seen the culprit of a fiscal misadventure pot himself?
Hon SHANE JONES: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, I don’t—no, no, no. [Interruption] Sit down.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister have confidence in the capability of his officials to access proper credentials of applicants against their ability to deliver on projects funded from his $1 billion provincial growth fund, and can he point to one commercial venture in the world similar to the one proposed for Westport?
Hon SHANE JONES: There are many questions tied up there. Obviously, we have a governance structure that I have absolute confidence in, but I have to say, in April 2017, money was paid by the last regime to the company, not local government.
Hon Simon Bridges: Show us.
Hon SHANE JONES: Rest assured, I’ll do more than show you, buddy.
Question No. 7—Environment
7. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Green) to the Associate Minister for the Environment: What action is she taking in response to yesterday’s Greenpeace petition from over 65,000 New Zealanders calling for an end to plastic bags?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE (Associate Minister for the Environment): I’ve been struck by the number of New Zealanders who really care about the harmful impacts of single-use plastic bags, so I have asked Ministry for the Environment officials to report back on options for taking action on these bags.
Marama Davidson: What can be done about this?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Officials will look at a range of options, including a ban or a levy. More than 30 countries have legislated on single-use plastic bags. New Zealand has been lagging behind and, unlike the former Government, this Government will take action.
Marama Davidson: What is already happening to reduce the use of plastic bags?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Retailers including Countdown, New World, Z Energy, and Mitre 10 have pledged to phase out the use of single-use plastic bags by the end of next year. Bunnings Warehouse got rid of them years ago, and Pak ‘N Save has charged for them for some time, but that deals with only 75 percent of the bags being used. We need to take action on the remainder.
Marama Davidson: Why is this important environmentally?
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Because unlike under the previous Government, we recognise that producing these bags—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Mr Bayly, Order! Sorry. Mr Bayly, you’re quite close to the Minister who’s answering the question, and, unfortunately, the way the microphone system works here, we’re hearing you more than her.
Hon EUGENIE SAGE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. They’re important environmentally because oil is used to produce them and they create waste. They may be a convenient habit, but they end up in the ocean and then seabirds, fish, and turtles choke on them.
Question No. 8—Workplace Relations and Safety
8. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Does he have confidence in the advice he receives from officials?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): I do have confidence in the advice provided by officials. However, it will not surprise the member that I do not always agree with that advice.
Hon Amy Adams: Does he agree with the advice from Treasury that states that young and vulnerable workers are particularly impacted by minimum wage increases, and that no youth rates would significantly increase the job losses; if not, why not?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I am aware of a two-sentence suggestion amongst a 12-page report on the minimum wage that suggests that retaining youth rates would be a safety valve. Unfortunately, Treasury don’t provide any evidence for that assertion.
Hon Amy Adams: Does he have confidence, then, in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – modelled impacts on increasing the minimum wage to $20 an hour, that it would lower employment by 28,000 jobs, and that is before including the effect of abolishing the starting-out wage?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, the situation that we have right now is that we’ve got a proliferation of low-paying jobs. What we need to do in this country is improve the quality of jobs that are available, particularly for young people. I find it amusing that we have, on the one hand, the Leader of the Opposition running around saying that we’re not going to have enough people for the jobs that are out there and, on the other hand, we have the member saying that we’re not going to have enough jobs for people. Which is it, National? Get your story straight.
Rino Tirikatene: Does the Minister agree with advice from officials that the announced employment relations changes are likely to lead to higher wages, more engaged employees, and greater labour productivity?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes, I do, and I note that we have inherited a low-wage economy and a productivity recession from the previous Government. We can, and we will, do better.
Hon Amy Adams: In light of the clear and unequivocal advice that he has received, why is the Minister pressing ahead with making the minimum wage $20 an hour, scrapping 90-day trials in more than 70 percent of jobs, and abolishing the starting-out wage when all of these will badly hurt the prospects of young and vulnerable workers who just want to get a job?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, I totally disagree with the premise of the member’s question, and I do agree with the advice that I have received that the changes we propose will lead to higher wages, more engaged employees, and greater labour productivity.
Question No. 9—Social Development
9. TAMATI COFFEY (Labour—Waiariki) to the Minister for Social Development: Will the Families Package benefit Māori and Pacific people; if so, how?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI (Minister for Social Development): Absolutely. This Government recognises that Māori and Pacific are our youngest population groups, with great potential, but we also recognise that Māori and Pacific disproportionately experience persistently low incomes when compared to the general population. Under the Families Package, low and medium income households will benefit by a winter energy payment to help heat their homes over winter, a Best Start payment for families with a baby, a boost in Working for Families family tax credit payments, and increases to the accommodation supplement and accommodation benefit. Action this Government is taking will help lift Māori and Pacific households out of poverty.
Tamati Coffey: Why is it important that the Government support Māori and Pacific through its Families Package?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: As I previously alluded to, Māori and Pacific people in New Zealand are much younger. The median age for Māori and Pacific is 23.9 and 22.1 respectively, compared to 38 for New Zealand overall. We also know that Māori and Pacific have higher birth rates, particularly in urban centres. Māori and Pacific will make up a huge part of our future workforce. Ensuring that they have the best start to life and can meet rising living costs is important for all New Zealand.
Tamati Coffey: How will support for Māori and Pacific families support the Government’s goal of reducing child poverty?
Hon CARMEL SEPULONI: We know that around half of children in low-income households are Māori and Pacific. Putting more money into these households will support the Government with reducing child poverty. Māori and Pacific households will benefit from all of the measures introduced through the Families Package. If Māori and Pacific are better off, so is New Zealand. This Government wants all New Zealanders to get the very best start possible and is absolutely committed to reducing child poverty in this country.
Question No. 10—Transport
10. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Transport: Is the current industrial action by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union in Auckland assisting the Government’s efforts to encourage greater public transport use?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Transport): First, may I add my congratulations to the new Opposition leader, Simon Bridges, former transport Minister, and thank him for his support of public transport in Auckland, particularly signing off the City Rail Link, the selection of light rail for rapid transit—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will now start addressing the question.
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: In relation to the industrial action, it is never a good look to have disruption to public transport schedules that so many people rely on and plan their lives around. I’m advised that today the parties are in discussion, and we’re hopeful of them arriving at a sensible and equitable solution.
Hon Judith Collins: What action is the Government taking today to ensure that Aucklanders can get to work or study on time, given the ongoing strikes by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, which are disrupting thousands of commuters?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: As I said, the parties are in discussion today. I’m hopeful that they will come to a sensible resolution of the issue. This Government aims to lift wages and conditions after years of stagnation. Collective bargaining is one of the most effective ways of doing this, and as transport Minister I can say that my colleague, the Hon Iain Lees-Galloway, has my full support in this.
Hon Judith Collins: How can he consider train transport reliable when today’s meeting between the rail union and the train operator had to be delayed because even the mediator’s train was late?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: I’m advised that Auckland Transport and Transdev, the operator, have developed a temporary timetable to minimise disruption and provide consistent rail services on these lines. Customers can expect the southern, western, and eastern lines’ weekday peak services at 20 minute intervals with inter-peak and off-peak services running as normal. Many trains on these services will run with six cars, which can hold 900 passengers, to help reduce the impact.
Hon Judith Collins: Why should New Zealanders have any confidence that there will not be more train strikes with him in charge, when there have been four train strikes in four months under his watch and there were none in the nine years before that?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: Our Government believes that collective bargaining is an important way that both wages and conditions can be dealt with, but also that safety is an issue that can be dealt with through collective bargaining. We will uphold the rights of the parties to negotiate under the law in a sensible way to resolve these disputes.
Hon Judith Collins: Does the Minister support this strike?
Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The New Zealand Transport Agency is the transport regulator, which is in charge as an independent rail regulator. They have the statutory responsibility to make a judgment about the safety issue that these parties are in dispute over. As transport Minister, I’m going to leave them to do their job.
Question No. 11—Defence
11. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Defence: Does he stand by his statement, “I’ve always said that we have utmost confidence in the culture and professionalism in our Defence Force personnel that we deploy internationally”?
Hon RON MARK (Minister of Defence): I do.
Hon Mark Mitchell: Does the Minister feel that our New Zealand Defence Force have withheld information from him, or has he seen anything that suggests that the Defence Force acted with anything other than the highest professional standards during Operation Burnham?
Hon RON MARK: I do not believe they’ve withheld any information from me. I believe the briefings I’ve received have been very professionally presented and very thorough. And the second part of your question is true.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So then why, in relation to Operation Burnham, hasn’t the Minister come out in support of our New Zealand Defence Force?
Hon RON MARK: I think I have consistently and repeatedly said that I have the utmost confidence in the men and women of the New Zealand Defence Force, both their professionalism and the way in which they interact with people around the world where they are deployed. I can’t do more than that.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So have you rejected the allegations made against our New Zealand Defence Force in the book Hit and Run?
Hon RON MARK: The matters to which the member’s referring are currently in the hands of the Attorney-General, who’s been tasked by the Prime Minister to examine all of the evidence. I’ll await the decision of the Attorney-General, and there’ll be conversations after that.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So in light of that, has the Minister given any advice to either the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, or Cabinet that in his view an inquiry is not required into the allegations contained in the book Hit & Run?
Hon RON MARK: There have not been any discussions on those matters at those levels. At the moment, the process that’s been followed is that I have asked for and received a full and comprehensive briefing. The Attorney-General has been asked to examine the matter and the evidence, and is currently doing that. Once that process is concluded—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister have no view?
Hon RON MARK: —and the Attorney-General has given his decision, Mr Smith, then there will be conversations around those matters, and, I have no doubt, at the Cabinet table.
Hon Mark Mitchell: So you’re telling me in the House today—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m not telling the member anything.
Hon Mark Mitchell: You’re right. Sorry, Mr Speaker. So is the Minister telling me in the House today that as Minister of Defence you have had no conversation with either the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, or Cabinet about the allegations made against our New Zealand Defence Force in the book Hit & Run?
Hon RON MARK: It is fair to say I have had conversations with the Deputy Prime Minister on the matter, but most of those conversations are around process, an agreed process, and we’ll follow that process right through to the end.
Question No. 12—Workplace Relations and Safety
12. MARJA LUBECK (Labour) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: What action is the Government taking to improve health and safety in the State sector?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): The Government Health and Safety Lead was established late last year to lift the State sector’s game in health and safety. The team is led by Ray Smith from corrections, and he has assembled an excellent team of experts. As part of the work of the Government Health and Safety Lead, I was pleased to host an event at Parliament on 14 February for 35 State sector chief executives to pledge their commitment to health and safety and to join the Business Leaders’ Health and Safety Forum.
Marja Lubeck: What are the Minister’s priorities in relation to State sector health and safety?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: The plan of the Health and Safety Lead is to lift the Government’s game in relation to leadership and worker engagement. I’m also interested in how we can leverage the power of the State in relation to procurement. Almost 20 percent of New Zealand’s GDP is State procurement and this could be an important lever to lead us towards good health and safety practice.
Marja Lubeck: Why is health and safety important to this Government?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Well, we are making good progress in relation to health and safety, but my ambition is that we’re amongst the best in the world at keeping people safe. The Government believes that the Public Service should be an exemplar that walks the talk on health and safety.
Hon Amy Adams: Does the Minister’s concern for health and safety extend to ensuring that State sector agencies don’t contract with law firms who can’t protect their young female staff from sexual assault?
Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I’d certainly be interested in looking into that issue. It’s an issue that’s been around for a very long time—probably for the entire nine years that that member was in Government.

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