Questions & Answers October 20

by Desk Editor on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 — 8:27 AM

1. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Finance : Does he stand by his statement regarding the Government’s fiscal approach that “we decided to support the most vulnerable, maintain benefits and focus on better public services, rather than cut spending”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, and a measure of the reasonable effectiveness of that approach has been that in 2014-15 the Government did achieve a surplus despite having, at one stage, a deficit of minus 9 percent of GDP. That means that right across the public services, as we have focused on the effectiveness of spending, we have continued to make ongoing investment in public services such as health and education, and also ongoing investment of a considerable scale in the administrative systems of Government, whether that be tax, ACC, the delivery of benefits, and so on. And in Budget 2015, this enabled us to increase benefits above the rate of inflation for the first time since 1972.

Dr Jian Yang : How has the Government’s management of its finances allowed it to help more New Zealanders to get ahead?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : It has enabled us to have some choices about where the small amounts of new money are directed. For instance, there has been an extension of free doctors visits and prescriptions to children aged under 13, paid parental leave has been extended, ACC levies have been reduced by $2 billion, we are increasing benefit payments, as I said, for the first time in 40 years, and the HomeStart programme has been taken up vigorously by young New Zealanders, particularly in provincial areas, where it enables them to buy their own homes.

Dr Jian Yang : How does New Zealand’s economic outlook compare with Treasury’s most recent forecasts, and what impact does this have on the Government’s fiscal strategy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Since the 2015 Budget forecast, we have seen some significant changes: a significantly lower international dairy price; now lower real economic growth, particularly in the first half of 2015; inflation lower for longer than was expected; and a weaker world economic outlook. Although there are now promising signs that after a dip in the first half of the year parts of the economy are now picking up again, for instance the services and manufacturing sector, it is likely that those changes since the Budget will have an impact on Government revenue and, therefore, an impact on the Government’s fiscal balance. So the Government will focus on what we can control, and that is prudent expenditure management.

Dr Jian Yang : What reports has he received showing growth in services and manufacturing?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Services make up around 70 percent of the economy. Yesterday the BNZ and Business New Zealand released their BNZ – BusinessNZ Performance of Services Index for September, which showed the largest expansion in services activity in 8 years, with sales and new orders particularly strong. The BNZ – BusinessNZ Performance of Manufacturing Index released last week shows that September was the 36th consecutive month of growth in manufacturing—the longest run of growth in manufacturing since the series began in 2002. These are positive signs for the economy. However, the forecast in Budget 2015 did forecast even stronger growth for both of these sectors, and that is why, despite these positive signs, slower growth may impact on the Government’s books.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why did the Minister agree to the questioner’s statement “rather than cut spending” when there have been in excess of 58 spending cuts, including cutting the funding contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : There has certainly been money moved around—no doubt about that.

Hon Member : Oh, that is the understatement of the day.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : That is because we believe, unlike the Labour Party, that if you are spending taxpayers’ money on something that does not work, you should stop doing it. [Interruption] I know that those members regard that as evil, but, actually, we think wasting taxpayers’ money is pretty bad.

Housing Market—Foreign Ownership of New Zealand Properties

2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement made five years ago that “Looking four, five, ten years into the future I’d hate to see New Zealanders as tenants in their own country”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. Although the Government welcomes investment that creates jobs and growth in New Zealand, we do not want to see excessive rural land sold to overseas buyers. That is why we added additional factors to the Overseas Investment Office consent process, which tightened up on rural land sales by, one, increasing New Zealand participation; two, protecting New Zealand’s economic interests; and, three, limiting vertical integration. As a consequence of the Government’s approach, the net amount of rural land approved for sale to foreign buyers is half as much as it was under Labour.

Andrew Little : Is he aware that his Government has approved the sale of 270,000 hectares of non-residential land, or 140 hectares a day, since he said he did not want New Zealanders to be tenants in their own land—which is at a faster rate than before he made that statement?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am certainly aware that there is a process that parties have to go through. As I said in answer to the primary question, if one looks at the net approval of land approved for sale to foreign buyers, it is half that of the previous Labour Government.

Andrew Little : In light of that answer, can he confirm that the Labour Party has not been in Government, and there has been a different Prime Minister, for the last 7 years? Just when will he start taking responsibility for his own actions?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Mercifully for the country, I can confirm both those things. Secondly, I can certainly confirm that we do have policies when it comes to overseas buyers being able to buy a property in New Zealand, but one of them is not whether their surname is Cheng or Xing or another Chinese name.

Andrew Little : Has his Government’s decision to approve the sale of 270,000 hectares—five times the size of urban Auckland—made more New Zealanders tenants in their own land—yes or no?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, what it has done is either created jobs and opportunities or saved jobs and opened up international markets—all the very reasons why the Labour Government approved it at twice the rate of the National Government.

Andrew Little : What specific evidence does he have that these land sales have created jobs, in light of the fact that the Overseas Investment Office has failed to collect any evidence of job creation?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Many of the applications give an indication of jobs, but I think it is plain for anyone to see, actually. If they wanted to go along to the farms previously owned by Mr Crafar and have a look and see whether Shanghai Pengxin has actually created additional jobs, the answer is yes. It is also true that when Yili and Yashili created their dairy plants in New Zealand on rural land, that too has been creating jobs. This is an open, vibrant, successful economy, not something that is closed to the world, as the Labour Party would want.

Andrew Little : Is it not true that no matter where these offshore land buyers come from, he is selling out New Zealanders by selling off our land?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, here is a suggestion. If he really, really believes that, he should look to his left at David Parker, who signed off on the largest land sale in the history of New Zealand, from what I can see, and say: “You’re fired.” But, then again, he cannot actually do that, because he has sacked him already. And, by the way, be careful because to your left and right behind you—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Supplementary question, Andrew Little. [Interruption] Order! I have called Andrew Little for a supplementary question.

Andrew Little : When will he stand up for New Zealanders’ rights not to be tenants in their own land?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Every single day I have been Prime Minister I have stood up for New Zealand. If the member wants me to give eight times that I have stood up for New Zealanders, I am happy to recite them, but, then again, I am no No. 8 and neither is Andrew Little compared with Kieran Read. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! Can I remind members that I am on my feet. Thank you.

B4 School Checks—Childhood Obesity

3. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Health : Can he confirm the number of referrals from B4 School Checks for obesity-related advice and support is expected to treble as a result of the childhood obesity package announced yesterday?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, I can. Yesterday I announced a comprehensive plan to reduce childhood obesity. At the core of the plan is a new health target for 95 percent of children identified as obese in the B4 School Check to be referred to an appropriate health professional. To support this, a range of new and improved practical advice will be available for families and to assist health professionals. This new target is one of the Government’s six national health targets and means—

Hon David Cunliffe : Too little, too late.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : —listen to this, it is important—we are now virtually the only nation with such a target and an extensive programme supporting it.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Before I call for a supplementary question, there is one particular interjector coming from my left who is too loud.

Simon O’Connor : What other elements make up the Government’s package?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : There is no single solution that will fix obesity, so that is why we have developed a range of evidence-based actions that include the free health checks for children that I have already mentioned, more physical education in schools, more access to sport, increased advice, and stronger food labelling. Our package includes 22 initiatives involving Government agencies, the private sector, communities, schools, family, and whānau. There are interventions for each life stage, starting during pregnancy through to early adulthood.

Sue Moroney : Does he agree with the World Health Organization that there is a mounting body of evidence showing breastfeeding plays a role in protecting children against obesity, and, therefore, will he recommend support for the Labour Party’s proposal to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks so mums can aim to breastfeed to 6 months, as recommended by the World Health Organization?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I agree on the first point, but the second is not necessarily related.

Sue Moroney : Point of order. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have a point of order on my left that I cannot accept until there is some quiet.

Sue Moroney : I seek leave to table a document dated 2012 entitled Systematic Review and Meta-analyses of Risk Factors for Childhood Overweight Identifiable During Infancy.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I just need whose document it is.

Sue Moroney : The names of the authors are Weng, Redsell, Swift, Yang, and Glazebrook.

Mr SPEAKER : On the basis that it may not be freely available I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

Sue Moroney : I seek leave to table a document dated 2009 entitled Breastmilk Hormones and Their Protective Effect on Obesity. The authors are Savino, Liguoro, Fissore, and Oggero.

Mr SPEAKER : Are there any other documents that the member is seeking leave to table?

Sue Moroney : I also seek leave to table a document from the World Health Organization of 25 such pieces of research—

Mr SPEAKER : No. World Health Organization information will be freely available. I will put the leave for the document first mentioned. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

Simon O’Connor: How is he bringing together sport and health to increase healthy activity amongst children?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Nutritional advice and support is important but so is getting kids active, so the package contains a number of actions to be led by Sport New Zealand, many of which involve working alongside the Ministry of Education to reach kids in our schools. One initiative,, is a national approach aligned with global best practice and will improve the quality of physical education in schools. Another initiative, Sport in Education, is an innovative approach to engaging students by placing learning in the context of sport. These are exciting initiatives that are being welcomed by school principals.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : In light of his effusive announcement that included children being given more opportunities to be physically active, will he instruct the Northland District Health Board to reinstate the health promotion in schools funding cut in June 2015; if not, why not?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : As the member knows, if he comes up and visits the district health board, it is a devolved system and it gets to make choices about what is best for people in its communities. That district health board is doing very well and I trust it to make the right decision about that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I seek leave to table a letter dated 16 July to the Mangonui School in Northland from the district health board outlining the cuts outlined in my question.

Mr SPEAKER : Leave is sought to table that information. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

KiwiRail—Northland Railways

4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Transport : What discussions has the National-led Government had with KiwiRail about plans for railways in Northland?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): I meet with KiwiRail regularly, and I discuss ways to improve the productivity of the rail network around New Zealand—that, of course, includes Northland. In short, KiwiRail considers that the Northland line’s economics are challenging. This is because almost 99 percent of Northland’s freight and 100 percent of its passenger travel is carried on the roads. That said, there are, of course, two return services per day, 5 days a week, between Auckland and Whangarei, moving mainly dairy and forestry products. There are no plans to change that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Has he raised with his caucus colleague Todd McClay, the Minister responsible for KiwiRail, or with KiwiRail itself any concerns about the level of maintenance, or lack of it, on the Whangarei to Auckland rail line; if not, why not?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : No, because, of course, we are investing very significantly in KiwiRail—indeed, $400 million over 2 years is the biggest single item in Vote Transport, and some $3 billion will go into rail infrastructure. So I think this Government has a very proud record with infrastructure investment in rail.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If that is true, has he been made aware of the number of sections on the Whangarei to Auckland rail line that require trains to reduce their speed to just 5 kilometres per hour?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : In fact, I think the networks in Northland are good overall—in the sense that the roading is working well. We have got very significant investments, as the member well knows—Pūhoi to Wellsford, not to mention bridges coming in that area. What is also true with KiwiRail, and I come back to it, is that we are investing significantly in that business.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Is it the Government’s intention to close the rail line going up north from Auckland?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : As I say, there are no plans to do that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If that is true, Minister, why are private businesses in discussion to metal the Portland railway shunt lines and to upgrade and tarseal a private feeder road to take over logging transport currently supplied by rail?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : As I say, the basic issue here is a lack of demand on rail, with 99 percent of freight choosing to go by road. So as I said in my primary answer, I think very candidly, that is why KiwiRail considers the Northland line’s economics to be very challenging. That said, there are no plans to close it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : When many of the logs to the Marusumi chip mill in Portland used to come from Dargaville to Whangarei and out to Portland but have stopped because that line has been shut down, and today 50 percent of the logs still come by rail, why on earth would that shunt line be closed down and metal taking its place?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I think the fundamental point is—I think it is right that the member raises it, as the local member—around the capacity and the constraints in and out of Northland for the produce and the various things in that area. As I say, I think the network is actually performing very well overall, but it will get much better when we invest billions of dollars in the Pūhoi to Wellsford area.

Climate Change—Bonn Climate Change Conference

5. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues : What specific instructions has he given to the New Zealand delegation to take to the Bonn Climate Change Conference this week?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues) on behalf of the Minister for Climate Change Issues : The delegation will be negotiating at the climate change meeting in Bonn this week on the basis of the existing Cabinet mandate. Broadly speaking, New Zealand seeks an agreement that is legally binding, that will set the world on a pathway to stabilise greenhouse gases at safe levels, and that is durable and applicable to all parties within the same legal framework.

James Shaw : Do these instructions include reference to the fact that New Zealand’s contribution to the Green Climate Fund sits at just 88c per capita, compared with the average contribution of $12.46 per capita from other nations?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I think that is a very unfair and arbitrary sort of comparison because I think, in fact, if you look at what we are doing internationally—as I have made clear to the member, I think, a number of times on behalf of the Minister—we are investing some $100 million into renewable energy in the Pacific. Actually, the overall figure, as the Prime Minister has made clear, is about $1 billion in the Pacific over 3 years—not all of that is climate change – related, but of course that will have undoubted benefits in terms of mitigation and adaptation. So I believe that we can hold our head up very high on these issues.

James Shaw : If the Minister is correct, why then is our overall climate change aid—that is, everything that the Minister refers to that we contribute towards climate change—just a quarter of what other developed nations contribute?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I think of course that it is very much a question of how you put the numbers in. I think that if you look in total at what we are doing in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but also in a number of other areas through Vote Energy and the like, we can hold our head up high.

James Shaw : Given that the Green Climate Fund will provide assistance for countries facing extreme weather events such as the typhoon currently ravaging the Philippines, does the Minister think it is acceptable for New Zealand’s contribution to be so low?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I think our contribution internationally on climate change matters is truly considerable, and indeed for a country of our size we can very much hold our head up high, whether it is the Global Research Alliance that we started and that we are investing, I think, about $90 million in over time; whether it is fossil fuel subsidy reform, where a range of Ministers and a range of multilateral organisations are pushing very hard on that significant agenda; or whether it is, as I said in earlier supplementary answers, our contribution to the Pacific.

James Shaw : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My supplementary question there was in reference to the Green Climate Fund, and I do not believe that the Minister addressed that.

Mr SPEAKER : No—not as I heard the question. You certainly made reference to the Green Climate Fund at the start of your question, but then the essence of the question was whether the Minister thought that New Zealand’s contribution was acceptable. The Minister clearly addressed that part of the question.

James Shaw : Will the Minister follow in David Cameron’s footsteps and match the UK’s Green Climate Fund contribution of $28.52 per capita, or even Australia’s contribution of $12.08 per capita?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : In terms of this particular Green Climate Fund, no, but that is because we are doing so many other things in a range of areas internationally that makes our contribution considerable.

James Shaw : Well then, would the Minister at least be willing to push our contribution up to $1 per capita?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : As I say, I think if you look at our contribution in total in a wide variety of areas internationally, what we do is very significant and New Zealanders should be proud of what we do.

Housing Market—Foreign Ownership of New Zealand Properties

6. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing : Is the reason he does not support banning non-resident foreign buyers from purchasing existing homes, that he agrees with the Prime Minister that the Australian Government’s housing policy has been “spectacularly unsuccessful”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): The reason the Government does not support bans on foreign buyers is that they are shown not to work. As the Prime Minister said, the policy has been spectacularly unsuccessful in Australia. House prices in Australia’s major cities are even higher than in Auckland and have been rising rapidly. The average price of a house in Sydney is currently $930,000 as compared with Auckland’s $741,000, prices in Sydney have gone up by 9 percent in the last quarter, and homeownership rates in every state and city of Australia have declined over the last census. I also note that those who are advocating banning non-resident foreign buyers propose exempting Australians and, instead, focusing on those with Chinese-sounding names. This sort of inconsistent policy is more about racial politics than helping homeowners.

Phil Twyford : Does he stand by his own statement in the House last week that “The Australian policy has not worked because the prices of homes in Australia have gone up by more and are less affordable than what they are in New Zealand.”; if so, how much faster have Australian prices increased in the last year than New Zealand prices?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : The specific information I do have is that house prices in Sydney over the last quarter have gone up by 9 percent. The current price of an average home in Sydney is $930,000. That is about 20 percent higher than the price in Auckland. I also note that in every city in Australia, and in every state, homeownership rates have declined over the last census, and so I would not suggest that Australia has the answer to New Zealand’s housing challenges.

Phil Twyford : Can he confirm that CoreLogic Australia’s data shows that Sydney was the Australian city with the fastest house price growth in the last year, at 16.7 percent, yet Auckland house prices in the same period went up 22.6 percent, meaning that Auckland house prices were going up 35 percent faster than Sydney’s?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : No I cannot confirm that, because I regularly find that that member’s numbers are as dodgy as his Chinese-sounding names surveys—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! That answer will not help the order of this House.

David Seymour : Does the Minister think it is sensible to expect that bringing the same inflow of capital to the same supply-constrained market through a narrower channel, being only new builds, would have any effect on the price in the long term?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : No, I do not think it would, and I would draw the member’s attention to the experience in Christchurch. Christchurch had very high house price inflation; it went over 15 percent. We have been able to treble the rate of new house builds in Christchurch. Over the last year house prices in Christchurch have risen by only 2 percent, and rents have actually dropped by 8 percent in Christchurch. What that shows is that supply is the most important focus, and that is why this Government, in Auckland, is putting the emphasis on growing supply as quickly as possible.

Phil Twyford : Can he confirm that house prices in New Zealand’s main urban centres went up 40 percent faster than in Australia’s main urban centres in the last year, and that the median price in Auckland is now only $68,000 less than Sydney’s median, even though New Zealand incomes are much lower?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : No, I cannot confirm those numbers. As I said earlier, I find that member’s numbers as dodgy as his Chinese-sounding names surveys, which are not particularly reliable. I would also note that since we have been in Government an increasing number of New Zealanders are choosing to move from Australia to New Zealand, because our incomes are doing better and New Zealanders see a better prospect for their future in New Zealand under a John Key Government than they ever did when the previous Government ran the place.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister in answer said he could not confirm the figures. All the rest was a political tirade and he should have been stopped.

Mr SPEAKER : I did consider indeed intervening, but the level of interjection that was coming from my immediate left was, I thought, enough for the Minister to have the opportunity to respond to that.

Joanne Hayes : In what ways are New Zealand first-home buyers at an advantage over those in Australia, and what steps has the Government taken to further help this group?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : New Zealand first-home buyers are able to access their KiwiSaver funds for putting a deposit on a house. Our HomeStart package, which took effect on 1 April, expands the funds that can be withdrawn and increases those grants, and, subsequently, there has been a record uptake of those schemes. I note that Australia does not allow access to superannuation funds for first-home buyers, and I think that puts young New Zealand families at a significant advantage in meeting their aspirations of owning their own home.

Phil Twyford : Did he deliberately mislead the House by claiming that Auckland house prices have not gone up as fast as those in Sydney or that New Zealand house prices have not gone up as fast as those in Australia, or did he simply not check his facts?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Let me give the member the exact figures. The average price of a home in Sydney—the latest data—is $930,000. The average price of a house in Auckland is $741,000—i.e., houses in Sydney are more expensive than in Auckland. If we look at the latest data on increases, the latest quarterly data shows that—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! There is little point in answering the member’s question when the member is not prepared to listen to the answer. Question No. 7, Alfred Ngaro. [Interruption] Order! The member Phil Twyford will stand and withdraw and apologise for that interjection.

Phil Twyford : I withdraw and apologise.

Waterview Connection—Reports

7. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister of Transport : What recent reports has he seen on progress with the Government’s Waterview Connection Project in Auckland?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Yesterday Alice, the world’s tenth-largest tunnel-boring machine, completed the second of the twin three-lane tunnels, marking a major step towards completing the Government’s $1.4 billion Waterview Connection project and, indeed, the western ring route. The tunnels will be the longest road tunnels in New Zealand, each being 2.4 kilometres long, twice the length of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Finally, can I just acknowledge the 800 staff and contractors who have worked hard on the tunnels and congratulate them on their engineering skills and innovation to complete this job safely and on time. It is a fantastic achievement.

Alfred Ngaro : How will the Waterview Connection benefit road users and support the future growth of Auckland’s population and economy?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : The Waterview Connection tunnels are a critical part of the Government’s strong investment in Auckland’s motorway network to support its population and economic growth. The Waterview Connection and adjacent Great North Road interchange are expected to open in early 2017. That will complete a 48-kilometre alternative route around Auckland, reducing travel time for motorists and congestion on Auckland’s roading network. Although it is the end of the road for Alice, she leaves behind world-class tunnels that will benefit Auckland and New Zealand for 100 years or more.

Obesity, Childhood—Announcements

8. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health : Is he confident that the interventions announced yesterday will be effective against the key environmental drivers of obesity, given that one-third of New Zealand children are overweight?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes. I think that being virtually the only country with a national obesity target and a comprehensive evidence-based life course package for children, with interventions across health, education, sport, and food promotion, incorporating both targeted initiatives and broad-based population strategies, will be effective.

Kevin Hague : Does he agree with Sir Peter Gluckman, who says “children are the unwitting actors who have become obese as a result of entrapment by contextual factors operating within society”; if he does, why is his policy package aimed more at individuals than these contextual factors?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I speak with Peter Gluckman often and I respect his advice, and he has had a lot of input into this package. Actually, it is not just about individuals here; it is about broad-based population strategies as well. There are 22 initiatives in here, 11 of which are new. It is a comprehensive package. I would really welcome your support in going out and helping us to promote this package, because you actually have a contribution to make, and the member knows that there are a lot of good elements in this package, including the health target, which is a signal achievement.

Kevin Hague : Why is the Minister not considering a fizzy-drinks tax when the Prime Minister’s own Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, has strongly recommended one?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : He has not actually strongly recommended one; he says that, on balance, he recommends one, but there is not any evidence that a tax on sugary drinks would decrease obesity. The University of Waikato is looking at the evidence. It will have definitive evidence in 2017. I know the member would love to tax all sorts of things, but, actually, he needs to consider what the price elasticity of demand would be and how much he would want to put it up to. All I know is that if we have a Labour-Greens Government, the price of everything is going to go up—it will not be just soft drinks.

Kevin Hague : When a recent tax on fizzy drinks in Mexico has already decreased consumption by 12 percent in just 1 year, why is the Government not even considering a fizzy-drinks tax here?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : We did consider it, but there was no definitive evidence. If you look at Mexico, they have done all sorts of things there, which means that there may be a correlation, but there is no direct causation. They have had $30 billion invested in drinking water. They have had major problems with the economy. In short, there is no direct evidence that a soft-drinks tax will have an impact on obesity. If he can show me the evidence, I will be happy to see it, but no one else has been able to.

Kevin Hague : Will the Minister continue to be persuaded by the Food and Grocery Council when it comes to setting policy to improve the health of New Zealand’s children; if so, will the Government’s tobacco control measures now be based on advice from the tobacco industry?

Mr SPEAKER : Either of those two supplementary questions, the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman.


Obesity, Childhood—Schools

9. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister of Health : Does he agree with his colleague Hon Anne Tolley’s statement that children who need “that instant hit of carbohydrates, a pie might not be a bad thing,” and her subsequent decision to scrap healthy eating guidelines for schools in 2009?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, I think the decision was widely welcomed by schools at the time. It is important to note that the 2009 changes did not take away schools’ responsibility—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I cannot hear the answer because of the level of interjection. I have risen to my feet on two or three occasions asking for some particular members to cease the loud interjections. I will have no choice but to be asking members to leave the Chamber. Would the Minister please start that answer again—I would like to hear it.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Certainly. Yes, I think the decision was widely welcomed by schools at the time. It is important to note that the 2009 changes did not take away schools’ responsibility to promote healthy foods and drinks to students. We are now building on this by expanding the Health Promoting Schools programme to an extra 150 decile 1 to 4 primary and intermediate schools. In addition, the Education Review Office will undertake a special review of food and nutrition and physical activity across the education system.

Jacinda Ardern : Is he now contradicting himself, given that he said in 2005 that “I can show you primary schools … where kids have a $1 pie for breakfast from the school tuck shop, then follow up with more of the same for lunch. That’s what has to stop.”?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I do not think there is any contradiction in what I said 10 years ago at all. But the point is that we are not going to be banning pies. We are going to be working with schools, with families, and with communities to educate them that, actually, the odd pie now and then might not be a bad idea. There you go—that is yours. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have not called the member yet. But all members have a right to ask a supplementary question. The Hon Paula Bennett.

Hon Paula Bennett : I think it is important—do not be a pie-hater—

Mr SPEAKER : Just ask the question then.

Hon Paula Bennett : What was Mrs Tolley’s—

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I apologise to the Minister—we have a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : It is a point of order, because I seriously agree with you, Mr Speaker—I really want to hear this Minister’s question.

Mr SPEAKER : Well then, if the member stays in his seat and listens, he will hear it as much as I will.

Hon Paula Bennett : Thank you—I might know a thing or two about pies. What was Mrs Tolley’s full quote on pies, and what other reports has he seen on pies recently?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Mrs Tolley’s full quote on pies was on Stuff on 2 March 2009. The full quote was: “For the kid who’s just been doing two hours of rugby practise and needs that instant hit of carbohydrates, a pie might not be a bad thing.” I have received another report today in the New Zealand Herald saying “If you’re wondering about what’s been fuelling the All Blacks success in the Rugby World Cup …”. it is pies. The article goes on to say—this is from the All Blacks—“‘We have a dietician … We loved the … pies.’ And it seems to be working for them.” I suggest to Andrew Little that if he is going to turn up in London and mix with them, he might not want to tell them that the does not like their diet, because they might think that he is a bit of a wuss.

Jacinda Ardern : Is a target based on how many children are referred from a B4 School Check to a health professional for a lifestyle intervention really meaningful when (a) more than 6,000 of the most high-needs children are not accessing these checks in the first place; and (b) we already know that referrals are being handed down for other serious conditions and not being followed up?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : No. The member has got it all wrong. So 92 percent of children are getting the B4 School Check. We have raised that radically from about 68 percent when Labour was in power. We are determined to triple the numbers. At the moment 1,400 children who are obese are being referred from those checks. We are going to triple that by December 2017 to 4,200 children, and no one can argue that that is not a good thing. It has been informed by expert advice. Pat Tuohy, consultant paediatrician—he thinks it is a great idea. Sir Peter Gluckman thinks it is a great idea. It is one part—I tell you—you have got no argument against.

Jacinda Ardern : Why did he not set a child obesity target that actually included reducing the number of children who are obese?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : We could have set all sorts of targets—you know, the field was open. But what we took in the end was the expert advice, and I would trust that advice over that member’s advice any day of the week.

Jacinda Ardern : When did he consult the Children’s Commissioner on this package, given his advocacy role and his position as a paediatrician, and was it as early as May, when he began an official discussion with industry?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I had my first lecture from the Children’s Commissioner towards the end of last year, and then he came and saw me in my office probably around May. So I have had a full discussion with the Children’s Commissioner, and we have had a free exchange of views on this.

Communications—Rural Connectivity

10. TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister for Communications : What recent announcements has she made regarding rural connectivity?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): Earlier this month I announced that the Government was adopting ambitious targets for rural connectivity. Under this target, 99 percent of New Zealanders, regardless of where they live or work, will be able to access broadband at peak speeds of at least 50 megabits per second, and the remaining 1 percent of New Zealanders will be able to access speeds of 10 megabits per second by 2025. All Kiwis, whether urban or rural, deserve access to the economic and social opportunities that high-speed connectivity brings, and the National-led Government is delivering it.

Todd Barclay : How do these targets stack up internationally?

Hon AMY ADAMS : Most developed countries, including the likes of the US and the UK, have established broadband speeds and coverage targets. These targets that I have announced for rural connectivity are more ambitious than the aspirations of countries such as the UK, the US, Australia, and Canada, and will see New Zealand move from 17th to seventh in the world for rural connectivity targets, and ensure that no one misses out on the opportunities of the digital age.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If any of that is true, what budget has been set aside to upgrade existing infrastructure, including broadband cabinets in Northland, to ensure that existing businesses and households regain secure and reliable internet speeds, which have been drastically reduced last year as new customers signed up, while speed and reliability fell away for existing customers?

Hon AMY ADAMS : First of all, I can assure that member that internet speeds have tripled under this Government, and are on target to double again, and I can further tell him that we have so far committed $2 billion of funding towards infrastructure across the country. Although I cannot give him the exact breakdown for Northland on my feet, I can assure him that Northland has done very well under both the ultra-fast broadband and the Rural Broadband Initiative projects, and it is only thanks to the National-led Government, otherwise it would have had zero.

Earthquake Commission—Home Repairs in Christchurch

11. Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram) to the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission : How many homes have been inspected by the Earthquake Commission’s team of 35 staff set up to deal with defective repairs, since this team was announced 5 weeks ago?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission): The team has been in place for 2 weeks. When the team was announced, it was publicly stated that it would be in place by the end of October. One hundred and forty-five homes have been inspected since the team was established, and it is expected that the team will complete 80 inspections a week once fully operating. The “jack and pack” remediation is still expected to cost up to $1,000 per site, which will be covered by the contractor or by Fletcher Construction.

Dr Megan Woods : What is the forecast number of all remedial requests that the Earthquake Commission expects to receive until 30 March 2016?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : That would depend on the category of the request that is being made. It could be, for example, that rubbish has been left on the site. It could be that there is some defective paintwork. It could be a range of minor things. The total number is currently 6,736 out of some 69,000 jobs.

Dr Megan Woods : I seek leave to table a paper prepared by the Earthquake Commission showing a forecast of 7,357 remedial repair requests forecast, dated 13 August 2015.

Mr SPEAKER : Leave is sought to table—

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : I will allow the member to make a comment.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : It might help the member to know that that was a forecast in August. The figure I have just given is the up-to-date figure today.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member has sought leave to table the document. I will put the leave. The House can accept it, if it wants. Leave is sought to table that particular Earthquake Commission document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

Dr Megan Woods : How has the modelling changed since the report that I referred to, of August 2015, of 116 requests a day coming in—has that modelling changed now, by September 2015?

Mr SPEAKER : Order! There was a mix of questions in there. I will get the member to restate the question.

Dr Megan Woods : OK, thank you. Has the basis of the modelling of the figure of 7,357—the August 2015 figure—changed? Is there now a new weekly expected number of complaints to come in?

Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Gerry Brownlee—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : The basis has not changed, but the results certainly have.

Dr Megan Woods : When does the Earthquake Commission expect to complete the inspection and remediation of the requests it has forecast by 30 March 2016?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : The forecasts are still pretty much on track for that date in 2016, but some types of remediation work, or areas where there has been some sort of request of the Earthquake Commission or where the Earthquake Commission has gone out to have another look at work, should be organised by Christmas. There will of course be people who cannot fit into that programme for various reasons, and that will be largely their choice.

Dr Megan Woods : Will he give a definite date when the forecast 6,000 remedial repair requests will be completed by?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : Given that it is a forecast number, all I can give is a forecast date. The forecast date is 18 March 2016, but do not be surprised if it takes a little longer because often when the Earthquake Commission approaches people about doing remedial work, they will have reasons why they cannot get it done at a particular time.

Dr Megan Woods : Does he think Cantabrians have a right to hear some certainty from him as to when this issue will be dealt with and completed, or is their frustration at the long delays and dodgy repairs just more excitement?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE : The question does not specify an issue, and refers to “dodgy repairs”. The fact is that the repairs that have been found to be less than desirable are being fixed. That does not seem to be the hallmark of a dodgy operation.

Data Futures Partnership—Announcements

12. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Statistics : What recent announcement has the Government made on the Data Futures Partnership?

Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Statistics): Last week the Minister of Finance and I announced the formation of the Data Futures Partnership. This is an independent group spanning the business community, Māori, and the public sector, which will be working to create an environment for trusted data-use in New Zealand and to increase the value generated from New Zealand’s data use. The partnership has been designed to embody the principles of value, inclusion, trust, and control, which were identified by the Data Futures Forum as essential to making data work for all of New Zealand. The partnership will focus on providing meaningful impact through the delivery of catalyst projects tackling challenges and issues preventing effective data-use.

Brett Hudson : What expectations does the Minister have of the Data Futures Partnership?

Hon CRAIG FOSS : I expect that the partnership will work to strengthen the data-use environment in accordance with the guiding principles of value, inclusion, trust, and control, by undertaking activities in areas such as progress in catalyst data-use projects, championing data-use innovation, and facilitating an inclusive social licence. I understand that the partnership is very keen to get under way, and I am looking forward to its reports.

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