Questions & Answers – Sept 9

by Desk Editor on Thursday, September 8, 2016 — 7:54 PM

  • Economy—Performance and Support for Vulnerable New Zealanders

    1. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance: How is the growing economy, which is delivering higher employment and rising wages, helping to reduce hardship and child poverty in New Zealand?

    Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Finance): Earlier today, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) released its annual household incomes report on the material well-being of New Zealand households. Across a large range of measures, the report finds that household incomes have been growing solidly since 2011 in real terms—that is, after inflation—with slightly higher gains for lower-income households. The report also finds there is no evidence of increasing hardship or child poverty; in fact, there is evidence pointing to falling hardship and child poverty rates. The report also points to the cost of housing and housing quality as significant issues. However, the report covers the year to 30 June 2015, and so does not take into account recent increases in benefits and Working for Families.

    Chris Bishop: How are rising household incomes helping to reduce poverty for New Zealand households and families?

    Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Although we have seen reasonably significant wage growth under this Government—up 25 percent since 2008—the report by MSD says household incomes are growing faster than wages, in part due to rising total hours in paid employment per household. This reflects rising female workforce participation. Higher household incomes are translating into moderating or improving household poverty rates. The report by MSD concludes: “There is no evidence of any rise from 2008 (just before the GFC) in income poverty, either before or after deducting housing costs.” It also says there is no evidence of any increasing depth of relative income poverty over the last two decades, and there is no evidence of any sustained rise or fall in household income inequality before housing costs in the last 10 to 15 years using a 90:10 incomes ratio, or in the last 20 years using a Gini measure, or in the last 25 years using the top 1 percent share of incomes.

    Grant Robertson: Does table D.9 on page 84 of the report show that the top 10 percent’s incomes in New Zealand are a record 9.82 times larger than the incomes of the bottom 10 percent?

    Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot in the short time available locate that exact graph for the member, although I note it took him until page 84 to find the thing that he was looking for to point out that things were possibly getting worse when most of the report says that things are getting better.

    Chris Bishop: What are the main drivers of falling hardship, as reported in the household incomes report, particularly since 2011?

    Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The household incomes report says the impact of the global financial crisis (GFC) on New Zealand was relatively muted and New Zealand’s recovery from the GFC has been relatively strong. MSD says the effects of the recovery from the GFC on hardship are clear, with a substantial fall in hardship between 2011 and 2015. The report says: “The general state of the economy (wages and employment especially) has a rapid and noticeable impact on those in lesser hardship and those just getting by.” However, the report goes on to say the effects for those in deeper hardship are less noticeable, and that is why the Government is taking steps to increase support for the most vulnerable New Zealanders, such as by insulating every State house that is possible to do, delivering free GP visits for under-13s, and increasing childcare assistance for low-income working families alongside benefit increases.

    Chris Bishop: How do New Zealand rates of poverty and inequality compare with other OECD countries?

    Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The household incomes report says New Zealand compares reasonably well with other OECD countries across a range of measures, particularly since the global financial crisis. Real household incomes in New Zealand have grown by around 12 percent since 2011. Income gains have been right across the income spectrum and, in fact, are slightly higher for lower income households. By comparison, the UK’s median household income fell through the GFC and has only just returned to its pre-GFC level. Incomes in Italy, Spain, France, and Germany were flat through the GFC, and have remained so, and the US median household income has been flat for many years.

    Grant Robertson: Does page 15 of the summary document—which I am sure the Minister has read—say “There is evidence of higher after – housing cost income inequality in the last few years as compared with the mid-2000s and earlier.”, and, along with the fact that the top 10 percent of incomes are now 10 times higher than the bottom 10 percent, does it not show that under National the rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting poorer?

    Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I do not agree with the member’s contention. If he looks at the graph on page 19, he will see that housing costs as a proportion of income for the bottom quintile have been rising steadily since around 2000. Nobody is arguing that the issue of housing costs is not an issue, which is why the Government has a comprehensive housing plan that is lifting the supply of housing. In reference to the member’s earlier question, I note that table D.9 in the incomes report is, in fact, a before – housing costs measure. The average since 2008 is 8.5, not 10, and the ministry would note that you should not take 1 year alone, as the report warns against doing exactly that.

  • District Health Boards—Resourcing and Service Delivery

    2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: What is the total amount in efficiencies that district health boards have made in 2015/16?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): The figure for 2015/16 has not yet been finalised, but we have set a very clear expectation that there will be around 1 percent in savings, as in every other year. That is not unlike the automatic efficiency dividend that was required of district health boards (DHBs) before 2008.

    Hon Annette King: Is it acceptable to him for DHBs to make the efficiencies that he has demanded, by requiring doctors to work up to 12 days without a break and with seven back-to-back night shifts, because DHBs cannot afford additional staff?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, as the member will know, there are ongoing discussions between DHBs and the doctors’ unions about their working conditions, and this is nothing new; it has been going on for years and years. But, overall, doctors’ conditions have improved over the years. I can tell her that from person experience.

    Hon Annette King: What is his reaction to overworked doctors reporting 1,162 adverse effects on patients, because they were tired, and 275 admitting that they had fallen asleep at the wheel on the way home because DHBs cannot afford to ensure safe staffing levels?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, obviously they are still performing part of their negotiation strategy, and, as I said, DHBs and the doctors’ unions are currently in discussions around these very matters.

    Hon Annette King: Does he disregard nurses when they said just a week ago that staffing levels and working hours do not meet the best and safest standard of care that patients should expect?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No. I meet and speak with nurses regularly, and they were very happy with the negotiations and the settlement that they achieved last year, which was enabled through very constructive discussion on both sides.

    Hon Annette King: Does he think that Capital and Coast DHB, which has been required to make $148 million in efficiencies since 2011/12, could have made better use of that money on primary mental health services, which it is now cutting to meet his demands?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I would have to check the facts around that, but it is providing an excellent service for people in the Capital and Coast catchment area. Obviously there is some financial pressure there, but the good news is that the $60 million deficit that it did have under Labour has now been reduced to $10 million, and we expect that to continue to come down. At the same time, there are more operations, there are more appointments, and there are more doctors and nurses servicing that DHB.

  • Education Funding System Review—Progress and Sector Engagement

    DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): My question is to our fabulous Minister of Education, and reads—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will just have the question without any additional emphasis.

    3. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Education: At what stage is the Education Funding System Review at, and how is the education sector being engaged?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Following requests from the sector to be engaged in education policy development, I established the funding advisory group to consult in the pre-policy stage. This is only the second time we have done this on a major piece of education policy. The group is made up of 18 sector leaders, including the presidents of the Post Primary Teachers Association and the New Zealand Educational Institute. In addition, there have been over 90 meetings held with teachers and principals across the country to discuss the proposals, including extra meetings held on request. The funding advisory group provided its final advice to the ministry early this week, and provided it to me overnight, and in the interests of transparency I have released it to the public today.

    David Seymour: Very informative, but has she made any decisions on the outcome of the review?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: No decisions have been made on any of the proposals. As is the usual Cabinet process and as the Cabinet paper released publicly in June made clear, I will report back to Cabinet on next steps, informed by the funding advisory group’s report, the regional engagement, and with the Ministry of Education’s analysis and advice.

    David Seymour: In light of her answer that the report is only being released today and no decisions have been made, does it not appear premature for teacher unions to hold stopwork meetings about funding changes before this information was even released? [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The question has been asked; I now want to hear the answer.

    Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: Mr Speaker, under the—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! We have a point of order from Denis O’Rourke.

    Denis O’Rourke: Surely the Minister is not responsible for the unions—has no responsibility for that at all—and the question should be ruled out of order?

    Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I certainly accept the point that the Minister does not have responsibility for the unions, but the question as asked is in order, and now we want to hear the answer.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: Under the collective agreement, union members may attend up to two paid union meetings a year as long as the union makes such arrangements with the employer as may be necessary to ensure that the schools remain open for instruction during any union meeting, including, where appropriate, an arrangement for sufficient union members to remain available during the meeting to enable the school to remain open for instruction. In the past, paid union meetings have often been held outside of schools hours to avoid disruption to students and parents.

    David Seymour: In light of that answer, in this instance, were any reasons provided why the paid union meetings could not have occurred after school or during the school holidays that will occur within 2 weeks?

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! No—the way that question is worded, it is not in order. If the member wanted to ask about any reports received, etc., I could consider that, but the way it was asked was definitely out of order.

    David Seymour: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the question because, in my view, the Minister does have responsibility. She is responsible for one side of the collective agreement—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Now the member is very much in danger of arguing with the Speaker, which is a very serious offence. I have ruled it out of order, and I have given the member an opportunity to rephrase it. He would be very wise to use it; otherwise, I am quite happy to move on.

    Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to clarify something that has transpired, and I do note that you had your head down and you were concentrating at the time that these words were said—

    Mr SPEAKER: Can I have the point of order now.

    Ron Mark: The point of order is this: is it now, given that this has happened twice under this member’s questioning, acceptable for the members of this side of the House to preface the question with “In light of that answer”?

    Mr SPEAKER: No, it is certainly not within Speakers’ rulings to use “In light of that answer”, but I would more commonly hear that type of supplementary question coming from my left. If the member wants me to toughen up, I will do it, but I will do it fairly to both sides. I suspect that if the Opposition wants to reflect on that for a while longer, it would be advised to leave the status quo as it is. That is the indication I am certainly getting from some of the senior members to my left.

    David Seymour: In light of her answer to my earlier supplementary question, has the Minister seen any reports as to whether or not these particular meetings this time could not have been held either after school or during the school holidays, which will occur in 2 weeks’ time?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have not seen any, and, as I have already indicated in the past, these paid union meetings have often occurred outside school hours so that parents are not inconvenienced. It is particularly surprising in the context that all of the union leaders have been involved for 3 months in discussing the report. They have reported their—

    Mr SPEAKER: Bring the answer to a conclusion.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: There have been 90 regional engagement meetings, all outside of school hours.

    David Seymour: What disruption will holding the paid union meetings during class time cause to students and parents?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: It is a disruption to students, but it is also a significant inconvenience—

    Dr David Clark: Sort out the education system and then you won’t have that problem—if you sort out the education system.

    Mr SPEAKER: Order!

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is what the funding review is all about—it is sorting out the education system.

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! If Dr David Clark wants to ask a supplementary question, that is in order. But he does it in the way that everybody else does—he rises to his feet if he has a supplementary question. Would the Minister now complete the answer, without interjection from the front bench of the Labour Party.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, it is an inconvenience to parents, particularly in the context that I have already explained. These issues have been the subject of discussion by 18 sector leaders and union leaders for the past 3 months, 90 engagement meetings have been held with teachers and principals across the country, and the review is reporting only this week, after the union meetings have begun.

    Chris Hipkins: Has the Ministry of Education instructed student school transport providers not to collect students earlier on the days when their schools will be empty of teachers; if so, why is she putting student safety at risk?

    Mr SPEAKER: Either of those two supplementary questions.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have had a report that the ministry inappropriately advised a school in Palmerston North. It has since corrected that. And no, I am not happy about students being put at risk. The ministry has publicly apologised for doing so. [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of interjection now coming from both sides of the House is excessive, and it must calm down.

  • Seniors, Minister—Statements

    4. DENIS OROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister for Seniors: Does she stand by her statement, “we’re very in favour of the SuperGold Card and there are absolutely no plans to downgrade it in any way, shape or form”?

    Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister for Seniors): As the Minister for Seniors I am 100 percent behind the SuperGold card, as has been my predecessor, Jo Goodhew. We believe that seniors who pay taxes all their lives deserve to have discounts and concessions. I absolutely approve of the way in which they get transport entitlements, and I think the system is working really well. We have added to it in a meaningful way, from extremely humble beginnings in 2007.

    Denis O’Rourke: As the SuperGold card can no longer be used in Auckland without buying a HOP card, is this not downgrading the value and universal aspect of the SuperGold card?

    Hon MAGGIE BARRY: In a word, no. The Auckland Transport HOP card, as of 12 August, had 97 percent of SuperGold card public transport users signed up. That represents 108,303 SuperGold card holders so far.

    Denis O’Rourke: By capping the funding and by transferring SuperGold card responsibility to regional councils, is this not just a way of downgrading the SuperGold card free off-peak transport by stealth?

    Hon MAGGIE BARRY: Indeed, it is not. This National Government is absolutely committed to the SuperGold card and to the transport concessions. The changes to the bulk funding are outside my ministerial responsibilities, but they did not change, in any way, the entitlements. Seniors can continue to use their gold cards as they always have. In fact, by lifting the moratorium—which was also part of the changes that we brought in—we have enabled a lack of monopoly, and there is now the possibility that there are places all around New Zealand that are able to offer the transport concessions that were not able to be offered in the past. So we have improved the access to transport.

    Denis O’Rourke: By capping SuperGold card funding, how does this allow for the increase in the number of senior citizens and therefore their increase in off-peak transport usage without, effectively, downgrading services?

    Hon MAGGIE BARRY: We are aware, as that member appears to be as well, that we are an ageing population. We will continue to fund access to all discounts and all concessions that SuperGold holders—and superannuitants, indeed—are absolutely entitled to. This Government is completely committed to helping ensure that New Zealand superannuitants continue to be able to get discounts and to travel, and we will continue to ensure that they are well supported because it is a system that we have supported—unlike that party, which did very little. From 200 outlets that offered concessions, we have put it up to 12,000.

  • Household Incomes—Announcements

    5. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made regarding the material well-being of New Zealand households?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): This morning I welcomed the release of the Ministry of Social Development’s latest household incomes report and the companion report on material well-being using non-income measures. I applaud the ministry’s work in this area and its role as the social sector leader on the measurement and understanding of trends in income inequality and material hardship. Very few countries collect as much detailed and in-depth information on this subject as New Zealand, which highlights this Government’s commitment to address the long-term drivers of poverty and hardship. This is the 10th issue of an ongoing series of incomes reports, and it provides the Government with valuable long-term analysis that lets us gauge the effect of the work we do to support New Zealanders.

    Jono Naylor: What do these reports say about the long-term trends in material hardship and inequality?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY: It is good news. In regard to income poverty, which has traditionally been used as a basic measure for poverty, there is no evidence of any rise in recent years. In fact, depending on whether you look at measures before or after housing costs are deducted, recent trends are all either flat or falling. There is also no evidence of a rise in poverty and material hardship trends for children, and it is important to note that this data was collected before the Government’s $790 million child material hardship package came into effect in April this year. In terms of inequality, the report finds that there is also no evidence of any sustained rise or fall in household income equality before housing costs, and there is also no evidence that the income share of the top 1 percent has risen in recent years.

    Jono Naylor: What is the Government doing to support people in material hardship and people on low incomes?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Although there is a lot of good news in these reports, the Government would like to see the levels of poverty and material hardship come down further. We know that the best way out of poverty is work, which is why this Government is focused on growing the economy and helping people get off the benefit and into sustainable work. We have also introduced free GP visits and prescriptions for under-13s, served over seven and a half million breakfasts in schools, put social workers in all low-decile primary schools, introduced the Youth Service for young teen beneficiaries—[Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is now getting to the stage where the answer cannot be heard because of the interjections. It is to cease. Would the Minister complete her answer.

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY: —and are insulating every State house that can be. The $790 million child material hardship package, which came into effect in April this year, saw core benefits for people with children increase in real terms for the first time in 43 years. It increased Working for Families payments for those on the lowest incomes and increased childcare support.

  • Growing Up in New Zealand Study—Contract Negotiations

    6. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social Development: Can she confirm that the contract with the Growing Up in New Zealand study, the largest and most comprehensive longitudinal study undertaken in New Zealand, is currently being renegotiated, and will she guarantee that this process will not lead to their contract being cut?

    Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development): I can confirm that the social policy evaluation and research unit (SuPERU) is currently in contract renegotiations with the University of Auckland to ensure maximum value from the Crown’s investment in the Growing Up in New Zealand study. As these renegotiations have not yet been concluded and the details of the contract negotiations are commercially sensitive, I am unable to provide any further details.

    Jacinda Ardern: Can she guarantee that the Growing Up in New Zealand study will receive the $15 million that was already allocated to it—

    Hon Steven Joyce: That’s what the negotiation said.

    Jacinda Ardern: —and was included in a contract, Mr Joyce, that was signed in February, which was allocated to it in Budget 2016? [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! We do not need the interjection coming from my right-hand side.

    Hon JO GOODHEW: As I have already said to the member, and she has acknowledged in her primary question, there is currently a renegotiation.

    Jacinda Ardern: When was she advised by SuPERU that it wanted to cut the funding and contract for the Growing Up in New Zealand study, meaning it will now end in 2018, when the children it is tracking will be just 8 years old; and what was her response?

    Hon JO GOODHEW: The nature of the question is related to the renegotiation, and I refuse to speculate on the outcome.

    Jacinda Ardern: Does she agree with SuPERU’s current demands that the Growing Up in New Zealand study must now cut 4,500 children from the study, meaning it will not be able to reliably evaluate life in New Zealand for Māori and Pasifika children?

    Hon JO GOODHEW: The message seems not to be getting through. There is a renegotiation under way and I will not speculate on that. That is good negotiation practice—perhaps something that is unfamiliar to the member.

    Jacinda Ardern: Is it good practice to renegotiate a contract that was signed and agreed in February and to undermine a study that has had millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money by cutting a cohort by more than half, making it completely unethical and unreliable?

    Hon JO GOODHEW: Renegotiations to contracts never happen unless both parties come to the table. This debating chamber is not the place to do it. [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are now moving to Question No. 7.

  • Freshwater Management—Water Quality of Rivers and Lakes

    7. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Is he considering a national requirement for all water bodies to be swimmable?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): There were no national requirements for water quality prior to this Government. We introduced the first national standard in 2011, and in February we initiated a consultative process on how it could be further strengthened. We are considering changes to improve water quality, specifically for swimming, but it would not be possible to require all water bodies to be swimmable all the time. The challenge is in extending the national requirements in a practical way that increases the frequency and the number of places where water quality is suitable for swimming.

    Catherine Delahunty: Is the E. coli reading for human health the only definition he is considering of a swimmable river?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, there are a number of ways in which water bodies would be unsuitable for swimming. For instance, if I take Lake Rotoiti in the North Island, it was a lake where cyanobacteria made it not only unsuitable for swimming but also for wading. Actually, this Government has invested tens of millions of dollars, and that lake is now in better condition than what it has been in 30 years.

    Catherine Delahunty: What percentage of the time are rivers required to be wadeable?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The current national policy statement does not set down specific percentages of time, but where I have asked my officials to do work is that, if we are going to improve water quality in a way that clearly can be measured, we need to focus not just on the E. coli count but how frequent it is, because it is actually the improvement in both the number of areas that are swimmable and how frequently they are swimmable that the Government wants to achieve.

    Scott Simpson: What specific programmes is the Government advancing to improve water quality for swimming, and can you give a practical example of where it is occurring?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government has increased by sevenfold the funding for freshwater improvements, and we are strengthening the national regulations, with a requirement from 1 July next year, starting with dairy farms, that all lakes and rivers need to have stock excluded from them with fencing. There are many practical examples around the country where the Government has improved freshwater quality. Lake Rotoiti in the North Island is well on measure. I was recently with the list MP on the West Coast, and Lake Brunner—we were able to identify good progress that was being made there.

    Catherine Delahunty: Can he explain whether birds are more of a problem for water quality than effluent from 10 million cows across the country?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have noted the member has tried to claim that in the lecture I gave at Lincoln last week my only focus was birds. I would point out that, actually, I made reference to agriculture 20 times in that speech, but it is true that there are water bodies like Washdyke Lagoon, where there are thousands of birds, where the E. coli count is very high, as Jo Goodhew knows, and with the Washdyke it would not be possible for it to be swimmable unless you actually had a bird cull.

    Ron Mark: What reports has he seen about the potential impact on our economy of banning all livestock farming in New Zealand, as some people would, it seems, prefer?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This is a party that is blue-green. It stands for economic growth, for a strong agricultural sector, but it is also a Government that wants to look after the great lifestyle and clean environment that we have, and we are proving in our programme that a country can both improve the environment and have a strong, growing economy, including in crucial sectors like agriculture.

    Ron Mark: Has the Minister for Primary Industries shared with him this Waikato land users group letter dated 23 August 2016 that points out that Waikato Regional Council’s healthy rivers plan would not only ban hill country farming in the Waikato but would cost that region over a billion dollars a year?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member mischaracterises the work that the Waikato Regional Council is doing in that area. It is true that there are parts of New Zealand where there will need to be limits on intensified farming, if we are serious about improving freshwater quality. But this is a Government that is committed to a balanced and practical approach, and that is where we will be working with the national policy statement and those rules on stock exclusion to ensure that we can have a strong, growing agricultural sector as well as clean water.

    Catherine Delahunty: Will he stop making excuses for polluters and set a national standard for swimmable rivers, which is what New Zealanders want, or will he keep blaming the birds for poor water quality?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: When the member claims that all New Zealanders want it, I think there is a member of Parliament two seats away from her who holds the opposite perspective. What it reflects is that this Government is taking a balanced perspective that is improving water standards in a practical, sensible way. What we are not going to do is as the Green Party suggests and require that all water bodies be swimmable all of the time, because it is simply unachievable and impractical.

    Catherine Delahunty: Will he listen to the people of Havelock North who marched on Saturday for swimmable rivers and safe drinking water, and set a date for a more ambitious bottom line for water than “wadeable”?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have the national policy statement in front of me. The member does not characterise it correctly. Swimmability is clearly one of the priorities in that document. The second point I would make is the member should await the conclusion of the inquiry in Havelock North. The GNS Science carbon dating of the contaminated water was less than a year old in an aquifer where it should be more than 50 years old. That would actually suggest there is an issue of well integrity rather than actually the aquifer itself being polluted.

    Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked: “Will he set a date”—

    Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! That was not the question at all. The question started with “Will the Minister listen to the Havelock North people who marched the other day.”

  • EducationFunding and Initiatives

    8. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcements has she made about funding to support students at risk of educational under-achievement?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): This morning I announced that almost every State and State integrated school and kura will receive a share of an extra $12.3 million to support students most at risk of underachieving. This extra funding represents a 1 percent increase to the operations grant funding, taking it to a total of $1.35 billion for 2017, which demonstrates that despite what the unions and the Opposition have been saying there is no funding freeze for education. The increased money is being targeted for those students most at risk of underachievement. These are students from families on long-term welfare. We have identified around 133,000 students who qualify under these criteria. Schools were notified yesterday of the exact amount they will be receiving in the targeted funding.

    Joanne Hayes: How will this additional funding support the investment this Government is already making in education?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: This Government has a clear track record of increasing spending on education. Investment in education is up by 35 percent since 2008 and the early childhood education budget has more than doubled. With that increased funding comes the responsibility to ensure that the money is being spent in the best possible way for all our children and young people to achieve. Our social investment approach is part of that: identifying and investing early in those who are most at risk of not being successful in education. The education sector has been asking for more funding for students at greatest risk, which is exactly what we are doing with the targeted funding. This extra funding is a clear example of how our funding system could be improved to get more support to those students who need it the most.

    Tracey Martin: Can the Minister explain why her Government has made a funding decision based on adult-focused markets, such as the educational achievement of the mother, rather than expanding screening tools and centrally collected school entry data to equity fund children on their identified actual needs, including those children who are gifted and talented?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have not done that.

    Tracey Martin: How will her funding announcement assist those students whose families do not match her four external predictive markers, but still require additional assistance to achieve their academic best, such as those with dyslexia or dyspraxia, or those who are on the autism spectrum?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: In Budget 2016 I announced that rather than there being a universal 1 percent increase across all schools we would use one factor to target. That factor is children who have spent 75 percent of the first 5 years of their life, or 75 percent of the most recent 5 years of their life, in long-term-benefit-dependent households. That is because the evidence is emphatic that that can lead to underachievement. In answer to the second question—

    Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific around—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was far from specific. I am in some difficulty because, actually, it was so long and lengthy that I could not understand it. Can I invite the member to ask the question again? It would be easier if it was more concise, but the member has the opportunity.

    Tracey Martin: Kia ora, Mr Speaker. How will her funding announcement assist those students whose families do not match her four external predictive markers but still require assistance, such as dyslexics, dyspraxics, and those on the autism spectrum?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I answered in the primary question, the particular funded targeting amount that is to go to schools next year is but one part of $1.35 billion that will be shared out between schools in 2017. In addition, in Budget 2016 we announced $43 million for special education, including a further 550,000 hours for teacher-aide support.

    Chris Hipkins: Why does the increase in funding for schools amount to just under 1 percent when inflation is expected to be 1.5 percent over that period, meaning schools are facing a funding cut in real terms?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: There is no funding cut. In the period from 2010 to 2015 CPI inflation amounted cumulatively to about 9.6 percent. Over that time this Government has invested in operational grants at a rate of 15 percent.

    Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Minister might have misunderstood the question. I was not asking about the historical funding profile but the future funding profile.

    Mr SPEAKER: No. I listened to the question. I may well have misunderstood it as well, but the way I heard the question from the member, it has certainly been addressed by the Minister.

  • Earthquake Commission, Minister—Confidence

    9. Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Prime Minister): On behalf of the Prime Minister, yes. [Interruption]

    Dr Megan Woods: Does he—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just want to hear you, you see, so I am waiting for a bit of hush.

    Dr Megan Woods: Thank you. Does he believe Cantabrians having to sue the Earthquake Commission (EQC) 263 times since the 2010 earthquakes began, at a cost to the taxpayer of $31 million, is a good use of taxpayer money and a sign of success for people wanting to move on with their lives?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This Government is not going to deny anybody their rights to claim what they think they are entitled to through the court system. What is salient here, of course, is that there has been no success experienced by anybody in any of that litigation, other than the EQC. So, given that the EQC protects the entire obligation of the wider taxpayer, it is totally appropriate.

    Dr Megan Woods: What was the Minister’s explanation of the robustness of record-keeping and accounting processes at the EQC, given that it discovered 2,200, or nearly 40 percent more, remedial repair requests in its self-titled bungle?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I am informed that the Minister was not overly concerned by this, for two reasons. Firstly, there were no repairs of this nature that were unattended. They were simply not accounted for in an appropriate fashion, and that matter is now being dealt with. The second point that I think is worth considering is that anybody who does have an issue in Canterbury with an EQC repair does have a place to go to make that complaint. Had the EQC exercised, as the Act allowed it to, the opportunity to simply pay out cheques on the basis of its assessment of damage, those people would not have had that same recourse. It is also important to note that the call-back rate on EQC repairs is dramatically lower than it is on new builds. It is a very successful programme.

    Dr Megan Woods: Has he seen examples of other Ministers losing nearly 40 percent of a data set from their internal reporting systems, or is the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission currently winning the botched systems award?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member is trying to make an issue out of something where no issue exists. The reality is that those repairs were in the programme. They were being dealt with. There was a data mismatch between Fletcher EQR and EQC. The fact that it was found would indicate that the system is robust.

    Dr Megan Woods: Has he asked the Minister whether he is sufficiently “annoyed” to finally call for an independent inquiry into EQC and get to the bottom of this mess?

    Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I am extremely satisfied with the way the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission is handling that portfolio. It is, quite frankly, outstanding, and I wish the Opposition would take some lessons from him in terms of how it might itself make assessments about its contribution to Parliament’s work.

  • Homelessness—Minister’s Statements

    10. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Green) to the Minister for Social Housing: Ka tū a ia i runga i te mana o tōna whakaaetanga i tuhia, kua hē kē atu te kore-whare, i raro i ngā whakahaere o Te Kāwanatanga nei?

    [Does she stand by her reported admission that homelessness has got worse under this Government?]

    Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): Yes, in the context that it was given.

    Marama Davidson: Exactly how many people have all of her proposals actually removed from their inadequate housing situation and put in a decent home?

    Hon PAULA BENNETT: Without that question on notice, the best answer I can give the member is that we house about 150 people each week.

    Marama Davidson: Given that there are 42,000 New Zealanders facing severe housing deprivation, why did the Government wait for years while the homelessness crisis got this bad before doing anything?

    Hon PAULA BENNETT: I thank the member for acknowledging the huge work programme that is going on at the moment, and has been for the last 2 or 3 years. As we have said, we do have an increase in demand and we have had supply issues. What we have done is fast track all of that work. We are seeing more permanent housing through social houses, and, for the first time, an emphasis on increasing emergency housing beds as well.

    Marama Davidson: What is her response to the community housing providers that told the Cross-Party Homelessness Inquiry that the Government’s “make it up as you go along” approach to housing policy was difficult to work with, and that they needed secure, stable funding over a period of up to 10 years?

    Hon PAULA BENNETT: I imagine that they were very pleased with the announcement that was made this week, which showed that they could then get up to a 50 percent grant for building new premises and also leasing current ones, and still get the income-related rent (IRR), which this Government introduced to community housing providers and which they were unable to get before. It gives them a certainty of income on a weekly basis and will help them provide services.

    Marama Davidson: How can she say that the Government is taking this problem seriously when the Ministry of Social Development’sHousehold Incomes Report that came out today shows that 110,000 children are living in overcrowded conditions, including one in every five Māori children and two in every five Pasifika children?

    Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is why our focus is on getting more places, more beds, every single day. We are making progress in that area, and it is a key focus for this Government.

    Marama Fox: Will the Minister consider allowing community housing providers to apply discretion to award income-related rents to current tenants so that they will avoid being evicted for not being able to pay the rent, only to come back and then have the IRR applied?

    Hon PAULA BENNETT: There are two parts to that question. One answer is that we have now introduced that fund where we can help tenants who are getting into arrears instead of the arrears leading to eviction. We can then put an iwi or a community housing provider alongside them to actually help them get through that and not get evicted. The other answer is that there is discretion. Under certain circumstances it is quite tight for those who currently are not eligible for the IRR because they were in the place previous to it coming over.

  • Building Financial Capability—Government Initiatives

    11. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs: What initiatives is the Government involved in that support the Government statement on building financial capability in New Zealand?

    Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): This week is Money Week, and so the theme of Money Week is “Show me the money”, with the aim of focusing New Zealanders on planning for their futures and achieving their financial goals. Research released today by the Commission for Financial Capability found 86 percent of New Zealanders are apprehensive about their financial security when they reach 65. This research highlights the importance of planning to ensure you have enough money set aside to lead the lifestyle you want in retirement. Money Week is a great opportunity for New Zealanders to take stock of their current situation and put plans in place today that will benefit them in the future.

    Paul Foster-Bell: What can New Zealanders do to get involved in Money Week?

    Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: The Money Week website,, has a wide variety of resources available that are free to download, including information on events that are being held around the country. There are about 73 public events and 571 private events that have been organised. For example, the Raglan Budget Service has held daily workshops this week, and there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to get involved in Money Week this year. I would encourage Kiwis to find out what events are on in their neighbourhood.

    Paul Foster-Bell: What else is the Government doing to help the residents of Wellington Central, and, indeed, all New Zealanders, to get ahead financially?

    Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: The Government continues to invest in ways to improve the money skills of Kiwis. Since the Government’s statement on building the financial capability in New Zealand was launched last year there has been a considerable increase in collaboration between Government agencies, the private sector, and the community groups. It has seen the delivery of key projects, such as financial capability programmes tailored to Māori and Pacific people, some of which have been scaled up to reach more people in 2017.

    Marama Fox: Can the Minister explain how he intends to assist the hundreds of thousands of children and their families currently living in poverty when they cry “Show me the money.”?

    Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: I think the best thing that the Government can do is to generate a productive and competitive economy that creates good incomes and jobs for all New Zealanders, and that is what this Government is doing every day.

  • ImmigrationPermanent Resident Visas

    12. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister of Immigration: Why is Cabinet reviewing the number of Permanent Resident Visas it plans to issue, given that he does not expect that review to result in any policy change?

    Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): In response to the first part of the member’s question, from time to time the Government is required to review the residence programme planning range. Typically this takes place every 2 or 3 years. The second part of the member’s question is quite incorrect. I have indicated that there are unlikely to be material changes to the quantum of the planning range, but Cabinet also considers matters pertaining to, for example, the proportion to be allocated to the various residence streams.

    Iain Lees-Galloway: Will he commit to a wider review of immigration policy—

    Hon Steven Joyce: No.

    Hon Members: Ha, ha!

    Iain Lees-Galloway: Oh! Steven Joyce seems to want to answer on the Minister’s behalf.

    Mr SPEAKER: This question is to the Minister of Immigration.

    Iain Lees-Galloway: I am happy to ask Mr Joyce, if he would prefer. [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: We will have some order, please. Iain Lees-Galloway, if you want to ask your supplementary question, get on with it.

    Iain Lees-Galloway: Will he commit to a wider review of immigration policy, given the variety of concerns people have expressed about current immigration settings, including the exploitation of foreign students, the exploitation of migrant workers, and the number of work visas being issued for jobs that Kiwis can do?

    Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The three examples the member gives in his question have nothing to do with the permanent residence planning range, but I would say that the Government is constantly reviewing immigration settings in both the permanent and temporary spaces to ensure that they are fit for purpose. A big bang review, which the member somehow thinks would be necessary—we are constantly refining policy.

    Iain Lees-Galloway: Why will he not carry out a review, in light of the report issued by Caritas Aotearoa titled Stand up for what’s right:supporting migrant workers, given that that report details ongoing exploitation of migrant workers, such as paying below the minimum wage, failing to provide written employment agreements, and failing to pay wages for work done?

    Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The fact that the second supplementary question also confuses permanent and temporary migration suggests that the member does not understand the policies himself. But in respect of the very serious concerns raised by Caritas, I can assure the member and this House that both Immigration New Zealand and the labour inspectorate take any reports—however anecdotal—of migrant exploitation extremely seriously. That is why, 2 years ago, I asked them to work much more closely together and to create a more synergistic response, and why this Government in Budget 2015 significantly increased the labour inspectorate’s resources.

    Iain Lees-Galloway: Does he agree with the Prime Minister that we need migrants to fill low-skill low-wage jobs because a lot of Kiwis have a poor work ethic, use drugs, and do not have the skills to do the most basic of jobs; or does he think that Kiwis do not want to expose themselves to the kind of exploitation that migrant workers are experiencing?

    Mr SPEAKER: There are two supplementary questions there; the Minister can answer either.

    Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Both of those supplementary questions refer to temporary migration—a million miles away from the residence planning range question that was part of the primary question. But, yes, I do agree with the Prime Minister. There are significant barriers to employment for some young New Zealanders, but we should not give up on them. We will remove those barriers, one by one. This Government has done more than any previously to ensure that New Zealanders are at the front of the queue for those jobs, but, I reiterate, in the strongly growing economy it is going to be necessary to call on the international labour market, at least for the foreseeable future.

    Iain Lees-Galloway: Why does he not stop attacking the people who have been so badly let down by this Government, and admit that National’s abuse of the immigration system is keeping wages down, encourages poor employment practices, and allows the exploitation of vulnerable migrants?

    Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I suggest that member take those views out to the regions—to the Blenheims, to the Te Pukes, to the Invercargills, and to the Christchurches, and encourage them to have a serious conversation with business about what is really going on in this country.

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