Questions & Answers – October 13

by Desk Editor on Friday, October 14, 2016 — 11:09 AM

  • Housing New Zealand—Funding

    1. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister responsible for HNZC: How much more money will he have to give Housing New Zealand so that it can continue to operate after February 2017?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): None to allow Housing New Zealand to continue to operate; it can easily do that. Reports that it is “going broke” are simply wrong. As Housing New Zealand ramps up its large-scale building programme, of course it may need more Government support, because you would not expect an organisation that has been building 300 houses a year to have enough cash on its balance sheet to finance the building of 3,000 houses over a few years.

    James Shaw: In relation to that answer, then, what is his plan to ensure that Housing New Zealand has enough finance to build the 30,000 homes that he has promised?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: The plan is that Housing New Zealand will complete detailed planning of the next tranche of developments in addition to those that are already under way, such as the 1,000-house Northcote development. It will also need to complete over the next few months a detailed financial analysis to show just what funding it needs, given that it can source funding from, for instance, sales of surplus houses to the market. When it has done a proper job of that, the Government will then consider applying more taxpayer funds to it. But we are not just going to hand Housing New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars and hope that it does a good job.

    James Shaw: For a Government that prides itself on economic acumen, how can he rationalise ignoring Treasury advice and allowing the near collapse of one of the country’s most important pieces of social infrastructure?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member wants to burnish his credentials as an economic spokesman, then I suggest that he consider his description of the current state of Housing New Zealand. It is ridiculous—just ridiculous. There is no reason to believe that Housing New Zealand is under financial strain or going broke, and it is absolutely nowhere near near-collapse. Collapse is what happened to Solid Energy, not what happens to Housing New Zealand, which has $20 billion of assets and about $4 billion of debt.

    James Shaw: On that note, does he consider it good economic management to squeeze Government entities like Solid Energy, Radio New Zealand, KiwiRail, New Zealand Post, and now Housing New Zealand to breaking point; if so, which Government entity is next?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: Even the media has seen fit to withdraw the story that Housing New Zealand is going broke, because it is wrong and, unfortunately, has caused unnecessary distress, particularly to staff of the organisation who, understandably, were astounded and bewildered at the assertion. Unfortunately, the member is taking it further by saying that it is near collapse. That is an absolutely ridiculous statement.

    James Shaw: Why did he not invest more in Housing New Zealand back in 2009 so that it could build houses, provide jobs during the recession, and build up housing stock and its balance sheet for when demand inevitably picked up?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I explained to the House yesterday, the Government did exactly that, because Housing New Zealand had to run a large-scale rebuilding and repairing programme in Christchurch. I know that the members of the Opposition probably did not notice the earthquake, but we had to build 800 new houses and repair 5,000. So it was a large-scale building programme, and those skills are now being transferred to the Auckland large-scale building programme.

    James Shaw: Given the obvious economic drag of the housing crisis, why is he continuing to treat housing primarily as a class of investment asset rather than essential social infrastructure that underpins the country’s success?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government, of course, is an owner of a large chunk—in fact, one in every 16 houses in New Zealand. We are applying ourselves to a, probably, 10-year programme to upgrade the housing and, in fact, redevelop whole communities, such as is happening in Tāmaki and could happen in another dozen, 15, or 20 communities around the country. The biggest step forward is that Auckland Council has finally realised that this is an important asset class for the community and for social benefit, and it has produced a plan that now allows the supply of more housing, as is required.

    James Shaw: Does he believe that the purpose of Housing New Zealand should be to ensure that nobody goes homeless in New Zealand; if not, why not?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: Housing New Zealand plays a role in that, but the member may be interested to know there are a significant number of other organisations that over the last 2 years have worked closely with the Government and the Minister for Social Housing to ensure that, for the first time, New Zealand has an established and well-funded emergency housing set-up that follows the principles—which I know the member endorses—of Housing First to solve the problems of homelessness, one by one, for those most severely affected.

  • Government Financial Position—Reports

    2. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Crown’s finances?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Some surprisingly good reports. Today the financial statements of the Government were released for the 2015/16 year. They report a surplus of $1.8 billion. This is $1.2 billion higher than was forecast in the Budget just a few months ago. Revenues were about $1.6 billion higher than forecast and expenses were $600 million lower than forecast in Budget 2015. Total Crown assets have now increased to $293 billion—the highest ever—and the Government is on track to reduce debt to 20 percent of GDP.

    David Bennett: What have been the main drivers of the improvement in the Government’s accounts?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: The financial statements show that tax revenue increased by $3.8 billion and expenditure grew by $1.6 billion, and that accounts for the growth in the surplus. Interestingly, the $3.8 billion increase in tax revenue consists of $1.2 billion growth from wages and salaries, which indicates that despite the Opposition’s criticisms, wages and salaries in New Zealand are increasing faster than was budgeted. The corporate tax take was almost a billion dollars higher, and GST was around a billion dollars higher.

    David Bennett: What are the Government’s fiscal priorities, and how is the Government balancing increasing investment in public infrastructure with debt repayment?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: Our priorities, which were set out in the Budget, are to maintain rising surpluses, reduce net debt to 20 percent of GDP, begin to reduce income taxes if conditions allow, and use any further fiscal headroom to reduce debt faster. At the same time we are also lifting the investment in public infrastructure—in fact, the Government’s capital spend has almost doubled since 2013 and will be maintained at high levels, when you take into account commitments such as funding half of the City Rail Link project in Auckland.

    Grant Robertson: With reference to that last answer, was the order of priorities that he gave for the Government, in fiscal terms, the order he actually has them in—i.e., that tax cuts come ahead of lowering debt?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government will consider the weighting of the various choices we have. We are one of the few countries in the developed world that has the choices of paying off debt, improving public services, and investing in infrastructure. The member will just have to wait and see. [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am waiting as well.

    David Bennett: How do New Zealand’s accounts compare with those of other countries?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: Pretty well. Compared with, say, Australia and the UK, we have a surplus; they have significant deficits, and it is increasingly the case, as time goes by, that we have one of the lower public debt levels compared with the peer countries we compare ourselves with.

    Grant Robertson: Has he called for the sacking of the Minister responsible for HNZC in light of reports from his officials saying that Housing New Zealand’s “balance sheet is at risk and cannot service their debt levels.”?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. Housing New Zealand is in a sound financial situation, and because it is embarking on large-scale redevelopment of housing, it may need some further support from the Government because it will not be able to finance all of that growth itself, and that is perfectly normal for public entities and private businesses.

  • Housing New Zealand—Statement of Performance Expectations

    3. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister responsible for HNZC: What changes, if any, did he make to Housing New Zealand’s draft Statement of Performance Expectations received by his office on 20 May 2016, and why has the statement still not been published 5 months later?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): I sought two changes to the statement. First, in view of increasing demands on Housing New Zealand (HNZ) arising from the accelerated building programme, I decided that HNZ should retain the proceeds from the potential transfer of properties in Tauranga. Secondly, I asked HNZ to reconsider its planned housing divestments, particularly in provincial areas in light of stronger demand for social and emergency housing in those areas. Publication of the statement has been affected by these changes and by the start of a new chief executive in September.

    Phil Twyford: Is it not pure incompetence to have driven a $20 billion organisation to the brink of insolvency and, worse, to have asset-stripped the very agency that should be leading the Government’s response to the homelessness crisis?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said before, the media have withdrawn and corrected the story that said Housing New Zealand was, in their words, “going broke”. I am not surprised the Opposition is persisting with it, because it seems to have almost no understanding whatsoever of the financial situation of Housing New Zealand, which has $20 billion worth of assets, $4 billion worth of debt, and not much short of a billion dollars in cash flow. It is in fine shape, and I think what is really bothering the member is that Housing New Zealand is embarking on large-scale housing development, which we require them to do competently.

    Phil Twyford: Did Treasury and Housing New Zealand officials tell him last year that Housing New Zealand lacked the capital to service its debt, and why was he saying as recently as 31 May that Housing New Zealand had all the money it needed?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because it does.

    Phil Twyford: It clearly doesn’t.

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it clearly does, because it is signing off major developments, like the Northcote development of a thousand new houses, quite recently, with more in the pipeline. So the member does not need to be concerned about the state of Housing New Zealand’s finances, and I am sure the member is concerned that the Government is committed to supporting them on large-scale housing redevelopment.

    Phil Twyford: Can he confirm that his musings about building 30,000 houses on what is now State housing land is not actually an affordable housing programme—it is just a desperate sell-off of land and housing to try to stop Housing New Zealand from going bankrupt?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, that is a ridiculous assertion about Housing New Zealand, but I know that will not stop the member making it—vigorously, no doubt, for as long as he thinks anyone might be listening, but it is just verging on stupid, actually. [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want substantially less interjection from my right-hand side.

    Phil Twyford: Is he deliberately sabotaging Housing New Zealand’s balance sheet, asset-stripping it, and running it into the ground in order to justify selling off even more land and State housing?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is the reason why Labour is such a fiscal risk, because that is its description of sound financial management. The fact is that Housing New Zealand’s large-scale building programme is financed, ultimately, by people working in the rain all last week, paying their PAYE, and giving us their GST on their milk from the supermarket. That is why we are going to be demanding of Housing New Zealand to ensure it has well-thought-through development plans, and is very careful about how much of the taxpayers’ money it is going to deploy in large-scale property development, which is in itself quite risky. The member can call that sabotaging the balance sheet; we call it doing the job properly.

    Phil Twyford: I seek the leave of the House to table the advice from Treasury and Housing New Zealand officials in which they say that Housing New Zealand is at risk of being unable to service its debts.

    Mr SPEAKER: I just need to know where the member sourced that Treasury advice.

    Phil Twyford: Under the Official Information Act (OIA).

    Mr SPEAKER: On that basis I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular OIA response. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

    Phil Twyford: Why does he not, instead of sabotaging Housing New Zealand and asset-stripping its balance sheet, do what Labour would do and run Housing New Zealand as a public service with one job: putting a decent roof over the heads of Kiwis who need it?

    Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have an example of how Labour would like to run housing, and that is how it did it last time it was in Government. It let it run fat with loose cash, it stopped maintaining the houses so that it would have some cash to build some new ones, and we have spent 8 years having to backfill the damage, sort out the arrogance and complacency—[Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is little point in carrying on with the amount of interjection coming.

  • Housing Affordability and Availability—Reports and Government Initiatives to Address

    4. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister for Building and Housing: What reports has he received to show the Government’s housing reform programme is increasing the supply and affordability of housing?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): The latest figures show that residential building activity in the last year grew by 21 percent to over $12 billion, which is the highest level of investment in residential activity that New Zealand has ever seen. The figure of 29,627 homes is more than double that of 5 years ago and is the second highest on record. Secondly, if we look at the real estate figures out today, they show that for the first time in 5 years house price increases in Auckland are down to single digits, at 7 percent. That is welcomed. Today we have also had the Massey University housing affordability data released, which showed that housing affordability has improved across New Zealand in every region except Hamilton and Queenstown, and that housing affordability in every part of New Zealand is better than it was under the previous Government.

    Joanne Hayes: Was the claim made yesterday in Parliament that only 18 affordable houses had been built in Auckland in the last 3 years correct?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No. More than 10 times that number have been built in the very first special housing area. At Weymouth, 190 homes have been built with an average price of $450,000. Then if you go to the second special housing area in Hobsonville, 70 have been built below $400,000, 212 beyond $500,000, 45 below $450,000—a total of 327 homes in the second housing area. If we look at the data from the HomeStart scheme, 300 grants have been made in Auckland for new homes since the scheme began. The claim of just 18 in 3 years is so disconnected from reality that I assume Mr Trump wrote it. [Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have got one or two regular interjectors in my sights. I will deal with them relatively severely if they continue to yell across the House, and on this occasion it is occurring from both sides of the House. Take that as a warning.

    Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Minister boast about his Government’s housing reform programme when his own department does not collect code of compliance certificates issued once a house has been built?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That member has made the mistake of disconnecting the number of code compliance certificates from building consents, and there is a very simple reason for that, Mr Peters. There is a very simple reason: when you build an apartment complex of 100 homes, there are 100 building consents but just one code compliance certificate. The member needs a far better practical knowledge of the building sector.

    Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Reserve Bank and Auckland Council say that in Auckland last year 9,251 consents were dished out but only 5,073 house completions happened—less than half of the 13,000 needed for migrants going to Auckland alone—why does the Minister not just sit down and resign?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Because that member is so disconnected from the realities of the building industry that, actually, the amount of building activity in Auckland and across the country is at record levels—now over $12 billion per year. That is reflected in the GDP figures, that is reflected in the employment figures, so every part of the building system is going gangbusters.

    Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act request from Auckland Council to us exclusively—New Zealand First—and also Mr Smith’s answer on the matter to us to a written question. Perhaps we will see who is disconnected now.

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will put the leave with regard to the first document. I will not put leave with regard to the second document, which I take to be an answer to a written question which is already available to all members. Leave is sought to table some local government information from the Auckland Council to the New Zealand First party. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is not; it can be tabled.

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

    Joanne Hayes: What credence does he give to claims that building consent data cannot be relied upon, given that some developments, like the high-profile Flo Apartments development involving about 100 apartments, are now not proceeding?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The reason I have confidence in the monthly building consent data is that it co-relates historically so closely to census data on the number of changes in houses. For instance, in Auckland, between the last two censuses the number of homes increased by 33,777; the number of building consents issued over the relevant period was 33,703—i.e. within 1 percent. There have been some townhouse and apartment developments, like Flo, that have not proceeded, but building consents for those have not been issued or counted. Building consents trigger substantial fees and levies amounting, for a development such as Flo, to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and are generally only sought when finance is confirmed and development is ready to go. That is why this House can have confidence in those very strong, growing building consent numbers.

    Joanne Hayes: What progress has been made in minimising the impact of appeals on bringing the new Auckland Unitary Plan into effect and enabling the 420,000 new home capacity to be utilised?

    Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government has been working with the Auckland Council to minimise the impact of those appeals and to take advantage of the new unitary plan. I am very pleased today that the appeal pleadings have been significantly amended so that they impact only on 29,000 of those 420,000—i.e. about 7 percent. That means, as of today, that 90 percent of the new housing capacity in the Auckland Unitary Plan takes effect.

  • Police, Minister—Statements

    5. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Does she stand by all her statements; if so, how?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): Yes; as to how, with confidence and clarity and, I have been told, just occasionally, a little bit of charm.

    Ron Mark: How does she reconcile her Government’s promise in 2008 to maintain a ratio of one police officer for every 500 people with her own admission in August that it has “slipped” to one for every 526 people?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Obviously, the figures that I have given the member are absolutely correct, and, clearly, I stand by them.

    Ron Mark: Why is she claiming credit for the only increase to police numbers that has ever occurred under this Government, back in 2009, when that increase had been committed to and announced by the previous Government through the New Zealand First confidence and supply agreement?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Clearly, that member is wrong, but I would also say to him that there is a huge difference between promising and delivering. This Government delivers.

    Ron Mark: In her last sojourn as Minister of Police, before she was replaced, why did she freeze the Police budget in 2010?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I actually did not hear what that member said halfway through his question. Would he like to repeat it?

    Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member to repeat the question.

    Ron Mark: Thank you. Why, in her last sojourn as the Minister of Police, before she was replaced, did she freeze the Police budget in 2010?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Clearly, I was not replaced; I was promoted.

    Ron Mark: Did she really have meetings with the Prime Minister in June about Police resourcing, considering she has not been able to release dates, reports, and briefings related to those meetings, which were requested under the Official Information Act (OIA) by New Zealand First 2 months ago?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes, I did.

    Ron Mark: I seek leave to table—[Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I need to hear it; I cannot do that with interjections. Can the member start again.

    Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table an OIA request dated 11 August, which was extended to 29 September and still has not been answered—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need that part; I just need a description of it. I do not need detail about whether it has been responded to with alacrity or not.

    Ron Mark: Oh, I am sorry. I apologise for that. I am still seeking the leave, though.

    Mr SPEAKER: You have not finished. Just describe the document and I will decide.

    Ron Mark: I seek leave to table an OIA request dated 11 August, which was extended to 27 September, seeking information around those meetings that I have just asked a question about.

    Mr SPEAKER: So it is not a response to an OIA request; it is simply a request?

    Ron Mark: It is just our OIA—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am not going to put the leave. I have pointed out to members on many occasions that the point of putting leave is to inform members, not to make a political point, and that is exactly what I think the member is attempting to do.

    Ron Mark: Point of order.

    Mr SPEAKER: I hope we are not relitigating—

    Ron Mark: No. I just need your guidance, Mr Speaker.

    Mr SPEAKER: I have given my guidance.

    Ron Mark: Can you quote the Standing Order so that we are for ever informed and guided by an actual Standing Order?

    Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly come back to the member with the relevant Speaker’s Ruling. It is one that I issued early on in my time as Speaker. It is a very lengthy ruling, and I gave it personally to the Rt Hon Winston Peters on one occasion in this House. I will have it delivered to the member immediately after question time.

    Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a point of clarification to your ruling, which I am not questioning. Are you saying—[Interruption] It is a point of order.

    Mr SPEAKER: Just move on quickly.

    Ron Mark: I just need to be clear that informing the House that we have lodged an OIA request is not of value to you.

    Mr SPEAKER: No, it is not. It has no value at all, and I would be grateful—[Interruption] Order! I would be grateful if the member now waits for this piece of paper to be delivered to his office after question time, and has a good read of it so that we do not have this issue raised further.

    Ron Mark: Why should anyone take anything she or this Government says on policing matters seriously when they have frozen the Police budget since 2010, reneged on election promises to maintain the police per capita ratio, have claimed credit that belongs to New Zealand First through its support and agreement with the previous Government, and continue to close police stations in exchange for iPhones and iPads?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: There were about five questions there, so I will choose one. I would ask that member how he can possibly say there is a frozen budget when Police got an extra almost $300 million in this year’s Budget. That shows me that he clearly has not read the Budget documents.

  • Police, Minister—Statements

    6. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister of Police: Does she stand by all her statements?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): Yes, especially in context, and especially when I have said that to blame crime on poverty is so insulting to anybody who does not have a lot of money.

    Jacinda Ardern: Does she stand by the exact answer she gave yesterday to the Police Association conference when asked the question “Do you think your Government is doing enough for child poverty and the gap between those that do have and those that don’t have?”, an answer from her that included “It’s not that; it’s people who don’t look after their children”?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, I am happy to provide that member with the full question, not a little teeny bit of the question, as she has quoted. The question was: “Greg mentioned several homicides. I think we’re up to nine now—I think. We know we could never have enough resources. You know we couldn’t have enough resources in police. We have this chasing-our-tails scenario that continues on and on and on. If we look at the United Nations, who have just released a report on child poverty—and, of course, that is where all our recruits come from, continually into gangs, and a lot of our offenders are from that neck of the woods. Do you think your Government is doing enough …”, then we get to the little bit that Miss Ardern has mentioned. So my answer was: “Well, you know, speaking with my ‘MP for Papakura hat’ on, so I know something about child poverty, I can tell you we’re doing a whole lot more than the UN has ever done. So, actually, yes—a hell of a lot more. But just like police, we could always do with more. And one of the things I look at with child poverty—actually, I don’t see just money or money poverty. I see a poverty of ideas, a poverty of parental responsibility, a poverty of love, a poverty of caring”—

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

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Actually, these—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member—[Interruption] Order! I wish to hear the point of order.

    Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order is that the length of that answer is matched only by the vacuity of the answer she is giving.

    Mr SPEAKER: And that, again, is not a point of order, and I—[Interruption] Order! On many occasions, again, I have said to that particular member, I determine when the length of answer is excessive. On that occasion, when a quote had been given and the Minister was taking the opportunity to put the quote into full context—although it was a very long answer—I thought it was justified.

    Jacinda Ardern: If she stands by her answer at the Police Association conference yesterday, which also included: “In New Zealand there is money available to everyone who needs it.”, how does she explain the high levels of income poverty in this country?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, I, of course, am the Minister of Police. If that member wants to ask questions specifically about child poverty, she should have the gumption to ask the Minister in charge—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will stand and withdraw that part of the answer.

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I withdraw.

    Mr SPEAKER: Is there a further supplementary question, or do you wish to continue your answer?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am happy to. I am also happy to say that it is not just about money in this country. It is about parental responsibility, and that is something that I take very seriously.

    Jacinda Ardern: If there is enough money for everyone who needs it, as she has stated, can she tell the House what percentage of families defined as being in income poverty are also in work?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have indulged the member, but really—[Interruption]

    Mr SPEAKER: Order!

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: As I said yesterday, and as I say again, I am speaking as the member of Parliament for Papakura, but I am very happy to say to that member that if she wants to put a question down on notice I am sure the appropriate Minister will answer the detailed question.

    Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A Minister of Police speaking to a Police Association conference can only be speaking in her capacity as Minister of Police. She would not have been invited as an individual member of Parliament and, therefore, it is more than acceptable to ask questions about the statements she made in her ministerial capacity and to expect her to answer them.

    Mr SPEAKER: The member is, on this occasion, half right. It is certainly acceptable to ask the question. But when I consider the general nature of the primary question, it is not unreasonable that the Minister then is unable to answer the detail that was asked in that question. If the member wants further guidance on this, I refer him to Speaker’s rulings 191/3 and 191/4.

    Jacinda Ardern: Is she telling parents like Ebony Andrews, who, despite stringent budgeting, is left with $80 a week from her income as a learning support teacher and has to rely on KidsCan to provide basics like food, clothing, and shoes for her family, that she has all the money she needs to get by, or is she telling her that she is a bad parent?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No, what I am saying to that person who is now being quoted by Miss Ardern is that I do not agree with the Labour Party, or with Mr Stuart Nash, who today said that poverty causes crime. I do not believe that.

  • Offenders, Employment—Government Initiatives

    7. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made regarding support for offenders into employment?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Last week, along with the very able corrections Minister, Judith Collins, I announced the launch of a new initiative targeted at improving the employment outcomes of people released from prison. Work and Income case managers and professionals will work with offenders before and after their release, to help them prepare for, find, and stay in employment. We are investing $15.3 million over 3 years for the trial, which will see up to 200 clients at a time develop an individual plan to get them into employment, and access education and training, financial support services, health services, and social and housing support.

    Nuk Korako: What are the benefits of offenders being in employment?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY: We know that there are significant benefits from being in work, and especially so for this group of people. Data shows us that around 80 percent of released prisoners are still on a benefit 12 months after release, and many stay on a benefit long term. This Government is committed to breaking the cycle of long-term welfare dependency. We also know that if people are in employment they are less likely to commit crimes. This Government is focused on reducing the reoffending rate, and this initiative will go a long way to helping us achieve this target.

  • Child Health—Sugary Drink Tax

    8. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Health: Will he now investigate a sugary drink tax, given the World Health Organization is citing evidence that increasing taxes on such drinks will contribute to reducing obesity and improving nutritional health?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Contrary to what the member asserts, there is neither clear nor new evidence on the effect of such a tax on obesity and the jury is still out on this issue. A sugar tax is not something we are actively considering but, as I have said before, we will continue to keep a watching brief on the emerging evidence, and two major global studies are due to report at the end of next year. I think that it is important to note that there is no single solution that will fix obesity. That is why we have implemented a Childhood Obesity Plan with a range of interventions across Government, schools, families, and the private sector.

    Julie Anne Genter: So is he saying that the World Health Organization and the Prime Minister’s own Chief Science Advisor are wrong, given that the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor chaired an international commission on ending childhood obesity that recommended sugary drinks be taxed?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have talked to the Chief Science Advisor extensively about this, and he admitted there was no clear evidence on the subject, but he said that on balance he was in favour of a tax. But the debate we had was, well, what really is the price elasticity in this case and how much would you have to put a can of Coke up to to stop people buying it? The bottom line is there is no evidence that a sugary drinks tax will decrease obesity. So I know you love taxes—I know the member loves taxes and inquiries and sackings, but we are about evidence in this case.

    Julie Anne Genter: Why is the Government happy to go ahead with the Childhood Obesity Plan but not a sugary drink tax, when 70—seven, zero—public health experts in New Zealand have said there is more evidence supporting a sugary drinks tax than any of the soft strategies in his plan?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No. The member is completely wrong. There is no evidence that such a tax would decrease obesity, and if you look at what happened in Mexico when they put a tax on 2 years ago, in actual fact 2 years later they are now finding that sales of Coca Cola are growing. So until there is clear evidence, we will not be considering it, and there is not that evidence.

    Julie Anne Genter: Which evidence does he think is more reliable: that from independent public health experts in New Zealand, the World Health Organization, the Prime Minister’s own Chief Science Advisor, or research funded by the industry that sells sugary drinks and would like to continue selling as many sugary drinks as possible?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, certainly I have not read any evidence in the latter category, but in terms of the first category I do not think the member should confuse a passion for more tax with hard evidence, and there is no evidence. If the member has the evidence, please drop it off at my office and I will have a look at it. But I can tell you, it does not exist.

    Julie Anne Genter: I would like to table a letter from 70 public health experts to the Minister of Health saying that there is more evidence for a sugary drinks tax than any—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The date of the letter, please?

    Julie Anne Genter: I do not have the date here, but I do have the letter. It is—

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

    Mr SPEAKER: No, I need to put the leave for this first and then I will hear from the Minister. Leave is sought to table that particular letter. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

    Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table the journal article from the British Medical Journal, published in 2016—in January, this year. It is behind a paywall. The title of the article is “Beverage purchases from stores in Mexico under the excise tax on sugar sweetened beverages: observational—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has now been well and truly described.

    Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

    Mr SPEAKER: No. I need to put the leave for you first. Leave is sought to table that particular article in the medical journal. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

    Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table the academic article from the Obesity Reviews, published in 2013. The title of the article is “Assessing the Potential Effectiveness of Food and Beverage Taxes and Subsidies for Improving Public Health: A Systematic Review—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! That description will do. I will put the leave. It is an academic article dated 2013 on the issue of obesity. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There—

    Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table a journal article from the American Journal of Public Health, published in 2015: “Higher Retail Prices of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages 3 Months After Implementation of an Excise Tax—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! And again, a brief description is quite satisfactory. Now before I put the leave, does the member have any other documents she wishes to leave seek to table?

    Julie Anne Genter: I have a few more.

    Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member had better be careful about using up the patience of the House.

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

    Mr SPEAKER: No, I am dealing with this one. Let us have a list of them all. I will put the leave and see whether the members are happy for them to be tabled.

    Julie Anne Genter: There is an article called “Taxing Caloric Sweetened Beverages: Potential Effects on Beverage Consumption, Calorie Intake, and Obesity”—

    Mr SPEAKER: Well, that is well-enough described.

    Julie Anne Genter: —from the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

    Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table all of those.

    Julie Anne Genter: Sorry, there is one more: “A Typology of Beverage Taxation: Multiple Approaches for Obesity Prevention and Obesity-Prevention-Related Revenue Generation” from the Journal of Public Health Policy, 2013.

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! A significant number of documents have now been described. It is now over to the House. I will put the leave for the House to decide. Is there any objection to those documents being tabled?

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

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Look, you know, there was a long list there. The first letter that the member is tabling was actually published in the New Zealand Herald a few months ago—so I can table a whole lot of newspaper articles to counter that sort of rubbish.

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! The process is quite simple. I need a description to decide whether it is relevant. If in doubt, I will put the leave. Then it is over to any member to exercise his or her right at the time to object to it being tabled. Once it has been tabled, there is no point in then raising the objection, as the Minister just has.

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I seek leave to table advice to me from the Ministry of Health saying that there is no conclusive evidence that a sugar tax will decrease obesity rates—

    Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular advice to the Minister from the Ministry of Health. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.

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

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I seek leave to table an article from the Wall Street Journal from May of this year that shows that Coca-Cola sales have actually increased—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! It has been described. Now, again, is the Minister also going to attempt to table a large number of documents?

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No. I am just making a point.

    Mr SPEAKER: No, but if it is the Wall Street Journal, then that surely is available to all members competent to use—[Interruption]. Order!

    Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: My point is—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. The point made by the member was that a lot of her medical journals were difficult to find. [Interruption] Order! If the honourable Minister wishes to stay for the balance of question time, then do not interrupt me when I am on my feet. There was one document that was taken as behind a paywall. On that basis, I put the leave. I am not prepared to put the leave for something that is in the Wall Street Journal. I hope that is clear to the Minister.

    James Shaw: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I mean, the Minister did ask for evidence, and he surely cannot object when it is then—

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want the point of order. There is not one. Further points of order?

    Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Kia ora. This is actually a point of order, Mr Speaker. My understanding—and I am sure you have made it clear on several occasions—is that points of order are supposed to be heard in silence. It has become more and more common that the National Party backbench, particularly when members of the Green Party and particularly when women are standing—

    Hon Members: Oh!

    Mr SPEAKER: Order! The point has been made and I think there is some value in it. I do not accept that the interjections come from one corner only. I will attempt to keep more silence, but points of order should be—in fact, must be—heard in silence. We move now, finally, to question No. 9.

  • SchoolsOperational Funding

    9. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that schools are receiving adequate funding to fully deliver the curriculum and offer New Zealand children the free education that the Education Act 1989 promises?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I am satisfied that we are providing more funding for education than ever before. Under this Government, we have increased Vote Education by 35 percent to over $11 billion, including more than $1.35 billion for schools’ operational grants. Whether this funding is used effectively to ensure all children can progress in their learning along the curriculum is one of the key questions of the funding review.

    Chris Hipkins: Why did she claim that her modelling “suggests that more than two-thirds of schools will receive increases that are greater than the inflation rate …” next year, when the actual numbers show that just 12 percent are set to receive an increase greater than the rate of inflation and the rest are set to be worse off?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not sure where the member is asserting I made that claim. What I have said is that over 96 percent of schools would receive some of this funding, depending on the distribution of those young people who come from long-term welfare-dependent homes.

    Chris Hipkins: Did she say in her press statement on 27 May: “The same modelling suggests that more than two-thirds of schools will receive increases that are greater than the inflation rate”; if so, why did she make that claim, when the actual data shows that fewer than 12 percent of schools will receive an increase greater than the rate of inflation?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: It would appear that I did make that statement, since the member is quoting from a press release. I think I also said at the time that the actual impact would rely on the July return of rolls, and then we would know for certain what the distribution would be.

    Chris Hipkins: So is it not true that the actual numbers after adjusting for inflation show that 1,894 schools will be worse off and will lose funding in 2017, while only 299 schools will be better off?

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, and that reflects the member’s misunderstanding of how we fund into schools—

    Tracey Martin: Ha, ha!

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: —and that member’s also, apparently—which is $1.35 billion. The $12.3 million that is being distributed in addition amounts to the 1 percent, but the overall total is $1.35 billion being distributed across schools. It is driven by the size of the roll and by the 23 elements that are in the operational grant, and that is why it differs each year between schools.

    Chris Hipkins: Does an analysis, school by school, using the same formula that she has used in her post-Budget publicity in every other year except for this year, show that nearly 2,000 schools end up worse off, while only about 300 schools end up better off?


    Chris Hipkins: How can she claim that the education sector is being adequately funded, when a recent report from the OECD shows that New Zealand lags behind the OECD for per-student funding on average, and why will she not just admit that the National Government’s strategy for funding schools is to push more and more of the cost on to parents?

    Mr SPEAKER: Either of those supplementary questions.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not claiming; I am basing it on evidence. What we know is, first of all, that the methodology that the OECD used for that report does not make consistent comparisons. It does not use the childcare subsidy in New Zealand, which is part of the support we provide for families, whereas it does for every other country. Secondly, its comparison is based on two children in every family doing 40 hours per week, whereas in New Zealand it is based on individual children, regardless of how many a family has, and it is based on 20 hours. So the comparison does not stand up under scrutiny. Sorry, what was the other question that the member asked? I am happy to answer that, too. For every $1.80 that parents provide to support fund-raising for their school, taxpayers provide $100. For every dollar that parents pay for early childhood education, the Government pays $4.80. I think it demonstrates that this National Government—

    Chris Hipkins: Parents are taxpayers too.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: Parents are taxpayers, and that is the very point that I am making.

    Mr SPEAKER: Bring the answer to a conclusion.

    Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, Mr Speaker, the member is making assertions that are not supported by fact.

  • Social Enterprise Sector, Growth—Government Initiatives

    10. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: How is the Government working to enable growth in the social enterprise sector?

    Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): On Tuesday evening I officially launched the new report Social Enterprise and Social Finance: A Path to Growth. Social enterprises are organisations that trade as a business to support their social or environmental mission. The new report, commissioned by the Government and authored by a strategic group, proposes a range of actions to enable social enterprises to grow and unlock new sources of capital. It is a sector that has existed for decades but is now growing into a significant economic, social, and environmental force. It outlines a range of actions for the Government and other sectors to consider in order to build the capability and contribution of social enterprise.

    Rt Hon Winston Peters: Table it.

    Paul Foster-Bell: How is the Government working to enable growth in the social enterprise sector, in particular in Wellington?

    Hon JO GOODHEW: This report is an important step, spelling out the potential role of social enterprises in innovation, entrepreneurship, and regional economic development. Organisations such as the Wellington-based PledgeMe will be better able to realise their financial potential. The 2014 Government Position Statement on Social Enterprise outlined the Government’s commitment to facilitate further growth of this sector. That commitment has taken another step forward with the launch of the report. The report will also provide a useful basis for conversations about how to further grow this sector in the lead-up to the Social Enterprise World Forum 2017, to be held in Christchurch next September. I want to alert the House to the fact that this is easily found, as the member opposite has asked for this report to be tabled. It is easily found on the Department of Internal Affairs website if the member chooses to look.

  • Children, Living Standards and Housing—Reports and Government Response

    11. MARAMA FOX (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister for Social Housing: What action, if any, will she take to address the deeply held concerns of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in respect of children’s rights to an adequate standard of living and access to housing?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development) on behalfof the Minister for Social Housing: The Government has a comprehensive plan to increase the supply of emergency and social housing to ensure that those in need, including children, have adequate housing. This is the first Government to directly fund emergency housing. There was $41.1 million in Budget 2016 for 3,000 new and existing emergency housing places, and to fund a new non-recoverable special-needs grant to pay for emergency housing. Since then, another $9 million has been announced to roll out Housing First and other support for the homeless. We are also supporting both community providers and Housing New Zealand to increase the supply of social housing, with more than 2,500 new places forecast in Auckland over the next 3 years.

    Marama Fox: Does she accept that filling all currently vacant State houses with wait-listed families who have children, and providing them with security of tenure so that they can get ongoing access to long-term services and support, is one of the measures she could implement now to intensify efforts to provide safe and adequate housing to all children; if so, will she commit to working with the Māori Party to achieve this?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The Minister is always willing to talk with the Māori Party about these issues, and always finds its input constructive. Housing New Zealand is working to fill any short-term vacant properties as fast as possible because it is a priority to get families in need into our social housing. For example, in the Gisborne area Housing New Zealand has taken 13 homes off the market and let them to new tenants. It is doing this in other areas of high demand. We are also reviewing tenancies of those paying market rent, to free up houses for those in more need. So far, 943 people have left social housing, including 120 who have bought their own homes.

    Marama Fox: In light of her recent announcement about opening up access to community housing providers to give them up to 150 percent of income-related rent, does she have any plans to work with the Māori Party to explore the expansion of this policy to extend it to existing community housing tenants as a measure to help eliminate homelessness; if not, why not?

    Hon ANNE TOLLEY: There are no plans to extend the income-related rent subsidy to existing community housing tenants. Our main priority is to get more people housed, and we will do that by providing the subsidy to new tenants, not those who already have a house. The extra $24.4 million the Minister recently announced comes on top of the $120 million in the Budget for community providers. This will help them increase supply so that we can get more people housed.

  • Police—Resourcing

    12. STUART NASH (Labour—Napier) to the Minister of Police: Why did she sign off on Police’s Four Year Plan on 27 May 2016 that stated there would be no increase in Police numbers?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): Of course the plan works with the known resources at the time, and because I deal with reality at the time—and not hypotheticals.

    Stuart Nash: Are 74 percent of sworn police officers wrong when, in their latest biennial survey, they said that they are “dissatisfied with the number of front-line police staff in their district.”?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Far be it from me to ever disagree with our wonderful front-line officers and to personally attack them, like that member does from time to time. Obviously they are never going to be satisfied, and that is because they care about their job and they try to do the very best that they possibly can. I am going to do the very best I can to deliver for them.

    Stuart Nash: In light of that answer, why has she not implemented the promise made by John Key in 2008 that “there is one officer for every 500 people, and we will keep this ratio as population grows.”?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: We can do the very best that we can in the Budget, and the $300 million increase in this Budget absolutely did help.

    Stuart Nash: Is the incoming New Zealand Police Association president, Chris Cahill, incorrect when he said this morning that “Our staffing on the front line is at crisis point.”; if so, why?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have been involved with police for a lot longer than that member, so I can tell him it has never been described by the incoming president of a Police Association as being anything other than at a crisis point, but particularly when the Labour Government was in charge.

    Stuart Nash: Are the police wrong when 60 percent said they cannot deliver promises made to the public, 55 percent said they have undue workplace stress, and 86 percent believe that front-line staff are under-resourced?

    Hon JUDITH COLLINS: These are, of course, people’s opinions, and I, obviously, always support the police. And particularly, I think, one of the areas where they get a lot of stress is when they get personally attacked, as the district commander for the Eastern Police District, Superintendent Sandra Venables, has been—by that member—on numerous occasions, to the extent that the deputy commissioner, Mr Viv Rickard, has had to go to see Mr Andrew Little about that behaviour


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