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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all of her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes—in particular, our recent announcement that the Construction Skills Action Plan has delivered early on its overall target of supporting an additional 4,000 people into construction-related education and employment. Since the plan was launched in 2018, more than 9,300 people have taken up education or employment opportunities in the construction sector through cross-Government initiatives. While there is no one thing that is going to fix the issues we’re facing in the housing market, this combines with a series of initiatives we’re rolling out to tackle the barriers to the construction of new homes, including the $3.8 billion fund to accelerate housing supply, repealing and replacing the Resource Management Act, implementing a National Policy Statement on Urban Development, improving access through first-home grants and loans, incentivising investment in new-build homes through exemption to brightline tests—the list goes on.

Hon Judith Collins: So what are the criteria for councils to access the $3.8 billion housing infrastructure funding that she’s just referred to?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What we’ve already talked about publicly is the fact that whilst it will be a contestable fund, it will be on the basis that the local authority is adding to current infrastructure intentions—so we want to see some additionality. There will need to be explicit commitments from third parties. It will require additional housing supply and, of course, will prioritise project readiness and pace, including capability and capacity to deliver and the speed of commencement. It’s also fair to say we’re working closely with both local government and iwi to make sure the final criteria are fit for purpose, and we will be wanting to see in the second half of 2021 that fund being accessed.

Hon Judith Collins: So what is the decision-making process for calculating how much funding each council will receive?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve already given a bit of a sense of the criteria that we were using for projects. We will, of course, then be taking—that’s what we put into the public domain. We’re refining that alongside local government, and we’ll be bringing that to Cabinet with a view in the second half of 2021 to put money out. What I can say is unlike the member’s proposals, where they have created a calculation per home—there are issues with delivering in that way as well. The idea that you would pay after a home—and I see that there are two different responses. I think Mr Bayly has said it would be after there’s a code of compliance issue; the legislation I see that’s proposed says something else. But essentially, either way what is being suggested is that it would be paid out to councils after the house is delivered on. The barrier for many councils is right up front, and so we based our proposal on the issues councils have raised with us, and I again, unfortunately, believe that the proposal the member has made won’t solve the problem.

Hon Judith Collins: So how many new houses, if any, will the policy she’s announced enable to be built over the next 12 months?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Whilst I don’t believe we’ve put a time frame around the estimate that’s been provided, the estimate that has been provided has been between 80,000 and 130,000 houses. Again, I would just make the point that the acceleration fund is very much targeted at dealing with an issue council have raised with us. I fear what the member opposite has put up is akin to their first attempt in the Housing Infrastructure Fund, where they put up loans when councils already had hit their debt ceilings. Once again, the proposal the member has put—if, for instance, you saw Auckland’s threshold reached of 13,000 houses, it would only allow for $82 million worth of investment in Auckland. So what I would say to the member is we agree infrastructure’s a problem. I do not believe what you’ve put forward is the answer.

Hon Dr Megan Woods: Is the Prime Minister aware that officials are unable to tell us how many houses were actually ever completed through housing infrastructure funding because there was no explicit link between housing and infrastructure in that loan scheme?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, so not only did councils raise the concern that they’d already hit their debt ceilings; there also wasn’t that explicit link. We have learnt much from observing what the National Government did, and we have made sure we haven’t repeated those mistakes. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Can the two Christchurch members just cut it out.

David Seymour: Would the Prime Minister instead consider implementing ACT’s four-year-old alternative of sharing half the GST on new builds with the council, which Auckland mayor Phil Goff, at the time, welcomed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, that has not been part of our plans.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she stand by her statement two months ago that “The Ministry of Health has the ability to get an insight into whether or not border testing is taking place and to troubleshoot if it’s not.”; if so, why was case B, the managed isolation and quarantine security guard who caught COVID-19, able to go more than four months without a test?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member will know, one of the issues we identified at that time was that private sector employers, who are covered by the requirement to have their employees tested, were not compulsorily covered by the requirement to be part of our national register of testing. That is why the Minister undertook to change that requirement. He has done so. The order comes into force from 27 April.

Hon Judith Collins: So why hasn’t that been done earlier, since we’ve had COVID-19 in New Zealand over the last 12 months?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: One of the things I would point out is actually the number of people that are covered by a private sector arrangement—so, outside of our core employment—actually over time has been reducing. Not everyone has maintained their own register. There have been some who have been linked. But we identified the issue, orders were drafted, they’ve been signed, and that comes into force from 27 April. The second point that I would make is that the legal obligation to be tested existed. It already existed—and, of course, that not only existed; the employer had obligations as well. Now our departments are undergoing work to see what the follow-up will be on the fact that there was a clear breach here around the testing requirements. And I would point out that it is obviously quite difficult when an individual, as we’ve been advised, has lied about being tested.

Hon Judith Collins: Does she stand by the statement of her COVID-19 response Minister, Chris Hipkins, from October last year that the Government was “now getting comprehensive reporting” on border testing; if so, how did border worker case B go untested since November last year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I stated in my last answer, we have been advised by the employer of an issue with the accuracy of the information that was being provided to them. Secondly, we identified at that time the difference in the way that private contractors and their employees were being covered by the testing register. We looked to rectify that, and that has now been done.

MIL OSI