Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard
Question No. 3—Prime Minister
3. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Talofa lava, Mr Speaker, and fa’afetai. Does she stand by all of her Government’s statements and actions?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Talofa lava. Yes, in particular our recent Budget announcement of a main benefit boost, which is projected to lift up to an additional 33,000 children out of poverty on the after – housing cost measures in 2022/23. In combination with other changes under Labour, such as our Families Package, 109,000 families with children will be better off by, on average, $175 per week by April 2022. Increasing incomes for our most vulnerable both secures our recovery by adding targeted stimulus to the economy while also addressing one of our most pressing long-term challenges of child poverty. The initiative, along with others recently announced in the Budget, are core parts for helping us achieve our three goals for the term: to keep New Zealand safe from COVID-19, to accelerate our recovery and rebuild, and to tackle our foundational challenges: those issues of housing affordability, climate change, and child wellbeing.
Hon Judith Collins: Why did Budget 2021 cut almost $20 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour Fund, which is used to promote research, science, and technology, with the potential to boost our long-term economic growth?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: It’s my understanding that the money that the member is referring to is being reprioritised across the portfolio. The other point that I would make is that the Minister is doing quite a bit of work in this space generally, alongside the sector, to determine that we are appropriately incentivising and aiding research and development in this country.
Hon Judith Collins: Has she received any advice on the Australian Budget’s investment in a billion-dollar digital economy strategy, and did the New Zealand Budget contain anything similar?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I received advice on New Zealand’s economic performance relative to Australia’s economic performance, based on some of the data contained in both countries’ Budgets, and I can tell the member from that: our unemployment rate is lower than Australia; we are projected to go into operating balance before gains and losses surplus again earlier than Australia and at about the same rate as we did following the global financial crisis; our debt levels are lower; and our growth rates are a solid 3.5 percent across the forecast period, which is also higher. So on all measures, New Zealand is really outperforming Australia economically. On the issue of incentives and supporting technological development, I’d say that we’re looking at New Zealand’s circumstances, and that’s told us that, really, we need to put that support in for our small businesses in particular. They saw considerable advancement during the COVID era where they were forced to technologically adapt. We are trying to continue to support that with some of the acceleration funding that we’ve put in for digital support for small businesses.
Hon Judith Collins: Thank you—fa’afetai. Why has Budget 2021 revised our projected long-term labour productivity growth down to just 1 percent per annum, and what specific initiatives in Budget 2021 will address this?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In answer to the member’s first question, that data is, as I understand, across decades. As I recall, it’s a 30-year average, so that wouldn’t just take into account this Government’s performance.
Brooke van Velden: Does she stand by the Minister of Health’s statement in regard to Patient Voice Aotearoa advocating for increasing funding into Pharmac that “I don’t buy into extremist rhetoric.”?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: At the same time, the Minister has rightly pointed out that we have increased funding for Pharmac to the tune of $200 million across the Budget period, and that has meant that we’ve seen a well over 20 percent increase in Pharmac’s budget overall. Ultimately, though, many of the advocacy groups that we as a Government, and past Governments, have faced often have specific drugs in mind that they would like funded, and the point that we’ve continually made is that our job is to support Pharmac and the model. They are the ones who make the decisions over what is being funded; they should not be decisions for us.
Brooke van Velden: Point of order. My question was quite clear—whether the Prime Minister stood by the statement made by the health Minister about extremist rhetoric. I don’t believe that was addressed.
SPEAKER: Well, I refer the member to Speakers’ rulings—I think it’s somewhere around 183, early on that page—and that is that one can’t expect a specific answer to a supplementary question unless the primary is specific. If this area was signalled, I would be supportive of the member, but that area was not signalled as part of the primary question.
David Seymour: Point of order. The primary question related to statements made by the Government. That question was accepted. Surely a question about a statement is in order and therefore the statement should be addressed. The Prime Minister did not do so.
SPEAKER: Well, I’ll just find the one: 183/3, “If a member wants to have that kind of specificity addressed in a supplementary question, the primary question needs to be somewhat more specific than this one. (The primary question to the Minister was, “Does he stand by all his recent statements?”.), the Hon Dr Lockwood Smith.
Brooke van Velden: Does she stand by the Minister of Health’s denial that he used that language at Health Committee this morning, stating, “I didn’t say that, and you’ve got that wrong.”?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m sure the member will appreciate that I have neither the transcripts from that particular event about what was said by either the Minister or the context in which it was said. I’m just not in a position to be able to answer the member’s question.
Hon Judith Collins: Thank you—fa’afetai lava. Will there be a significant opening of the border in January 2022?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the member will have heard, Ministers on this side of the House say repeatedly that we’re working through, of course, a phased approach to reconnecting our people with the world. We’ve already moved on the trans-Tasman bubble arrangement, but as that already demonstrates, these openings can be complex, and our number one priority, if we want to preserve the position that New Zealand is in—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m taking this as a very serious question asked by the members’ leader. I suggest that the front bench let it be answered because I think the leader might be interested in what’s being said.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: But as the member and, in fact, all of New Zealand has seen, even those arrangements with a country that is in a very similar position to us do pose risk and do pose complexities. So our goal is to put ourselves in the best position possible to start reconnecting with the world. However, we will always base those decisions on the data, the evidence, and New Zealand’s position at the time. We are in a good place. We’re not going to run the risk of losing it.
Hon Judith Collins: Is she aware that the Budget forecasts are based on the assumption that the border will be significantly open by January 2022, and how will the economy be impacted if the border is not opened by that date?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Two things—Treasury, of course, have to make predictions. As I understand it, their framing of that prediction was the idea that New Zealand may have further “green bubble” or bubble-style arrangements which enable further opening. But, again, all the way through COVID, it’s necessitated both Treasury and external commentators to make predictions about a very unknown environment.
Chris Bishop: Read the Budget.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: And I have, Mr Bishop.
Hon Judith Collins: In which case, why is it that the Budget clearly says that it is predicting a significant opening of the border in January 2022 in its assumptions as to the economic wellbeing of this country?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Firstly, Treasury has to make assumptions and predictions in order to make their economic forecasts and projections. Secondly, the member is interpreting what she believes to be significant to be. I’ve just explained that what is being shared with me is what Treasury considers to be significant.
Hon Grant Robertson: Is the Prime Minister aware of any individuals or loose entities who have called for the bubble to be open, closed; the border to be open, closed; and sometimes at the same time?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I have. I have to say, from the member’s line of questioning, I’m not entirely sure what she is advocating. What I know is that this Government has taken a firm and clear decision: the safety of our people first. It just so happens that when we predicted that putting people’s health first would support our economic recovery, that has been borne out.
Hon Judith Collins: Why does the Government have a target to reduce prison populations by 30 percent, not a target to reduce violent crime?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because as the member will know, having worked across Corrections, if you are seeking to reduce the prison population, that’s often the equivalent of reducing recidivism. Many people in our prison population are circulating back through. So if you focus on rehabilitation programmes that make a difference; if you focus on having, as prisoners exit, work to ensure that they are in employment and those things which prevent reoffending, then you ultimately also reduce victimisation.