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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard



Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. CHRISTOPHER LUXON (Leader of the Opposition) 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, I stand by my statements on health funding and this Government’s record investment in health and education to deliver the public services New Zealanders depend on. Under this Government, we’ve increased health funding by 44 percent since 2017, including an increase of over 10 percent in Budget 2022, to fund services in the most significant reform programme in health in a generation. We’ve also increased the nursing workforce by 4,200 fulltime-equivalents (FTEs) and 1,700 FTEs in the doctor workforce since coming into office. We’ve increased Pharmac’s medicines budget to a record $1.235 billion per annum, and we’ve established from scratch a primary-care mental health service that has delivered nearly half a million sessions through primary-care providers. We’ve also committed $7 billion for infrastructure to modernise our hospitals. We’ve put more into education since we’ve been in Government than National did, including $3.6 billion since 2018 on improving school property, delivering over 1,300 more classrooms, supporting over 2,900 additional teachers, and providing over 58 million lunches to 947 schools and kura. The question for Kiwis is—they can trust this Labour Government will continue to invest in health and education; the question is whether or not National will.

Christopher Luxon: Why did she agree to the cost of living payment, knowing that it would result in taxpayer money going to people living overseas?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member fails to acknowledge that the criteria explicitly says, of course, that it’s for those earning $70,000 or less, over the age of 18, not receiving the winter energy payment, and, of course, resident in New Zealand. Of course, while individuals are not obliged to tell us if they are overseas, that was one of the criteria. We have some ability to determine if that is the case, but we also ask New Zealanders offshore that they update their IRD information. That, of course, will prevent them from receiving it.

Christopher Luxon: When will the Prime Minister be able to tell taxpayers exactly how much of their money has been sent to people living overseas?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I set out, the criteria is very explicit. The payment is designed for those who are earning $70,000 or less and are resident in New Zealand. If someone is continuing to pay tax but is also offshore, we can only decipher that if they inform IRD. Again, IRD has created the opportunity for people to update their information or indeed opt out if they so choose. I would, however, contrast that the member’s alternative is, for instance, a tax cut for those on $180,000 or less. I would rather a payment that 2.1 million Kiwis are eligible for, who are on low and middle incomes.

Christopher Luxon: Was Kiritapu Allan correct when she stated that the cost of living payment scheme had been developed “essentially overnight”, and, if so, does this explain why it’s resulted in so much taxpayer money being sent to people living overseas?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The vast majority of people receiving it, of course, are low and middle income earners in New Zealand, in contrast to the member’s proposal to give a tax cut to those earning $180,000 or more through his tax policies, which would also be inflationary and make the cost of living worse for New Zealanders on low and middle incomes. What the Minister was referring to was that we have ensured that we’ve had the increase in the family tax credit, the decrease in the cost of fuel at the pump, and, as we saw inflation increasing, we moved to provide this payment, because, of course, we wanted to ensure that we were responding to what Kiwis were seeing, because it is tough out there.

Christopher Luxon: What does she say to New Zealanders who worked hard and paid their taxes, who are angry her Government has knowingly sent their money to expats and backpackers living overseas?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I totally reject the premise of that question. The criteria is very clear on who this is intended to go for, and the vast majority of people receiving it are exactly those individuals.

Hon Peeni Henare: Sorry, none in Hawaii!

Hon Members: Ha, ha!

Christopher Luxon: Does she agree with—

SPEAKER: Right. Who made the comment that caused the mirth? The member will withdraw and apologise.

Hon Peeni Henare: I withdraw and apologise, sir.

Christopher Luxon: Does she agree with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who tweeted in 2017 that “kids living in cars and motels is not a sign of care”, and, if so, why are there four times as many people living in cars today than when she became Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I stand by that, as I do stand by, also, the focus this Government has on increasing wages and decreasing unemployment across this country. And it gives me the opportunity today to highlight that in the stats we have seen released today: Māori unemployment at 5.5 percent, Pacific unemployment at 5.4 percent, average ordinary time hourly earnings rose to 6.4 percent. I stand by the policies of this Government, which are focused on increasing the incomes of Kiwis and ensuring that they are in work. And when you think about the times we’re in, those are remarkable statistics.

Christopher Luxon: Does she agree that prices outpacing wages for eight straight quarters, or two full years, means Kiwis are going backwards at an historic rate?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as I have highlighted to the member time and time again, when you look across the course of the time that we have had in office, we have consistently seen wages outstrip the cost of living increase here in the year 2022 in New Zealand. As we are seeing around the world, we do have high rates of inflation. There are, of course, projections that that is set to improve over the course of this year, and we can anticipate a return once more to wages, under a Labour Government, once again outstripping the cost of living. I would highlight for the member that we did have consistent periods under the National Government when not only did we have inflation outstrip wages, we had very low wage growth rate.

Christopher Luxon: Isn’t it embarrassing that a Government that claims to care about workers has delivered an economy where the cost of living has gone up faster than wages for the majority of the time it’s been in power?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I utterly reject the premise of that statement. As we’ve said, wage growth has exceeded Consumers Price Index between the start of 2018 and 2021 with an average of 3.7 percent versus 2.2 percent. And, again, I stand here proud that in the worst economic crisis we have seen in our lifetimes, when they projected unemployment to be double digit and that we could have expected, as we saw in the global financial crisis, high rates of—particularly of Māori and Pacific—unemployment, we have some of the lowest rates we have ever seen. That is because this is a Labour Government focused on policies that support our people into work and into decent wages.