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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

WEDNESDAY, 4 DECEMBER 2019

The Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.

Karakia.

ORAL QUESTIONS

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly the Government’s Early Learning Action Plan, which shows the importance the Government places on the early years of a child’s learning. Elements of the plan include lifting early childhood education centres to 100 percent qualified staff, improving the consistency in levels of teachers’ salaries and conditions, addressing teacher supply, more active management, improving adult to child ratios, and ensuring children in underserved communities have access to high-quality services. I think this demonstrates our focus on the most important phase of a child’s life and the importance of early childhood education.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why have only 300 KiwiBuild houses been built?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As you’ll know, the Government has gone through an evaluation with our KiwiBuild reset of the many factors that were causing it not to meet our own expectations. I will acknowledge, however, that we are very proud of the huge production coming out of State housing and public housing. In fact, I take the opportunity to remind the member opposite that had the last Government maintained the pace of production for State houses that we are, we would have been able to clear some of those State house waiting lists. We’re building more houses than any Government since the 1970s, and we’re proud of it.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why have no significant roading or other major infrastructure projects started under her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The premise of that question is incorrect.

Hon Simon Bridges: How much more will her Government borrow for infrastructure as announced over the weekend?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member well knows that he needs to wait until further announcements, in only a few sleeps away, from the excellent Minister of Finance.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that if her Government wasn’t spending $1.5 billion on fees-free, $2 billion on KiwiBuild, $3 billion on the Provincial Growth Fund—a total of $6.5 billion—she wouldn’t have to borrow more money?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I take it from the member, therefore, that even though he currently has a discussion document on fees-free that he’s already made the decision to scrap it, because at the moment he seems to suggest that it may stay. I take it from his question that he’s dumping the Provincial Growth Fund, and I think there would be a number of regions that would be very interested to know that that member does not support their regional development. I take it from that member’s statement that he also intends to continue selling State houses to get rid of progressive home ownership and that he doesn’t believe in intervening in the market and providing affordable houses. It’s good to know it would be just a return to the status quo.

Hon Simon Bridges: So does that mean she will be borrowing more than $6.5 billion?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.

Hon Simon Bridges: What will her borrowing take debt as a proportion of GDP to?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member knows that I’m not going to discuss the substance of announcements that are rightly being made by the Minister of Finance as part of the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update. I can, however, reflect on the excellent announcements for education infrastructure. Those were made recently. It includes investment of up to $400 million for schools across the country. I note the last time the last Government talked about doing anything like that it sold all of New Zealand – owned assets in order to do it.

Hon Simon Bridges: If she wasn’t spending so much on fees-free, KiwiBuild, and the Provincial Growth Fund, would she still need to break her own Budget responsibility rules around debt?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again I point to the fact here that this is an obvious admission from the member that he intends not to maintain any of those excellent policies that are making a huge difference to get learners into education when we have a skills gap, to get our regions thriving and generating jobs, and to address our housing crisis. I very much look forward to the housing policy from that member if he doesn’t believe in KiwiBuild. I hear it’s going to be released on Christmas Eve because the National Party doesn’t want to support their member Judith Collins.

Hon Paula Bennett: Ooh, a little nasty there!

SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Take a Valium! Does her Government contemplate borrowing $72 billion, like the previous Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member makes a very good point, of course. [Interruption] Even then, when we inherited this Government, we came in with a debt as a percentage of GDP at 23 percent, and we have brought it down, meeting our Budget responsibility rules, to less than 20 percent. We are carrying less debt than under that last Government, and we’ve achieved all of the things the member likes to talk about.

Hon Simon Bridges: With the borrowing for infrastructure announcement next week, will any significant infrastructure projects get finished before the end of next year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, the member will need to know what those infrastructure projects are first. The second point I’d make is that, traditionally, National Governments have tended to believe in borrowing to invest in infrastructure; that’s what most Governments do, and I note that even his finance Minister recently suggested that borrowing for significant infrastructure would be a wise decision.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Government contemplating increasing GST, like the previous Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No, no, but I do note that they didn’t contemplate it either until they suddenly did and implemented it when last in office.

Hon Simon Bridges: In light of her supplementary answers, will any significant infrastructure projects even get started before the next election?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, the member has, I know, much anticipation, but I would hate him, of course, to not acknowledge the existing work that is already under way.

SPEAKER: Order! Can the Prime Minister sit down? I’ve had a lot of complaints about members from both sides shouting and the inability of people, especially outside the House, to be able to hear. That has continued today. I think it’s fair to say that both sides are equally guilty, but if I’m having trouble hearing the Prime Minister from this far away because of noise from both sides, it’s an indication that there is too much interjection.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I do want to take the opportunity to remind the member of some of the projects that have already started under this Government: Loop Road, Ōpōnoni, State Highway 1 Papakura to Bombay, Waipapa, State Highway 10 Tākaka Hill, State Highway 6 Ladies Mile corridor, State Highway 1 Edendale realignment. Vastly different—

Hon Shane Jones: Waipapa roundabout! Waipapa!

SPEAKER: Order! Mr Jones will not interject again during this question time.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Vastly different to the projects that were announced by that last Government that were never funded, that were ghost roads, and, frankly, would probably never have happened.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Prime Minister contemplate at least borrowing sufficient money to complete the nine bridges Mr Bridges promised for Northland?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, I just don’t want to give too much away.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did Winston Peters re-announce one of them just yesterday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: There were plenty still to re-announce given that you hadn’t done any of them.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the only way to physically start infrastructure projects before the election now to restart National’s transport projects that were ready to go but were stopped at the start of her Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, Manawatū Gorge was not funded or designated by National. Levin to Sanson, Napier to Hastings, Christchurch to Ashburton, and Wellsford to Whangarei—they were not funded or designated by National. I can go on.

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