Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Environment Minister David Parker unveil new job-creating fast-tracked projects

Three projects identified for fast-tracking today are private sector projects, Environment Minister David Parker says.

Parker and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are fronting media at a weekly post-cab press conference, detailing projects that will bypass the Resource Management Act.

The private projects are mixed-use development on Dominion Road in Auckland, a phone factory in Huntly and a large development in Auckland.

Earlier at today’s conference, Ardern said she had a “positive and warm” phone call with US President-elect Joe Biden and invited him to visit New Zealand.

In June, the Government announced it would fast-track 11 road, rail and housing projects so work on them could begin as soon as possible.

The three private jobs were all “big projects” and, if approved, would come under recently passed legislation that he said didn’t compromise environmental outcomes, Parker said this afternoon.

That law had three avenues by which projects can be fast-tracked.

Ardern said housing developments that could be fast-tracked would be triggered by developers coming forward. Parker added that there had been a constant stream of such applications, including retirement homes.

He said the 200 permanent jobs that the three projects could lead to were mostly linked to the factory.

Ardern told media the call to Biden had included conversation about coronavirus.

“We discussed Covid-19 and the President-elect spoke positively about New Zealand’s response to the pandemic,” Ardern said.

“I offered to him and his team access to New Zealand health officials in order to share their experience on things we’ve learnt on our Covid-19 journey.”

She said they also discussed climate change including his goals by 2050, the Pacific region and trade goals.

She said Biden wanted to “reinvigorate” the US-New Zealand relationship.

Ardern added that combating Covid-19 will take a joint and global effort, and while New Zealand had many advantages in keeping communities free of the virus, we also successfully used practices such as successful managed isolation and quarantine.

She didn’t say whether she had been invited to the White House.

Asked if she discussed Donald Trump, she said the conversation looked to the future and common interests including trade.

“From the statements made publicly by the President-elect that the number one priority was the response to Covid-19. He spoke very favourably about what he’d seen happening in New Zealand.”

She said Biden also had an interest in the Pacific, speaking of his time his uncle served in the war in this region and his interest that the US is engaged “across the world but particularly here”.

“I detected a huge amount of enthusiasm for the relationship we already have, but the potential for that relationship too.”

She noted she had already recognised the electoral outcome in the US and the phone call was a follow up to that.

She said she had used the term “reinvigorate the relationship” to characterise the substance of the phone call.

Ardern said she invited Biden to visit New Zealand. Biden has already been invited to visit Australia for the anniversary of ANZUS.

“He spoke of his fond memories of visiting New Zealand years ago. He was very pleased to be invited to come back here.”

She doubted Biden would have said he wanted to discuss to to tackle Covid-19 further if he didn’t intend to follow that up.

Ardern said New Zealand had a “natural advantage” but “we had also used it to positive effect”.

“No one country’s experience has been linear or has been perfect.”

New Zealand’s experience was based on testing, contact tracing and isolation, as well as the work done at the border, she said.

Technology had also been used, but in New Zealand “with people’s permission”.

She thought it was a “positive” to have had the phone call so soon after the US election, and she intended to strengthen the relationship with the US.

In response to today’s release of the Childrens Commissioner’s report on Oranga Tamariki, she said Kelvin Davis was meeting with the commissioner to discuss the best way forward.

She said the way the state uplifted children had been “hugely problematic”, and Parker the new alcohol and drug court in Hamilton would have jurisdiction in the Family Court as well as for criminal matters.

The key recommendation of that report was for a solution by Maori for Maori, and Ardern said some of that work was already happening. But a sudden change to the way over 5000 children in state care were handled would cause issues.

In terms of fast-tracking projects, legislation has already been passed which meant the projects – which included the Auckland Harbour Bridge Skypath – were able to side-step the RMA.

This was part of the Government’s Covid-19 recovery plan and aimed to stimulate the economy by creating jobs for people working on the projects.

Ardern said it could see up to 1200 jobs created.

Parker said at the time that he expected the Government would fast-track more projects in a bid to get them under way more quickly.

Many of the issues were around the exercise of the “big decision” around a child coming into state care. Some of those issues had “rightly” been criticised, she said.

Ardern said it was infuriating that between 5 to 10 per cent of land was being land-banked at a time when the housing market was going through the roof. She was seeking advice on what to do about land-banking.

Earlier wealth tax call

Greens co-leader and Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson has already called on Ardern to again consider implementing a wealth tax.

Davidson said this would help cool down the housing market, where prices have risen 20 per cent in a year.

Davidson said a wealth tax needed to be on the table or the “massive divide between the haves and the have nots” would only get wider.

But Ardern has repeatedly said a Government she leads would never implement a wealth tax

“I have said the same thing on this policy no less than probably 50 times. I have ruled it out,” Ardern said on the campaign trail.

PM's call with Joe Biden

Earlier, Ardern spoke to US President-elect Joe Biden over the phone.

In an Instagram post,Ardern said she congratulated him on behalf on New Zealand.
“We talked about climate change, Covid-19, trade and our region.”

Ardern said Biden talked about how fondly he remembered his visit to New Zealand a few years ago.

“Looking forward to speaking again!” Ardern said.

A post shared by Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern)

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