The first question session of the New Year covered Labour's credit card pledges - ACC changes - climate change - superannuation - regional development - Victoria University's vice chancellor payout - primary teacher salaries - John Hawkesby - East Timor and social welfare budgeting assistance.
The following are paraphrases of today's questions for oral answer. They are not complete or official, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings is Hansard, which is not finalised some days after the event.
Questions To Ministers
SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS
Dianne Yates (Labour) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: What progress has the Government made towards achieving the commitments set out on Labour's commitment card?
A: The government has made good progress on that score. Within three months three of the commitments have been met (lowering costs of Student Loans - reversed Super Cuts - completed the changes in Income Tax) and work is progressing on the other four.
Q: Bill English (National): When she undertook the pledge on super changes did she mean the average wage measurement at the time or the average wage measurement now it has been changed by Statistics NZ?
A: The commitment was to adjust to the net average wage by the prevailing method of measurement. The adjustment was made in good faith on the basis of the previous measure. Future adjustments will be made on the basis of the new measure.
Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Does she agree that the commitment says no-rise for 95% of taxpayers - and that she has in fact increased tax for 7% of income earners. And is that the first broken promise?
A: At the time the pledge was made our best advice was that it would not affect 95% of taxpayers.
Rt Hon Jenny Shipley (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: On the basis of what information did she make the statement, as reported on today's Morning Report, that "There's no evidence to suggest that private insurers do a better or more cost effective job in the area than a single state run scheme."?
A: I made the statement on the basis of statements from authoritative experts.
Q: Jenny Shipley: What then is the response to the evidence that the Presbyterian Church and the Salvation Army who are paying less, and At Work Insurance who have reduced accident rates.
A: I would refer the member to evidence to the Select Committee in 1998. I believe both employers and employees will benefit from a scheme which does not include the unpredictable costs of competition. We are not willing to accept evidence in the short term which is clearly affected by loss-leading behaviour of Insurance companies.
Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: Does New Zealand's hosting of the Science Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change next week signal an intention by the Government to show international leadership on reducing greenhouse gases and to set an example in domestic policy?
A: As was stated in the Speech From The Throne the government knows that it has to improve its record in greenhouse gas control and intends to provide leadership in this area. We are delighted NIWA is hosting this meeting.
Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons: When will that leadership lead to considering a carbon tax?
A: It is expected that those issues will be considered in the comprehensive review of taxation which is going to be carried out and we welcome Green Party input to the terms of reference for that review.
Rt Hon Jenny Shipley (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: Why did the Government agree to superannuation arrangements with the former Commissioner of Police worth $4,500 per year for the rest of his life to get him to undertake six months' work on Maori crime prevention when Mr Doone has stated that his decision to resign was made independently and prior to any offer of a settlement package and her comments that her Government "does not wish to start its term by making payments to people for doing nothing"?
A: The assumption made in the members question was not the reason for the terms of departure of Mr Doone.
Q: Jenny Shipley: How can she explain the explicit mention of superannuation in the Attorney general's letter to Mr Doone?
A: The government required Mr Doone to work out six months notice - unlike the opposition who, when in government, on several occasions paid large sums to people for doing nothing. As is well known Mr Doone made a serious error of judgement and that led to his resignation. The government recognised however that his record included valuable experience and we wanted to use that experience.
Judy Keall (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: What factors were taken into account when determining the size of the recently announced increase in New Zealand superannuation?
A: In October 1999 the government decided to break the accord and move the floor in super to a lower percentage of the average wage. We have restored that floor in order to ensure that superannuitants will stay in touch with other New Zealanders. Taking a mere fraction of the positive response Grey Power, Age Concern and Charles Waldegrave and Michael Cullen's mum are all very happy.
Rodney Hide (ACT) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: What is Treasury's estimate for a married couple's pension, set at 65% of the average wage, on 1 April 2003 using the old average wage measure, and what is its estimate using the new average wage measure announced at the beginning of this year?
A: Using the new average earnings measure the married rate will by $367 a week. There is no way of working it out under the previous measure which is no longer being calculated. I can confirm that under the National Alliance bloc pensioners would have got less.
Q: Why haven't the adjusted the floor for Super yet?
A: I think that is a stunning question from a member who voted to lower the floor from 65% to 60%.
(Rodney Hide - ACT: Leave to table a treasury paper - granted.)
Grant Gillon (Alliance) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton :
Q: What is the expected effect on regional development of the Government's $21.42c a week increase in the base rate of New Zealand superannuation?
A: The increase in super will pump money into local economies. South Islanders will get $97 million. Super increases tend to be spent in local shops and that will provide lots of benefits to regional development. In Rakaia 6700 superannuitants are better off than under the government of the member of Rakaia.
Q: Bill English (National): Can he confirm that he is taking money out of these areas too in tax increases?
A: I can confirm that the member for Southland has told people in Southland he will attempt to ensure that Southland gets a fair slice of the pie and I look forward to hearing from him on this.
Dr Nick Smith (Conservation) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: What discussions did he have with the Chancellor of Victoria University regarding the resignation of the Vice Chancellor, and when did those discussions take place?
A: On the 17th of January the Chancellor offered to brief me on this matter. I declined and said he should brief the Minister of .State Services. I have since been advised that this was appropriate.
Q: Nick Smith (National): Can he confirm that he was briefed and approved the deal and that his colleague then bagged the deal?
A: No. It is a bit rich for that member to come into this house following the record of his government in these matters.
Helen Duncan (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: What reports has he received on the cost of education initiatives?
A: Figures in the pre-election fiscal update underestimated primary teachers salaries by $32 million. I was advised of this in December. The previous minister was advised of this two weeks before the election.
Q: Helen Duncan: What action was taken?
A: Dr Smith and the Treasurer received a briefing on this and chose to suppress it.
Q: Nick Smith (National - the previous minister): Can he confirm that the costs are a tiny fraction. On balance the fiscal position of the new governments is much better.
A: I can confirm that that minister knew the figures were wrong two weeks before the election and that he hid that fact from the public to protect his Treasurer.
Q: Brian Donnelly (NZ First): What are the costs of scrapping the fully funded option?
A: I do not have that yet but I hope it will be nil.
Tony Ryall (National) to the Minister for Broadcasting Marion Hobbs:
Q: What directions does she intend to give to the board of Television New Zealand on the handling of contracts for its channels' presenters?
A: The process surrounding the appointment of personnel is the responsibility of the board. The board is well aware of the problems . At the end of the day any director must maintain the confidence of shareholders.
Q: Tony Ryall: Why does she continue to have confidence in the CEO of TVNZ?
A: All senior contracts are currently approved by the board - they may not have been at that stage.
Q: Tony Ryall: Given that the CEO approved this contract and has done every contract for the last three years why does she still have confidence in him?
A: I have been given to understand by the board head that that particular contract was not approved by the board. The government can bring about change in TVNZ by appointing the board and by changing the statement of corporate intent and by legislating for a broadcasting charter which will remove the commercial imperative.
Q: Peter Dunne (United) : Does she have confidence in the CEO?
A: Yes I have confidence so far, in the matters that have been disclosed to me, I still have more questions however.
Q: Richard Prebble (ACT) Why?
A: I have confidence in the CEO because she has been acting…
MULTIPLE INTERJECTIONS: He! He, not she.
A: I apologise. I have been confusing the chairwoman and the CEO. It is not the position of the Minister to have any say over the performance of the CEO. It is my duty to have confidence in the board.
CLARIFICATION: I have no role in having confidence in the CEO. I can say however that I have confidence in the board chair who was acting in accordance with the statement of corporate intent approved by the previous government. For the fifteenth time in reply it is not my role to have confidence in the CEO. He is responsible to the board and the member should address the question to the board.
Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Why is it not her role to have confidence in the TVNZ CEO when she has opinions on Mr Hawkesby and her government has opinions on lots of other CEOs?
A: I have made no comments on the performance of any of the presenters.
Graham Kelly (Labour) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:
Q: What insights did he get from his visit to East Timor in relation to New Zealand's Defence Force?
A: The New Zealand forces as I indicated in the motion to the house this afternoon have displayed outstanding professionalism. The Australian force commander Major General Cosgrove was extremely complementary of the officers and men of the NZ force in East Timor. Some of their equipment may be out of date but they have faced those difficulties ably. We are planning to stop the slide in defence spending which occurred under the last government. We will be reassessing priorities and we will proceed with that assessment. I think the clear impression I gained from East Timor is that NZ must have a balanced defence capability that is complementary with our defence partners.
Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): Having seen the conditions in East Timor and knowing the comparative pay and allowances of NZ service personnel can he provide an assurance that defence pay rates will be reviewed?
A: Part of the wide-ranging review includes the need to consider resources. That is the intention of this government.
Belinda Vernon (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: Whom did he consult on his decision to scrap the compulsory budget advice scheme for beneficiaries in receipt of more than three special needs grants from Work and Income New Zealand within one year?
A: Abolishing the compulsory advice scheme was Labour policy before the election and unsurprisingly it still is. I will and have discussed this change with several groups. The Labour Alliance government intends to move to a more responsive system providing advice to people on a voluntary basis when it is needed.
COMPLEMENTS FROM SPEAKER JONATHAN HUNT: I think we went through a record number of supplementary questions today - 40 by my count - and I commend the members for that.