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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day

Today's Questions relate to: ACC - Fishery Sustainability - ACC - Prison Sentences - At Work Insurance - East Timor - TVNZ - Student Costs - Victoria University Payout - Community Employment - HFA - NZ's External Accounts - ACC Submissions.

Questions For Oral Answer Wednesday, 09 February 2000

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

(Before question time several points of order were raised by the opposition on the transferring of questions. Concern related particularly to the transfer of questions from Associate ACC Minister Ruth Dyson to ACC Minister Michael Cullen. Leave was sought to transfer question three to Ruth Dyson and it was refused. Rodney Hide wanted to know who would take questions and who would not. The Speaker said that this wasn't his responsibility.)

Question 1.

Rt Hon. Jenny Shipley (National) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

(Point of Order - Jenny Shipley: This question was asked originally of the Prime Minister. This question arose out of an answer the Prime Minister gave yesterday in which she referred to some material. Transfer of this question is an abuse - we should have the opportunity to test her arguments on this subject.

Speaker: I regard this as an area that the standing orders committee should have a look at. The Speaker can prevent an abusive transfer. However this can only happen in extraordinary circumstances - such as when there is special knowledge that only the minister asked the original question could be expected to have. This is not an abuse. The general rule that ministers shall decide who shall answer questions shall prevail.

The matter was then further litigated by the Jenny Shipley and Richard Prebble. Mr Prebble said that if Michael Cullen knows what is in the mind of the Prime Minister then the house should accept that.)

Q: Was the report the Prime Minister referred to yesterday in her answer to oral question No. 2 the Thomason-Burton report, which compared Canadian and United States public and private models of workers' compensation?

A: This report was one of a number of reports referred to.

Q: Having looked at all the material looked at by the committee in 1998 there was only this report referring to the Canadian and United States that I can find. Is this the report she referred to.

A: Canada was mentioned by the Prime Minister in a supplementary question not the principle question.

(More points of order: Jenny Shipley - she either made this up or referred to this report. The Prime Minister should not hide behind Michael Cullen. We should not be subjected to this sort of shuffling from the Government. The PM is the only person who can tell us which particular document she was referring to in her answer yesterday. Michael Cullen - I cannot be held responsible for the fact the member has asked the wrong question. Speaker - speakers are not responsible for the answers given)

Q: Graeme Kelly (Labour): What other studies on this exist?

A: There are lots of reports on this. Several reports listed.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT) - Is the reason that he did not mention the Canadian Report in his answer because the Canadian and US report says that competition is better?

A: The Canadian and US experience comes from a different environment in which the right to sue still exists. I intend to inform the PM that the Victorian Government having looked at this issue decided not to privatise Accident Compensation.

(Richard Prebble - ACT - leave sought to table a Canadian report - granted.
Jenny Shipley - National - Leave sought to table the Thomason report and emails from Thomason - granted.)

Question 2.

Damien O'Connor (Labour) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:

Q: What independent reports has he received on the adequacy of research into the sustainability of New Zealand's fisheries?

A: I have received two reports as have we all. The Auditor General said Marine Research was insufficient and may not comply with the law. The second report was from the Parliamentary Commission for the Environment which had similar findings. The recommendations in these reports were that more research is needed. The member will be pleased to hear that these recommendations accord with current government policy.

Q: Doug Kidd (National) - Does he intend to impose more levies on the fishing industry?

A: It seems to me that there will need to be a mixture of funding to fund extra research.

Question 3.

Hon. Ken Shirley (ACT) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

Q: In view of the statement on Morning Report by the New Zealand Insurance Council that there has been a more than forty percent saving in workers' lives in the six months' experience of choice in accident insurance and the Associate Minister for Accident Insurance's statement to the effect that six months was too short a period to draw conclusions, why will the Government not delay the reversion to a State monopoly accident insurance system until we know whether choice in such insurance saves lives?

A: In my view the Insurance Council's statement is an inaccurate and misleading statement of the evidence and this does not surprise me. As far as I can see there has been a steady fall in fatalities for some time. The Insurance Council's claims were based on 13 accidents from July to November. That compares with 14 in the same period in 1997. There is a historic tendency for more accidents to occur in the summer months and the Insurance Council made the mistake of annualising a figure from the winter months. There is no evidence to prove that state accident insurance can continue to reduce the number of fatalities in work accidents. The Insurance Council continues to make many inflated claims.

Question 4.

Peter Brown (NZ First) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:

Q: Is he taking action to give effect to the overwhelming direction by 92% of voters to strengthen corrective measures for offenders; if so, what is that action?

A: We are taking action. I am aware that 92% are dissatisfied with the policies of the previous government. I am looking to alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders. I also want to improve the lot of victims. The question of victims is a central issue for the government. Budgetary implications of proposals in this area are being assessed at present. I am committed to building on work done by the department of corrections in this area.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National) - Does he have any plans to increase sentences for violent offenders - including removing the two thirds parole rule?

A: The government plans to make effective steps after looking at research not make changes simply for the purpose of vote catching?

Question 5.

Gerry Brownlee (National) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

Q: Further to the Prime Minister's comments alleging private insurers are loss leading, in response to oral question No. 2 yesterday, how does he explain that the Government's own insurer, @Work, has managed to report a significant profit on its activities?

A: @Work insurance is not a private insurer.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National) - @Work is an SOE. Given that @Work has returned a substantial profit when it has only a limited presence in the fag end of the market. Does he believe they have been loss leading?

A: I am surprised that a National member would refer to the small business sector as the fag end of the market.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National) - If @Work is not operating effectively then how can he assert that it is a small business?

A: I did not say it was a small business I said it had a large share of the small business market.

Question 6.

Chris Carter (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What reports has he had on actions to bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations in East Timor?

A: I have received an oral report from INTERFET saying that 30 people will be tried on murder charges. I have also received reports from the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission naming 31 people and a report from an international body suggesting an international tribunal may be helpful . President Wahid has said that the offenders will be brought to justice and with encouragement I am sure that Indonesia will do the right thing. President Wahid has asked for the resignation of General Wiranto and he has also said that Mr Wiranto should be brought to trial after his case has been investigated. He has also said that Mr Wiranto would - if found guilty - receive a pardon. If this occurs then the international community can assess what other remedies it may have.

Q: Will the government seek evidence on the contribution to human rights abuses by governments who turned a blind eye to what happened in East Timor for so long?

A: The member goes too far. Certainly there is justified criticism of past governments failure to act to stop human rights abuses. But that does not mean they can be held responsible.

Question 7.

Tony Ryall (National) to the Minister for Broadcasting Marion Hobbs:

Q: What did she mean when she told the Listener, "Well, I suppose that the Government will not get as great a dividend ... but it's not going to say that. [The Government] is still going to hope for commercial success. I can't say to them [at TVNZ] that I expect no dividend because, if I do that, I wipe out $60 million from our books. I'm not free to do that."?

A: I meant that alongside an expectation of a return to dividend to the government there is also an obligation on TVNZ to meet its obligations to the community.

Q: Tony Ryall (National) - If TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis is one of the heads that role can we have an assurance that he will not get a golden handshake or a six month holiday in the PM's department?

A: Any decision on the employment of Rick Ellis or otherwise remains firmly with the board of TVNZ.

Question 8.

Nanaia Mahuta (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What action has he taken to reduce the costs of tertiary education for students?

A: We have done lots of things to help students - we have a very good story to tell in this area. I have had an overwhelming response to these policy changes. Even Michael Cullen's children like these changes.

Q: Has he done anything to help ex students?

A: The government will be moving on two more parts of its policy. We will work on how to help with the repayment of loans incurred under National and conduct a comprehensive review

Question 9.

Dr Nick Smith (National) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: On what date was he told of the terms of resignation of the Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University, and by whom?

A: On the 25th of January I was told of the resignation date by the Chancellor. I was not told the financial details.

Q: (Nick Smith - National) What was the source of information in his statement made six days earlier? And was the source the Minister of Tertiary Education?

A: To the last part of the question - no. I expect employment contracts in future to follow a conservative model.

Q: (Nick Smith - National) Will the minister state what is specifically wrong with the contract of the former Vice Chancellor or will he concede that the problem is the high levels of damages awarded in the Employment Court?

A: Both these things are problems.

Question 10.

Sue Bradford (Green) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What measures is the Government taking to ensure that Community Employment is adequately carrying out its purpose of working with communities and groups to help create local opportunities for employment?

A: Can I reassure the member that the government is fully committed to community employment. I would like to receive any suggestions on how to improve things from that member.

Q: Sue Bradford (Green) - Is the minister aware of a backlog of applications?

A: Yes I am aware of problems in this area resulting from the merger of the Community Employment Group under the previous National Government - and that is why we are moving quickly in this area now.

Question 11.

Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: How has the cost for the disestablishment of the Health Funding Authority and its absorption into the Ministry of Health been calculated, to establish that the cost will be in the range of $3-$4 million, when her own paper to the Cabinet Business Committee warns that "Considerable uncertainty surrounds the net ongoing fiscal impact of the changes" and suggests they could be significantly higher?

A: Up front costs of the merger arise only from redundancy costs these can be calculated in from the average salary in the HFA and the number of people likely to be made redundant.

Q: Wyatt Creech - Why did she not consult the HFA on this?

A: This information was possible to be gained without consultation with the HFA because it only related to the "up-front" costs of change. These costs are not golden handshakes they are standard redundancy payments. If there are any golden handshakes will be the responsibility of the previous government. That said there will not be any golden handshakes in this case - there happens to be a redundancy agreement in place - put there by the previous government.

Question 12.

Mark Peck (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What reports has he received on the state of New Zealand's external accounts?

A: Not very pleasant ones. The last figures showed a big deficit. The deficit in December is expected to be big too. I do not believe the deterioration is endemic. I believe it is the responsibility of the economic policies of the previous government.

Q: Bill English (National) - What advice has he had on his spending plans impact on the current account?

A: My advice is that we intend to run a strong fiscal position which will not have a negative effect on the current account. The government will concentrate on transforming the base of the economy to create stronger export growth and also to increase savings levels. There is no simple solution to the problems left by the previous government.

Questions to Members

Question 1.

Hon. Ken Shirley (ACT) to the Chairperson of the Committee on the Accident Insurance (Transitional Provisions) Bill Graham Kelly:

Q: Has the committee decided how many of the submitters requesting to be heard by the committee will have an opportunity to present their evidence; if so, what is that number?

A: The committee is attempting to ensure all will have the opportunity. 224 requested to be heard and a significant number of these have already been heard.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT) -Will he assure the house that the committee will present a balanced report on the more than 1000 submissions presented?

A: I can assure the member that all submitters will be heard and listened too. The committee at its meeting last night decided to have three more sitting days of hearing. In that time we will hear all those who want to be heard.


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