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Questions Of The Day 15 Feb 2000

Today's questions concern: ACC Work Capacity Test - WINZ and Student Loans - Farmers And ACC - TIE Education Scheme - TVNZ Board - Days Of Our Lives - WINZ Inquiry - Student Loans Admin - Women's Refuges ACC Premiums - Power Prices - HFA Redundancies - State House Sales - TVNZ

Questions For Oral Answer Tuesday, 15 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.


Question 1.

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

Q: Does he intend to make any changes to the current work capacity assessment procedure for accident compensation?

A: Yes, the intention is to use it as a rehabilitation clause rather than as a removal of cover clause. We will ensure that only those who have received quality rehabilitation will have the clause applied to them thereby improving rehabilitation. We will encourage employers and state agencies to find appropriate work for those who cannot return to their old jobs.

Q: Jenny Shipley: What relation exists between managing down the tail - quote from last week's question time - and the work capacity test?

A: I did not say we were going to repeal the work capacity test. We will use it in the way it is intended - as a tool for rehabilitation.

Question 2.

David Benson-Pope to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Is he satisfied that the student loan administration system transferred to WINZ this year is working adequately; if not, why not?

A: No I am not satisfied with the Student Loan administration system as it is operating by WINZ. Problems seem to be at the interface between WINZ and universities. In the meantime can I ask students to ring the loans office at off-peak hours. I would have to lay this problem squarely at the feet of the National Government - after the fiasco of last year the government went ahead with the transfer. The government did not pilot the system as it should have done.

Q: Why did he say he was sure WINZ had the situation under control earlier this year, was the wool pulled over his eyes?

A: Yes that has been the situation. But as far as allowances are concerned the system is working for them. Otherwise this government will have to deal with the mess left by the National Party.

Q: Roger Sowry (National) Can he confirm that he voted for the change to move loans last year?

A: Yes I did vote for the change because it was Labour policy - but the mess is National's fault because it doesn't care.

Question 3.

Dr Lockwood Smith (National) to the Minister of Agriculture Jim Sutton:

Q: Does he support policies that lead to reducing costs to farmers?

(Michael Cullen on behalf): Yes.

Q: Lockwood Smith: Will he then support farmers opposition to ACC changes? Specifically yes or no?

A: No.

Q: Damien O'Connor (Labour): What will the government do to reduce costs to farmers?

A: We have launched an electricity inquiry. We will be looking at telecommunications. And we will look at adding value to the produce from the farms because that is the most secure way of improving the farmers lot.

Q: Does he agree with Michael Cullen that farmers arrange their taxation affairs to avoid tax and ACC costs?

A: Yes. Dr Cullen is confirming a deeply held view based on lots of information.

Question 4.

Donna Awatere Huata (ACT) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What were the conclusions from the 1997 and 1998 targeted individual entitlement evaluation report to the Ministry of Education on the academic progress of targeted individual entitlement students?

A: The final evaluation report of the TIE scheme found that children on the TIE scheme had progressed in a similar manner to other students at the schools involved. I also note that the families of those who participated in the scheme were generally of middle social and economic status. I agree with Nick Smith who said it was a dopey idea that never should have made it off first base. Maori representation in this scheme was no higher than in schools as a whole and among Pacific Islanders it was less - in that regard it has been a failure.

Question 5.

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

Q: Since she now reports "some of my perceptions have changed", does she still have confidence in the Board of Television New Zealand?

A: I am confident that once changes have been made to the board we will be able to move forwards constructively.

Q: Tony Ryall (National): Can she give us an assurance that Rick Ellis will not receive a golden handshake and if not why not?

A: Mr Ryall full well knows as former Minister of SOE's that that is an operational matter.

Q: When will appointments be made to the board?

A: I would hope to be able to announce a new chair and one new member in the next two weeks. While I have had concerns about the Hawkesby fiasco, it would have been inappropriate for me to jump to conclusions before I was fully informed.

Q: Peter Dunne (United NZ): Has she got a job-description for new directors?

A: I have that in hand at the moment and will be seeking a skill balance on the board as per CCMAU procedure.

Question 6.

Steve Chadwick to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: What issues led to the need for a ministerial review into WINZ?

A: Almost since its inception WINZ has been at the centre of controversy. There has been extravagance and lots of money spent on re-branding and other things. Including an expensive conference at Wairakei This government wants a culture change in the public service. Staff will be provided to run the review from inside the existing public service. The CEO was the protégé of Jenny Shipley and appointed by the State Services Commissioner and so it is appropriate to have someone else looking at it - i.e. Don Hunn.

Q: Simon Upton (National): Is this inquiry designed to find the CEO incompetent?

A: No.

Question 7.

Tony Ryall to the Minister of Broadcasting Marion Hobbs:

Q: Why does she consider there is "no point in having Kiwi kids watching California 3162 or whatever it's called", yet Days of our Lives "was a good programme, nothing wrong with Days of our Lives"?

A: I think it is particularly important that our young people get quality TV to watch and my viewing habits from 25 years ago are not relevant.

Q: What is consistent in her comments on Days of Our Lives and the objective of quality programming that reflects New Zealand?

A: My viewing habits are not relevant.

Q: Sue Kedgley (Green) What is the timetable for introduction of a quota?

A: We would hope to have quotas in place by the end of the year.

Question 8.

Ian Ewen-Street (Green) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Does he still stand by his statement of 13 January 2000 when he said "It's great to see that WINZ has got its systems performing better this year" in relation to student allowances and loans processing; if so, why?

A: I can't answer the question correctly as it is incorrectly addressed to allowances. We have worked hard to improve the allowances system and had the National Government followed students advice last year we would not have the problems we have now. The problems we are having now with the verification of study system are being worked on right now. A large number of things have been done already. Student service phone lines have been opened on Sundays. 60 new lines have been brought in, 125 new staff have been employed and computers will be staffed from 7am to 10pm daily. These systems are in place for all students who are seeking to enrol, including part time students. In relation to the student allowance processing I stand by a statement made on January 13th.

Question 9.

Dr Muriel Newman (ACT) to the Minister of Women's Affairs Laila Harre:

Q: Is she satisfied with the level of Government assistance to the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges and will this assistance be sustained or improved?

A: $3.6 million is currently provided to women's refuges though the National Collective. I understand this contract is not under review. Recently in partnership workshops there was an intention indicated to extend services.

Q: Muriel Newman (ACT) Will she ensure that Women's Refuges do not lose the $100,000 savings they have made on their ACC premiums?

A: Although I am unable to comment on the specific case there is some confusion about premium levels. We are confident that premiums in the future will be at least as low as they are on average currently.

Q: Does the Minister accept that Women's Refuges have saved $100,000?

A: I have attempted to get information from the National Collective today on this. However in principle the government accepts that a number of organisations have made savings - this reflects the fact that the previous government maintained artificially high premium levels.

Q: Dianne Yates (Labour): Will the government be taking recent policies and changes into account in future funding for Women's Refuges?

A: Yes.

Q: Marie Hasler (National): In light of this $100,000 in savings how can she justify the changes she is about to make?

A: Being unable to confirm the figures the member mentions I will answer generally. The government will have a system in place to deal with employers who manage safety well, as I understand the National Collective of Women's Refuges does, to ensure that they are treated fairly.

Question 10.

David Cunliffe to the Minister of Energy Pete Hodgson:

Q: Has he received any reports on power price projections; if so, what do those reports say?

A: Yes the Ministry of Commerce has reported that assuming markets operate efficiently then prices are expected to stay at similar levels for the next 20 years.

Q: Are those projections consistent with claims prices will fall?

A: No they are not. I expect the inquiry will find that further steps are necessary to ensure prices fall for consumers?

Q: Max Bradford (National) Will the minister confirm that 70% of NZers have access to lower cost power to what they had before the reforms?

A: I can confirm that in theory there are lower prices available, but also that many people try to switch power companies fail to do so.

Question 11.

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

Q: Further to her reply to a supplementary to oral question No. 11 on 9 February, at what point does she consider a redundancy payment becomes a "golden handshake"?

A: Redundancy payments are paid under existing agreements - these agreements were made by the previous National Government. There will be some redundancies. I see that last time round the average payment was $24,000 - this is less than a projected figure of $22,000 in the current round. The previous government spent $4.8 million in redundancies and former CEOs of the RHA's received handshakes of up to $190,000 - when we replaced the HFA CEO no golden handshake was paid.

Question 12.

Ann Hartley to the Minister of Housing:

Q: How many Housing New Zealand Ltd houses have been sold, and what impact has this had on the Government's ability to provide adequate State housing?

A: Since Housing New Zealand's inception over 11,000 houses have been sold. This government has put a freeze on state house sales to ensure it has enough houses to provide to people in need. Figures show 1009 houses were sold to low income families but 3000 were sold to private enterprise.

Q: What are the plans for State Housing in Northcote?

A: I have assured the local member that the government does not plan to sell houses there off but rather to improve their quality.

Q: Brian Donnelly (NZ First): What is he doing about the Hokianga?

A: This government plans to work in areas like the Hokianga to build up housing stock there. There is a problem in this scheme that people had an entitlement after six months to get up to $15,000 to buy a home. Our plan is to ensure housing is affordable. We are going to bring rents down and ensure there are enough houses for people in need.

Leave Granted To Ask An Urgent Question:

Q: Tony Ryall (National): When did she know about the resignation of the TVNZ Chairwoman?

A: Broadcasting Minister Marion Hobbs: I was informed after the 7th question today.


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