Today's questions concern: Fringe Benefit Tax - TVNZ Jack Ups - East Timor Development - Victoria's Vice Chancellor Payout - Trade Prospects - Infrastructure Auckland - WINZ Accountability - INCIS - ACC and Accredited Employers - Departmental Accountability To Maori -ACC - Maori Language Broadcasting.
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.
SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS
Mark Peck (Labour) to the Minister of Revenue Michael Cullen:
Q: Is the Government considering reducing the rate of tax levied on fringe benefits supplied to low and middle income individuals; if so, why?
A: Yes indeed. Tax should be imposed in accordance with a persons ability to pay. Advice today indicates that benefits can be attributed to specific employees and therefore taxed at the rate that those employees should be taxed. Without changes to this FBT would be taxed at 39% on fringe benefits.
Q: Annabel Young (National): When will the Minister stop brainstorming outline and present concrete proposals?
A: The first legislation on this should be in the house by the end of March.
Rt Hon. Jenny Shipley (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: What evidence did she have to back up her statement reported in the Dominion of 14 February that the comments by Judy Bailey and Richard Long in the Sunday Star Times were a "jack-up"?
A: I was surprised to see comments in the SST on this given that the day before the NZ Herald had reported that they had both declined to be interviewed.
Q: Jenny Shipley: Does she accept the statement from the editor of the SST that it was not a jack up? And will she apologise?
A: Prima facie two different news outlets got different treatment. One got interviews the other didn't. I read in the NZ Herald that TVNZ has threatened to sack people who talk out of turn to the media.
Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Did she make it up?
A: I have two pieces of evidence. That they declined an interview and that the following day they granted one. I accept that the SST rang the staff members and was granted an interview. I would like to know why the NZ Herald was not given the same treatment.
Willie Jackson (Alliance) to the Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Official Development Assistance) Matt Robson:
Q: What reports has he received on the impact of New Zealand's official development assistance to East Timor and what plans are there for further aid to East Timor?
A: I have seen a number of reports on this. When the crisis began we were quick to respond to it. In all NZ has contributed over $1.8 million in development. And has contributed more to a loan fund. We now intend to explore more areas in which we can help.
Q: Simon Upton (National): Does the minister's attention to East Timor involve any reprioritisation of ODA expenditure?
A: We do not want any more suffering, there was enough under the last government. No other part of the ODA budget will suffer as a result of reprioritisation. The most difficult part of the problem is the scale of the problem. The visit of the UNSG will help us to look at our priorities.
Q: Would VSA be able to help?
A: Yes that is one that is being looked at at the moment.
Q: Simon Upton (National): How much more money will he be seeking?
A: We will be looking at every possible way of increasing the amount of aid we may give.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith (National) to the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson:
Q: What discussions has she had with the Chancellor of Victoria University regarding the resignation of the University's Vice-Chancellor?
A: I recall meeting with the Chancellor Mr Marshall, he told me the Vice Chancellor was leaving. At no time did he brief me on the settlement. The information he passed on was not in my capacity of Attorney General?
Q: Nick Smith (National): Did she not tell Mr Marshall that a payment of one years wages would be necessary?
A: I have no recollection of making that statement. He did visit me in December and told me that the Vice Chancellor had resigned.
Q: Nick Smith (National): Can she explain why, if the discussions were of no moment, they were mentioned in a letter to the SSC and in a report to the Minister of SSC?
A: I do not know why Mr Marshall made that statement.
(Nick Smith - leave sought to table some documents - leave granted.)
Mahara Okeroa (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:
Q: Did his trip to Bangkok and Singapore do anything to improve New Zealand's trade prospects?
A: Yes. As leader of the NZ delegation to the Bangkok conference I was able to demonstrate NZ's support for a new round of multilateral trade talks . My talks in Singapore confirmed that we are on track to developing a free trade agreement with Singapore. The free trade agreement with Singapore will advance NZ's trade interests in opening new markets and reducing compliance costs. It will also allow us to work towards a wider free trade agreement with South East Asia.
Q: John Luxton (National): Does he still think his Alliance colleagues are misguided?
A: If there is anyone misguided around here it is the opposition.
Q: Owen Jennings (ACT): Did he discuss the 5% Alliance tariff idea in Singapore?
Q: Rod Donald (Green): Does the fact Singapore has no minimum wage mean NZ workers will be assisted by an agreement or not?
A: It is my intention to bring before Parliament a free trade agreement which will benefit the NZ economy, and the member can discuss that at the time. I am aware that like the promised free trade agreement with the US - that was one of a long list of promises never delivered on by the National Government.
Hon. Murray McCully (National) to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland Issues Judith Tizard:
Q: What advice has she given the Prime Minister on a review of Infrastructure Auckland?
A: I have not said it should be abolished - I have said that is one of the options. We are discussing with Auckland and Aucklanders more widely how to develop Auckland infrastructure. The Prime Minister has not sought any advice and there is no split in opinion - there are a wide range of views.
Dr Muriel Newman (ACT) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: In view of the ongoing problems with WINZ, which of his positions on chief executive Christine Rankin applies today:: last year's calls for her resignation, or his reported statement that she was an impressive and dedicated public servant, or that "the buck certainly stops with Mrs Rankin" and that "We will be holding WINZ accountable ..."?
A: The CEO of WINZ will be held accountable for all actions of her department this stands in complete contrast to the policy of the former government.
Q: Muriel Newman (ACT): Does he stand by his statements that she may have to go?
A: The statements have been made clearly on the record that we will evaluate the Student Loan system in March and accountabilities will be applied. The State Services Commissioner is the employer of CEOs, he has assured me he is acting in an appropriate manner as the employer.
Martin Gallagher (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:
Q: What reports has he received concerning lessons to be learnt from the INCIS debacle?
A: I have received a copy of a report from the SSC. Principally the report shows that the project was not managed properly and makes the point that future projects of this nature should be kept to a more manageable size. The report recommends that the mainframe computer be sold. I am concerned that so much time has been wasted on such a dog of a project. The National Government should have followed the good advice of Maurice Williamson on this issue.
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Has he seen reports from Nandor Tanczos that police have been smoking cannabis and could this be the reason….
SPEAKER: That has nothing to do with this….next question.
Gerry Brownlee (National) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:
Q: Will employers who qualify for the proposed new accredited employers' scheme be able to self-insure or re-insure with the private sector?
A: Final details on this will be settled within the ministerial framework. My legal advice is that no change is required to the bill as introduced to allow this to happen.
Q: Has he established the support of the Greens for this?
A: We have been at one with the Greens from the beginning on this issue. I am also very grateful to Federated Farmers on this.
Q: Is he comfortable with the CEO of ACC telling employers that they will be able to reinsure?
A: I think the CEO of the ACC would say he has not been doing that.
(Gerry Brownlee - Leave sought to table a presentation from the CEO of ACC - granted.)
Hon. Bill English (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Is it Government policy to amend the Public Finance Act to empower the Government to remove money from departments which fail to deliver results to Maori?
A: It is government policy to ensure that government departments meet our aims of closing the gaps. Labour Party policy said that departments would be audited to ensure they meet our aims that does not necessarily mean changes to the Public Finance Act.
Q: Bill English (National): What discussions will he have with his Maori caucus about the Public Finance ACT?
A: I am confident we will come out with practical and workable solutions. Deciding whether to remove money from a department is a matter that concerns who will be the losers. If the losers will be the intended beneficiaries then removing money may not help.
Graham Kelly (Labour) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:
Q: What benefits, if any, have been achieved from meeting industry organisations regarding the proposed repeal of the Accident Insurance Act?
A: I have had a number of helpful meetings concerning the self-employed and improvements will be forthcoming.
Q: Can he confirm that the overwhelming preference of business not to reinstate a government monopoly in this area?
A: I can confirm that that is the only preference of the Insurance Council and that it is unwilling to discuss anything else. Federated Farmers and I agreed to disagree on the point of principle, and we then had good discussions about details.
Hon. Georgina Te Heu heu (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marion Hobbs:
Q: Has she received a report recommending freezing tenders for Maori language programmes?
A: Yes a report made such a recommendation to me. The Minister has no control and cannot recommend to TMP any action but I can confirm that we have decided not to make those recommendations public to avoid destabilisation. I hope to have a report to cabinet on this by mid March.
Q: Penny Webster (ACT): Does she agree with Willie Jackson that Te Reo should be broadcast in prime-time on mainstream TV.
A: Te Reo is an official language of our country and there is a commitment for broadcasting in Te Reo. I intend to see that commitment honoured.