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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day

Today's questions concern: GE Salmon Trials - F16s - NZ's Peacekeepers - IRD Mailout And Medical Records - WINZ Bonuses - F16s - Telecommunications Monopolies - Judith Tizard's Workload - Doctors And ACC - Hawkesby - Energy Efficiency - ACC And Charities.

Questions For Oral Answer Thursday, 24 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.

Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green) to the Minister for the Environment Marion Hobbs:

Q: Can she give an assurance that no genetically engineered salmon eggs, which average 5 mm to 7mm in diameter but could be smaller, escaped through New Zealand King Salmon's 4 mm wire mesh screens during the term of the last Government?

A: I have raised this issue with ERMA. I have their assurance that there is no evidence that eggs may have escaped.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green) What monitoring will be undertaken to ensure that no genetically modified salmon have escaped?

A: I understand the seriousness of what you are asking and understand that MAF will be the body administering it.

Q: Does the Minister have confidence for ERMA?

A: Yes I do have confidence. However The Royal Commission may recommend changes for the way GMO's are managed in NZ. ERMA is the independent authority responsible for controls. Their determinations are in the public domain. Further issues will be considered by the Royal Commission.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Is the Minister aware that GM Pine Trees have been planted in NZ for many years.

A: I am aware that there is much genetic modification that has taken place both to our plant and animal life.

Question 2.

Hon. Max Bradford (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Has her Government made up its mind to cancel the F16 contract?

A: No.

Q: Max Bradford (National) When the PM finally decides on this issue will she take into accounts made by Paul Dibbs, defence analyst.

A: No I am much more likely to take into account the views of Major General Cosgrove who has praised the contribution of the NZ troops in East Timor. The government will make a decision when it has received Mr Quigley's report and considered it. The government has asked Mr Quigley to write the report because he has great expertise in the area. We are concerned in general about the defence capital plan which if implemented in full now would cost double what it would have done when it was written.

Q: Max Bradford (National) Can she confirm that MGEN Cosgrove appreciates air support?

A: He can't have relied on the NZ Skyhawks for air cover because they weren't there.


Question 3.

Dianne Yates to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: What recent reports has she received in relation to New Zealand's peacekeeping activities?

A: I have received very positive reports from Kofi Annan and from MGEN Peter Cosgrove for the contribution of out troops there. We are reviewing our defence purchasing plans so they are consistent with the likely tasks of forces will be assigned to.

Q: Max Bradford (National) Is she aware that NZ troops would rather be supported by NZ air cover and Naval Support?

A: No I am not aware of any such view held by the NZ army. It is highly likely that NZ peacekeepers will in the future serve alongside other forces. There is no more sense in chipping that we rely on others than there is to say that the Australian's rely on us for foot soldiers.

(Max Bradford - leave sought to table paper - granted.)

Q: Ron Mark (NZ First) - can she confirm that the major concern of soldiers is about pay, conditions and equipment?

A: I entirely concur with the view of Ron Mark.

Question 4.

Rodney Hide to the Minister of Revenue Max Bradford:

Q: What consideration did the Inland Revenue Department give to privacy issues when it mailed a letter to all taxpayers earning over $60,000, in a distinctive envelope marked with an orange band?

A: Very little I can imagine because the envelope is used for lots of mailouts..

Q: Has he had any complaints from people who have been told that they must be lucky to earn so much when they went to pick up their mail?

A: No. No and No. Last year 540,000 of the same envelopes were sent to those whose earnings were around $38,000 a year.

Q: Are you concerned about taxpayer privacy?

A: Yes. However to protect the integrity of the tax system it is sometimes necessary to use section 17 of the Tax Administration Act. In a recent case in an investigation referred to by Mr Hide the complaint concerned someone in the Special Audit category - that relating to drugs, crime and gangs. When investigations are being undertaken into crime and gangs suspicions may arise when the person says they are too ill to be interviewed.

The postal campaign was simply to inform people about their liabilities which, surprise surprise, some people did not know about.

Question 5.

Hon. Brian Donnelly (NZ First) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Have bonuses been paid to any members of staff within WINZ who were in any way involved in the payment of student allowances or tertiary fees; if so, were bonuses awarded for exceeding the expectations of their managers or exceeding project targets?

A: No. I am informed that payments were made to 40 people none in the student loans or allowances area. I will be instructing WINZ to review the operation of staff bonuses to ensure they are granted based on measurable performance.

Q: Was the Minister informed there were likely to be problems with Student Loans in December?

A: Prior to Christmas the government was looking at this area to find out if problems would arise.

Question 6.

Hon. Roger Sowry (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Does she stand by her comments, as reported on last night's Television One News, that Defence officials have not given "any reliable advice" on exit costs for the F16 deal?

A: Yes. I haven't seen anything from them.

Q: Can she confirm that the head of defence is the same head of defence referred to by her Minister of State Services as incompetent , but who cannot be removed because a large golden handshake would need to be paid?

A: No.

Q: Why have Treasury officials been sent to Washington.

A: Because the cost of exit is obviously a consideration. Treasury officials were considered to be the best qualified to give advice on this.

Q: Will the PM confirm that Treasury said the F16 deal was the best deal one could expect?

A: If the money were there and if you agreed on the priority to be given to this area then that might be what they would think. These are big ifs.

Question 7.

(Richard Prebble: Point of order - raised a question of authentication concerning the question arguing that there is no local line monopoly and that the question is therefore out of order - rejected by Speaker)

Kevin Campbell to the Minister of Communications Trevor Mallard:

Q: Will the ministerial inquiry into telecommunications consider the issue of unbundling Telecom's local telephone line monopoly?

A: The issue of unbundling will be considered by the inquiry because the question of bundling has not been addressed here, while it has been considered elsewhere and dealt with. It seems to be extraordinarily rare for the local loop to be owned as it is in New Zealand. I think the associate minister's comments are fair and that there are monopoly prices in NZ. and I think that reducing prices on a street by street basis is something NZers would find unreasonable. Upgrading number portability is an issue that will be addressed. There is a view in legal circles that the Commerce Act may not be sufficient to manage this area.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Would he like to review what he said about Telecom being a bad company?

A: Telecom does lots of wonderful things. It also in my opinion acts in an anti-competitive manner on occasion. I have been aware for several months about uncertainty about expansion plans by Saturn, which were delayed awaiting more certainty in this area.

Question 8.

Hon. Murray McCully (National) to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Auckland Issues Judith Tizard:

Q: What specific progress has she made to date towards fulfilling the ministerial responsibilities she outlined to Parliament on 22 December as working "with the Prime Minister to co-ordinate, develop, and implement the policies that will allow Auckland to grow in a positive and dynamic fashion for the benefit of Auckland and the rest of New Zealand"?

A: I have had discussions about possible policy initiatives with lots of local bodies and other groups including Transfund.

Q: Is she aware that there is a growing view in Auckland that Heather Simpson has some relevant papers on this and has attended some meetings and that .she is in fact the Minister responsible for helping the PM with Auckland issues?

A: This government works with its staff rather than has its staff working against it. We have been working with several councils on the pre-implementation phase of a project to deal with a solution for North Shore transport problems.

Q: Has she noticed any difference between being the member for Auckland Central and becoming a Minister?

A: The main difference is that I am now talking to several councils outside the Auckland isthmus and that I am also talking to groups outside Auckland altogether.

Q: Does she think she deserves an LTD?

A: No one other than the PM has an lTD they are all Ford Fairlanes.

Question 9.

Harry Duynhoven to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen :

Q: Has he been informed of any reports from medical practitioners regarding the proposed repeal of the Accident Insurance Act 1998?

A: I have seen a number of reports from practitioners concerned about both the complexity of treatment claims, compliance costs, and about the under-reporting of accidents. These then listed in answer to a supplementary. Some doctors are avoiding paper work by treating patients instead under the GMS scheme.

(Gerry Brownlee - asked an angry question and was told that he would not be asking anymore today by the speaker.)

Question 10.

Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech (National) to the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson:

Q: What are her responsibilities as Attorney-General when she either sees, or sees the potential for, a Minister by his or her actions to expose themselves, their departments or entities in their portfolio area to legal risks?

A: The AG encourages ministers to take legal advice when legal issues affecting their actions arise.

Q: Has she advised her PM that the arbitration report in the Hawkesby case could not be used in High Court proceedings but that statements from the PM and other ministers in this house can be and that they are the reason TV3 is now suing?

A: In that instance I am sure legal advice was taken. I have advised all ministers that when they need advice they should seek it. I am not their nanny and I do not advise them to come to me every time they think they might need legal advice. They are responsible ministers.

(Leave refused for the tabling of a paper by National concerning ACC.)

Question 11.

Georgina Beyer to the Minister of Energy:

Q: What does the Government plan to do to address the current state of energy efficiency in New Zealand?

A: The government is serious about energy efficiency. The recommendations in the recent PCE report are generally in line with Government policy.

Q: Why does the minister think promotion of efficiency is good for NZ?

A: It is at the heart of this government's energy policy because it shows the most cost-effective way to make the economy more competitive and it addresses environmental issues at the same time.

A: (In answer to Pansy Wong question): Yes it is true that Labour Party policy includes retrofitting state houses with insulation and to possibly using procurement policies to ensure alternative fuel vehicles are used by the Government to speed up technology transfer.

Question 12.

Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

Q: Has he received or been informed of any reports on the extent of the savings that have been made in workplace accident insurance costs by charitable, social service and community work agencies as a result of the introduction of competitive workplace accident insurance, and indicating that these savings have enabled these agencies to spend more on their "core business"?

A: Yes.

Q: Since he has received that information is he prepared to give an assurance that Plunket workplace insurance costs will not raise again on the reintroduction of a compulsory monopoly scheme?

A: I am confident the new scheme will be better than the old. It is clear that in the past many categories of work - such as women's refuge - have been inappropriately classified in the past. A new classification has been established for them. Some of the organisations were also confused about what they were paying for and what they were getting. The Richmond Fellowship in particular got its figures seriously wrong. I am very, very, very confident that the new premium rate will be lower than the present rate once the new scheme is launched.

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