Today's questions concerned the subjects of: Australian Defence Ties - Witness Intimidation - TVNZ's Enticement Of Hawkesby - Public Service Bonuses - Maori And Health Reforms - TV2 Content - ACC and Universities - Science In Schools - Christine Rankin's Performance - Closing The Gaps - Tino Rangitiratanga - Govt/Welfare Group Relations
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
Rt Hon. Jenny Shipley (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: On what advice, and by what decision-making process, did she base her reported comments in the Sunday Star Times, in which she said of the New Zealand-Australia defence relationship, "We're not a single strategic entity."?
A: There was a brief cabinet discussion on this matter following a meeting between NZ and Australia defence ministers. We see Australia as our closest defence partner - however that does not make us a single strategic entity in all respects.
Q: Jenny Shipley (National) What pubic consultation was there on this?
A: I have repeated in this house today this government's intention to continue to work closely with Australia.
Q: Given that there are more NZers in Sydney than in Dunedin how can she say we are not a single strategic entity?
A: NZ is a sovereign nation - it shares may strategic considerations with Australia - but this government will always reserve the right to have its own view on issues. We will continue to work with Australia on defence matters.
Q: Keith Locke (Green): Does the PM agree that being a single strategic entity with Australia would mean that we would have had to follow Australia in its backing of the Suharto regime?
A: We have very similar views as Australia on security issues in our region but we reserve the right to come to our own conclusions on issues on a case by case basis.
Q: Jenny Shipley (National): What has happened since the meetings with Alexander Downer and Phil Goff on this?
A: I have seen the transcript of the press conference with the two ministers and there is no change. The Minister said that in Timor NZ and Australian forces acted "practically" as if they were a single entity.
Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Does the PM's view mean she disagrees with the decision to purchase frigates taken by the previous Labour government?
A: I could write a book about debate within the previous Labour government about that particular decision.
Janet Mackey (Labour) to the Minister of Justice Phil Goff:
Q: What safeguards currently exist to protect witnesses from intimidation in criminal trials?
A: Statutory provisions make it a serious offence to intimidate witnesses and provide for witnesses to have anonymity in court. Notwithstanding this intimidation of witnesses remain a serious problem.
Q: Janet Mackey: Are provisions in the Crimes Act adequate?
A: Presently the maximum sentence for perverting the course of justice is 7 years. Recently a gang member who escaped murder by getting a witness to lie avoided a more serious penalty and was jailed for seven years. This is not right.
Q: Is he considering raising the penalty for perjury to 12 years?
A: Clearly a lifetime sentence of perjury is a problem. However the problem referred to earlier is now the subject of a Law Commission report.
Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: What reports and advice did she rely upon when she made the statement that the TVNZ board enticed John Hawkesby from TV3 in a "set up" and that "the deal with Mr Hawkesby was conducted in secret prior to his deal with TV3" ending?
A: I read the report of the arbitrator which confirms the sequence of events.
Q: Wyatt Creech (National) Okay, but on what basis was it a setup?
A: I read the report which makes it perfectly plain that Mr Hawkesby resigned because he had an arrangement with TVNZ. This was subsequently and persistently denied by Mr Hawkesby and TVNZ?
Q: Were the PM's comments on this based on information in the public domain?
A: Yes and TVNZ went to court to put that information in the public domain.
(Later, at the end of questions: Wyatt Creech - leave sought to table the arbitration decision of David Tompkins - granted.)
Donna Awatere Huata (ACT) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:
Q: How does he intend to ensure that performance pay incentives to senior State servants will result in better services to Maori?
A: This government has made reduction of the disparities between Maori and non-Maori a clear priority. This will be made clear in the agreements for the employment and performance of departmental Chief Executives.
Q: Donna Awatere Huata (ACT): Does the minister agree with the PM's statements concerning teachers when she said that performance pay was a destructive force?
A: There is considerable difference between cooperative activity involved in schools and in running a government department. This government doesn't support bonuses which are too large for anybody.
(Donna Awatere Huata - Leave sought to table an address from the PM on performance pay - granted.)
Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: Why is the Government progressing with its plans when advice from Te Puni Kokiri is that "the establishment of District Health Boards may interfere with the significant advancements made over the past ten years in terms of Maori representation ..."?
A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) It is the government's intention to build on advancements made by Maori recently in the health and disability sector. We intend to ensure there is equitable representation for Maori on new health boards. Officials are but one source of free and frank advice to ministers.
Q: Wyatt Creech (National): How does she reconcile that with a statement - quoted - that she made to Mana Maori media on this?
A: That is a comment that the minister and I will be discussing.
Sue Kedgley (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marion Hobbs:
Q: Is she concerned that TV2, the channel which the Prime Minister is reported as saying is a cash cow, is the channel that many children and young people watch and has only 15 percent New Zealand content; if so, how does she intend to ensure that there will be high quality New Zealand programmes available on all free-to-air channels for our children to view?
A: There are three linked mechanisms to ensure our Children will get good programming. One is the charter one is NZ On Air funding and one is targeted quotas. The government will ask TVNZ to consider elimination of advertising around children's programming.
Q: Katherine Rich (National): Why should the public not be allowed to vote on this with their remotes rather than participate in the Government's social engineering programme?
A: They can both vote with their remotes and they can use their voices when we call for consultation on the TVNZ charter.
Gerry Brownlee (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: What reports has he received as Associate Education Minister on the effects on tertiary education institutions of returning accident insurance to a single state-funded monopoly scheme?
A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) I am advised that the answer is none.
Q: Gerry Brownlee (National) Is he aware that Massey University is forecasting a rise in student fees of $30 if premium levels return to previous levels?
A: Massey University does not have a crystal ball and cannot know what its premiums will be. The Insurance Council has been blatantly misleading on this subject. I repeat for the members opposite - the average premium rate under the new system will be lower than the present average weighted premium level.
Q: Will he be advising the Minister for ACC that he will not want premiums to rise?
A: I am sure the Minister of ACC will listen very carefully to any submissions the minister makes.
Nanaia Mahuta (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: What commitment has he made to enhance environmental awareness and scientific understanding in schools?
A: The American Ambassador and I today signed an agreement for NZ schools to participate in Globe - a global environment data collection programme. Globe will take students outside of classrooms but will not stop them learning.
Q: Nick Smith (National) Can he confirm that this programme was approved by the previous government?
A: Yes. But I can confirm that they only did so after being chided by President Clinton when he was here for being so tardy on this.
Dr Muriel Newman (ACT) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: What specifically was the reason for his U-turn on Christine Rankin, chief executive of Work and Income New Zealand, who, after a one hour meeting he described as an impressive and dedicated public servant, when before the election he was scathing in his many personal attacks?
A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) The minister stands by the comments he has made. The CEO will be held responsible for the performance of her department. The CEO of this department is the protégé of the former Prime Minister.
Q: Can the minister confirm that because he thinks with his mouth open….. (Speaker - that question is out of order)
Q: Can the minister confirm that because of his continual undermining that the CEO of WINZ can bring a personal grievance against the government at a cost of up to $2 million, and if not then how much?
A: No. And I hope none. There was no U-turn by the minister in this case.
Q: Peter Dunne (United NZ): Can the minister confirm that the unnamed CEO that the minister of State Services has no confidence in is Christine Rankin?
A: No. The minister is not aware.
Mita Ririnu (Labour) i to the Minister of Maori Affairs Dover Samuels:
Q: What priority does he give to closing the gaps between Maori and non-Maori?
A: Closing the gaps is of the highest priority for myself, my government, my party and a majority of the people of NZ. Public Service CEOs will from now be required to say what they will do to close the gaps. They will be judged on the basis of their performance towards these objectives.
Q: How will the closing of gaps be measured - especially in Education when the minister said there are no benchmarks in education for Maori and no plans to get any?
(Education Minister Trevor Mallard - that question contains a lie - Speaker - the question will be allowed.)
A: Maori parents will clearly decide whether the gaps are closing or not.
Hon. Georgina te Heuheu (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: What did she mean by her comments reportedly signalling the Government is "moving toward self-determination-style Maori development policies", and how is this a "fundamental change in direction"?
A: The words in quotation marks are not taken directly from me but rather are a paraphrase. The change of direction planned will see government developing partnerships which will see Maori guiding their own development. We are well aware that in the community many groups are developing their own strategies - we will not try to pigeon-hole these strategies.
Q: Why will this government be able to make more progress on this than the last government?
A: This government as a whole is seized of a desire to do something. In the past while some ministers were behind these initiatives others were not.
Q: How does she reconcile this with statements from Professor Durie on health services?
A: There is no such risk and I would suggest both Mr Creech and Mr Durie read Labour's Maori health policy in full. We are essentially talking about service delivery here. Government's of all shades have supported these initiatives over the years.
Taito Phillip Field (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment (Employment) Parekura Horomia.
(But Ruth Dyson the Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment (WINZ Administration) answered.)
Q: What was the outcome of the meeting last Thursday between Government officials and benefit advocacy groups?
A: Extremely successful, more than 100 helpful recommendations were noted from the meeting by officials.
(Some debate over whether the question is being answered by the wrong minister - it appears that a mistake was made in the description of the minister's responsibilities. Speaker - I am not making a new ruling here but transfers such as that here should be notified of transfers. Michael Cullen - clearly a mistake was made here. What has happened is an error. I apologise for this.)
Q: Is this the same approach taken by the previous government?
A: No it certainly does not. In the past the government was not interested in listening to beneficiaries or their advocacy groups. We will prioritise and classify these recommendations and then report back to these groups. We will make progress on culture in WINZ as quickly as possible.
Q: Belinda Vernon (National): Is the focus still to get beneficiaries to return to the workforce?
A: The focus of WINZ is to deliver a high quality service to beneficiaries as per the Labour Party manifesto.
(Wyatt Creech - leave sought to table the arbitration decision of David Tompkins - granted.)