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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day

Today's questions concern: Skill Shortages - Employment Relations - Electricity Competition - Advertising Student Loans - Biosecurity Risks - Christine Rankin - Death Of David Israel - Tourism NZ - Draft Food Standards - Health Boards And Maori - Southern Hemisphere Nuclear Free Zone - State Bank Proposal.

Questions For Oral Answer - Thursday, 16 March 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

Question 1.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Is he concerned at recent reports which indicate that employers, particularly those in manufacturing, engineering and commerce, are finding skill shortages a critical issue?

A: Yes I am increasingly concerned. The Department of Labour advises me that there are increasingly skill shortages causing problems. The last thing a growing economy is a legacy from the last government of skills shortages. We are doing several things about this. We have an advisory commission working on it. Next week the PM and I will announce a new apprenticeship scheme. Finally the Employment Relations Bill will foster an environment where employers and employees will concentrate together on issues like training. Employers and Manufacturers are crying out for a rational approach from this government - because it was absent from the last. The most obvious thing to do is for employers to invest more in training. This government intends to do the right thing for employers and employers and help them do so.

Q: Muriel Newman (ACT): Is the Minister aware that in the first 100 days of the government 11,000 people have fled the country? And could this be contributing to the problem?

A: I suspect all of them booked before the election and that they will now come back.

Question 2.

Hon. Max Bradford (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Has she sought or received any reports from officials on the impact of the Employment Relations Bill on employment if it is enacted; if not, why not?

A: Yes I have received a variety of reports on all aspects of the bill. One report indicated that there could be small employment losses in relation to education leave.

Q: Max Bradford (National): What is a small reduction in employment? And is that why she is so reluctant to say the new bill would create new jobs?

A: The report did not quantify what small meant so I presume it meant small. It is impossible to predict the outcome. I am advised that the bill will promote mutual trust and confidence in the employment environment. I have received lots of advice but no advice specifically in the terms the member (Ken Shirley) uses.

Q: Peter Dunne (United): What reports does she have on Green Party proposals to widen her bill to allow strikes on environmental and human rights issues?

A: I am sure the Green Party's submissions on the bill will be considered at the appropriate time.

Question 3.

Grant Gillon (Alliance) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs Phillida Bunkle:

Q: Is she proposing to follow up on the free phone 0800 number, which gave consumers an easy means to express their experiences of the electricity industry, by establishing similar free phone 0800 numbers to allow her ministry to hear the views of consumers on other service industries; if so, which industries?

A: Yes. I have asked the ministry to form a strategy to inquire about consumer concerns about banking. Consumer concerns about banking seem to arise around bank fees and bank closures. The phone line was established to get information on the Electricity sector and was closed on Friday.

Q: Was the phone line the source of information in an earlier answer concerning dairy farmers being cut off so they could not milk their cows?

A: Yes the 0800 was the source of that information. And yes the information has been confirmed as having taken place on February 15th. The company involved was Contact Energy.

(Leave sought to table a letter from Contact Energy saying that noone had been cut off "on or about the 14th of February" - granted.)

Question 4.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Why did he decline a request from WINZ officials for additional funding for an advertising campaign to help ensure the smooth administration of student loans?

A: Thankyou for the question. I did not think it would be effective. There was a request for a $147,300 campaign on this. Enrolment had at the time already started. We told WINZ we thought it would be easier to assist the campaign through the free media and students associations. Students said they did not think the campaign would influence student behaviour. The submission from WINZ on January 27th gave no indication of likely success. I was not persuaded that radio and TV ads would change student calling patterns. Last year a campaign was run and it did not work.

Q: Rod Donald (Green): When WINZ reported in July last year to the Select Committee on Student Allowances and said it had learnt from its mistakes on allowances, did he believe it?

A: WINZ senior management wanted to take over the scheme and thought it could do so. We now know that there were problems which we are trying to fix. I can tell the member for any reports on this matter and the only report we can see is one we talked over with WINZ on January 27th.

(Muriel Newman (ACT)- leave sought to table three written answers to questions from Belinda Vernon - refused.

Winston Peters thought this a bit silly.

Speaker - I too worry sometimes about what is being tabled and will consider this.

Nick Smith - leave sought to table a Select Committee transcript - refused. )

Question 5.

Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green) to the Minister of Biosecurity Marion Hobbs

Q: What percentage of shipping containers imported into New Zealand undergo full internal and six-sided inspection for biosecurity risk material and what percentage of those containers that are fully inspected are found to be contaminated?

A: (Jim Sutton on behalf) Figures for the last six months of 1999 show several thousand containers were imported. 5% of containers were randomly inspected. 20% were inspected internally. 9% externally. 3% were found to be contaminated. We find less than one snake per year coming to New Zealand. We will never be able to guarantee that no pests will come in but we are constantly searching for new ways to minimise risk.

Question 6.

Dr Muriel Newman (ACT) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard (transferred from Steve Maharey):

Q: Does he believe there are any further matters related to the charter flight incident, following the out of court settlement between Christine Rankin and the former senior manager, that require answers; if so, what are those matters?

A: (Margaret Wilson on behalf) The charter flight incident is the subject of an out of court settlement and the ex manager. I am informed that details of the settlement are confidential.

Q: Muriel Newman (ACT): Is the minister informing this house that a matter of management accountability can be hidden from this house?

A: May I repeat. Matters relating to that settlement are confidential and the government respects that because it does not consider itself above the law. Broader matters are subject to inquiry and the findings made by the inquiry being conducted by Don Hunn will be made public. The terms of reference of this inquiry were published on 14th of February this year.

Question 7.

Ron Mark (NZ First) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Does she believe that the recent death of David Israel whilst in the care of Good Health Wanganui is indicative of a failing mental health service; if not, why not?

A: Mr Israel passed away 19months ago. His case is subject to a coroners inquest and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter.

Q: Does the minister consider the number of suicides under community care acceptable?

A: It has to be acknowledged that there are major problems in Mental Health services in New Zealand. The most significant report on this is the Mason Report from which the Mental Health Commission produced its blueprint of services which this government is committed to implementing. In the three months we have been in government I have begun negotiations on the funding path for the blueprint. We can look to the budget to see the funding path.

Question 8.

Hon. David Carter (National) to the Minister of Tourism Mark Burton:

Q: Does he have confidence in the chief executive of Tourism New Zealand?

A: Yes.

Q: David Carter (National): Why then did he refuse to allow Mr Hickton to meet National Party MPs unless he was chaparoned?

A: It is my practice to arrange briefings where possible with officials from departments and my office.

Q: How would the Minister describe his relationship with Tourism NZ?

A: I have a very good relationship with several tourism organisations. I believe there is widespread relief at the cooperative approach taken by the new government.

Q: David Carter (National): Should the role of Minister include overseeing the Tourism NZ CEO's diary?

A: I have looked carefully at correspondence between the member and the office of the Minister of Tourism, frankly it is boorish. Democracy rules.

Question 9.

Jill Pettis (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:

Q: What are the advantages to the New Zealand consumer of the draft food standards code between New Zealand and Australia that was announced yesterday?

A: New regulations will improve information available to consumers and facilitate trans-Tasman trade. Co-operation on the food code is one of a number of areas in which we are working together to assist trade with the West Island.

Q: Sue Kedgley (Green): When will the label include information about Genetic Engineering.

A: I am not able to give a precise answer to that question but I am sure that the member will never be satisfied.

Q: John Luton (National): Why do the regulations only relate to packaged foods?

A: Because the information is printed on the packages.

Question 10.

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

Q: Has she met the deadline outlined in her Cabinet paper for the ministerial committee to determine the preferred organisational structure for district health boards and options for partnership with Maori?

A: Yes.

Q: Wyatt Creech (National): How then does she explain the evidence from the Ministry of Health that these issues are still being worked on?

A: The committee has met and made decisions, whether the department is aware of them I do not know. But I assure the member the decisions have been made. The MOH has met the deadlines in the cabinet paper of 31 January.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Does she share the concerns of Treasury in a paper to cabinet on her reforms?

A: I do not share Treasury's concerns. I say to that member breathe through the nose and wait for us to work through the final issues. At the end of this we will put in changes that the public of New Zealand will be happy with.

Q: Wyatt Creech (National): How can she explain why the deadline for release of the strategy paper was not met.

A: I answered that question last week.

Question 11.

David Benson-Pope (Labour) to the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Matt Robson:

Q: What support has he received for his proposal for a Southern Hemisphere nuclear-weapons-free zone?

A: With over 40 countries in the Southern Hemisphere there is a lot of spade-work to be done. All informal reactions so far have been supportive. I am grateful to the PM for raising the issue during her visit to Chile.

Q: What more will he be doing?

A: I intend to develop the proposal when I visit Geneva and Vienna later this month. I will be seeking a response from our New Agenda partners on the possibility of New Zealand holding a disarmament confernence.

Q: Simon Upton (National) Does he not yet have the support formally of the New Agenda nations?

A: Not formally, no, but there is certainly informal support.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green): Will the government extend the 1987 Nuclear Free Zone to the limits of the 200km EEZ?

A: Certainly the proposal put forward by the member has merit for review.

Question 12.

Hon. Bill English (National) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Has he consulted the Minister of Finance or the Treasury on the establishment of a new State bank that he mentioned when releasing industry development policy on 29 February; if so, when?

A: (Pete Hodgson on behalf…) I did advise the Minister of Finance that options were being developed for a Kiwi owned bank. Until options are developed there is no need to consult with Treasury. In the end any proposals will be reviewed by Treasury. There are a series of options being developed. One option is to do nothing, that is an unlikely option for this government even though it is the one followed by the last government for nine long years. There has been widespread public support for a Kiwi owned bank. I have received lots of positive comments from members of the public on the idea. The chairman of NZ Post recently expressed his support for the idea.

Q: Sue Bradford (Green): Is the minister committed to ensuring his Kiwi bank is owned by communities in New Zealand.

A: Yes.

Q: Peter Dunne (United NZ): Can I take it from the answers that no proposals have been taken to cabinet or any cabinet committee.

A: Yes.


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