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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day 10 May

Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: ERB And Contractors – Digital TV – Thames Hospital – More Airways Corp Allegations – PM’s Comments On Waitara – WINZ Report – Ken Livingstone – Carbon Tax – Cigarettes – Closing The Gaps – Infrastructure Auckland – Police Funding – Trevor Mallard On WINZ Leaking Allegations.

Questions For Oral Answer - Wednesday, 10 May 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 For Oral Answer - Wednesday, 10 May 2000

Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

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

Q: Does she still hold the view, in relation to independent contractors, that under the Employment Relations Bill "No one is forced to change their employment status."?

A: Yes.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): The how does the minister square away her view when the Law Society comprehensively rejected her interpretation and said her definition was extremely wide and could cover people working for themselves?

A: I have read the Law Socety’s submission and I do not agree with it. A matter which is not unknown in the law. The definition is considerably narrower than the common law definition so it depends what you are comparing with what. I would say however that the government is considering an amendment to the Holiday’s Act in relation to a reference made in their submission. At present that Act defines worker and already includes independent contractors. We will clarify this.

I note the issue raised by the member. It is quite right that clause 154 gives a remedy to people to clarify their position in this matter. It is often the Labour Inspector that has to deal with this. The provision is designed to ensure that even those with insufficient means can still get a declaration with respect to their employment status.

Q: Max Bradford (National): How many submissions, how many expert opinions will it take to convince her her interpretation of Clause 6 is totally wrong?

A: I haven’t seen all the submissions yet. I also note that the law profession is not without an interest in this matter and this should not be ignored.

(Leave to table Law Society opinion on ERB – granted.)

Question 2.

David Cunliffe (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What recent reports on Television New Zealand Limited's business plans has he received?

A: It has been reported to me that the Commerce Select Committee has released correspondence that $14 million was spent on an overblown scoping project on digital TV before the investment was canned. It was quite extraordinary that TVNZ was instructed to take the proposals to this level before granting approval. Cabinet has decided that the risks of proceeding with these proposals were too great. I note that before the election Bill English also had concerns about this. I know that Tony Ryall sat on the Commerce Committee and that he did not do anything to correct the erroneous conclusion that Cabinet Ministers had not been involved in the proposals. In the end it took a letter from Ross Armstrong to the committee to point out how much encouragement had been given by the Government to the proposals.

Q: Sue Kedgley (Green): How much of the TVNZ dividend will be withheld?

A: The issue of the dividend in coming years is still a matter for development.

(Leave sought to table a transcript from a Select Committee hearing in which Ryall did not say anything – granted.)

Question 3.

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

Q: Will she accept the finding of the Health Funding Authority report that seven-day-a-week general surgery at Thames Hospital cannot be justified or will she direct the Health Funding Authority to purchase seven-day surgical services?

A: There is no report on Thames Hospital, but they do make a paragraph’s mention in one document on health. I am waiting for advice on facilities at Thames. The member should be aware that seven day surgery is unusual. General surgery is offered for five days a week. He will know that National cut services when it was in charge . What I said when I went to Thames was that we would investigate seven days a week emergency coverage. Not general surgery. On average two patients a week are currently being transferred to Waikato or urgent surgery. I will look at this. And I will not cut services as that government did.

Q: Have any assurances been given to Jeanette Fitzsimmons on this?

A: I can tell the member that Jeanette Fitzsimmons is a good local member and we have discussed services at Thames. One of the issues was seven day coverage.

Question 4.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters (NZ First) to the Minister for State-Owned Enterprises Pete Hodgson:

Q: Which companies were invited to tender for the replacement of New Zealand's air traffic control system, recently awarded to Lockheed Martin, and when were the tenders called?

A: I am advised by airways corporation that this was not let by open tender and that instead this is part of the partnership with Lockheed Martin already announced.

Q: Is it correct that a cheaper option was rejected and that there have been large payments made to Airways staff?

A: 1. I should advise the member that SOE’s are not required to tender. Decisions taken by executives are accountable through the board to the shareholding minister. As to the second and third questions I have no such evidence. I have asked for documents and have asked Mr Trumpet to provide documents as well and am investigating this. I invite the member to provide any documents he may have.

The board has said that it believes the relationship with Lockheed Martin is beneficial.

Q: Does Minister know about the pay-out to an employee and how does that fit with Government policy?

A: As the member knows I am sure that from my open statements on this that I am investigating this matter. I am awaiting documents from Mr Trumpet and have not received the key documents yet.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First) Has he asked Airways to waive the confidentiality in its agreement with the former staff member?

A: Yes I have and they have agreed subject to Mr Trumpter agreeing.

Question 5.

Stephen Franks (ACT) to the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson:

Q: What advice did she, as Attorney-General, give the Prime Minister to ensure that Cabinet supported constitutional conventions and did not make prejudgments that could undermine the objective inquiries on the Waitara shooting?

A: I did not provide advice to the PM as it was not required.

Q: In hindsight recognising the nationwide concern, what would she now advise the PM about such statements as she made?

A: I am comfortable with the answer I have given. I do not believe that the PM needed advice. I am fully confident that the whole matter of the Waitara shooting is being handled well by all parties. I do not believe that any comment should be made that would interfere with the homicide inquiry but I am confident that no such statement was made.

Question 6.

David Benson-Pope (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: What are the key findings of the Hunn report into the Department of Work and Income?

A: The report found a major credibility problem. This was an intangible problem. There are also issues about my role and making sure that the Public Service understands what is expected of it. Responses were received from most of those consulted. Mrs Rankin and her lawyers made a lot of requests for changes. Some of these changes were made. But I do not think they made a difference to the substance of the report.

Q: Is the minister concerned that someone leaked an early draft to undermine the final report. Will he hold an investigation and will this include questioning his staff?

A: Yes I am concerned. But no to the second part of the question. With some knowledge of these things we could waste much money with investigations. My staff did not have copies of the document. Issuing a detailed response to this report will be a priority of this government. We will be taking a paper to cabinet after that and formal decisions will be made.

Q: Does he maintain confidence in the CEO, especially given that he has said there is one CEO he does not have confidence in?

A: I have never identified that CEO

(Request made for the Minister to table a letter of legal advice from Christine Rakin.

Trevor Mallard – is a letter to Mr Hunn an official document.

Speaker - yes.

Trevor Mallard – Then I have to then - letter tabled.)

Question 7.

Hon. Tony Ryall (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Does she welcome the endorsement by the Mayor-elect of London, Ken Livingstone, who reportedly said of her Government's policies, "Tony Blair should follow the New Zealand example."?

A: On behalf of the PM I reply. I always welcome endorsements but some endorsements may be less welcome than others.

Q: Does he agree with Mr Blair’s description of Mr Livingstone as going backwards with no long term plans?

A: I am not going to comment on Mr Livingstone.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Can the PM confirm that Livingstone’s popularity is attributed to changes to public transport and the underground in particular?

A: I can confirm that Mr Livingstone in his earlier incarnation was part of the underground.

Question 8.

Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green) to the Minister of Energy Pete Hodgson:

Q: Why has he stated, in relation to a Cabinet committee which is to consider carbon taxes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that there was no suggestion that a carbon tax would be introduced before the next election?

A: Because that is the government’s position. A carbon tax may be part of the plan in the long term and we will be working on that during the work programme we have agreed to.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons (Green):: How does a tax on tobacco for the health of the people differ from a tax on cigarettes for the health of the planet?

A: The impact of a tax on cigarettes is well known. The impact of a Carbon tax is not so well known. Economic modelling of some forms of Carbon Tax in the past show a possible increase in GDP. Unfortunately no further work was done on this by the previous government and more investigation is needed.

Q: Does he confirm that the net effect of Global warming on NZ will be slightly negative or possibly slightly positive?

A: The net effect may be both positive or negative. But science is indicating that negative is about to start to take the lead.

Question 9.

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

Q: What percentage, if any, of the extra $20 million to be raised this year from raising tobacco excise will be spent on smoking cessation programmes?

A: The member will need to wait for the budget.

Q: Since the government decided to act on this last night why will the government not give a percentage?

A: Because our announcements will be done at the same time in the budget. The closing the gaps committee has done a lot of work on smoking. We know 48% of Maori smoke and young Maori, young Maori women in particular, smoke a lot, and we are planning to target these people.

Q: The Ministry of Health shows that an increase of 14% in price will drop consumption by around 7%. What is known is that those who give up because of price are mainly young people. And it is young people that this measure is aimed at.

Q: Will the minister guarantee targeted assistance for the groups who smoke the most?

A: Hold your horses. Wait and see. It will be there in a way your government never did it.

Question 10.

Mita Ririnui (Labour) to the Minister of Maori Affairs Dover Samuels:

Q: What benefits for Maori does the Government expect from the work of the Closing The Gaps Committee?

A: The 1998 Gaps report showed government in crisis. This government will do something about it. That is why we have a cabinet committee chaired by the PM responsible for this. We have set up a work programme which will impact on nearly all state agencies and which will achieve better outcomes.

Q: Donna Awatere Huata (ACT): What does the Minister think about the school zoning changes and their impact on closing the gaps – particularly in light of high performing out of zone Maori students in Auckland schools.

A: The committee recognises that education is an important part of capacity building. There has been a lot of work on education on the committee. The endeavours of the past administration widened the gaps – they did not close the gaps.

Q: Winston Peters: Can the minister confirm that the greatest increase were the right wing policies followed by the last Labour government

A: No I can’t. But in the last nine years the gaps have continued to widen. I will be expecting another update up till Last year and the indications are that the gaps have widened further.

Question 11.

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

Q: Has she given the Prime Minister any recent advice on progress with the review of Infrastructure Auckland?

A: I have advised the PM that I am continuing to work towards the needs of Auckland.

Q: Murray McCully (National): How does she reconcile this with her statement of December 13th that she might abolish IA. With the perception wide in Auckland that IA will neither be reviewed or changed?

A: I cannot speak to perceptions. I suspect the member has a garbled message. Any review will be the responsibility of the Minister of Local Government. I am working with her and with Auckland on this. One of the reasons I have a problem with IA is that the National Government tried to sell IA assets. But I do think that Auckland’s regional assets should be used for Auckland and that successive governments have tried to interfere to political ends.

What I have said is lets just get on with it. Any review is going to be widely construed and will take time. I am a realist. I am prepared to accept that the previous government’s muckups are what we have to deal with. IA is not ideal but it is here and we have to work with it for Auckland. I am advised that the Auckland Business Forum should be working through the growth strategy like everybody else. We do accept that there are important transport issues in Auckland and that they will have to be paid for.

Question 12.

Harry Duynhoven (Labour) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: (Rick Barker on behalf) What information has he received on plans to cut Police spending?

A: I can tell the house that in reply to a written question asked by me last year the then treasurer Bill English proposed reducing the budget by $24 million. While the reduction reflected some one-off costs such as APEC and Americas Cup. It also assumed that there would be savings in other areas of policing. Only after becoming Minister did I become aware of the serious cost problems in the NZ Police. The difference between what police were going to get and what they are now is large.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): How much more resources would police have if they weren’t responsible for enforcing cannabis laws.

A: If the member would like to put down a question on that I would be pleased to supply him with an answer.

Q: Is it his plan to target any spending at the issue raised by the PM - institutionalised racism in the police?

A: This is a concern to all NZers and it will be addressed by the police.

Q: Can he confirm that the baselines he is talking about were agreed to by police and also that they had agreed that they had in place the management systems to handle the pressure?

A: I can confirm that the police were very disappointed at the managing of their funding.

(TREVOR MALLARD: I may have accidentally misled the house. I had the only copy of the final report. Draft reports were given to some other ministers office by my staff. Following a suggestion from Dr Hunn my staff gave a copy of the report to two colleagues. My staff did not leak that report.

Roger Sowry: In relation to Question 6. What we have tabled here is a letter from an executive in WINZ – not legal advice from Christine Rankin’s lawyer – was this a loose definition of legal advice and did the minister mean departmental advice?

Trevor Mallard: It is my understanding that this document was prepared by Christine Rankin following legal advice..)


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