Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: West Coast Logging – Economic Growth - Returning Resident’s Visas – Contractors And The ERB – Teachers Wages – Maori And The ERB – Public Good Science Fund – Union “Utu” – Airways Corporation – Regional Development In Auckland And Northland – Maori Spectrum – University Staff Wages.
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
Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green) to the Minister responsible for Timberlands West Coast Ltd Pete Hodgson:
Q: How many ancient rainforest trees will be cut in each of the Orikaka, Okarito and Saltwater forests during the term of this Government?
A: It is anticipated. 27,000 cubic m will be taken this year, 10,000 cm next year and 2500 in the first three months of 2002. The Orikaka harvest is finishing in five weeks.
Q: Fitzsimmons: Did rimu manufacturers provide any evidence of a lack of available timber?
A: No they did not and nor did we ask them too. The consultation found that when we considered what was available and matched that against the need to make significant changes, then we came to the conclusion that that date 31 March 2002 was about right as a transition period.
Q: Why doesn’t the logging stop sooner since Okarito and Salwater are both highly sensitive forests?
A: I accept that they are important forests but jobs would have been put at risk had we gone to a shorter transition period.
Q: How much unsustainable timber will be cut in the SILNA forests?
A: The government has inherited an imbroglio in this issue. The previous government installed consultants who made a mess of this. Money has been paid and not a single tree has been saved. We will sort this too. The difference between the South Western forests and other forests are that they are owned by the taxpayer. The government owns these Jurrassic forests and it will conserve them.
The industry has claimed 4000 jobs are at risk. We think that is fanciful. We have researched this and we believe that a two year transition period would be sufficient. It happens to be the same period given by the previous government to phase out the Orikaka harvest. The coast will get a lot more jobs out of the $120 million than they every would have out of the rimu contracts.
Hon. Bill English (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Since he has noted "the prospect of low, zero, or even mildly negative growth in the March quarter", does he expect this to lead to a period of prolonged economic weakness?
Q: When he said the budget would be about building bridges for business. Was he acknowledging the observations of some that the government appeared to be chasing business away?
A: I am all in favour of building bridges and preferably they should be built from both sides simultaneously.: We found a lot of unusual circumstances in the December Quarter which boosted growth. Even if we get subdued growth however we are still looking at sustained growth of around 3.5% over the next few years.
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Why didn’t he ring the man from Carter Holt Harvey about his $2 billion?
A: The Minister of Forests is meeting him tomorrow. The PM is meeting him next week. And I note with interest the idea that ACT should be encouraging the government to encourage big business to invest.
Q: What will they tell the man from Carter Holt Harvey?
A: We have begun to address problems in tertiary education sector and the skills shortage. I am also yet to here from Mr Liddell that he was planning in investing anywhere near that sum in the NZ side of the industry anyway.
Harry Duynhoven (New Plymouth) to the Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel :
Q: Will the previous Government's changes to the rules governing returning residents' visas take effect on 5 June 2000 as announced; if not, why not?
A: Under rules as they are as soon as they are approved migrants are entitled to having an unlimited returning residents visa. The changes approved yesterday will make immigrants indicate a “commitment” to NZ. Either by maintaining an investment or a base in NZ. In order to qualify for citizenship one has to live in NZ. Under the previous rules people would be entitled to unlimited access without commitment.
A: Will this change meet every situation?
A There will now also be the ability of the Immigration Service to take into account exceptional circumstances.
Hon. Max Bradford (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson
Q: Does the Employment Relations Bill allow individual independent contractors to remain as contractors, even if a declaration by the Employment Court or the proposed Employment Relations Authority determines the class or group to which that contractor belongs are to become employees?
A: The bill provides an opportunity for individuals to seek clarification if they want to. If a person is an independent contractor then they can remain an independent contractor. If an employee then they will remain an employee. It all depends what they do.
Q: Does she deny that an inspector, a union official or another employee will be able to seek an order affecting others and that her explanation to the Greens on this point is a sham?
A: The bill requires people to comply with the law. Whatever they may think they are if they are in fact in reality independent contractors – and it is the reality of the courts and the law we are concerned with – then that is what matters. Clause 154 does allow inspectors and unions to seek the clarification of a persons employment status. The intention of the clause is.clear. The court then will then look at in fact whether the person is an employee or not.
Q: Did the ECA define an employee?
A: The ECA defined an employee as a person who is “employed by” an employer. This gave rise to considerable debate over what “employed by” means. There was a lack of clarity in legal terms of what an employee is. The ERB tries to define employed by to mean something in Section 6.
Q: Does she accept her definition changes the definition of an employee?
A: The Cunningham case was decided under the ECA and what the member says is correct. We thought it important to give clarity and that is why we have the definition.
Q: Sue Bradford (Green): Is it the government’s intention to force large groups of people who are now independent contractors to become employees?
A: No it is not the intention of the government to do that.
Q: The member of a group will not be defined as an employee if in fact they are an independent contractor. There is nothing to stop people organising their affairs in a way that complies with the law.
Q: Peter Brown (NZ First): Will the member confirm who is not convered by the bill and ensure that the assurances that have been given are valid?
A: I am very happy to take advice back on the report back of the Select Committee on this. Yes Real Estate Agents and Sharemilkers are exclided. Yes for volunteers who only have reimbursement. Owner drivers who are independent contractors have nothing to fear.
Martin Gallagher (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: Does the current staffing formula meet the needs of all schools; if not, why not?
A: No. The current formula does not meet the needs of all schools. Rural schools miss out and some Secondary Schools do not have the breadth and depth of experience necessary for quality education. A workgroup has been convened to work on this to ensure the best possible learning outcomes this century.
Q: Maurice Williamson (National): Wouldn’t it be easier to keep Bulk Funding?
A: The amount of flexible funding currently available under bulk funding will be equally available and doubled.
Q: When will this be announced?
A: That is for Dr Cullen to announce.
Hon. Richard Prebble (ACT) to the Minister of Maori Affairs Dover Samuels:
Q: Has he received any reports of the effect on Maori employment from the Employment Relations Bill; if so, what do the reports say?
A: No. I have however received a number of briefings on the background of the ERB.
Q: Has he seen a submission from Jim Gray who represents the sixth biggest farming operation in the King Country employing 20 Maori saying that he is going to close the operation if the ERB is passed?
A: No I haven’t seen Jim Gray’s submission but I would like to do so. I would like to say that the ERB will require good faith bargaining between employers and their employees something Maori have never had.
Q: Roger Sowry (National): When he mentions good faith bargaining does he mean the sort of practices that took place in his office in the case of his Press Secretary Jodi Ihaka?
(Speaker – that is out of order.
Roger Sowry – if there is a question about how people are treated under the bill. He mentions good faith bargaining. I suggest to you that my question is certainly in order.
Winston Peters – the issue raised in the question concerns the ERB where as the matter in the supplementary relates to the ECA.
Speaker – I agree with the member. I couldn’t have put it better myself.)
I am certainly not suggesting that Maori negotiate in bad faith but rather that it is about time we had legislation making the employer and employee negotiate in good faith.
Ann Hartley to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology Pete Hodgson:
Q: What plans does the Government have for the Public Good Science Fund?
A: The PGSF will cease to exist in 2000. The creation of a new output class enables a more rational grouping of output classes in this area. This will be detailed in the budget.
Q: Does this signal a change in policy?
A: This builds on and completes work started by the previous government. We will do more stuff that will improve RS&T but this is no significant no.
Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Is it true as the Greens have claimed that you have instructed a halt in Genetic research?
A: Yes I have. I have instructed all purchasing agents to ensure that their funding and investment decisions are consistent with the moratorium for the period the moratorium is in existence.
Q: The main difference in NZ R&D is the lack of contribution from the private sector. This is something we will confront head on in the next budget.
Dr the Hon. Lockwood Smith (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: Is it her intention that the Employment Relations Bill be enacted so that union members can have "utu"?
A: The intention of the ERB is to replace the divisive environment created by the ECA with a more productive cooperative environment.
Q: How are the statements of the unionist Mark Jackson on “utu” consistent with good faith bargaining?
A: I have no knowledge of that statement, all I can say is that the bill will apply to all people both employers and unions.
Q: Does she approve Judith Tizard publicly burning the ECA - a statute which is in force - and is this not a clear message that it is now all on for unions?
A: I am sorry to say I missed that event. However I will note that there has been considerable disquiet of late about the ECA and I am surprised about the restraint.
(Lockwood Smith (National) - Leave to table a transcript of TV3 news – granted.)
Rodney Hide (ACT) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:
Q: Has he any concerns about the financial arrangements of the Airways Corporation's long-term strategy; if so, what are they?
A: I will be giving very careful consideration to the plans of Airways Corporation. Information from the company is due with me by May 31. I am meeting with the chair and deputy chair this afternoon.
Q: Roger Sowry (National): As shareholding minister is he aware of the fact the Airways are seeking to brief the PM and that she is refusing to meet with them?
A: It is appropriate for me to be briefed and for me to keep the PM informed.
Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Has he got the Treasury report advising against the risks?
A: I was indeed advised that Mr Maasland was considering standing down ahead of his term in February. I will be seeking further advice today – some of which apparently has not been fulsomely given.
Q: Again – has he seen a Treasury paper while he has been minister, and if not why not?
A: I am happy to review all papers and seek further advice. I have seen much advice on many issues. Shareholding ministers have made it clear that major offshore equity investments offshore will not be appropriate if they divert attention and create risk for the main responsibilities of the Corporation.
Hon. John Luxton (National) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:
Q: How much of the Government's $100 million regional development fund will be invested in Auckland and Northland?
A: The Government will be announcing in the budget a fund that will build up to $100 million a year over the term of this government. Since Auckland is NZ’s largest city and Northland is in need these areas will receive their share of funding.
Q: How will he cover the negative impacts of tax increases and incerases in the costs of businesses in the region?
A: This government is seeking to ensure that this country has a fair system of economic manangement everywhere. I have seen reports from Shane Ardern , Belinda Vernon and Bill English supporting this. I have also seen opposition from Lockwood Smith, John Luxton and Max Bradford. What I want to know is - does the National Party support regional development or oppose it?
Mita Ririnui (Labour) to the Minister of Maori Affairs Dover Samuels :
Q: What economic development opportunities is the Government using to close the economic gaps between Maori and other New Zealanders?
A: Earlier today my colleague Trevor Mallard and myself announced the establishment of a trust to hold spectrum for Maori. This will help to close the gaps.
Q: What is the purpose of the trust?
A: The purpose is to promote Maori investment in the spectrum.
(Trevor Mallard - I object to the Leader of the Opposition describing the member as racist.
Jenny Shipley - I most certainly did not use those
words. I was mouthing to Mr Mallard
“You are just crazy”.
Bill English – Mr Speaker - the member accused the leader of being a lying word beginning with b that is unparliamentary!
Speaker - did you
Mallard – yes
Speaker – then stand withdraw and apologise.
Mallard – I withdraw and apologise.)
The government will be making $5 million available to the trust for its establishment.
Q: Sue Bradford (Green): What specific steps will the government be taking to ensure that the Maori are assisted by the West Coast Development package?
A: I would expect that encouraging Maori to be involved in new technology will be good for Maori whereever they come from.
Q: Given his enthusiasm for new technology could the member tell me which bits of spectrum have been cleared of fixed transmissions to enable WAP broadcasting?
A: I do not understand the technology if you like but if the member provides his question in writing I will teach him a little about the meaning of “utu”.
Hon. Maurice Williamson (National): to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: Has he been making an offer to tertiary institutions of a 2.3 percent increase in funding in exchange for a freeze on student fees next year?
Q: Is the minister then saying that the minister has made them a take it or leave it offer of 2.3%.
A: This is not an employment negotiation. We will consult widely and any budget announcements will be made in the budget. I would characterise what discussions we have had with the sector as relieving. Relief that they finally have a government they can talk to which is not cutting their budgets.