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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day - May 24th

Today's Questions concerned the subjects of:. Fiji Crisis - Fiscal Outcome - Algerian Asylum Seeker - Kiwi Bank - Trade With Iran - Income Related Rents - Tranzrail Safety Inquiry - Income Related Rents - Early Childhood Education Qualification Standards - Directors Obligations And The ERB - 4th Schedule Fisheries - Matrimonial Property.

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER Wednesday, 24 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.

SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS

Questions to Ministers

Question 1.

Chris Carter (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What advice has he received on the significance of yesterday's decision by the Great Council of Chiefs in Fiji?

A: Last night the Great Council of Chiefs issued a statement opposing the actions of Mr Speight and calling for the release of hostages. We appreciate that the GCC is a key player in resolving this crisis. It is important that it takes into account the views of the International community in its deliberations. Mr Speight had earlier said he would stand by a decision of the GCC. This morning he reneged on that agreement. He is still talking to the GCC and that provides some comfort. We are concerned that his isolation may endanger the hostages.

Q: Has the Government urged the President to stand by the PM?

A: The government hasn't suggested the PM should step aside. We have said that we expect any solution to the crisis to come from within the constitution. Don McKinnon of the Commonwealth has also conveyed this message to the President. We have announced to the authorities that any solution should be a constitutional and democratic solution. If a solution is reached within those parameters then that will satisfy the international community. We have not yet heard the outcome of the deliberations of the GCC today. We understand that someone is presenting a petition from Mr Speight to the GCC today. We also understand that negotiation is necessary.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Can he confirm that under the Fijian Constitution that the President cannot remove the PM unless the PM does not have the confidence of the house?

A: I can confirm that is the practice in Westminster democracies.

Question 2.

Hon. Bill English (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Is it correct that the Government is expecting a fiscal windfall such that it could afford the $146 million arts package?

A: If we could not afford the package we would not have signed it off.

Q: Does he accept that his credibility has been harmed by the comments of the PM, since he has been saying that we haven't got money and she says we have?

A: On the contrary we have lots of money. The fiscal outcome will be better than the $40 million surplus in the Pre-Election Fiscal Update.

Q: Is the extra headroom around $700 million and how does he tally this with his observations that National cooked the books?

A: Tax receipts in April have been high. There are also substantial movements on the basis of revaluation exercises and these should not be classified necessarily as a windfall.

Question 3.

Keith Locke (Green) to the Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel:

Q: Has refugee status been granted to an Algerian asylum seeker imprisoned for over two months; if so, how does she justify such an extended period of detention?

A: I am not in a position to divulge any information about this case and can neither confirm nor deny anything concerning his status. Detention of claimants generally only occurs when there are security or identification concerns. We are awaiting a Court of Appeal Decision on the hunger striker case on this matter and it would be inappropriate for me to discuss it. I have received a number of letters from the person concerned's lawyers saying I have no right to divulge information concerning their case. Under the UN convention on the status of refugees the obligation of confidentiality is important to ensure the safety of friends and relatives.

Question 4.

Dr the Hon. Lockwood Smith (National) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Does he have the full support of the Government for his plans for a Government-owned bank?

A: (Phillida Bunkle on behalf) - a proposal on the bank is being prepared the government cannot comment on it till it is complete.

Q: Why are some Labour Ministers in private meetings that this is a crazy idea?

(Speaker - there is no responsibility for this.

Richard Prebble - this relates to collective responsibility and I have heard the PM has said this to business leaders.

Lockwood Smith - how do you draw the line.

Speaker: I draw the line at ministerial responsibility - please reword your question.)

Q: Lockwood Smith (National): Can the Minister confirm hearing reports that his colleagues in the Labour coalition have said this is a crazy idea?

A: I can confirm that when a formal proposal is complete it will be put in front of cabinet and will be discussed. I have seen reports that NZ Post is discussing this. And criticism from National is a little quick. They should wait to see the proposal before making up silly stories about it.

Q: Michael Cullen (Labour): Is it correct that these proposals were worked on by NZ Post under a National Government?

A: Yes.

Q: Sue Bradford (Green) Isn't it really going to be a Kangaroo bank?

A: Any bank will be majority NZ government owned. The Green Party should realise that in order to offer a cheque clearance system it needs a partnership with one of the main banks. It is essential if we are to rebuild the regions that we circulate NZ money in NZ communities instead of sending millions off shore each year in bank profits.


Question 5.

Damien O'Connor (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:

Q: What matters will be discussed at the Joint Ministerial Commission with Iran this week?

A: From NZ's perspective the aims of the of the Commission are important. The Commission is an opportunity to exchange views on a broad range of subjects. Current trade is steady at around $58 million of exports and $34 million of imports. Based on its oil wealth and population Iran represents a large market for NZ in the medium term.

Q: Will he encourage imports from Iran?

A: The private sector which controls imports will do their business according to the commercial advantage as they see it. That said the Iranian Minister involved in the Commission will be able to talk on a wide range of subjects.

Q: Will he be raising human rights issues with the Minister?

A: I won't be. The Minister for Construction Jihad has a range of other meetings however in which other things will be discussed.

Question 6.

Dr Muriel Newman (ACT) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: How much money will be saved by cancelling the accommodation supplement for State Housing Tenants in each of the next three years?

A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) An estimate of the likely savings will be contained in the budget. The savings will be exceeded by the costs of introducing income related rents.

Q: What will she do with people who are not getting rent cuts living next to others who are?

A: I am disappointed that the member does not appreciate that the Housing Supplement is not being removed from those in private sector accommodation. Our research indicates that the most in need are located in Housing New Zealand houses. To those in that position - not getting a rent cut - I suggest they not listen to National and Act and that they also consider the wide range of policies this government has implemented to assist them.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Is the minister saying the previous policy did not work?

A: Yes.

Question 7.

Peter Brown (NZ First) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Has she received any reports on the safety of Tranz Rail staff and whether that safety may be jeopardised by inadequate maintenance of rolling stock or the track network?

A: Yes. I have a range of material. I am extremely concerned at the number of fatalities at Tranzrail. I am holding a Ministerial Inquiry into this. I intend to consult with the Union and Tranzrail on this later this week.

Q: Will those items be identified in the terms of reference specifically?

A: The matters we are considering would cover your points. The inquiry will look for systemic factors, it will then see whether these arise out of the regulatory regime and finally it will inquire into whether Tranzrail has met the requirements. The findings will be carefully considered and will be considered in relation to the Health and Safety in Employment Act review. As far as this government is concerned one fatality is too many and the fact there is a rate of fatalities that is high and being maintained is an outrage.

Question 8.

Hon. Tony Ryall (National) to the Minister of Housing Mark Gosche:

Q: What is the further work being undertaken on issues surrounding the calculation of income-related rents, mentioned in the Attorney-General's report advising that the Housing Restructuring (Income-Related Rents) Amendment Bill appears to breach the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act?

A: The bill defines the unit as signatories to tenancy agreements and their partners. Other people in the house will be dealt with as boarders. There will be further advice on this issue to the government and further amendments are likely.

Q: Why can couples without children earn more money before losing the subsidy than those with children?

A: Because it is based on the accommodation supplement rules put in place by his government. The government thinks this bill is important enough to override the Bill of Rights Act.

Q: Will he table his advice?

A: There has been considerable debate among officials on this policy. We also have the wider issue of how Human Rights Legislation bears on welfare issues. This is an issue that has had to be grappled with by governments for some time.

Question 9.

Taito Phillip Field (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What steps has he taken to improve quality in early childhood education?

A: The most important thing is to establish the Diploma of Teaching as the necessary qualification for workers in ECE as the benchmark qualification for early childhood carers. I have proposed that the government work with the sector to implement the requirement by 2005. The rules do not affect kohanga or playcentres. Most of the providers already have at least one staff member with the necessary qualification. I am confident that over the next five years centres will work with their staff to upgrade their qualifications.

Q: How will this affect Montessori schools?

A: I understand there is work done on equivalence issues and we have five more years to sort it out.

Q: When will ECE teachers get pay parity?

A: A general view is that salaries will follow qualifications, but this will not happen this week or next.

Question 10.

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

Q: Does she agree with Robyn Leeming who today told the New Zealand Employers' Federation that the Employment Relations Bill will include provision for "increased directors' liability, ... significantly greater compliance costs, and most alarmingly, increased powers to strike."?

A: No. The former National Party candidate's address misrepresents several aspects of the bill. Directors provisions are aimed at sweat shop employers and defaulting employers. Directors will only be liable to pay what is owing. Good employers have nothing to fair.

Q: Why does she blame us for her poorly constructed legislation? And does she agree with comments about cowpats in the Independent?

A: While the fundamental principles will not be changed the Select Committee process is there to ensure that any ambiguities can be clarified.

Q: Why does she say the directors clause is well drafted when everybody else is giving a completely different interpretation of the clause?

A: Contestability is of course the essence of legal discourse. I do not have a problem with changes so long as the intention to catch sweat shop directors is contained in the bill.

Q: How can she maintain this position when yesterday the Minister of Finance said to the Chamber of Commerce that the clause needs to be made clearer as it could be misunderstood at a casual reading?

A: I have never claimed infallibility and that I have the only view. My views are consistent with the Minister of Finance in that if there is ambiguity we will look at it.

Question 11.

David Benson-Pope (Labour) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:

Q: What is the Government doing to streamline the process so that the high value and high priority species currently listed in the Fourth Schedule of the Fisheries Act 1996 can be introduced into the quota management system?

A: The bill proposes to repeal the 4th Schedule. This will allow the species to be introduced. It will also contain compensation provisions.

Q: What are the benefits of the bill?

A: The bill will provide for earlier introduction of the species to the QMS. This will provide the industry with a tradable and valuable property right that they do not presently have under the permit system.

Q: Why will he not allow a consultation process given he recently admitted that there had not been one?

A: I did admit that there had been insufficient consultation. There is however a consultation taking place in the Select Committee on the bill. The ministry is about to come up with more information on what more species should be introduced.

Question 12.

Anne Tolley (National) to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:

Q: What advice has she received on the likelihood of increased litigation if Supplementary Order Paper No. 25 is incorporated into the Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill?

A: I have received advice that the bill is likely to have cost implications due to additional litigation. Quality has a price and unlike the previous government we are prepared to pay it. This government prefers non-judicial methods for resolution. I will note however that there are 1.4 million married people and that they already generate more than $5 million in costs. I believe every person - married or not - in society should have equal rights on the breakdown in their relationship.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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