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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day - June 1

Today's Questions concerned the subjects of:. Kiwi Bank - ERB - Health Strategy (Immunisation) - Kiwi Bank - NZ Post - Paid Parental Leave - OZ GST - Paid Parental Leave - GE Food Labelling - Northland Regional Development - Maori and PI Literacy Rates - ACC Bill

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER Thursday, 01 June 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.

Question 1.

GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Has he received any reports which indicate the level of public support for the proposed "Kiwi Bank"; if so, what do these reports indicate?

A: Yes. I have an independent UMR insight poll that shows that NZers want a publicly owned back on more than 2 to 1 basis. Support was strongest in Auckland. Net positive support was received from all occupational groups and all age groups.

Q: Why?

A: The most common reasons given are support for local ownership - a desire for lower bank fees - competition - and a feeling too many branches have been closed.

Q: Bill English (National): If the poll is so convincing then why is the PM saying to business leaders it is an example of Alliance lunacy?

A: I have no evidence of that. My colleagues are awaiting a full business plan that will be available from next week and they will be considering that plan. There was a report in the Southland Times that the closure of bank branches is leading to crime. I have some sympathy for the views of the Member for Tauranga on the sale of the Bank of New Zealand. The arrangements for banking in NZ as far as government accounts are held are put out to tender. I imagine that a people's bank would put in a tender for those accounts.

Q: Does he agree with Phillida Bunkle that NZers would save $1 billion with a bank?

A: I doubt that amount of saving would be achievable. Last year $1 billion was transferred overseas in bank profits. A people's bank would have an effect on that. The people's bank would have a nationwide network. The TSB has 15 branches. Low fee accounts in the TSB require an account balance of $5000. The people's bank will not have those rules. I do not accept my colleagues to agree to anything until they have seen the facts.

Question 2.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Is Government policy on altering the Employment Relations Bill more correctly reflected in the Prime Minister's comment that "change will be as significant as is required to meet reasonable concerns" or in Hon Laila Harre's statement that "If people don't understand the words, then you change the words."?

A: (Laila Harre on behalf) Both comments correctly represent government policy. We want our precise intentions to be reflected in the bill.

Q: Will he expect the Alliance and Laila Harre to back any changes that are needed?

A: As is the case with the development of all changes consensus will be reached. The minister would expect both parties support to proceed the changes through the house. The National Government's ECA was rewritten by the Select Committee. Max Bradford in 1991 proposed 10 major changes to the bill. The word "major" was that used by Mr Bradford.

Q: Keith Locke (Green) Will unions be given the freedom to strike in support of democracy in Fiji?

A: The Select Committee has heard submissions on there is no discussion that is likely to lead to such provisions in the bill.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National) If the breaking of Alliance promises is necessary to shore up business confidence will the Labour party do so?

A: The objectives of the bill are consistent with the policies of both Labour and the Alliance and are not in doubt.

Question 3.

JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Why has the Government developed and released for consultation the New Zealand Health Strategy?

A: For a decade the NZ health sector has been in need of a strategy. The fragmented approach of the last 10 years has left everybody floundering for a sense of direction. We see this in Mental Health and Maori and PI health. We cannot and will not ignore these statistics. We intend to follow a planned approach. I would ask members to read the goals. The key goals include healthy environment , closing the gaps and reducing waiting times. We have had a lot of hot air from the opposition in government.

Q: Why are there no targets stated in those objectives, and why are old people not mentioned when we have an ageing population?

A: Older people have needs in mental health, in the primary sector , in elective surgery. The previous government was obsessed with allowing the market to decide what was important. That was the result of a hands off approach by that government.

Q: Sue Kedgley (Green): Will there be a significant increase in the health budget?

A: Under this government you will see more funding in some areas. Particularly public health and disease prevention.

Q: Wyatt Creech (National) Why isn't there a target for immunisation levels?

A: This isn't about improving targets. It is about setting a goal. Because we did not have a goal under National we have immunisation rates among Maori of 40% and of Pacific Islanders of 55%.

Question 4.

(John Carter - why has this been referred to the Minister of Finance when a very similar question has been asked to Mr Anderton. Leave asked to allow Mr Anderton to answer - refused.)

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What is the level of support within the Government for the "Kiwi Bank" proposal, and is the proposal likely to be implemented this year?

A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) I am yet to consider a proposal on the bank. When a proposal has been received I will be in a better position to answer that question.

Q: Bill English (National): Can he confirm that this poll released today has been available since February and that it was only issued today by the Alliance because the Labour Party is about to scuttle the plan?

A: No. And Certainly not.

Q: Peter Dunne (United): Will the bank be subject to the prudential provisions of the Reserve Bank, and when does he expect them to be exercised?

A: Yes. And hopefully never.

Question 5.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Has New Zealand Post sustained losses in excess of $100,000 for any period of time due to improper and unauthorised use of franking machines arising from the falsifying of postage documentation or franking machine records for customer company gains?

A: Yes. I am advised that the Police brought charges against Wayne Black for the theft of franking of the value of $200,000.

Q: Is it not a fact that a recent audit found one business customer had attempted to defraud NZPOST of more than $1 million and that $5million was the loss to NZ Post? And why has no prosecution been brought?

A: I do not have any details of that case. If the member will provide information I will pursue that with the special NZ Post fraud unit.

Q: Will the minister obtain the audit, and was the reason that they did not pursue prosecution that they were concerned that they would not get the $1 million.

A: I don't know. I will look into it.

Question 6.

ANNE TOLLEY (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: What is Government policy on paid parental leave?

A: (Laila Harre on behalf) The government announced that paid parental leave will be part of the legislative programme this term. I cannot say what will be in the bill because it hasn't been drafted.

Q: Anne Tolley (National): How does she explain the report in the Dominion that quotes unnamed Labour Party sources on this?

A: It is not for me to explain the comments of unnamed Labour Party sources. All employers will benefit from this policy and the increased participation of women in the workforce it will bring. The minister agrees with two contentions made by the Green's Sue Kedgley. There are significant benefits for mothers and babies too.

Question 7.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:

Q: What are the implications for New Zealand exporters of the introduction of GST in Australia on 1 July and how is the Government assisting them to overcome any difficulties?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) It is already the case that all goods in Australia will have GST payable when the GST comes into affect. Many NZ exporters are affected by this and are required to obtain an Australian business number in order to comply. There have been some problems but most of these have been dealt with satisfactorily by officials. One of the main problems for exporters has been obtaining a business number. Officials made strong representations on this and a business number can now be issued showing a NZ address at the same time as a GST application is made.

Question 8.

Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Minister of Women's Affairs Laila Harre.

Q: What is the Government's policy for paid parental leave and when will it be implemented?

A: Drafting instructions will be issued this year. I cannot say what will be in the bill because it hasn't been drafted yet. This Parliament will decide what form the bill finally appears in, and I will support it. A 1998 ILO report found NZ, Australia and the US are the only developed nations with no statutory entitlement. And in many US states there is a requirement. The government is currently involved in a process of working out the details of this bill. Those discussions are on track and drafting instructions are expected this year.

Question 9.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Will the Government implement Labour's election commitment to "legislate to require that any GM food, whether 'substantially equivalent' or not, and any food derived from GMOs must be labelled as such", even if Australia does not proceed with such a scheme; if so, when?

A: As the member has been made aware this matter is due to be dealt with by ANZFA on the 28th of July. I am working to try and find an appropriate solution that can be accepted by all of ANZFA. The government remains confident a satisfactory solution will be found through the ANZFA process.

Q: Sue Kedgley (Green): Would a 5% threshold make a mockery of labelling and will it be opposed?

A: A 5% standard would make a mockery of any standard and yes we would oppose it. ANZFA is democratic with one vote held by nine states, one by the Commonwealth of Australia, and one by NZ. NZ is not moving unilaterally. In Europe there are also moves towards standards. It is important that there is international agreement on this.

Question 10.

Hon JOHN LUXTON (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Can she explain her reported comments to the joint Northland Federated Farmers and Regional Economic Development Conference 2000 that she was frustrated that five months after the election there was no clear scheme for regional development?

A: (Jim Anderton on behalf). Yes. It is frustrating when you have to wait nine years. And after that length of period of no or anti-regional development policies it is a big job.

Q: John Luxton (National): Did the Minister of Economic Development say he had eaten out lots at the Ministry of Economic Development's expense?

A: There is absolutely no truth in what the member just said. That is not what I said at that meeting. However it does shows is that the Minister has been to the regions and attended to their issues.

Q: Has she decided to take over the regional development portfolio too?

A: On behalf of the PM I can say that she is delighted with the performance of the Minister.

(John Luxton - leave to table Waikato Times article - refused.)

Question 11.

NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What reports, if any, has he received on literacy levels among Maori and Pacific peoples?

A: Results of the 1995 Adult Literacy Survey found alarmingly high levels of adult literacy. Reports also show that there are big differences in literacy between low decile and high decile.

Q: What are you doing about it?

A: There will be an immediate increase of $1.5 million in the Books in Homes scheme. (To an interjector) he is an ACT voter not a National voter. I have also put $256,000 towards putting literacy materials in pre schools. 40% of Maori young people and 55% of PI young people are in decile one and two schools. That is where assistance is needed.

Q: Nick Smith (National): Why has he scrapped national literacy testing?

A: I expect testing on a weekly basis not twice in a kids life as proposed by Mr Smith.

Question 12.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

Q: Does the Government still intend to "push through another ACC bill by the end of the year", as reported in the Evening Standard of 22 May 2000; if not, why not?

A: On the contrary it is the government's intention to pass a second bill this year.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National): Will employers then receive a rebate on their levies paid for lump sums then?

A: The member clearly doesn't understand how paying in advance for coverage works. Changes the government intends will be provided for within the levy rates already set.

(Wyatt Creech - leave sought to table papers confirming there were immunisation targets under National - refused.)

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