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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day June 20

Today's Questions concern: R&D Taxation – Fiscal Surpluses – Elective Surgery -Mental Health Funding – Armed Forces Equipment x 2 – Fiji Trade Ban – Closing The Education Gaps – WINZ And The Koru Club – Kiwi Bank – Customs Exercises – Foreign Ownership of Fishing Quota.

Questions For Oral Answer - Tuesday, 20 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.

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

Q: Does he agree with the statement by the Prime Minister, on research and development, that "For the time being, the Treasury has gained the upper hand in scaring the pants off the Minister of Finance about the possible leakage to the revenue base ..."?

A: I have just checked and as far as I can make out I still have my pants on.

Q: Bill English (National): How can anyone believe what he says when the PM says that the government will look at tax deductibility.

A: The PM made that comment at lunchtime, an hour after I made a similar comment at the business breakfast.

Q: What was the advice on fiscal risk R&D taxation?

A: Both agencies, IRD and Treasury, said there was a considerable fiscal risk. The leakage was estimated at between $100 and $120 million a year.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Does he believe the PM was showing support for him and his budget when she made that remark? And why has she moved up the back so she doesn’t have to sit beside them?

A: It might be because she is concerned I haven’t got my pants on.

Question: 2.

Mark Peck to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What reports has he received on the Government's projected fiscal surpluses?

A: A Reuters Poll before the budget shows the forecast surpluses were at the upper end of the range. I have had nothing but praise and support from the government back benches for the budget.

Q: Will the budget help restore business confidence?

A: The government’s determination to pursue a conservative policy should assist in restoring confidence.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Are the surpluses sufficient to provide grants as suggested by Tariana Turia (mispronounced).

A: There is no member of that name.

(Winston Peters: Will Mr Hide start pronouncing names correctly.

Rodney Hide: Are you suggesting that if people object to the pronouncing of a name then the question need not be answered?)

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Has he received any reports suggesting surpluses are at risk because of the raising of interest rates?

A: No I think it would be fair to say that the actions of the Reserve Bank were in line with Treasury forecasts.

Question: 3.

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

Q: For what reason did the Government change its pre-election commitment to spend about $200 million a year on extra elective surgery, as reported in the New Zealand Herald on 20 October 1999, and instead provide for only $95 million for extra elective surgery in 2000/01?

A: The government hasn’t changed its plans. The report in October was a misstatement and has been corrected in the Herald’s latest budget coverage.

Q: Why did she then say in September, herself on Radio, that Labour would spend an additional $200 million on waiting times?

A: I consistently said during the campaign that of the $400 million received in extra taxes, that half would go to health. I then said that that would go to three key priorities. The government will fund $500 million of elective surgery this year – more than ever before. I am confident that the significant boost to elective surgery will reduce waiting times.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): How then can she explain that the number on waiting lists increased since that member became Minister?

A: That is interesting, any increase over the last six months of course is not while we have had our hands on the budget.

Q: Wyatt Creech (National): Why did she not correct the misunderstanding in April when she had the opportunity?

A: I have consistently stated he amount of money we wanted to spend on health. We got an extra $480 million in this budget.

(Wyatt Creech – leave sought to table a RNZ transcript – granted.

Annette King – leave sought to table a NZ Herald report on the budget – refused.)

Question: 4.

Judy Keall (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What reaction has she received to the Government's mental health budget package?

A: The response has been very positive. Mental health consumers and families have all made positive comments on the commitment. While the new money is a positive step, it will not solve the problems over night. Unfortunately we need to rebuild a mental health workforce. The previous government was told this too, but they did nothing and so we are left in a very vulnerable position. After the budget the Mental Health Commission said they could not spend all the money available this year. And in any event the figure is not $27 million there is also an additional $14 million for child and youth mental health – so it is $40 million.

Question: 5.

Dr Wayne Mapp to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: Why is the Government not intending to provide any additional capital to purchase urgent armed forces equipment in the coming year?

A: Additional funding will be approved when it is needed. When this happens it will come from the crown capital fund. The government, and this minister, has a high regard to all members of the military. This government is committed to putting right the rundown in the services. You will not have to wait long Mr Mapp.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Could he confirm that large amounts of money is being spent on time payments for Anzac frigates?

A: Yes.

Qestion: 6.

Keith Locke (Green) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: Why does the Defence policy framework not support the option in recommendation 5 of the Inquiry into Defence Beyond 2000 report "to disband the jet training and strike capability" of the Defence Force?

A: The recommendation mentioned is one of two options in recommendation 5 of the report. These will be considered at the appropriate time.

Q: Keith Locke (Green) How will the Minister find the hundreds of millions needed to upgrade the Army if he doesn’t get rid of the Skyhawks?

A: The government has committed itself to finding funds to pay for equipment. That may include some savings. The decisions will be taken at the appropriate time.

Q: What is he going to do about leaving pilots?

A: The airforce clearly has a role. We do have an air strike force capability. In terms of morale the policy does provide a clear goal for NZ’s defence forces – something that has been needed for a long time. A pay review may also help restore morale – again something that has been needed for a long time.

Question: 7.

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

(Max Bradford: May I say how pleased I am to see the Minister in the house.

Speaker: that is out of order and the member is running a risk of losing his question.

Bradford: I withdraw.)

Q: What advice has she given the Government on taking action against the Council of Trade Unions and unions undertaking various forms of strike and boycott activity over the Fiji crisis, which the Prime Minister has reportedly said are not consistent with current labour law?

A: I have not provided the government with any advice on this matter.

Q: Max Bradford (National): In her role as Minister of Labour, why will she not apply for an immediate injunction? Or does she have one law for the rest of us and one for the CTU?

A: There is no authority for me under the ECA to intervene in this matter. There are however remedies available to affected employers. I believe they are the appropriate remedies to be pursued.

Q: Has it been policy of recent governments to intervene?

A: No it has been the policy of governments, in general, not to intervene since 1987. I notice that Max Bradford did not often intervene often, and in this respect I will follow his example.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Does this minister support illegal trade union actions?

A: No it is not fair to draw those inferences. My comment on the steel strike was made to point out that it was taking place under the ECA not the Employment Relations Bill.

Question: 8.

Nanaia Mahuta to the Associate Minister of Education Parekura Horomia:

Q: Is there a single solution for closing the gaps in educational achievement between Maori and other New Zealanders?

A: No there is no single solution to closing the gaps. Housing, employment and health all have an impact on learning. This government’s commitment has been spelt out in the budget.

Q: What in particular is being done?

A: $8 million has been allocated to expand Iwi education initiatives. $11.2 million has been committed to providing mentoring support to at risk secondary school students.

Q: Nick Smith (National): Given that the increase in funding per Maori is smaller ($1.60 per Maori pupil per week) than that lost to Maori students through bulk funding, how will this close the gaps?

A: Certainly, with the strategy in an overarching sense – even if it is less money – we know what is needed to achieve better outcomes.

Q: Brian Donnelly (NZ First): Why have Kohanga Reo hours been frozen in the budget?

A: That is not true, there is a total increase of 1.8% in early childhood funding now, and another 1% later, and that will lead to an extra $5 million for Kohanga Reo.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): Is he concerned Maori pre-school participation is half that of non-Maori? And how does he justify $10 million for preschool compared to $90 million on Student Loans?

A: We are most certainly concerned about what has been engineered by previous governments, and we look forward to fixing it. The $10 million should not be taken alone, it is in the context of lots of other things being done.

(Brian Donnelly – leave sought to table a page (pg 412) from the budget – refused.)

Question: 9.

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

Q: Following on from his reported statement in December that there was to be no repeat of the "culture of extravagance" at the Department of Work and Income, how many departmental staff have membership to Air New Zealand's up-market Koru Club, and what is the total cost to taxpayers?

A: 122 Department Staff have membership, and that costs $36,000.

Q: Why should NZers believe anything has changed at WINZ?

A: I expect the Department to be very careful in the use of taxpayers money. For example, since I introduced a probity programme in the department, the travel budget in WINZ has fallen a full 40% in the first six months of the year. This is a substantial saving to the taxpayer.

Q: What is he doing to WINZ?

A: Today I will release the Government response to the Hunn report. The corporate focus will go – increased regional independence will also be included – in addition a probity programme introduced at my direction is achieving substantial savings. This is a government department and should behave like one.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): Is this the probity programme announced before the election by Ms Rankin.

A: I can confirm that moves were made before the election. Can I emphasise to the members opposite that all those programmes have been reviewed and properly implemented and that is what that member never did.

Question: 10.

Grant Gillon (Alliance) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What reports has he received concerning the support for a "Kiwi Bank" and what do these reports indicate?

A: I am pleased to see in today’s NZ Herald a survey that found 30% of all NZers would consider putting their money into a Kiwi Bank. This is unprecedented. If even half of those open accounts then it will have 500,000 customers.

Q: What does the business sector say?

A: A quarter of business people are prepared to put their money in the Kiwi Bank. This is great given the bank isn’t here yet. There is no government guarantee for this bank, but nor is there for any of the other banks. There has been consultation with a wide range of people in the banking sector and more work is being done.

Q: Will benefits be paid through the bank?

A: No consideration of that issue is underway. What the bank is involved in will be up to the managers – NZ Post.

Q: Owen Jennings (ACT): What is the estimated cost per transaction in the bank

A: Somewhat less than the pyramid selling schemes of the ACT party.

(Owen Jennings – I am offended at the suggestion of the member, I made a personal explanation concerning that issue – I want an apology.

Winston Peters – the fact that some member may rise and claim that their word is true….

Speaker – the member will stand withdraw and apologise.

Winston – I withdraw.

Winston – I believe that the mere fact that an explanation has been provided – does not mean that the allegation has ended.

Speaker – I was here. I heard the explanation.

Richard Prebble – Can Owen ask his question again?)

A: The cost of transactions will be determined by those managing the bank. The result will be a much cheaper transaction.

Question: 11.

Phil Heatley to the Minister of Customs Phillida Bunkle:

Q: What was the total cost of the recent Customs exercise involving an imaginary boatload of refugees off the Northland coast, and does she agree with her spokeswoman that "the operation itself had worked"?

A: There is an annual Custom’s Service exercise, last year it cost $12,000. This year it was a multi-agency exercise and all the bills are not yet in. The operation highlighted the capability of the services to deal with emergencies such as this.

Q: Will Northland Health get a refund?

A: I have apologised to Northland Health and have undertaken to look at itemised accounts to ensure that the hospital is not left out of pocket.

Q: Why has this exercise not been conducted before?

A: Unlike the previous government this government is committed to safety in this area and that is why it conducted a full scale multi-agency exercise.

Question: 12.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Will the Overseas Investment Commission be consulting the seafood industry in respect to any, or all applications, which seek to permit an overseas person or company to hold an interest in quota?

A: Neither of the relevant Acts require consultation, and consultation is not normal practice. The OIC would however consult with the Maori Fisheries Commission on an application such as this.

Q: What are the risks with outside consultations?

A: Given the small number of players the risk is commercial prejudice.

Q: Stephen Franks (ACT): Are the loopholes in the law on foreign ownership the same ones that existed when Winston Peters was the treasurer?

A: What I can confirm is that there are clearly difficulties with the present law.

(Winston Peters – when a personal explanation is given, does the prescription relate to the time the explanation was made, or does it relate to a period thereafter indefinitely.….later, “I intend to nail this guy”.

Speaker – I intend to think about this and make a ruling about this tomorrow.

Richard Prebble – Mr Peters said he was going to nail some member. That is not very Parliamentary.

Speaker- someone did that 2000 years ago and it didn’t work very well then. Let us proceed.)


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