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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 6 July

Today's Questions concern: Diabetes – Govt Use Of Consultants – Waikato Water Pipeline – Elective Surgery – Rural Schools – School Staff – Fijians On Visitors Permits - HHS Directors Costs – Consumer Banking – Cullen Statements On ERB – Long Term Unemployed - Waikato Landfill

Questions For Oral Answer - Thursday, 6 July 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 to Ministers

Question 1.

Joe Hawke (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What benefits does she anticipate from the "Get Checked" Diabetes Aotearoa Programme?

A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) Diabetes is an increasing problem. Up to 60,000 people do not know they have the disease. Maori and PI peoples have more than twice the rate of the disease. Early intervention will significantly increase the health and quality of life of those with diabetes. The $5 million initiative will assist people to manage the condition. It offers free annual health checks….(list of things in the programme).

Q: Wyatt Creech (National): Can the Minister confirm that this was based on work begun under National?

A: I am able to confirm that this is a problem that has been recognised for some time. I am pleased this brings to a conclusion issues the previous Minister was dealing with.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Why is there no Hepititis B programme accompanying this?

A: I can confirm my relief at not being responsible for the previous government’s failures.

Question 2.

Hon. John Luxton (National) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Does he stand by his reported statement of March this year that it was Government policy to eliminate the use of consultants?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) As the Opposition was told on 15th of March in Question time we are not seeking to eliminate the use of consultants.

Q: How does his ministry’s expenditure on $2 million on consultants including $90,000 on a new logo consistent with this?

A: The ministry reports to nine ministers and one undersecretary the proportion spent on consultants is falling. Previously 9.3% was on consultants. In the current year the figure is 8.7%. If one off reviews and set up costs are excluded the figure falls to 7.3%.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Have taxpayers receive value for its new logo?

A: I am sure the value is considerably greater than the cost of that member’s salary and support staff.

(Gerry Brownlee – when will questions be answered properly not politically?

Speaker – the question and answer were both political

Roger Sowry – can we have another question?)

Q: John Luxton (National): What is a style guide that cost $18,000 from Capiche?

A: I am sure the Minister would be keen to answer that question if the member puts that down.

Question 3.

Nandor Tanczos (Green) to the Minister of Local Government Sandra Lee:

Q: Has the Government considered initiating a cost benefit analysis of the proposed $155 million Waikato River pipeline to Auckland to see if it will be money well spent?

A: (Phillida Bunkle) No. This project is the responsibility of Watercare Services which is accountable to its local authority shareholders.

Q: Given there is so much rubbish in the river, wouldn’t it be better for Aucklanders to drink the water they have now?

A: It is not the responsibility of the Government to tell people where to take their water from. That said the Ministry of Health is considering water standards and the government wants to promote a coordinated approach to these issues. Watercare Services will be required to meet national standards for drinking water to be put in place later this year. I am advised that the contract for the pipeline was let in October 1999. Design is well underway. Construction will begin soon and it will be completed in 2002.

Question 4.

Hon. Ken Shirley (ACT) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Over the third quarterly Health Funding Authority reporting period ending 31 March 2000, has the number of people who have been waiting more than six months for elective surgery increased or decreased and by how much?

A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) It has declined.

Q: How does the Minister account for the statement on page 6 of the HFA report where it says the number has increased by 1000 to 34,375 during the term of this government?

A: I am advised that since that report an audit has been conducted. Once updated there was a decrease in the number of people waiting and I know the member will agree that that is fantastic news. We have allocated an extra $121 million for elective surgery in our first 4 months in office. In the budget we have announced even more money for elective surgery. We are putting our money where our mouth is.

Q: Will the Minister confirm the evidence from the DG of Health that the total amount allocated for elective surgery has in fact been decreased from $510 million to $490 million in the budget.

A: That is not what I am given to understand from the evidence of the DG of Health.

Question 5.

Georgina Beyer (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: Are staffing levels in small rural schools adequate; if not, why not?

A: No. Staffing levels in small schools are inadequate. The MRD process headed by Dr Smith the first left schools with very little administrative support. The National Government assumed the administrative load of a school of 40 was 10% of that of a school of 400. That is not true. We have moved to change this. About 160 extra full time equivalent teachers will be teaching in about 460 rural schools starting next year.

Q: Can the Minister confirm that this announcement was met with derision by principals recently meeting in Christchurch?

A: For the smaller schools in the country what this does is triple the relief time given to principals for administrative and curriculum work. We have received calls from around the country saying “what a generous government!”. I accept that in Christchurch there were one or two old Tory principals who were upset at the announcement.

Question 6.

Dr the Hon. Nick Smith (National) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What information have schools been given regarding the level of staffing and operational funding for next year?

A: Schools have been advised that there will be an increase in staffing for rural schools. They have also been advised there will be an average 4.7% increase in operational funding next year.

Q: Why then has the PPTA got information on Secondary School funding that the Select Committee, parents and schools have not?

A: John Morris was kind enough to send me those figures. The figures are PPTA proposals. They have not been accepted by the government. They are not accurate figures. The PPTA did not say we gave them to them. In 1999 the figures for 2000 were made available in August, September and November. We are going to be quicker than the previous government on this. Nick Smith can’t seem to remember what he did when he was Minister.

(Nick Smith – leave to table the PPTA’s list – granted.)

Question 7.

Ann Hartley (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel:

Q: What actions has she taken in response to the present situation faced by many Fijian nationals currently in New Zealand on temporary permits?

A: At present there are a number of Fijian Nationals on visitors permits who are unable to return. This government understands the catch 22 position of these people. They have been granted the right to temporary work permits. 433 people have applied for extensions so far. This is the minimum number of people who will be affected by the announcement made today.

Q: How are residency applications being processed?

A: I have not taken any recommendations to cabinet on this while the crisis remains. Residents applications are being processed in accordance with standard policy.

Question 8.

Dr Lynda Scott (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: How much extra money are Health and Hospital Services boards estimated to spend on fees for additional directors, as a result of the Government's proposed structural changes?

A: Based on existing fees the additional cost is $226,000 for the remaining lives of the HHSs.

Q: Why is $750,000 being spent on additional transitional board members?

A: Because we are moving away from the failed market approach to health. Each new member will strengthen the skill sets of boards. Our modest investment in this area is expected to result in cost savings and health gains.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Is the Minister aware that this will cost money that could have been spent on health gains?

A: I am not surprised that the member continues to make figures up.

(Speaker – that is not acceptable. Withdraw and apologise.

Dyson – I withdraw and apologise.

Ken Shirley – leave to table a CCMAU report showing his figures – refused.)

Question 9.

Graham Kelly (Labour) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs Phillida Bunkle:

Q: What reports has she received on consumer satisfaction with banking in New Zealand and what is she doing about it?

A: My office and the Ministry have received numerous letters and phone calls about disputes and problems with banks. In response to this we set up a Bankline. In two hours this morning Bankline received over 200 calls. Bankline will clear up much confusion about banking rights and gather information for policy work. Some of the issues of concern include the costs of banking to beneficiaries and low income NZers in particular. Some of the banks we have consulted on Bankline have already come to me to discuss low cost banking services.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First) – Can she confirm that Bank profits last year averaged 26% and that the BNZs profit was 32%?

A: I can confirm that there was an increase in profits last year. We have started work to help NZers protect themselves from this type of profiteering.

Q: Penny Webster (ACT): Given that last year this started as a working party to lower costs how is an 0800 gripe and whinge line going to assist beneficiaries?

A: The reports I had on coming into government were that the problem was much greater than just gripes and whinges. We want to do this work to assist us to decide whether it is necessary to change the law.

Question 10.

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

Q: Does she agree with the changes to the Employment Relations Bill outlined in a speech by Hon Dr Michael Cullen yesterday, and do these changes represent official Government policy?

A: Yes.

Q: Given the Minister referred to only 8 clauses. Does this mean there are no changes proposed for the other 200+ clauses?

A: The member is in a good position to know the answer to this as a member of the Select Committee considering the bill.

Q: Max Bradford (National): I can therefore confirm that there are no other substantive changes.

(Speaker – order.)

A: The specific matters raised in the speech were… (listed). I seek leave to table a copy of the speech – granted. (See Parliament Wire….)

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): What about the replacement of striking workers?

A: The purpose of the clause needs to be read with the clause on sympathy strikes. The principle is that that when strike action is taken there must be incentives to resolve. Therefore sympathy strikes are illegal and strike breaking through employing new workers is outlawed.

(Technical dispute by way of Point of Order – Brownlee, Prebble, Cullen, Bradford - over the fact that while the ERB is before the Select Committee Minister Michael Cullen is making speeches about it but National’s Katherine Rich has being disciplined for discussing what is in the bill with the media – the ODT.

Speaker – The government is at liberty to say what it intends to do with a bill. But no one can reveal what has gone on in confidence at the committee. Therein lies the difference.

Nick Smith – Leave sought to make all deliberations in the committee on the ERB public – refused.

Richard Prebble – Will there be one rule for us and another for the government? Or can we discuss the bill outside as long as we do not mention the committee proceedings?

Michael Cullen – it is not possible to wrap up the committee’s report in gladwrap.

Speaker - The fact a bill is before a committee does not stop debate outside the committee. The problem with what Katherine Rich did was to give a confidential report to the ODT and that is not permitted.)

Question 11.

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

Q: Is reducing long term unemployment a high priority for the Government; if so, what has he done to reduce it since becoming the Minister?

A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) Yes. Reducing the level of unemployment is the highest priority of this government. Economic policy is now about encouraging job-rich growth.

Q: Can the Minister then explain then how the number of long-term unemployed has grown?

A: The member is confusing long-term unemployed with registered unemployed. Total registered unemployed have fallen by 17% from December to now.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): Can she confirm that those figures include students?

A: No. But I am happy to check it out. The HLFS survey results are the accepted way of measuring long term unemployment. March quarter figures show long term unemployed have fallen for both the quarter and the year. According to the HLFS the number of long term unemployed fell from December - 47,200 to March - 39,100, down 17%.

Question 12.

Dr Paul Hutchison (National) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:

Q: Is the Government committed to waste minimisation, state-of-the-art waste disposal, and an open, accountable and rigorous process regarding waste disposal applications?

A: Yes. We are fully committed to principles behind waste management. Our partner local government has responsibility for this under the RMA.

Q: Why has she refused twice to participate in hearings on the massive proposed Hampton Downs landfill in the Waikato – NZ’s largest – just upstream from the Waikato pipeline intake?

A: As Minister for the Environment I cannot interfere in individual cases especially when the case is before the Environment Court.

Q: What are you doing about waste minimisation?

A: I am establishing a multi-sector working group to work a national coordinated waste-minimisation strategy. If the opposition – which did nothing when in Government – continues to laugh, then that is their problem.

Q: Nick Smith (National): How can she claim she does not have the power to make submissions when her ministry makes submissions all the time?

A: What I said was that as Minister for the environment I cannot interfere in the actions of the Environment Court.


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