Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: Doctor’s Strike – Defence Policy – Fire Service x 2 – Doctors “Golden Handcuffs” – Fiscal Policy – Urewera Road Decision – Auckland Schools – Employment Stats – Australian Apple Trade Dispute – Emergency Unemployment Benefit – Fisheries Commission – Relationship Property Bill – Health Bill Submissions.
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
Hon. Ken Shirley (ACT) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: If the junior doctors' rolling strikes continue to escalate throughout the public health sector will she intervene; if so, at what point?
A: I refer the member to section 39 of the ACT that requires all operational decisions to be made by the board.
Q: Does she reject comments from Hospital Managers saying it is her fault?
A: This government put an extra $110 million into the Hospital sector taking the total to $3.2 billion – the highest level of funding. Bill English knew about this problem with the Junior Doctors and did nothing, leaving the mess for us to clean up.
Q: What about the impact of student loans?
A: I am aware of the impact of the National Party’s student loans system on health professionals. Work is being done on that issue.
Q: Does she reject comments of hospital managers? And if not then who is correct? Them or her?
A: Yes I do reject the comments. More money did go in. It is $110 million and however you count it, that is additional money.
Chris Carter (Labour) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:
Q: What progress has been made toward the objectives laid out in the Defence Policy Framework?
A: After neglect and mismanagement for several years we have established realistic objectives. We have put in place a group of reviews to consider defence issues. These will help us to make sound decisions in the future.
Q:: Will he upgrade the Orions to make them interoperable with Australia?
A: A senior group of ministers will investigate that and report back no later than February.
Q: Can he confirm that NZ will continue to meet its obligations as a member of the five power defence arrangement?
A: Yes it is still our policy to remain in FPDA and this announcement does not undermine our ability to do so.
Q: Keith Locke (Green): Will the government be reviewing whether we need an air-combat capability?
A: The review of surveillance will not consider air combat capability.
Q: Does the government have doubts about whether NZ has any interest in the military activities of other nations in the South West Pacific?
A: No we will make considered decisions.
Q: When will there be a pay rise for junior service personnel?
A: I can’t say when, but it is high on my list of priorities.
Rt Hon. Jenny Shipley (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs Mark Burton:
Q: Can he assure New Zealand households and businesses that fire service levies will not increase if a settlement is reached with paid firefighters on the basis of his 20 March letter to the Chairperson of the Fire Service Commission, as reported in today's Dominion?
A: My letter of 20th March made only one reference to fiscal implications of a pay settlement. I said they should come to see me to discuss the fiscal implications once negotiations have reached a point when implications are known. We have not yet reached that point. Fire-fighters have not had an increase since their contract expired in 1994.
Q: Jenny Shipley (National): Can he confirm that the letter he wrote outlined policy that will lead to higher fire service levies?
A: My letter laid out the policy and reasonable expectations of the Government. Every single communication I have had with the two parties have reminded them that I am not a party to the negotiations and that they are expected to negotiate in good faith.
(Max Bradford – will he table the letter he quoted from.
Mark Burton - these are notes not a letter.
Speaker - the notes ministers use to answer questions are not official documents.)
Rt Hon. Winston Peters (NZ First) to the Minister of Internal Affairs Mark Burton:
Q: Has the investigation into allegations of fraud against the chief of the Hamilton Fire Service, Mr Grant Olsen, now been completed; if so, what did the investigation conclude?
A: Yes. The investigation found that he had not misappropriated funds, but that there were problems with the management of the office.
Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Is it not a fact that there are numerous cases of theft found in this case? And why is he not facing dismissal when the whistleblower is?
A: This was found as part of a routine audit. The investigation found no evidence of misappropriation or dishonesty.
(Leave sought to table report of the internal auditor. Recommendations and questions on this issue - granted)
Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: Will she be seeking to extend the proposed student loan forgiveness scheme, the so-called "golden handcuff", to other groups of health employees for whom there are shortages or will it be limited to junior doctors?
A: Hospitals and health services like any other employer can address student loans as part of employment contracts. So it does also apply to other groups, yes. I have written to HHS’s on the expectations of the Government in this negotiation process.
Q: What is she doing about loans to nurses?
A: As I said HHS’s are able to make similar provisions to other health workers. It is related to recruitment and retention issues.
Q: How can Hospitals negotiate in good faith when they have all said they do not have enough money?
A: It is incorrect to say they have all said that.
Mark Peck (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: What recent proposals has he received for increased Government spending and what means have been suggested for funding those proposals?
A: I note that the National Party Conference passed a remit to increase defence spending and that calls have been made today to provide money to increase health sector wages. These could be funded either by increasing taxes or cutting expenditure. I note also that the National Party is not guaranteeing sufficient funding to maintain the dignity of the retired.
Q: How can he claim to be fiscally credible when his ministers have been negotiating 20% and 30% wage increases?
A: When the member has taken to relying on the Dominion for his facts he has reached the bottom of the pit.
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Do the instruction on 30% wage rises not matter because these will be funded out of taxes on all households through the fire service levy?
A: I know of no such instruction. I note however that in-spite of the best efforts of the member,. the IRD will continue do their best to collect tax to pay for government activities.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith (National) to the Minister of Conservation Sandra Lee:
Q: Does she agree with the comments of the Prime Minister that "It's hard to see any reason for supporting it.", with respect to exclusive Maori camping grounds in Urewera National Park; if so, what reasons did she have for supporting five such areas earlier this year?
A: The PM is obviously quite entitled to express her views on all issues. The reasons I supported these is best encapsulated in Nick Smith’s own report on this. (Quoted from report…)
Q: What reports does she have on problems in Waikaremoana?
A: I have read a report that the Government has made a rod for its own back in this case by negotiating with protestors. Quotes at length. That was a report from the Evening Post concerning Nick Smith dating from 1998.
Q: Will the government be proceeding with funding for the road and camping areas?
A: No contracts have yet been issued. But can I say that the bridges on that road are not safe. I will not be put in a position where I am responsible for deaths on that road.
Helen Duncan (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: What plans is he making for future provision of schooling in Auckland?
A: As a result of concerns about population growth I have received a report. The report concludes that the property budget in Education is adequate to provide sufficient quality schools for Auckland. The Ministry has sites for 18 new schools and is looking to purchase sites for four more. 14 of these new schools will be built in the next 5 years.
Q: How much has this cost?
A: $135.3 million has been allocated towards this in the budget,
Q: Can he assure teachers at Onehunga where the budget has been cut that they will not lose their jobs?
A: I am sure that with an extra $60 million in Auckland there will be plenty of jobs for teachers in Auckland.
Hon. Bill English (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Can he confirm that the Household Labour Force Survey shows a decrease of 10,000 jobs since the election; if so, what effect will this have on the economy?
Q: How many more jobs will be lost thanks to the reduction in growth forecasts recently indicated by the Reserve Bank?
A: The last survey shows an increase in jobs of 14,000. There has been strong job growth among Maori and PI people resulting in a reductions in the unemployment rates among those groups.
Q: What is the participation rate falling?
A: I have asked a few people about that and think it might be worth waiting for the next survey.
Rick Barker (Labour) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:
Q: What progress has been made towards access for New Zealand apples into Australia?
A: The Australian Minister of Agriculture said the draft risk analysis would be released soon. I will be checking up on this.
Q: Why have there been these continuing delays? And will we take Australia to the WTO?
A: The reason for the delay is there being anxious that the science underlying the risk assessment is bullet-proof. They are also putting effort into getting buy-in to the process from the states. We will do as we would be done too. As a last resort we would consider the WTO but I do not expect that to be necessary.
Q: John Luxton (National): Given he said two years ago that the Australians should be taken to the WTO, why hasn’t he?
A: I have got further on this in nine months than the member opposite got in nine years. The member implies I have had a sneak preview of the assessment. I have no information about what protocols might be included in any forthcoming risk assessment.
Sue Bradford (Green) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: Does he stand by his 1998 media statement that denying the emergency unemployment benefit to students over the summer is placing at risk their education and is "a meanspirited attack on students"; if so, will he restore the emergency unemployment benefit for students this summer?
A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) We have worked with the Student Movement on this. We were persuaded by student leaders that a job-subsidy did not work that is why we have increased our investment in student job search. That is what we have done.
Q: How then does she explain the level of protests and anger from students?
A: I understand the concern of students and their inability to trust governments. We however are determined to work with students to restore their trust. In the 2000 budget we announced an additional 3.44 million on student job search over three years. That is on top of changes to student loans and increases in eligibility to the Training Incentive Allowance.
Hon. Doug Kidd (National) to the Minister of Mâori Affairs Parekura Horomia:
Q: How many of the new Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commissioners are leading figures in organisations involved in litigation against the Commission?
A: There are several new appointees who might be judged leading figures involved in litigation against the commission. It is sometimes difficult to gauge who isn’t.
Q: Does he support plundering southern resources to finance closing the gaps in the North?
Q: How can the commission operate effectively?
A: The commission has its own
internal measures to ensure that performance is
Questions to Members
Anne Tolley (National) to the Chairperson of the Justice and Electoral Committee Tim Barnett:
Q: What progress has been made on the Matrimonial Property Amendment Bill and Supplementary Order Paper No 25?
A: The bill was originally introduced in 1998. We have had lots of submissions on it. As for SOP 25, we have had more than 1000 submissions on this of which 91 were heard. The committee is now considering the issues raised in those submissions. Our deliberations and timetable are confidential.
Rt Hon. Wyatt Creech (National) to the Chairperson of the Health Committee Judy Keall:
Q: Under what authority did she determine the wording for the advertisement calling for submissions on the Public Health and Disability Bill and the time for the cut-off of submissions on that bill?
A: I took a decision to set a closing date consistent with established Parliamentary practice. I did not determine the wording. The first part is standard wording used for several years.
Q: Why did she say she was relying on Standing Order 197 when that does not give her authority to set the cut off date?
A: Because I was advised to mention that section by the Office of the Clerk.