Today’s questions concerned the subjects of: Unemployment Statistics – Bulk Funding – R&D Tax Deductibility – West Papua – Retail Price Increases – Health Workforce Shortages – Dawn Raid Deceptions – Sealords Share Sales – Home Detention – Radioactive Waikato Fertilisers – Bright Future Scholarships - NZ Business Internet Uptake
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
OWEN JENNINGS (ACT) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: What are the reasons for the 22% growth in persons registered unemployed over one year to 108,511, since the election, and what steps are being taken to reverse this trend?
A: (Ruth Dyson on behalf) As explained to Muriel Newman in written answers the reasons are very simple. Policy changes brought in by the National government and Peter McCardle are driving these figures. This is due to the bringing in of people who are subject to work testing. The member knows that the HLFS is the official measure and that that measure has over the same period decreased by 11%.
Q: Are these not real people who are unemployed?
A: The reason the figures have gone up is because we are not comparing apples with apples. We have added people to the register who are in fact in part time work but who remain on benefits. If we are comparing apples with apples then we use the HLFS. In the period from September 1999 to June this year there is a decrease of unemployment of 11%. From June last year to June this year there has been a fall of 19%.
HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: What reports has he received on the amount of funding the Auckland region gained as a result of the removal of bulk-funding and the implementation of the Government's Resourcing for the Future package?
A: I have received reports that Auckland gained $12 million as a result of the change in funding methods. This will help address disadvantage in Auckland and other regions. I note the Leader of the Opposition has visited recently a school in Auckland that was previously bulk-funded. Her attempts are pathetic….
(Speaker – confine yourself to answering the question please.)
Q: Nick Smith (National): Does he admit Epson Grammer is increasing its funding while Manurewa’s funding is falling and how will this help close the gaps?
A: I am advised that the figures the member has are inaccurate and ask him whether he would prefer to cut the funding of schools in Nelson to give it to Manurewa?
(Nick Smith - leave to table figures from Ministry of Education)
Q: Is it true some schools with transient pupils will receive lots more money?
Q: What does he say to Rangitoto college that is losing 12.5% of its funding or to Northcote college that is losing 26% of its funding?
A: I would tell them to read the documentation carefully.
Q: Nick Smith (National): Why is he requiring schools with extra money to report how they are spending it, but not asking for reports from schools making cuts?
A: Because when additional resources are going in I think it is important there are clear plans. Schools have been writing to me about the effects of cuts, they have been doing it.
Rt Hon WYATT CREECH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Will the Government be making an announcement on research and development policy at the Business Forum next week; if so, will it be a continuation of the current grants scheme, a change to 100% tax deductibility as promised in the Labour Party pre-election policy, or will it be a policy of partial deductibility where research spending carried as an expense in a company's accounts can be written off as a tax break?
A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) The member has asked four questions I expect all will be answered over the next week.
Q: Is he planning to go with the third plan as indicated by the Minister of Education?
A: On behalf of the Minister I made no such announcement. The 2000 budget contained the largest ever contribution to private sector R&D. This contrasts with the previous government who did nothing for nine years. The Minister of Education and I have had lots of discussions about this question.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:
Q: Does the Government support a self-determination process for West Papua so that the people can democratically determine their own political future; if not, why not?
A: The question of self-determination is a matter to be worked through by the people of West Papua and the Indonesian government. We support processes which will resolve disagreements between the people and Indonesia by peaceful means. It is not a role of the NZ government to decide who should be given observer status at the South Pacific Forum. While Vanuatu supports it, Australia and PNG are opposed. President Wahid has offered to address grievances by increasing autonomy. We support a peaceful resolution of these problems. The government is not giving any particular status to a visitor from West Papua who I am meeting this afternoon.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Does he agree with Retail Merchants Association chief executive John Albertson who said, in relation to the September quarter consumer price index result, that "we've probably only picked up in the tail end of that period the start of what might be ahead of us in terms of this very heavy cost pressure"; if not, why not?
A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) I do not presume to know Mr Albertson’s business better than he does.
Q: Does he agree NZ families are facing the meanest Christmas in a long time?
A: I see the member has been shopping in Auckland and not Gore recently. The dollar has been buffeted by the strong US Dollar like the Euro and the Australian Dollar. Our problems are exacerbated by the consumption boom economy which was encouraged by the previous government.
Q: Is Labour responsible for a range of negative statistics?
A: I am quite sure that if we had any other government then we would be in a very serious situation. Manufacturers are expecting sales to pick up in the September quarter on the back of export increases. The fact is that the local market is intensely competitive, and as many local market manufacturers are planning on putting down prices as are planning on putting them up.
JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What initiatives is she taking in the health workforce area to address workforce shortages?
A: I am delighted to announce the terms of the reference for a health workforce advisory committee. This is another step towards straightening out Bill English mess. There are four terms of reference for the committee.
Q: Wyatt Creech (National): Is the Minister aware of the problems faced by hospitals in not having enough money to pay their staff?
A: They would have had lots more problems paying them out of the pathetic $175 million promised by the National Government. In addition to the committee we are also working to address the current workforce crisis.
Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel:
Q: Has she identified the officials she stated had not told her the truth; if so, what action has she taken to ensure that this does not happen again?
A: I have met with the General Manager of the Immigration Service and I have asked him to have a report on my desk on the Mila families removal by 5pm tonight. I have had a discussion with the acting Commissioner of State Services on this matter.
Q: What has the Minister done about it?
A: I have ensured that there will be no dawn raids and an instruction has gone out that there will be no removal activity before 7am and after 9pm. No-one will be removed until there is also a confirmation from the removal authority that no appeal has been lodged. I have not referred the matter to the acting State Services Commissioner. I have sought advice and I received that advice yesterday.
Q: Is he concerned about the Tongan man in the Herald this morning?
A: I am not prepared to get in the way of the 1st of October policy. I do want to review the standard wording of questionnaires to ensure that people are asked whether or not they have appealed.
Q: Why did she take so long to seek advice from the acting State Services Commissioner, and only after the Dominion noted that she hadn’t done so?
A: I spoke immediately after the matter was brought to my attention to the General Manager. I acted immediately to ensure the matter was addressed. Additional matters are also being addressed. I sought advice from the SSC yesterday after meeting with the GM on Monday to seek confirmation that the questions to the Immigration Service were appropriate.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson:
Q: Are negotiations for the sale of BIL's share of Sealords progressing towards completion?
A: The sale is a private commercial matter and has no intimate knowledge of the state of negotiations.
Q: Can he confirm that the announcement of a Japanese firm involved in whaling as the successful bidder is imminent?
A: I would be surprised if the company mentioned was the only company bidding for the shares. It is a long standing practice not to disclose whether applications to the OIC have been made. The consent to own fish-quota is needed if it is under the control of a foreign person. We are concerned with whether the purchaser is of good character, and whether the ownership is in the national interest. The OIC is operating under a policy directive issued by the National Government which is considered to be ultra-vires.
Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:
Q: How is his decision to consider a home detention "get out early" plan for violent offenders consistent with the public's wishes, as expressed in the Norm Withers referendum?
A: I am not considering any proposal to release violent offenders early from prison.
Q: Can he give an assurance that no offences will be committed by people on home detention?
A: No I cannot. The story the member refers to relates to providing home detention as an option for high risk offenders released after serving their sentences. Options which would allow 24hour supervision of offenders can only provide more security for the community. Home detention os presently used for non-violent offenders and has been used for 513 people over the last year. There has been a low recall and breach rate. Only 9 detainees have been recalled and only nine have breached. This is a world leading application of the technology.
DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture Jim Sutton:
Q: What reports has he received about radioactive material being spread on Waikato farms?
A: I have indeed received a letter from a concerned NZer about an article in Health Options magazine. This concerns the spread of phosphates from Christmas Island on farms. The writer of the article has confused an Indian Ocean Island with a Pacific Ocean Island, where their were atomic explosions. There are natural levels of uranium in NZ soils.
Q: Can he confirm household smoke detectors are 100 to 1000 times more radioactive than the fertiliser spread on farms.
A: No I cannot confirm those figures.
Q: Can he confirm the writer of this article was told his claims were wrong and that this is typical of greenies?
A: No. I can say that I have told organic farmers not to promote their food on the basis that conventional food is unsafe, and I am pleased to say that they have not been doing so to my knowledge.
Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons (Green): Can he confirm that the writer was also told that his claims were inaccurate by the Green Party? Is he concerned that journalism like this obscures serious concerns about heavy metal levels in fertilisers?
A: I must agree with the member that it is a pity that serious issues have their currency devalued by silly journalism like this.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: What scholarships was he referring to when he said yesterday "We'll begin to reshape the use of that money into scholarships to provide support for students who wouldn't normally get a scholarship, expand the net a bit and bring more people through into areas that we think logically there should be more students studying.", and how do they differ from the scholarship areas announced in the Bright Future package last year?
A: ( Trevor Mallard on behalf) It was the Bright Future scholarships that I was referring to.
Q: Are there other areas we need to increase graduates in?
A: It is true that some National Ministers belatedly started to realise in 1999 that we needed to do something about this. This party is walking the walk. They talked the talk. We have provided funding for early childhood teachers and are planning to do so for elite sports people.
Q: Why doesn’t he just fully fund these areas like the Alliance wants to?
A: The PM has an open mind about this. The Minister of Education believes we should take a “middle term” perspective on this.
DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister for Information Technology Paul Swain:
Q: What reports has he received recently about the uptake of information technology by New Zealand business compared with that in Australia?
A: The house will be delighted to learn that NZ businesses are leading Australian businesses in the use of the Internet. Although interest in the Internet is high, businesses are yet to fully exploit the opportunities of e-commerce. A recent survey from AC Neilsen has found even higher productivity increases by NZ firms. Interest in the e-commerce summit is extremely high.
Q: What has he done to encourage this, or is this National’s responsibility?
A: We have been prepared to be pro-active on this. The problem with the National Party is that they realised they missed the bus when they were in government and now the envy the Labour Government as it takes up the challenge.
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT) Has he got any reports on Corrections Department home-detention system IT failures?
A: The member is concentrating on the negative. He should concentrate on the positive.
Q: Max Bradford (National): Why then do businesses say the government is not listening?
A: There they go again. Running down the country. We are trying very hard. I suggest to that member get positive and get with the programme.
(Max Bradford – leave to table a Waikato University study – refused
Paul Swain – leave to table another paper – granted.)