Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: ACC Costs To Employers – Strikes – ERA And Waterfront Work – Immigration Personal Grievances – Internet Spy Snooping Bill – Northland Probation Service – Super Policies – Food Bank Demand – Tertiary Policy Implementation – NZ Post Losses – Housing Policy Implementation – Two-Tier Nursing System.
The following are paraphrased answers to today's questions for oral answer. They are not complete or official, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings is Hansard, which is not finalised till some days after the event.
SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS
GRAHAM KELLY (Labour) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:
Q: How do average costs to employers under the new accident compensation system compare to similar costs before 1 July this year?
A: Data from the regulator shows that the average rate was $1.21 per $100 of liable earnings under the state insurer this has dropped to $1.16.
Q: Are further falls expected?
A: Yes. From 1 April 2001. I have received a range of advice and Treasury and the DOL are more conservative than ACC on the cost savings to be made.
Q: What about the costs of changes?
A: Premiums under the state insurance system have been lower under the state system and will be substantially lower next year.
Q: What about claimants who have been forced back to work?
A: I am concerned to ensure that people are treated fairly under the system.
Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: What reports on industrial action has she received since the introduction of the Employment Relations Act?
A: (Laila Harre on behalf): I am regularly advised on current industrial relations issues.
Q: Does she support the actions of the Waterfront Workers Union who are threatening blacklisting of a ship in Bluff and of a stevedoring company?
A: The situation developing in Otago certainly falls within the purview of the ERA and we would recommend that the provisions of the act be used to resolve this dispute. This is not a first and it will be resolved under the ERA just as it would have been under the ECA.
Q: Peter Brown (NZ First): Can I conclude she is happy about what is happening?
A: The question of whether the minister is happy is not a question for this house. I have said there are provisions in the Act that this government would expect to be used to resolve this dispute. As the member knows the provisions relating to picketing are no different in this Act than they were under the previous one and it has always been legal for peaceful protests to take place in NZ.
PETER BROWN (NZ First) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: Has she any concerns about the manner in which the Employment Relations Act is working in regard to waterfront work?
A: (Laila Harre on behalf): No.
Q: Does she not agree there are serious areas of concerns on our waterfronts and will she call a waterfront conference or will she just push the issues under the carpet like the previous government?
A: I do find it odd that a party the spent several days fighting against the ERA is now calling for the bill to be strengthened. We are not planning to regulate any working environments any more than has been done in the ERA.
Q: Max Bradford (National): If this dispute blows up, what steps will she take to ensure the union and the CTU act to stop illegal action?
A: We are not in the business of telling anyone how to go about enforcing their legal rights. The situation is no different than it may have been under the ECA. What is different is that we now have better resolution provisions. The primary resolution process under the ERA is the mediation service which is available on demand where difficulties are developing in industrial relations. It is certainly the wish of the Minister of Labour that these mechanisms be used.
Q: Is the reason she is not concerned about the emergence for the first time of threats of black listing and a demarcation dispute that that is what she intended?
A: I do not know where the member has been for the last decade. What is happening in Bluff has been well rehearsed elsewhere in NZ for example in Tauranga.
Hon MARIE HASLER (National) to the Minister of Immigration Liane Dalziel:
Q: When was she informed that two Immigration Service staff had filed personal grievance claims following her statement in the House that "my own officials have not even told me the truth", and what advice has she received on the accuracy of her statement?
A: I have not yet received a full report on the Mila removal and will not comment until I have.
Q: Will she apologise to the officials who she said let the country down?
A: I never stated that people sought to intentionally mislead me and I never said anyone lied to me. Hansard will show that. The question is hypothetical and it would be premature for me to comment.
Q: What did she mean if she did not mean they had lied?
A: I said I had not been given the correct information.
Q: Are the words “not telling the truth” synonymous with “lying”?
(Richard Prebble…. began to ask a question.
Speaker – The member is questioning the ministers word. Will the member leave the chamber.
Richard Prebble – no I will not.
Speaker – I am being defied.
Richard Prebble – I think it is an outrage that two civil servants have taken a personal grievance against something an honourable minister has said in this house and wonder if this should be referred to the house’s privileges committee.
Speaker – I think the member was wrong to put the question in the second person. Was he questioning the word of the minister?
Prebble – No.)
Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Is this a matter that should be referred to the privileges committee?
A: No. This is an employment matter and therefore matter for the department CEO.
(Dover Samuels – Have you changed your mind about booting Richard Prebble out?
Speaker – I had misheard and asked him to rephrase the question.)
KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Associate Minister of Justice Paul Swain:
Q: How is he responding to growing concern from the Internet community that the Government is proposing legislation that will allow police and security agencies to intercept e-mail messages and hack into computers?
A: The purpose of this legislation is to prosecute people for breaking into computer systems. We need to give police and security organisations the power to go after criminals. That is why there are exceptions for the police and security services.
Q: Will the police use the FBI’s Carnivore system to sift through millions of personal private emails?
A: In order to intercept email they will need a warrant just as they do to intercept phone calls.
Q: Tony Ryall (National): Is the minister comfortable with the police intention to hardwire in a device that will only be used when there is a warrant?
A: The final details on what technology is to be used have not yet been determined.
Q: Will the government decode encrypted messages?
A: Full policy is yet to be completed. I am hoping that the ACT party will assist other parties in this house to pursue criminals.
STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:
Q: In light of the Northern Advocate report of 11 November that probation staff are at breaking point because, in Kaikohe alone, there were some 65 offenders who were not receiving the appropriate level of supervision, and that "At least 15 of those 65 are in the Taffy Hotene category and at high risk (of reoffending)", what assurances can he give that innocent members of the public will not suffer?
A: There are not 15 offenders in Kaikohe area of the type that Taffy Hotene was. Hotene was mistakenly identified as a moderate risk. We are working to develop better methods of risk assessment.
Q: Next week the Kaikohe office will have only a manager and no officers when it is supposed to have four, and will he admit the system is inadequate to keep the public safe?
A: I admit that the parole system needs overhauling. The position of the Kaikohe office is being managed by the responsible officials. Can I suggest the member follows the advice of his party president.
Q: How many offenders are not being supervised?
Q: Why didn’t he seek more funding for community probation staff?
A: I sought funding for all sorts of things but I am afraid that I have Finance Minister who helped me prioritise.
JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: Is he satisfied with the progress that the Government has made on the implementation of its policies for superannuitants; if so, why?
A: Yes I can say I am satisfied. We were elected on clear commitments which we have lived up to. We have fulfilled election pledges of both the Alliance and Labour and that has benefited 456,000 senior NZers. Increases averaging $11.47 a week were introduced on April 1.
Q: Bill English (National): If superannuitants are better off then why are more people turning up at food banks?
A: I know that those superannuitants know that if National had been elected they would have had to live at the food bank, not just visit there. National doesn’t want the elderly to live in dignity, we do.
BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: What assurances will he give that the demand on food banks will not continue to grow, as it has this year under the present Government?
A: I note the fresh interest of the National Party in food banks which is not surprising – they created them. The Salvation Army reports a staggering increase in the use of food banks under National.
Q: How does he reconcile his pledge to confront poverty with the fact that food bank use has gone up?
A: There would not be anyone on this side of the house who is not outraged by the crocodile tears of the member. In contrast in 10 months this government has reversed super cuts, put record numbers of NZers into work, and is about to return to income related rents.
Q: What has he heard about the drivers of food bank usage?
A: A study last year found that lots of poor families were paying 40-50% of their income in rent. State House customers have been common customers of food banks. That is why we are introducing income related rents.
Q: Has he seen a report by Ian Ritchie saying that poverty is biting deeper in Palmerston North?
A: You don’t know Ian Ritichie, he is a friend of mine. I have always wanted to say that. Sorry Mr Speaker I do not mean you. I have written to Mr Ritchie telling him what we are doing. Try writing to him again and see what he says.
Q: Sue Bradford (Green): What about the emergency unemployment benefit?
A: We have contracted all food banks to work with them during the summer period. I am also working with student associations.
Q: Tony Ryall (National) Will food bank usage fall among the poor families who do not live in state houses?
A: We are hoping that rental properties in the private sector will see rents coming down with the removal of market rents in state houses.
HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: What progress has been made with the implementation of the Government's tertiary education policy?
A: The PM’s pre-election pledge card said we would have a fairer loans scheme. We have one. That has made a tremendous difference to students. 19 commitments we made in our tertiary education policy have been fulfilled already. This is a government that keeps its word.
Q: Maurice Williamson (National) Given he says I am responsible for student debt, has debt increased under his stewardship?
A: I do hold the member responsible, especially as he says he does not resile from any part of his policies. The average student will pay off their loan faster because they will owe on average $12,000 less.
Q: When will allowances be reintroduced?
A: After 10 years of rising fees that has stopped this year. We have also introduced zero interest on loans to full-time and low-income students. We said we will not move on allowances till we have the funding and we will not do so till we have.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:
Q: What reports has he received on whether New Zealand Post will recover from its $3.8 million loss in the three months to 30 June 2000?
A: In the statement of corporate intent it says that NZ Post will be profitable. I have also seen a report from Bill that says that growth will return to the NZ economy shortly and this is the environment that will help NZ Post.
Q: What are the profit projections for NZ Post?
A: NZ Post has already returned to sound profitability. This should be no surprise to Bill who correctly identified an economic upturn this week. The board of NZ Post has been very active in identifying new revenue streams.
TAITO PHILLIP FIELD (Labour) to the Minister of Housing Mark Gosche:
Q: What progress has been made with regard to the implementation of the Government's housing policy?
A: This Christmas more than 132,000 low income people will be better off due to income related rents. 60% of those households will be between $20 to $60 a week better off. We are keeping our word. We have boosted community housing to buy and modify lots of new houses. We have sent letters to tenants informing them of their anticipated lower rents. Again I say we are keeping our word.
Q: How will he deal with Housing NZ tenants who have not yet applied?
A: These people have been written to at least four times. Mr Ryall is back to the drawing board looking for policies and when he has some and he gives it to his colleagues they will leave it in Copperfields.
(Richard Prebble – it is incumbent on ministers to treat questions sensibly. Not only National members leave things lying around. I have been given copies of the exact wording to the questions and answers to this question. It is abundantly clear that what we have here is ministers getting members to ask them questions so they can turn question time into a PR exercise.
Michael Cullen – I remember doing exactly the same thing for Mr Prebble as a minister in 1987 when I was a whip.
Richard Prebble – If the minister is admitting that they are writing the questions and answers then that is extraordinary. I think this is bringing the house into disrepute and I request a ruling on this.
Speaker – I cannot remember in the 30 years I have been here when this was not the case.
Richard Prebble – leave to table several questions and answers – granted.
Taito Philip Field – leave to table a different question – granted.
Roger Sowry – could the Minister table the “we are keeping our word” document which is copying a 1978 National Party slogan and which is being used at the Labour conference – refused.)
Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What are the Government's plans for a two-tier nursing system in New Zealand?
A: (Tariana Turia on behalf): Development of second level nurses is an important part of plans for a quality health work force. I have attended several meetings on this with nursing organisations.
Q: Will geriatric hospitals be replacing fully qualified nurses with second tier nurses?
A: It is vital that we have competent accountable health professionals. The public expects health professionals are all properly trained. All nurses will have their competency covered by legislation because the public expects nothing less. The whole reason for this bill is to ensure the safety of patients.
Q: Will the HFA’s cut in the subsidy paid for long term geriatric care increase the likelihood that qualified nurses will be replaced with less qualified second tier nurses?
A: Final decisions have not been made on that issue.
(Maurice Williamson personal explanation quoting Internet columnist Paul Reynolds apologising without reservation for accusing Mr Williamson on RNZ of saying that the E-Commerce summit was “a lot more than any National government would have ever done”. Mr Reynolds said in an email that his comments had been based on secondary sources that had proved unreliable.)