Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: Airways Radar Dispute – Super Investment Policy – IRD Call Centres – Widening of Closing Gaps Policy – Workplace Opportunities – NCEA – Employer Drug Testing – Digital TV – Sports Scholarships – Minimum Wage – Library Literacy Programme – Poor Country Tariff Free Status.
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
(Richard Prebble – Written questions must be replied to within five working days. I have had several questions outstanding with six ministers since November 10th.
Speaker – I have written to ministers asking them to reply on time.
John Luxton – I have similar problems with some questions asked in October.
LATER: Speaker - The Clerk has advised that the questions have now been answered.
STILL LATER - at the end of question time: Richard Prebble – I have checked the answers and they are not answers. A partly handwritten answer from the PM is purported to answer questions given to other ministers. I want to request a ruling on this that each minister should answer the question themselves.
Speaker – I have advice that that has been a common form of answering questions for many years.)
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:
Q: In light of yesterday's reported allegation that a $45 million legal threat hangs over Airways Corporation, along with a threat to have radar equipment removed from New Zealand, what actions is he taking to minimise the potential for this significant cost to be carried by the taxpayer and of any consequential disruption to air travellers?
A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) I am advised that many allegations made in the newspaper article are inaccurate.
Q: Why is he defending the indefensible?
A: This is a much broader question, the minister I am sure has been trying to satisfy himself with the performance of the board.
Q: Is there any risk?
A: The Minister has been given an unequivocal assurance that Airways will not allow the radar equipment to be taken out of NZ. No legal action has been taken at this point. I am surprised that the leader of NZ First is taking the case of a French multinational over a NZ State Owned Enterprise.
(Richard Prebble – we have been approached by a PR firm which is looking for political support for the French multinational. And we – the ACT Party - have said no way.
Winston Peters – we have not even seen the PR firm. This article was in the Evening Post yesterday and the inference made by Mr Prebble is not acceptable.
Speaker – that is a matter for debate.)
Q: When did the minister last have a discussion with Airways?
A: I am unable to indicate whether there has been a verbal discussion. The corporation has advised that it has not been threatened with removal of the equipment.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Will he follow Treasury advice that most of the proposed superannuation fund should be invested off shore?
A: Decisions on investment will not be made by Ministers but by fund managers appointed by the guardians of the Super fund.
Q: When will the dispute with the Alliance be resolved?
A: We have an agreed position on how the fund will be invested. Guardians of the fund will be required to maximise returns as per commercial best practice.
Q: How will he square investing offshore with his attempts to encourage overseas investment in NZ?
A: On a modest projection the fund is expected to last for 100 years. I would hesitate to forecast the investment profile over that period. The guardians will publish a statement of investment policies each year. They will publish an analysis of performance each year too and will have to appear before a select committee.
Q: What legislative provision will be put in place to prevent interference from future Ministers of Finance?
A: The legislation will specify very clearly what powers of direction the minister has in relation to the fund.
Q: Bill English (National): When he says he has an agreed position with the Alliance does that mean they realise that the government will be exporting $50 billion of capital to overseas share markets?
A: The members new found populism will no doubt find its way into a memo to the National caucus shortly. I am appalled at the suggestion of the member the investment will earn a return which will be repatriated to NZ.
MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Revenue Michael Cullen:
Q: What factors have led to performance problems with IRD call centres?
A: Baselines in the IRD were cut for several years under National leading to the call centre problems. Another factor has been an increase in the number of calls, and the complexity of those calls. I can confirm that the previous government was planning on cutting baseline funding in the 2000-2001 year for the IRD by $30 million. This government restored that funding.
Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Has the government looked at remedies against high priced consultants?
A: Were some of these consultants the same ones who recently resigned from ACT.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister of Maori Affairs Parekura Horomia:
Q: When was he advised that the Closing the Gaps programme was changing from "seeking better economic and social outcomes for Maori and Pacific peoples" to "focusing on low decile needs across the board" and what directions has he given to Te Puni Kokiri as a consequence of this change?
A: This government has always sought to reduce the serious inequalities from years and years of failed economic policies. In order to address these problems we need policies that address the needs of all groups.
Q: Should I take from that that the PM’s statement is an instruction to the news media on a new kind of spin?
A: No. The government has not changed its policies we have always followed policies supporting participation by all NZers in NZ society.
Q: When are we getting Maori TV?
A: Maori broadcasting has been somewhat in disarray and we have had a report on this.
Q: How much confidence does he have in TPK ensuring that Closing the Gaps money is well spent?
A: The role of TPK is critical and I am demanding that it continually improve its performance.
Q: Now we know TPK is not just responsible for delivery of Closing the Gaps to Maori has he asked for extra resources to deal with this new responsibility?
A: I am not to sure what the question was. But I am sure that I am big enough to carry the role that is expected of me.
HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:
Q: What action is the Government taking to develop workplace learning opportunities involving schools and business?
A: The government has allocated $4 million for a pilot gateway programme to build pathways between business, schools and government.
Q: Why is he reviewing the Bright Futures scholarship programme?
A: The member may like to know that the programme was due for review under National Party policy. The NCEA will do lots to assist this new process. It will allow workplace learning to be combined with school based learning.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: Will students receiving reports on their results in the new National Certificate of Education Achievement get a percentage mark or percentile ranking?
A: The policy agreed by Cabinet in 1998 was that grades and percentile rankings would be used for reporting. I note that Dr Smith relied yesterday on a copy of his own speech faxed to him by the Business Roundtable, which begs the question who wrote the speech?
(Speaker – that remark is out of order.)
Q: Given that he claimed yesterday that percentage marks were never proposed how come they have been mentioned several times by officials and in official documents?
A: The member clearly seems to need some help with spelling, comprehension and other basic skills. (The answer was interrupted several times by points of order as Mr Mallard tried to be very erudite and funny.)
Q: Does the Cabinet Paper that mentions a mark for national examination remarks still represent government policy?
A: The only time percentages were mentioned by the previous government were when the member spoke to the PPTA and the Business Round table.
(Nick Smith – leave to table a letter mentioning marks, percentages and percentiles – granted.)
Q: Will the NCEA provide more information?
A: Yes. Under the NCEA students will get total marks for the subject, and grades for units within the subject.
Q: Is the NCEA update No. 3 which makes no mention of percentages and percentiles correct.
A: There will be total marks available.
(Trevor Mallard - Leave sought to table a speech of Nick Smith faxed to him by the Business Roundtable – refused.)
NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:
Q: Is it appropriate that Temuka police Sergeant Glen Smith is advising employers to use drug testing kits to test their workers when this is a complex area of employment law; if so, why?
A: I am advised that Mr Smith’s comments were made primarily in his capacity as a member of a community organisation. I am also advise that the police has no policy on drug testing of employees. The member should think about his party’s position in trying to stop NZ First smoking on the same floor as him.
Q: Has he seen reports that Nandor supports Ecstasy testing kits?
A: No, and I am not interested in it.
PENNY WEBSTER (ACT) to the Minister of Broadcasting Marian Hobbs:
Q: What is her response to the article in Tuesday's New Zealand Herald indicating that Television New Zealand is considering a digital and pay television joint venture with Australian-owned Telstra Saturn?
A: I am always very interested in what the NZ Herald writes.
Q: Will she give an assurance that neither TVNZ nor Telstra will be scrambling TVNZ channels.
A: There is considerable confusion here. This government is determined that noone will be disadvantaged and timing analogue switchoff will reflect this.
Q: What about negative comments by the PM about TVNZ?
A: Neither the PM’s opinion, nor mine, nor the members are in any way directives to TVNZ.
Q: Is she concerned that only NZers who have lots of money will have access to digital TV?
A: There is no timeline for switchoff of analogue. There is likely to be two levels of desktop boxes one of which may be as cheap as $100.
Q: Did discussions with Telstra-Saturn take place with her knowledge?
A: I have been aware from early this year that discussions with several groups would continue.
DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister for Sport, Fitness and Leisure Trevor Mallard:
Q: What response has he had to the announcement of sports scholarships for talented young sportspeople?
A: Awesome. Already there has been more than 300 applications from talented young people.
Q: Why is the government offering these?
A: Because making young people choose between sport and education is detrimental for young people.
Q: When will support be provided for Outward Bound and not only elite sport?
A: There has been lots of resources put into a wide range of sports.
Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: Has she received any reports pushing for a rise in the minimum wage?
Q: Does she agree with the CTU that the target level should be 50% of the average wage?
A: I am not sure what the member is referring to. I do not agree with the amount. We do think it should be related to average earnings. Under the Minimum Wage Act the Minimum Wage is reviewed every year. We have consulted widely this year. The responses received range widely.
Q: If the minimum wage was raised to the level suggested by the CTU what would the effect be?
A: There is no suggestion that that will happen. The minimum wage was not changed during the last three years of the National Government. There was in fact no evidence that National ever intended to raise the minimum wage ever again.
Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): Knowing some army recruits earn $13,000 a year and that some serving soldiers in East Timor earn $20,000. What is the minister doing about those minimum wages?
(Speaker – that question is unrelated to the original question.)
H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour) to the Minister responsible for the National Library Marian Hobbs:
Q: Why is the Government funding the National Library to run a library literacy programme in South Auckland?
A: The government has allocated money for a South Auckland library literacy programme. These will help 10% of decile one schools. This will play a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide.
Q: Will the pilot be evaluated?
Q: Is the Library planning on buying more books for schools with some of this money?
A: Yes and also providing computers.
Hon JOHN LUXTON (National) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:
Q: What environmental or trade guarantees were secured by the Government when granting tariff-free status into New Zealand for 48 countries?
A: (Paul Swain on behalf) No environmental or trade guarantees were provided by the countries. This was a unilateral move. It is a worthy cause. The intent of this initiative was to help the living standards in some of the poorest countries in the world. I would have thought the member would support this. This initiative supports calls from the UN and others to assist these countries.
Q: Does the Alliance support duty free access from Myannmar?
Q: Rod Donald (Green): Did NZ consult with South Pacific Nations?
A: Not that I know of. The tariff freeze was about our major trading partners. This is about the least developing nations.