Today’s Questions concerned the subjects of: Bangladesh Labour Conditions – OECD Criticisms – Early Childhood Education – OECD Observations - Adult Literacy – TPK and Closing The Gaps – Tourism Growth – State House Poverty Traps – Baby Walker Safety – Maritime Fire Safety – OECD Extremism – Health Select Committee.
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 till some days after the event.
SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS
(Two annual reports from the Te Waipereira Trust tabled by Dover Samuels and Winston Peters.)
ROD DONALD (Green) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:
Q: In light of the Prime Minister's recent announcement that Bangladesh exporters will have tariff-free access to New Zealand, is he concerned by reports of the fire in a Bangladesh clothing factory which has so far resulted in the death of 49 women and children because the fire exit and main entrance were locked on the outside, trapping many of the 900 workers in the four storey factory?
A: I am saddened by reports of this tragedy and wish to extend my condolences to the people of Bangladesh. This has nothing to do with the decision to remove tariffs from less developed countries.
Q: Why was this done when it is well known that 1000s of children are employed in the Bangladesh clothing industry?
A: I am concerned when women and children are exploited anywhere. I do not understand why some members want to punish these people for their poverty by excluding them from our market.
Q: Can he confirm there has been a push from Trade Aid to reduce tariffs on countries like Bangladesh?
A: Yes I can confirm that, and also that former Trade Aid employee Rod Donald led the charge for this. It has always been our policy to reduce tariffs as part of negotiated moves. We have called on other nations to do the same and we think this could lead to a breakthrough.
Q: Owen Jennings (ACT): Are free trade opponents sentencing children and women to death by starvation?
A: That is matter of opinion and a rather extreme way of framing the question. I think the people who lead that debate do not think about it at all.
Q: Peter Dunne (United): Where does the government draw the line?
A: This government has policy objectives on both trade and labour conditions. It is our intention at a minimum to ensure that our promotion of trade does not undermine efforts in those other areas.
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: What is his response to comments from the OECD on the changed industrial relations framework that "To minimise potentially adverse macroeconomic and microeconomic consequences from the strengthening of the role of trade unions, bargaining parties will need to keep wage increases in line with productivity developments ..."?
A: The government does not intend to introduce centralised bargaining if that is what you mean. I have had no formal discussion with the CTU on wage restraint.
Q: What does the OECD say about Labour productivity growth over the last decade?
A: They report that labour productivity growth fell to 0.5% during the period of the Employment Contracts Act. A figure that is less than a third of the OECD average.
Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Is his advice to unions to moderate wage increases as real incomes fall? In which case what is the point of having a Labour government?
A: I could give a very long answer to the last part of that question. But if it is now ACT and National’s policy that there should be inflation indexed wage increases then that is an absurd suggestion. It is the policy of this government to have real wage increases based on real productivity growth not on consumption led growth.
HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: What steps has the Government taken to improve quality in early childhood education?
A: Cabinet has agreed plans for changes to early childhood workers employment. New requirements for qualifications for new employees will come into force from 1 January 2005. Research tells us that improving qualifications will assist in providing quality learning outcomes for young children.
Q: Will rural areas also have quality early childcare workers?
A: The arrangements involve distance as well as on site training for workers.
Q: When will there be pay equity for early childhood workers with Kindergarten teachers?
A: It is not the policy of this government to nationalise community based child care centres and take responsibility for paying their workers.
Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): How can he justify the small budget increase for early childhood education in comparison to the costs of student loans?
A: I think the member makes a good case for futher budget increases in this area.
Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: What is his response to the comments by the OECD that "given its relative geographical isolation and resource endowments, New Zealand has to do more than other countries in order to make it an attractive location for both domestic and foreign labour and capital"?
A: The statement seems rather self evident and sensible.
Q: How does he reconcile that answer with criticisms of government economic policy in the OECD report?
A: In discussions with OECD officials one of the things I noticed was that while they agreed that their theories hadn’t worked they have decided not to throw that theory away and instead are suggesting that a double dose of the theory might help. Meanwhile the OECD concludes that NZ taxation of personal income is moderate by international standards. The OECD find us an interesting intellectual puzzle for which they have no answer.
Q: Why then have they been so critical?
A: In fact the OECD have been far more moderate in their criticisms, for example of the ERA, than many of the members opposite.
Q: Lockwood Smith (National): Is he saying that he knows more than the OECD’s experienced economic researchers?
A: What I am saying is that the people of this country voted for a party that will not be blindly following OECD policies.
ANN HARTLEY (National) to the Associate Minister of Education Lianne Dalziel:
Q: What has been the Government's response to the 1997 international adult literacy survey which found that approximately one million adult New Zealanders had literacy levels below that needed to cope effectively with daily life?
A: This government is developing an adult literacy strategy. We have discovered three obstacles in NZ, lack of strategy, fragmentation and insufficient funding. These are a legacy of the previous government . We will have a strategy in place early next year.
Q: Why has the government cancelled national literacy testing in schools?
A: I would like to think that in the year 2025 we will not need an adult literacy strategy because of advances in the compulsory education sector.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister of Maori Affairs Parekura Horomia:
Q: Does he have full confidence in the ability of his Ministry to carry out all of its responsibilities in relation to the Closing the Gaps programme?
A: (Sandra Lee on behalf) As stated in the house on November 23 both the CEO and the Minister have confidence in the Ministry’s abilities.
Q: Have any changes been made in implementation of the Gaps strategy since the PM’s statement in October?
A: The Cabinet Committee meets fortnightly and its strategies are ongoing.
Q: Can he confirm what the Select Committee was told this morning, that only $230 million of the $900 million being spent on Closing the Gaps can be monitored?
(John Tamihere (Labour): That is not what the select committee was told.)
A: The member will know full well that all the resources being referred to are not controlled by the Ministry of Maori Development.
Q: What is involved in monitoring mainstream agencies?
A: TPK has several new roles. Looking at CEO’s performance agreements. Carrying out selective performance audits. And sitting on a committee.
DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister of Tourism Mark Burton:
Q: Has he received any reports on the economic benefits of tourism growth; if so, what do those reports say?
A: I have seen figures that there was a 10% increase in visitors in October representing an increase in income of $40 million.
Q: Where are they coming from?
Q: Is the minister aware of the substantially reduced spending power of Tourism NZ? And what is he planning on doing about it?
A: Any consideration of budgets will be addressed in the budget round.
Q: Has he seen any reports on the negative effects of the RMA on tourism?
BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Minister of Housing Tony Ryall:
Q: Does he agree with advice given to him by the Ministry of Social Policy that the level of assistance for State tenants may "give people an incentive to prefer State over private housing and consequently reduce people's willingness to move from a State house to pursue labour market opportunities"; if not, why not?
A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) No. It is not this government’s policy to impoverish people in order to force them take up employment.
Q: What incentive is there to escape the poverty trap?
A: Under the present accommodation supplement policy there is a similar level of abatement.
Q: Muriel Newman (ACT): What about the 60,000 Auckland families mentioned in the NZ Herald who qualify for a state house but are not lucky enough to have one?
A: Is it now ACT policy to have income related rents in the private sector? And no I haven’t seen the article.
(Muriel Newman – leave to table the article – refused.)
Q: Has he received any advice from the opposition on housing policy?
A: Nothing useful. National say they are back to the drawing board on housing policy. This policy is designed to lift people out of poverty.
GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs Phillida Bunkle:
Q: What is she doing in response to concerns about the safety of baby walkers?
A: I have asked for reports on this and I am about to release a discussion document on this. One option is to do what the Australians have done.
Q: Dr Hutchison (National): Why doesn’t she simply ban them?
A: Dr Hutchison has a point about the difficulty in getting up to date information. We have however obtained good information on hospitalisations, nd a press release has suggested that we adopt the NSW standard.
Rt Hon WYATT CREECH (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What is she doing to ensure the citizens of Kaitaia have ongoing access to primary health care services?
A: The local member has made a number of submissions to me on this issue. The government is committed to maintaining services in Kaitaia. We have provided money to help ensure there are both short and long term solutions to the GP shortage problem.
Q: Will this square with Labour Party policy?
A: The commitment from this government remains. We have already put in additional money to retain rural GPs. Unfortunately we have a shortage of GPs willing to work in rural NZ. There are no easy solutions to this problem.
Q: What has she done since hearing about this problem?
A: I have asked officials to look urgently at this matter. And I have asked the Medical Association if they have any suggestions – so far they do not. As for why these GPs are leaving Kaitaia I am advised that one is retiring, one is pregnant, one is sick, and one wants to be closer to their family in Whangarei. I do not think that the government can be held responsible for people being either sick or pregnant.
PETER BROWN (NZ First) to the Minister of Internal Affairs George Hawkins:
Q: Is the New Zealand Fire Service firmly committed to carrying out fire safety training, including fire-fighting training, in specific industries where the need is crucial in order to preserve life and property?
A: The fire service commission considers the principle burden falls on the industry themselves.
Q: Can he confirm this is downright irresponsible? And what will he be doing about it?
A: The fire service has received a number of submissions on this and will meet with the Maritime Safety Authority to discuss it next year.
RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Does he stand by his reported statement that the OECD recommendations are "extreme, socially unacceptable, and economically unnecessary"; if so, what advice has he received that would give contrary views to the OECD views?
A: Yes. And advice from both the National and ACT parties.
Q: Is he aware of the effect on investor confidence of his statements? And if so why has he said these things?
A: Yes. Because it is true.
Q: What does the OECD want?
A: Lots of things, listed including a capital gains tax, which I presume from Rodney Hide’s question are in fact now ACT policy. The fact is that nearly all European countries have systems with much stronger social support and welfare services than NZ has been accustomed to for some time.
Q: What effect will his comments have on investor confidence?
A: I would think that many investors, especially those planning on coming to live here, will be delighted that we are not planning on taxing people for living in their own homes and that we are not introducing a capital gains tax.
Questions to Members
Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Chairperson of the Health Committee Judy Keall:
Q: Will the committee be reviewing the way it considers the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill that is before it?
A: That would be a matter for the committee to decide?
Q: In considering that bill can she assure the house she will defend the independence of the committee from ministerial interference, like we had with the Health and Disability Bill, as she said on Radio New Zealand?
A: I will be continuing to chair the committee in line with standing orders and speakers rulings.
Q: Can she assure us she will not buckle to pressure from cabinet ministers as she admitted to doing on National Radio this morning?
A: As I said before, I will be continuing to chair the committee in line with standing orders and speakers rulings.