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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day - 15 February

Today's questions of the day concerned: People’s Bank – Unemployment Rate – Vets Strike – Waterside Workers Dispute – Children Who Speak Other Languages – Steve Mills And TV I/V – Burglary Stats – NCEA – Rail Policy – Waterfront Dispute – Immigration PGs – Business and Skilled Migrant Policy.

: Questions Of The Day - Thursday, 15 February 2001

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.


Question 1.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton:

Q: Does he stand by the statement of his office on 24 April 2000 that the People's Bank proposal would not proceed unless it was financially viable?

A: Yes. I can confirm that the Kiwi bank will not proceed unless it is financially successful. This bank will almost certainly make big profits in a short time. It will be worth $500 million within a decade. There has been no suggestion that this bank would ever lose money. No assessment from NZ Post says what the member appears to be saying. The member is quoting from independent assessments I think which were the property of NZ Post. The reality is that the people of NZ will stand behind a people’s bank far more than they will ever stand behind

Q: John Wright (Alliance): How will security of depositors differ from those at other banks.

A: There will be no difference. The people’s bank will be competing on the same terms as all other banks and will do very well.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Given that there are risks will he release the Cameron report and if not why not?

A: One of the most successful SOE’s in NZ has a report which it paid for. If the member does not understand the relationship between SOEs and the government then perhaps he shouldn’t have sold so many of them.

Q: Rod Donald (Green): Will the review of credit unions proceed now the bank is going ahead with the Green Party support?

A: I thank the member for that support. Yes the review will proceed. This government has a positive attitude to credit unions and we hope they will thrive.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National): Can he confirm that the risk assessment plan in the NZ Post business plan is to hike fees if there are too many low-end customers?

A: Cabinet has considered this plan in minute detail. The Cabinet will make the final decision on Monday on all the evidence before it. And if it makes a positive decision then it will do so because it is in the interests of NZ. This is something that clearly the leader of the opposition has no interest in.

Question 2.

H V ROSS ROBERTSON(Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Why is the rate of unemployment the lowest it has been in 12 years?

A: The rate in the December quarter was 5.6%. It is at that level because we have seen 43,000 new jobs created, most of them full time. We have seen real non-inflationary wage increases as well.

Q: Are there any risks to the trend?

A: In the short term unemployment figures may move around. There are risks around our trading partners and skill shortages remain a problem. The main risk we have is that ACT and National have no employment policy and if they ever return to government who knows what will happen.

Q: Bob Simcock (National): What about Northland and East Coast where there are lots of jobs but no one taking them up?

A: We have plans for these areas which would take some time to explain. We are working with the Forestry Industry in particular on the East Coast.

Q: Is there any evidence that all NZers are benefiting?

A: Yes. One of the best things is that Maori unemployment has fallen from 19.5% to 13%. These gains are being shared by all NZers.

Q: Sue Bradford (Green): What about old people?

A: We are running a range of pilots for mature workers. They include programmes working with workers and programmes working with employers.

Question 3.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Following her answer to the House yesterday that "further legal action is actively being considered" in relation to the planned veterinarians' strike, what steps, if any, has she taken to pursue this "further legal action"?

A: I have sought legal advice and have been advised that there are insufficient grounds to pursue further action at this time.

Q: Lockwood Smith (National): What has happened to the PM’s vow on this then, or was that simply spin?

A: The PM said we should pursue every avenue, but if there were no legal grounds it would clearly be irresponsible to do so. We have pursued this and we have acted responsibly.

Q: Mark Peck (Labour): Can legal action settle this dispute?

A: No. It can only be done through negotiation and that is why we are pursuing that avenue.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Can she confirm that her officials have told her that the best legal way to avoid the problem is to repeal section 97 of the ERA?

A: No I have received no legal advice to that effect. I have received that advice from that member however. I apologise for not taking his suggestion more seriously yesterday. Unfortunately US and European authorities have laid down who has responsibility for signing certificates. This could not be done by the management unfortunately.

Q: Lockwood Smith (National): How come Employers and the MIA can find grounds for appeal and Crown Law can’t?

A: As the member knows there are as many legal opinions as there are lawyers. I have advice that there are no grounds. To pursue an appeal in these circumstances would in my view be an abuse of process.

Question 4.

PETER BROWN (NZ First) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: In the light of a Government Minister having now publicly expressed sympathy for the waterside workforce at various South Island ports resisting moves to casualise their industry, will she, if mediation fails to resolve the problem, call an industry conference to review port operations and charging regimes with the intention of establishing firm ground rules?

A: Mediation is currently underway. Depending on the outcome I would be willing to consider the members suggestion.

Q: I thank the member for that answer. Has she consulted with anyone on how such a conference could be organised?

A: No. Not yet but I would like some advice on that if it is available.

Q: Why is Laila Harre supporting a foreign owned multi-national over a NZ company?

A: I have no knowledge of what you are informing me of in that question. Of course this government supports local industry. However we also support the right of employers to choose.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Is she not aware of the fact that the objectives of the Waterfront Union’s pickets is to establish a monopoly on waterfront work?

A: There are several issues there. The main point the member is making is that we have somehow been manipulated. From the government’s perspective we would like the views of all participants laid out. If a conference helps that it is a course we would take. I am waiting for advice on that.

Question 5.

TAITO PHILLIP FIELD (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What progress has been made in providing support to teachers of children for whom English is a second language?

A: 50 teachers have started training this week learning how to teach English to students who speak other languages. Language barriers are serious. This programme will help improve learning outcomes. This is one of a wide range of initiatives we have taken to support literacy in NZ schools.

Q: Pansy Wong (National): Does he support children learning their mother tongues also?

A: My inclination is towards saying yes. There is some debate around that says for some children they are receiving the worst of both worlds because they have a poor grasp of both languages. There are 75 scholarships in the programme, 50 have been awarded to teachers in 32 schools, the scholarships are worth $2400 and pay fees and books for the teachers.

Question 6.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: In light of her Associate Minister's inability to answer the question yesterday, can she now confirm whether she or any of her staff were responsible for suggesting to television news that they interview Mr Steve Mills as a "Government success story" regarding waiting lists and did she or any of her staff inform television news that Mr Steve Mills appeared in Labour's election campaign opening?

A: No.

Q: Did she know when she appeared at the interview that he had appeared in Labour’s campaign opening?

A: Yes I was aware. And yes TV was informed twice on Saturday morning prior to the filming.

Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Did she discuss this with Tariana Turia prior to question time yesterday?

A: No.

Q: Given that she did inform TV. Did she also inform print media of this?

A: Neither myself nor my staff informed anyone about this matter.

Question 7.

JANET MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: What reports has he received concerning latest trends in reported burglary statistics?

A: It is all good news. We have the lowest rates in 18 years. We have the highest resolution rates in 12 years. We got the police back to their core business. Gone are the bad old days of wasting money on computers.

Q: Janet Mackey (Labour): How does this compare with burglaries under the first year of the National Government?

A: National’s first year in office saw burglary offences skyrocketing to over 90,000, compared with around 66,000 now. The last time burglary stats were this low Tony Ryall was still wearing school shorts.

Q: Tony Ryall (National): When will he release the violent crime statistics?

A: I am glad the member asked that. Burglary is the entry point to serious crime and I predict that violent crime will in the future start to fall away.

Q: Matt Robson (Alliance):What has caused this good news?

A: I have had a spinning Jenny yelling across the house. I have to tell her that under us burglary figures have fallen.

Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): What percentage of burglaries are committed by youths and are they included in the figures?

A: Yes they are included. I do not have the figures requested but can get them.

Question 8.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: With 65,536 possible optional combinations of grades for every subject, how can parents and students be convinced that the National Certificate of Educational Achievement is anything more than a dumbing down of educational standards?

A: Can I congratulate the member on his appointment. Yesterday the member tried to complain because there were too few grades reported, now he says there are too many. Dumbing down he says, we are a house of representatives and here is the proof. Did she get UE? Did she get UE?

Q: How can this mean anything when there are so many possibilities for grades?

A: Under the School Certificate there are a lot more possible combinations of possible marks than that?

Q: Will this dumb down education?

A: No. The principal of Rangiruru School says that going back to the old argument about dumbing down is “just not accurate”. I think the willingness of high performing schools to go forward with this new system is something that is to their credit. I just think it is sad that Gerry Brownlee did not bother discussing this with Wyatt Creech before making his announcement. I have loads of comments from principals complaining that the National Party does not care about children.

Q: Why won’t he give board’s of trustees the choice on this?

A: Because I feel it is important for state and integrated schools to have a national system of assessment?

Q: How will these 65,536 possible grades be moderated?

A: I think it is really important to remember that under School Certificate the combinations were much higher. As for moderation I would have thought that as a woodwork teacher he would know how that worked.

(Max Bradford - During the course of the answer the minister quoted from emails he claimed he had received will he table those?

Speaker – that is up to the Minister.)

Q: How many combinations would there have been under the National plans?

A: Under the National Party approach for a subject with eight areas and four possible grades the number of possibilities is exactly the same, 4 to the power of 8 or 65,536.

Question 9.

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: Does the Government agree that maintaining and expanding a modern efficient rail system is essential both to achieving "economic transformation" and meeting climate change policy goals?

A: Yes.

Q: When then can we see specific steps to support rail and stop line closures?

A: We are hoping to have answers in a few months. As for Tranz Rail they are dealing with their business themselves. Government has set up a ministerial committee considering a range of policy issues relating to rail. We are consulting relevant stakeholders on this.

Q: Can he assure the house he will listen to the views of Wellington Mayors who do not want the WRC to own rail.

A: We will take into account the views of everyone in local government. That is why we have a good relationship with them.

Q: Can he assure us that there will be continuity of service in Wellington after 1 July.

A: I understand from the WRC and Tranz Rail that services will continue.

Question 10.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Can she assure the House that every legal measure available is being taken to ensure peaceful resolution of the stevedoring workers' industrial dispute over loading of logs in South Island ports; if not, why not?

A: I can assure the honourable member I have done all I can. I cannot speak for others who may have legal rights they may pursue, that is a choice for them.

Q: Will she confirm that she has behind the scenes encouraged the WWU and that she is responsible for the failure of the talks and the violence that will follow on Sunday.

A: No and No. The parties are exploring the issues with a Labour Department mediator.

Q: Lockwood Smith (National): Why is there mediation when the WWU is not a party to any employment relationship involved in this dispute?

A: There were several requests of the government to do something about this. We were keen to help where we can – so we did.

Q: Peter Brown (NZ First): Can she confirm that bully boy tactics were used by unionists to get Richard Prebble elected to Parliament?

(Speaker – the member will withdraw

Peter Brown – I withdraw

Speaker – the question is out of order.)

Question 11.

Hon MARIE HASLER (National) to the Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel:

Q: What actions did Immigration Service officials take which led her to tell the House in October 2000 that they had "let this House and this country down ... my own officials have not even told me the truth"?

A: As the member has referred the quote as a breach of privilege and the speaker has not ruled it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this in the house.

Q: Does she accept that she is responsible for personal grievances arising in the NZIS, and has she admitted any errors?

A: I refer the member to my primary answer.

Q: How is her relationship with the NZIS?

A: Excellent. Their response to the business forum was immediate and impressive. I respect the fact that they have a very difficult job.

Q: Can the Minister confirm that a payout has been agreed and that it has the hallmarks of hush money?

A: The NZIS says that the personal grievances related to how management dealt with the issue, not with how I dealt with it.

Question 12.

CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel:

Q: What decisions have been taken with respect to skilled migration in response to last year's Business/Government forum?

A: We have announced a specific target for skilled and business migrants. This represents a 60% increase in approvals. We are expecting to achieve around 22,000 approvals in this category. Spouses and partners will now also be eligible for work permits. The announcements have been welcomed across the board. Local government described the policy as a “vital ingredient” to policy.

Q: What about the brain drain?

A: As the member knows the December quarter is the only quarter during 2000 when the departure rate was higher than it was in the previous year under National.

Q: What is the government doing about the backlog of skilled professional migrants who remain on the dole?

A: We have announced pilots for settlement policy. I am confident that we will be in a position to match migrants with positions.


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