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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day - 21 February

Today's questions of the day concerned: Kiwi Bank – Tax Changes – Vet Strike – Urban Rail Ownership - Kiwi Bank – ACC Overcharging – Vet Strike – Unemployment Rate – Auckland Health Board Resignation – Income Related Rents – Bunkle And Closing The Gaps – Family Court Openness.

:Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 21 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 of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What did he mean when he said that the "People's Bank" "will have to stand or fall on its commercial merits"?

A: I mean that the NZ Post proposal will have to stand or fall on its commercial merits.

Q: What does NZ Post mean when it says it will guarantee deposits?

A: There are very substantial prudential protections for banking customers in the NZ banking system.

Q: On what grounds would a capital injection be made?

A: Only if it makes sense and only up to the $78 million figure.

Q: Will there be cross-subsidisation?

A: Any modification to the business plan will require shareholder approval. NZ Post has made it clear it is keen to pursue partnerships with other banks. This government does not believe in SOE’s being a halfway house to privatisation.

Q: Will the Government’s business go to the People’s Bank?

A: Each government account is managed separately.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National): Will he guarantee stamp prices will not be increased to pay for MyBank?

A: I didn’t realise it was the Leader of the Opposition’s bank.

Question 2.

MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Revenue Michael Cullen:

Q: Has he received any recent suggestions for changes to the personal tax system?

A: I have been asked by ACT Member Mr Rodney Hide what the impact would be of relieving the tax burden on people earning over $100,000, $150,000 and $200,000 per annum. Clearly ACT is planning to buy the votes of very high income earners while establishing a flat rate of tax for low and middle income earners.

Q: John Wright (Alliance): What would the effect of this proposal be?

A: To exempt income over $150,000 would cost $1.175 billion, more than the cost of the police force. Exempting all income over $250,000 would cost $675 million.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons (Green): Why has he not given the tax review the possibility of transferring tax to waste and pollution charges?

A: It is far from clear that doing this would support low income earners.

Question 3.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT) to the Minister of Agriculture Jim Sutton:

Q: Did the Government give any instruction or directions to negotiators for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry that any offer made to the MAF veterinarians must be fiscally neutral; if so, was this disclosed at the beginning of the negotiations as part of good faith bargaining?

A: The government gave no direct instructions to MAF concerning negotiations with vets. That said MAF must comply with bargaining instructions given to all public service workers and these were fully disclosed to the vets. The conditions require any settlement to be fiscally neutral or supported by an approved business case.

Q: Is the current offer sufficient to recruit and retain vets?

A: Yes. Only one MAF vet has moved to the private sector in two years. And MAF was able to recruit 22 international vets with relative ease.

Q: How can the Govt. claim it is negotiating in good faith if it is planning to reduce any future offers?

A: The government always negotiates in good faith. I cannot give the cost of the eight hour day. Although the damage of this strike infinitely exceeds the cost of any settlement, the government must be concerned with justice for sectoral groups in relation to one another and for the community as a whole.

Question 4.

Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: Will the Government introduce legislation to enable regional councils to own urban passenger rail services?

A: The government has not received a formal request from any council for a change. We are aware that Wellington Regional Council plans may require a change of law however. Any change to legislation will conform to rail policy currently under development. I am informed that WRC and Tranz Rail have agreed that continuity of services will be assured.

Q: What resources have been invested in passenger transport in Wellington?

A: Under the increased patronage funding formula an additional $1.1 million has already been paid into Wellington, a further $2.5 million is currently under consideration.

Question 5.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Further to Hon Jim Anderton's comment that the Government intended to "set up a publicly-owned New Zealand bank with branches all over New Zealand", does the "People's Bank" plan to establish branches in small communities which have lost their banking facilities?

A: NZ Post I am informed intends to provide banking services throughout its network. That includes several small communities that have lost banking facilities.

Q: Who will get a bank and who will not?

A: The government will not be deciding that. In NZ SOE’s make those kinds of decisions themselves. At present there are 321 NZ Post branches offering full facilities. They will become the core of the banking branch network. This is 100 more branches than any other bank has.

Q: How does he reconcile his answer to Rod Donald with page 41 of the Business Plan that says that the competitors of the People’s Bank will be the TSB, the SSB, the PSIS and several Credit Unions around the country.

A: At the last election National and ACT were competitors. They now have breakfast together. One day’s competitors can be the next day’s working partner.

Q: What about the Bendigo banking model?

A: NZ Post has not ruled out any such approach but we expect them to concentrate initially on setting up their banking network. The government has already lifted the deposit limit in credit unions from $40,000 to $250,000. We have also rejected proposals from Treasury to tax credit unions. This government is strongly supportive of credit unions.

Q: Does that mean the People’s Bank is under no obligation to provide rural and low income banking services?

A: The member seems to have forgotten that the Government does not direct SOE’s on operational matters.

(Richard Prebble – Leave sought to table page 41 of the NZ Post business plan – refused.)

Question 6.

GRAHAM KELLY (Labour) to the Minister for Accident Insurance Michael Cullen:

Q: Has he received any further reports on the issue of ACC overcharging raised in oral question No 1 yesterday, asked by the Hon Ken Shirley?

A: The example Mr Shirley gave to journalists yesterday was not standard. It involved a period beginning June 30th not July 1. His example was based on an invoice that it appears he did not read.

Q: Why then did the ACC apologise and change its invoice?

A: I have the invoice here in front of me and it reads June 30th to March 31st which is 275 days.

Question 7.

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

Q: In light of mediation failing in both the Nelson port picket and the Government veterinarians' strike, what authority, if any, does she have under the Employment Relations Act to take actions to end these industrial disputes?

A: Mediation has not failed in either of these disputes. Mediators cannot impose settlements. The Nelson disputants will be given a report by the mediator and then resume talks. As for the Vets they are due to meet again with MAF at 2pm today, this is hardly a failure. I do not have any power to intervene myself. The government is not having any difficulty with this matter. The only difficulty is in dealing with the bad practices that developed under the previous government’s industrial relations framework. Mrs Shipley is urging the government to keep out of the Nelson dispute while other members seem to want us to get involved. I regret that the mediation service is not available to assist the National Party.

Q: Is she concerned about the cost to farmers? And if not is she concerned about freezing workers?

A: I did not say we do not have a problem, I said we do not have a problem with the resolution of the dispute. Of course there is a problem. And we are trying to deal with it as best we can.

Q: What about the costs to the police, now over $2)0,000, and is she convinced that mediation will resolve this dispute?

A: Yes.

Q: Lockwood Smith (National): Is she more concerned with preventing the poaching of members to the PSA with whom the government has an understanding?

A: No. We are concerned with the substance of the dispute.

Question 8.

JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What evidence is there that the reduction in the unemployment rate is being reflected in reductions in the number of people in receipt of unemployment benefits?

A: For the year ended December 2000 unemployment fell by around 11,000 people. This is reflected in WINZ numbers. The number of people on the community wage fell by 14,000 over the year.

Q: Is this reflected in regional breakdowns.

A: Yes. In Hamilton there were 116 fewer beneficiaries, and in Northland there was a reduction of over 700 in the number of community wage beneficiaries.

Q: What about his secret report on seasonal workers? Will married seasonal workers be entitled to top ups in their wages equivalent to what they lose in terms of benefits? And if not what incentive is their to work?

A: The policy he refers to operated in some regions only, and I believe came from the National Party. We want a flexible benefit system. The reduction in benefits is presently saving us $71,000 an hour, over $2 million a week.

Q: Can he confirm increases in sickness and invalids benefits?

A: The member should be pleased to know that sickness benefit numbers are falling in Ashburton.

Question 9.

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

Q: Has she received a letter from Mr Andrew Strange tendering his resignation as a director of the Auckland District Health Board; if so, what was her response?

A: Yes I received a letter. The letter was acknowledged.

Q: Did Mr Strange assert that government officials had made arbitrary decisions on contracts?

A: No he did not do that in his letter of resignation. However he did send a second letter on his views on such matters. I do not necessarily agree with all his comments. Auckland Health Care are working actively to provide all necessary documentation. It is not unusual for contracts in health to be signed late. Auckland DHB will be signing their contract in the very near future and I am confident it will be presented in the near future.

Q: Why then was a Select Committee told today that there is still some way to go with the Auckland contract?

A: My confidence comes from comments made by the chair of the DHB to my officials and my office.

Question 10.

TAITO PHILLIP FIELD (Labour) to the Minister of Housing Mark Gosche:

Q: What reports has he received on the impact of income-related rents?

A: Turnover rates in houses have fallen dramatically Many low income families can now afford to pay their rents and are therefore no longer moving regularly. Income related rents are bringing stability to communities and easing the disruption of children’s schooling.

Q: What about people who are not in state houses?

A: This government will continue to increase the number of state houses.

Q: What else has the Government got planned for housing?

A: We will announce an initiative to address overcrowding in the next two weeks. The reports show me that the vast majority of Housing NZ tenants are doing better. Those that aren’t were over the threshold that was set by the previous government for the accommodation supplement.

Q: Can he confirm that transience and not ethnicity is the major contributor to educational non-achievement?

A: Yes. The member makes a very good point.

Question 11.

PANSY WONG (National) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs Phillida Bunkle:

Q: Is it correct that her Ministry is conducting communication programmes to advise East Coast Maori communities about the dangers of electricity and gas as its contribution towards the "reducing inequalities" programme, formerly known as "Closing the Gaps"; if so, at what cost?

A: Yes.

Q: At what cost? And has he seen the response of a spokesman from Ngati Porou saying that it is, “like telling people how to go to the toilet and how to wipe their bums”?

A: The educational programme has nothing to do with that extraordinarily colourful phrase. We run a range of educational programmes on safety concerning electricity and gas.

Question 12.

Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson:

Q: In light of editorial support in major newspapers for the Family Courts (Openness of Proceedings) Amendment Bill, is the Government prepared to support the bill going to a select committee to allow considered evaluation and input from the public?

A: As the member is aware we are currently undertaking a review of guardianship and the operation of the Family Court. We want an open balanced process of reform. That is why we think the bill referred to should not be referred to Select Committee.

Q: Has she read the Dominion?

A: No. This government is dedicated to an open process and has received over 400 submissions. We think these should be considered before we take pre-emptive action.

Q: Are the media banned from reporting family court proceedings?

A: No. Media can apply for permission to report cases if they wish. I understand they very rarely exercise this right. When we introduce comprehensive changes to this area of law the public will have the opportunity to make submissions.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): How long will this take?

A: It is my anticipation that we will have a report in three to four weeks. This will then enable us to proceed further.


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