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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day - 28 February

Today's questions of the day concerned: The Economy – NZ Post Vs Prebble – Future Of Rail Transport – Foot and Mouth Disease – Innovation In Environmental Protection – NZ Post’s “Natural Market” – Hosting Disarmament Conference – Rural Access To Medical Specialists - School Spending – Children At Risk – Tourism Boom – Australian Welfare Agreement.

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 28 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 till some days after the event.

SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS

Question 1.

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

Q: What recent reports has he received on the state of the economy?

A: I have received a large number of reports. The latest National Bank business outlook shows confidence at very high levels.

Q: What does the National Bank survey indicate about investment?

A: The prognosis is excellent. 93% of respondents plan to increase investment or maintain present levels. 80% expect profits to increase or stay the same.

Q: Bill English (National): Can the Minister confirm that confidence levels have simply lifted back to where they were in 1999, and how long will meat and dairy prices stay high?

A: The remarkable thing about the latest survey is how confident people are in spite of the deteriorating international economy.

Q: Is Mr Sundakov wrong in the paper saying the economy is about to hit the wall? He says spending will rise with the domestic economy going nowhere this year?

A: Some economists are just naturally depressed. It is their nature.

Question 2.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Does he stand by his statement to the House last Thursday, in relation to the decision of New Zealand Post to file proceedings against members of this House, that he was "informed of the decision the board had taken", or has he had any reason to believe that the directors of New Zealand Post did not in fact make that decision?

A: Yes.

Q: Does the Minister no accept that he misinformed the house last Thursday when he said the board had made the decision, when it didn’t?

A: The members assertion is not consistent with the advice I have received.

Q: What was the board’s involvement?

A: The chairman was briefed at 7.30am on Wednesday the 21st by the CEO about the legal advice. The board was briefed at 8am. The papers were lodged at 9am.

Q: Was the decision taken by the Chairman and not the board?

A: Repeats earlier answer.

Q: Is he aware that Mr Armstrong was so esteemed by the National Party that he was made a divisional chairman of the party? And has he received any information that would change his mind on the integrity of Mr Armstrong?

A: I have heard and seen nothing that suggests I should have any questions about Mr Armstrong’s integrity.

Q: Did the board itself decide to gag the MP?

A: How can the member be unclear on this. The advice I have passed on twice already is that the CEO received legal advice and passed it on to the Chairman. The board was briefed at approximately 8am in the morning. So they were involved. Yes.

Question 3.

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Minister of Energy Pete Hodgson:

Q: What assumptions has the Government made about the future role of rail, given the lack of any discussion of rail in the Cabinet paper released yesterday which predicted a 50% increase in transport CO2 emissions over the next 30 years?

A: We have pledged that rail is a key component for the future of passenger transport in NZ. The government also wants to see an increased role for rail in freight.

Q: Given that rail is much less environmentally harmful why does the government not spend $800 million on rail and not on new urban motorways in Auckland?

A: In cabinet papers it says, the key to ensure that rail is included in climate policy is to cost rail and road transport on the same basis.

Q: Can he elaborate on his plans to ensure road transport is correctly priced?

A: Now is not the time to elaborate. I will be considering proposals shortly. When I have done then there will be more to talk about.

Question 4.

ERIC ROY (National) to the Minister for Biosecurity Pete Hodgson :

Q: In light of the outbreak of the deadly foot-and-mouth disease in Britain, is he satisfied that New Zealand biosecurity measures are adequate to protect our primary industries from this disease?

A: NZ deals with the threat of foot and mouth disease from many countries. Foot and Mouth is endemic in parts of Asia and South America. We have changed the way we treat passengers and freight from the UK recently to conform with how we treat passengers from other infected countries.

Q: In light of reports that passengers from the UK who have been on farms have arrived here without receiving footware checks, what is he doing about it?

A: My understanding is that that is not how the situation is at the moment.

Q: Are we prepared to deal with an outbreak of this disease?

A: We have a sophisticated response system for dealing with disease outbreaks. We have one of the best systems in the world. The time to be concerned about foot and mouth is all the time, not just when it is in the media. NZ has sent a number of specialist staff to help manage the outbreak in Auckland. The risk has increased, but only a small amount. It is always large and it has now got a bit bigger. People arrive in NZ everyday from countries in which foot and mouth disease is endemic. So far we are unusual in not having had an outbreak. Our controls have so far been good enough. I cannot make any guarantees about the future but so far we have kept it out, and we ought to be pleased with ourselves.

Question 5.

MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment Pete Hodgson:

Q: Has he been alerted recently to any innovative new approaches to environmental protection; if so, what were they?

A: I have seen a proposal that the Government should allow the trade of endangered native species. This was contained in a speech by the ACT member Gerry Eckhoff in a speech to Rotary in Christchurch. The idea that Kiwis should be farmed for export is disturbing and bizarre.

Q: If he is so concerned about endangered species why has he not eradicated recent pest incursions?

A: The trade in endangered species out of the country and incursions are somewhat unconnected. NZ has increased biosecurity controls in general recently.

Q: Grant Gillon (Alliance) : Is he planning to further explore the farming of Kiwis, or is this a case of Foot in Mouth from the ACT member?

A: I have no plans to engage with Mr Eckhoff on this matter. However my first question to him would be will his farmed Kiwis be battery or free range.

Q: Gerry Eckhoff (ACT): Can he confirm that no species that has been farmed or privatised has ever been lost to the world?

A: If that question does not speak for itself, which I think it does, then I would add that in the same speech Mr Eckhoff also advised that trees are a major emitter of methane. I wonder if we have a member here who has kangaroos in his top paddock.

(Gerry Eckhoff – leave to table speech – granted.)

Question 6.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: What customers does New Zealand Post regard as its natural market for its proposed "people's bank" and why do these customers need a new bank?

A: NZ Post has determined that consumer dissatisfaction with existing banks has created an opportunity to find a substantial market among middle and low income earners in NZ.

Q: Has he seen the bit in this report that says the natural market is “professional government employees”?

A: I have read that. It would appear to give the lie to Mr Prebble’s concerns that he may have to queue behind beneficiaries.

Q: Why will the bank discourage low value customers, when that runs against what the government said it would do?

A: The government did not indicate that low income customers were the only purpose for the people’s bank.

(Rodney Hide – Leave sought to table page from business case – refused.)

Question 7.

KEVIN CAMPBELL (Alliance) to the Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control Matt Robson:

Q: What does the Government hope to achieve by hosting the United Nations Asia-Pacific Disarmament Conference at the end of March?

A: NZ is privileged to be the first host outside Asia for this prestigious conference. By hosting the conference the government hopes to raise the profile of disarmament issues in a Pacific context. At the conference Pacific States will also have the opportunity to consider the costs and benefits of joining various disarmament treaties. Their doing so will assist

Q: Max Bradford (National): What about the Skyhawks?

A: The delegates will not be discussing NZ’s internal politics – they will be discussing global issues.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Is it an immediate aim of the conference to stop the US’s National Missile Defence project proceeding?

A: Certainly the issue of the NMD will be raised…

(Max Bradford – hold it a minute, how come he can talk about internal matters relevant to the US but not ones relevant to NZ.

Speaker – the minister is entitled to reply as he sees fit.)

A: …the question of the Skyhawks does not weigh heavily on the world. But internationally countries are concerned about the impact of the NMD on a range of treaties aimed at reducing arms. And that is why the NMD will be of some importance at the conference.

Question 8.

Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Is she satisfied that people in remote areas are able to access first specialist medical assessment?

A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) No. A major problem for many people is travel. That is why we are reviewing the current travel policy.

Q: What about this guy from the Chatham Islands who could not get treatment and had to take out a loan to get treatment.

A: It is a disgrace that that is the policy. That is why a review is in place. We hope to get sensible outcomes out of that review. The Minister of Health was not satisfied with the results of the first round of consultation on this issue and asked for a second one.

Q: Has any progress been made to enable rural hospitals to take overflow from cities?

A: No. What we have done is commit $25 million to develop a mobile surgery bus to prevent the need for long distance travel for relatively simple surgery.

Q: What will she do now for Chatham Islanders?

A: Right now she is on her way to the Chatham Islands to discuss that matter further.

Question 9.

NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: (Helen Duncan on behalf) What reports has he received on how schools are spending the additional operations funding they received this year?

A: I have received a report from the Ministry on how money is being used. The most popular use for extra money is literacy and numeracy initiatives. Schools spent $10 million on this. The second most popular area is extra staffing. More than $26 million has been spent on extra staffing – that is enough to employ more than 550 extra teachers. These figures do not include returns from schools that received a boost of less than 5%. Those schools received an extra $23 million. From this exercise government has received a very good steer on what priorities schools have identified for themselves.

Q: What about schools who have lost funding?

A: I am doing work on schools who have lost funding. One of the problems we had was a rorted system that would have given millions to schools in Nelson – where the previous Minister was from. We are planning to have a more effective and fairer isolation index.

Question 10.

BOB SIMCOCK (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: In light of media reports that during his time as Minister the number of unallocated child abuse cases at Child Youth and Family Services has risen from the usual level of around 2,000 to nearly 4,000, what is he doing to stop this increase and bring the numbers back down to a reasonable level?

A: Before I answer I would point out that the comparison is difficult to make because of changes in the way figures are collected concerning this.

(Several points of order disputing this remark.)

A: Having any unallocated cases is unacceptable and I have asked CYFS to make this their top priority. That said not all of these cases are abuse cases. In 1500 of these cases some work has been done. The number of cases rose dramatically last August around publicity about the James Whakaruru case. We have allocated new money ($41 million) to this area – unlike the previous government that ran the department into the ground. I will be releasing the Judge Nick Brown report on placement of children tomorrow.

Q: Can he confirm that CYF is raiding the salary budget to pay for foster placements?

A: I can confirm that that used to happen and I stopped it.

Q: Sue Bradford (Green): Is the department continuing to follow its policy of identifying a simple phone call as an intervention?

A: I can assure the member and this house that CYF is doing its best. I want to move this year to rapidly drop the number of unallocated cases to an acceptable level.

Question 11.

GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister of Tourism Mark Burton:

Q: Has he received any reports on the economic impact of international visitors to New Zealand?

A: Yes I have. There was an 11% increase in numbers and a 22% increase in spending by tourists last year. This means an extra $873 million was spent. Spending by Germans is up over 50%, Americans over 49%, and in our biggest market Australia, 9%. Japanese visitors average $5000 spending per visit and thanks to a new agreement on air services we will be seeing lots more. We came into office determined to work further on fine work done by the Tourism Industry Association. We have done so and will continue to do so.

Q: How widely spread is this spending? Through time and geographically?

A: The strategy for the industry is very much about distribution and timing management.

Question 12.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Is the information regarding the changes to the Social Security Agreement with Australia contained in the Government document “Thinking about living in Australia?” complete and correct; if not, why not?

A: I am aware about concerns about sole parents returning to NZ. We have not changed the way we treat these cases as a result of this agreement. The same rules apply to Australia as to elsewhere.

(Roger Sowry – is the booklet correct or not? Why are we receiving a lecture.

Speaker – I think this answer relates to the “if not why not” part of the question. Go on.)

A: Residential criteria for benefits are not always simple for people who have lived overseas for a long time. In that area the pamphlet is not as clear as it should be. There are helplines available for clarification.

Q: Why can he not say to this house that the pamphlet has mistakes on pages 7 and 14, as he has to the Evening Post?

A: I always take responsibility for my department. The helpline number is 0800 777 577.

Q: Can he confirm that the $100 million in savings has come from widows and sole parents, not from people on the dole as originally claimed.

A: No.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): I this passage wrong or not…quotes passage from pamphlet.

A: It is not clear indeed that is why people should ring up the helpline. They should certainly not behave like a child, as Mr Sowry is.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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