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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 14 March

Today's questions of the day concerned: PM’s Husband’s Friends (Dr Lexchin) – Banking Satisfaction – Cabinet/Government Standards – Christine Rankin’s Performance – More Dr Lexchin - School Staffing - Rankin Vs Bradford - Marine Mining – Auckland Rail – R&D Grants – Health Privatisation - E-Government

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 14 March 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.


(Correction from Lianne Dalziel: Yesterday I said the immigration departure card did not recall the country of birth of the traveller – it does.)

Question 1.

Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Does she stand by answers to parliamentary questions in relation to the appointment of Dr Joel Lexchin as an independent reviewer of Pharmac's policies that she "played no part in this decision" and that no officials of her department were involved in the appointment?

A: I played no part in this decision. No official from the Department of PM and Cabinet was involved either. There was an email sent to a private secretary and it was forwarded to the Minister of Health, however that was all that happened. On the 13th of June Professor Davis asked that the CV be forwarded to Health Minister and it was.

Q: Is it normal for Ministerial staff to forward stuff?

A: Yes. And the official involved in this instance has recently worked for both Don McKinnon and Tony Ryall.

Q: Was this an offer that could not be refused?

A: Certainly not. And I am amazed that the suggestion has been made. I also note that professor Davis also worked with the last government.

Q: Did Heather Simpson play any part in the email exchange as reported in the NBR?

A: I have to say I have taken about as much notice of these emails as to those allegedly published in the NBR from Heather Simpson and Professor Davis each week.

(Peter Dunne – leave to table some emails – granted.)

Question 2.

GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs Jim Anderton:

Q: Has he received any reports about consumer satisfaction with the banking industry?

A: Yes. In July last year the office ran an 0800 bank line for complaints. The project found that people thought fees were excessive. Banks were also not doing nearly enough to disclose their fees. Consumers believed the standard of service had declined markedly.

Q: What is the government doing about this?

A: We are doing one small thing. We have approved a request from NZ Post to open a new bank. This is a modest beginning but it will help. The support for the idea of a people’s bank in regional NZ seemed to be universal at a recent opening of a Northland industrial plant. I take serious note of the words of the Opposition spokesman on Finance that he will not sell the new bank unless the merits of the case warrant it.

Question 3.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Does she stand by her statement that her Government would "set new standards - both in terms of behaviour and performance"?

A: Yes we have set high standards and I am satisfied that the government is performing much better than did our predecessors.

Q: Does this include saying that Dr Lexchin was the HFA nominee when in fact he was the nominee of Peter Davis?

A: The HFA made that appointment. If the opposition wants to worry about issues of judgement then perhaps they should worry about Belinda Vernon using Parliamentary letterhead to advertise a fundraiser with Christine Rankin. We operate a stable coalition based on shared policy goals unlike Murray McCully who hang around for months in the stench of the Tourism Board.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Can the PM explain when before in NZ history four ministers have left office within 15 months of an election?

A: That is true and it is a reflection of the high standards set by this government.

(PM – leave to table Belinda Vernon’s invitation – granted.)

Question 4.

Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: Is the Department of Work and Income meeting or exceeding most of the performance targets he has set in the department's purchase agreement; if so, is he prepared to express confidence in the department's Chief Executive?

A: In an environment of strong job growth the department is exceeding expectations in all age bands. Targets for Maori and PI job seekers have not been met however. The last part of the question should be addressed to the State Services Commissioner.

Q: Why is he unable to express confidence in his CEO given that she is performing? Or is he judging her by some other criteria?

A: My job is to set out clear expectations and I have done so. The Department is doing well in all areas. The greatest problems are being faced in Auckland where the bouyant job market is creating some stresses. It is up to the State Services Commissioner to decide if the private actions of the CEO which arose yesterday are within the Public Service Code of Conduct.

Q: Why was it bad for Christine Rankin to sue an MP when it was okay for Ross Armstrong to do the same thing?

A: You are comparing apples with oranges. One issue concerned the actions of an SOE, the other involves the private actions of a senior public servant.

Question 5.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Does she stand by her answer to written question No 14521 in August 2000 that "Dr Joel Lexchin was the nominee of the Health Funding Authority"?

A: Yes. However the chair of the HFA asked for suggestions. I sought a suggestion from Peter Davis which was forwarded to the chair of the HFA. The HFA then made the decision.

Q: Is it true that there were phone calls on 10th 11th 12th and 13th of June concerning this matter from the PM’s office?

A: The HFA decided to change the process they were looking at from looking at legal issues to looking at procedural issues. Once they had decided to review procedures the HFA decided they wanted to find a new person and they asked me.

Q: Was any Cabinet Committee involved in this appointment?

A: No. The HFA board made the appointment. There was absolutely no influence from the DPMC. I asked Peter Davis for his advice because he knows his stuff as a health expert.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First) Where does she get off describing Peter Davis as a health expert when he is a sociologist? And wasn’t he sacked by the present PM from the Auckland Health Board under the last government?

A: The member appears to be ignorant. Professor Peter Davis is a professor of public health. It was me that asked for the independent review, so there is nothing unusual in me being involved in ongoing discussions concerning appointments to it.

Q: Helen Clark (Labour): Is it true that Murray McCully undermined the Public Health Association in 1990 and had its funding cancelled in 1991?

(Speaker after an objection from Richard Prebble – that question is a bit wide of the mark.)

Q: What would Dr Davis have had to do to be described as the nominee of Dr Lexchin?

A: There is only one shock horror discovery in this matter, and that is that it has now been discovered that I can’t use email.

Question 6.

ANN HARTLEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: Does the Government have a strategy for improving the capacity of schools to deliver quality education; if so, what is it?

A: We have been working on a strategy to address significant aspects of school staffing issues. This is the first school staffing strategic road map.

Q: Does this replace the work of the Ministerial Reference Group?

A: No. It improves it. While the MRG resulted in cuts to some schools the SRG recommends only increases. When fully implemented this will be a $220 million boost to school funding.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National): Is this just another case of Trevor clever, loud noise and no action?

(Speaker – that question is out of order. The member will be leaving the chamber if he interjects again while I am on my feet.)

Question 7.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: When were State Services Commission officials informed of Christine Rankin's intention to have her lawyers write to Sue Bradford regarding Ms Bradford's comments in the media on 11 February 2001, and when did those officials inform him?

A: I must say it is good to get a question from the opposition. The answer is Friday morning, and about midday yesterday.

Q: Is it acceptable that his officials did not inform him last Friday about this matter.

A: No. And I have made that very clear to my officials.

Q: Is there any precedent to this matter?

A: No.

Q: Did the State Services Commissioner give any advice to Ms Rankin concerning this matter?

A: No. Because at the time the Commissioner found out about it, it was already a fait accompli.

Q: Does he accept that his officials have broken a well standing rule that Ministers ought to be advised of these kinds of issues?

A: Yes.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): If she genuinely feels defamed, why should she tell someone else?

A: There is a policy for employers and ministers not to be surprised by these sorts of actions. Informing people about things is good behaviour.

Question 8.

JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Associate Minister of Energy Paul Swain:

Q: What process will be used to assess the environmental impacts of the proposal by Neptune Resources to prospect for minerals over 100,000 sq km of sea floor in New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, where the Resource Management Act 1991 does not apply?

(Speaker – this will be a longer answer than usual – five short paragraphs.)

A: An application has been received for prospecting on the Sea floor. I am under a statutory obligation to deal with this within the Continental Shelf Act. Neptune Resources will need to provide an environmental impact report concerning what it plans to do. Officials will consider this when it is approved. There is no formal procedure to deal with this application, that is why we are committed to providing one.

Q: Will he protect rare species on sea mountains by stopping dredging?

A: Yes. Dredging on sea mountains has already been ruled out.

Question 9.

PHIL HEATLEY (National) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: Does he stand by his spokesperson's assurance to Northland people that he is "well aware of their concerns" in relation to the Auckland region's proposed rail corridor purchase; if so, what does he propose to do to carry out that assurance?

A: Yes. My colleague Judith Tizard has recently met with Northland Mayors about this. We are committed to linear continuity in rail. The Auckland rail deal is still being considered by a committee of cabinet ministers.

Q: Is he aware that Transfund did not consider Northland’s concerns when it approved a $22 million grant to Auckland?

A: Transfund deals with applications. The application in this case was made by Auckland under instructions from the previous government. We will work to create a win-win situation for everybody. When the privatisation of rail was undertaken it was not anticipated that Tranz Rail would pull out of a significant part of its operations. We are developing a rail policy.

Question 10.

H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology Pete Hodgson :

Q: What progress has been made with the Grants for Private Sector Research and Development Scheme?

A: Around 140 grants with a value of $8.5 million are either approved or about to be approved. This means an extra $25 million of private sector research and development will be undertaken. The average grant is for $60,000. For example one company will build a remotely operated underwater vehicle. New generation technology in telecommunications is being funded. Recycling of rubber, the list goes on. NZers are very innovative.

Q: Maurice Williamsoin (National): Has he received submissions saying people would rather receive tax deductibility?

A: We have been reviewing this area for nine months. My colleague the Minister if Finance is moving towards resolution of the issues raised.

Question 11.

Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Is her reported approval of the privatisation of a range of health services at Taranaki hospital a "one-off" policy decision; if so, why?

A: Yes. The cabinet guidelines require decisions of this nature to be considered individually by the Minister. Applications are approved or declined on the basis of their merits.

Q: Does she accept there are lots of gains to be made here?

A: The arrangement at Taranaki Hospital will be reviewed in 18 months. We will see how it has done then.

Q: What about her promise not to privatise services?

A: I have never said there should be no private provision of health. I know that already over 50% of services are provided by private sector and NGO providers. What we said we would not do is set up private services to compete with public services.

Question 12.

DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:

Q: What steps is he taking to make it easier for citizens to access Government services and information?

A: The E-Government group has been working on several strategies in this area.

Q: What do these projects offer?

A: They make E-Government and Government more accessible. There will be more opportunity, simplicity and accessibility to government.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): Why then are we being refused so much information from Government departments including transcripts of post-cabinet press conferences?

A: I don’t know. I will look into it if the member cares to send me an email. We want NZers to be innovators. We have to be at the leading edge of IT uptake.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Should citizens be able to see information about themselves?

A: In the vast majority of cases yes, but there are exceptions.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): Should people wanting to email the Minister of Health now do so via the Prime Minister’s office?

A: In my experience the Minister of Health’s office is very good at receiving and sending emails.


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