Today's questions of the day concerned: Employment Stoppages – Community Services Card – Community Services Card And Kiwi Bank – Community Services Card – Tranz Rail Line Closures – Community Services Card – Pacific Pre-School Education – Celia Lashlie Sacking – ACT Money Laundering – Pay For Police Rapist
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.
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GRAHAM KELLY (Labour) to the Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:
Q: What reports, if any, has she received on the number of work stoppages under the Employment Relations Act?
A: I have received a Statistics New Zealand report showing there were only five stoppages in the December Quarter. This compares favourably with the last three months of the ECA when there were 10 stoppages.
Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: How does she reconcile her statement of 21 November 1999 that "above all (a Labour Government) will be fair in its policies", with her Government's decision to extend the community services card threshold to beneficiaries and superannuitants but not to low income workers?
A: No such decision was made.
Q: What is her response to the Human Rights Commission’s concerns?
A: I regret to inform the Leader of the Opposition that this situation has always been the case. This has been a flaw in the system since she first introduced the card in the early 1990s.
Q: Is this the best way to deliver health care?
A: No. This card was introduced in the early 1990s as part of a grotesque plan by the National Party to means test benefits. We were opposed to the “poor card” then and are working on getting something better in place now. No person who had the card before 1 April will be worse off because of changes to superannuation.
Q: Peter Dunne (United Future NZ): Was this a consequence of poor ministerial management?
A: The government stands by its decision.
Q: What about poorly paid soldiers?
A: My recollection would be that our soldiers would be over the threshold when they started working. The priority for this government is to get rid of a poor card with the Leader of the Opposition introduced. She should not believe her own rhetoric.
PETER BROWN (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: Is the Government's intention to subsidise the "kiwi bank" by $78.2 million of greater importance than the $14 million required to assist 48,000 low paid workers and their families to gain access to the community services card; if so, why?
A: The investment of capital in the bank is invested with the intention of earning dividends which can be used to pay for social services.
Q: If there is any additional funding needed to combat child prostitution, will funding for the bank take priority?
A: Funding for child prostitution is operating expenses, funding for the bank is capital expenses. The two areas of funding are quite separate. Allocating funding to the bank did not in any way crowd out funding for social services.
Q: How does the welfare decision encourage people off welfare and into work?
A: The thresholds were not lifted for anyone. It would help if everybody understood that.
(Roger Sowry - Would the Minister like to reconsider his answer given the press statement from Steve Maharey, and can I table the statement – granted.
Speaker – that is a debating point.)
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:
Q: (Lockwood Smith on behalf) Can he confirm the Prime Minister's statement that extending the community services card to 48,000 low income workers would take $14 million to fix, but that it would not happen because the Budget was under other pressures?
A: I repeat, the community services threshold has not been lifted for anybody. All beneficiaries automatically qualify. When the Leader of the Opposition introduced the card there were more than 3000 beneficiaries earning more money than low income workers who were not entitled to the card.
Q: Can the Minister say whether in the future his Super pre-funding schemes will lead to more decisions like this?
A: Transfers to the NZ Super fund will be capital payments not operating expenses. If the member does not understand this he should ask Bill English to explain.
Q: Has he considered reconsidering the expensive new LAV APC’s
A: That is also a capital expenditure item. Can I repeat again. The threshold was not lifted for anyone. No inequity occurred for 48,000 people who previously did not have cards.
(Roger Sowry – the Minister says the threshold has not been changed. We have a press statement saying the threshold was raised. The issue here is who should we ask for information from. Who is telling the truth and who is fibbing.
Speaker – that is a debatable matter and not for me to judge.)
SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:
Q: In light of reported statements by Tranz Rail this morning that it is likely to close or mothball certain lines, will the Government guarantee that the existing rail network will be preserved; if so, how?
A: The Government is working with regions throughout the country in response to this possibility.
Q: Would it be inequitable to buy just the Auckland rail corridor?
A: The Government’s current priority is producing a solution for Auckland. That said, we are concerned obviously to have a national rail network.
Q: What work has been done on regional lines?
A: The Hawke’s Bay Council and Tranz Rail have been looking at applying for funding for the rail link from Napier to Gisborne.
Q: What progress has been made in Auckland?
A: We have met with Auckland Mayors already. Some details need to be worked out before formal negotiations commence with Tranz Rail.
Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: Why did the Government announce that it had "increased funding for the community services card provision to ensure no superannuitant or beneficiary loses their entitlement to it as a result of the social security adjustments" but did not increase funding for some 48,000 workers on the same or lower income levels?
A: Cabinet agreed nobody should lose entitlement due to changes in super. We also agreed to a review of the Community Services Card.
Q: Does she blame officials for failing to inform the Government? Or did she ask for $14 million to avoid this?
A: We believe we could have had better advice. But the member needs to know that low income workers have always been treated differently than beneficiaries.
Q: When will the review be completed?
A: Within six months.
Q: Roger Sowry (National): How is this move consistent with PM statements last year emphasising the importance of fairness?
A: It was fair in the year 2000 for us to make an adjustment. That member as minister did not make an adjustment even though he claims he did.
Q: Sue Bradford (Green): Why will the government not provide interim funding till the Community Services Card review is completed?
A: We will be doing much more than the card does following this review.
RUTH DYSON (Labour) to the Minister for Disability Issues Lianne Dalziel:
Q: What has been the response to yesterday's launch of the New Zealand Disability Strategy, Making a World of Difference: Whakanui Oranga?
A: The strategy has been described as the most important thing to happen to disabled people in NZ ever.
Q: What does the strategy identify as barriers?
A: Physical environment, education and a range of other things. The biggest barrier however is the attitudes of other people. We should ask ourselves whether we should be judging people by what they can’t do, rather than what they can do. The key issue for deaf people is the availability of a relay service. This is something we are looking at most seriously.
Q: How will the strategy remove barriers?
A: For the first time we have a nation-wide framework.
Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: Did she take a paper to Cabinet which included an option for an additional $14 million in funding to increase the community services card threshold; if so, what were Cabinet's reasons for its decision on the option?
A: Yes. And cabinet agreed that no-one who had entitlement to a Community Services Card should lose it due to changes to NZ super.
Q: Roger Sowry (National): What assurances will be given regarding fairness between working and beneficiary families?
A: Nothing has changed as a result of what we have done. When the member was Minister he was not concerned about this. The CSC creates a number of anomalies, that is why we are reviewing it.
Q: Ken Shirley (ACT): Why does she blame officials when her cabinet paper proves that this anomaly was anticipated?
A: We will provide fairness, which is more than would be provided for under ACT who want to cut expenditure.
Q: Can the minister give an assurance that low income working families won’t have to pay more for their health care?
A: Nothing has changed for any of those families.
(Annette King – leave sought to table a transcript from Morning Report – granted.)
LUAMANUVAO WINNIE LABAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: What progress has been made on the development of early childhood education services for Pacific communities?
A: (Mark Gosche on behalf) Recently one center was opened. Another will be opened next week. These will benefit more than 200 Pacific Island pre-school children. These policies have been based on extensive consultations with these communities.
Q: When will Pacific children be enrolled in pre-school care at a similar rate to palangi children?
A: Hopefully soon.
Current rates are obviously unacceptable.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:
Q: Did he, any of his Associate Ministers or his Ministry express any concern to the Special Education Service about the reported public comments by Nelson manager Celia Lashlie at a Restorative Justice Services Trust meeting on Wednesday 18 April about problem children becoming criminals?
A: (Lianne Dalziel on behalf) Neither I nor any of my associates expressed any concerns to SES about this. Nor are we aware of any Ministry of Education concerns being raised with the SES?
Q: Is Miss Lashlie misleading us then?
A: The comment the minister has provided is not evidence that any concerns were expressed by Ministers. If the member has any evidence then it would be good if he would provide it.
Q: What has he done about allegations of ministerial interference?
A: I first became aware of allegations on the 20th of April. I was made aware by a reporter and by a statement from Nick Smith. I asked the Ministry of Education about this and they said they had made no comment. Later I contacted the State Services Commissioner in response to an article in the Dominion newspaper. I received some verbal advice that day. On April 27th I met with the chair of SES and the State Services Commission. Last night I asked SES to formally investigate the decision to terminate the contract with Momentum Consulting.
Q: What is the difference between this case and that of Neil Pugmire?
A: The member knows perfectly well that this is a matter for the SES. The Minister has gone as far as he can go.
Q: Will the Minister confirm that Miss Lashlie’s concerns will be addressed?
A: One of the reasons for bringing the SES within the Ministry of Education is to achieve precisely this outcome.
Q: Nick Smith (National): Why then did the SES advise Celia Lashlie that she was dismissed because of Ministerial comments?
A: I cannot comment on something that has not been confirmed. I can even say where we were. I was on a plane to Australia when I first read about this. Parekura Horomia was in Korea. That member makes a habit of raising allegations without any evidence.
GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:
Q: What economic development issues involving high net worth individuals has he identified?
A: Many high net worth individuals make a very constructive contribution to Economic Development in a number of ways. One way that is not helpful is to set up money laundering schemes to conceal their donations to the ACT Party.
Q: What are the consequences of such schemes?
(Speaker – that question is out of order.
Jim Anderton – As Minister of Economic Development I do not see why I shouldn’t answer questions about this.
Speaker – Economic Development is not an excuse to talk about anything. I am inclined to move on.
Grant Gillon – could I rephrase.
Speaker – no, we will move on.)
Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:
Q: Why is a policeman convicted of rape in April 2001 still being paid a reported $1,000 a week in salary?
A: The police are acting under the same Police Act and employment conditions that existed under the National Party. This government believes that police officers in jail should not be paid.
Q: For how long and how much money will this rapist be paid while his victim gets nothing?
A: As long as it takes to deal with this. This government is working to ensure that the Police Commissioner has the ability to deal with cases such as this urgently.
Q: Does he have any concerns about the PERF scheme?
A: No. Not when it is used properly. However I do not think that police officers convicted of serious crimes should be entitled to contributions from the scheme. We do not want the scheme abused by a scumbag like Mclean.
Q: Why is the police hierarchy reluctant to stop paying him?
A: It is the same law that existed for nine years under National. We are moving quickly to amend this.
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