Today's questions of the day concerned: Mandeville Youth Justice Facility – Community Services Card – E-Government - Hospital Deficits – Tourism – Rest Home And Geriatric Care Funding – Human Genes In Cows – PM And Christine Rankin – Tax Simplification – Vigin Blue – Green NZ Myth – Police Crime Fighting Capacity – Cannabis Health Select Committee Hearings.
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
Questions to Ministers
RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: Has he received any indication that legal action may be taken by the vendors of the land under offer for the proposed Mandeville youth justice facility; if so, is there any potential for financial liability to taxpayers?
A: (Lianne Dalziel on behalf) I have received no such indication.
Q: Will the Minister not accept that the project should be cancelled?
Q: Clayton Cosgrove (Labour): Has a decision been made to build a youth justice facility at Mandeville?
A: No decision has been taken to build on that site yet. And no decision will be taken till consultation is complete. A conditional contract has been signed in relation to land at Mandeville. No deposit has been paid. The contract is in accordance with normal commercial practice.
Q: Were the vendors told this land was for a women’s refuge?
A: All I can say is that no decision has been about this land.
(Clayton Cosgrove – Leave sought to table a letter – granted.)
Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:
Q: How does he reconcile his statement of 26 April that "Changes to the qualifying income threshold for the Community Services Card only affect superannuitants" with the statement made on his 1 May fact sheet that the "Government has NOT made any change to Community Services Card thresholds"?
A: (Michael Cullen on behalf) Skilfully.
Q: Now the Minister knows that Dr Cullen has blown his budget by $270 million, why didn’t he advocate spending another $14 million.
A: The Minister has just been advised by the Minister of Finance that the raising of the budget expenditure ceiling relates to the 2002-2003 budget not this years one.
Q: Does he accept that one of these two statements must be false?
A: I am able to say that the statement made on 1 May is correct. Around 3000+ superannuitants had their entitlements grand-parented.
Q: Have all income thresholds been reviewed?
A: The Government keeps under review all kinds of thresholds. Every Minister has tried to remove anomalies. No minister has yet succeeded.
Q: Will he admit the Government has created a poverty trap in which it is better to be on the benefit than in work?
A: The poverty trap was created in 1992 when the card was introduced.
DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard:
Q: How will the recently released e-government strategy improve people's ability to communicate with the Government?
A: The strategy defines three essential ways to improve communication with Government. The strategy is more than a communication tool however, it will also improve how government works. The Electronic Transactions Bill will assist the strategy. Statements from Tony Ryall show he doesn’t understand the bill, e-commerce or the strategy.
Q: Maurice Williamson (National): What faith can the public have in the strategy when the Government’s own website misrepresents who is the minister of what, and misses out Marian Hobbs and Dover Samuels altogether? Does the “e” in E-Government stand for elimination?
A: While the former minister is having a bit of fun he should have a chat to Tony Ryall about OSH notices being sent by email.
Q: What about the digital divide?
A: A cross-departmental team is working on this area. We think E-Government can result in digital opportunity not a digital divide.
Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What reports has she received about projected operating deficits for district health boards?
A: I receive regular reports on the comparative and specific performance of the health sector.
Q: Roger Sowry (Natioanl): Is she refusing to meet with boards because she doesn’t want to receive a report saying that boards will be between $160 and $200 million in deficit under the funding offered to them.
Q: What about Hutt Hospital?
A: Our advice is that anticipated levels of funding will enable services to be maintained. Any boards which face deficits are expected to develop management plans to bring themselves within budget.
Q: Will boards be able to meet their statutory obligations? And if so how?
A: Yes. And on the basis of official advice.
DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister of Tourism Mark Burton:
Q: Has he received any reports on the importance of tourism to the New Zealand economy?
A: Yes. I have received key findings from the Tourism Satellite Account study. Total tourist expenditure in 1997 was $11 billion. 149,000 NZers were employed in tourism at that time, one in ten jobs. We will get further satellite accounts for 1999 and 2000 later this year as a result of the preliminary work that has now been done.
Q: David Carter (National) What about Virgin Blue?
A: We are waiting for detail from Virgin Blue on their application.
Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:
Q: What immediate funding relief will be given to public or private rest homes and geriatric hospitals for the next financial year?
A: (Lianne Dalziel on behalf) Discussions are ongoing. No resolution has been found yet.
Q: What about the crisis in aged care?
A: I haven’t seen the article the member refers to. However I would note that the issue she refers to arose in 1998.
Q: How will she achieve urgent resolution?
A: Last year we directed the Ministry of Health to develop a pricing model.
Q: When will the asset test on rest homes be lifted?
A: The election promise said that we would introduce legislation in the first term.
Q: Does the Minister not know that the elderly are dying because the sector has insufficient money?
A: The government is close to a decision on the pricing structure.
(Dr Lynda Scott – leave to table two documents – refused.)
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:
Q: In view of yesterday's "landmark" High Court ruling setting aside the Environmental Risk Management Authority's approval for putting copies of human genes in cows, what steps will she take to ensure ERMA complies with the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and ERMA's own methodologies and processes in assessing any future applications?
A: This appeal has been the first opportunity for a court to express a view on the HASNO process. ERMA received the decision last night. I will ensure that processes will be improved.
Q: Will all previous decisions now be reviewed?
A: It is too early to comment on that detail. First we need to examine the more than 100 pages in the decision. The bulk of the decision confirms ERMA’s approach. It is significant that ERMA has not found to have erred in dealing with Maori issues.
Q: Will extra resources be provided to ERMA in August when the moratorium on field trials is lifted?
A: The member will be interested in what happens in the budget on that issue.
Q: What about the 1000s of NZers suffering from MS, will they be protected from rash political delaying?
A: I would hardly call a High Court decision “rash political delaying”.
(Seeks leave to defer the question till next sitting day – refused.)
Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:
Q: Why has she not provided the details requested in my written questions Nos 4299, 4300, and 4387 to 4389 related to the merger of the Ministry of Social Policy and the Department of Work and Income?
A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) This question touches on issues awaiting judicial decision. It is therefore inappropriate for me to comment.
Q: Is it is her position that she did not plot to illegally prevent Christine Rankin from being appointed…
(Speaker – the question is out of order….
Richard Prebble – the question does not allege plotting.
Speaker – I will be listening carefully to this.)
Q: Is it is her position that she did not plot to illegally prevent Christine Rankin from being appointed, and if so why won’t she answer these questions?
A: Christine Rankin has issued legal proceedings against the crown. The case will be heard in late June. The chief judge of the Employment Court has asked parties not to comment on the case in advance through the media. This house is not the media. We do however want to follow the judge’s instructions. Therefore I have decided not to answer these questions.
(Richard Prebble – why is a Judge intimidating the PM. I don’t think that is happening. I think that what is really happening is that an excuse is being made not to answer questions.
Speaker – As I ruled yesterday It is over Ministers to avoid making comments if they feel they would be prejudicial. That is entirely a matter over to their discretion. There is nothing in this that infringes on the privileges of this house.
Richard Prebble – you appear to be inviting the Judiciary to issue orders to limit free speech in this house. And to prevent the Opposition for scrutinising the executive.
Speaker – I take this very seriously. I will take a further look at this, however I do not regard the Judge’s comments as directing Parliament or a Minister.
Bill English – Clearly someone outside the house is influencing conduct in the house. We need assurance this is not happening.
Trevor Mallard – no judge has made a direction on this issue. A judge has minuted a request not to comment in the media. The PM thinks it is appropriate not to defy that request.
Richard Prebble – I didn’t think the PM was a party to this case.
Trevor Mallard – the crown through the AG is a party. Ministers take collective responsibility.
Peter Dunne – it may be helpful if the Minister tables the minute.
Trevor Mallard – leave is sought to table the minute – granted.
Muriel Newman – yesterday you ruled that these questions were not subject to Standing Order 112. Events today seem to contradict that.
Speaker – no they do not.)
Q: Roger Sowry (National): Can the Minister assure the house that she and ministers will appear in court if necessary?
A: If necessary, yes.
(Bill English – Ministers are creating a perception that they have legal reasons not to answer questions, when in fact they are just avoiding embarrassing questions.
Speaker – I can’t put words into Minister’s mouths. It is up to Ministers how they answer questions.)
JOHN TAMIHERE (Labour) to the Minister of Revenue Michael Cullen:
Q: What proposals are being considered by the Government to simplify tax for small business?
A: (Paul Swain on behalf) The proposals outlined today are designed to give small businesses more time to do their business. Submissions have been asked for on the proposals. This is part of a wider program of compliance cost reduction. We want businesses to do what they do best, run their businesses.
Q: Annabelle Young (National): Does the Government expect businesses to take up these options when they result in small businesses paying their tax earlier and more often?
BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:
Q: Does he support Virgin Blue's plans to set up a no-frills airline service in New Zealand including a trans-Tasman link?
A: Government supports competition and there is no objection to a domestic operation. As for a trans-Tasman link, they will need Australian permission too.
Q: Why doesn’t he pick up the phone and call the Australians?
A: Discussions are underway already, as you would expect them to be. National appears to have contradictory views on this subject. Bring back Maurice.
Q: Does that mean he has only luke warm support for this idea?
A: We are in contact with the Australian government. Both governments are awaiting proposals from Virgin Blue.
Q: Where is the fax he allegedly sent to Virgin Blue?
A: The fax has been sent.
MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:
Q: Is she worried about a recent Massey University survey which found that 42 percent of New Zealanders think that "New Zealand's clean, green image is a myth"?
A: Yes I am concerned. This morning I launched a program to encourage feedback from communities about environmental matters.
Q: Can she name any substantial piece of legislation she has introduced to make NZ greener?
Q: As waterways were mentioned in the Massey report, will she be restricting any activities in waterways?
A: There are discussions underway at present with the Dairy Industry about this.
Q: Is public awareness enough?
A: Unless the public understands how they are polluting, they will not do anything about their behaviour.
Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:
(Tony Ryall – leave to defer the question – refused.)
Q: Are any police areas under strength to such a degree that services to the public have been affected; if so, where?
A: (Trevor Mallard on behalf) Services to the public are best judged by performance. Services to the public have improved under the Labour government.
Q: What about Waitakere where there is a shortage of 10 sworn staff and where lots of stuff is falling through the cracks?
A: The police officer quoted also says that police in Waitakere are doing a great job. We get sick of the opposition running down the rank and file police.
Q: Is he aware of key trends in reported and resolved crime?
A: Yes perchance I am. In the year 2000 there were nearly 11,000 fewer offences reported. In the first year of the National Government burglaries sky-rocketed to 94,000. Then that member, Tony Ryall, sat on his hands and money was put into INCIS.
Q: What about Dunedin?
A: We have invested an extra $100 million in police. All burglary reports are being dealt with in 24 hours at present.
Q: How come we have a minister who says we put more money into police, yet we have fewer frontline police.
A: The sworn attrition rate for each year of the last government was higher than it has been under this government. The police are out there doing a great job and the people of NZ are wrapt.
Q: Ron Mark (NZ First): When the Minister wrote that the news was all bad for crooks was he referring to Christchurch where the police commander wants 50 more officers?
A: For a period of the last government that member reported cuts to the police. This government has put the money back.
(Tony Ryall – leave to table a document showing a reduction in sworn police – granted.)
Questions to Members
NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Chairperson of the Health Committee Judy Keall:
Q: When will the Health Committee begin public hearings on submissions received as part of its inquiry into health strategies relating to cannabis use?
A: The committee has yet to set a date.
Q: Given that 500 submitters met a February 7th deadline, why has the committee failed to set a date?
A: The committee has a heavy legislative programme ahead of it.