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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 9 May

Today's questions of the day concerned: National’s Tertiary Education Policy – Budget Blow Out – Business Incubators - Budget Blow Out – Child Abuse Reporting By GPs – Air Combat Training For Army – Maori Health - Sir Geoffrey Palmer Judge? – New Plymouth Dioxin Contamination – PM and Social Service Agencies Merger – Police Numbers - Biodiversity Funding

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 9 May 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.


Question 1.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What initiatives are being undertaken to promote an innovative tertiary education system?

A: I have seen a report which has several bizarre suggestions involving the use of crystals.

Q: Liz Gordon (Alliance): Has he seen a report supporting government tertiary education policy?

A: I have seen a National Party report supporting the no-interest on student loans policy. The only difference with the National policy is a plan to call the loans “advances”. This government is committed to social and economic development.

Question 2.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: In light of her answer yesterday, can she at least indicate which month the Minister of Finance first told her that the $5.9 billion fiscal cap would be exceeded by $270 million?

A: No.

Q: Why?

A: Because I am committed to fiscal prudence, I see no great significance in spending one quarter of one percent more than expected.

Q: Is there any pressing public interest in this matter?

A: It is a complete mystery to me why the Opposition is wasting question time on this matter.

Q: Was she kept in the dark by Michael Cullen?

A: As I indicated yesterday the Minister of Finance and I regularly talk about such matters.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Given you have had more than 28 hours to address this question, is it not reasonable to conclude you are treating this house with contempt?

A: I do not diary all my meetings with Mr Cullen, because we meet so often. Indeed if we were to meet any more often than we do, someone might draw the wrong inference.

Q: Why didn’t she tell her colleagues about the budget blow-out? And when did she decide not to trust her colleagues?

A: This ever so slight lift in the fiscal cap was made on April 23rd when the budget was put to bed.

Question 3.

H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour) to the Minister for Small Business Pete Hodgson:

Q: What are the main aims of the Government’s recently announced policy to support business incubators?

A: We have two aims. One is to support best practice in small businesses. Another is to support best practice in incubators. The incubation community have been very supportive of the policy, which is not surprising since they were consulted on it.

Q: Will an adequate grant be provided to this project?

A: When we decide on a policy we implement it. The $500,000 we have spent will be spent in the next eight weeks. We will make an announcement in the budget about ongoing funding. Typically incubators are attached to research institutions and typically they are involved with technology. However that is not always the case and there will also be some fashion incubators.

Q: What about ecological sustainability?

A: That is not a direct priority, but it is a general concern of this government. I expect that many of the projects supported by this programme will be involved in this area.

Question 4.

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

Q: When did he know that he was going to break his commitment to his $5.9 billion spending cap?

A: When Cabinet agreed to do so.

Q: Can he confirm a Dominion report that he knew from November last year there was a problem?

A: There is a difference between knowing there will be pressure and knowing the cap will be lifted. The cap was only known to be lifted when it was in fact lifted by Cabinet. That is why we have a Cabinet.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): When did he first tell the PM the spending cap would be coming under pressure? And when did he tell the PM that the cap was to be broken?

A: To the very, very best of my recollection the PM realised there would be pressure on the cap herself. She is that intelligent.

Q: Are we to presume that the PM is clairvoyant?

A: The member may say that, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Q: Why did he tell the media something completely different last week?

A: I did not know the spending cap would be broken until Cabinet agreed. That is the nature of Cabinet government.

Question 5.

ANN HARTLEY (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What steps have been taken to assist general practitioners to identify and report suspected child abuse?

A: Last week Annette King and I launched new guidelines for the reporting of child abuse. These were strongly supported by children’s advocates including the Commissioner for Children. I am delighted the guidelines are in place. GPs as a group have long been aware of and been concerned at abuse. Guidelines developed in Northland have formed the basis of this development.

Q: Can the Minister assure the house that all unallocated CYFS cases will be dealt with by the end of June?

A: CYFS is working on it.

Q: Is the Minister prepared to rule out mandatory reporting?

A: The evidence around the world shows that mandatory reporting does not make children safer. Until I see evidence to the contrary we will not be changing our view on this. CYFS funding has been lifted already and will be lifted again.

Question 6.

Hon MAX BRADFORD (National) to the Minister of Defence Mark Burton:

Q: What arrangements have been made in the past for air combat training for the New Zealand Army, and what arrangements have been made with the Australian or other Governments for air combat training for the Army in the future, now that the Skyhawks and Aermacchis will be scrapped?

A: The member seems confused. The army is a land based force and as such does not involve itself in air combat training.

(Max Bradford – that is not a reasonable attempt to answer the question. The Minister is being a smartarse.

Speaker – I would be inclined to agree, lets start this question again.)

Q: What arrangements have been made in the past for air combat training for the New Zealand Army, and what arrangements have been made with the Australian or other Governments for air combat training for the Army in the future, now that the Skyhawks and Aermacchis will be scrapped?

A: With great care I can only say that the NZ Army is located on the ground, it is therefore not involved in air combat training.

Q: Max Bradford (National): Given that the Army does regularly train with the Air Force, what does he understand the PM to have meant when she said on Holmes last night that she understood anecdotally that the Army has only trained with the Skyhawks three times in the last 31 years?

A: The PM was very clearly referring to occasional large scale exercises involving close air support. There is of course training more often of forward air controllers.

Q: What has been the reaction of the Australian Government?

(Speaker – that is too far removed.)

Q: Peter Dunne (United Future NZ): Is there any point in exercises with other forces?

A: The questioner seems to be mistaken. The Australian Defence Minister is in fact pleased with the extra resources going into the army.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Has he heard that the NZ Government is leading the world in focussing on peace keeping?

A: Indeed I have. I have heard a number of senior commentators making such observations.

Q: Max Bradford (National): How can he square the PM’s comments away with 300 hours of training support supplied by the Skyhawks mentioned in this report?

A: The member clearly has not come to grips with the range of types of training. We are already progressing towards appropriate purchase arrangements with the Australians in this area.

(Max Bradford – leave to table several newspaper articles from Australia – refused

Mark Burton – leave to table the editorial from the Christchurch Press – refused.)

Question 7.

MITA RIRINUI (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia:

Q: What action is the Government taking to address Maori health issues?

A: Last week a discussion document was launched on this.

Q: What is the significance of this?

A: It recognises a significant commitment of the government to improving the health of Whanau, Hapu and Iwi.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): What did she mean when she said on Mana news that there were some doctors that Maori people did not receive all the treatment they ought to from? And will she report the unethical doctors?

A: If Mr Sowry will give me their names then I would be happy to do so.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): What evidence does she have some doctors are treating Maori as second class citizens?

A: HFA statistics from when that member was Minister of Health.

Question 8.

Dr WAYNE MAPP (National) to the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson:

Q: Is the Government considering the appointment of as the next President of the Court of Appeal; if not, why did her spokesman say she had “no comment” on the issue?

A: I have not begun the process to recommend the next President of the Court of Appeal yet. Therefore no work has been done yet. The AG never comments on individuals, therefore “no comment” was the appropriate response to the question.

Q: How could the community have confidence in a former Labour PM well known for his legal activism?

(Speaker – I will allow the question.)

A: I concur with the comments that the question is hypothetical. I have not even began to address this issue in my own mind and therefore it would be inappropriate to provide a hypothetical answer. The process of appointments to the judiciary is laid out in a booklet. If the member is uncertain of the process of appointment I recommend he read the booklet.

(Margaret Wilson - leave sought to table the booklet – granted.)

Q: Stephen Franks (ACT): Is she concerned not to stack the Court of Appeal given her plan to get rid of the Privy Council?

A: I intend to follow the process.

Q: Has she had any formal or informal discussions with Sir Geoffrey Palmer?

A: I shall repeat that I am yet to even turn my attention to this matter. The existing appointment does not terminate till mid next year.

Question 9.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment Marian Hobbs:

Q: Will she urgently undertake a comprehensive study of soil dioxin levels in residential areas around the Dow AgroSciences premises in New Plymouth in order to characterise and provide certainty as to the health risks, as recommended to the Taranaki Regional Council; if not, why not?

A: (Marian Hobbs on behalf) Soil testing is primarily the responsibility of local authorities. Some soil testing has already been done and more will be done.

Q: Does she acknowledge that the four soil samples already tested show elevated levels of dioxin around the plant?

A: Yes. Three or four sites have been tested already. 31 more sites will be tested shortly. More importantly serum testing by the Ministry of Health will show how much dioxin has found its way into people. Levels of dioxin have been tested around the country. The government has been working on options for reducing dioxin exposure. A discussion document will be released in the next few months.

Q: Why is it that after four months we are still waiting for urgent actions?

A: On the contrary, the serum testing is already underway. The government’s view is still that this is potentially a very serious issue.

Q: What about Northland?

A: There is no shortage of contaminated dioxin sites around the country. That is why we did a countrywide piece of research. We found that dioxin levels are falling, but that they are not good enough yet.

Question 10.

Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: When does she feel she will be able to provide the details requested in written questions Nos 4299, 4300, and 4387 to 4389, about her role in the merger of the Ministry of Social Policy and the Department of Work and Income?

A: When issues awaiting judicial decision have been addressed.

Q: In light of my letter from the Employment Court will she tell us whether she had a key role in instigating the merger process.

A: I have no intention of commenting on such matters while the matter is before the court.

Q: Who is responsible for this merger?

A: Trevor Mallard and Steve Maharey.

Q: Has the PM be given advice that she may be required to give evidence?

A: No.

(Richard Prebble – your ruling appears to support the PM’s contention that she doesn’t need to answer questions. We now have a letter saying that the order from the court was not directed at Ministers, but only at the SSC and Christine Rankin.

Michael Cullen – whatever the truth may be concerning that matter, the Minister is entitled to judge these matters for themselves.

Muriel Newman – leave to table the letter from the Employment Court – granted.)

Question 11.

Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Police George Hawkins:

Q: What reports has he received on likely trends in violent crime this year, in light of his previous comment “What is certain though is that as soon as police numbers are cut, crime will increase”?

A: It is great to see quite outstanding results achieved by the police. Recorded crimes have fallen to a ten year low. I am told that figures for this year are trending in the right direction.

Q: What about police number cuts?

A: I am pleased to today announce plans to recruit 670 new police by mid 2002.

Q: What opportunities are there today for women, Maori, Pacific Island and ethnic people in the police?

A: I am determined to encourage more women, Maori, Pacific Island and ethnic people to join the police.

Q: In light of the ministers’ own statement, what is his message to Wellington where police numbers are cut?

A: My message is that under National there was a 77% increase in violent crime.

Q: Given that around 400 police are recruited each year and that we are 200 police down at present, won’t his announcement just take us back to ground zero?

A: In invite the member to join the police. I will be happy to send him an application form.

Q: Ron Marks (NZ First): Is all he is doing recruiting police to recruit those who are leaving?

A: I am saying that there will be 600-700 extra recruits and we will have more police than ever before. We are not just talking about numbers we are talking about results.

(Tony Ryall – leave to table a document showing a fall in police numbers – refused.)

Question 12.

PHILLIDA BUNKLE (Alliance) to the Minister of Conservation Sandra Lee:

Q: What steps are being taken by the Government to improve New Zealand’s environment and conservation security?

A: We have funded biodiversity very well. We have today announced funding increases of $60 million over three years. There are lots of increases in funding for biodiversity.


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