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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 16 May

Today's questions of the day concerned: Yelashgate – Budget – Yelashgate – Medicinal Marijuana - Resource Management Act – Rural Social Services – Health Funding/Hospital Deficits – Solomon Islands – Parental Leave – Intermediate Schools – Smoking In Bars – Dave Morgan

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 16 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.

SCOOP COVERAGE BEGINS

Question 1.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National) to the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson:

Q: If it is correct that the confidentiality provisions of clause 7 in the settlement agreement between the Prime Minister and Mr John Yelash were included at the instigation of counsel for Mr Yelash, as she told the House yesterday she understood to be the case, why does the agreement provide for a significant monetary penalty to protect against a breach of confidentiality by Mr Yelash, but no such provision to protect against a breach of confidentiality by the Crown?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) I am advised that it is not unusual to have a clause of confidentiality where the party that receives money has to refund some of that money in the event of a breach. I am prepared to say that the QC acting for the crown has said, yesterday, and again today, that the clause came at the initiation of Peter Williams QC. When Jenny Shipley agreed to a payment being made to the director of the Hepititis Foundation in 1998 there was also a requirement of confidentiality. And in that case too there was a leak.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Is the house asking us to believe that Mr Yelash put forward a proposal that he and he alone would be bound by confidentiality?

A: There is a clear record of the crown abiding by the terms of such agreements. There is also a clear record of other parties being in breach.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): If it is so normal, then why did the Attorney General say she was surprised about this?

A: Because she hadn’t seen the specific agreement before. The AG said yesterday that there were no specific or general instructions given on confidentiality. We will be asking Mr Yelash how the confidentiality clause came to be breached. On receiving a reply we will decide what to do next. I spoke to Crown Law this morning. They said they had a letter from Mr Hugh Rennie QC saying that Peter Williams QC instigated (later changed to initiated – see below) the idea of confidentiality.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Given that last night on TV a leading lawyer Peter Williams, perhaps NZ’s leading criminal lawyer, called the Attorney General a liar, will she be suing him for defamation?

A: And another QC will say tonight that what Margaret Wilson said in this house yesterday was correct. Another lawyer involved in this case says he can’t remember who raised the issue.

(Richard Prebble – will the letter written by Mr Rennie by tabled please

Phil Goff – I have not got the letter or seen it. Crown Law said they had received it.)

(LATER: Phil Goff correction – I should have used the word initiate not instigate with relation to Peter Williams and the confidentiality clause.)

Question 2.

MARK PECK (Labour) to the Treasurer Michael Cullen:

Q: Has he received any suggestions for next week's Budget?

A: Lots. Reintroducing an air strike force. Cutting taxes and providing all school pupils with lap top computers. These suggestions would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. These are National Party suggestions. In addition the Opposition Minister of Finance has suggested that we provide $150 million in GST refunds to people who did not pay it. Having attacked the government for lifting the limit the Opposition Finance spokesman then went on to describe the whole accounting system as dismal.

Q: What about paid parental leave?

A: We intend to introduce it on April 1 next year.

Q: Rod Donald (Green): Does the Minister agree that the accountancy firms involved in this tax dispute are not doing themselves any credit?

A: It is true to say that every statement I have seen from the profession misrepresents the position of the government.

Question 3.

Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (ACT) to the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson:

Q: How does she reconcile her answer given in the House yesterday that "my understanding was, from counsel representing the Prime Minister, that Mr Williams QC raised the matter of confidentiality at the outset because he wished to seek a settlement at that stage" with Mr Williams' statement that "that is a complete and absolute lie" and Mr John Yelash's statement "without any question none of this had anything do with it. It was imposed on us." and, in the light of these statements, would she like to reconsider her answer?

A: (Phil Goff on behalf) I am advised that the Attorney General was correct in her statement to the house yesterday.

Q: Is the AG asking us to believe that clause seven of this agreement – quoted - was included by John Yelash?

A: His lawyers would, because they wanted a settlement.

Q Has Mr Williams strong denial been supported by other counsel supporting Mr Yelash?

A: I understand lawyer Chris LaHatte last night, on Late Edition, said he couldn’t remember who raised the issue.

Q: What about allegations that Crown Law interfered with an application for legal aid from Mr Yelash?

A: Crown Law has nothing to do with legal aid. Statements about interference with legal aid are, quite frankly, scurrilous.

Q: Does she intend to sue for defamation? And if she misled the house then does she intend to resign?

A: I have it on the assurance of Hugh Rennie and Crown Law that she did not mislead the house. As for whether she will sue that is a matter for her to decide.

Question 4.

NANDOR TANCZOS (Green) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: (Sue Kedgley on behalf) In what way is misuse of drugs reduced when people with chronic health problems are convicted of cannabis offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act for use of a drug in a controlled situation where it can improve quality of life?

A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) The Misuse of Cannabis Act prohibits the use of cannabis for medicinal use except with the permission of the Minister. The Ministry of Health does not recommend the use of cannabis medicinally as there is no evidence it works, and there is no way of administering a reliable dose.

Q: Why is medicinal cannabis not available in NZ?

A: Cannabis is still an illegal substance in this country. A report on cannabis and mental health suggested that the legal status be reconsidered. The Health Select Committee is now conducting an inquiry into this.

Q: Wyatt Creech (Natioanl): In that case will the Minister now put pressure on the committee to commence this inquiry?

A: My understanding is that the committee has a heavy workload but will soon get to this issue.

Q: Why do the Greens have no concerns about Multiple Sclerosis?

(Speaker – the minister has no responsibility for Green party policy.)

Question 5.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What action has the Ministry of Economic Development taken in response to his publicly reported concerns of 17 April that the Resource Management Act was "unduly bureaucratic", needed streamlining and the major requirement was to have consents decided quickly because "People ... can accept a decision going against them, but what they can't accept is that it takes forever and a day. Time is money to these people and I understand that."?

A: (Laila Harre on behalf) The Government as a whole is responding to a range of RMA issues. Only this week we established a special Cabinet committee to look at RMA matters. The MED is working with the Ministry For the Environment on how planning procedures can be improved.

Q: Given that a Whitianga development has gone through three years of hearings at enormous costs, does he agree with his deputy’s decision that this development should be sent back to the beginning of this process?

A: The MED has confirmed that the Minister of Conservation has not turned down this matter. Rather the Minister has referred this matter back for further consideration under the Hauraki Marine Parks Act.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimmons (Green): Why is he seeking advice from the same Ministry that suggested resource consent processing be privatised?

A: Because it is that ministry’s advice to advise that minister.

Q: What about Hobsonville?

A: In the case of the former Hobsonville base, the MED assisted with ensuring processes were followed properly and swiftly and thereby brought in $650 million of investment, creating 350 jobs.

Q: Has this then become a mate’s rates exercise where being mates with the Deputy PM means you can get things done?

A: The Minister has always made it clear that the MED has as part of its job the facilitation of economic development. He also believes that it is appropriate for the Minister of Conversation to follow advice given to her.

Question 6.

JANET MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What initiatives has the Government taken to improve the co-ordination and delivery of social services to rural New Zealand communities?

A: More good news. Last week in Dargaville I opened a Heartland Service Center. This provides a one-stop shop for government services in areas where they are now inaccessible. $2.5 million is provided for service centers over the next four years. We hope to have 10 centers up and running by the end of the year. The aim of the idea is to take services which have been taken out of communities back into those communities and to share facilities.

Q: What about advocacy services?

A: No, the Citizens Advice Bureau will not be part of the Heartland Service Centers.

Question 7.

Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Is it the Government's intention to transfer money from district health boards to the primary care sector; if so, what is her response to concerns raised by hospital managers that it is dangerous to suddenly withdraw money from hospitals before better primary care systems are in place?

A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) The DHBs make those decisions not I. However, I am sure they will do so without compromising patient safety.

Q: Has he heard that Mark Peck says that there will be no problem with funding shortages as there will be efficiency gains?

A: The member does not seem to understand the role of DHBs.

Q: Has she seen any reports on hospital funding?

A: Yes. When Mr Sowry was Minister there was $2.737 billion spent on hospitals. This year it is $3.76 billion. With an extra billion dollars in three years it is hard to sustain an argument that hospitals have not benefited from additional funding.

Q: How can she say she has no role in allocating funding in health, when she herself has said funding will be shifted to primary services?

A: The member will need to wait for the budget.

Question 8.

GRAHAM KELLY (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What progress has been made in advancing the peace process in the Solomon Islands?

(Roger Sowry - Is the Minister really responsible for this?

Speaker – The member is perfectly correct. But I expect the Minister to answer saying what the NZ government has been doing in relation to this issue.

Roger Sowry – If the Government is allowed to ask about progress in areas when there is no direct responsibility, then will similar questions from us also be allowed.

Richard Prebble – taxpayer funds are being spent on advancing the peace process in the Solomon Islands. Therefore of course we should be able to ask about this.

Speaker – I couldn’t have put it better myself.)

A: There has been mixed progress since the Townsville agreement last year. We have contributed staff to peace monitoring. In regards to collecting weapons, 890 have been collected, but 500 are still outstanding. There are now problems with intra-factional disputes and criminal activity.

Q: How many of the missing weapons are held by the paramilitary police field force?

A: At least 100 of the missing weapons are thought to be in their hands. A declaration has now been signed by the police field force and there is some hope that this will make some progress.

Q: Is it realistic to assess that progress has been made?

A: There are some good things happening. Yes. But there are a lot of things still to be done. Until there is clearer evidence of good governance, we cannot have confidence.

Q: Is the Minister aware that the economy has completely collapsed?

A: I am aware of those facts. The Solomon Islands economy survives from Taiwanese payment to Taiwanese payment. But we are there, and we are making efforts still.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Does the exclusion of spouses from the planned visit there mean that MPs are more disposable than their spouses?

A: There is a simple reason for that. It will be an arduous trip and I don’t think it will be suitable for spouses to accompany members.

Question 9.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the Minister of Women's Affairs Laila Harre:

Q: What reports has she received from the Ministry of Women's Affairs on the legislation and resources required to implement 12 weeks' paid parental leave on 1 April 2002?

A: I have had a range of reports on this. None of them have specifically addressed the legislation and resources required to implement the policy.

Q: Is she aware of the PM’s statement that the money isn’t there for 12 weeks?

A: I am certain we will be able to answer the concerns of both coalition parties and meet the needs of mothers from available funds.

Q: What other communication on the proposals has she seen?

A: I received a letter from Business New Zealand’s Anne Knowles recently offering constructive advice on this issue.

Q: Penny Webster (ACT): Why do we have a Ministry of Women’s Affairs if their advice is not always followed?

A: Were we to follow that line of reasoning then perhaps we would be in a position to implement ACT Party tax policy. The immediate priority for the Government in this proposal is to ensure that new mothers are able to take time off after the birth of a child.

Q: Will this be provided for in the budget?

A: The Minister of Finance has already answered questions about that.

Question 10.

HELEN DUNCAN (Labour) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: What reports has he received on the quality of education provided for years 7 and 8 students in different school settings in New Zealand?

A: I have recently received a report on this. There is significant debate around this area. The report looked at international practice and at what we are doing here. The report found that the type of school did not affect outcomes, size however does matter. Small schools and schools with small year seven and eight cohorts did appear to have more problems.

Q: What policy issues will follow?

A: The report raises several policy issues. More work needs to be done on improving the quality of education in small schools. No immediate policy changes are planned at this time. Unfortunately the report shows there is no single ideal type of school for these students. Decisions will therefore be based on a range of factors including the views of the community.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): What about the lack of assessment benchmarks for year seven and eight students?

A: The member ought to have hung around for a briefing on this.

Question 11.

PENNY WEBSTER (ACT) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Was the Hospitality Association consulted before the Government decided on plans to ban smoking in bars and restaurants; if not, what input into the proposals came from the hospitality industry?

A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) My colleague Annette King has met with the association.

Q: If this is a health issue then why do the rules not apply to clubs and nightclubs?

A: I am sure that will be taken into consideration as the bill progresses.

Q: Is the minister aware of any jurisdictions where such limitations have been imposed?

A: I have been advised that impacts on the hospitality industry in California of a ban imposed several years ago have been negligible. And recent visitors to New South Wales, I am advised, have found a similar ban quite pleasant.

Q: Why did the government not extend the ban to include RSAs and sporting clubs?

A: RSAs and sporting clubs are considered to be private clubs.

Q: What advice has the Minister received about whether these proposals are enforceable?

A: The issues around this legislation were health issues, and those related to protection of workers.

Q: Will this legislation apply to Marae?

A: Most Marae are smoke free.

Question 12.

BELINDA VERNON (National) to the Minister of Transport Mark Gosche:

Q: What factors did he take into account when he appointed Dave Morgan as New Zealand's representative on the Board of the Pacific Forum Line?

A: Dave Morgan has many years of experience working in the shipping industry here and overseas. He has also got lots of other relevant experience…. listed.

Q: Did he put any weight on Mr Morgan’s nominator Ross Wilson’s support, who has recently threatened PFL with industrial action.

A: No I put weight on the opinions of MFAT and several other organisations.

Q: What about conflicts of industry?

A: Mr Morgan has a proud history of serving an industry for many years. If it is the Opposition’s contention that being a unionist is not okay but being a lawyer is then they are still living in the dark ages.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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