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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 22 May 2001

Today's questions of the day concerned: Tertiary Funding – Cancelled GST Refund Cheques – Budget Suggestions – Yelashgate - Children’s Rights – New Taxes – Sport Inquiry – Reducing Reoffending – Private Training Establishments – Yelashgate – Health Funding – Open Cast Mining On West Coast.

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 22 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.

Rt Hon JENNY SHIPLEY (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What specific conditions has he imposed on universities with respect to their funding for next year which led Vice-Chancellor Bryan Gould to describe the Government's actions as "trying to, one would almost say, blackmail the universities into accepting this deal"?

A: In confidence and on the basis of a cabinet decision we have met with representatives of staff, universities and students to discuss these issues. I cannot discuss them publicly till the budget is released.

Q: Is he trying to blackmail universities into holding fee increases while increasing funding by just 2.6%?

A: I am advised that the National Party have been encouraging Canterbury University to go on strike on Friday. This from a party who allowed fees to increase at 12% a year, year after year. We on the other hand have put our money where our mouth is. I can confirm that Students Associations have urged universities to take the government’s offer. But I am also advised that National has not.

Q: Is he sacrificing quality?

A: Between 1990 and 1999 there were real per EFT funding cuts. We have not made per EFT cuts.

Q: Did he tell vice-chancellors that they would only be entitled to centre for excellence funding if they agreed to a fee freeze?

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

(Richard Prebble – leave to table a document on university GST refunds.)

Question 2.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister of Revenue Michael Cullen:

Q: Will the Government consider honouring the stopped Inland Revenue Department cheques giving taxpayers their lawful GST refunds that are now to be cancelled by proposed retrospective legislation; if not, why not?

A: No. I assume the member is referring to the story in the Dominion. I am informed by the IRD that the tax refund was sent in error. And that the taxpayer’s agent knew the claim was disputed. Apart from a few accountancy firms I have not had any approaches from anyone. Any tour operators or training institutions who can prove the refund has been paid to the person it was collected from, can have that money back.

Question 3.

MARK PECK (Labour) to the Minister of Finance Michael Cullen:

Q: Has he received any more suggestions for the Budget?

A: Among the many suggestions was one that the opposition was trying to shed its “we follow Treasury” purism on economic matters. More money should be spent on everything according to the opposition. And we should cut taxes.

Q: Bill English (National): Was the Minister blown away by the flatulence tax idea?

A: Not as blown away as his leader was when she was told she could not have an air strike capacity.

Question 4.

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

Q: Did counsel for the Prime Minister, Mr Hugh Rennie QC, write to counsel for Mr John Yelash on 11 April in relation to defamation proceedings between those parties, to "set out a proposal to settle this matter", stating that his proposals had been "authorised" and that he had "instructions" in relation to those proposals, and did that letter contain a proposal headed "confidentiality", which stated "Except as agreed, there is to be no publication by either party of the settlement or its terms."?

A: Yes. As I quote from the letter: “I write to set out a proposal”, the letter followed discussions by all parties and set out a proposal.

Q: Does the minister agree that the only sensible interpretation from that letter is that the PM’s counsel said that confidentiality was an issue?

A: Confidentiality was not an issue for the crown. At the time these negotiations were taking place, confidentiality was not an issue. As part of normal procedures for settling claims confidentiality was included.

Q: Is confidentiality normally a part of defamation proceedings?

A: Yes. Confidentiality protects the individual against further defamations. Confidentiality also prevents the setting of a tariff for such cases. The truth is no-one saw confidentiality as an issue of primary importance in this case.

Q: Are we expected to believe that the usually hands on PM was acting in hands off mode on this?

A: Normally when you instruct counsel you do not direct them, you take their advice and that is what happened.

Question 5.

TAITO PHILLIP FIELD (Labour) the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: What steps is the Government taking to ensure the promotion of the rights of children and to monitor compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child?

A: More good news. Thursday’s budget will include new money for the office of the Commissioner Of Children. $2.8 million over the next four years to assist it monitor compliance with the UN convention. In the next two years the office’s budget will double.

(Speaker – I do not want to hear the words “More good news” at the beginning of a question again.)

The NZ Government’s initial report to the UN received a very critical reply. We are now addressing the concerns in that report and are announcing funding to deal with this.

Q: Why is he answering this question and not question one on Tertiary Education?

A: Because the Minister of Finance let me.

Question 6.

Hon BILL ENGLISH to the Minister of Revenue Michael Cullen:

Q: What new taxes are under consideration by the Government?

A: We have no proposals to change taxes this term or to increase excise taxes by anything greater than the CPI.

Q: Why then has the government proposed so many taxes in the last few days, a dedicated health tax, a GST grab tax, a flatulence tax and increases in alcohol taxes?

A: Alcohol tax is being discussed on a policy basis. The health tax was not a Finance Minister’s suggestion. And the Flatulence tax was cheeky. We are however considering changes to superannuation tax measures which may amount to tax reductions.

Q: Was lots of work done on a carbon tax, and wouldn’t it be easy to implement?

A: I cannot say it would be easy to implement though there has been lots of work done. I wonder whether it is appropriate to tax something that you want to discourage as therefore there will in the future be less of it to tax.

Q: Peter Dunne (United Future NZ): When he said he wasn’t planning on raising excise taxes on alcohol, did he mean it in a 4th Labour Government sense, or did he mean it?

A: No I didn’t mean it in a David Caygill sense no.

Question 7.

JOE HAWKE (Labour) to the Minister for Sport, Fitness and Leisure Trevor Mallard:

Q: What progress has been made on the recommendations made to the Government by the ministerial taskforce into sport, fitness and leisure?

A: I today introduced a bill creating a new sport agency merging the functions of the Hillary Commission and the Sports Foundation.

Q: Why?

A: The purpose is to get greater coordination in the sector. It will also strengthen the interface between grass roots and high performance sports activity.

Question 8.

KEVIN CAMPBELL (Alliance) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:

Q: What reports has he received about ways to turn people away from a life of crime and reduce reoffending?

A: The Department has outlined three strategies for achieving these outcomes in a report. Early intervention costs the least and has the greatest return. Intervening with five year olds is more effective than intervening with teenagers.

Question 9.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: Does he intend to recommend changes to the way the Government funds students attending private training establishments?

A: The basis of funding for tertiary education will not change until we have received advice from TEAC.

Q: What response does he have to the Canterbury Vice-Chancellor who says that it is terrible that public institutions are under-funded, when funds are going to private training establishments?

A: I have raised my concerns repeatedly about the present EFT based funding model. TEAC is being asked to come up with a new model and I am waiting for it.

Q: Can he confirm that private sector courses sometimes have better outcomes than state courses?

A: No. The member is not comparing apples with apples. She is being foolish.

Q: Gerry Brownlee (National): What has changed since the advice of December 2000 that rebalancing the neutrality of tertiary education funding would disadvantage minority groups and have adverse educational outcomes?

A: What was the question again? What has changed, is that I and your colleague Mr Williamson agree that there are problems with the present system delivering undesirable outcomes. Why doesn’t the member take it up with Mr Williamson?

Question 10.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: Is it her position that Mr Yelash himself, or through his lawyers, demanded that the final agreement be confidential?

A: (Margaret Wilson on behalf) No.

Q: Given that the AG and others on her behalf has been saying the converse for days, why in the Yelash case did she agree and promote a secrecy clause? And why too did she further write to Mr Yelash on the 16th of May complaining of a breach of confidentiality?

A: No one demanded confidentiality. It was a term agreed to by both parties.

Q: Would the crown have settled without such a clause?

A: The issue of settling without confidentiality was within his brief. Noone directed confidentiality.

Q: At whose instigation was clause seven included? And does it buy Mr Yelash’s silience?

A: My understanding was that that was proposed by the counsel for the PM. And Mr Yelash agreed to that. He did not have to. My understanding was that both parties at that stage wanted an end to the defamation, and that it was agreed that this was the best way to secure it.

Q: Is it now her position that neither she nor the PM knew that there was to be a secret payment made to Mr Yelash? And if not that she was negligent for not knowing?

A: No that was never the position. It was never demanded. It was agreed to by both parties.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Why is she defying gravity on this issue.

(Speaker – will the member withdraw and apologise, he does protest too much.

Bill English – I apologise.

Bill English - I hate to think what we are supposed to do in response to these answers from the most senior legal officer in this country.)

A: The reason why the Solicitor General wrote that letter was in order to protect taxpayer funds. We make no judgment until we have his answer.

(Winston Peters – we should be able to ask more questions here….

Speaker – the minister hasn’t finished.)

A: It was a term of the agreement. And we have to find out if there was a breach. I know that this must be unusual for people who think that keeping taxpayers agreements is quite unnecessary.

Q: Was there some reason for withholding payment till the confidentiality deed was signed by Mr Yelash?

A: No I do not know why any money was withheld or if it was. The purpose of these clauses, as I said, is to stop the defamation. Clearly that hasn’t happened. This is demonstrably what happens when you don’t have confidentiality clauses which are respected.

(Winston Peters – leave sought to table one letter – granted.

Roger Sowry – what about his second one?

Winston Peters – leave sought to table another letter 16th of May to Mr Yelash - granted.)

Question 11.

Dr LYNDA SCOTT (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What is her response to comments from the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board deputy chairman that the board faces a funding cut in real terms of up to 4.5 percent and that the lack of Government funding was "a dilemma" which could cause a drop in already stretched hospital staffing levels?

A: I would repeat the wise words of the Chairman of the said board – namely that there is no point in speculating before the budget is released.

Question 12.

ROD DONALD (Green) to the Minister of Conservation Sandra Lee:

Q: On what grounds could the Government justify permitting 260 hectares of indigenous forest to be removed from the wildlife corridor in the Victoria Forest Park in Westland, in order for a 300 metre deep open cast pit to be dug and large tailings impoundments to be built, when only last year the Government ended logging on Crown owned land on the West Coast to protect conservation values?

A: Decisions will be made in accordance to my statutory responsibilities.

Q: How is this consistent with waste minimisation.

A: My decision has to be made with regard to my responsibilities in section 61 of the Crown Minerals Act, these include considering the ecological significance of the site. The member should be aware that the Minister is in a quasi-judicial role in this process. Because of that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the merits of this application at this time. The application was lodged on the 6th of December last year. I am advised that the applicants are being met today to discuss the departmental report on their application.

Q: What about her avowed opposition to mining on conservation land, and what about her boss the minister of fast-tracking?

A: All members of the Government are always cognisant of their party pledges, unlike members of ACT who betrayed their principles.

(Richard Prebble – she called me a traitor?

Speaker – no she didn’t.)

Q: Do the applicants already have an access agreement?

A: Yes they have an access arrangement agreed to in 1993 by Dennis Marshall. This government has shown its commitment to employment on the West Coast. That is why we have invested $120 million in employment opportunities there.

Q: What estimates have been made to deal with tailings dams in perpetuity?

A: I don’t know.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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