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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day –23 May

Today's questions of the day concerned: Celia Lashlie – Yelashgate – Usury – Yelashgate – Foot and Mouth – Yelashgate – Sunday Star Times Gets It Wrong – Australian Budget – Tibet – Tertiary Funding – Northland – Poverty.

Questions Of The Day - Wednesday, 23 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.

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

Q: Has he received a report from the State Services Commission on the Specialist Education Services' termination of Celia Lashlie's contract; if so, what are the key findings of the report?

A: At my request a report was prepared about this. The reports shows the manner SES acted was within their legal rights. However the process was not one that I, and many other NZers, feel was fair. I met with the then Chair last Thursday. He resigned. On Monday the Cabinet agreed to the appointment of Doug Martin as chair of the board.

Q: Nick Smith (National): Are inquiries into what matters still being conducted, and by whom?

A: The operational policy that was breached by Ms Lashlie was very clear. She breached his policy, a policy approved when he was Minister. Mr Martin is responsible for that, and if he dislikes that finding he should take Mr Martin’s integrity up with his leader. The SES board has advised me that work is underway to enable Ms Lashlie to be employed by schools directly. I understand that is what she wants to happen. She believes that given what has happened she cannot have a working relationship with SES any longer.

Q: Who is not telling the truth?

A: I know that I am telling the truth. My office had no contact with SES on this. The Ministry had no contact. Yet that is what Ms Lashlie was told. That leaves one other possible party who could be telling porkies. I had not heard of Ms Lashlie’s existence until I read her comments in the paper. I don’t think that anything could be stricter than the set of requirements on talking to the media agreed to under Nick Smith as Minister.

Question 2.

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

Q: What authorisation or instructions were provided to Mr Rennie QC prior to his writing to counsel for Mr Yelash on 11 April setting out a proposal to settle the defamation action between Mr Yelash and the Prime Minister?

A: Mr Rennie had received authorisation to proceed within certain financial parameters, and with the offer of an apology to be made by the PM.

Q: Could I draw the member’s attention to her statement last Tuesday, and Mr Goff’s statement on Wednesday, and her statement yesterday, which is the position of the government today?

A: I had no knowledge of the inclusion of that particular clause. Negotiation was left to Mr Rennie.

Q: Why was confidentiality not contained in the instructions given to the lawyers.

A: Because the most important thing was that the PM admitted what she said was not true, and that she was offering to apologise. Mr Rennie was authorised with regards to a payment and an apology. There were no instructions given on confidentiality. Confidentiality was included because, as far as I understand, it is normal.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): What notes does she have concerning conversations with Crown Law Solitictor Tania Warburton?

A: My understanding is that she was not “in control” of this, and yes there may well have been some correspondence, however there was no direction concerning clause 7, that was included by Mr Rennie.

Question 3.

GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs Jim Anderton:

Q: What recent evidence has he seen of excessive charges for credit?

A: I have seen a statement from the Warehouse. It shows an interest rate of 21% it also has a penalty fee of $20 for late payment. On this statement a penalty was charged on a payment of $23 made one day late. I regard that as punitive.

Q: What is he going to do about it?

A: I have asked for a review of credit laws. It will look at whether we need action to deal with oppressive behaviour by financiers.

Q: Has he seen reports of an excessive credit charge paying for dinner for several Journalists at the Park Royal Hotel?

A: I do not think that restaurants that I have bought dinner at have done any of the things the Warehouse is accused of doing. I have often been appalled at the examples of credit law in this country. I have seen examples of people paying 200% interest rates to some finance companies.

Question 4.

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

Q: Did she personally speak with Hugh Rennie QC or the Crown Law Office to discuss the Yelash settlement; if so, what "general or specific" instructions, directions or authorisations did she give?

A: No.

Q: If her counsel did not require the confidentiality agreement, then why is she seeking to enforce it?

A: I doubt it will be enforced because I doubt anyone will admit to leaking it.

Q: What has he heard about this?

A: I detect public indifference. I have heard a report from a Dunedin Bishop who says that it is a trivial and demeaning controversy. The settlement was faxed to me in China while I was busy. It was presented to me as a negotiated settlement, and on that basis I approved it.

Q: Having regard to the AG’s answer to question 2, is she prepared to table all file notes. I have a note from Tania Warburton saying that the PM needs to see the draft settlement?

A: The leader of NZ First has just said what I said in my earlier answer. I was faxed the settlement in China. I did not object to it.

Q: Did she at any stage talk to Hugh Rennie or Crown Law?

A: I definitely did not speak to Mr Rennie, and I have no recollection of talking to an officer of Crown Law about it.

Question 5.

DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister for Biosecurity Marian Hobbs:

Q: What changes in border control procedure have been announced this week?

A: Instant fines of $200 will be implemented on June 18th. We are now screening 100% of mail and baggage. Australia intends to follow our example. We have decided to drop bans on the movement on horses. Two months ago when Australia banned UK horses, I said the Australian’s were panicking, just recently an important Australian vet agreed with me, now the Australians have reversed their ban just like I said.

Q: How many people have been intercepted and not prosecuted?

A: We are doing something where the opposition did nothing. I could tell you the numbers going back several years.

Q: Owen Jennings (ACT): Why don’t we send offenders home, and put some teeth in these provisions?

A: Because around 60% of offenders are NZers and we wouldn’t know where to send them.

Question 6.

Hon PETER DUNNE (United Future NZ) to the Attorney-General Margaret Wilson:

Q: Is it correct that counsel for the Prime Minister required an undertaking from Mr Chris Reid, solicitor for Mr John Yelash, that Mr Reid would not disburse any settlement monies until after Mr Yelash had signed a confidentiality deed; if so, why was that undertaking required?

A: No. Mr Yelash was not required to sign the deed before disbursement. In fact I understand transfer was made to Mr Reid before signing of the deed.

Q: How can she reconcile all this?

A: I have no understanding of what went on in negotiations, because I was not there. Why are we investigating the breach? Because we see it as an obligation of the crown to seek to enforce its rights.

Q: Are these clauses normal? And why?

A: Yes. Because of several things. Because they protect against the defamation being repeated. Because they protect the integrity of the settlement. Because they protect against the setting of a tariff. And a new one. Because it seeks closure of the matter, and is a tangible expression of acknowledgment that the matter is at an end. My understanding is that confidentiality was raised by Mr Williams and that it was treated thereafter as a pro-forma matter. If matters such as these proceeded to litigation then they would cost the crown a great deal more. That is why they are dealt with as a matter of judgment.

Q: Given that the AG has said again that she had no knowledge of this, will she table diary notes relating to Crown Law? Is it not the case that on the 12th Tania Warburton was involved, and that it was sent to the PM and she did not see the penalty clause?

A: No I will respect the confidentiality of the legal privilege with relation to those papers.

(Winston Peters - leave to table a diary note of Tania Warburton – granted.)

Question 7.

Hon KEN SHIRLEY (ACT) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: In light of the Health and Disability Commissioner's conclusion in his report into her complaint against Auckland orthopaedic surgeon Mr Joe Brownlee that Mr Brownlee was not culpable, will she now apologise to Mr Brownlee?

A: (Michael Cullen) On behalf of the Minister of Health no. To my certain knowledge no sum of such money was ever paid, the Sunday Star Times was completely wrong in that matter.

Question 8.

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

Q: Will he follow Australia's lead and drop the New Zealand company tax rate to 30% in tomorrow's Budget; if not, why not?

A: No. And nor do I intend to follow Australia’s lead and have a $30 billion blow out in the Budget.

Q: What does the Australian budget mean for NZ?

A: The good news in this Australian budget is the expectation of a bounce-back in the second half of this year. The Australian tax rate legislation was passed some time ago. The NZ Government is definitely not going to have a $30 billion blow out. NZ’s budget will show rising surpluses. The Australian budget shows falling surpluses.

Q: If he is not cutting the Company Tax rate, then why does he keep saying he might?

A: Because I indicate that things may be done when they are possible. This is different from the opposition who promise to both spend more and cut taxes at the same time.

Question 9.

CHRIS CARTER (Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Phil Goff:

Q: What does he hope to achieve with his visit to Tibet next week?

A: The invitation to visit Tibet came from the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs. This visit will enable us to directly inspect conditions in Tibet and raise those matters with Chinese Authorities. NZ has concerns about key human rights in Tibet. We are concerned about prisoners of conscience, and their harsh sentences. We will also talk about religious freedom and autonomy.

Q: Given recent meetings between the PM and the Chinese Premiere, and the lack of progress, why does he expect to succeed now where she failed?

A: Because we expect to make progress through regular and persistent lobbying. We have seen some progress with Chinese Human Rights. This trip will remind China that the world is watching what is happening in Tibet. An invitation has been made to visit a prison in Tibet. We have said we want to see three or four named prisoners of conscience. Background material on these was obtained from Amnesty International.

Question 10.

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

Q: Will he confirm that if universities do not accept the funding offer he has made to them, they will not only lose next year's funding increase but will also lose the 2.3% increase from last year's Budget?

A: The member will have to wait till tomorrow.

Q: Since last year’s offer left institutions $17 million short, and this years will leave them $18 million short? What is he doing about quality?

A: I understand the Australian Government announced a 1.7% increase in Tertiary Funding in the latest budget.

Q: What is his response to the May 7th “Slippery Steve” press release?

A: I can say I have greatly appreciated the comments from Andrew Campbell of the Students Association calling on universities to accept the Government’s fee-freeze offer.

Q: Is this effectively a cut, just like last year’s?

A: Speaking of last year’s increase there was an inflation rate last year of around 1.7% not 3% as the member says. I know that it hurts the member after a decade of cutting funding for students to acknowledge that we aren’t doing that.

Question 11.

Hon DOVER SAMUELS (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What is he doing to help regions, such as Northland, that have acute economic problems?

A: Just this week the honourable member and I announced a package of spending in Northland. Lists the package. Having strong local economies makes the economy as a whole stronger. 14 regions are now working in partnership with the government to solve their problems.

Q: Did he say there was an issue of Maori Rebellion involved in the decision not to pass the Whitianga Bill yesterday?

A: No. The kind of information that Mr Nick Smith presents around the country is like the pot calling the kettle black. The member should look in the mirror. He had a bill with exactly the same problems. In Northland there are some brilliant opportunities for development, but there is clearly a need to invest in infrastructure to enable that.

Q: Owen Jennings (ACT): Can the Minister confirm that Sovereign Yachts was planning to build in Whangarei until the Minister lured them to Auckland?

A: There is a boat building company in Whangarei, but the member has got the name wrong.

(Nick Smith – leave to table notes from a Mrs Gaskell from a meeting with Anderton where the words Maori Rebellion are used – granted.)

Question 12.

BOB SIMCOCK to the Minister of Social Services and Employment Steve Maharey:

Q: How can he reconcile his statement in the House on 17 May 2001, that "I understand that research results due to be released tomorrow by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services will confirm that its countrywide survey shows a reduction in a large number of food banks, where they are seeing fewer clients.", with the Council's housing and policy group convenor Campbell Roberts' statement that "There isn't any indication that the number of people going to food banks has reduced."?

A: I based my answer on the poverty indicator project. I am happy to table the release and seek leave to do so. (granted)

Q: In light of Roberts’ express rejection of claims made by the Minister, does he standby his statements to NZPA on this?

A: I draw attention of the member again to the release from Mr Roberts which says that two out of seven foodbanks saw an increase in traffic.

Q: What does Roberts identify as one of the drivers of poverty?

A: The cost of housing. The poverty indicator project now shows that the high cost of housing, as a driver of poverty, is improving. Debt levels accumulated during a decade of National Government also remain a major area of concern.

SCOOP COVERAGE ENDS

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