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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 14 June

Today's questions of the day concerned: CYFS New Directions – NCEA Training – Early Childhood Education – Uni Fee Freeze – Technology NZ – Hospital Funding – Australia’s Hijacking Of ANZFA – Student Loan Abuse – Dental Health – Ruapehu Lahar Protection – New Prison – Electricity Prices.

Questions Of The Day - Thursday, 14 June 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.

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

Q: What reports has he received on the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services' New Directions initiative?

A: The New Directions initiative launched yesterday was launched in response to Judge Mick Brown’s report into CYFS. It is backed by $216 million of funding over four years. This is a circuit breaker and has been warmly welcomed. The PSA has applauded the plan. Barnados has welcomed the plan. And Robert Munsford from Massey University says the plan will attract more Social Work graduates. I was surprised to hear National PM Bob Simcock complain that the plan is expanding the scope of CYFS. I am happy to provide a copy of the relevant Act to the member.

Q: Will he set himself a target of getting the number of un-allocated cases down to where it was at the time of the election?

A: The number of cases has dropped by 25% in the last three months to just over 3000. The target is zero.

Q: Will there be more acute care for mentally ill children in Auckland?

A: The package contains $32 million for children with acute needs. And the residential services strategy has more than $60 million and this will provide more beds in Auckland.

Question 2.

GERRY BROWNLEE (National) to the Minister of Education Trevor Mallard:

Q: Is he confident that teachers will have received enough training to successfully implement the National Certificate of Educational Achievement in 2002?

A: Teachers have had several professional development days that were unbudgeted for under the previous government. 87% of schools have systems in place to deal with the introduction. 13% of schools need to make improvements, and NZQA is providing assistance to these schools.

Q: How can he be confident this system will work, when four out of five teachers made mistakes on School Cert internal assessments according to NZQA research?

A: I am pleased the member raised that. The NZQA research found that 93% of assessments were spot on. That is a higher rate of accuracy than there is in the marking of exams. I am confident that the professionalism of the teaching service means that NCEA is implemented well.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): How, being aware of the May 2001 review, that states that 78% of marks in School Cert were outside acceptable allowances, can he continue with NCEA implementation?

A: He is referring to the early stages of training and pre-moderation. When people are learning things, one might expect them to get things wrong.

Q: What does he say to a Wellington Principal who says that on one of the training days she attended there was a huge range of grades for one paper?

A: That is why we have moderation.

Question 3.

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

Q: What steps has he taken to improve quality and participation in early childhood education?

A: I have allowed $30 million over four years in the budget for equity funding for early childhood education services. I have received a number of reports following announcement of this policy, most of which were expressions of delight. There was one response that was negative, from National MP Anne Tolley, I found that response simply ignorant and stupid.

Q: Anne Tolley (National): When recent results clearly show that equity funding has not improved performance in low-decile schools, why is he throwing good money after bad?

A: Research does not show that. It shows a clear relationship between deprivation and educational outcomes. I am surprised she is criticising equity funding when Gerry Brownlee, he colleague, is asking for more of it.

Q: Donna Awatere-Huata (ACT): Is it not perverse that only 8% of the extra funding in education is going to early childhood education? Is this because pre-schoolers can’t vote?

A: Yes. I agree with the member. And I hope she shares her views with some of her colleagues.

Question 4.

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: What is his response to the statement by the Vice-Chancellor of Otago University, Dr Graeme Fogelberg, that the Government's fee freeze deal will put his university "on an irreversible path" to becoming a "second class" institution and that a vote for the deal would mean implicitly accepting that the quality of Otago's teaching and research will be damaged permanently?

A: I am certain that no institution led by Dr Fogelberg could ever be second class.

Q: Can the minister explain why all the vice-chancellors are singing from the same song sheet? Or is it just that they are all wrong?

A: If I was a vice-chancellor having faced a 29% real cut in income from 1992 to 1999 I would be upset too. We will carry on talking to vice-chancellors and we will get a fee-freeze decision. I have seen reports in which National MPs Gerry Brownlee and David Carter criticise capital expenditure at Canterbury University and say there has been no underfunding of universities.

Q: Does he plan to gag vice chancellors, as his Health Minister colleague has done to DHB CEOs?

A: I welcome public debate on tertiary education as Mrs King welcomes it in health. It may interest the house to note that on May 23rd the ODT reported that the university received lots of funding from the Health Research Council.

Question 5.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology Pete Hodgson:

Q: What has been the return on the Government's investment in the Technology New Zealand scheme?

A: It has been very good. A recent Infometrics report shows that from the more than $19 million invested in technology businesses since 1995, increasing turnover in those businesses by more than $300 million. A little over 2000 jobs have been created in the process.

Q: Why then has the Minister increased the Science and Technology budget by such a paltry amount in the budget?

A: The fact of the matter is that this government is showing that the time is now right to add value to the investment in science by putting up money for seed capital and business incubation.

Q: What improvements need to be made to the scheme?

A: The evaluation found that the application process was too time-consuming for some applicants. This is an area we can work on.

Question 6.

Hon TONY RYALL (National) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What is her response to comments made by the Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists that she and Dr Cullen "have their heads in the sand over their claims that there is fat in public hospitals" and that "They seem to be operating under the naïve belief that spending more in primary care reduces pressure on public hospitals."?

A: As head of the senior doctors union Mr Powell’s job is to advocate for his members. However there are many in health who believe investing in primary health is not naïve.

Q: Does he share the views of Dr Cullen that senior doctors care more about their own salaries than public health?

A: No. I have a report that explains how and why we should invest in primary health care. I would commend this report to the member. The private hospital sector has a role to play and in fact does play it. I welcome that.

Q: How can she claim repeatedly that there will be no cuts to services when Tauranga Hospital alone is down $600,000 in elective surgery funding.

A: Last year Tauranga received one off funding for additional procedures. One off is one off. The money for public health is ring-fenced and cannot be allocated for other procedures.

Q: In light of her comments that the buck stops with her, is the CEO of Tauranga Hospital right when he says that any decisions on cuts in services will be made by the Minister?

A: I would be very surprised if that is what the CEO of the BOP DHB said.

(Tony Ryall – leave to table a document quoting the CEO of the BOP DHB – granted)

Gerry Brownlee – leave to table something – granted.)

Question 7.

SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Will she guarantee that, if any changes are proposed by the Australian Parliament to the decision-making structure of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Board or the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council, the New Zealand Parliament will have an opportunity to vote on those changes before the Government determines whether New Zealand will agree to any of them; if not, why not?

A: NZ’s involvement in the joint food standards system is set out in a treaty. Changes currently being made in the Australian Parliament will therefore have to be agreed to by us. We intend to table these amendments in Parliament when they are received and they can then be debated. Can I assure the member that we will not allow any lessening of our independence and our sovereignty in relation to this treaty. I understand our concerns have been heard in Australia and I am expecting a satisfactory outcome. I have met with Australian Government members, and written to them. I have also spoken to the Labour Opposition and am confident our views will be fully accommodated. We support the direction of the former government of NZ and we continue to believe that joint food standards are in the interest of both our countries.

Q: What about the provision to allow the Australian Senate to veto decisions of the food council?

A: I have had an assurance from both the Federal Minister and the Opposition that the Australian Parliament will not be doing this . If they were to have done that, then we would have had to seriously consider whether we stayed with the treaty.

Question 8.

Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education) Steve Maharey:

Q: In light of the report in this morning's Dominion that nearly 2,000 people have used about $5 million in student loans to buy computers for study at a New Plymouth training establishment, but few finish the course, what steps, if any, has he taken to ensure that these loans are not being abused?

A: The member is confused. 96% of the students involved are enrolled in courses that are still underway, therefore they could not have completed yet. I heard about this two weeks ago and asked for an investigation.

Q: What would be the effect of tightening access to student loans?

A: It would make it harder for students to study. I have heard proposals from ACT that student loans be treated in the same way as bank loans, that is, requiring security.

Question 9.

STEVE CHADWICK (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: Is she concerned with the state of oral health amongst young New Zealanders; if so, what steps is she taking to improve their oral health?

A: In the mid 1990s the state of our children’s teeth started to deteriorate. We are building on the $13.9 million invested last year with a further $3 million this year to improve children’s dental services. We are also introducing a new contract for teenage dental care. The vital elements in this contract seek improvements to teenage dental health care.

Q: What is she doing about curtailing saturation advertising of junk-food during children’s programmes?

A: One of the things we need is a study of children’s eating habits. This is underway.

Question 10.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National) to the Minister of Conservation Sandra Lee:

Q: Will she accept responsibility for any loss of life or the cost of any damaged infrastructure resulting from the expected 1.45 million cubic metre lahar on Mount Ruapehu, which is likely to occur within the next two to three years?

A: This government and I as Minister take our responsibilities very seriously. The issues relating to the lahar are being dealt with. That member, when he was Minister, simply called for a report on this. We are doing something. I am fascinated about the member’s concern about public toilets given the number of dysfunctional public toilets in the DOC estate that we inherited, but we are dealing with that too. We have peer reviewed our decision on this. And I have also made it clear that I will not rule out any mitigation work. Compare this to a file note from that Minister’s time that left this issue up to me, while covering that member’s back. I am advised that the option preferred by the member would only deal with one kind of lahar. What we are doing will deal with all kinds.

Q: What process does the Minister follow in weighing up cultural values vs danger to public safety?

A: I understand there has been considerable Iwi consultation on this. The fundamental issue taken into consideration by me has been pubic safety. As evidence of this I wrote to DOC about this asking for the alarm system to be put into place as quickly as possible, even if that cost DOC directly. I am advised that while the lake is a potential hazard, it is also serving a function in moderating ash eruptions which would otherwise destroy the ski industry on the mountain.

Q: Will she resign if there is loss of life from this lahar?

A: If it was possible for the lahar risk to be removed, it would be. Mitigation is the key. The alarm system we are putting in is based on similar practice around the world. We are not doing this for spurious cultural reasons. If the former minister was so worried, why didn’t he do anything.

Question 11.

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

Q: Why is he building a new 650-bed prison for men at a site south of Auckland?

A: The number of inmates is rising. That is why we need a new prison. I understand there is some concern about this prison. We are addressing these.

Q: Will he ask George Hawkins to reconsider his objections to a prison closer to South Auckland?

A: I have found Mr Hawkins very cooperative about prison matters. The most effective way to reduce prison numbers is to target those headed in that direction as children and in their youth. That is what we are doing.

Question 12.

PANSY WONG (National) to the Minister of Energy Pete Hodgson:

Q: What did he mean when he told the House yesterday that "the effect of a high wholesale price is to invite electricity consumers to get involved in energy efficiency activities"?

A: The main effect will be on the 15 large consumers who are responsible for 30% of electricity consumption. They are affected because they are directly exposed to the spot market. Consumers on the other hand are not.

Q: Does he see elderly people going to bed at 5pm to save on power as the kind of activity he has in mind to save energy?

A: No. And I recommend against it.

Q: What is his comment in response to Todd Energy spokesman Richard Tweedy that a monthly household bill could be lifted as high as $500 if prices were passed on to consumers?

A: My response is to say that there are people who believe those sorts of statements, and they are highly irresponsible.


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