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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 19 June

Today's questions of the day concerned: Food Price Inflation – Small Business Policy – Yelashgate – Borrowing And Saving Super – Shane Rogers Parole Application – Social Welfare Changes – Talking To Picketers – Global Dairy Co. – Secondary Teacher Training – Hong Kong Trade Negotiations – DHB Funding Shortfalls – Energy Crisis.

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 19 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.

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

Q: How does she justify saying "We've set out to offer hope to low and middle income New Zealanders that this country can work for them too.", when under this Government there has been the largest annual increase in food prices for more than a decade?

A: Easily.

Q: How easy would it be to go the Salvation Army in Palmerston North and explain why food bank usage has climbed so much?

A: Some food banks have declining usage. Some have in fact closed or amalgamated. Food prices are driven by exporter’s returns. If she would like to explain to dairy farmers why they should earn less, I would love her to do so. Perhaps she would like to announce food price controls as part of her long awaited spring offensive. Unemployment as at its lowest in 13 years. And most people seem to be happy with the direction this government is going.

Q: Jenny Shipley (National): Can the PM confirm that she and other MPs are getting constant feedback that the increase in the cost of living is hurting people?

A: While her crocodile tears are touching I can confirm that we have no such feedback. In fact a recent NGO survey expressed confidence in the direction of the government’s social policy.

Question 2.

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

Q: What progress has the Government made in implementing the 10-point plan for small business that Labour proposed in its pre-election policy?

A: Excellent progress. In fact we have achieved almost 10 out of 10. (Lists the ten point plan.)

Q: How will the Manakau Business Forum help?

A: We take communication with business seriously as it helps us and them understand each other better.

Q: How have compliance costs been reduced for businesses under this government?

A: We are taking an overarching look at compliance costs. We have set up a test panel and progress is pretty good.

Q: How is small business helped by the Minister of Labour’s proposals to increase annual leave entitlements, and to increase Tangi leave?

A: The issues of small business and holiday pay will be discussed when decisions have been taken.

Question 3.

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

Q: Was she inferring, when she said on Wednesday 23 May 2001 in response to a question regarding the Yelash settlement, "It was provided to me as the negotiated settlement, and on that basis I did not object to it.", that until that point in time in China, she had never discussed the issue of confidentiality or the penalty clause should it be breached by the other party?

A: I did not discuss these issues with legal counsel.

Q: Was she inferring that she had never discussed the issue with anybody at all?

A: I meant exactly what I said. That I had not had any discussions about these issues with legal counsel.

(Winston Peters – the PM is being deliberately evasive.

Speaker – the answer was within the standard orders.

John Carter – you made a ruling some time ago that covers this instance, where the PM is trying to avoid the facts.

Speaker – No. No. No. An answer has to be given. And it was.)

Q: Did she mean by her comments, that if she had received the agreement when she was not in China, that she would have objected.

A: As a busy PM I would almost certainly always have been distracted from the matter.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Will she answer Mr Peters question? Namely was she inferring that she had not discussed the issue of confidentiality with any other party? Or did she discuss it with Heather Simpson?

A: I repeat. At no time was Mr Hugh Rennie, Q.C., as he himself has said, instructed to have a confidential settlement. I have said this on several occasions.

(Later, after Question 7 - John Carter, National – you made a ruling on 24th of May concerning the Attorney General saying, “there is a point where strictly accurate replies can be misleading through suppression of relevant information.” When a PM answers only part of a question they may well be suppressing relevant information. This is exactly what has happened and the PM should be made to answer.

Speaker - I was giving a ruling on a privilege in that case. And I stand by it. This is in relation to a question and is different.)

Question 4.

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

Q: What will the Government do with the $600 million it has allocated to the Superannuation Fund for 2001/02?

A: Once the necessary legislation is in force, then that $600 million will be transferred to the fund.

Q: Does that mean the money will be placed in the Debt Management Office where it will earn 5.3%, when half of it is being borrowed overseas at over 6%.

A: If that is done then it will only be for a short while.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): If borrowing and saving is such a good idea, then why doesn’t he borrow more to invest in government stock?

A: That is not our intention.

Q: John Wright (Alliance): Are there other views on this?

A: There is very broad support for a specific fund for super. Including from Grey Power. I note that the biggest problem with the present system, according to some media is that there isn’t a fund.

Q: Does he agree with Adrian Orr that all we are getting here is smoke and mirrors in this debate?

A: Mr Orr rests his argument on two assumptions. One of which is that cutting taxes raises growth – that has not happened in the past. Secondly he says that NZ does not have a problem with a lack of savings – where does he think our current account problems are coming from?

Q: Bill English (National): Will his transaction result in a net loss to the taxpayer in favour of the financial markets?

A: No.

Question 5.

STEPHEN FRANKS (ACT) to the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson:

Q: Did the Department of Corrections supply information or recommendations to the Parole Board when the Board was considering home leaves, day parole and work paroles for convicted murderer, Shane Rogers; if so, what did this information indicate?

A: (Tariana Turia on behalf) I am unable to discuss an individual case due to the Privacy Act.

Q: Why was Ms Slavich’s widow not told about the parole hearing. And is he aware that the prisoner has been seen waving around a red tee-shirt inside prison and boasting about the person he butchered?

A: All victims are notified about such hearings. Victims are then able to make submissions to the parole board.

(Richard Prebble – is it not true that the Minister can answer this question as the Privacy Act does not apply to this house.

Speaker – that is indeed correct.)

A: It is my understanding that the inmate referred to in this case has been a minimum security inmate for six months. He has applied for integration in a manner that is consistent with corrections policy. Of course the government is fully committed to notifying victims. They are given consideration and they are always notified.

Question 6.

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

Q: What plans does the Government have for the reform of the social security system?

A: Yesterday the PM and I released the “Pathways” document that I have here in my hand. It sets out our objectives in social security policy. We call it a social development approach.

Q: What is the difference between social welfare and social development?

A: Welfare is punitive. The 1990s model of welfare did nothing for beneficiaries. Our model is about equipping beneficiaries to move into paid employment.

Q: Is the government prepared to consider social responsibility legislation?

A: The member will be pleased to know that we will be releasing soon our first set of social indicators. They will be part of an annual report to government.

Q: Why does the “Pathways” document not include plans to increase benefits?

A: That was not part of our policy. However it is part of our policy to ensure that people receive their entitlements in special benefits.

Q: Did state welfare policy kill Lillybing?

A: The member is confused. She is referring to the CYF directions policy. Can I say I agree that she and the government that she supported ran CYF into the ground. It has taken $216 million from this government to fix this up.

Question 7.

Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National) to the (acting) Minister of Labour Laila Harre:

Q: Did she or her Associate Minister accept an invitation to talk to the striking New Zealand Herald journalists who are members of the Engineers Union; if so, why did she or her Associate Minister end up not addressing the striking workers?

A: I received an invitation from Andrew Little to attend a stop-work meeting and speak to striking journalists. I said I would be prepared to attend, but said I would have to discuss with my colleagues. I also said I would not be drawn into a discussion of the merits of their dispute, and I said I would also speak to management if they wished.

Q: Can she confirm a report in the NZ Herald that Jim Anderton made attendance at meetings a leadership issue at the Alliance Council meeting?

A: What happens at the Alliance Council is not a matter of ministerial responsibility.

Q: Should workers have a clear right to be part of a collective agreement?

A: This is an issue that clearly has been raised as one regarding the current interpretation of the Act. It is not appropriate for me to provide a legal opinion on this.

Q: Richard Prebble (ACT): Can the minister explain why she needs to get approval from her party to go to a picket line, when the Leader of ACT is able to go down and give his views to striking journalists, namely that I support the strike as the paper has improved in their absence?

A: I am afraid that very few of the facts referred to are accurate and therefore there isn’t a question to be answered.

(Richard Prebble – Hold on a second. I most certainly did go to the picket line. I declined to eat a sausage. And I most certainly indicated that I support the strike.)

Question 8.

DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture Jim Sutton:

Q: What steps will the Government now take to facilitate the Global Dairy Company Ltd merger proposal, endorsed by farmers yesterday?

A: Today the government introduced a Dairy Industry Restructuring Bill. The bill features a deregulation package. The select-committee process will have adequate time to hear submissions. I expect the bill to pass into law in September. The package is designed to assure contestibility in the industry.

Q: What guarantee is there that multi-national dairy companies won’t be able to enter NZ?

A: The future is in the hands of the industry. Given that these people have built up the largest company in NZ, that indicates that the industry is in safe hands. This reform is the dairy industry’s sensible and rational response to changes in the market place, including the increasing commercial power of super market chains. The legislative and regulatory package assures minority and public interests are protected. If in the future dairy farmers want to change their constitution, that will be up to them.

Question 9.

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

Q: Are students who access the secondary subject trainee allowances restricted in where they are able to study for their teaching qualification?

A: Yes. I am concerned for education standards. I am very unhappy to have received three documents today. One has a grammatical mistake, another a split infinitive and the third a made up word. All three are publications from the National Party, and have been approved either by Jenny Shipley and Gerry Brownlee, that is why we have put more guts into our standards campaign. As my colleagues have reminded me it would be better if the member had stuck to splitting wood and not infinitives.

(Speaker – that is not appropriate.)

A: Under the previous government we developed far too many PTEs in the education arena. Students would go from institution to institution until they were accepted. As a result we have dozens if not hundreds of teacher trainees who cannot get jobs because of the low standards of their institutions.

Q: Why did he restrict the list of approved institutions to public institutions only?

A: There are many ways that PTEs are supported in the education area. I think we lack breadth and depth. I hope in the future that we will have fewer and better institutions.

Question 10.

ROD DONALD (Green) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations Jim Sutton:

Q: If the possible Hong Kong "closer economic partnership" agreement proceeds, what steps will the Government take to ensure that the $462 million of clothing New Zealand currently imports from China each year is not illegally transhipped through Hong Kong in order to avoid paying the $83 million of tariffs currently charged on those imports?

A: Officials are currently consulting with interested industries to construct a rigorous system of rules of origin. We will not introduce this unless we have a rigorous system in place.

Q: Is he concerned that 51 Hong Kong factories inspected by US Customs were involved in illegal trans-shipping of materials? And is he concerned that NZ Customs has no enforcement officers in Hong Kong while the US has 60?

A: Yes the government is aware of the report. And it certainly highlights the problems in this area. I am advised however that US Customs Servoce advises us that their Hong Kong counterparts are very professional. In Hong Kong those caught cheating face serious fines.

Q: What progress has been made?

A: The first round of talks began in mid May. Both sides are now engaging in domestic consultations.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Is the minister and government able to proceed with confidence on this knowing that the Greens may say a lot publicly, but will never act on what they say?

A: I am aware that some Green parties in other countries are opposed to agricultural exports on the grounds that they use up fossil fuels and contribute to global warming. The few remaining significant tariffs in the NZ structure are designed to provide protection to several industries to adapt to a tariff free environment. I must say I am pleased with the adaptation that has been achieved so far.

Question 11.

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

Q: (Tony Ryall on behalf) What reports has she received on district health boards considering reconfiguration of services?

A: Last year I released the Health Strategy. On the 27th of April DHBs were invited to complete a template on reconfiguration for efficiency gains.

Q: What is her response to a report considered under public and media excluded at the BOP DHP, dealing with $10 million of cuts? There were these options in the report. A $10 million cut to elective surgery, and a downgrading of hospital services.

A: I would advise the member to wait and see what is done.

Q: What is her response to the BOP DHB considering a wage-freeze for nurses as part of its efficiency options?

A: I am sure that the DHB will consider sensible options.

Q: Will she admit that she sounds just like the National Party when they were in office, and that reconfiguration will help noone in Tauranga?

A: The member should look at the money going into baseline funding.

(Tony Ryall – leave to table dealing with the budget cuts paper from the BOP – granted.

Rod Donald – leave to table illegal transhipping report from the US customs – granted.

Trevor Mallard – leave to table three documents from the National Party with errors – granted.)

Question 12.

DAVID BENSON-POPE (Labour) to the Minister of Energy Pete Hodgson:

Q: Has the recent rain had any impact on the hydro lake levels and how quickly would he expect wholesale electricity prices to fall if the winter rains continue?

A: Yes it has. The ODT said today that when lake levels rise, power prices fall. And prices have fallen as lake levels have risen 7%. However lake inflows in the last couple of days are only half of average and as winter has only just begun power prices could still rise again.

Q: Is the statement made by Labour MP Tim Barnett in the Christchurch Press about shifting to Meridian Energy Government Policy?

A: My understanding of Tim Barnett’s role is as follows. He established a trust, approached energy retailers, received two responses from Meridian, and is now in the process of delivering lower energy prices to consumers. The government intends to proceed with Electricity Legislation. We will bring this bill back and we will pass it.

Q: What would be the impact on wholesale prices of Green Party policies including carbon tax?

A: When the Green Party wins an election their policy will be introduced. I will also say this about the Green Party. They work hard, and I enjoy working with them.

Q: Jeanette Fitzsimons (Green): Will he address the funding gap in the EECA resulting in the layoff of newly trained workers?

A: She needs to remind herself that one of the features of the market system is that retailers have advantages in getting a reduction in demand from their consumers. Retailers should be working with EECA.


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