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SCP HOUSE: Questions Of The Day – 20 June

Today's questions of the day concerned:. Northland’s Needs – Auckland Health Problems – Recidivism –DHB Efficiency Gains – Employment Relations Act – Child Abuse Sentencing -Physical Education – Laila Harre’s Talking Difficulties – Yelashgate x 2 - Palliative Care – Meridian Energy And Tim Barnett

Questions Of The Day - Tuesday, 20 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.

GRANT GILLON (Alliance) to the Minister for Economic Development Jim Anderton:

Q: What needs have emerged since Northland was identified by the Ministry of Economic Development as an acute region?

A: One of the most urgent needs is to deal with the spate of fatal house fires in Northland. The state of houses is something the Government will take ownership of. I raised this matter with my colleagues on Monday. Steve Maharey and Mark Gosche are bringing together reports on this. Mr Maharey will develop an approach to deal with this and I will put all my energies behind this.

Q: John Carter (National): What is he doing about Northland Health’s deficit, and cuts to services?

A: As the member knows I have no responsibility for the health portfolio. But I can tell the member that yesterday the PM and I met with a combined group of Mayors who said they welcomed the support of central government.

Q: Owen Jennings (ACT): Does this mean that the Ministry of Economic Development now has a responsibility for welfare?

A: I said my colleagues the MOSP and the Minister of Housing were bringing reports to cabinet on this. This may be a unique idea to ACT, doing something about something. But it is not unique to us.

Question 2.

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

Q: What specific action will she take in response to reports that the stress of constant demand for greater efficiencies, restructurings and demands for cost-cutting are leading to breakdowns on the job at Auckland District Health Board and putting the entire organisation at extreme risk?

A: It is always of concern to me that staff are well supported. I am pleased that staff are able to openly discuss concerns with board members.

Q: Does the member accept any responsibility for morale hitting an all time low at Auckland DHB?

A: From my experience ADHB have had staff morale problems for some time. It is my hope those problems are addressed. I am acutely aware of the problems faced by ADHB and its 7000 staff. They are in the middle of a massive capital investment process. The ADHB has my full support in its task.

Q: (ACT Member): What would the Minister say to criticisms that her restructurings have cost the general public in service cuts?

A: I would say the member is wrong.

Q: Roger Sowry (National): What is her responsibility to DHBs given that ADHB is expected to run up a $50 million deficit?

A: My responsibility is certainly not the salaries paid to DHB CEOs. That is a responsibility of the State Services Commission and DHB boards.

Question 3.

JANET MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Justice Phil Goff:

Q: What are the key areas of concern for the Government arising out of the Ministry of Justice's report on recidivism patterns for people convicted in 1995?

A: Research highlights three areas of concern. Youth reoffending, hardcore reoffending, and the correlation between burglary offending and violent crime offending. Last year’s budget invested $91 million into preventing youth reoffending. We also have a new tougher bail act in train. And we have invested $216 million over four years in the department of Child Youth and Family. The reason why we have put $91 million into prevention is because clearly prevention is better than cure. We also have a taskforce on youth reoffending working on a strategy for the most serious of youth reoffenders.

Q: Why is he lowering sentences and not following the US, where, in recent years youth crime has fallen?

A: If we take a look at homicide there were 17,000 in the USA compared to 74 in NZ last year. The rate of homicide is three times higher in the USA. The level of imprisonment in the US is nearly five times higher than it is in NZ.

Q: Nandor Tanczos (Green): What is being done about rehabilitation?

A: The programmes to rehabilitate young people are obviously very important. But even more important is prevention.

(Tony Ryall – leave to table two documents on crime increases – granted.)

Question 4.

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

Q: What reports has she received from district health boards regarding proposed efficiency gains for the 2001/2002 financial year?

A: As I explained yesterday a letter has been sent to DHBs asking them to suggest opportunities for efficiency gains. A total of 13 DHBs have replied so far. Others are working on it.

Q: What was her response to Lakeland’s response to her template suggesting various cuts?

A: If she wants a specific question answered she should put it down as her initial question. Then I can bring down the information necessary to answer it. I have brought down to the house a copy of the 1998 Cabinet paper when the National Party agreed to massive cuts in elective surgery in 2001-2002. The money provided for administration is negotiated between DHBs and the Ministry of Health.

Q: Is a cut in bed numbers in Otago an efficiency gain?

A: Mental health funding in this year’s budget included $50 million of new money, plus $7.5 million of Mason money rolled over. You will not be seeing cuts in mental health this year.

Q: What about the Bay of Plenty?

A: I am advised that the BOP DHB will not be making service cuts.

Question 5.

SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the (acting) Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson:

Q: Did the Government intend to prevent large groups of workers who hold any kind of supervisory position from being able to sign up to collective agreements under the Employment Relations Act?

A: No.

Q: Are there any plans to amend the legislation so it can revert to its original purpose?

A: It was the government’s intention to legislate to enable all workers to engage in collective bargaining. So far there is no evidence that that is not happening.

Q: Is it appropriate to discuss government policy with striking workers?

A: Yes. But it is not appropriate to discuss the merits of their disputes.

Question 6.

Dr WAYNE MAPP (National) to the Minister of Justice Phil Goff:

Q: Has he seen the statement by Hon Roger McClay, the Commissioner for Children, "I do worry that we are sending the message that a two-year-old's life is only worth six years while an adult's is worth more."; if so, what assurances can he provide to the Commissioner and the public that the law will be strengthened in relation to the sentences of people who kill children?

A: Yes. The comments by the Commissioner related to the manslaughter of the toddler known as Lillybing. Under the law the maximum penalty for manslaughter is life imprisonment. Presumably therefore Mr McClay’s statement was a criticism of the judge, rather than the law. It is not appropriate for me to comment on such a criticism. The police have the ability to recommend an appeal against sentence if the sentence is inadequate. Ministers have no role in that process, nor should they.

Q: In light of concerns about child abuse, can he assure us that sentences for the killing of children will not be reduced under his proposed bill?

A: I would not expect that to happen under the new bill.

Q: Will he be introducing tougher sentences for all forms of violence against children?

A: I don’t know whether the member believes existing sentences need to be extended. It is my view that they are adequate.

Q: Keith Locke (Green): Why is it acceptable to hit children but not adults?

A: I think everyone in this house knows the difference between smacking a child on the bottom and killing a child.

Q: Tony Ryall (National): Why, given several mentions of the matter by the Law Society, in the hundreds of pages on sentencing does he not have one mention on the falling length of sentences for killing children?

A: The member, and Judith Abblett-Kerr, should provide evidence of that to prove it is so.

Question 7.

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

Q: What did the Getting Set for an Active Nation report say in relation to physical activity in schools and how did schools react to those findings?

A: The report said the taskforce was appalled. Schools reacted strongly to the criticism they rejected the findings.

Q: What has he done about it?

A: I asked ERO to report on physical activity in schools. The report, based on looking at 100 primary and intermediate schools, shows the amount of physical activity was better than we had feared.

Q: What about secondary schools?

A: I think the level of activity in secondary schools is a matter of concern. That is why we have provided money for sports coordinators. That said, it is not enough yet, and more work needs to be done. We do not have a clear picture of what happens in secondary schools, and do not have an indication on the quality of activity undertaken at other levels. We are working on these things.

Q: Is it not true that many schools do not have covered areas for PE when it is raining?

A: Yes it is true. We are working on that too.

Question 8.

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

Q: Further to her answers in the House yesterday, what actions, as Minister, had she planned or undertaken that, in her opinion, would have led to the Prime Minister asking her to make a decision about whether she was prepared to live within the rules?

A: My actions as a Minister have always been within the rules. In the case referred to the relevant rule was to consult because of the potential for controversy.

Q: Do her actions really look like those of someone living within the rules?

A: I do not recall the PM criticising my speaking to the Nelson picket.

Q: Should the minister not interfere in industrial disputes?

A: Yes. And I support the law that says that. However there is a responsibility to talk to people about government policy where it is relevant.

Q: Is she telling us that the Minister should not be involved even when the mediator recommends the minister become involved, as happened in the waterfront ?

A: Yes I do believe it is inappropriate for ministers to take sides in industrial disputes. When they are requested to get involved then that is a matter that should be carefully considered.

Question 9.

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

Q: In the light of her response to oral question No 3 on Tuesday 19 June 2001, regarding the Yelash settlement, and her insistence that she did not discuss confidentiality or penalty provisions issues with legal counsel before receiving the settlement terms whilst in China, did she discuss, confer or communicate with any other person on the issue of confidentiality prior to the time she received the negotiated settlement in China; if so, who?

A: No.

Q: Is the PM telling us she had a negotiated settlement in which she had no point of reference whatsoever? Or is she defying gravity?

A: I am confirming that neither I nor any staff member gave any instructions to Mr Hugh Rennie on confidentiality. I must add that I was remiss in not addressing this issue, I should have done so. I have learned from the incident.

Q: Why did she not give a clear unequivocal answer to this question yesterday?

A: I must admit I found it hard to understand what members were getting at yesterday. Since then I have reflected on this matter further and discussed it with staff. We are adamant that we did not have any discussions of this kind.

Question 10.

Hon BILL ENGLISH (National) to the Prime Minister Helen Clark:

Q: In light of the Attorney-General's statement to the House on 22 May, in relation to the confidentiality clause in the Yelash defamation settlement, that "that clause was included by counsel for the Prime Minister", on whose instructions did counsel for the Prime Minister include that clause?

A: No one instructed Mr Rennie to include that clause. He negotiated the settlement on the basis of his 30 years of experience in defamation law. He negotiated it and presented it. I accepted it.

Q: Why then does Mr Rennie’s letter to Mr Yelash’s lawyer say he has instructions? Or did he give instructions to himself?

A: He had no instructions on confidentiality. He had instructions only to settle expeditiously.

Q: How is it that only Mr Rennie is not aware that Helen Clark at the last election campaigned on the basis of no secret deals?

A: As a matter of substance defamation proceedings are different than employment settlements. I challenge the opposition and the media to come up with any statements I have made on defamation settlements. No I did not discuss the issue of confidentiality either with Mr Rennie or Crown Law. Nor did my staff discuss the issue with anybody.

Q: What about the Historic Places Trust?

A: If the member wants to put his question down he will find out that delegated authority concerning that issue rests with the associate minister of Arts and Culture.

(Winston Peters – leave to table a letter to the Attorney General – granted.)

Question 11.

JUDY KEALL (Labour) to the Minister of Health Annette King:

Q: What steps has the Government taken to improve palliative care?

A: Palliative care is an important part of any modern health system. I am pleased to announce that we have increased funding in this year by more than $7million. Every person dying must have access to at least one palliative care service. New services will be established in areas that do not have services at present.

Q: How will Nelson and Marlborough provide better services when hospital funding has fallen 4.5% and pallia

Q: Why is medical marijuana use not allowed for palliative care?

A: We want a scientific basis on which to base such a decision. At the completion of those trials I wll be prepared to look at the issue.

Question 12.

RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises Mark Burton:

Q: Is the report in this morning's Dominion correct that, in relation to the full-page newspaper advertisements paid for by Meridian Energy in which Labour member of Parliament Tim Barnett endorses the company, he will be asking Mr Barnett and Meridian Energy about the circumstances; if so, what is the range of issues he will ask them to answer?

A: Yes. To the extent that I want to be properly informed about any matter relevant to me as Minister.

Q: Does he find it acceptable that an SOE promotes and MP in his electorate using taxpayer funds?

A: I wouldn’t find it appropriate for an SOE to undertake to do that, no.

Q: Has he seen any other reports on promotions of electricity retailers?

A: Yes. I have seen a report that Max Bradford signed up to First Electric, and advised others to shop around for cheaper power.

Q: Bill English (National): How is it that within Government Policy NZ Post is allowed to sue an opposition member of Parliament? And Meridian is allowed to promote an MP?

A: The government does not support the use of SOE funds for political promotion. The decision in this case was not referred to the CEO of Meridian, it was made in the marketing department. The CEO has advised me that the marketing department were fairly naive about this. I agree.

Q: Winston Peters (NZ First): Given that he has agreed that this money was wrongly spent, will he now get Mr Barnett to pay the money back?

A: I didn’t say that. But I can say no money has been paid to anyone yet.

Q: Rodney Hide (ACT): Can we take his answers to mean that he will not act when an SOE uses funds to promote an MP?

A: No.


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